Kidd, John

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Kidd, John

(b. London, England, 10 September 1775; d. Oxford, England, 17 September 1851)

Chemistry, anatomy.

John Kidd was the son of John Kidd, a captain of a merchant ship; and his mother was the daughter of Samuel Burslem, vicar of Etwall, near Derby. He married Fanny Savery, daughter of the chaplain of St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, and they had four daughters.

In 1789 Kidd entered Westminster School, London, with a King’s scholarship. he was elected to a student-ship at Christ Church, in 1793, and graduated B.A. in 1797, M .A . in 1800 . He then studied at Guy’ Hospital, London, from 1797 to 1801, and took his medical degrees at Oxford, M.B. in 1801, and M.D. in 1804. In 1801 he returned to Oxford as reader in chemistry, and in 1803 he became the first Aldrichian professor of chemistry.

Kidd began his teaching career just when the reformed system of examinations, introduced at Oxford in 1800, was requiring greater concentration by students on the classical and mathematical syllabus. Undergraduates, especially those aiming at an honors degree, were thus discouraged by their college tutors from attending lectures on scientific subjects. This system, which did not allow a formal study of the sciences, was attacked from many quarters, but the science teachers at Oxford tacitly acquiesced during the first three decades of the nineteenth century.

In his pamphlet An answer to a Charge Against the English Universities (1818), Kidd discussed to what extent chemistry and other sciences ought to be taught in Oxford, where the training of students was almost exclusively for the church, the law, and the diplomatic service. He concluded that it would be unreasonable to introduce any general requirement regarding the study of science. Nevertheless, Kidd noted that his Chemistry course, consisting of thirty lectures a year, was equal in length to that at Guy’s Hospital, which was regarded as “the best school in London for Physical Sciences.” Kidd also lectured on mineralogy and geology and published the textbooks Outlines of Mineralogy (18019) and A Geological Essay (1815). Among his pupils was William Buckland, who took over his teaching in these subjects when the readership in mineralogy was instituted in 1813.

After his election to the readership in anatomy in 1816, Kidd became increasingly occupied with the teaching of anatomy and in improving the osteological material inn the college museum of Christ Church. He resigned from the chair of chemistry on his appointment as Regius professor of medicine in 1822.

Kidd was always conscious that his audiences were mainly nonscientists and senior members of the university who were genuinely interested in the rapid and varied advances then proceeding in science. They were also most anxious to reconcile their own religious dogmas and beliefs with findings of science which apparently contradicted them. In 1824 Kidd published An Introductory Lecture to a Course in Comparative Anatomy, Illustrative of Paley’s “Natural Theology.” In addition, Kidd was one of eight prominent scientists chosen to contribute to the Bridgewater Treatises on the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God as Manifested in the Creation. These volumes, financed from a bequest by the eighth Earl of Bridgewater, were intended to maintain the Paley standpoint. Kidd’s On the Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man (1833)examined the physical nature of man in relation to his whole environment. He was beyond Paley to embrace the idea of a universe designed and adapted to the physical and intellectual requirements of man, chosen by the Creator to be the supreme being. Although these studies were to become somewhat discredited later by the discoveries of Darwin and his followers, they were fully representative of the bet thought of the time, both in the level of their learning and in the variety of their religious ideas.

In practical administration, Kidd gave much attention to the content and scope of medical education and to the introduction of a single licensing authority or practitioners, and thus contributed to the modernization of the medical profession in Britain.


I. Original Works. In addition to the references in the text, Kidd also published a number of papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. His most substantial work was the Bridgewater Treatise on The Physical Condition of Man (London, 1833). It seems that no manuscript material of Kidd’s has survived.

II. Secondary Literature. Apart from obituary notices appearing shortly after his death, little has been written about Kidd’life and work. R. T. Gunther, Early Science in Oxford, III (Oxford, 1925), p. 118, confines his reference to a few anecdotes about Kidd in late life.

J. M. Edmonds