Reviews and Notices of Books

1873 The Lancet  
Natural Science, New College, Edinburgh. Edinburgh : Edmonston and Douglas. 1873. DR. DuNs has acquitted himself creditably of a by no ' ' means easy task. In many respects the life of Simpson would infuse animation and energy into the dullest biographer. It is one not uncommon in Scotland, which inspires with kindred glow the mind that contemplates it. It is an addition, at once novel and unique, to the gallery of " self-help." Born of humble parentage, with no resources but the genius he
more » ... rited and the modicum of classics and geometry which, happily for Scotland, has, since Knox's days, been attainable by every child in every parish, young Simpson went up from Linlithgowshire to Edinburgh in his fifteenth year, and after attending the literary classes of the University for two winter sessions, enrolled as a medical student in 1827. He was fortunate in his companionship with his fellow-townsman, John Reid, whose solid character and inductive aptitude kept him clear of bohemian associates, and inspired him with generous emulation. The teaching of Liston and Knox perpetuated this salutary influence. He took the diploma of the College of Surgeons in his nineteenth year, and in his twenty-second he graduated as Doctor of Medicine. Professor Thomson, the able occupant of the Chair of Pathology, soon recognised his powers, and was of essential use to him in the interregnum between graduation and private practice. A flying visit to London and Paris-his record of which, by the way, is not without gleams of literary art-had its effect in toning down the provincialism which, at that time no less than now, characterises the Scottish school; next followed his settling in practice in Edinburgh ; then his marriage-a step in all respects advantageous to him ; and finally, in 1840, his election, by a majority of one, to the object of his ambition -the Midwifery Chair. Up to this point Dr. Duns' task is a pleasant one, and his narrative glides smoothly and enjoyably. But no sooner was Simpson a member of the Senatus than out came the sinister elements which embittered his relations with his colleagues to the close. Simpson was, in the first instance, blameless; the onus of beginning hostilities rests with his colleagues and their adherents. Jealous of the baker's son, they could ill disguise their chagrin at his success; and even when their dislike to him was kept well under, there was always a state of "tension," as diplomatists say, which threatened at any moment to snap the frail bonds of collegiate or professional relationship asunder. In introducing and narrating the controversial episodes that enter so largely into Simpson's life, his biographer has shown judgment and tact, but, above all, a wise moderation. It would have, doubtless, been easy (and to such adepts in satire as Lockhart, for instance, it would have been tempting) to expose the humiliation to which Simpson often reduced his adversaries, the skill with which he could (as the case demanded) deal a death-blow at arrogant self-assertion, tickle vanity to death with a feather, or drop a little oil of vitriol on the "raw." Dr. Duns has chosen the better part; and, while never professing to be more than his subject's advocate, he holds the balance with something like judicial fairness. The deplorable misunderstandings that put Syme and Simpson at variance for more than twenty years, the selfvindication to which the latter was driven to defend his discovery of the anzesthetic virtues of chloroform, first against rival claimants, and second against theological objectors to its use, his estrangement from Professor Miller, his war with the homceopathists, and particularly with his colleague Professor Henderson (to whose masculine ability, by the way, Dr. Duns does scant justice) ; the embroilment into which he plunged during the election to the Practice of Physic Chair; his renewed hostilities with Syme in the matter of acupressure ; and, finally, his candidature for the Principalship, which seemed to have resuscitated and reorganised against him all the dead bones of former jealousies and strifes,-Dr. Duns handles these petty and painful matters with candour and fairness, in a tone calculated neither to damage the dead nor offend the living. It was his duty as a biographer to notice them; it was his r6le as a man of science and a clergyman to recerd them with calmness, and to look back on them with regret. The latter emotion is, indeed, one which every enlightened reader must share. That so much of Simpson's life should have been consumed in a kind of academic Donnybrook, when the unreclaimed territory of science was inviting his keen, fertile, and indefatigable brain, must be accounted one of the misfortunes of the past generation. More sinned against than sinning he doubtless was; but we cannot escape from the thought that a more magnanimous, more truly Christian man would have permitted professional or collegiate jealousy to use up its whole armoury sooner than descend with it into the arena. Simpson, however, like most of his countrymen, to whom Buchanan ascribes a. prcefervidum ingenium, delighted in controversy and gloried in the consciousness of power over antagonists. Pity it is that he did not apply his fertility of resource, his vigilant patience, his untiring energy, exclusively to the more legitimate wrestling with Nature and her problems. Even here, however, how much in the short life of fiftynine years had he not accomplished! The obstetric art owes much to him; the diseases of women and children are now the more tractable for his observation and practice ; above all, the whole field of medicine owes to him the discovery of the best anaesthetic agent hitherto devised. At the time of his death we entered into an exhaustive survey of the history of anaesthesia and its agents, and we concluded with the opinion we still retain, that, I I all told," the palm of merit rests with Simpson. Other contributions of his to medical and surgical practice have not gained such universality of acceptance; his device of acupressure, though widely adopted, has not conciliated general confidence, while his doctrine of "hospitalism" may still be regarded as sub judice. Only, however, a man of consummate ability could have devised them, and they will remain, even if superseded, as concurrent proofs of his genius and as signposts on the route of medical progress. With all this theoretical and practical inventiveness, he was in some respects unrivalled as an obstetrician, or, indeed, as a practitioner generally. His manner, soft, ingratiating, yet reassuring, was itself a therapeutic agent; while his ample knowledge and faultless memory seemed to stimulate rather than hinder his contriving powers. Intellectually he was alive to all subjects of interest, and in antiquarian research alone he did more than the majority of its cultivators. We shall never forget the answer of a friend whom he sent to the conductor of a local journal, offering a review of Cornewall Lewis's 11 Astronomy of the Ancients." ,Well, but," said the editor, 11 does Simpson know Greek and does he know astronomy?" "No," was the answer; "but he is such a clever fellow !" Doubtless his review of the work would have been dexterous and ingenious, if not absolutely exhaustive. Indeed, it seemed to matter little to what subject he devoted himself-he had always something fresh to contribute to it, and often of permanent value.
doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)26082-1 fatcat:lqpghmoi65drpmot55333ujyma