Whytt, Robert

, an eminent physician, born at Edinburgh Sept. 6, 1714, was the son of Robert Whytt, esq, of Beunochy, advocate. This gentleman died six months before the birth of our author, who was also deprived of his mother before he had attained the seventh year of his age. After receiving the first rudiments of school-education, he was sent to the university of St. Andrew’s; and after the usual course of instruction there, in classical, philosophical, and mathematical learning, he came to Edinburgh, where he entered upon the study of medicine, under those | eminent teachers, Monro, Rutherford, Sinclair, Plummer, Alston, and Innes. After learning what was to be acquired in this university, he visited other countries in the prosecution of his studies, and after attending the most eminent teachers at London, Paris, and Leyden, he had the degree of M. D. conferred upon him by the university of Rheims in 1736, being then in the twenty-second year of 'his age. Upon his return to his own country, he had the same honour conferred upon him by the university of St. Andrews, where he had before obtained, with applause, the degree of M. A. In 1737, he was admitted a licentiate of medicine in the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and the year following he was raised to the rank of a fellow of the college. From the time of his admission as a licentiate, he practised physic at Edinburgh; and the reputation which he acquired for medical learning, pointed him out as a fit successor for the first vacant chair in the university. Accordingly, when Dr. Sinclair, whose eminent medical abU lities, and persuasive powers of oratory, had contributed not a little to the rapid advancement of the medical school of Edinburgh, found that the talents which he possessed, could no longer be exerted consistently with his advanced age, he resigned his academical appointments in favour of Dr. Whytt

This admission into the college took place June 20, 1746, and Dr. Whytt began his first course of the Institutions of Medicine at the commencement of the next winter session, in which the abilities he displayed were answerable to the expectations his fame had excited. The Latin tongue was then the language of the university of Edinburgh, and he both spoke and wrote in Latin with singular propriety, elev gance, and perspicuity. At that time the system and sentiments of Boerhaave, which, notwithstanding their errors, must challenge the admiration of the latest ages, were very generally received by the most intelligent physicians in Britain. Dr. Whytt had no such idle ardour for novelties as to throw them entirely aside because he could not follow them in every particular. Boerhaave’s “Institutions,” therefore, furnished him with a text for his lectures; and he was no less successful in explaining, illustrating, and establishing the sentiments of the author, when he could freely adopt them, than in refuting them by clear, connected, and decisive arguments, when he had occasion to differ from him. The opinions which he himself proposed, | were delivered and enforced with such acuteness of invention, such display of facts, and force of argument, as could rarely fail to gain universal assent from his numerous auditors, and he delivered them with becoming modesty and diffidence.

From the time that he first entered upon an academical appointment, till 1756, his prelections were confined to the institutions of medicine alone. But at that period his learned colleague, Dr. Rutherford, who was then professor of the practice of medicine, found it necessary to retire; and on this occasion, Dr.Whytt, Dr. Monro senior, and Dr. Cullen, each agreed to take a share in an appointment in which their united exertions promised the highest advantages to the university. By this arrangement, students who had an opportunity of daily witnessing the practice of three such teachers, and of hearing the grounds of that practice explained, could not fail to derive the most solid advantages. In these two departments the institutions of medicine in the university, and the clinical lectures in the royal infirmary (which were first begun by Dr. Rutherford) Dr. Whytt’s academical labours were attended with the most beneficial consquences both to the students, and to the university. But not long after the period we have last mentioned, his lectures on the former of these subjects underwent a very considerable change. About this time the illustrious Gaubius, who had succeeded to the chair of Boerhaave, published his “Institutiones Pathologiae.” This branch of medicine had indeed a place in the text which Dr.Whytt formerly followed, but, without detracting from the character of Boerhaave, it may justly be said, that the attention he had bestowed upon it was not equal to its importance. Dr T Whytt was sensible of the improved state in which pathology now appeared in the writings of Boerhaave’s successor; and he made no delay in availing himself of the advantages which were then afforded. Accordingly, in 1762, his pathological lectures were entirely new modelled. Following the publication of Gaubius as a text, he delivered a comment, which was heard by every intelligent student with the most unfeigned satisfaction. For a period of more than twenty years, during which he was justly held in the highest esteem as a lecturer at Edinburgh, it may readily be supposed that the extent of his practice corresponded to his reputation. In fact he received both the first emoluments, and the highest honours, | which could there be obtained. With extensive practice in Edinburgh, he had numerous consultations from other places. His opinions on medical subjects were daily requested by his most eminent contemporaries in every part of Britain. Foreigners of the first distinction, and celebrated physicians in the most remote parts of the British empire, courted an intercourse with him by letter. Besides private testimonies of esteem, many public marks of honour were conferred upon him both at home and abroad. In 1752, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London; in 176!, he was appointed first physician to the king in Scotland; and in 1764, he was chosen president of the royal college of physicians at Edinburgh.

At an early period of life, soon after he had settled as a medical practitioner in Edinburgh, he married Miss Robertson, sister to general Robertson, governor of New York; by her he had two children, both of whom died in infancy, and their mother did not long survive them. A few years after he again entered into the married state with Miss Balfour, sister to James Balfour, esq. of Pilrig. By this lady he had fourteen children, six of whom only survived him. His wife died in 1764, and it is not improbable that the many deaths in his family, and this last loss had some share in hastening his own; for in the beginning of 1765 his health was so far impaired, that he became incapable of his former exertions. A tedious complication of chronical ailments, which chiefly appeared under the form of Diabetes, was not to be resisted by all the medical skill which Edinburgh could afford and at length terminated in death, April 15, 1766, in the fifty- second year of his age.

Dr. Whytt’s celebrity as an author was very great. His first publication was, “An Essay on the Vital and other Involuntary motions of animals,” which was written fifteen years before publication in 1751. His next publication was his “Essay on the virtues of Lime-water and Soap in the cure of the stone,1752, part. of which had appeared several years before in the “Edinburgh Medical Essays.” His “Physiological Essays,” were first published in 1755. In 1764 appeared his principal work, entitled “Observations on the nature, causes, and cure of those disorders which are commonly called nervous, hypochondriac, and hysteric.” The last of his writings, “Observations on the Dropsy of the Brain,” did not appear till two years after his death, | when all his works were collected and published in one volume quarto, under the direction of his son, and of his intimate friend the late sir John Pringle. Besides these five works, he wrote many papers which appeared in different periodical publications; particularly in the Philosophical Transactions, the Medical Essays, the Medical Observations, and the Physical and Literary Essays. 1