Lives of the fellows

George Fordyce

b.18 November 1736 d.25 May 1802
MD Aberd MD Edin(1758) LRCP(1765) FRS(1766) FRCP(1787)

George Fordyce, M.D., was born at Aberdeen 18th November, 1736. He was the posthumous and only child of Mr. George Fordyce, the possessor of a small landed estate called Broadford, in the neighbourhood of that city. He received his school education at Fouran, and was transferred thence to the university of Aberdeen, where he was created master of arts when only fourteen years of age. Having evinced a partiality for the medical profession, he was sent, when fifteen years of age, to his uncle Dr. John Fordyce, who was then practising at Uppingham, in Rutlandshire. He remained with him for some years, and then proceeded to Edinburgh, where he was one of the earliest and most favoured pupils of Dr. Cullen. He graduated doctor of medicine there the 13th October, 1758 (D.M.I. de Catarrho). Dr. Fordyce then came to London to continue his studies in anatomy under Dr. William Hunter, and in botany at the Chelsea gardens. In the autumn (of 1759) he went over to Leyden for the express purpose of studying anatomy under Albinus, and pathology under Gaubius. Returning to London, he at once commenced a course of lectures on chemistry. This was attended by nine pupils. In 1764 Dr. Fordyce began to lecture also on materia medica and the practice of physic. These three subjects he continued to teach with rapidly-increasing reputation for nearly thirty years, giving for the most part three courses of lectures on each subject in every year. A course lasted nearly four months, and during it a lecture was delivered six times in the week. His time of teaching commenced about seven o’clock in the morning and ended at ten o’clock, his lectures on the three subjects being given one immediately after the other. He was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1765; and in 1770 was chosen physician to St. Thomas’s hospital, after a very sharp contest with Dr., subsequently Sir William Watson, the number of votes in his favour being 120, in that of his opponent 106. In 1774 Dr. Fordyce became a member of the Literary Club; and in 1776 a fellow of the Royal Society. He was admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians, speciali gratiâ, 25th June, 1787, and rendered most important aid in the preparation of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis of 1788, for which his knowledge of chemistry and materia medica peculiarly fitted him. He was Censor in 1787, 1792, 1800; Gulstonian Lecturer in 1789; and Harveian orator in 1791. Dr. Fordyce was always fond of society, and in the earlier years of his life to render the enjoyment of its pleasures compatible with his professional pursuits, he used to sleep but little. He was often known to lecture for three consecutive hours in the morning without having undressed himself the preceding night. He had satisfied himself that man eats far oftener than nature requires, and for many years he took but one meal in the twenty-four hours. He dined every day for more than twenty years at Dolly’s chophouse, in Paternoster-row. At four o’clock the doctor regularly took his seat at a table always reserved for him, on which were placed a silver tankard of strong ale, a bottle of port wine, and a measure containing a quarter of a pint of brandy. The moment the waiter announced hirn, the cook put a pound and a half of rump steak on the gridiron, and on the table some delicate trifle as a bonne bouche, to serve until the steak was ready. This -was sometimes half a boiled chicken, sometimes a plate of fish; when he had eaten this he took one glass of brandy and then proceeded to devour his steak. When he had finished his meal he took the remainder of his brandy, having during dinner drank the tankard of ale and afterwards the bottle of port! He thus spent an hour and a half of his time, and then returned to his house in Essex-street. He made no other meal until his return next day at four o’clock to Dolly’s.(1) The vigour of his constitution enabled him to sustain for a time without apparent injury this mode of life. But at length he was attacked with gout, which afterwards became irregular, and for many years frequently affected him with excruciating pains in the stomach and bowels. He died at his house in Essex-street, Strand, 25th May, 1802, and was buried at St. Anne’s Soho. His memory was singularly capacious and retentive. He had read extensively, and, according to his friend and colleague, Dr. Wells, was probably more generally skilled in those sciences directly or remotely connected with medicine than any person of his time. His manners were less refined, and his dress in-general less studied than is expected in this country in the physician. From these causes and from his spending no more time with his patients than was barely sufficient for forming a just opinion of their ailments, he had for many years but little private employment in his profession, and never, even in the latter part of his life when his reputation was at its height, enjoyed nearly so much as many of his contemporaries. A good memoir of this distinguished physician, from the pen of his friend and colleague Dr. Wells, is to be seen in the " Gentleman’s Magazine" for June, 1802. Dr. Fordyce’s portrait, by Phillips, is at St. Thomas’s hospital, and was engraved by Keating. He contributed several important papers to the "Philosophical Transactions," and was the author of the following works:—
Elements of Agriculture and Vegetation. 8vo. Edinb. 1765.
Elements of the Practice of Physic. 8vo. Lond. 1770.
A Treatise on the Digestion of Food. 8vo. Lond. 1791.
Dissertations on Fever. 8vo. Lond. No. 1, 1794; No. 2, 1795; No. 3, in two parts, 1798,1799; No. 4,1802. The fifth was left by the author in MS. And was published by Dr. Wells in 1803.

William Munk

[(1) Nugæ Chirurgicæ. 8vo. Lond. 1827, p. 8]

(Volume II, page 373)

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