Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Douglas, John (d.1743)

DOUGLAS, JOHN (d. 1743), surgeon, a Scotchman, brother of Dr. James Douglas (1675–1742) [q. v.], practised in London for many years, at one time giving anatomical and surgical lectures at his house in Fetter Lane (about 1719–22), later living in Lad Lane, near the Guildhall (1737), and in 1739 dating from Downing Street. He became surgeon-lithotomist to the Westminster Hospital and a fellow of the Royal Society. A syllabus of his anatomical and surgical course, which he published in 1719, shows a very practical application of anatomical knowledge, and he is candid enough to leave out the description of the parts of the brain, because, he says, ‘their practical uses are not yet known.’ He relies largely on the performance of operations on dead bodies for the acquirement of skill, and declares that he will not regard ‘authority,’ for ‘no man nor no body of men have any right to impose particular methods of making operations upon us when it can be made appear from reason and experience that another way is preferable.’ But his independence afterwards became exaggerated into conceit and quarrelsomeness, and he was engaged in a number of controversies, out of which he by no means came scatheless. He is entitled to credit in connection with his performance and advocacy of the high operation for stone, which he claimed as essentially his own, though he admitted his indebtedness to several foreign surgeons; but his operation was soon eclipsed by Cheselden's brilliant success with the lateral operation. Douglas afterwards vented his spleen by criticising abusively Cheselden's ‘Osteographia.’ A more creditable performance is his advocacy of the administration of Peruvian bark in cases of mortification. He also wrote a book against the growing employment of male accoucheurs, and advocating the better training of midwives; but even this book was largely inspired by spiteful feelings at the successful practice of Chamberlen, Giffard, Chapman, and others. He died on 25 June 1743.

Douglas's principal writings are: 1. ‘A Syllabus of what is to be performed in a Course of Anatomy, Chirurgical Operations, and Bandages,’ 1719. 2. ‘Lithotomia Douglassiana, or Account of a New Method of making the High Operation in order to extract the Stone out of the Bladder, invented and successfully performed by J. D.,’ 1720; second edition, much enlarged, with several copper plates, 1723; translated into French, Paris, 1724, into German, Bremen, 1729. 3. ‘An Account of Mortifications, and of the surprising Effects of the Bark in putting a Stop to their Progress,’ 1729. 4. ‘Animadversions on a late Pompous Book intituled “Osteographia, or the Anatomy of the Bones,” by William Cheselden, Esq.,’ 1735. 5. ‘A short Account of the State of Midwifery in London, Westminster,’ &c., 1736. 6. ‘A Dissertation on the Venereal Disease,’ pts. i. and ii. 1737, pt. iii. 1739. He proposed to publish an ‘Osteographia Anatomico-Practica,’ in quarto, 1736, but the project came to nothing. In Anderson's ‘Scottish Nation,’ ii. 57, several other works are incorrectly ascribed to Douglas, being either by his brother, James Douglas, or by another John Douglas.

In connection with Douglas the following pamphlets should be consulted: ‘Animadversions on a late Pamphlet intitled “Lithotomia Douglassiana,” or the Scotch Doctor's Publication of Himself,’ by Dr. R. Houstoun, 1720; ‘Lithotomus Castratus: or Mr. Cheselden's Treatise on the High Operation for the Stone, thoroughly examined and plainly found to be “Lithotomia Douglassiana,” under another Title, in a Letter to Dr. John Arbuthnot,’ by R. H., M.D., London, 1723; ‘A Reply to Mr. Douglas's “Short Account of the State of Midwifery in London and Westminster,”’ by Edmund Chapman, 1737.

[Douglas's works; Eloy's Dict. Historique de la Médecine, i. (1728); Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, ed. Thomson.]

G. T. B.