SIR JAMES SIMPSON.*
IF any one should doubt, before opening this book, whether Sir James Simpson was worthy of an elaborate biography, his doubt will be dissipated long before he concludes the volume. The sub- ject of this biography was not only a most successful medical prac- titioner, and not only even a scientific genius, but he was, what is still better, and what makes the charm of this biography, a man of a highly interesting character and of sterling excellence. This is a book which enthrals the heart, and is a record of domestic virtues and of private life which it is often difficult to read without tears. We were at first inclined to fear, as the Rev. Dr. Duns, the biographer, has in his preface surmised to be possible, that he was a little too obtrusive of religion in the narrative of Simpson's life ; it was likely to be a professional bias ; but as we have proceeded, Dr. Duns has won us; the circumstances fully justify him ; and in closing the book, we remain with the impres- sion of a very skilful, honest biography, by an able and judicious friend of a man of commanding intellect and admirable character.
Sir James Simpson, Professor of Midwifery in Edinburgh Uni- versity, and the discoverer of chloroform as an anmithetic, was a son of a baker at Bathgate. lie was the youngest of a numerous family. His birth was on June 7, 1811. In the family of a Scotch working farmer or thrifty shopkeeper, it was not unusual to put aside the youngest son for scholarship and a scholarly pro- fession. "It says much in favour of these households," says Dr. Duns, " that to this fostering care we are indebted for James Simpson, and for others also who have done good work for God and their country, in the Church, in politics, in literature, or in science." The devotion of James's eldest brothers and of one sister to him, the youngest bairn, and his noble-hearted gratitude, with rich returns to them when prosperity came to him, make a beautiful element in this biography :—
" The mode in which David Simpson managed his house was in many respects peculiar. As the sons grew up, they came to regard him as a familiar companion and friend, rather than as a parent. At a very early age each member of the family came to feel that the success and happiness of the household depended on his own exertions, and that all were expected to work, not for themselves only, but for the general good. United in effort, the reward came equally to each. There was one purse. The ' till' which received the shop drawings was without fastenings of any sort; its contents were free to all. But each son was expected to consider the things of others before looking on his own. The interests of the house were to be preferred to those of the indi- viduaL Work was, in every case, except one, hold to make good a right to the use of the tilL' James was the exception. From his childhood he was the favourite, for whom all the brothers were willing to work The members were strong for work, and money was spent freely. Lavish care was bestowed on James. Alexander especially watched over him with care and tenderness. 'He felt he would be great some day.' When the social usages of the town and the prevalent free mode of living presented strong temptations to the boy, Alexander would put his arm round his neck, and tenderly warn him: 'Others may do this, but it would break a' our hearts and blast a' your prospects were you to do it."
• Memoir of Sir James Simpson, Bart., M.D. burgh: Edmonton and Douglas. 1873.
By J. Dana D.D., The father died in January, 1830. James was then a medical student at Edinburgh, on the point of going in for his surgeon's examination. The interruption of his studies caused by his father's illness, led him to fear the examination, and think of working another year ; but his good brother Sandy urged him to try, promising that if he did not succeed no other relative should know of his failure. He tried, and easily succeeded. He became a member of the Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons before he was nineteen. He took the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1832. He had in the meantime applied for the situation of surgeon to the small village of Inverkip, on the Clyde, and his application had been luckily unsuccessful. " When not selected," he said, many years after, "I felt perhaps a deeper amount of chagrin and disappointment than I have ever experienced since that date. If chosen, I would probably have been working there as a village doctor still. Through the ceaseless love and kindness of a dear elder brother, and in consequence of gaining the Stewart University Bursary, I was enabled to study for some time longer at the University, and obtain my medical degree." He had now a rapid career in the University. Dr. Thomson, the Pro- fessor of Pathology, sought him out, and appointed bins his assistant, not previously knowing him. In 1835 he was elected Senior President of the Royal Medical Society. Through the munificence of his brother, he was enabled in 1836 to make a partnership arrangement with Dr. Mackintosh for extra-University midwifery lecturing. His friend Dr. Reid had, without Simpson's knowledge, sounded the brothers as to assistance, and this is part of the generous reply:— "Sandy and I can easily raise £200 or £300 in the meantime, and pay Mackintosh by instalments. Give him all the consolation you can, and use all your exertions for his interest, and such obligations shall never be forgotten by us. Do not, if possible, let James's prospects be blasted, for I would rather that my own heart were broken than that he should be disappointed. I am sure I have told him again and again, both verbally and in writing; that he might consider mine as the joint- stock purse of the family, so long as it can be divided."
His extra-academical lectures on midwifery were an immense success. Then soon came the happy crisis of his fortunes. In November, 1839, the University Professorship of Midwifery became vacant. The Bathgate baker's eon, only twenty-eight years of age, became a candidate. " I have been told," he wrote to Sandy, "by a member of the Council that they have no objec- tion to me but my youth and my celibacy, and that if any person in Scotland gets it, I will, notwithstanding these defects." Youth he could not mend, but he at once got rid of the other objection by proposing marriage to a cousin, whom he married before the election came on. Ho wrote a noble letter to his future father- in-law, asking for his sanction :—
" At the present moment, though my friends tell me my chance for the Professorship isexcellent, yet I believe myself I shall not get it just now, as possibly Dr. Lee or Dr. Kennedy will, as strangers, be preferred over me. In asking, then, your daughter's hand, I ask it, not with any certainty of being elected, and thus having a future at once at my feet— I ask it for better or for worse, whether I succeed, or, what is more probable, do not succeed. But, taking it at the worst, I do think I shall be enabled by my practice alone to maintain a wife respectably. At the same time I am sure you will pardon mo if I toll you—indeed, it is my bounden duty to tell you—that, as I stand just now, I am in debt."
He stated the debt at £.320,-=£200 which his brother " Sandy, one of the best of men that breathe," had spent on his education, and £120 which he had lately lent him for furnishing his house. Repayment of the last sum was now impeded by the expenses of his contest for the Professorship, and he adds, " I have endea- voured to assist my sister, who has been the only mother I ever knew, to go out to Van Diemen's Land ;" and then he asks, " Could you trust her future happiness to me under such circum- stances? I did not intend to ask her hand at present. I fondly hoped I might have first cleared myself of my debts." But he said he was losing patients because he was not married, and his being a bachelor was made an objection to him as candidate for the Professorship. The father's consent was promptly given. The marriage was on December 26, 1839. The election was on February 4, 1840. It was a fierce and bitter contest. There was much of unseemly opposition by Professors to a Scotchman and a baker's son. Thirty-three electors voted, and Simpson had a majority of one. The honeymoon of the lately married pair began the day after the election. Till then there bad been nothing but
Simpson's fortune was now made. His midwifery class was the largest in the University. His practice rapidly increased. " Am delighted," he wrote to his sister-in-law, " with the class. Had to apply to the Council for additional sittings, and again for some days students standing for want of seats. For the first time in the history of the University the midwifery is the first, I mean the largest, class within its walls." On New Year's Day, 1843, he must have been happy. He wrote to his brother Sandy, sending him £200, " which, with the £100 I gave you when you were last in town, will release the promissory note I gave you some years ago. If you have it, be so good as to burn it." And he added, " As a feeble, alas ! too feeble, mark of the feelings of gratitude which David and I and all of us bear to you, I have sent, as a New Year's offering to the kindest of brothers, a box with a few articles. The whole is a small repayment of the boundless debt I owe you." The time came when he could effectually serve his dear brother. Sandy went on prospering, and the baker was selected for manager of a branch bank at Batbgate. He wrote to his brother asking him to be his surety, and the following was the warm-hearted reply :—
4, let February. 1856.
" MY DEAR SANDT,—I have only one moment left to say how happy I am at the receipt of your letter. Believe me. I shall be only too proud to be caution for you to any extent that I am worth.—Yours always, J. Y. Sarrsos."
This history of Simpson's relations with his brother stamps the man, and shows the human interest of this biography. A narrative of his medical or scientific career would be dry and profitless to most readers, but in the story of his brotherly love, and in similar stories of his domestic relations as husband, as father, and as friend, there is that which interests all humanity, and will de- light every reader. There is no one who will not find useful teaching in this volume. To the medical student it will be in- valuable, as an example of ever-flowing goodness and kindness, joined with unflagging perseverance, insatiable mental activity, and persistent devotion to the highest ends of medical science. When Sir James Clark wrote to him to announce that the Queen, braving prejudice, had taken chloroform in a confinement, April, 1853, he said, " You certainly are the most industrious man in the profession. It is really surprising that with your extensive and harassing practice you can find time to bring forth a volume every year." When standing on the threshold of the profession, he had quailed before the pain which he would be doomed constantly to witness. After seeing the terrible agony of a poor Highland woman under amputation of the breast, he left the class-room and went straight to the Parliament House to seek work as a writer's clerk. But on second thoughts he returned to the study of medicine, asking, "Can anything be done to make operations less painful?" This idea remained with him, and in ]847 he discovered the use of chloroform. This is how he wrote to a friend, Dr. Meigs, who had publicly opposed chloroform :—" If perchance you persist for some years longer in your present opinion, it will have the effect of inflicting a large amount of what I conscientiously believe and know to be altogether unnecessary agony and suffering on thousands of our fellow-beings." Such a communication as the following, from Dr. George Johnston, who had witnessed some of his first experiments, touched his heart :—" I have no words to express the delight I still feel in thinking of the quantity of suffer- ing the poor woman in the hospital was saved by your means." For the discovery of chloroform Simpson was made a baronet. He was the first Scotch professor, and the first doctor in Scotland, who had received that distinction. There was to have been a public dinner in Edinburgh to celebrate this honour, Lord Dalhousie as chairman, when joy was suddenly changed to sorrow by the death of bis eldest son, already practising as a doctor.' There can be no more wholesome reading than the letters of Sir James Simpson on this and other melancholy events in his family. In all his cares and anxieties of practice, in all his great labours of science, in the height of his prosperity and the fulness of fame, his heart was al ways with his family. It was given to this kind-hearted, warm- hearted man to be pursued through life by many controversies and quarrels. Dr. Duns has narrated many of these fully, and as a friend, but not as a partisan. Sir James Simpson was impetuous, truthful, warm-hearted, and ready to forgive. His squabbles with colleagues in the University reveal a wretched condition of local prejudices and jealousies, too forcibly re-illustrated in the late melancholy proceedings about lady students. There, it would seem, "each man walks with his head in a cloud of poisonous flies." On the death of Sir David Brewster, in 1865, Sir James Simpson was proposed for Principal of the University. His claims were very great. Not a word is to be said against the fitness of Sir Alexander Grant, his junior, who, absent in India, was selected to oppose him. It may indeed be admitted that Sir James Simpson had made an obstacle for himself by a recent speech in disparagement of classics as a prominent part of educa- tion. But war was waged against Simpson with unfair weapons. The contest was an unseemly spectacle of virulent malice. Sir James Simpson was not elected. "The means by
which this result was brought about," says Dr. Duns, " were, to say the least, of a very extraordinary, if not scandalous kind."
We refer to the volume for details (pp. 496-502). Dr. Duna concludes his painful narrative :—
" Such are the leading features of this unworthy work. The high regard I have for some of the parties who inconsiderately lent themselves to it led me to seek earnestly for grounds that would have justified the absence of any allusion to it here. It was the only great shadow attempted to be cast on the lustre of a bright public career, and had to be noticed. Sir James was satisfied with the retractation and apology of those who had caused it, and heartily forgave them. His attitude throughout the whole of these transactions won the admiration of all who shared his confidence. It impressed me mach at the time, but my admiration of his bearing has been deepened while carefully tracing again the history of the affair. Proofs are abundant of his generosity, his willingness to forgive imputation of crooked motives, and chiefly of his dread lest Christianity should be held responsible for the un-Obristian acts of any of its disciples."
This great defeat was quickly followed by a presentation of the freedom of the City of Edinburgh. When Sir James Simpson died, two years after, at the comparatively early age of fifty-nine, he whom the University had rudely rejected as Principal was judged worthy of a public funeral in Westminster Abbey, the Dean immediately assenting to a numerously signed requisition for that purpose. But the family declined the proposal, knowing his own wish to be buried near Edinburgh. The Senatus Acade- miens of Edinburgh University passed a resolution " to record their admiration of his genius, and of the benefits which he has conferred on mankind by his discoveries " ; and also " their high appreciation of the ability and energy with which, during a period of thirty years, he conducted the classes of midwifery; of the lustre which his name conferred on the University, and of the great loss which the University has sustained by his untimely death."