Barclay, John (1758-1826) (DNB00)

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BARCLAY, JOHN (1758–1826), anatomist, was born in Perthshire 10 Dec. 1758, his father being a farmer, brother of John Barclay [q. v.], founder of the Berean sect in Edinburgh. Obtaining a bursary in St. Andrew's University, he studied for the church, and became a licensed minister; but entering the family of Mr. C. Campbell as a tutor, he devoted his leisure to natural history, afterwards concentrating his attention especially on human anatomy. In 1789 he passed as tutor into the family of Sir James Campbell of Aberuchill, whose daughter Eleanora he long afterwards married, in 1811. The young Campbells, his pupils, entered Edinburgh University in 1789, and Barclay became an assistant to John Bell, the anatomist, and was also associated with his brother Charles, afterwards Sir Charles Bell. To Sir James Campbell Barclay owed the means of completing his medical course. He became M.D. Edin. in 1796, then went to London for a season's study under Dr. Marshall of Thavies Inn, an eminent anatomical teacher, but returned to Edinburgh and established himself as an anatomical lecturer in 1797. Thenceforward until 1825 he delivered two complete courses of human anatomy, a morning and an evening one, every winter session, and for several years before his death gave a summer course on comparative anatomy. His classes gradually grew in reputation; in 1804 he was formally recognised as a lecturer on anatomy and surgery by the Edinburgh College of Surgeons, and in 1806 he became a fellow of the Edinburgh College of Physicians. His style of lecturing was extremely clear, and illuminated by a thorough knowledge of the history of his subject. He contributed the article Physiology to the third edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ (1797), and in it showed good scientific perception, although the amount of knowledge then available for such an article appears extremely small to a modern reader. He developed his ideas of a nomenclature of human anatomy based on scientific principles, and ridiculed many absurdities, which, however, have for the most part persisted, in ‘A New Anatomical Nomenclature’ (1803). In 1808 he published a treatise on ‘The Muscular Motions of the Human Body,’ arranged according to regions and systems, and with many practical applications to surgery. This was followed in 1812 by his ‘Description of the Arteries of the Human Body,’ the result of much original study and dissection. A second edition appeared in 1820. He was ever on the lookout for opportunities of dissecting rare animals, and thus he acquired an unusual knowledge of comparative anatomy, by which he illustrated his lectures. He furnished descriptive matter to a series of plates illustrating the human skeleton and the skeletons of some of the lower animals, published by Mitchell of Edinburgh in 1819–20. Several of his lectures on anatomy were published posthumously in 1827. He died on 21 Aug. 1826, after two years' illness, during which his classes were carried on by Dr. Knox. He left his large museum of anatomy to the Edinburgh College of Surgeons, where it constitutes the Barcleian Museum. One of his most interesting works is ‘An Inquiry into the Opinions, Ancient and Modern, concerning Life and Organisation,’ published in 1822 (pp. 542). He paid considerable attention also to veterinary medicine, and was chiefly instrumental in the foundation of a veterinary school by one of his pupils, Professor Dick, under the patronage of the Highland Society of Scotland.

[Memoir by Sir G. Ballingall, M.D., prefixed to Introd. Lectures to a Course of Anatomy by John Barclay, M.D., Edinburgh, 1827; Memoir by G. R. Waterhouse, prefixed to vol. viii. of Sir W. Jardine's Naturalists' Library, Edinburgh, 1843; Struthers's History Sketch of Edin. Anat. School, Edinb. 1867.]

G. T. B.