Wylie, James (1768-1854) (DNB00)

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WYLIE, Sir JAMES (1768–1854), physician at the court of Russia, was born at Kincardine-on-Forth in 1768. His parents (William Wylie and Janet Meiklejohn) were in a humble position. He received the degree of M.D. from King's College, Aberdeen, on 22 Dec. 1794. In 1790 he entered the Russian service as senior surgeon in the Eletsky regiment. He made a reputation by a successful throat operation on Kutaisof, a favourite of the Tsar Paul. Eight years later he was appointed physician to the imperial court at St. Petersburg, and attended the Tsar Paul in his travels to Moscow and Kazan. In 1799 he became surgeon-in-ordinary to the tsar and physician to the heir-apparent, the Grand-duke Alexander. When Paul was murdered on 24 March 1801, Wylie embalmed the body and gave a certificate that the cause of death was apoplexy (Joyneville, i. 151).

In 1800 Wylie had taken a foremost part in founding the Medico-Chirurgical Academy at St. Petersburg. In 1804 he formed the status medicus of the Medical Academy of St. Petersburg and Moscow, of which he was for thirty years the president. He was named inspector-general of the army board of health in 1806, and director of the medical department of the ministry of war in 1812. Wylie was on 7 Sept. 1812 at Borodino, where he is said to have performed two hundred operations on the field; he spent the night after the battle, as he told Alison, in advance of the original Russian position. He witnessed along with the tsar the scenes at Wilna in November 1812. At Dresden in 1813 he amputated Moreau's legs, which were shattered by a cannon-shot as he was talking to the tsar. In 1814 he was at Paris, and met Alison there. The same year he was appointed physician-in-ordinary to the tsar Alexander I, whom he had attended throughout the recent campaign. Wylie accompanied him to England in that year, and was knighted by the prince-regent on Ascot Heath with the sword of the hetman, Count Platoff. On 2 July of the same year, at the special request of the tsar, he was created a baronet. He attended him at the congress of Verona in 1822, and prescribed for him when bitten by a scorpion. Wylie was with Alexander during his tour in the Crimea in 1825, which immediately preceded his death. He refused to follow the other physicians in declaring amputation of the tsar's leg necessary, staking his own head on recovery, and drew up a careful report of the causes of the tsar's death. Dr. Robert Lee (1793–1877) [q. v.] describes him as at this time inclined to accept the views of Hahnemann the homœopathist.

Wylie continued to enjoy imperial confidence under the next tsar, Nicholas, and at his death held the office of privy councillor and the Russian orders of St. Wladimir, St. Alexander Newsky, and St. Anne, as well as the foreign decorations of the legion of honour, the red eagle of Prussia, the crown of Würtemberg and the Leopold of Austria. He died at St. Petersburg on 2 March 1854. Having no children he left his considerable wealth to the tsar, but a large sum invested in British funds during his stay in London in 1814 went, after some litigation, to his Scottish relatives. His frugal habits are described by R. Lyall (Travels in Russia, ii. 464). His work in the improvement of the Russian hospital system is described in the ‘British and Foreign Medical Review’ (vol. i.) and in the ‘Lancet’ of 7 Aug. 1897. A statue of Wylie was erected in 1859 in the Medico-Chirurgical Academy of St. Petersburg, which he had helped to found in 1800, and a hospital attached to the military academy at St. Petersburg has been recently built out of the funds left by Wylie to the tsar, and is named after him (Andreevsky, Cyclopædia, St. Petersburg, 1892.

Wylie published: 1. ‘On the American Yellow Fever,’ St. Petersburg, 1805, 12mo (in Russian). 2. ‘Pharmacopœia castrensis Ruthenica,’ 1808, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1818; 4th edit. 1840. 3. ‘Practical Observations on the Plague,’ Moscow, 1829, 8vo (in Russian). 4. ‘Rapport officiel à Sa Majesté Impériale sur la valeur comparée des méthodes thérapeutiques appliquées dans les hôpitaux militaires et à Saint-Pétersbourg aux sujets atteints de la maladie épidémique dite le choléra morbus, avec des observations pratiques sur la nature du fléau et sur ce que l'on apprend par l'ouverture des cadavres,’ St. Petersburg, 1831, 8vo. 5. ‘Description de l'ophthalmie qui a sévi parmi les troupes,’ St. Petersburg, 1835, 8vo. 6. ‘Méthode de guérison de la gale’ (‘Annales de l'art de guérir,’ mai 1811).

[Information kindly supplied by R. A. Neil, esq., Pembroke College, Cambridge; Gent. Mag. 1854, i. 525; Lancet, 18 March 1854; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Biographie Universelle, nouv. édit.; R. Lee's Last Days of Alexander I and First Days of Nicholas, 1854; Joyneville's Life and Times of Alexander I; Schnitzler's Secret History of Russia under Alexander and Nicholas; Catalogue of Surgeon-General's Library, U.S.A.; The Russian Emperor and the Sailor's Mother, by Agnes Bowie (Stirling, 1872).]

G. Le G. N.