Keill, James (DNB00)

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KEILL, JAMES (1673–1719), physician, born in Scotland on 27 March 1673, was the younger brother of John Keill [q. v.] the mathematician. He was educated partly at home, partly on the continent. He applied himself especially to anatomy, and coming to England acquired much reputation by lecturing on that subject at Oxford and Cambridge. The latter university conferred upon him the degree of M.D. With this degree, and without belonging to the College of Physicians, he settled in 1703 as a physician at Northampton, where he continued for the rest of his life. He died unmarried on 16 July 1719 of a painful cancer of the mouth, and was buried in St. Giles's Church, Northampton, where a monument, with a Latin inscription, was erected to his memory by his brother John.

Keill was an able mathematician and competent anatomist. He was an active supporter of the mechanical or ‘Iatro-mathematical’ school of medicine. Some of his ideas he acknowledges to have been derived from his brother, the mathematician. He discussed by mathematical methods, combined with experiment, several physiological problems, such as secretion, the amount of blood in the body, muscular motion, and the force of the heart. On the latter point he corrected the exaggerated estimate of Borelli; but his own results were not satisfactory, and were criticised by Dr. Jurin in the ‘Philosophical Transactions.’ Keill's reply was written from his deathbed on 23 June 1719, and Jurin, in his rejoinder, paid a warm tribute to his departed antagonist. The final result was to show that the application of mathematical calculus to physiological problems was premature. Keill's essays were, however, much esteemed, and are still regarded as of some historical importance (see MacKendrick, Brit. Med. Journal, 1883, i. 654). He also made a series of physiological observations on himself, after the manner of Sanctorius, published as ‘Medicina statica Britannica,’ in the third edition of his essays.

Keill's chief work appeared first as ‘An Account of Animal Secretion, the Quantity of Blood in the Humane Body, and Muscular Motion,’ London, 1708, 8vo; 2nd edit. enlarged under the new title of ‘Essays on several Parts of the Animal Œconomy,’ London, 1717, 8vo; 3rd edit. (Latin), ‘Tentamina Medico-Physica, &c. Quibus accessit Medicina statica Britannica,’ London, 1718, 8vo; 4th edit., containing in addition ‘A Dissertation concerning the Force of the Heart, by James Jurin, M.D., with Dr. Keill's Answer and Dr. Jurin's Reply; also Medicina statica Britannica, &c., explained and compared with the Aphorisms of Sanctorius, by John Quincy, M.D.,’ London, 1738, 8vo. He wrote also ‘The Anatomy of the Human Body, abridged,’ London, 1698, 12mo, 15th edit. 1771; ‘An Account of the Death and Dissection of John Bayles of Northampton, reputed to have been 130 years old’ (Phil. Trans. 1706, xxv. 2247); and ‘De Viribus Cordis’ (ib. 1719, xxx. 995).

[Biographia Britannica, 1757, iv. 2809 (based on information from the family); The Case of the late James Keil, Dr. Phys., represented by John Rushworth of Northampton, Surgeon, Oxford, 1719, 8vo.]

J. F. P.