Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kidd, John

KIDD, JOHN (1775–1851), physician, born in London 10 Sept. 1775, was son of John Kidd, captain of a merchant vessel, the Swallow, which conveyed Lord Cornwallis out to India as governor-general in 1786. His mother was the daughter of Samuel Burslem, vicar of Etwall, near Derby; she was left a widow in early life with three sons to bring up. John was first sent to the school at Bury St. Edmunds, but in 1789 obtained a king's scholarship at Westminster. There he attracted the special notice of the head-master, Dr. William Vincent [q. v.], afterwards dean of Westminster, who continued his lifelong friend. He was elected to a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1793. The exceptional ability of Kidd and the schoolfellows elected with him to scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge secured for the election the epithet of ‘golden’ in the annals of Westminster School (Welch, Queen's Scholars at Westminster, p. 437). Kidd graduated B.A. in 1797, M.A. in 1800, M.B. in 1801, and M.D. in 1804. He studied at Guy's Hospital for four years, 1797 to 1801, and was for a time a pupil of Astley Paston Cooper [q. v.], with whom he continued on intimate terms for the rest of his life.

On leaving Guy's Kidd took up his residence in Oxford, where he was appointed chemical reader in 1801, and first Aldrichian professor of chemistry in 1803. He was very successful in his chemical experiments, and retained the professorship till 1822, when he resigned in favour of Dr. Charles Giles Bridle Daubeny [q. v.] He was also one of the physicians to the Radcliffe Infirmary from 1808 to 1826, and at one time had a large private practice, chiefly among members of the university. For several years before the endowment by the prince regent of the chairs of mineralogy and geology, Kidd delivered public courses of lectures on those sciences. In 1809 he published his ‘Outlines of Mineralogy’ (2 vols. 8vo, Oxford), which were reviewed by Dr. Thomas Thomson of Edinburgh in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (vol. ii.) in an article which Gifford, the editor, altered in some parts as being ‘very splenetic and very severe, and much too wantonly so.’ Gifford added: ‘Kidd is a modest and unassuming man, and is not to be attacked with sticks and stones like a savage’ (Smiles, Memoir of John Murray, i. 162). With the assistance of some of his friends he considerably increased the geological collection in the Ashmolean Museum, and also the anatomical and pathological specimens in the Christ Church Museum, when he was appointed Lee's reader in anatomy in 1816. In 1817 he was admitted a candidate of the London College of Physicians, in 1818 he was elected a fellow, and in 1836 he delivered the Harveian oration. In 1822, on the death of Sir Christopher Pegge, regius professor of physic at Oxford, Lord Liverpool, on the recommendation of Sir Astley Cooper (Life of Sir Astley Cooper, ii. 200), appointed Kidd his successor. In this office his principal service to the medical profession was the active part he took in the enactment of what was popularly called after him, ‘Dr. Kidd's Examination Statute’ for the degree of M.B. He did not lecture as regius professor, but continued the practice of his predecessor of giving courses of non-professional lectures on anatomy and physiology; occasionally, but not often, he procured from London a subject for dissection by the few medical students that were then at Oxford.

Kidd was a deeply religious man, and in 1824 published ‘An Introductory Lecture to a Course in Comparative Anatomy, illustrative of Paley's “Natural Theology.”’ He undertook a similar work on a larger scale when, on the recommendation of Archbishop William Howley [q. v.], he was selected to write one of the eight ‘Bridgewater Treatises’ (see xvii. 155), for which he received a thousand pounds. Its title was ‘On the Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man: principally with reference to the Supply of his Wants and the Exercise of his Intellectual Faculties.’ It was published in 1833, and was one of the most popular of the series, reaching a sixth edition in 1852. It is not an original or strictly scientific treatise, as he himself admits in his preface; but the intention of the testator ‘seemed to him to require a popular rather than a scientific exposition of facts.’ In the appendix he gave an interesting comparison in parallel columns of some points of the zoology of Aristotle and Cuvier. In 1834 Kidd was appointed keeper of the Radcliffe Library. He superintended the compilation of a classed catalogue of the scientific part of the collection (Oxford, 8vo, 1835), and he made the library as convenient as possible to the few readers who then made use of it. This office (for which he was admirably suited, both by his learning and his exact and studious taste) he retained till his death, which took place, after a few hours' illness on 17 Sept. 1851, at Oxford. He married Miss Savery daughter of the chaplain of St. Thomas's Hospital, who survived him, and by her had four daughters.

Kidd was ‘gifted with a real scientific insight,’ and took a prominent part with W. Buckland, Philip Bury Duncan [q. v.], and Charles Giles Bridle Daubeny in the promotion of science at Oxford. His admirable behaviour during the two outbreaks of cholera in Oxford in 1830 and 1848, which is specially commemorated in the printed accounts of both those visitations, illustrates his practical benevolence. The mastership of the hospital at Ewelme, near Oxford, is annexed to the office of regius professor of medicine. The restoration of the hospital, and of such part of the parish church as belongs to it, was carried out during Kidd's mastership; and he introduced some wise regulations for the comfort and welfare of the bedesmen. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and contributed to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (1815) an ‘Essay on the Spontaneous Production of Salt-Petre;’ and (1825) an elaborate paper on the ‘Anatomy of the Mole-cricket.’ He was eminently straightforward, somewhat hasty and hot-tempered, and averse to all show and pretence, so that he is said to have been the first physician in Oxford who laid aside the traditional wig and large-brimmed hat and gold-headed cane.

Besides the works already mentioned Kidd wrote:

  1. ‘A Geological Essay on the Imperfect Evidence in support of a Theory of the Earth, deducible either from its General Structure, or from the Changes produced on its Surface by the operation of existing Causes,’ 8vo, Oxford, 1815.
  2. ‘An Answer to a Charge against the English Universities in the Supplement to the “Edinburgh Encyclopædia,”’ 8vo, Oxford, 1818.
  3. ‘Observations on Medical Reform,’ 8vo, Oxford, 1841, with ‘Further Observations,’ 1842.

[Picture of the Present State of the College of Physicians in London, 1817, p. 43; Munk's Coll. of Phys. iii. 178; Oxford Chronicle, 20 Sept. 1851; Lancet, 1851, ii. 286; Medical Times, 1851, iii. 315; Daubeny's Inaugural Chemical Lecture, 1823, pp. 7, 8; Acland's Oxford and Modern Medicine, 1890, pp. 12, 14, 17; G. V. Cox's Recollections of Oxford, pp. 133, 431; Pantheon of the Age, ii. 468; private information.]

W. A. G.