Baillie, Matthew

views updated Jun 08 2018

Baillie, Matthew

(b. Shots Manse, Lanarkshire, Scotland, 27 October 1761; d. Duntisbourne, Gloucestershire, England, 23 September 1823)


Baillie’s father was a Presbyterian minister in Shots, and later professor of divinity at Glasgow University. His mother, Dorothy Hunter Baillie, was the sister of the famous surgeons John and William Hunter. His sister, Joanna Baillie, was a well-known playwright and poet, who was an intimate friend of Sir Walter Scott. Baillie attended Hamilton Grammar School, Glasgow University, and, for a year, Balliol College, Oxford. He had won a scholarship to Oxford shortly after his father died, and before moving to Oxford he stayed in London with his uncle William Hunter, who operated the famous Windmill Street School of Anatomy. He soon was affiliated with the school, and when his uncle died in 1783, Baillie, then twenty-two, became master of the school. His uncle also left him the use of his medical museum for twenty years (after which it was to revert to Glasgow University) and a considerable fortune. In 1787 Baillie was elected physician to St. George’s Hospital, a position he held for thirteen years. He received the M.D. from Oxford in 1789 and soon after became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicans as well as of the Royal Society. In 1791 he married Sophia Denman, sister of the Lord Chief Justice. The couple had two children.

Baillie’s great importance is in the field of pathology. His Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body(1795) was the first English text on pathology, and the first systematic study in any language. Although Joseph Lieutaud and Giovanni-Battista Morgagni had earlier published studes in the field, Baillie was the first to take the various organs of the body serially and set forth then diverse morbid conditions of each. He believed that by studying the altered structure of morbid anatomy, it might be possible for the physician to learn what had caused the changes. Baillie was, however, careful not to go beyond his observations, and his modest goal prevented him from analyzing, correlating, or theorizing about his data. Most of his descriptions are based upon his own firsthand observations, many of them from specimens preserved by his uncles in their medical museum. Although explanations of morbid appearances have changed radically since his time, Baillie’s descriptions are still of value. His work is limited primarily to thoracic and abdominal organs and the brain; he ignored changes observed in the skeleton, muscles, nerves, and spinal cord. In general, Baillie was quite logical in his procedures, and he carefully distinguished between inflamed states, thickenings, hardenings, softenings, ulcers, tubercles, aneurysms, and the like. The second and subsequent editions of his work included sections on symptoms to be observed. Most subsequent pathology textbooks have been modeled on his.

Once his study of morbid anatomy had been published, and then revised and illustrated, Baillie concentrated on the practice of medicine. By 1800 he had the largest medical practice in London, and he has been called the most popular physician of his time. His bust was later placed in Westminster Abbey; and when the London Pathological Society was founded in 1846, its members put Baillie’s portrait on their seal. He left a fortune of over £80,000.


1.Original Works. Baillie’s major work is The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body(London, 1795;rev.1797, 1799), the 1799 ed. illustrated with engravings. Earlier he had edited a MS by his uncle William Hunter that is often credited to Baillie: Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus (London, 1794), Many of his essays, accompanied by a brief sketch of his life, were published in The Works of Matthew Baillie, James Wardrop, ed., 2 vols.,(London, 1825).

II.Secondary Literature. Information about Baillie’s career is usually included in various works that discuss William and John Hunter. There is, for example, a brief biographical sketch of him in Richard Hingston Fox, William Hunter, Anatomist, Physician, Obstetrician (London, 1901), pp. 26-29. See also William Macmichael. the Gold Headed Cane, 7th ed.(Springfield, III,. 1953). pp. 165-185; and Benjamin Ward Richardson, Disciples of Aesculapius, 2 vols. (London, 1900), II, 554-572. For an assessment of his importance, see Lester S. King. the Medical World of the Eighteenth Century (Chicago, 1958), pp. 277-281.

Vern L. Bullough

Baillie, Matthew

views updated Jun 27 2018

Baillie, Matthew


Over the course of his career, Matthew Baillie worked as a physician, lecturer, and author. While he worked at both St. George's Hospital and in his own private practice, he also served as the physician for many members of the royal family, including King George III.

Born in Lanarkshire in 1761, Baillie attended the University of Glasgow. In pursuit of a career in medicine , he moved to London to live with and study under his uncle William Hunter, the celebrated anatomist. At Hunter's home Baillie attended public lectures and was given private instruction by his uncle. In London he also attended Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1786. Three years later he received an M.D. from the school as well, and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

In 1787 Baillie was hired as a physician at St. George's Hospital, where he worked for a number of years. During this time, he also gave many lectures on various medical subjects. At the age of 36, Baillie left St. George's and devoted himself exclusively to his private medical practice. In this capacity, he became the physician of King George III, Princess Amelia, and Princess Charlotte. Baillie also continued to serve both wealthy and poor patients alike.

Baillie is perhaps best known as the author of The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body, published in 1793. The book is credited with establishing morbid anatomy as an independent science. In it Baillie provides the first clinical descriptions of cirrhosis of the liver, gastric ulcers, and chronic obstructive pulmonary emphysema, and gives one of the clearest descriptions written about the pulmonary lesions of tuberculosis.

see also Careers in forensic science.