Currie, James

, M. D. an eminent physician of Liverpool, was born at Kirkpatrick-Flemming, in Dumfriesshire, on May 31st, 1756, where his father was the established minister, but afterwards removed to that of Middlebie. He received the rudiments of learning at the parish school of his native place, whence he was removed to the grammar-school of Dumfries. His original destination was for a commercial life, and he passed some years of his youth in Virginia, in a mercantile station. Disliking this profession, and unwilling to be a witness of the impending troubles in the American colonies, he quitted that country in 1776, and in the following year commenced a course of medical study at the university of Edinburgh, which occupied him almost without interruption for three years. A prospect of an appointment in the medical staff of the army, which would not admit of the usual delay of an Edinburgh graduation, induced him to take the degree of doctor of physic at Glasgow. He arrived, however, in London, too late for the expected place; but still determining to go abroad, he had taken his passage in a ship for Jamaica, when a severe indisposition prevented his sailing, and entirely changed his lot in life. He renounced his first intention; and, after some consideration respecting an eligible settlement, he fixed upon the commercial and rapidly-increasing town of Liverpool, which became his residence from 1781, and where he soon rose into general esteem. Indeed, it was not possible, even upon a casual acquaintance, for a judge of mankind to fail of being struck by his manly urbanity of behaviour, by the elegance and variety of his conversation, by the solid sense and sagacity of his remarks, and by the tokens of a feeling heart, which graced and dignified the qualities of his understanding. No man was ever more highly regarded by his friends; no | physician ever inspired more confidence and attachment in his patients.

In 1783, Dr. Currie made a very desirable matrimonial connection with Lucy, the daughter of William Wallace, esq. an Irish merchant in Liverpool. Of this marriage, a numerous and amiable family was the fruit, by which his name promises to be worthily perpetuated. His professional employment rapidly increased; he was elected one of the physicians of the infirmary, and took his station among the distinguished characters of the place of his residence.

His first appearance from the press was on occasion of the lamented death of his intimate friend Dr. Bell, a young physician of great hopes, settled at Manchester. His elegant and interesting tribute to the memory of this person was published in 1785, in the first volume of the Transactions of the Manchester Philosophical and Literary Society, of which they were both members. He was elected a member of the London Medical Society in 1790, and communicated to it a paper “On Tetanus and Convulsive Disorders,” published in the third volume of its memoirs. In 1792 he became a fellow of the Royal Society. A very curious and instructive “Account of the remarkable effects of a shipwreck,” communicated by him to that body, was published in the Philosophical Transactions of that year. Soon after this, having with many other men of political study, viewed the war with France consequent to its great revolutionary struggle with disapprobation, with respect as well to its principles, as to its probable effect on the happiness of both countries, he wrote a pamphlet. This appeared in 1793, under the title of “A Letter Commercial and Political, addressed to the right hon. William Pitt; by Jasper Wilson, esq.;” it soon attained a second edition, and various answers attested the degree of importance attached to it in the public estimation. In the mean time, he was far from being neglectful of the duties of his profession. To those who employed him he was abundantly known as a skilful and sedulous practitioner; and the medical papers he had already published gave him reputation among his brethren. This reputation was widely extended and raised to an eminent degree by a publication which first appeared in October 1797, entitled “Medical Reports on the Effects of Water Cold and Warm, as a Remedy in Febrile Diseases; with observations on the nature of Fever, and on the effects of | opium, alcohol, and inanition.” The practice of affusion of cold water in fevers, which is the leading topic in this work, was suggested to the author by Dr. Wright’s narrative, in the London Medical Journal, of his successful treatment of a fever in a homeward-bound ship from Jamaica. Dr. Carrie copied and greatly extended it, and investigated the principles by which its use should be directed and regulated. He discovered that the safety and advantage of the application of cold was proportionate to the existing augmentation of the animal heat; and he found the thermometer a very valuable instrument to direct the practitioner’s judgment in febrile cases. He may therefore be considered as the principal author of a practice which has already been attended with extraordinary success in numerous instances, and bids fair to prove one of the greatest medical improvements in modern times. The work, which contained many ingenious speculations and valuable observations, was generally read and admired. A new volume was added to it in 1804, consisting of much interesting matter on different topics, especially in confirmation of the doctrine and practice of the former volume respecting cold arYusion. The free and successful employment of this remedy in the scarlatina, was one of its most important articles. The author had the satisfaction of receiving numerous acknowledgments of the benefit derived from his instructions, both in private and in naval and military practice. He himself was so much convinced of the utility of the methods he recommended, lhat a revision of the whole work for a new edition, was one of the latest labours of his life.

Dr. Currie might now, without danger to his professional character, indulge his inclination for the ornamental parts of literature; and an occasion offered in which he had the happiness of rendering his taste and his benevolence equally conspicuous. On a visit to his native county, in 1792, he had become personally acquainted with that rustic son of genius, Robert Burns. This extraordinary, but unfortunate man, having at his death left his family in great indigence, a subscription was made in Scotland for their immediate relief, and at the same time a design was formed, of publishing an edition of his printed works and remains for their emolument. Mr. Syme, of Ryetlale, an old and intimate friend of Dr. Currie, strongly urged him to undertake the office of editor; and to this request, in which other friends of the poet’s memory concurred, he | could not withhold his acquiescence, notwithstanding his multiplied engagements. In 1800 he published in 4 vols. 8vo, “The Works of Robert Burns, with an account of his Life, and a criticism on his Writings: to which are prefixed, some Observations on the Character and Condition of the Scottish Peasantry.” These volumes were a rich treat to the lovers of poetry and elegant literature; and Dr. Currie’s part in them, as a biographer and critic, was greatly admired, as well for beauty of style, as for liberality of sentiment and sagacity of remark. If any objection was made to him as an editor, on account of unnecessary extension of the materials, the kind purpose for which the publication was undertaken, pleaded his excuse with all who were capable of feeling its force. Its success fully equalled the most sanguine expectations.

Though externally of a vigorous frame of body, Dr. Currie had a pre-disposition to those complaints which usually shorten life; and in 1784 he had experienced a pulmonary attack of an alarming nature, from which he was extraordinarily recovered by the use of horse-exercise, as related by himself in his case, inserted in the second volume of Dr. Darwin’s “Zoonomia.” He was, however, seldom long free from threatenings of a return, and his health began visibly to decline in the early part of 1804. In the summer of that year he took a journey to Scotland, where, among other sources of gratification, he had that of witnessing the happy effects of his kindness on the family of Burns. His letters on this occasion were delightful displays of benevolence rejoicing in its work. He returned with some temporary amendment; but alarming symptoms soon returned, and in November he found it necessary to quit the climate and business of Liverpool. He spent the winter alternately at Clifton and Bath; and in the month of March appeared to himself in a state of convalescence, which justified his taking a house in Bath, and commencing the practice of his profession. From the manner in which his career opened, there could be no doubt that it would have proved eminently successful; but the concluding scene was hastily approaching. As a last resource, he went in August to Sidmouth, where, after much suffering, which he bore with manly fortitude and pious resignation, he expired on August 31st, 1805, in the fiftieth year of his age. His disease was ascertained to be a great enlargement and flaccidity of the heart, | accompanied with remarkable wasting of the left lung, but without ulceration, tubercle, or abscess.

Few men have left the world with a more amiable and estimable character, proved in every relation of life, public and domestic. In his professional conduct he was upright, liberal, and honourable; with much sensibility for his patients, without the affectation of it; fair and candid towards his brethren of the faculty; and though usually decided in his opinion, yet entirely free from arrogance or dogmatism. His behaviour was singularly calculated to convert rivals into friends; and some of those who regarded him with the greatest esteem and affection, have been the persons who divided practice with him. His powers of mind were of the highest rank, equally fitted for action and speculation; his morals were pure, his principles exalted. His life, though much too short to satisfy the wishes of his friends and family, was long enough for signal usefulness and for lasting fame. 1


From a Sketch drawn up by Dr. Aikin, inserted in the literary journals.