Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/52

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

lege of Physicians, and he received the complimentary appointment of physician in ordinary to the king in Scotland. About this time he began the works with which his name has been chiefly associated. Like Dr. Gregory, the friend of Reid, he was led away from science to metaphysics, through a belief that his wide knowledge of nervous diseases enabled him to throw light on mental problems. In 1830 he published a work on the intellectual powers and the application of logical methods to science, followed three years afterwards by another and shorter work on the moral feelings. Both books acquired an instant popularity, which even now has scarcely died away. Immediately after their first publication they were brought out in America. Within ten years there appeared ten English editions of the ‘Intellectual Powers,’ and in 1860 it was still in such favour that it was introduced as a text-book in the Calcutta University. The causes of this popularity were, no doubt, partly the numerous cases set forth of peculiar mental phenomena, whose detailed record made a dry subject easy and entertaining reading, and partly the pious and practical tone in which the books were written, rendering them acceptable for educational purposes. They have now no philosophical value. Abercrombie's theory of the mind is such as might be expected from a thinker of little originality, who was acquainted with the works of Reid, Brown, and Stewart, and who studiously kept himself from bold speculation as from a thing savouring of impiety. The facts which formed his own contribution to the subject are very rudely classified, and are subjected to the most superficial analysis. Lord Cockburn no doubt referred to the ‘Intellectual Powers’ and the ‘Moral Feelings,’ when he said that Dr. Abercrombie's ‘fame would perhaps have stood higher had he published fewer books.’ During his later years he wrote little besides a few popular essays, which were collected after his death. In 1835 the degree of doctor of medicine was conferred upon him by Oxford. In the following year the students of Marischal College elected him their lord rector. Before the disruption he hesitated long as to the course which he should take, but he finally decided to quit the established church. He died very suddenly on 14 Nov. 1844, of a somewhat exceptional disease of the heart, a full account of which is given in the ‘Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal,’ lxiii. 225. The report, drawn up by Dr. Adam Hunter, states that Abercrombie's brain weighed 63 oz., being only a little less than the weight of Cuvier's.

A list of his early papers is given in Raige-Delorme and Dechambre's ‘Dict. Encycl. des sciences médicales.’ His principal works were the following: 1. ‘Pathological and Practical Researches on Diseases of the Brain and Spinal Cord,’ Edinburgh, 1828; 2nd edition, enlarged, 1829. 2. ‘Pathological and Practical Researches on Diseases of the Stomach, the Intestinal Canal, the Liver, and the other Viscera of the Abdomen.’ Edinburgh, 1828. 3. ‘Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers and the Investigation of Truth,’ Edinburgh, 1830. 4. ‘The Philosophy of the Moral Feelings,’ London, 1833. 5. A collected edition of ‘Essays and Tracts,’ chiefly on moral and religious subjects, Edinburgh, 1847.

In ‘Hogg's Instructor,’ iii. 145, will be found a portrait of Dr. Abercrombie, and in the ‘Scottish Nation,’ i. 3, a woodcut of the medallion on his monument in the West Churchyard, Edinburgh.

[Edin. Med. and Surg. Journal, lxiii. 225; Witness, 23 Nov. 1844; Rev. J. Bruce's Funeral Sermon; Anderson's Scottish Nation, i. 3; Hogg's Instructor, iii. 145; Lobb's Abercrombie as a Text Book in the Calcutta University; Cockburn's Journal, ii. 203–4.]

G. P. M.

ABERCROMBY, ALEXANDER (1745–1795), Scotch judge and essayist, fourth and youngest son of George Abercromby, of Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire, was born on 15 Oct. 1745. Two of his brothers entered the army, one of them becoming the celebrated general Sir Ralph Abercromby. Alexander studied at the university of Edinburgh, where he seems to have been chiefly distinguished for his handsome person and engaging disposition. He was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1766, and was soon afterwards appointed sheriff-depute of his native county. Personal residence, however, not being required, he continued the practice of his profession at the bar. In 1780 he resigned his sheriffship and was appointed one of the advocates-depute by Henry Dundas, then lord-advocate of Scotland, and acquired a good practice. He also helped Henry Mackenzie, the author of the ‘Man of Feeling,’ to start the ‘Mirror,’ published at Edinburgh in 1779, and contributed to the ‘Lounger’ in 1785 and 1786. Abercromby's papers show much correctness of style and tenderness of expression. In 1792 he took his seat on the bench of the Court of Session under the judicial title of Lord Abercromby, and a few months afterwards was appointed one of the lords commissioners of justiciary. On 17 Nov. 1795, he died of pulmonary disease at Exmouth.