Lives of the fellows

Francis Glisson

b.1597 d.14 Oct 1677
AB Cantab(1620-1) AM(1624) MD(1634) FRCP(1635)

Francis Glisson, M.D., was the second son of William Glisson, of Rampisham, co. Dorset, [by his second wife Mary dr of John Hancock of South Perrott in the same county], and was born there [word ‘there’ deleted in Munk’s notes] in the year 1597. He was admitted at Caius college, Cambridge, in 1617, proceeded A.B. 1620-1, A.M. 1624, and was incorporated at Oxford on the last degree 25th October, 1627. He then applied himself to the study of physic, graduated M.D. at Cambridge in 1634; was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 15th September, 1634, and a Fellow 30th September, 1635. In 1636 he succeeded Dr. Ralph Winterton as Regius professor of physic at Cambridge, and continued to hold that office to the time of his death in 1677. In 1639 he was chosen anatomy reader by the College, and acquired much reputation by his lectures de morbis partium. He was Gulstonian lecturer in 1640, was named an Elect 15th November, 1655, was Censor in 1656; President, 1667, 1668, 1669; Consiliarius, 1666 and again from 1670 to his death. He died on the 14th October, 1677, aged 81, and was buried in St. Bride’s church, Fleet street.

For some years after Dr. Glisson’s appointment to the Regius professorship, he resided at Cambridge; but during the civil wars retired to Colchester, where he practiced with great reputation. He was in that town at its memorable siege by the Parliamentary forces in 1648, and was the person selected on more than one occasion to solicit favourable terms from Lord Fairfax. Shortly after this he must have come to reside in London – he was certainly resident here in 1650, and thenceforward took an active part in the affairs of the College. Dr. Glisson was one of that small but illustrious body who instituted a weekly meeting in London for the purpose of promoting inquiries into natural and experimental philosophy; and which, after the Restoration, being augmented by the accession of several eminent persons, at length issued in the institution of the Royal Society, of which Dr. Glisson became, of course, a member. He was one of the first of that group of English anatomists who, incited by the great example of Harvey, pursued their inquiries into the human structure, as it were in concert, and with an ardour and success that has never been surpassed. Of these, none exceeded Dr. Glisson in judgment and accuracy. Boerhaave styles him, “Omnium anatomicorum exactissimus;” and Haller, speaking of one of his books, says, “Egregius liber, ut solent hujus viri esse.”

His first work, De Rachitide, seu Morbo Puerili, published in 1650, deserves particular notice. The preface mentions that the following Fellows of the College – Drs. Glisson, Sheaf, Bate, Regemorter, Wright, Pagett, Jonathan Goddard, and Trench, members of a private society for the improvement of themselves and their profession, communicated to each other written observations concerning this new disease. From these, it was thought proper to make extracts, and compose an express treatise on the subject, the care of which was unanimously delegated to Drs. Glisson, Bate, and Regemorter. The plan at first agreed on was, that each should take a separate part of the work and complete it. But on Dr. Glisson finishing his, which contained an investigation of the cause of the disease, to the satisfaction of the other two, but with many opinions peculiar to himself, they changed their design, and committed to him the planning of the whole work, that all its parts might be congruous and dependent on each other. This Glisson accepted, on the condition that they would assist him still, with their advice and judgment, and contribute their own observations. His next work, De Hepate, was published in 1654. In it he gives an account of the cellular envelope of the vena porte, so much more accurate than any which had been published, that his name thenceforward has been inseparably connected with it, under the designation “Glisson’s capsule.” Glisson’s third work, Tractatus de Naturâ Substantiæ energeticâ, seu de Vitâ Naturæ, ejusque tribus primis facultatibus, Perceptivâ, Appetitvâ et Motivâ, naturalibus, was published in 1672. It is a profound and laborious performance, in the very depths of the Aristotelian philosophy, with all its numerous divisions; and, though in a system and manner now obsolete, deserves admiration as an extraordinary effort of the understanding in a man of an advanced age. He dedicates it to Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury; and in the epistle dedicatory mentions having been for several years physician to that nobleman and his family, and acknowledge the obligations he was under to him for his patronage and assistance in several difficulties he had met with. His last work, De Ventriculo et Intestinis, appeared in 1677, the year of his death.(1)

A portrait of Dr. Glisson, evidently taken when he was advanced in years, is in the Censor’s room. (2) [It was painted and engraved by Faithorne.? Soc]

William Munk

[(1) For the greater part of this sketch, I am indebted to Aiken’s Biographical Memoirs.
(2) “Hic, primaria organorum vitalium functione ab Harveio explicata, duo alia organa, functionibus naturalibus præcipue destinata, Harveio duce, statuebat explicanda. Hic hepatis structuram tam internam quam externam mirâ quidem solertiâ patefecit. Hic vaginam portæ, sive capsulam ejus communem prius detexit, explicavit, nominavit. Neque minore hic acumine minutissimas ventriculi et intestinorum fibras indagavit; functionibusque illorum viscerum penitus investigatis, modum parandi chyli, sicut antea secernendæ bilis pari eruditione atque elegantiâ demonstravit. Hic denique, eam fibrarum animalium proprietatem, quæ faci ut eæ sine sensu irritentur, primus notavit et nominavit: eam ipsam proprietatem quam doctissimus Hallerus, physiologus horum temporum longe præstantissimus experimenta Glissoni ulterius prosequendo, summo judicio plenius exposuit; summaque modestia philosopho omnio digna, philosophorum judicio nuper commendavit: eam profecto proprietatem, quam in fibris quibusdam animalibus, quemadmodum in materia universa gravitatem, inesse docuit vir solertissimus; qua proprietate patefacta, quamplurima in animalibus, quemadmodum in materia universa gravutatem, inesse docuit vir solertissimus; qua proprietate patefacta, quamplurima in animalibus tam vivis quam mortuis ----- (nulla antecedentium physiologorum ---- explicata, aut explicanda) perspicue Hallerus, Glissono monstrante viam, nunc explicavit. Hucusque Socii orantissimi, Glissonum nostrum doctrina solummodo et scienta medica excellentem vidimus: hucusque illum Harveii vestigiis insistentem et physiologiam, pathologiamque studioisissimè persequentem admirati sumus. Nunc viri magni humanitatem atque fortitudinem in arte exercenda intueamur. Peste enim hanc urbem eo tempore depopulante innumerabilibus, Reipublicæ causa, periculis sese objicere vir fortis non timuit; mortemque ipsam pati maluisset, quam suis miserrime circum circa decumbentibus opem non tulisse. O admirandum hominis virtutem! O incredibilem prorsus humanitatem! O fortitudinem supra humanam!” Oratio Harveiana festo Divi Lucæ habita, A.D. MDCCLV a Roberto Taylor, M.D., p.15-17.]

[Arms: Morison, Plantarum. Tab. 4. Sec.4.]
[P. He was in London during the plague 1665, and voluntarily assisted in attending the sick. (Hodge)]

(Volume I, page 218)

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