Clinical Lectures, published in 1797

In 1797 a volume entitled Clinical Lectures, Delivered in the Years 1765 and 1766, by William Cullen, M.D. Taken in Short-hand by a Gentleman who attended was published in London by Lee and Hurst. In Volume II of the Life of Cullen, Allen Thomson (the editor), in his list of the ‘Published Writings of Dr Cullen’ (pp. 687-690) has this to say about it (or he may have just been copying what John or William Thomson had written elsewhere):

Besides the works here enumerated, there were published at London, in the year 1797, seven years after the death of Dr Cullen, Clinical Lectures by Dr Cullen in 1765 and 1766. This volume, however, is one of questionable authenticity; and though it professes to give Clinical Lectures by Dr Cullen, it cannot justly be regarded as a production of his. It was merely a speculation of the bookseller; and, indeed, any book bearing the name of Cullen, for some years before his death, and after that event, would have been readily bought (690).

John Thomson claimed that the notes for Cullen’s clinical lectures for these years survive (see p. 107, Vol I, for his list), so it should be possible to compare the contents of the published volume to Cullen’s own lecture notes to verify just how accurate—or speculative—this publication actually is (I don’t have the catalogue numbers at hand for these notes, though they are almost certainly held at the RCPE).

Nonetheless, I’m confident the 1797 publication was not a fabrication. I think I have discovered the ‘author’ of the manuscript upon which this volume is based  – i.e. the person who transcribed the notes, and indeed, his transcription of those very notes. So I think the publication is authentic and not a mere ‘speculation of the bookseller’, although it may have been initiated by the bookseller. In any case, it is likely what it says it is. However, the accuracy of the notes is still an open question.

Addendum: I have discovered that John Thomson (et al.) quotes directly from the published Clinical Lectures discussed above, so its dismissal by Allen Thomson/David Craigie was not shared by John Thomson himself. If you compare the MS quotation from Thomson’s Life of Cullen, Vol 1, p. 342-343, you will see it is identical to the bottom half of p. 9 from the Clinical Lectures, published in 1797. Thomson also quotes directly and explicitly from the Clinical Lectures on p. 268 of Vol. 1, as well, without condemning them. And finally, the section on Headache found in his Works, Vol 2, pp. 537-559, comes directly from the published Clinical Lectures (1797).

So, this source warrants more attention than it has traditionally been given – at least, John Thomson thought so.

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