Matthew Baillie

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Matthew Baillie


Scottish Physician, Pathologist and Anatomist

Matthew Baillie wrote the first book on pathological anatomy as a separate science. His studies advanced the knowledge of diseases of the heart, lungs, liver, stomach, ovaries, and kidneys.

Baillie was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the son of Rev. James Baillie, later professor of divinity at the University of Glasgow, and Dorothy Hunter Baillie, the sister of prominent anatomists and surgeons John and William Hunter (1728-1793 and 1718-1783, respectively). He attended grammar school and Latin school in Hamilton, Scotland, then entered the University of Glasgow at the age of 13. In 1779 he was named a Snell Exhibitioner at Balliol College, Oxford University.

After Baillie's father died, his mother asked his uncle William to take charge of the boy's upbringing. In 1780 Baillie moved to London to live with his uncle. He studied anatomy and surgery with both Hunters, chemistry and medicine with George Fordyce, and obstetrics with Thomas Denman and William Osborn. He also attended lectures and rounds at St. George's Hospital in London. Even though he was living in London, he maintained his status as an Oxford student. From Oxford he received his B.A. in 1783, his M.A. and M.B. in 1786, and his M.D. in 1789. In 1787 he was appointed physician at St. George's. In 1791 he married Denman's daughter, Sophia.

When William Hunter died in 1783, Baillie inherited a great deal of wealth. William Hunter's will stipulated that Baillie and William Cruikshank together continue the anatomical lectures that Hunter had offered since 1768 at his Anatomical Theatre and Museum in Windmill Street, London.

In 1799 Baillie resigned from both St. George's and the Anatomical Theatre, gave up both writing and teaching, and thereafter devoted himself to private medical practice. He saw patients about 16 hours each day and soon became one of the most successful physicians in London. Toward the end of his career he was personal physician to King George III and several other members of the royal family.

Baillie is best known for writing The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1793), the earliest scientific exposition of pathological anatomy, the anatomy of diseased tissue. It includes classic postmortem descriptions of heart valve disease, emphysema, tuberculosis, gastric ulcer, cirrhosis of the liver, ovarian cysts, and many other afflictions. Its illustrations, published separately as A Series of Engravings, Accompanied with Explanations, which are Intended to Illustrate the Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1799-1803), constituted the first significant pathological atlas.

Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771) founded pathological anatomy with his De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis ["The Seats and Causes of Diseases Investigated by Anatomy"] (1761), but did not treat it as a separate science. Baillie's Morbid Anatomy established pathological anatomy as a discipline in itself, presented many new discoveries that soon had clinical importance, and set the stage for such eminent investigators as Jean Cruveilhier (1791-1874).

One traditional symbol of medicine is the gold-headed cane. In 1827 William Macmichael (1784-1839) published his account of a particular gold-headed cane that had belonged successively to six British physicians, John Radcliffe (1650-1714), Richard Mead (1673-1754), Anthony Askew (1722-1774), William Pitcairn (1712-1791), his nephew David Pitcairn (1749- 1809), and Matthew Baillie. Baillie's widow donated the cane to the New College of Physicians, Pall Mall East, London, in 1823. Macmichael's book provides an insider's view of 140 years of British medicine, as well as biographical information about the owners of the cane.