Hunter, John

, younger brother of Dr. Hunter, one of the most profound anatomists, sagacious and expert surgeons, and acute observers of nature, that any age has produced, was born at Long Calderwood, before-mentioned, July 14, 1728. At the age of ten years he lost his father, and being the youngest of ten children, was suffered to employ himself in amusement rather than study, though sent occasionally to a grammar-school. He had reached the age of twenty before he felt a wish for more active employment; and hearing of the reputation his brother William had acquired in London as a teacher of anatomy, made a proposal to go up to him as an assistant. His proposal was kindly accepted, and in September 1748 he arrived in London. It was not long before his disposition to excel in anatomical pursuits was fully evinced, and his determination to proceed in that line confirmed and approved. In the summer of 1749 he attended Mr. Cheselden at Chelsea-hospital, and there acquired the rudiments of surgery. In the subsequent winter he was so far advanced in the knowledge of anatomy, as to instruct his brother’s pupils in dissection; and from the constant occupation of the doctor in business, this task in future devolved almost totally upon him. In the summer of 1756 he again attended at Chelsea, and in 1751 became a pupil at St. Bartholomew’s, where he constantly attended when any extraordinary operation was to be performed. After having paid a visit to Scotland, he entered as a gentleman commoner in Oxford, at St. Mary-hall, though with what particular view does not appear. His professional studies, however, were not interrupted, for in 1754 he became a pupil at St. George’s hospital, where in 1756 he was appointed house-surgeon. In the winter of 1755, Dr. Hunter admitted him to a partnership in his lectures.

The management of anatomical preparations was at this time a new art, and very little known; every preparation, | therefore, that was skilfully made, became an object of admiration; many were wanting for the use of the lectures, and Dr. Hunter having himself an enthusiasm for the art, his brother had every advantage in the prosecution of that pursuit towards which his own disposition pointed so strongly; and of which he left so noble a monument in his Museum of Comparative Anatomy. Mr. Hunter pursued the stud^bf anatomy with an ardour and perseverance of which few examples can be found. By this clo^e application for ten years, he made himself master of all that was already known, and struck out some additions to that knowledge. He traced the ramifications of the olfactory nerves upon the membranes of the nose, and discovered the course of some of the branches of the fifth pair of nerves. In the gravid uterus, he traced the arteries of the uterus to their termination in the placenta. He also discovered the existence of the lymphatic vessels in birds. In comparative anatomy, which he cultivated with indefatigable industry, his grand object was, by examining various organizations formed for similar functions, under different circumstances, to trace out the general principles of animal life. With this object in view, the commonest animals were often of considerable importance to him; but he also took every opportunity of purchasing those that were rare, or encouraged their owners to sell the bodies to him when they happened to die.

By excessive attention to these pursuits, his health was so much impaired, that he was threatened with consumptive symptoms, and being advised to go abroad, obtained the appointment of a surgeon on the staff, and went with the army to Belleisle, leaving Mr. Hewson to assist his brother. He continued in this service till the close of the war in 1763, and thus acquired his knowledge of the nature and treatment of gun-shot wounds. On his return to London, to his emoluments from private practice, and his half-pay, he added those which arose from teaching practical anatomy and operative surgery; and that he might be more enabled to carry on his inquiries in comparative anatomy, he purchased some land at Earl’s-court, near Brompton, where he built a house. Here also he kept such animals alive as he purchased, or were presented to him; studied their habits and instincts, and cultivated an intimacy with them, which with the fiercer kinds was not always supported without personal risk. It is recorded by | his biographer, that, on finding two leopards loose, and likely to escape or be killed, he went out, and seizing them with his own hands, carried them back to their den. The horror he felt afterwards at the danger he had run, would not, probably, have prevented him from making a similar effort, had a like occasion arisen.

On the 5th of February, 1767, Mr. Hunter was elected a fellow of the royal society; and in order to make that situation as productive of knowledge as possible, he prevailed on Dr. George Fordyce, and Mr. Gumming (the celebrated watch-maker) to form a kind of subsequent meeting at a coffee-house, for the purpose of philosophical discussion, and inquiry into discoveries and improvements. To this meeting some of the first philosophers of the age very speedily acceded, among whom none can be more conspicuous than sir Joseph Banks, Dr. Solander, Dr. Maskelyne, sir Geo. Shuckburgh, sir Harry Englefieid, sir Charles Blagden, Dr. Noothe, Mr. Ramsden, and Mr. Watt of Birmingham. About the same time, the accident of breaking his tendo Achillis, led him to some very successful researches into the mode in which tendons are reunited so completely does a true philosopher turn every accident to the advantage of science. In 176M, Dr. Hunter having finished his house in Windmill-street, gave up to his brother that which he had occupied in Jermyn-street; and in the same year, by the interest of the doctor, Mr. Hunter was elected one of the surgeons to St. George’s hospital. In 1771 he married Miss Home, the eldest daughter of Mr. Home, surgeon to Burgoyne’s regiment of light-horse, by whom he had two sons and two daughters. In 1772 he undertook the professional education of his brother-in-law Mr. Everard Home, then leaving Westminster-school, who has assiduously pursued his steps, ably recorded his merits, and successfully emulates his reputation.

As the family of Mr. Hunter increased, his practice and character also advanced; but the expence of his collection absorbed a very considerable part of his profits. The best % rooms in his house were filled with his preparations; and his mornings, from sun-rise to eight o’clock, were constantly employed in anatomical and philosophical pursuits. The knowledge which he thus obtained, he applied most successfully to the improvement of the art of surgery; was particularly studious to examine morbid | bodies, and to investigate the cause of failure when operations had not been productive of their due effect. It was thus that he perfected the mode of operation for the hydrocele, and made several other improvements of different kinds. At the same time the volumes of the Philosophical Transactions bear testimony to his success in comparative anatomy, which was his favourite, and may be called almost his principal pursuit. When he met with natural appearances which could not be preserved in actual preparations, he employed able draughtsmen to represent them on paper; and for several years he even kept one in his family expressly for this purpose. In Jan. 1776, Mr. Hunter was appointed surgeon -extraordinary to his majesty. In the autumn of the same year, he had an illness of so severe a nature, as to turn his mind to the care of a provision for his family in case of his decease; when, considering that the chief part of his property was vested in his collection, he determined immediately to put it into such a state of arrangement as might make it capable of being disposed of to advantage at his death. In this he happily lived to succeed in a great measure, and finally left his museum so classed as to be fit for a public situation.

Mr. Hunter in 1781 was elected into the royal society of sciences and belles lettres at Gottenburg; and in 1783, into the royal society of medicine, and the royal academy of surgery at Paris. In the same year he removed from Jermyn-street to a larger house in Leicester-square, and, with more spirit than consideration, expended a very great sum in buildings adapted to the objects of his pursuits. He was in 1785 at the height of his career as a surgeon, and performec 1 some operations with complete success, which were thought by the profession to be beyond the reach of any skill. His faculties were now in their fullest vigour, and his body sufficiently so to keep pace with the activity of his mind. He was engaged in a very extensive practice, he was surgeon to St. George’s hospital, he gave a very long course of lectures in the winter, had a school of practical anatomy in his house, was continually engaged in experiments concerning the animal osconomy, and was from time to time producing very important publications. At the same time he instituted a medical society called “Lyceum Medicum Londinense,” which met at his lecture-rooms, and soon | rose to considerable reputation. On the death of Mr. Middleton, surgeon-general, in 1786, Mr. Hunter obtained the appointment of deputy surgeon-general to the army; but in the spring of the year he had a violent attack of illness, which left him for the rest of his life subject to peculiar and violent spasmodic affections of the heart. In July 1787, he was chosen a member of the American philosophical society. In 1790, finding that his lectures occupied too much of his time, he relinquished them to his brother-in-law Mr. Home; and in this year, on the death of Mr. Adair, he was appointed inspector-general of hospitals, and surgeon-general of the army. He was also elected a member of the royal college of surgeons in Ireland.

The death of Mr. Hunter was perfectly sudden, and the consequence of one of those spasmodic seizures in the heart to which he had now for several years been subject. It happened on the 16th of October, 1793. Irritation of mind had long been found to bring on this complaint; and on that day, meeting with some vexatious circumstances at St. George’s hospital, he put a degree of constraint upon himself to suppress his sentiments, and in that state went into another room; where, in turning round to a physician who was present, befell, and instantly expired without a groan. Of the disorder which produced this effect, Mr. Home has given a clear and circumstantial account, of a very interesting nature to professional readers. Mr. Hunter was short in stature, but uncommonly strong, active, and capable of great bodily exertion. The prints of him by Sharp, from a picture by sir Joshua Reynolds, give a forcible and accurate idea of his countenance. His temper was warm and impatient; but his disposition was candid and free from reserve, even to a fault. He was superior to every kind of artifice, detested it in others, and in order to avoid it, expressed his exact sentiments, sometimes too openly and too abruptly. His mind was uncommonly active; it was naturally formed for investigation, and so attached to truth and fact, that he despised all unfounded speculation, and proceeded always with caution upon the solid ground of experiment. At the same time his acuteness in observing the result of those experiments, his ingenuity in contriving, and his adroitness in conducting them, enabled him to deduce from them advantages which others would not have derived. It has been supposed, very | falsely, that he was fond of hypothesis; on the contrary, if he was defective in any talent, it was in that of imagination; he pursued truth on all occasions with mathematical precision, but he made no fanciful excursions. Conversation in a mixed company, where no subject could be connectedly pursued, fatigued instead of amusing him; particularly towards the latter part of his life. He slept little; seldom more than four hours in the night, and about an hour after dinner. But his occupations, laborious as they would have been to others, were far from being fatiguing to him, being so perfectly congenial to his mind. He spoke freely and sometimes harshly of his contemporaries; but he considered surgery as in its infancy, and, being very anxious for its advancement, thought meanly of those professors whose exertions to promote it were unequal to his own. Money he valued no otherwise than as it enabled him to pursue his researches; and in his zeal to benefit mankind, he attended too little to the interests of his own family. Altogether he was a man such as few ages produce, and by his great contributions to the stores of knowledge, will ever deserve the gratitude and veneration of posterity.

The contributions of Mr. Hunter to the Transactions of the Royal Society cannot easily be enumerated: his other works appeared in the following order. 1. A treatise on “the Natural History of the Human Teeth,1771, 4to; a second part to which was added in 1778. 2. “A treatise on the Venereal Disease,1786, 4io. 3. “Observations on certain Parts of the Animal QEconomy,1786, 4to, 4. “A treatise on the Blood, Inflammation, and Gunshot Wounds,” 4to. This was a posthumous work, not appearing till the year 1794; but it had been sent to tho press in the preceding year, before his death. There are also some papers by Mr. Hunter in the “Transactions of the Society for the Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge,” which were published in 1793. The collection of comparative anatomy which Mr. Hunter left behind him, must be considered as a proof of talents, assiduity, and labour, which cannot be contemplated without surprize and admiration. His attempt in this collection has been to exhibit the gradations of nature, from the most simple state in which life is found to exist, up to the most perfect and complex of the animal creation, to mau himself. By his art and care, he has been able so to | expose and preserve in a dried state, or in spirits, the corresponding parts of animal bodies, that the various links in the chain of peifectness may be readily followed and clearly understood. They are classed in the following order: first, the parts constructed for motion; secondly, the parts essential to animals as respecting their own internal economy; thirdly, parts superadded for purposes concerned with external objects; fourthly, parts designed for the propagation of the species, and the maintenance and preservation of the young. To go further into these particulars, would lead us to a detail inconsistent with the nature of this work; but they are of the most curious kind, and may be found described in a manner at once clear and instructive, in the “Life of John Hunter,” from which we have taken this account. By his will, Mr. Hunter directed that this museum should be offered to the purchase of government; and, after some negociation, it was bought for the public use for the sum of 15,000l. and given to the College of Surgeons, on condition of exposing it to public view on certain days in the week, and giving a set of annual lectures explanatory of its contents. A large building for its reception has been completed in Portugalstreet, connected with the College of Surgeons, in Lincoln’s-inn fields; and in the spring of the year 1810 the first course of lectures was delivered by Mr. Home and sir William Blizard. 1

1 Life by Everard Home.