Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morison, James (1770-1840)

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MORISON, JAMES (1770–1840), self styled 'the Hygeist,' born at Bognie, Aberdeenshire, in 1770, was youngest son of Alexander Morison. After studying at Aberdeen University and Hanau in Germany, he established himself at Riga as a merchant, and subsequently in the West Indies, where he acquired property. Ill-health obliged him to return to Europe, and about 1814 he settled at Bordeaux. After 'thirty-five years' inexpressible suffering' and the trial of every imaginable course of medical treatment, he accomplished 'his own extraordinary cure' about 1822 by the simple expedient of swallowing a few vegetable pills of his own compounding at bed-time and a glass of lemonade in the morning. His success induced him to set up in 1825 as the vendor of what he called the 'vegetable universal medicines,' commonly known as 'Morison's Pills,' the principal ingredient of which is said to be gamboge. His medicines soon became highly popular, especially in the west of England, and in 1828 he formed an establishment for their sale in Hamilton Place, New Road, London, which he dignified with the title of 'The British College of Health.' He bought a pleasant residence at Finchley, Middlesex, called Strawberry Vale Farm, but latterly he lived at Paris, and it is said that the profits from the sale of his medicines in France alone were sufficient to cover his expenditure there. From 1830 to 1840 he paid 60,000l. to the English government for medicine stamps.

Morison died at Paris on 3 May 1840. He married twice, and left four sons and several daughters. The only surviving child of his second marriage (with Clara, only daughter of Captain Cotter, R.N.) was James Augustus Cotter Morison, who is separately noticed.

Morison's writings are simply puffs of his medicines. Among them may be mentioned: 1. 'Some important Advice to the World' (with supplement entitled 'More New Truths'), 2 pts. 12mo, London, 1825. 2. 'A Letter to … the United East India Company, proposing a … Remedy for … the Cholera Morbus of India,' 8vo, London, 1825. 3. 'The Hygeian Treatment of the … Diseases of India,' 8vo, London, 1836. His essays were collected together in a volume called 'Morisoniana, or Family Adviser of the British College of Health,' 2nd edit. 8vo, London, 1829 (3rd edit. 1831), which was translated into several European languages. Prefixed to the volume is a portrait of the author from a picture by Clint.

In Robert Wilkie's farce of the 'Yalla Gaiters' (1840) the hero is fascinated by the vocal powers of a countryman who is singing a cleverly written ballad in praise of Morison's 'Vegetable Pills;' the verses are printed in 'Notes and Queries,' 3rd ser. x. 477-8. Carlyle, in his 'Past and Present,' frequently made scornful reference to 'Morison's Pills.'

[Biog. Sketch of Mr. Morison (with portrait); Gent. Mag. 1840, pt. ii. p. 437.]

G. G.