Hunter, William, M. D.

, an eminent anatomist and physician, was born May 23, 1718, at Kilbride in the county of Lanark. He was the seventh of ten children*


These were, John, Elizabeth, Andrew, Janet, James, Agnes, William, Dorothea, Isabella, and John. Of the sons, John the eldest, and Andrew, died young; James, born in 1715, was a writer to the signet at Edinburgh, who, disliking the profession of the law, came to London in 1743, with an intention to study anatomy under his brother William, but was prevented from pursuing thin plan by ill health, which induced him to return to Long Calderwood, where he died soon after, aged 28 years; John, the youngest, is the


subject of the ensuing article. Of the daughters, Elizabeth, Agnes, and Isabella, died young; Janet married Mr. Buchanan of Glasgow, and died in 1749: Dorothea married the late rev. James Baillie, D. D. professor of divinity in the university of Glasgow, by whom she had a son Matthew Baillie. now a very eminent physician, and two daughters.

| of John and Agnes Hunter, who resided on a small estate in that parish, called Long Calderwood, which had long been in the possession of his family. His great grandfather, by iiis fatner’s side, was a youoger son of Hunter of Hunterston, chief of the family of that name. At the age of fourteen, his father sent him to the college of Glasgow; where he passed five years, and by nis prudent behaviour and diligence acquired the esteem of the professors, and the reputation of being a good scholar. His father had designed him for the church, but the necessity of subscribing to articles of faith was to him a strong objection. In this state of mind he happened to become acquainted with Dr Cullen, who was then just established in practice at Hamilton, under the patronage of the duke of Hamilton. By the conversation of Dr. Cullen, ha was soon determined to devote himself to th^ profession of pbysic. His father’s consent having been previously obtained, he went, in 1737. to reside with Dr. Cullen. In the family of this excellent friend and preceptor he passed nearly three years, and these, as he has been often heard to acknowledge, were the happiest years of his life. It was then agreed, that he should prosecute his medical studies at Edinburgh and London, and afterwards return to settle at Hamilton, in partnership with Dr. Cullen.

Mr. Hunter set out for Edinburgh in Nov. 1740, and continued there till the following spring, attending the lectures of the medical professors, and amongst others those of the late Dr. Alexander Monro. He arrived in London in the summer of 1741, and took up his residence at Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Smellie’s, who was at that time an apothecary in Pall-mall. He brought with him a letter of recommendation to his countryman Dr. James Douglas, from Mr. Foulis, printer at Glasgow, who had been useful to the doctor in collecting for him different editions of Horace. Dr. Douglas was then intent on a great anatomical work on the bones, which he did not live to complete, and was looking out for a young man of abilities and industry whom he might employ as a dissecter. This induced him to pay particular attention to Mr. Hunter; and finding him acute | and sensible, he after a short time invited him into his family, to assist in his dissections, and to superintend the education of his son. Mr. Hunter having communicated this offer to his father and Dr. Cullen, the latter readily and heartily gave his concurrence to it; but his father, who was very old and infirm, and expected his return with impatience, consented with reluctance. His father did not long survive, dying Oct. 30 following, aged 78.

Mr. Hunter, having accepted Dr. Douglas’s invitation, was by his friendly assistance enabled to enter himself as a surgeon’s pupil at St. George’s hospital under Mr. James Wilkie, and as a dissecting pupil under Dr. Frank Nichols, who at that time taught anatomy with considerable reputation. He likewise attended a course of lectures on experimental philosophy by Dr. Desaguliers. Of these means of improvement he did not fail to make a proper use. He soon became expert in dissection, and Dr. Douglas was at the expence of having several of his preparations engraved. But before many months had elapsed, he had the misfortune to lose this excellent friend. Dr. Douglas died April 1, 1742, in his 67th year, leaving a widow and two children. The death of Dr. Douglas, however, made no change in his situation. He continued to reside with the doctor’s family, and to pursue his studies with the same diligence as before. In 1743 he communicated to the royal society “An Essay on the Structure and Diseases of articulating Cartilages.” This ingenious paper, on a subject which till then had not been sufficiently investigated, affords a striking testimony of the rapid progress he had made in his anatomical inquiries. As he had it in contemplation to teach anatomy, his attention was directed principally to this object; and it deserves to be mentioned as an additional mark of his prudence, that he did not precipitately engage in this attempt,but passed several years in acquiring such a degree of knowledge, and such a collection of preparations, as might insure him success. After waiting some time for a favourable opening, he succeeded Mr. Samuel Sharpe as lecturer to a private society of surgeons in Covent-garden, began his lectures in their rooms, and soon extended his plan from surgery to anatomy. This undertaking commenced in the winter of 1746. He is said to have experienced much solicitude when he began to speak in public, but applause soon inspired him with courage; and by degrees he became so fond of teaching, that | for many years before his death he was never happier than when employed in delivering a lecture.

The profits of his two first courses were considerable,*


Mr. Watson, F. R. S. who was one of Mr. Hunter’s earliest pupils, accompanied him home after his introductory lecture. Mr. Hunter, who had received about seventy guineas from his pupils, and had got the money in a bag under his cloak, observed to Mr. Watson, that it was a larger sum than he had ever been master of Before. Dr. —Pulteney, in his “Lite of Linnæus,” has not thought it superfluous to record the slender beginning from which that, great naturalist rose to ease and affluence in life. “Exivi patria triginti sex nummis aureis dives,” are Linnæus’s own words. Anecdotes of this sort deserve to be recorded, as an encouragement to young men, who, with great merit, happen to possess but little advantages of fortune.

but by contributing to the wants of different friends, he found himself, at the return of the next season, obliged to defer his lectures for a fortnight, merely because he had not money to defray the necessary expeiice of advertisements. This circumstance taught him to be more reserved in this respect. In 1747 he was admitted a member of the corporation of surgeons, and in the spring of the following year, soon after the close of his lectures, he set out in company with his pupil, Mr. James Douglas, on a tour through Holland to Paris. His lectures suffered no interruption by this journey, as he returned to England soon enough to prepare for his winter course, which began about the usual time. At first he practised both surgery and midwifery, but the former he always disliked; and, being elected one of the surgeon-men-midwives first to the Middlesex, and soon afterwards to the British lying-in hospital, and recommended by several of the most eminent surgeons of that time, his line was thus determined. Over his countryman, Dr. Smellie, notwithstanding his great experience, and the reputation he had justly acquired, he had a great advantage in person and address. The most lucrative part of the practice of midwifery was at that time in the hands of sir Richard Manningham and Dr. Sandys. The former of these died, and the latter retired into the country a few years after Mr. Hunter began to be known in midwifery. Although by these incidents he was established in the practice of midwifery, it is well known that in proportion as his reputation increased, his opinion was eagerly sought in all cases where any light concerning the seat or nature of any disease, could be expected from an intimate knowledge of anatomy. In 1750 he obtained the degree of M. D. from the university of Glasgow, and began to practise as a physician. About | this time he quitted the family of Mrs. Douglas, and went to reside in Jermyn-skreet. In the summer of 1751 he revisited his native country, for which he always retained a cordial affection. His mother was still living at Long Calderwood, which was now become his property by the death of his brother James. Dr. Cullen, for whom he always entertained asincere regard, was then established at Glasgow. During this visit, he shewed his attachment to his little paternal inheritance, by giving many instructions for repairing and improving it, and for purchasing any adjoining lands that might be offered for sale. As he and Dr. Cullen were riding one day in a low part of the country, the latter pointing out to him Long Calderwood at a considerable distance, remarked how conspicuous it appeared. “Well,” said he, with some degree of energy, “if I live, I shall make it still more conspicuous.” After his journey to Scotland, to which he devoted only a few weeks, he was never absent from London, unless his professional engagements, as sometimes happened, required his attendance at a distance from the capital.

In 1762 we find him warmly engaged in controversy, supporting his claim to different anatomical discoveries, in, a work entitled “Medical Commentaries,” the style of which is correct and spirited .*


In his “Medical Commentaries,” to which a “Supplement” was afterwards added, he supported the priority of his discoveries over those of Dr. Monro, jun. professor of anatomy at Edinburgh, in respect to the ducts of the lachrymal glands, injections of the testicle, the origin and use of the lymphatic vessels, and absorption by veins. There is, however, some difficulty in adjusting the claims of contemporary anatomists. The great doctrine of the absorbent action of the lymphatic system, which is now fully received, at least by the anatomists of Great Britain, was taught and illustrated at the same time in the schools of London and of Edinburgh, and exercised the ingenuity of Hunter, Monro, Hewson, Cruiksbank, and other anatomists, But Dr. Simmons has shewn, that the principal points of this system had been stated so long ago as 1726, by Mr. Noguez, in the second edition of a work entitled “L‘ Anatomic du Corps de l’Homtne en abrege,” printed at Paris. Who may have first succeeded in a lucky injection, seems a matter scarcely worthy of contest; but Dr. Hunter was extremely tenacious of any claims of this kind, am) would not suffer the interference even of his own brother. Some papers, in which a claim of Mr. John Hunter, relative to the connection between the placenta and uterus, was disputed by the doctor in 1780, are preserved in the archives of the royal society. In the “Commentaries” there are also some observations on the insensibility of the dura mater, periosteum, tendons, and ligaments, as taught with some slight difference by Mailer; and likewise “Observations on the State of the Testis in the Foetus, and on the Hernia Congenita, by Mr. John Hunter.

As an excuse for the tardiness with which he brought forth this work, he observes in his introduction, that it required a good deal of time, | and be had little to spare; that the subject was unpleasant, and therefore he was very seldom in the humour to take it up. In 1762, when our present excellent queen became pregnant, Dr. Hunter was consulted; and two years after he had the honour to be appointed physicianextraordinary to her majesty. About this time his avocations were so numerous, that he became desirous of lessening his fatigue, and having noticed the ingenuity and assiduous application of the late Mr. William Hewson, F. R. S. who was then one of his pupils, he engaged him, first as an assistant, and afterwards as a partner in his lectures. This connection continued till 1770, when some disputes happened, which terminated in a separation. [See Hewson]. Mr. Hewson was succeeded in the partnership by Mr. Cruikshank, whose anatomical abilities were deservedly respected.

April 30, 1767, Dr. Hunter was elected F. R. S. and the year following communicated to that learned body “Observations on the Bones commonly supposed to be Elephants’ bones, which have been found near the river Ohio in America.” This was not the only subject of natural history on which Dr. Hunter employed his pen; for in a subsequent volume of the “Philosophical Transactions,” we find him offering his “Remarks on some Bones found in the Rock of Gibraltar,” which he proves to have belonged to some quadruped. In the same work, likewise, he published an account of the Nyl-ghau, an Indian animal not described before, and which, from its strength and swiftness, promised, he thought, to be an useful acquisition to this country.

In 1768, Dr. Hunter became F. S. A. and the sam*’ year, at the institution of a royal academy of arts, he was appointed by his majesty to the office of professor of anatomy. This appointment opened a new field for his abilities; and he engaged in it, as he did in every other pursuit of his life, with unabating zeal. He now adapted his anatomical knowledge to the objects of painting and sculpture; and the novelty and justness of his observations proved at once the readiness and the extent of his genius.

In January 1781, he was unanimously elected to succeed the late Dr. John Fothergill as president of the society of physicians of London. “He was one of those,” says Dr. Simmons, “to whom we are indebted for its | establishment, and our grateful acknowledgments are due to him for his zealous endeavours to promote the liberal views of this institution, by rendering it a source of mutual improvement, and thus making it ultimately useful to the public.” As his name and talents were known and respected in every part of Europe, so the honours conferred on him were not limited to his own country. In 1780 the royal medical society at Paris elected him one of their foreign associates; and in 1782 he received a similar mark of distinction from the royal academy of sciences in that city. We come now to the most splendid of Dr. Hunter’s medical publications, “The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus.” The appearance of this work, which had been begun so early as 1751 (at which time ten of the thirty-four plates it contains were completed), was retarded till 1775, only by the author’s desire of sending it into the world with fewer imperfections. This great work is dedicated to the king. In his preface to it we find the author very candidly acknowledging, that in most of the dissections he had been assisted by his brother, Mr. John Hunter. This anatomical description of the gravid uterus, was not the only work which Dr. Hunter had in contemplation to give to the public. He had long been employed in collecting and arranging materials for a history of the various concretions that are formed in the human body. He seems to have advanced no further in the execution of this design, than to have nearly completed that part of it which relates to urinary and biliary concretions. Among Dr. Hunter’s papers have likewise been found two introductory lectures, which are written out so fairly, and with such accuracy, that he probably intended no further correction of them, before they should be given to the world. In these lectures Dr. Hunter traces the history of anatomy from the earliest to the present times, along with the general progress of science and the arts. He considers the great utility of anatomy in the practice of physic and surgery; givt-s the ancient divisions of the different substances composing the human body, which for a long time prevailed in anatomy; points out the most advantageous mode of cultivating this branch of natural knowledge; and concludes with explaining the particular plan of his own lectures. Besides these Mss. he has also left behind him a considerable number of cases of | dissection*. The same year in which the tables of the gravid uterus made their appearance, Dr. Hunter communicated to the royal society “An essay on the Origin of the Venereal Disease.” After this paper had been read to the royal society, Dr. Hunter, in a conversation with the late Dr. Musgrave, was convinced that the testimony on which he placed his chief dependence was of less weight than he had at first imagined; he therefore very properly laid aside his intention of giving his essay to the public.

In 1777, Dr. Hunter joined with Mr. Watson in presenting to the royal society “A short account of the late Dr. Maty’s illness, and of the appearances on dissection;” and the year following he published his “Reflections on the Section of the Symphysis Pubis.

We must now go back a little in the order of time, to describe the origin and progress of Dr. Hunter’s Museum, without some account of which these memoirs would be very incomplete. When he began to practise midwifery, he was desirous of acquiring a fortune sufficient to place him in easy and independent circumstances. Before many years had elapsed, he found himself in possession of a sum adequate to his wishes iii this respect; and this he set apart as a resource of which he might avail himself whenever age or infirmities should oblige him to retire from business. He has been heard to say, that he once took a considerable sum from this fund for the purposes of his museum, but that he did not feel himself perfectly at ease till he had restored it again. After he had obtained this competency, as his wealth continued to accumulate, he formed a laudable design of engaging in some scheme of public utility, and at first had it in contemplation to found an anatomical school in this metropolis. For this purpose, about 1765, during the administration of Mr. Grenville, he presented a memorial to that minister, in which he requested the grant of a piece of ground in the Mews for the site of an anatomical theatre. Dr. Hunter undertook to expend 7000l. on the building, and to endow a professorship of anatomy in perpetuity. This scheme did not meet with the reception


The work on the Gravid Uterus was published without a descriptive account. In 1795, Dr. Eaillie published from Dr. Hunter’s papers, improved by his own observations, book in tended to supply this defect. It is entitled “An Anatomical Description of the Human Gravid Uterus, and its Contents. By the late W. Hunter, M. B.” fee. and forms a thin 4to.

| it deserved. In a conversation on this subject soon afterwards with the earl of Shelburne, his lordship expressed a wish that the plan might be carried into execution by subscription, and very generously requested to have his name set down for 1000 guineas. Dr. Hunter’s delicacy would not allow him to adopt this proposal. He chose rather to execute it at his own expence, and accordingly purchased a spot of ground in Great Windmill-street, where he erected a spacious house, to which he removed from Jermyn-street in 1770. In this building, besides a handsome amphitheatre and other convenient apartments for his lectures and dissections, there was one magnificent room, fitted up with great elegance and propriety as a museum.

Of the magnitude and value of his anatomical collection, some idea may be formed, when we consider the great length of years he employed in making anatomical preparations, and in the dissection of morbid bodies; added to the eagerness with which he procured additions, from the collections that were at different times offered for sale in London. His specimens of rare diseases were likewise frequently increased by presents from his medical friends and pupils, who, when any thing of this sort occurred to them, very justly thought they could not dispose of it more properly than by placing it in Dr. Hunter’s museum. Before his removal to Windmill-street, he had confined his collection chiefly to specimens of human and comparative anatomy, and of diseases; but now he extended hi* views to fossils, and likewise to the branches of polite literature and erudition. In a short space of time he became possessed of “the most magnificent treasure of Greek and Latin books that has been accumulated by any person now living, since the days of Mead.A cabinet of ancient medals contributed likewise greatly to the richness of his museum. A description of part of the coins in this collection, struck by the Greek free cities, has been published by the doctor’s learned friend Mr. Combe, under the title of “Nummorum veterurn populorum & urbium qui in museo Guliehni Hunter asservantur descriptio figuris illustrata. Opera & studio Caroli Combe, S. R. & S. A. Soc. Londini,1783, 4to. In a classical dedication of this elegant volume to the queen, Dr. Hunter acknowledges his obligations to her majesty. In the preface, some account is given of the progress of the collection, which had been brought together since 1770, with | singular taste, and at the expence of upwards of 20,000l. In 1781, the museum received a valuable addition of shells, corals, and other curious subjects of natural history, which had been collected by the late Dr. Fothergill, who gave directions by his will, that his collection should be appraised after his death, and that Dr. Hunter should have the refusal of it at 500l. under the valuation. This was accordingly done, and Dr. Hunter purchased it for the sum of 1200l.

Dr. Hunter, at the head of his profession, honoured with the esteem of his sovereign, and in the possession of every thing that his reputation and wealth could confer, seemed now to have attained the summit of his wishes. But these sources of gratification were embittered by a disposition to the gout, which harassed him frequently during the latter part of his life, notwithstanding his very abstemious manner of living. About ten years before his death his health was so much impaired, that, fearing he might soon become unfit for the fatigues of his profession, he began to think of retiring to Scotland. With this view he requested his friends Dr. Cullen and Dr. Baillie, to look out for a pleasant estate for him. A considerable one, and such as they thought would be agreeable to him, was offered for sale about that time in the neighbourhood of Alloa. A description of it was sent to him, and met with his approbation: the price was agreed on, and the bargain supposed to be concluded. But when the title-deeds of the estate came to be examined by Dr. Hunter’s counsel in London, they were found defective, and he was advised not to complete the purchase. After this he found the expences of his museum increase so fast, that he laid aside all thoughts of retiring from practice.

This alteration in his plan did not tend to improve his health. In the course of a few years the returns of his gout became by degrees more frequent, sometimes affecting his limbs, and sometimes his stomach, but seldom remaining many hours in one part. Notwithstanding this valetudinary state, his ardour seemed to be unabated. In the last year of his life he was as eager to acquire new credit, and to secure the advantage of what he had before gained, as he could have been at the most enterprising port of his life. At length, on Saturday, March 15, 1783, after having for several days experienced a return of wandering gout, he complained of great head-ache and nausea. | In this state he went to bed, and for several days felt more pain than usual, both in his stomach and limbs. On the Thursday following he found himself so much recovered, that he determined to give the introductory lecture to the operations of surgery. It was to no purpose that his friends urged to him the impropriety of such an attempt. He was determined to make the experiment, and accordingly delivered the lecture; but towards the conclusion, his strength was so exhausted that he fainted away, and was obliged to be carried to bed by two servants. The following night and day his symptoms were such as indicated danger; and on Saturday morning Mr. Combe, who made him an early visit, was alarmed on being told by Dr. Hunter himself, that during the night he had certainly had a paralytic stroke. As neither his speech nor his pulse were affected, and he was able to raise himself in bed, Mr. Combe encouraged him to hope that he was mistaken. But the event proved the doctor’s idea of his complaint to be but too well founded; for from that time till his death, which happened on Sunday March 30, he voided no urine without the assistance of the catheter, which was occasionally introduced by his brother; and purgative medicines were administered repeatedly, without procuring a passage by stool. These circumstances, and the absence of pain, seemed to shew that the intestines and bladder had lost their sensibility and power of contraction; and it was reasonable to presume, that a partial palsy had affected the nerves distributed to those parts. The latter moments of his life exhibited a remarkable instance of calmness and fortitude. Turning to his friend Mr. Combe, “If I had strength enough to hold a pen,” said he, “I would write how easy and pleasant a thing it is to die.

By his will, the use of his museum, under the direction of trustees, devolved to his nephew Matthew. Baillie, and in case of his death, to Mr. Cruikshank, for the term of thirty years, at the end of which period the whole collection was bequeathed to the university of Glasgow, but Dr. Baillie removed it to its destination some years before the completion of that term. The, sum of 8000l. sterling was left as a fund for the support and augmentation of the collection. The trustees were, Dr. George For.lyne, Dr. David Pitcairne, and Mr. Charles (since Dr.) Combe, to each of whom Dr. Hunter bequeathed an annuity of 20l. for thirty years, that is, during the period in which they | would oe executing the purposes of the will. Dr. Hunter likewise bequeathed an annuity of 100l. to his sister Mrs. Baillie, during her life, and the sum of 2000l. to each of her two daughters. The residue of his estate and effects went to his nephew. On Saturday April 5, his remains were interred in the rector’s vault of St. James’s church, Westminster.

Of the person of Dr. Hunter it may be observed that he was regularly shaped, but of a slender make, and rather below a middle stature. There are several good portraits of him extant. One of these is an unfinished painting by Zoffany, who has represented him in the attitude of giving a lecture on the muscles at the royal academy, surrounded by a groupe of academicians. His manner of living was extremely simple and frugal, and the quantity of his food was small as well as plain. He was an early riser, and when business was over, was constantly engaged in his anatomical pursuits, or in his museum. There was something very engaging in his manner and address, and he had such an appearance of attention to his patients when he was making his inquiries, as could hardly fail to conciliate their confidence and esteem. In consultation with his medical brethren^ he delivered his opinions with diffidence and candour. In familiar conversation he was chearful and unassuming. All who knew him allowed that he possessed an excellent understanding, great readiness of perception^ a good memory, and a sound judgment. To these intellectual powers he united uncommon assiduity and precision, so that he was admirably fitted for anatomical investigation. As a teacher of anatomy, he was long and deservedly celebrated. He was a good orator, and having a clear and accurate conception of what he taught, he knew how to place in distinct and intelligible points of view the most abstruse subjects of anatomy and physiology. How much he contributed to the improvement of medical science in general, may be collected from the concise view we have taken of his writings. The munificence he displayed in the cause of science has likewise a claim to our applause. Dr. Hunter sacrificed no part of his time or his fortune to voluptuousness, to idle pomp, or to any of the common objects of vanity that influence the pursuits of mankind in general. He seems to have been animated with a desire of distinguishing himself in those things which are in their nature laudable; and being a bachelor, and | without views of establishing a family, he was at liberty to indulge his inclination. Let us, therefore, not withhold the praise that is due to him; and undoubtedly his temperance, his prudence, his persevering and eager pursuit of knowledge, constitute an example which we may, with advantage to ourselves and to society, endeavour to imitate. 1

1 Life of Dr.- Hunter, by the late S. F. Simmon?, M. D. F. R. S. published in 1783.