Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boott, Francis

BOOTT, FRANCIS, M.D. (1792–1863), physician, son of Kirk Boott, his father being English and his mother Scotch, was born at Boston, United States, on 26 Sept. 1792. After completing his education at Harvard University he was sent to England, where his studious habits and literary tastes soon led him to form intimacies with persons of like pursuits. For several years he journeyed backwards and forwards between England and America, making lifelong friendships in both countries, but especially in England. About 1820, when already married, he determined upon studying medicine, and placed himself under the tutelage of Dr. John Armstrong in London. Thence he removed to Edinburgh, where he took his doctor’s degree in 1824. On his return to London in 1825 he commenced practice, and accepted the lectureship on botany in the Webb street school of medicine; this chair however, though admirably conducted, he did not long hold. At the dying request of his friend Dr. Armstrong he edited his life. This book bears the following title: ‘Memorials of the Life and Medical Opinions of John Armstrong, M.D. To which is added an Enquir into the facts connected with those forms of fever attributed to malaria or marsh effluvium, by Francis Boott, M.D.,’ 1833-34, two volumes. For seven years Boott practised very successfully in London, being especially noted for his treatment of fevers, in which he followed the practice of giving abundance of air to the patient, a course which at that time was vehemently objected to by the profession at large. In other respects, too, he was a judicious innovator, being one of the first to discard the black coat, white neckcloth, kneebreeches, and black silk stockings, for the ordinary costume of the day. This was than a blue coat with brass buttons, and yellow waistcoat, which he continued to wear to the last; and thus by outliving the fashion, as he had forestalled it, he came to be as well known in 1860 as he had been in 1830. Boott early retired from practice, and having inherited a competency he devoted himself for the last thirty-five years of his life to the cultivation of his literary, classical, and scientific tastes. As far back as 1819 he had become a fellow of the Linnean Society, and his leisure now permitted him to accept the office of secretary, which he held from 1832 to 1839. He was appointed treasurer in November 1856, which place he resigned in May 1861, His botanical labours were entirely confined to the study of the great genus Carex. The results of his labours have seen the light in a large folio work entitled ‘Illustrations of the Genus Carex,’ by F. Boott, M.D. In four parts London, 1858-67. It was produced at his own expense, and distributed amongst botanists. His close attention to study tended to enfeeble his never very vigorous frame; but the immediate cause of his death was disease of the right lung, induced by pneumonia. It took place at 24 Gower Street, London, on 25 Dec. 1863. In connection with literature a most characteristic act of his was to erect in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge, a tablet to the memory of Henry Kirke White, of whom he knew nothing personally, but whose life and poems he ardently admired. In addition to the works already mentioned Boott also published ‘Two Lectures on Materia Medica’ in 1837, and he prepared a monograph of 158 species of carex, which was printed in Sir Wil1iam Jackson Hooker's ‘Flora Boreali-Americana.’ His wife was a Miss Hardcastle of Derby.

[Proceedings of Linnean Society, 1864, pp. xxiii-xxvii; Medical Times and Gazette, i. 77 (1864).]

G. C. B.