show that ‘Hunter had collected materials for a work which needed but the finishing touches to have made it one of the greatest, most durable, and valuable contributions ever made by any one man to the advancement of the science of comparative anatomy’ (Professor W. H. Flower, Introductory Lecture, 14 Feb. 1870). His observations and experiments on vegetable life were numerous and important.
Hunter's ‘Observations and Reflections on Geology,' not published till 1859, as an introduction to the College of Surgeons' ‘Catalogue of Fossils,' and his posthumous paper ‘On Fossil Bones' (Phil. Trans. 1794, lxxxiv. 407) indicate a perception of the changes undergone by fossils and of their general scientific value, which was far in advance of his time. He recognised water as the chief agent in producing changes, but showed that the popular notion about the deluge was erroneous. He inferred that there had been repeated changes in the level of land, lasting many thousand centuries, and important climatic variations, and he made numerous other correct inferences in physical geology. The ‘Observations' were at first intended for the Royal Society; but objections were made by a geological friend to his use of language which implied that the earth was more than six thousand years old, and he consequently did not send in the paper to the society.
Hunter's works, and especially his posthumous papers, contain numerous psychological remarks, exhibiting much originality and shrewdness, without evidence of systematic study.
Hunter designed his museum to illustrate the entire phenomena of life in all organisms, in health and disease. Its essential plan was physiological. It included, besides wet preparations which enabled all structures with similar functions to be compared, dried and osteological preparations of all kinds, monsters and malformations, fossils, plants and parts of plants, and all manner of products of diseased action. There were also many drawings, oil-paintings, and casts illustrating disease. He had apparently intended to give in a catalogue an account of his observations in each department. On matters relating to dissection, preservation, and embalming, his hints and directions are of the greatest value.
An account is given under Home, Sir Everard, and Clift, William, of the destruction of Hunter's manuscripts by Home after he had utilised them for his own purposes for many years. Clift's transcripts, which are in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, were published by Sir R. Owen in ‘Essays and Observations,’ 1861 (see below).
By his will Hunter left his paternal estate, which Dr. Baillie had made over to him, to his son, and directed Earl's Court to be sold, and the proceeds, after payment of debts, to be divided between his widow and two children. His museum was to be first offered to the British government on reasonable terms, and if refused was to be sold to some foreign state, or in one lot by auction. In the condition of the national finances in 1793 Mr. Pitt showed no eagerness to buy it. To maintain his family while negotiations were in progress, his furniture, library, crystals, paintings, and objects of vertu were sold. Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, did not in 1796 consider Hunter's museum ‘an object of importance to the general study of natural history.' In 1799 a committee of the House of Commons recommended the purchase of Hunter's collection for 15,000l., having heard evidence that it was worth much more. This sum was voted, and the collection was offered by government to the Royal College of Physicians. On their refusal, it was offered to and accepted by the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800, under a board of trustees, on condition that a proper catalogue should be made, a conservator appointed, and that twenty-four lectures on comparative anatomy should be delivered annually at the college. The erection of a suitable building to contain it was aided by further government grants of 15,000l. and 12,500l., and the museum was opened in 1813, in which year Dr. Baillie and Sir Everard Home arranged for the delivery of an annual Hunterian oration on Hunter's birthday. In 1819 the Hunterian Society was founded in connection with the College of Surgeons.
Besides his papers in ‘Medical Commentaries,' the ‘Philosophical Transactions,' and ‘Transactions of a Society for Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge,' of which Ottley gives a complete list, Hunter wrote:
- ‘A Treatise on the Natural History of the Human Teeth,' London, 4to, pt. i., 1771; pt. ii., 1778. On the publication of pt. ii. the two parts bound together were sold as a second edition with a new title-page; 3rd edit., 1803.
- ‘A Treatise on the Venereal Disease,' London, 1st edit., 4to, 1786; 2nd edit., 4to, 1788; 3rd edit., 4to, 1794, with notes by Sir E. Home (this edition was reprinted from the first edition, and contains the errors which Hunter had corrected in the second edition. Home also incorporated remarks of his own in the text undistinguishably, and omitted whole paragraphs or parts of paragraphs); 4th edit., edited by Joseph Adams, 8vo, 1810; 5th edit., by Home, .