Cruikshank, William Cumberland (DNB00)

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CRUIKSHANK, WILLIAM CUMBERLAND (1745–1800), anatomist, was born in Edinburgh in 1745, his father having been an excise officer. He was educated at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, and graduated M.A. at the latter in 1767. Besides pursuing the divinity course he studied French and Italian so successfully as to be able to teach those languages to fellow-students, and he became tutor in several families of distinction. The acquaintance of two medical men, Moore and Montgomery, led Cruikshank to discard theology and become Moore's medical pupil; and when Dr. William Hunter had separated from Hewson in 1770 and wrote to Glasgow for another assistant, Cruikshank was nominated by the college through Moore's influence. Arriving in London in 1771, Cruikshank applied himself with great industry to anatomy, and soon gave demonstrations and occasionally supplied Hunter's place at lecture. Later, Dr. Hunter admitted him to partnership in the Windmill Street school, and he continued it after his death in 1783, in conjunction with Dr. Matthew Baillie [q. v.], Hunter's nephew. Cruikshank, however, gave way to intemperance, which shortened his life. He died of apoplexy on 27 June 1800, aged 55.

Cruikshank's chief title to remembrance, in addition to his success as an anatomical teacher, is his original work on the absorbent system. The results of his researches, which had been carried on in conjunction with William Hunter, are published in a quarto volume, ‘The Anatomy of the Absorbing Vessels of the Human Body,’ London, 1786. In it he embodied what he had taught for ten years before, having traced the lymphatic vessels extensively through the human body as well as in numerous animals. He had a considerable practice as a surgeon, but was not a successful operator owing to his nervousness. He attended Dr. Johnson in his last illness, and was termed by him, in allusion to his benevolent disposition, ‘a sweet-blooded man.’ When Cruikshank was lancing the dying man's legs to reduce his dropsy, Johnson called out to him, ‘I want life, and you are afraid of giving me pain—deeper, deeper.’ Often a bright companion of literary men, Cruikshank was held back by morbid susceptibility, and cannot be said to have done himself full justice. He received an honorary M.D. from Glasgow, and became F.R.S. in 1797. His eldest daughter married Honoratus Leigh Thomas [q. v.], afterwards president of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Besides his chief work, which reached a second edition in 1790, and was translated into French, German, and Italian, Cruikshank wrote comparatively little. Several communications on yellow fever and on chemical and other subjects have been erroneously attributed to him. Two important papers by him are in the ‘Phil. Trans.,’ viz. ‘Experiments on the Nerves, particularly on their reproduction and on the spinal marrow of living animals,’ lxxxv. 1794, p. 177; and ‘Experiments in which, on the third day after impregnation, the ova of Rabbits were found in the Fallopian Tubes,’ &c., lxxxvii. 1797, p. 197. Other tractates were: ‘Remarks on the Absorption of Calomel from the Internal Surface of the Mouth,’ at first published as a long letter in a pamphlet by Peter Clare, surgeon [q. v.], in 1778, and afterwards separately; and ‘Experiments upon the Insensible Perspiration of the Human Body, showing its affinity to respiration,’ at first included in the former letter, but reprinted in 1795. These experiments proved that carbonic acid is given off by the skin as well as the lungs. The Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London possesses a quarto manuscript entitled ‘Anatomical Lectures,’ by W. Cruikshank and M. Baillie, dated 1787.

[Gent. Mag. lxx. (1800), pt. ii. pp. 694, 792; Leigh Thomas's Hunterian Oration, 1827; Pettigrew's Medical Portrait Gallery, 1840, vol. iii.]

G. T. B.