Copland, James (DNB00)
|←Copinger, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 12
COPLAND, JAMES, M.D. (1791–1870), physician, was born in November 1791 in the Orkney Isles, and was the eldest of nine children. He went to school at Lerwick, and in November 1807 entered the university of Edinburgh. His studies were at first directed towards theology, but after a time he preferred medicine, and graduated M.D. in 1815. He at once sought occupation in London, but finding none that suited him, after eighteen months, went to the Gold Coast as medical officer to the settlements of the African Company. He landed at Goree, Senegal, Gambia, and Sierra Leone, learning all he could of the diseases of the country, and on leaving Sierra Leone had abundant opportunity of making use of his newly acquired knowledge, for three-fourths of the crew fell ill of fever, and in the midst of the epidemic a gale carried away the masts. Soon after the storm Copland landed and made his way along the coast amidst the savages, sometimes on foot, sometimes in small trading vessels or in canoes, till he reached Cape Coast Castle, where he lived for some months. In 1818 he returned to England, but soon started on travels through France and Germany. In 1820 he became a licentiate of the College of Physicians of London, and settled in Walworth. In London physicians without friends and without hospital appointments, or the opportunity of becoming known as teachers, have from time to time endeavoured to rise in their profession by constant writing and publication. This was the course which Copland chose. His laborious habits make it probable that he might have added something to medical knowledge, but the method he adopted inevitably ended in his becoming an eminent compiler and not a learned physician. He began by writing on the medical topography of West Africa (‘Quarterly Journal of Foreign Medicine,’ 1820), on human rumination, on yellow fever, on hydrophobia, on cholera (‘London Medical Repository,’ 1821), and then engaged in a discussion (‘London Medical and Physical Journal’) on chronic peritonitis. The question disputed was how to determine whether such cases were due to tubercle or merely to chronic inflammation. Copland's paper shows no great knowledge of morbid anatomy, nor does he know enough to grasp the extreme difficulty of determining the point in particular cases during life. In 1822 he took a house in Jermyn Street, became editor of ‘The London Medical Repository,’ and wrote much in that journal on many subjects. In 1824 he published notes to a translation of Richerand's ‘Physiology,’ and in 1825 issued a prospectus for an ‘Encyclopædia of Medicine.’ At the same time he lectured on medicine at a medical school then existing in Little Dean Street, and somewhat later at the Middlesex Hospital. In 1828 and 1829 he again issued proposals for an encyclopædia, but again without success, till at last the scheme was adopted by Messrs. Longman, the publishers, and in 1832 the first part was issued and the work ultimately finished by Copland in three stout volumes, with double columns, on 3,509 closely printed pages. The ‘Dictionary of Practical Medicine,’ a book, by one man, on every part of medicine, the small-type columns of which would extend, if placed in succession, for almost a mile, is a marvel of persevering industry, unfortunately more astonishing than useful. The book is only comparable to the ‘Continent’ of Al Rhasis, a vast collection of opinions and statements ungoverned by discernment. Our own time, wiser than the centuries which succeeded Al Rhasis, leaves Copland's dictionary as undisturbed on the shelves as the ‘Continent’ itself. An abridgment was published by the author in 1866.
In 1832 the article on cholera was published as a separate book, ‘Pestilential Cholera, its Nature, Prevention, and Curative Treatment.’ Copland was elected F.R.S. in 1833, and fellow of the College of Physicians in 1837. He attained considerable practice and wrote in 1850 a small book ‘On the Causes, Nature, and Treatment of Palsy and Apoplexy,’ and in 1861 ‘The Forms, Complications, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment of Consumption and Bronchitis,’ comprising also the causes and prevention of scrofula. He was president of the Pathological Society, but did not obtain the respect of the practical morbid anatomists who attended its meetings, and who were often led to smile when the president claimed as his own numerous modern discoveries in pathology. Copland wrote more on medicine than any fellow of the college of his time, or of any past time, and was respected in the college, where he was Croonian lecturer 1844, 1845, 1846; Lumleian lecturer 1854, 1855, and Harveian orator 1857. He gave up practice about a year before his death, which took place at Kilburn 12 July 1870.
[Pettigrew's Medical Portrait Gallery, i. 109, where the materials for the memoir were supplied by Copland himself; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, iii. 216; verbal accounts of surviving contemporary physicians.]