Lives of the fellows

Matthew Baillie

b.27 October 1761 d.23 September 1823
AB Oxon(1783) AM(1786) MB(1786) MD(1789) FRCP(1790) Hon FRCP Edin(1809)

Matthew Baillie, M.D., was born on the 27th October, 1761, at the manse of Shotts, in Lanarkshire. He was the son of the Rev. James Baillie, D.D. (subsequently professor of divinity in the university of Glasgow, a divine of excellent understanding, of polished and dignified manners, and of a highly cultivated mind), by his wife Dorothea, sister of the celebrated anatomists, William and John Hunter. He received his early education at the grammar-school at Hamilton, the master of which, Mr. Whale, was a man of quick parts, of various knowledge, and with a considerable turn for humour. He was an excellent Latin scholar, but not very thoroughly acquainted with Greek, although he had enough of that language for the creditable teaching of the school. Before Dr. Baillie had completed his thirteenth year he was sent to the college of Glasgow, where he passed five sessions in the study of classics, mathematics, and general philosophy. Having obtained one of the Scotch exhibitions at Balliol college, Oxford, he proceeded thither in 1779, and thenceforward spent his vacations in London, under the roof of his uncle, Dr. William Hunter. He graduated A.B. 14th January, 1783; A.M. 14th June, 1786; M.B. 15th July, 1786; M.D. 7th July, 1789. In the intervals of his residence at Oxford he applied himself diligently to the study of anatomy in London, was engaged in making preparations for Dr. Hunter’s lectures, in conducting demonstrations, and superintending the dissections of the students. On the death of Dr. Hunter, in 1783, Baillie inherited a sum of 5000l. in money, the house and premises in Great Windmill-street until the end of thirty years from Dr. Hunter’s death, and the use of the museum for the same period; as also a small estate in Scotland, the latter of which he thought fit to hand over to the celebrated John Hunter, as having, in his opinion, the best right to it. He succeeded in addition to a moiety of the lectures, Mr. Cruikshank being his colleague, and gave his first course in the session of 1784-5. As a teacher he succeeded in the highest degree; his demonstrations were remarkable for their clearness and precision; abstruse and difficult points under his hand became most simple and intelligible; he possessed a perfect conception of his subject, and imparted it with the utmost plainness and perspicuity to his hearers. He continued to lecture until 1799. Dr. Baillie’s practice as a physician may be dated from the summer of 1786, when he took his first degree in physic; and on the 23rd February, 1787, he was elected physician to St. George’s hospital. He was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1789; and a Fellow 30th September, 1790. He delivered the Gulstonian lectures in 1794; the Croonian lectures in 1796, 1797, 1798; and the Harveian oration in 1798. He was Censor in 1791, 1796; and was named an Elect 27th July, 1809. On the 13th November, 1809, he was elected an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Dr. Baillie’s relationship to the Hunters, and his marriage, in 1791, to Sophia, daughter of Dr. Denman, tended in some degree to advance him as a practitioner. The temporary secession from practice of Dr. David Pitcairn, the early and intimate friend of Dr. Baillie, in 1798, to whom that estimable physician recommended his patients during his absence at Lisbon, brought a large accession of business to Dr. Baillie, whilst the death of Dr. Warren contributed in no slight degree to extend his practice. His private engagements then increased so rapidly that, in 1799, he resigned his office at St. George’s hospital, gave up his anatomical lectures, and, removing to Grosvenor-street, devoted himself entirely to practice. His professional receipts were very large, and are said for many successive years to have reached ten thousand pounds. In 1810 Dr. Baillie was called into consultation, with Sir Henry Halford, on the princess Amelia, and in the course of his attendance was appointed physician extraordinary to George the Third; and, in 1814, physician in ordinary to the princess Charlotte. He attended the king in his last illness, and was offered a baronetcy, an honour which he begged permission to decline. During many years Dr. Baillie was in the habit of devoting sixteen hours of each day to business. Under such exertions, his health, as might have been expected, gave way, and compelled him at length to lessen his fatigues. He withdrew from all but consultation practice, and retired during the summer months to an estate he had purchased in Gloucestershire. In 1823 he was attacked with inflammation of the mucous membrane of the trachea, to relieve which he visited Tunbridge Wells, but without experiencing much relief. He therefore retired to his seat, Duntisboume-house, near Cirencester, where he expired on the 23rd September, 1823, aged sixty-two. He was interred in Duntisbourne church, and over the vault is a tablet thus inscribed:—

Sacred to the memory of
Matthew Baillie, M.D.,
who terminated his useful and honourable life
September 23rd, 1823, aged 62.
Also of
Sophia, his beloved wife,
who died August 5th, 1845, aged 74.

But the professional friends of Dr. Baillie erected a monument to his memory in Westminster abbey at an expense of eight hundred guineas. It consists of a fine bust by Chantry, and below bears on the pedestal the following inscription:—

Matthæo Baillie, M.D.,
Coll: Reg: Medic: Lond: et Edin: Socio,
in agro Scotico Lanerkæ nato,
Glasguæ literis instituto,
Oxoniæ expolito,
Prælectori anatomico apud Londinium insigni;
qui ad certiorem rationis normam
eas anatomiæ partes, quae morbos
spectant, primus redegit:
Medico summo
viro probitatis integræ
animi perspicacis, sinceri,
simplicis, liberalis, pii:
Hunc effigiem
complures ejusdem ætatis
Medici et Chirurgi
P. C.
Decessit nono kal Octob. A.S. MDCCCXXUI
æt: LXII.

Upon intelligence of the death of Dr. Baillie being received by the College of Physicians, the following record was directed to be inserted in the Annals (1): —

"That our posterity may know the extent of our obligation to the benefactor whose death we all deplore, be it remembered that Dr. Baillie gave the whole of his six hundred pounds for the preservation of the same; and this, too, after the example of the illustrious Harvey, in his lifetime. His contemporaries need not an enumeration of his many virtues to account for their respectful attachment to him whilst he lived, or to justify the profound grief which they feel at his death; but to the rising generation of physicians it may be useful to hold up for an example, his remarkable simplicity of heart, his strict and clear integrity, his generosity, and that religious principle by which his conduct seemed always to be governed,—as well calculated to secure to them the respect and goodwill of their colleagues and the profession at large, and the high estimation and confidence of the public."

By his will Dr. Baillie bequeathed to the College of Physicians a legacy of 300l. Together with all his medical, surgical, and anatomical books, and the copper-plates of his illustrations of morbid anatomy; and, in case of his son dying without legitimate issue, a sum of 4,000l. (2) His effects were sworn under 80,000l., and his will was dated 21st May, 1819. Sir Henry Halford, on the 22nd December, 1823, having announced to the College the bequests contained in Dr. Baillie’s will, read the following observations on the medical character of his departed friend and colleague:—

"The same principles which guided Dr. Baillie in his private and domestic life governed his public and professional behaviour. He was kind, generous, and sincere. His purse and his personal services were always at the command of those who could prefer a proper claim to them, and every branch of the profession met with equal attention. Nay, such was his condescension, that he often incurred great inconvenience to himself by his punctual observance of appointments with the humblest practitioners."

"In consultation he was candid and liberal in the highest degree ; and so industriously gave credit to the previous treatment of the patient (if he could approve it), that the physician who called him in never failed to find himself in the same possession of the good opinion of the family as he was before the circumstances of the case had made a consultation necessary."

"His manner of explaining the disease, and the remedies recommended, was peculiar to himself, and singularly happy. It was a short compressed lecture, in which the objects in they were to be obtained were developed with great clearness of conception, and in such simple unadorned language as was intelligible to his patient and satisfactory to his colleague."

"Before his time it was not usual for the physician to do much more than prescribe remedies for the malady, and encourage the patient by such arguments of consolation as might present themselves to humane and cultivated minds. But as the assumed gravity and outward signs of the profession were now considered obsolete customs, and were by general consent laid aside by the physicians; and as a more curious anxiety began to be observed on the part of the patient to learn everything connected with his complaint, arising naturally from the improved state of general knowledge, a different conduct became necessary in the sick room. The innovation required by the spirit of modern times never could have been adopted by any one more fitted by nature and inclination to carry it into effect, than by Dr. Baillie. The attention which he had paid to morbid anatomy, enabled him to make a nice discrimination in symptoms, and to distinguish between diseases which resemble each other. It gave him a confidence also in propounding his opinions, which our conjectural art does not readily admit; and the reputation which he enjoyed universally for openness and sincerity, made his dicta be received with a ready and unresisting faith."

"He appeared to lay a great stress upon the information which he might derive from the external examination of his patient, and to be much influenced in the formation of his opinion of the nature of the complaint by this practice. He had originally adopted this habit from the peculiar turn of his early studies; and assuredly such a method, not indiscriminately but judiciously employed, as he employed it, is a valuable auxiliary to the other ordinary means used by a physician of obtaining the knowledge of a disease submitted to him. But it is equally true that, notwithstanding its air of mechanical precision, such examination is not to be depended upon beyond a certain point. Great disordered action may prevail in a part without having yet produced such disorganisation as may be sensibly felt; and to doubt of the existence of a disease because it is not discoverable to the touch, is not only unphilo-sophical, but must surely, in many instances, lead to unfounded and erroneous conclusions. One of the inevitable consequences of such a system is frequent disappointment in foretelling the issue of the malady, that most important of all points to the reputation of a physician; and though such a mode of investigation might prove eminently successful in the skilful hands of Dr. Baillie, it must be allowed to be an example of dangerous tendency to those who have not had his means of acquiring knowledge, nor enjoyed the advantages of his great experience, nor have learned by the previous steps of education and good discipline to reason and judge correctly. The quickness with which a physician of keen perception and great practice makes up his mind on the nature of a disease, and the plan of treatment to be adopted, differs as widely as possible from the inconsiderate haste which marks the decisions of the rash and uninformed."

"Dr. Baillie acquired business early by the credit of his book on morbid anatomy. From the date of its first publication in 1793, its materials must have been furnished principally by a careful inspection of the diseased preparations collected in the museum of his uncle, Dr. Hunter. But it opened a new and most productive field of curious knowledge and interesting research in physic; and when he came to add, in the subsequent editions which were required, an account of the symptoms which accompany the progressive alteration made in the natural structure of parts by some diseases during the life of the patient, from his own observation and experience, he rendered his work highly valuable and universally popular. Impressed as he was with the great importance and value of such morbid preparations in assisting the physician to discriminate obscure internal diseases, his generosity prompted him, after the example of the immortal Harvey, to give, in his lifetime, his own collection to the College of Physicians. He has thus laid the foundation of a treasury of knowledge for which posterity will owe him a debt of gratitude to the latest period."

"He published from time to time several papers in the Transactions of the College and in other periodical works; all written in a plain and simple style, and useful as containing the observations of a physician of such extensive experience."

"But justice cannot be done to Dr. Baillie’s medical character, unless that important feature in it, which appeared in every part of his conduct and demeanour— his religious principle, be distinctly stated and recognised. His ample converse with one of the most wonderful works of the Creator—the formation of man— inspired in him an admiration of the Supreme Being which nothing could exceed. He had, indeed, " looked through Nature up to Nature’s God;" and the promises of the Gospel, on the conditions explained by our Redeemer, were his humble but confident hope in life, and his consolation in death."

"If one precept appeared to be more practically approved by him than another, it was that which directs us to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us; and this was felt and acknowledged daily by all his professional brethren in their intercourse with him." (3)

"On the whole, we may say of him, what Tacitus does of Agricola: 'Bonum virum facile crederes; magnum libenter.' "

A portrait and bust of Dr. Baillie are in the College. The portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence was bequeathed to the College by Elizabeth (Almack), the widow of Dr. David Pitcairne; the bust by Chantry was executed in 1824 at the expense of the College. Dr. Baillie edited Dr. Hunter’s great work " The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus."

His separate publications were —

The Morbid Anatomy of some of the most Important Parts of the Human Body. 8vo. Lond. 1793.
A Series of Engravings tending to illustrate the Morbid Anatomy of some of the most Important Parts of the Human Body. 4to. Lond. 1803.
Lectures and Observations on Medicine. 8vo. Lond. 1825.

The last, a posthumous work, of which 150 copies were printed for private circulation only, in accordance with the directions in Dr. Baillie’s will.

William Munk

[(1) 30th September, 1823.
(2) 1823, December 22. It was resolved that the following extracts from the late Dr. Baillie’s will, be inserted in the Book of Annals of the College:—

"I give to the President and Fellows for the time being of the Royal College of Physicians in London, for the use of the said College, all the copper-plates belonging to my work upon morbid anatomy; and all my medical, chemical, and anatomical books whatsoever. I also give to the same President and Fellows, for the use of the said College, the sum of 300l., to be paid out of my personal estate; and I do direct that the interest or annual produce of the said 300l. Be applied to keeping the said medical, chemical, and anatomical books in proper preservation and in augmenting the library of the said College."

A codicil dated 2nd November, 1822, runs thus:—

"In case my son, William Hunter Baillie, should die unmarried, or a widower, or married without legitimate children, then I desire that 4,000l. Sterling be paid out of my personal property, to the President and Fellows for the time being of the Royal College of Physicians in London, in order to form a permanent fund, the interest of which may be expended for purposes that may be conducive to the advantage of the said College, or for the promotion of medical science at large in Great Britain."

The following donations from Mrs. Baillie were announced:—
A gold-headed cane, which originally belonged to Dr. Radcliffe, and then to Dr. Mead, and afterwards to some of the most distinguished fellows of the College (in succession), whose arms are engraved on it.

Dr. Baillie’s collection of articles of the Materia Medica; and A picture by Zoffani, which belonged to Dr. William Hunter, and which exhibits portraits of himself (lecturing) and all the then members of the Royal Academy.
(3)"Ne vero in nimium crescat magnorum virorum commemoratio qui inde longo ordine secuti sunt, præcipiti cursu ad ætatem nostram feror ut adeam Matthæum Baillie, præceptorem hujus artis illustrem, talemque medicum, qualem non sine magno reipublicæ malo lagemus morte correptum: quo non digniorem video qui compleat orbem eorum hominum, per quos a studiis ad humani corporis naturam cognoscendam institutis maximæ res ad medendum accesserunt. Erat ei ad docendum mens aptissima, enodata, simplex; quae memoria comprehenderat, distincte habuit omnia et ordinatè ollocata; quorum expositio perspicua fuit et dilucida; quae si ad eloquentiam verbis ipsis non attgit, eo usque pervenit, ut ejus vice fungi videretur. Aperte loqui et breviter ei fuit mos, nulla exornatione usus est, singula quæque quasi ad vivum delineavit plane, luculenter, nulla verborum aut rerum ambiguitate. Memini ipse cum jam juvenis essem, et iis quæ docuit me dedissem, quanta solertia, quanta sedulitate res difficiles enucleabat, involutas aperibat, ita quidem ut mirifice sibi placeret auditor, se tanti negotii opus tam facile potuisse consequi. Quoties de ea parte in qua est physiologia disseruit, ea fuit sermonis felicitas, is rerum ordo nitidus, ea narratio, ea argumenti distributio, ut cum ipse summus esset artifex, nihil posset artificii in eo reperiri. Inerant moribus singularis simplicitas, candor, moderatio, bonitas, expressa quasi signa probitatis et benevolentiæ; ad hæc sinceri quoddam atque veri; quae omnia sui fiduciam fecerunt maximam. Attentus erat, acutus, diligens symptomatum investigator; interrogabat apte, breviter, explicate, ut qui majores res quæ morbis incidunt vellet omnes animo complecti, nec mentem suam sineret in minimis diffundi, nec levioribus irretiri vet suspensam teneri. Gravia erant quae ferebat judicia, brevia, prompta, et ad rem; comprehensa leni sententiarum ambitu, quas vestiebat facilis quædam et pellucens oratio, qua sic utebatur ut quae presse dicebat, carerent obscuritate; quae breviter ne curta essent; simplicibusque verbis ita disserebat, ut difficillimas res intelligerent audientes, vel saltem se intelligere crederent. Quare scilicet viventem tantopere amavimus, nonne quod ad eum delatus sit, non ab eo expetitus honor, quem meruisse magni, tulisse minoris habuit, propter, innocentiam, vitae et modestiam, universam in medicos mansuetudinem, qua prîncipatum gessit aequitatem, summum erga artem suam studium et amorem, diligentiam qua coluit, qua ornavit munificentiam. Eas igitur virtutes, nunc amotas nobis, nec jamdudum, nec adeo procul, ut effugerent oculos, quarum et ortum aliqui nostrum et cursum vidimus et occasum, nunc etiam, ut è longinquo respicimus ac uno quasi mentis intuitu percipimus, earum admiratione tenemur et desiderio. Cum igitur conjuncta sit iis tota ejus vitæ ratio, ad artem suam amplificandam accommodata, cumque ea repetamus quæ de anno in annum eidem contulit ac magnum illud opus de læsionibus corpori a morbo allatis contemplemur, (quæ res ab eo non inchoata licet inde formam cepit et stabilitatem); necnon Museum vobis quod exhibuit vivus, quasque opes ad id sustentandum suppeditavit, cujus custodes suæque famæ vos et heredes reliquit, et ad expoliendum absolvendumque instituit, et ære sculptas iconas earum rerum, quæ per aures vix attingunt mentem, sed per oculos eo facillimè feruntur, quas faciendas curavit perpetuæque fidei vestræ commisit moriens, quasque ideo legavit pecunias, quos bibliothecæ adjecit libros; miremur ei monumentum amicos, vos decrevisse statuam? Quam ei esse fingendam erexit, non solum apud suos verum etiam apud exteros fama, et id præterea, quo æqui essemus erga nostros et nostratum memoriam. At vereor ne diutius hic constiterit oratio. Duæ res mihi fuerunt incommoditati ne non satisfecisse viderer magni viri famæ, ne non amicitiæ qua illum complexus sum. Aliud etiam me in divorsum traxit, ne nimius essem aut prolixior. Utcunque sint ea, si nimis dixerim, haud ingratam fore vobis arbitror hanc in eo commemorationem; si parcius, id condonabitis imperitiæ; etenim quæ in eo erant, cum eodem modo in alio homine nusquam congregata viderim, fere singularia dicam, quae et erant sui generis et in suo genere perfecta et absoluta." Oratio Harveiana prima in Novis Ædibus Collegii, habita sext. kalend. Jul. an. MDCCCXXVI a Pelham Warren, M.D., p. 20, et seq]

(Volume II, page 402)

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