Buchan, William (DNB00)

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BUCHAN, WILLIAM (1729–1805), physician, was born at Ancram in Roxburghshire, where his father had a small estate, besides renting a farm. When yet a boy at school young Buchan was amateur doctor to the village; yet he was sent to Edinburgh to study divinity. But he supported himself to a considerable extent by teaching mathematics to his fellow-students, and gave up divinity for medicine, the elder Gregory showing him much countenance. Alter a nine years' residence at Edinburgh Buchan began practice in Yorkshire, and before long settled at Ackworth, being appointed physician to the foundling hospital, supported by parliament. Here he gained great skill in treating diseases of children; but his stay was abruptly terminated on parliament discontinuing the vote of 60,000l. for foundling hospitals. After this he practised some time at Sheffield, but returned to Edinburgh about 1766, and practised for some years with success. Ferguson, the well-known popular lecturer on natural philosophy, at his death left Buchan his valuable apparatus. Buchan thereupon began to lecture on the subject, and drew large classes for some years. In 1769 appeared, at the low price of six shillings, the first edition of his 'Domestic Medicine; or the Family Physician,' the first work of its kind in this country. Its success was immediate and great. Nineteen large editions, amounting to at least eighty thousand copies, were sold in Great Britain in the author’s lifetime; and the book continues to be re-edited, as well as largely copied in similar works. It was translated into all the principal European languages, including Russian, and was more universally popular on the continent and in America than even in England. The Empress of Russia sent Buchan a gold medal and a commendatory letter. It is said that Buchan sold the copyright for 700l., and that the publishers made as much profit yearly by it. Having unsuccessfully sought to succeed the elder Gregory on his death, Buchan in 1778 removed to London, where he gained a considerable practice; less, however, than his fame might have brought him but for his convivial and social habits. He regularly practised at the Chapter Coffee-house, near St. Paul’s, to which literary men were then wont to resort. Full of anecdote, of agreeable manners, benevolent and compassionate, he was unsuited to make or keep a fortune: a tale of woe always drew tears from his eyes and money from his pocket. About a year before his death his excellent constitution began to give way, and he died at his son’s house in Percy Street, Rathbone Place, on 25 Feb. 1805, in his seventy-sixth year. He was buried in the cloisters at Westminster Abbey.

Among his minor works are ‘Cautions concerning Cold Bathing and Drinking Mineral Waters,’ 1786; ‘Observations concerning the Prevention and Cure of the Venereal Disease,’ 1796; ‘Observations concerning the Diet of the Common People,’ 1797; ‘On the Offices and Duties of a Mother,’ 1800.

[New Catalogue of Living English Authors (1799), i. 352; Gent. Mag. lxxv. pt. i. 286-8, 378-80; European Mag. xlvii. 167.]

G. T. B.