Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/304

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Alison
Alison
290

to 1862. He was thoroughly amiable and beloved in his domestic life, and preserved health and strength, having given up writing after dinner on finishing the ‘History’ in 1842. He notes that on 9 Sept. 1862, that is, at the age of seventy, he walked twenty miles in five hours without fatigue. He enjoyed great popularity in Glasgow; attended to his duties on 10 May 1867, was taken ill next day, and closed a singularly industrious and thoroughly honourable life on 23 May. His funeral was attended by a crowd of from 100,000 to 150,000 of the people of Glasgow.

[Autobiography, edited by his daughter-in-law, Lady Alison, 1883.]

L. S.

ALISON, WILLIAM PULTENEY (1790–1859), physician, was born at Boroughmuirhead near Edinburgh. His father, the Rev. Archibald Alison, the author of the ‘Essay on Taste,’ was for some years incumbent of Kenley in Shropshire, and afterwards in charge of the episcopal congregation in Edinburgh. His mother was daughter of Dr. John Gregory, a member of a family distinguished in letters and science, and long connected with the university of Edinburgh. His younger brother became Sir Archibald Alison, the eminent historian. He was educated privately and entered Edinburgh College in 1803, where he studied, first arts, and afterwards medicine. In 1811 he became M.D. with a dissertation, ‘De Viribus Naturæ Medicatricibus.’ During his academical career he was an enthusiastic pupil of Dugald Stewart, then the most distinguished teacher in the university, and acquired a deep interest in philosophical questions. So considerable were his attainments in this subject that it is said Dugald Stewart at one time desired that Alison should succeed him in his chair. In 1817 he wrote an article in ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ in defence of Dugald Stewart's philosophy.

In 1815 he entered the serious work of his profession as physician to the newly-founded New Town Dispensary, and by laborious practice among the poor gained that deep sympathy with the working-classes and knowledge of their wants and sufferings which inspired the most important part of his public work in after life. The quarterly medical reports of the dispensary, published in the ‘Edinburgh Medical Journal’ (1817–19), in great part written by Alison, were important contributions to the knowledge of fevers, and still supply valuable materials for the history of epidemics, though the intricate question of the specific distinctness of different forms of fever was not at that time cleared up. These reports also contain observations on a form of small-pox as modified by vaccination, which was then a novelty.

In 1820 Dr. Alison was appointed by the crown professor of medical jurisprudence, and held this office two years. About the same time he assisted his uncle, Dr. James Gregory, in the lectures on the practice of physic. In 1822 he was appointed to the professorship called that of ‘institutes of medicine’ or physiology (but at that time including pathology also), which he held about twenty years, first as the colleague of Dr. Duncan, and afterwards alone. In virtue of this professorship he became one of the physicians to the clinical wards of the infirmary, and was thus engaged also in clinical teaching.

The substance of his lectures on physiology was given in his text-book, ‘Outlines of Physiology,’ published in 1831, afterwards expanded into ‘Outlines of Physiology and Pathology,’ 1833. Dr. Alison's physiological teaching, which is summarised in these works, produced a powerful impression on the Edinburgh school. It was not remarkable for experimental research or for novelties in detail, but was founded upon certain broad principles which the author afterwards developed in his memoirs on ‘Vital Affinity’ and elsewhere. His leading idea was that of ‘a life-force or forces, of something distinct from and superadded to the physical forces of dead matter. … These vital forces were, according to him, quite as distinct from the mind and its special endowments as from the physical forces. … Throughout the range of animated creation we find peculiar laws of being which may be termed vital, and of which organisation is the result. Two modifications of vital force are especially known to us; one in alliance with the mechanical properties of matter, giving rise to vital contraction or muscular motion; the other grafted upon its chemical properties and shown forth in vital attractions and repulsions of the ultimate molecules. These peculiar phenomena can be studied only in living beings; there is nothing analogous to them in dead matter, nor are they to be confounded together, though motion is necessarily the result of both. Vital contraction is inherent in particular tissues; vital attraction is shown forth in every part of the organism, at every moment of nutritive, secretive, absorbent change.’

The views thus expounded by a competent authority (Edinburgh Medical Journal, 1859, p. 475) were applied by Alison to explain not only physiological processes, but processes of disease, such as asphyxia and inflammation. They deal with a long-standing