Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/September 1875/A Popular Verdict: Robert Knox
THE life of Robert Knox, the celebrated Edinburgh anatomist, written by his friend and pupil Dr. Lansdale, is a work of much interest on account of the contributions to science made by that remarkable man; but there were some tragic features in his career which, taken in connection with the stupid and brutal "public opinion" of which he was made the victim, have an instructiveness of a quite different kind, yet of such importance that it is desirable they should not be forgotten. We can give here but a very imperfect sketch of the case, and would refer curious readers to Dr, Lansdale's book, from which we condense the following statement, making free use of the language of the author.
Robert Knox, who is numbered among the descendants of the sturdy Scotch reformer, was born in 1791. He was educated at the High-School of Edinburgh, which boasted of many great names, such as Brougham, Horner, and Cockburn, in the long roll of its illustrious alumni. But few of its students showed more brilliant parts than young Knox, who rose, apparently without effort, to the head of every class, and came out gold-medalist in 1810. He joined the medical classes of Edinburgh the same year, but pursued a broad course of literary, historical, and scientific studies, together with those bearing more immediately upon the medical profession. He early took a prominent place as a student of large acquirements, and twice occupied the presidential chair of the Royal Physical Society before his graduation. On his first examination for the M. D., Knox was "plucked" in anatomy. Thrown upon his metal by this untoward circumstance, he took hold of the subject so thoroughly that he became profoundly interested, was captivated by it, and chose it as the work of his life. He became an able physician and surgeon, and was sent to Brussels by the government, to render aid to the wounded of Waterloo. He joined the army in 1817, and spent three years in Africa engaged in hospital-practice. But, with a capacity for wide observation, he occupied himself with physical geography and meteorology, and more especially with natural history and ethnology. He collected and dissected specimens from every division of the animal kingdom; but man being his chief study, he took every opportunity of dissecting the natives whose bodies fell in his way through the contingencies of war; and thus added much to what was known of their peculiar anatomical characters and physiological traits. He was a skillful horseman, an intrepid hunter, and an excellent shot. Long after his sojourn among the colonists of the Cape of Good Hope, he was remembered with admiration, and spoken of as a man of transcendent abilities and accomplishments. He returned to England in 1820, and, after receiving the thanks of the army medical department for his "industry, zeal, and talents," he got leave of absence for a year, to study in the medical schools of the Continent. In Paris he made the acquaintance of Cuvier, De Blainville, Larrey, and St.-Hilaire; and to the views of the latter on the higher anatomy he became a convert. A man of great industry and originality, he produced memoirs on a wide range of subjects, which were published in the Transactions of various societies.
In 1824, Dr. Knox submitted to the Edinburgh College of Surgeons a plan for the formation of a museum of comparative anatomy, which was accepted; the scientific arrangement and active management of the establishment devolving upon the proposer. He purchased Sir Charles Bell's collection for £3,000, and brought it from London to Edinburgh. He was conservator of the. museum thus formed, and classified, catalogued, and extended the collection, so as to make it most valuable for anatomical, surgical, and pathological students. After seven years' work, he left it one of the most extensive and valuable collections in Europe.
Edinburgh was at that time a prominent centre of medical study. The fame of its professors drew crowds of students to the university. But the teaching of anatomy was mainly an outside affair; that is, it was conducted in private institutions, independent of the university. Several eminent anatomists had lectured to preparatory classes in these schools, and in 1825 the leading man in this field was Dr. John Barclay, a thorough anatomist and accomplished lecturer, who had a large class of students. Dr. Barclay was the author of many valuable anatomical works; and in illustration of his character it may be mentioned that one day Henry Brougham, afterward Lord Brougham, then on the staff of the Edinburgh Review, asked the doctor to give him half an hour's talk on anatomy, to enable him to write a critique on one of his (Barclay's) books. This is a fair sample of the capital on which the noble quack earned his scientific reputation. The anatomist refused the request and resented the impertinence. Dr. Barclay was, however, getting old, and he formed a partnership with Knox in the management of the school. He soon after died, and Dr. Knox became master of the establishment. He at once rose to unexampled popularity. In the first place, he was a man of profound, comprehensive, and thorough erudition. Anatomy was not with him a mere ordinary occupation, but an object of high philosophical research, and pursued with enthusiasm. He was early to recognize the two divisions—anatomical science and anatomical art—the former embracing the elucidation of the nature or structure and organization of animal bodies; the latter comprehending all those means and contrivances by which organisms can be dissected and demonstrated. He was one of the first of philosophic biologists. When he began to teach, human anatomy was treated very much as a superficial and technical pursuit, to be dispatched in a three months' course of dissections, by the majority of medical students. To some lecturers, a bone was a structure with certain physical features, and nothing more. Knox made it assume an historical position in the scale of organization; its size and form were obvious enough, but he sought in the osteogenesis, type, and homologues, to fix its place in the general superstructure of the animal series. In short, he gave not the mere description but the philosophy of the osseous form. "There was no circumlocution in his teachings; he aimed at a clear delineation of the work before him. He was more practical than minute, more suggestive than analytic in his systematic course; rather than linger on points of detail, he indicated the path to be pursued by the student. His mode of teaching was not suited to the 'grinding' or 'cramming' system; hence those who sought anatomy for examining boards went elsewhere. His were well adapted to stimulate thought, as he meant them to do. Being a surgeon and pathologist, Knox could significantly apply anatomy to a practical calling; and as a physiologist of high aim, he looked to zoölogy as a sine qua non to the study of the higher philosophy of man himself."
Dr. Knox was an orator of the first class, a tight-made man, above the middle stature, of the nervo-sanguineous temperament, broad-chested, with an upright carriage, a firm and soldierly walk, and a free and lithesome action. He had a strikingly fine head, but a plain visage, an agreeably-toned voice, and a persuasive tongue that made captive every listener who could appreciate colloquial excellence. He had a weakness for elegance of dress, and attended carefully to all the arts by which an audience can be fascinated; but he never lost his suave demeanor and high respect for his class as a body of gentlemen. His movements were graceful, and his gestures, now slow and now rapid, had a rare felicity and pertinence to the matter in hand. His style, his illustrations, and insinuating speech, lent a marvelous fascination to his subject, and he stood before his class the impersonation of lofty intellect and perfect self-possession. He was an ideal lecturer. The area of his class-room was to Knox a charmed circle. There he exercised a weird influence that traversed from side to side the thronged benches and subtly pervaded the mind of every member of his audience.
As a consequence of these traits, of the solidity and breadth of his knowledge, and of the consummate art of his delivery. Dr. Knox was to an extraordinary degree popular with his classes. At all times accessible and ready to offer kindly and encouraging counsel, he became the "guide, philosopher, and friend," of every worthy student. His pupils loved him and lauded him to the skies, and his anatomical classes were larger than any other ever assembled in Britain. Country physicians rode twenty miles to attend his introductory lectures. "The benches of Knox's class-room were occupied by a scholarly, earnest, and appreciative class; the majority were strictly medical students, but mingling with these were English barristers, Cambridge scholars and mathematicians, Scottish advocates and divines, scions of the nobility, artists, and men of letters. The zoölogists and naturalists flocked to Knox for their comparative anatomy. Genera! students looked upon him as the great master of his art, and fully indorsed the encomiums bestowed upon him by Audubon and others of still greater eminence, both Continental and Transatlantic. Military and naval surgeons, in active service or on half-pay, often mingled with the crowd. Cultivated men of all kinds were attracted by his fame, and looked upon his instructions as the greatest intellectual treat afforded them in the modern Athens; while among his students it was remarked that the higher their intellectual grade, the more profound was their admiration of his genius and their personal attachment to him."
As an indication of how Dr. Knox was regarded by bis class, his biographer states: "There was a struggle to obtain good places in Knox's lecture-room each day at eleven o'clock. The first year's students attending chemistry, and the second year's men attending surgery, between the hours of ten and eleven, were the chief claimants for Knox's front seats. The university, from whose class-rooms the majority of Knox's men came to hear his morning lecture, was about three minutes' walk from Old Surgeons' Hall—Knox's place. The competitors in their flight down two staircases, from Hope's Chemistry Rooms, their racing across the quadrangle of the university, their sweeping rush over every obstacle to gain Infirmary Street, offered an exciting spectacle. The race was neck and neck, and woe betide whoever fell in the way! Old and young passers-by were thrown down in the mêlée caused by scores of agile-limbed fellows contending for the Knox goal. The rare and intense enthusiasm that Knox created in his class belongs to the past; no such high fervor is manifested by the student of these latter days. The reason is obvious: he who called it forth is gone, and his counterpart is nowhere to be found; indeed, it is more than doubtful if another Knox will ever appear before a British audience. Old pupils of Knox, both privately and publicly, still speak with sparkling eyes of the grand excitement and rush for favored seats in his lecture-room."
Robert Knox was, moreover, a hater of all humbug, and an unsparing critic of shams of every sort. He ridiculed the superficial method of teaching anatomy practised by rival lecturers, and in his sudden bursts of oratory, his sharp, pithy sentences, which came like sparks from a furnace, often created havoc among doubtful medical reputations, and his telling sarcasms would often circulate through Scotland. It was therefore impossible that he should not make many enemies. His very eminence and popularity also could not fail to be a source of hostility on the part of the envious and jealous. Often his class seemed spellbound under the influence of a speech; and as he wound up his lecture with increasing emphasis, and a sweeping torrent of rhetoric, and bowed his exit, the crowded audience would often rise en masse, waving their hats and handkerchiefs, and cry: "Bravo! bravo! Knox forever, and one cheer more!" All this was delightful; but, as this world is constituted, men often have to pay dearly for such things; and so did Dr. Knox.
Anatomy is the foundation of surgery, and the basis of all rational medical science. To know the structure of the human organization is indispensable both to the progress and the intelligent practice of the healing art. A knowledge of anatomy is therefore the first condition of the most important and beneficent of all occupations—that of alleviating human suffering and saving human life. But the knowledge of the human body that is necessary to remedy its diseases cannot be obtained except by studying it through and through; and this can only be done when the corporeal fabric becomes useless for other purposes. Dead bodies, worthless for any thing else, are invaluable for dissection, and if dissected they must of course be obtained for the purpose. Yet, with an absurd inconsistency, governments, while exacting of medical students a knowledge that can only be procured by the dissection of corpses, have at the same time outlawed the procurement of subjects. Such has been the policy of states for centuries, and in pursuing it the civil power has but given expression to one of the profoundest prejudices and most wide-spread superstitions of human nature. Antipathy to dissection after death is a deeply-rooted feeling that has been manifested by all nations, creeds, and peoples—Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mohammedan, Christian, and. Jew. The primitive Christians, as evinced by their epitaphs, cursed the disturbers of their remains in the Roman Catacombs. When science was regarded as little else than magic, and diseases were ascribed to the influence of the devil, physicians were looked upon as sorcerers, and it was but natural that those who considered that their bodies were destined to resurrection should entertain a hatred and horror of those who would cut it up in the dissecting-room for base purposes of utility. And when governments in modern times began to concede a restricted privilege of dissection, the mode of doing it only served to heighten the horror with which the operation was popularly regarded. For three centuries the law increased the infamous reputation of dissection by making it follow the work of the gallows. These feelings were peculiarly intense in theological Scotland, so that the modern medical schools had the greatest difficulty in getting even a few subjects for anatomical study. The necessity of having them, however, created a special craft of body-snatchers and robbers of graveyards. Nothing was more calculated to infuriate the populace than to discover that a grave had been violated. The church-yard was a sacred precinct, "God's acre," and the removal of a body from it was treated as an impious interference with the plans of Providence respecting the great resurrection—the body-stealers being accordingly named "resurrectionists." The men who took to this vocation were of the lowest and most brutal sort. None but base and desperate rascals, indifferent to public detestation, would pursue a business so reprobated by all classes, and so the very quality of the men added repulsiveness to the occupation. Yet physicians were constantly compelled to cooperate with these wretches; that is, to buy their plunder and keep their secrets, as the very first condition of sound medical education. But government, with its legal enactments, joined the superstitious masses in arresting the work of anatomy and making it unlawful and impracticable. The physicians petitioned the authorities for relief, and were answered with more stringent enactments, prosecutions, and spies and detectives watching: the doors of medical schools. These schools in Edinburgh were sacked by mobs or starved into suspension by the impossibility of obtaining subjects. "The law virtually proclaimed that the surgeon should possess aptitude and skill as well as a formal license to practise; nay, it went further, and subjected him who failed to display proper skill to pecuniary forfeiture in the civil courts at the instigation of any dissatisfied patient; yet the only mode of acquiring that skill—namely, from dissections of the dead clandestinely obtained—was in the criminal court held to be a misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment."
Such was the state of things in Edinburgh when Dr. Knox entered upon the public teaching of anatomy. With the unprecedented enlargement of his classes, which sometimes rose to more than five hundred students; and with his thorough-going views of the importance of actual dissection to the well-prepared physician,-the demands of his establishment for subjects were necessarily large. These he had, of course, to meet in various ways. The home supply of bodies being insufficient, he made arrangements with distant places in England and Ireland to have subjects sent to Edinburgh. He was often compelled to pay so high for cadavers that it consumed the profits of his teaching, and in one session he lost nearly $4,000 from this cause alone. An enthusiast himself, and with an enthusiastic class, he could not endure to see the bare dissecting-tables, or to hear the importunate solicitations of his students seeking for professional opportunities that were denied them away from a medical school. Not infrequently the professors of medical colleges have joined the resurrectionists in their midnight adventures, or have pursued them alone; and many thrilling stories are recorded of their nocturnal exploits in getting possession of subjects which offered special interest to the anatomists. But Dr. Knox never indulged in these practices. He despised the resurrectionists whom he was compelled to use, and did his best to get a change of legislation by which anatomy might be prosecuted in a legal and legitimate way. Failing to secure this, he had to resort to the usual expedients for facilitating anatomical study—expedients as old as medical science.
On the 29th of November, 1827, an old man by the name of Donald died in West Port, one of the purlieus of Edinburgh. He lodged with an Irishman named William Hare, and died owing him four pounds. His creditor saw but one way of reimbursing himself, and that was by disposing of the old man's body to the doctors. Hare found a ready accomplice in William Burke, another Irishman, and also one of his lodgers. The body was removed from the coffin, and a bag of tanner's bark substituted for it. The lid was screwed down and the little funeral went off as usual. The same evening. Hare and Burke stealthily repaired to the university, and, meeting a student in the yard, asked for the rooms of Dr. Monroe, the Professor of Anatomy. The student happened to be a pupil of Knox's, and, upon discovering their errand, he advised them to try Knox's place in Surgeons' Square. There they sold the body for £7 10s., a large sum for them, and very easily obtained. They had not courage. to go into the regular business of body-stealing; and so Hare, the vilest of the two, suggested a fresh stroke of business, which was to inveigle the old and infirm into his quarters and "do for them." Hare started in search of a victim; and, prowling through the slums, met an old woman half drunk, and asked her to his house. He gave her whiskey until she became comatose, and then with Burke's assistance strangled her. The body brought £10.
The appetite of the vampires was now sharply whetted, and they entered systematically upon the work of murder. Vagrants, streetwalkers, and imbeciles, were allured on various pretexts to the house of Hare, made dead drunk, and suffocated. Emboldened by their successes, they began to pursue their thuggish practices even in daylight. A woman named Dogherty was stifled, and her body left half-exposed under some straw was seen by two lodgers, who notified the police. Thirteen victims had been secured in eleven months, and all taken to the same place and sold. The prisoners were tried December 24, 1828, when Hare, the blackest of the villains, was let off by turning "state's evidence," and Burke was convicted, hanged, and dissected.
The effect produced upon the public by this horrible disclosure is indescribable. A new and unheard-of crime, that of "Burking." was added to the list of atrocities of which human fiends are capable. Astonishment and terror spread through the community. Households gathered their members within-doors before dusk; workmen walked home from their night's toil in groups, as if in fear of being waylaid. The facts were appalling enough; but a thousand exaggerations and inventions filled the air, and intensified the universal excitement.
It could hardly be expected that public feeling, under such circumstances, would be restrained within the bounds of reason, but it went to the most outrageous excesses. Those who were loudest in their execrations of Hare and Burke, were themselves guilty of conduct almost as atrocious, which was nothing less than the endeavor to fasten the turpitude of these crimes upon the parties at the Medical School who received the bodies. They were accused of being in collusion with Hare and Burke, of conniving at their villainy, and paying them the wages of murder. Dr. Knox, who was at the head of the establishment, was held responsible, and accused of being the prime mover of the dark transactions.
Yet Dr. Knox never saw Burke and Hare but twice during the whole time that they were bringing subjects to the institution, and never had any thing whatever to do with them. The subjects were received in the usual way by persons in charge of the dissecting-room, and they constituted less than one-sixth of the regular supply of the establishment. Moreover, the practice of obtaining subjects in the way they were alleged to come had been long pursued. Tramps, vagabonds, beggars, and worthless, homeless creatures of all sorts were dying in the hovels, dens, cellars, and gutters, with nobody to claim them, and even their relatives, if they had any, would often sell their bodies for a few bottles of whiskey. It was frequently necessary in crowded lodgings to have bodies promptly removed, and there was a regular business done with the medical colleges in smuggling this class of subjects into their rooms. Hare and Burke were therefore doing nothing apparently unusual or that in itself excited suspicion. The porter of the establishment received the bodies, deposited them in the mortuary, and then reported to the assistants, who were young medical students, without long experience. It was alleged that the bodies were brought fresh and warm, which was proof enough of the way they had been obtained. But this was by no means a necessary conclusion. Some of Burke's contributions were fresh, which created surprise; but he made no secret that he was in league with the relatives of the deceased or the owners of lodging-houses, for the prompt possession of bodies as soon as life was extinct. "When his attention was drawn to two apparently newly dead, his glib tongue and plausible statement served his purpose so well as to lull all doubts. One of these bodies was warm, on touching which the assistant expressed himself much horrified. Burke, being challenged in the strongest terms, admitted the warmth, for the person died only a few hours previously, and for secrecy the body had been in close contact with the fireplace. His open manner and ready excuse, when so boldly taken to task, told strongly in favor of the accuracy of his statement."
To illustrate the facility with which irregular practices might be carried on without public interference. Dr. Knox's biographer remarks: "There are no coroners' inquests in Scotland. Sudden death of either stranger or citizen does not concern the public authorities, unless suspicion is entertained and evidence can be offered to warrant the attention of the procurator-fiscal, who then makes a most thorough investigation in private, untrammeled by stupid juries and the comments of the press." He adds: "With the exception of Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, there is no burial service, either at the church or at the grave-side, in Scotland. In lieu of this, a minister attends the funeral, who offers a prayer or makes an address by the side of the bier at the house of the deceased." This gave rise to mock or sham ministers. Hypocritical wretches palmed off their services in many cases among the poor and ignorant to conduct funerals, and managed them so as to play into the hands of the body-snatchers.
The history is a peculiar one, and would require a volume to trace its complications. But the main fact about it is, that the doctors stood in peculiar relations, which exposed them to public animosity, and put them to every disadvantage, when the most extravagant and futile charges were made against them. A revolting and inhuman crime had certainly been committed, and the Medical School had the benefit of it. The conclusion that the head of the school had instigated it was easy to draw, especially if there was the slightest inclination of unfavorable feeling toward him.
Dr. Knox had therefore now to pay the penalty of his popularity. There was a vast mass of indignant and exasperated feeling in the university ready enough to be hostile, and easily turned in the direction of accusation and reprobation. The enemies of Dr. Knox, those who had been irritated by his comments, and those who were jealous of his influence, seized the opportunity to pay him off. It mattered little that there was neither evidence nor shadow of evidence of the charge: it was only necessary to link Dr. Knox's name with the atrocities, and reasons enough would be found for the belief that he was the cause of them. If it appeared incredible, the reply was, that the villainies had actually been perpetrated by somebody, then why not instigated by him who had the greatest interest in the result? Besides, he was none too good for it, as judged out of his own mouth. Had he not replied to a medical student, when asked how he came to have so many Kaffre skulls in his museum: "Why, sir, there was no difficulty in Kaffraria; I had but to walk out of my tent and shoot as many Kaffres as I wanted for scientific and ethnological purposes." A passing joke was thus tortured into proof of a murderous disposition, and had its numerous believers. Again, Dr. Knox had said that "he could always command subjects." To which it was rejoined, "We now know what he meant—the West Port villains were in his pay." Thus by insinuation, perversion, and hinted suspicion, on the part of those who ought to have known better, and by a gaping credulity on the part of the mass of the people, the charges against Dr. Knox came to be believed by bare force of reiteration and association of ideas. The following specimen of the literature of the time embodies the whole logic of the case:
"Down the Close, and up the Stair,
But and Ben wi' Burke and Hare.
On no better grounds than this Dr. Knox was condemned by the press, slandered by his medical brethren, denounced by the clergy, and his life was sought by the mob. Relying upon his entire innocence, abhorring the crime that had been done as much as anybody, and deeply indignant at the charges that were brought against him, Dr. Knox preserved silence. We can now appreciate the dignity and self-respect which impelled him to this, but he calculated wrongly for himself. Silence cannot be comprehended by a stupid public or a clamorous mob. The people were infuriated that he had not been indicted along with the West Port murderers, and Knox had to bear the whole weight of the city's wrath, which was increased by covert enemies in every quarter, and still further heightened by the escape of Hare." Two months after Burke's condemnation, and his confession exonerating Knox from all blame whatsoever had been given to the world, Blackwood's Magazine, its 'Noctes Ambrosianæ' (March, 1829), written by John Wilson, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, alias Christopher North, made every effort to blast the character of the anatomist. Literary ruffianism is too mild a term to apply to the foul words used by Wilson, who, not content with holding up Knox to public execration, rushed with the savagery of the war-whoop and tomahawk upon an unoffending anatomical class, for showing an affectionate regard for their great teacher."
Dr. Knox could have brought his enemies to strict account, and obtained heavy damages for their foul libels, but he preferred the policy of forbearance, as he had that of silence, and to leave the matter to be determined when the excitement should cease. So he kept on steadily with his work. One night, when a large class had assembled to hear him, the proceedings were interrupted by the yells and threats of an outside crowd, so that the students became alarmed. Knox, perceiving the growing restlessness of the audience, paused, and remarked: "Gentlemen, you are disquieted by these noises, to which no doubt you attach a proper meaning. Do not be alarmed; it is my life, not yours, they seek. How little I regard these ruffians you may well judge, for, in spite of daily warnings, and the destruction of my property, I have met you at every hour of lecture during the session; and I am not aware that my efforts to convey instruction have been less clear or less acceptable to you." This statement was received with such cheers as never before rang through a class-room in Edinburgh; and, amid all his troubles and trials, he found his only solace in the approval and affection of his students.
Dr. Knox at length broke his long silence by a letter to the Caledonian Mercury, of which the following is a part:
"Sir: I regret troubling either you or the public with any thing personal, but I cannot be insensible of the feelings of my friends, or the character of the profession to which I have the honor of belonging. Had I alone been concerned, I should never have thought of obtruding on the public by this communication.
"I have a class of above 400 pupils. No person can be at the head of such an establishment, without necessarily running the risk of being imposed upon by those who furnish the material of their science to anatomical teachers; and, accordingly, there is hardly any such person who has not occasionally incurred odium or suspicion from his supposed accession to those violations of the law, without which anatomy can scarcely now be practised. That I should have become an object of popular prejudice, therefore, since mine happened to be the establishment with which Burke and Hare chiefly dealt, was nothing more than what I had to expect. But, if means had not been purposely taken, and most keenly persevered in, to misrepresent facts and to influence the public mind, that prejudice would at least have stood on right ground, and would ultimately have passed away, by its being seen that I had been exposed to a mere misfortune, which would almost certainly have occurred to anybody else who had been in my situation.
"But every effort has been employed to convert my misfortune into positive and intended personal guilt of the most dreadful character. Scarcely any individual has ever been the object of more systematic or atrocious attacks than I have been. Nobody acquainted with this place requires to be told from what quarter these have proceeded.
"I allowed them to go on for months without taking the slightest notice of them; and I was inclined to adhere to this system, especially as the public
authorities, by never charging mo with any offense, gave the only attestation they could that they had nothing to charge me with. But my friends interfered for me. Without consulting me, they directed an agent to institute the most rigid and unsparing examination into the facts. I was totally unacquainted with this gentleman; but I understood that, in naming Mr. Ellis, they named a person whose character is a sufficient pledge for the propriety of his proceedings.
"The result of his inquiries was laid before the Dean of Faculty and another counsel, who were asked what ought to be done. These gentlemen gave it as their opinion that the evidence was completely satisfactory, and that there was no want of actionable matter, but that there was one ground on which it was my duty to resist the temptation of going into a court of law. This was, that the disclosures of the most innocent proceedings even of the best-conducted dissecting-room must always shock the public, and be hurtful to science. But they recommended that a few persons of undoubted weight and character should be asked to investigate the matter, in order that, if I deserved it, an attestation might be given to me, which would be more satisfactory to my friends than any mere statements of mine could be expected to be.
"After a severe and laborious investigation of about six weeks, the result is contained in the following report, which was put into my hands last night....
"Candid men will judge of me according to the situation in which I was placed at the time, and not according to the wisdom which has unexpectedly been acquired since. This is the very first time that I have ever made any statement to the public in my own vindication, and it shall be the last. It would be unjust to the authors of the former calumnies to suppose that they would not renew them now. I can only assure them that, in so far as I am concerned, they will renew them in vain."
The report here referred to bore the names of Sir John Robinson, chairman; Mr. M. P. Brown, advocate; Prof. James Russell, Dr. Alison, Sir George Ballingall, Sir George Sinclair, Sir William Hamilton, and Mr. Thomas Allen, banker; and completely and absolutely exonerated Dr. Knox from the charges that had been made against him. The public advocate went to the bottom of the case, and declared that there was no ground of suspicion; and one of the ablest representatives of the British bar. Lord Cockburn, who had a personal knowledge of all the facts, wrote in the "Memorials of his Time" as follows: "All our anatomists incurred a most unjust and very alarming though not unnatural odium; Dr. Knox in particular, against whom not only the anger of the populace, but the condemnation of the more intelligent persons, was specially directed. But, tried in reference to the invariable and the necessary practice of the profession, our anatomists were spotlessly correct, and Knox the most correct of them all."
Dr. Knox was a man of pluck, and he went along about his business, paying little attention to the storm of abuse and vituperation that rained upon him. But the savage injustice of which he was a victim was, nevertheless, not without its effect. It clouded his prosperity, darkened his life, and gave a cynical turn to his disposition. His biographer remarks: "Only once, as far as I can learn, did Knox exhibit any emotion on account of the connection of his name with the Burke and Hare atrocities, and his freely-alleged complicity in the transaction. Walking in the meadows at Edinburgh with his old friend Dr. Adams, their conversation turned upon 'outward form and its relation to inward qualities.' Knox had a keen appreciation of the beautiful in form; and it chanced at the moment that a pretty little girl, about six years of age, caught his notice while at play. She afforded a text for Knox's comment on physical beauty, combined with unusual intelligence, in so young a child, for by this time he had drawn her into a playful conversation. At length he gave her a penny, and said: 'Now, my dear, you and I will be friends. Would you come and live with me if you got a whole penny every day?' 'No,' said the child; 'you would, maybe, sell me to Dr. Knox.' The anatomist started back with a painfully stunned expression; his features began to twitch convulsively, and tears appeared in his eyes. He walked hastily on, and did not exchange words with Dr. Adams for some minutes; at length came a forced laugh, with a questionable emphasis on the words 'vox populi', which led to a new topic of discourse."
Dr. Knox gave up his lectures in Edinburgh in 1839, and afterward went to London, where he died, December 20, 1862.