Cheselden, William

, an eminent surgeon and anatomist, and a celebrated writer, was born Oct. 19, 1688, at Burrow-on-the-Hill, near Somerby in Leicestershire. After having received a classical education, and been instructed in the rudiments of his profession at Leicester, he was placed about 1703, under the immediate tuition of the celebrated anatomist Cowper, and resided in his house, and at the same time studied surgery under | Mr. Feme, the head surgeon of St. Thomas’s hospital. Such was the proficiency he made under these able masters, that he himself began, at the age of twenty-two, to read lectures in anatomy, a syllabus of which, in 4to, was first printed in 1711. Lectures of this kind were then, somewhat new in this country, having been introduced, not many years before, by M. Bussiere, a French refugee, and a surgeon of high note in the reign of queen Anne. Till then, the popular prejudices had run so high against the practice of dissection, that the civil power found it difficult to accommodate the lecturers with proper subjects; and pupils were obliged to attend the universities, or other public seminaries, where, likewise, the procuring of bodies was no easy task. It is an extraordinary proof of Mr. Cheselden’s early reputation, that he had the honour of being chosen a member of the royal society in 1711, when he could be little more than twenty- three years of age but he soon justified their choice, by a variety of curious and useful communications. Nor were his contributions limited to the royal society, but are to be found in the memoirs of the royal academy of surgeons at Paris, and in other valuable repositories. In 1713 Mr. Cheselden published in 8vo, his “Anatomy of the Human Body,” reprinted in 1722, 1726, 1732; in folio in 1734, and in 8vo, 1740, and an eleventh edition aslate as 1778. During the course of twenty years, in which Mr. Cheselden carried on his anatomical lectures, he was continually rising in reputation and practice, and upon Mr. Feme’s retiring from business, he was elected head surgeon of St. Thomas’s hospital. At two other hospitals, St. George’s, and the Westminster Infirmary, he was chosen consulting surgeon; and at length had the honour of being appointed principal surgeon to queen Caroline, by whom he was highly esteemed; and was indeed generally regarded as the first man in his profession.

In 1723 he published in 8vo, his “Treatise on the high operation for the Stone.” This work was soon attacked in an anonymous pamphlet, called “Lithotomus castratus, or an Examination of the Treatise of Mr. Cheselden,” and in which he was charged with plagiarism. How unjust this accusation was, appears from his preface, in which he had acknowledged his obligations to Dr. James Douglas and Mr. John Douglas, from one of whom the attack is supposed to have come. Mr. Cheselden’s solicitude to do justice to other eminent practitioners is farther manifest, | from his having annexed to his book a translation of what had been written on the subject by Franco, who published “Traite des Hernies,” &c. at Lyons, in 1561, and by Rosset, in his “Cæsarei Partus Assertio Historiologica,Paris, 1590. The whole affair was more candidly explained in 1724, by a writer who had no other object than the public goodj in a little work entitled “Methode de la Tailie au haut appareile recuillie des ouvrages du fameux Triumvirat.” This triumvirate consisted of Rosset, to whom the honour of the invention was due; Douglas, who had revived it after long disuse; and Cheselden, who had practised the operation with the most eminent skill and success. Indeed Mr. Cheselden was so celebrated on this account, that, as a lithotomist, he monopolized the principal business of the kingdom. The author of his eloge, in the “Memoires de L‘ Academic Royale de Chirurgerie.,” who was present at many of his operations, testifies, that one of them was performed in so small a time as fifty-four seconds. In 1728, Mr. Cheselden added greatly to his reputation in another view, by couching a lad of nearly fourteen years of age, who was either born blind, or had lost his sight so early, that he had no remembrance of his having ever seen. The observations made by the young gentleman, after obtaining the blessing of sight, are singularly curious, and have been much attended to, and reasoned upon by several writers on vision. They may be found in the later editions of the “Anatomy.” In 1729, our author was elected a corresponding member of the royal academy of sciences at Paris; and in 1732, soon after the institution of the royal academy of surgery in that city, he had the honour of being the first foreigner associated with their learned body. Mr. Cheselden’s “Osteography, or Anatomy of the Bones,” inscribed to queen Caroline, and published by subscription, came out in 1733, a splendid folio, in the figures of which all the bones are represented in their natural size. Our author lost a great sum of money by this publication, which in 1735 was attacked with much severity by Dr. Douglas, whose criticism appeared under the title of “Remarks on that pompous book, the Osteography of Mr. Cheselden.” The work received a more judicious censure from the celebrated Haller, who, whilst he candidly pointed out its errors, paid the writer that tribute of applause which he so justly de­“served. Heister, likewise, in his” Compendium of | Anatomy,“did justice to his merit. Mr. Cheselden having long laboured for the benefit of the public, and accomplished his desires with respect to fame and fortune, began at length to wish for a life of greater tranquillity and retirement; and in 1737 he obtained an honourable situation of this kind, by being appointed head surgeon to Chelsea hospital; which place he held, with the highest reputation, till his death. He did not, however, wholly remit his endeavours to advance the knowledge of his profession; for, upon the publication of Mr. Gataker’s translation of Mons. le Dran’s” Operations of Surgery," he contributed twenty-one useful plates towards it, and a variety of valuable remarks, some of which he had made so early as while he was a pupil to Mr. Feme. This was the last literary work in which he engaged. In 1751, Mr. Cheselden, as a governor of the Foundling hospital, sent a benefaction of fifty pounds to that charity, enclosed in a paper with the following lines, from Pope:

"Tis what the happy to th ’unhappy owe;

For what man gives, the gods by him bestow."

In the latter end of the same year, he was seized with a paralytic stroke, from which in appearance he soon perfectly recovered. The flattering prospect, however, of his continuanc6 in life, soon vanished; for, on the 1 Oth of April, 1752, he was suddenly carried off by a fit of an apoplexy, at Bath, in the sixty -fourth year of his age. He married Deborah Knight, a citizen’s daughter, and, if we mistake not, sister of the famous Robert Knight, cashier to the South-sea company in 1720. By this lady Mr. Cheselden had only one daughter, Wilhelmina Deborah, who was married to Charles Cotes, M. D. of Woodcote, in Shropshire, and member of parliament for Tamworth, in Staffordshire. Dr. Cotes died without issue, on the 2 1st of March, 1748; and Mrs. Cotes, who survived him, died some years since at Greenhithe, in the parish of Swanscombe, in the county of Kent. Mrs. Cheselden died in 1764. Mr. Cheselden’s reputation was great in anatomy, but we apprehend that it was still greater, and more justly founded, in surgery. The eminent surgeon Mr. Sharp, in a dedication to our author, celebrates him as the ornament of his profession; acknowledges his own skill in surgery to have been chiefly derived from him; and represents, that posterity will be ever indebted for the signal services he has done to this branch of the medical | art. In surgery he was undoubtedly a great improver, having introduced simplicity into the practice of it, and laid aside the operose and hurtful French instruments which had been formerly in use. Guided by consummate skill, perfectly master of his hand, fruitful in resources, he was prepared for all events, and performed every operation with remarkable dexterity and coolness. Being fully competent to each possible case, he was successful in all. He was at the same time eminently distinguished by his tenderness to his patients. Whenever he entered the hospital on his morning visits, the reflection of what he was unavoidably to perform, impressed him with uneasy sensations; and it is even said that he was generally sick with anxiety before he began an operation, though during the performance of it he was, as hath already been observed, remarkably cool and self-collected. Our author’s eulogist relates a striking contrast between him and a French surgeon of eminence. The latter gentleman, having had his feelings rendered callous by a course of surgical practice, was astonished at the sensibility shewn by Mr. Cheselden previously to his operations, and considered it as a great mark of weakness in his behaviour. Yet the same gentleman, being persuaded to accompany Mr. Cheselden to the fencing-school, who frequently amused himself with it as a spectator, could not bear the sight, and was taken ill. The adventure was the subject of conversation at court, and both were equally praised for goodness of heart; but the principle of humanity appears to have been stronger in Mr. Cheselden, because the feeling of it was not weakened by his long practice.

The connections of our eminent surgeon and anatomist were not confined to persons whose studies and pursuits were congenial to those of his own profession. He was fond of the polite arts, and cultivated an acquaintance with men of genius and taste. He was honoured, in particular, with the friendship of Pope, who frequently speaks of dining with him, but once had an interview rather of an unpleasing kind. In 1742, Mr. Cheselden, in a conversation with Mr. Pope at Mr. Dodsley’s, expressed his surprize at the folly of those who could imagine that the fourth book of the Dunciad had the least resemblance in stylo, wit, humour, or fancy, to the three preceding books. Though he was not, perhaps, altogether singular in this opinion, which is indeed a very just one, it was no small | mortification to him to be informed by Pope, tbat he himself was the author of it, and was sorry that Mr. Cheselden did not like the poem. Mr. Cheseklen is understood to have too highly valued himself upon his taste in poetry and architecture, considering the different nature of his real accomplishments and pursuits. His skill in the latter art is said not to have been displayed to the best advantage in Surgeons’ -hall, in the Old Bailey, which was principally built under his direction. These, however, are trifling shades in eminent characters. 1


Biog. Brit. Nichols’s Bowyer, in which are some additional particulars.