Research Project Abstract

An event that has proved endlessly interesting to me occurred in 1793, not far from the flat I now let. Two fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) got into a row on High Street. If you have perused this blog at all you will have seen bits about the event and the two physicians involved in it scattered throughout my research and musings; as I said, I find it endlessly interesting. The row was the culmination of over a year long pamphlet war between the two physicians, resulting in a rather humorous episode in which one of the physicians was fined for beating the other one up with his cane, a fashionable accessory for learned men and physicians in particular.

I am working on a research project involving this event. I am gathering primary sources from the RCPE archives and analyzing them for content referring to the reason for the row in the first place. The next step is to go through secondary sources on the event, of which there are not many but enough to get an idea of how the event has colored the reputations of the two men throughout history. Finally, I am going to synthesize the two data sets and make connections between the event and the climate of the medical profession in Edinburgh at the time – a time when Edinburgh was at the center of medical learning in the western world.

There is more to be said about this event and how it is a microcosm of the culture of medicine and print in Edinburgh and perhaps further abroad, but that will have to be the stuff of another project, as this essay has a rather small word limit.


Primary Sources

Bell, John. Letters on professional characters and manners: on the eucation of a surgeon, and the duties and qualifications of a physician: addressed to James Gregory, M.D. Correspondence. Unpublished (1810). From Sibbald Library.

Gregory, James. Answer to Dr James Hamilton, Jr. Pamphlet. Edinburgh: unspecified printer (1793). From Sibbald Library, Simpson Collection.

Gregory, James. Dr Gregory’s Defense. Pamphlet. Edinburgh: James Ballentyne & Co (1808). From Sibblad Library.

Hamilton, James Jr. Reply to Dr Gregory. Pamphlet. Edinburgh: unspecified printer (1793). From Sibbald Library, Simpson Collection.

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Narrative of the conduct of Dr James Gregory, towards the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Drawn up and Published by order of the College. Pamphlet. Edinburgh: printed for Peter Hill, Manners & Miller, and A. Constable & Co (1809). From Sibbald Library.

Secondary Sources

Doyle, Derek. “Notable Fellows: James Gregory (1753-1821),” Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 39/1 (2009): 81.

McCrae, Morris. Physicians and Society: A History of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, 2007.




  1. Carl Atkinson · ·

    Hi there
    This sounds really interesting in itself though what fascinates me is that it’s another micro-history of what I am calling ‘Competing Discourses’ that were happening in Edinburgh (and the wider Scottish context) during the period from about 1740 through to the end of the century as people such as Hume, Kames, Ramsay, Home challenged the dominant discourses emanating primarily from the Kirk, which appears to have attempted to assume a leading role in setting the boundaries for acceptable discursive practices, following the Union and the shift in government and ‘court’ to London. As you can spot, this comment is influenced by my recent delvings into the writings and interviews of Michel Foucault! Let’s chat about it this week. It’s too heavy for a Sunday morning

  2. So interesting! Yes, let’s.

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