Highmore, Nathaniel (DNB00)

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HIGHMORE, NATHANIEL, M.D. (1613–1685), physician, son of Nathaniel Highmore, rector of Candel-Purse, Dorsetshire, was born at Fordingbridge, Hampshire, on 6 Feb. 1613. Scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, 1632–9, he graduated M.B. in 1641, and M.D. in 1642, and was still in residence when Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, came to Oxford with the king after the battle of Edgehill. They became friends, and in 1651 Highmore, who had settled in practice at Sherburne, Dorsetshire, dedicated to Harvey his first work, ‘Corporis Humani disquisitio anatomica in qua sanguinis circulationem prosequutus est.’ This treatise was published at the Hague, and, like most of the books on anatomy of its period, gives an account of pathological appearances and of comparative anatomy, as well as of the normal structure of the human body. He was familiar with the anatomy of the dog and of the sheep, and had dissected an ostrich. Though perfectly sound in his views as regards the circulation of the blood, the physiological remarks of Highmore are sometimes mediæval. Thus he believed in an ‘alexipharmaca dispositio vitalium,’ which enabled an Oxford student of his acquaintance to devour spiders with impunity. His plates are based on those of Vesalius, and he frequently attacks Spigelius. The book is never read now, but one passage in it has made the author's name familiar to all students of anatomy. He describes accurately (p. 226 and table xvi.) the cavity in the superior maxillary bone, to which his attention was drawn by a lady patient, in whom an abscess of this cavity, ever since known as the antrum of Highmore, was drained by the extraction of the left canine tooth. He became a magistrate for Dorsetshire, and attained considerable practice as a physician. He never took fees from the clergy. He also published in 1651 ‘A History of Generation, examining the Opinions of Sir Kenelm Digby, with a Discourse of the Cure of Wounds by Sympathy,’ a work containing some careful observations on the development of the chick. In 1660 he published at Oxford ‘Exercitationes duæ … De Passione Hysterica et de Affectione Hypochondriaca;’ 3rd ed., Jena, 1677; and a few years later some remarks on Scarborough spa, and an account of springs at Farindon and East Chenock. He died at Sherburne on 21 March 1685, and was buried on the south side of the chancel of the church of Candel-Purse. He had made his will on 4 March 1684, and by it endowed an exhibition to Oxford from Sherburne school, and left his tables of the muscles to the physic school at Oxford. There is a small portrait of him on the title-page of his anatomy (1651), and one drawn in 1676 in Hutchins's ‘Dorset.’

[Works; Hutchins's Dorsetshire, vol. iv.]

N. M.