Reid, David Boswell (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47
Reid, David Boswell

by Alexander Hastie Millar
Contains subarticle Peter Reid (1777–1838).

REID, DAVID BOSWELL (1805–1863), inventor, born at Edinburgh in 1805, was the second son of Dr. Peter Reid, by Christian, eldest daughter of Hugo Arnot [q. v.] of Balcormo, and elder brother of Hugo Reid [q. v.]

The father, Peter Reid (1777–1838), only son of David Reid, West India merchant, and Elizabeth Boswell, representative of the elder line of the old family of the Boswells of Balmuto, was born at Dubbyside, Fifeshire, in 1777. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University, and first gained a reputation as editor of Dr. William Cullen's great work, ‘First Lines of the Practice of Physic.’ Three editions, published respectively in 1802, 1810, and 1816, with notes by Reid, embodied the results of the most recent experience. Reid's earliest original work was entitled ‘Letters on the Study of Medicine and on the Medical Character, addressed to a Student,’ published at Edinburgh in 1809. But it was as an educational reformer that Peter Reid chiefly made his mark. In 1824 he published a letter to the town council of Edinburgh urging a thorough reform in the curriculum of the high school, advocating a reduction of the time spent upon the dead languages, and the introduction of such subjects as geography, history, mathematics, and modern languages. Four years later he wrote to the ‘Caledonian Mercury’ a letter proposing that oral examinations should be held in each of the classes in the university, instead of restricting the teaching to the delivery of lectures by the professors and the writing of papers by the students. These innovations, though at first strenuously opposed, were in course of time adopted in both institutions with beneficial results. He died in 1838.

David Boswell was educated at Edinburgh University, obtained his medical diploma on 12 July 1830, and was admitted a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, on 2 Aug. 1831. Chemistry was his favourite study, and in 1833 he set up a laboratory, and instituted classes for instruction in practical and theoretical chemistry. These were so successful that he was soon afterwards appointed assistant to Dr. Thomas Charles Hope [q. v.], professor of chemistry at the university. He continued to conduct his private chemistry classes until his removal to London in 1847. He was author of two textbooks, ‘Elements of Chemistry,’ Edinburgh, 1837, ‘Textbook for Students of Chemistry,’ 1839. The ventilation of public buildings was a subject which early engaged his attention, and in 1844 he published ‘Illustrations of the Theory and Practice of Ventilation.’ The book attracted general notice, and his system was adopted by Sir Charles Barry in the new houses of parliament. Reid was engaged for five years at Westminster upon this work. His method was also applied more fully to St. George's Hall, Liverpool—the only building, according to his own statement, in which his system was completely carried out. In 1856 Reid became government medical inspector to the sanitary commission of the United States. On the outbreak of the civil war new military hospitals were erected throughout the States, and Reid was about to leave Washington on a tour of inspection when he was seized with a fatal illness. He died at Washington on 5 April 1863.

[Charter, Statutes, &c. of the Royal Coll. of Physicians, Edinburgh; Conolly's Eminent Men of Fife, p. 377; Thomas's Univ. Dict. of Biogr.]

A. H. M.