Smellie, William

, M. D. an eminent accoucheur, was a native of Scotland, and after some practice in his country, settled in the early part of the last century in London. He was principally celebrated as a teacher, having instructed, as he informs us in his practice, nearly a thousand pupils, who assisted, whilst attending his lectures, eleven hundred and fifty poor women. The women were supported, by a subscription among the pupils, during their lying-in. Dr. Smellie was the first writer who considered the shape and size of the female pelvis, as adapted to the head of the foetus, and who ascertained the position of the latter during the period of gestation; and his opinion has been confirmed by later writers, particularly by Dr. Hunter, who had several opportunities of dissecting women who died undelivered, at different periods of their pregnancy. He also introduced many improvements in delivery and in the use of instruments, and abolished many superstitious notions, and erroneous customs, that prevailed in the management of women in labour, and of the children; and he had the satisfaction to see the greater part of his maxims adopted, not only in this island, but by the most respectable practitioners in the greater part of Europe.

In 1752 he published his lectures; having spent, as he says, six years in digesting and improving them, under the title of a “Treatise of Midwifery,” in one volume, 8vo. | This was followed in 1754, by a volume of cases, intended to illustrate the method of practice recommended in the treatise. These were very soon translated into French by Mons. Preville, who assigns as a motive for the undertaking, the high character the author enjoyed on the continent. Smellie mentions, in the preface to his volume of cases, his intention of publishing a second volume, to contain a collection of cases in preternatural Jabours, which would complete his plan. This volume did not appear until about five years after his death, namely, in 17G8. “Some years ago,” the editor says, “the author retired from business in London, to his native country, where he employed his leisure hours in methodizing and revising his papers, and in finishing his collection of cases for this publication. The manuscript was transmitted to the person who prepared the two former volumes for the press, and even delivered to the printer, when the doctor died advanced in years, in 1763, at his own house near Lanerk in North Britain. This, with the two former volumes,” the editor continues to say, “we may venture to call a complete system of midwifery. It is the fruit of forty years experience, enriched with an incredible variety of practice, and contains directions and rules of conduct to be observed in every case that can possibly occur in the exercise of the obstetric art; rules that have not been deduced from the theory of a heated imagination, but founded on solid observation, confirmed by mature reflection, and reiterated experience.” This opinion of the merit of the author, and his work, has been confirmed by the general suffrage of the public.

In 1754, this author published a set of “Anatomical tables,” with explanations, and an abridgment of his practice of midwifery, with a view to illustrate still farther his treatise on that subject. The plates are thirty-six in number, large folio. The figures are of the size of nature, and principally taken from subjects prepared for the purpose. Twenty-five of them were drawn and engraved by M. Rymsdyke. In forming the remaining eleven, the author acknowledges he received considerable assistance from the late professor Camper.

This author had the fate of almost all ingenious men, to excite the indignation of some of his contemporaries. The most formidable of these wasDr. William Burton, practitioner of midwifery at York, who- attacked him with great | acrimony; and Dr. William Douglas, who styles himself physician extraordinary to the prince of Wales, and manmidwife, addressed two letters to Dr. Smellie, in 1748, accusing him of degrading the profession, by teaching midwifery at a very low price, and giving certificates to pupils who had only attended him a few weeks, by which means the number of practitioners was enormously multiplied, and many improper persons admitted. Apothecaries, he says, resorted to the doctor, from various parts of the country, and at the end of two or three weeks, returned to their shops, armed with diplomas signed by the professor, attesting their proficiency in the art. These were framed and hung up in the most conspicuous parts of their houses, and were, without doubt, surveyed with veneration by their patients. “In your bills,” he says, “you set forth that you give a universal lecture in midwifery for half a guinea, or four lectures for a guinea.” In these universal lectures, the whole mystery of the art was to be unfolded. He charges him also with hanging out a paper lanthorn, with the words “Midwifery taught here for five shillings,” each lecture, we presume. This was certainly an humiliating situation for a man of so much real merit. Dr. Douglas relates these cases, in which he contends that Smellie had acted unscientifically; and particularly says, that he suffered one of the women to die by not giving timely assistance. To the charges of mal-practice, Dr. Smellie answered, by giving a full recital of the cases, and referred to Dr. Sands, and other practitioners, who attended with him. His answer was so satisfactory, that Dr. Douglas retracted his charges in his second letter. On the other points, Smellie was silent. It is probable, that, having practised the first nineteen years at a small town in Scotland, where medical fees may be supposed to be low, he might not think the price he demanded for his instructions so insignificant and inadequate as it really was. Smellie is said to have been coarse in his penron, and aukward and unpleasing in his manners, so that he never rose into any great estimation among persons of rank. On the other hand, he appears to have had an active and ingenious mind, with a solid understanding and judgment. He had a peculiar turn to mechanics, which was evinced by the alterations he made in the forceps, crotchets, and scissors, which all received considerable improvements under his hands; but this was more particularly shewn by | the elegant construction of his phantoms, or machines, on which he demonstrated the various positions of the foetus in utero, and the different species of labour. That he was candid and modest appears through every page of his works; ready on all occasions to acknowledge the merit of others, and when correcting their errors assuming no superiority over them. We will conclude this account with the words of one of his pupils, who appears to have been well acquainted with his disposition and manners. “No man was more ready than Dr. Smellie to crave advice and assistance when danger or difficulty occurred, and no man was more communicative, without the least self-sufficiency or ostentation. He never officiously intermeddled in the concerns of others, or strove to insinuate himself into practice by depreciating the character of his neighbour; but made his way into business by the dint of merit alone, and maintained his reputation by the most benelicent and disinterested behaviour.1

1 Preceding edit, of this Dict.