Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duncan, Andrew (1773-1832)

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DUNCAN, ANDREW, the younger (1773–1832), physician and professor at Edinburgh University, son of Andrew Duncan the elder [q. v.], was born at Edinburgh on 10 Aug. 1773. He early showed a strong bias towards medicine, and was apprenticed (1787–92) to Alexander and George Wood, surgeons of Edinburgh. He graduated M.A. at Edinburgh in 1793, and M.D. 1794. He studied in London in 1794–5 at the Windmill Street School, under Baillie, Cruickshank, and Wilson, and made two long visits to the continent, studying medical practice in all the chief cities and medical schools, including Gottingen, Vienna, Pisa, Naples, and many others, and becoming intimate with such men as Blumenbach, Frank, Scarpa, Spallanzani, &c. Thus he gained a knowledge of continental languages, practice, and men of mark, which few men of his time could boast. Returning to Edinburgh, he became a fellow of the College of Physicians, and physician to the Royal Public Dispensary, assisting his father also in editing the ‘Annals of Medicine.’ He afterwards became physician to the Fever Hospital at Queensberry House. In 1803 he brought out the ‘Edinburgh New Dispensatory,’ a much improved version of Lewis's work. This became very popular, a tenth edition appearing in 1822. It was translated into German and French, and was several times republished in the United States. The preparation of successive editions occupied much of Duncan's time. From 1805 also he was for many years chief editor of the ‘Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal,’ which speedily gained a leading position.

From his continental experience Duncan had early seen the necessity of more complete study of medicine in its relation to the state, especially to the criminal law, and he brought forward the importance of the subject at every opportunity for some years. In 1807 a professorship of medical jurisprudence and medical police was created at Edinburgh, with Duncan as first professor, with an endowment of 100l. per annum; but attendance upon lectures in this subject was not made compulsory. From 1809 to 1822 he acted most efficiently as secretary of senatus and librarian to the university; while from 1816 till his death he was an active member of the ‘college commission’ for rebuilding the university, and to him is greatly due the success with which the Adam-Playfair buildings were carried out. In 1819 he resigned his professorship of medical jurisprudence on being appointed joint professor with his father of the institutes of medicine. In 1821 he was elected without opposition professor of materia medica, in which chair he achieved great success. He worked indefatigably, always improving his lectures and studying every new publication on medicine, British or foreign. He was often at his desk by three in the morning. In 1827 he had a severe attack of fever, and his strength afterwards gradually declined. He lectured until nearly the end of the session 1831–2, and died on 13 May 1832, in his fifty-eighth year.

Duncan's chief work was the ‘Dispensatory’ already mentioned. He published a supplement to it in 1829. In 1809 he contributed to the ‘Transactions’ of the Highland Society a ‘Treatise on the Diseases which are incident to Sheep in Scotland.’ He also published in 1818 ‘Reports of the Practice in the Clinical Wards of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.’ Perhaps his most distinctive discovery was the isolation of the principle ‘cinchonin’ from cinchona, as related in ‘Nicholson's Journal,’ 2nd ser. vol. vi. December 1803. Besides writing copiously in his own ‘Journal,’ he also wrote occasionally for the ‘Edinburgh Review.’

The younger Duncan had more culture and more orginality than his father, but lacked his strong constitution and evenly balanced temperament. His visits, his ‘Dispensatory,’ and his ‘Journal’ made him widely known on the continent, and few foreigners came to Edinburgh unprovided with introductions to him; his foreign correspondence also was extensive. He was well versed in the fine arts, music, and foreign literature. His manners were simple, unaffected, and unobtrusive, his feelings sensitive and delicate, and his character for honour and integrity was very high.

[Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, ed. Thomson; Grant's Story of Edinburgh University.]

G. T. B.