Grant, Robert Edmond (DNB00)

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GRANT, ROBERT EDMOND (1793–1874), comparative anatomist, seventh son of Alexander Grant, writer to the signet, wan born in Edinburgh on 11 Nov. 1793. He was educated at the high school and the university of Edinburgh, graduating M.D. in 1814. From 1815 to 1820 Grant studied medicine and natural history in Paris, and at many continental universities. Returning to Edinburgh in 1820 he devoted himself to natural history, exploring the coasts of Scotland, Ireland, and the adjacent islands, and dissecting and watching the habits of many animals. In 1824 he gave lectures on the comparative anatomy of the invertebrates for his friend Dr. John Barclay (1758-1826) [q. v.], and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1825 and 1826 he published a series of papers on the structure and functions of sponges in the 'Edinburgh Philosophical Journal,' which marked a notable advance in knowledge, indicating clearly their animal nature, and in which he announced his belief in the transformation of species. At this time Charles Darwin was his intimate companion in study, and described him (Life, i. 38) as 'dry and formal in manner, with much enthusiasm beneath this outer crust.' The numerous original papers he wrote at this period seemed to mark him out for a great career, and in June 1827 he was elected professor of comparative anatomy and zoology in the university of London, afterwards University College. He became absorbed in teaching, lecturing five times a week at University College for forty-six years without missing a single lecture, and also lecturing at the Royal Institution, the Aldersgate Street and Windmill Street medical schools, and many other institutions. In 1836 he was elected F.R.S., and in 1837 Fullerian professor of physiology at the Royal Institution for three years. Later he was appointed Swiney lecturer on geology for five years at the British Museum. His means and stipend being small, some friends purchased for him an annuity of 50l. after he had lectured for more than twenty years. In 1852 the death of a brother placed him in easy circumstances, but his day for original work was past. As a lecturer he was clear and impressive. From its first promulgation he became a warm supporter of the Darwinian theory of natural selection. He frequently visited and corresponded with Cuvier, Saint-Hilaire, and other great naturalists of France, Holland, and Germany, and was at one time styled the Cuvier of England. He died on 23 Aug. 1874, still holding his professorship, at the age of eighty.

Grant was above middle height, strongly built, with very intellectual countenance. In manner he was gentle and courteous, but on occasion could speak strongly against shams and in favour of reforms. He was noticeable for always wearing full evening dress. His scientific papers, principally on subjects of invertebrate anatomy, are comprised in the period between 1825 and 1839 (for their titles see the Royal Society's 'Catalogue of Scientific Papers'). His separate works, besides pamphlets, were his 'Lectures' reported in the 'Lancet,' 1833-4, his 'Outlines of Comparative Anatomy,' 1835-1841, of which only two parts appeared, and his article 'Animal Kingdom' in Todd's 'Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology.' He was never married, and having no surviving relatives, he left all his property, collections, and library to University College, London.

[Lancet, 1850 ii. 686-95, with portrait. 1874, ii. 322; Medical Times, 1874, ii. 277; Proceedings of Royal Soc. xxiii. vi-x.]

G. T. B.