Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Reid, Alexander (1586?-1641)
REID or RHEAD, ALEXANDER (1586?–1641), anatomist and surgeon, born about 1586, whose surname is variously spelt Reid, Read, Reade, Rhead, or Rhædus, was third son of James Reid, minister of Banchory Ternan, Kincardineshire. Thomas Reid (d. 1624) [q. v.] was his elder brother. After being educated by his father at Banchory, Alexander proceeded to Aberdeen University, where he graduated M.A. after 1600. He then travelled abroad, and studied surgery in France. He resided at Holt on the border of Wales in 1618, and practised in North Wales, often seeing patients in Denbigh and at times travelling to Bath. On one occasion he was asked by Lord Gerard, near Newport, to see his tailor, whose leg had been injured, and he cut it off above the knee with a joiner's whip-saw, stopping hæmorrhage with a mixture of unslaked lime, umber, whites of eggs, and hare's fur. The man lived as a pensioner of Lord Gerard for many years, and the success of this operation, performed with no instruments or medicine but what the place afforded, increased Reid's fame as a surgeon. He was incorporated M.A. at Oxford on 28 May 1620, with his brother Thomas, and on the following day he was created doctor of physic by letters from James I. He became, about the same time, a foreign brother of the Barber-Surgeons' Company, and a candidate of the College of Physicians on 22 Dec. 1621. He was admitted a fellow of the latter body on 3 March 1623–4. On 7 July in the same year he was incorporated in his medical degree at Cambridge. He was appointed lecturer on anatomy at Barber-Surgeons' Hall on 28 Dec. 1632. He lectured on Tuesdays throughout the year, and received 20l. as a stipend. He held the post until 1634. He died in October 1641, his will being proved on 24 Oct. 1641. His house in London was near the Fleet Street Conduit.
Reid acquired a large fortune, and his brother Thomas bequeathed him four thousand marks in 1624. He maintained an intimate relationship with the universities of Aberdeen throughout his life. On 4 Oct. 1633 he gave 110l. to found bursaries, and other sums were, with his library, bequeathed to the King's and Marischal Colleges by his will. He also bequeathed 100l. to the College of Physicians.
Reid was thoroughly grounded in the scientific lore of his age, but he was too old to accept Harvey's great doctrine that the blood circulates. He taught well, but he does not seem to have been in any way in advance of his time. He wrote, however, in a clear style, somewhat less colloquial than that of his contemporary, William Clowes (1540–1604) [q. v.], and the few cases from his own practice which he gives are well told. He seems to have seen the body of the Duke of Buckingham after his assassination by Felton, and dwells more than once upon the precise direction of the wound which severed the arteria venosa. He thought little of Paracelsus, but taught his doctrines so that true practitioners, by knowing them, might find out and expose empirics. His works had a great reputation. During his life they were pirated, and more than fifty years after his death they were republished. The central figure in the frontispiece to his ‘Manual of Anatomy’ appears to represent Reid lecturing at the Barber-Surgeons' Hall; another portrait is given on the title-page of the 1660 edition of his ‘Epitome of Secrets’ (Bromley).
Reid's works are: 1. ‘Σωματογραφία Ἀνθρωπίνη, or a Description of the Body of Man. With the Practice of Cirurgery, and the use of Three-and-fifty Instruments,’ 8vo, 1634. Wood says that this work was printed in 1616, but there is no other evidence of such an edition. The explanation of the instruments is gathered by H. C. out of the works of Ambrose Paré. 2. ‘ Chirurgicall Lectures on Wounds,’ London, 4to, 1634; delivered at Barber-Surgeons' Hall. 3. ‘The Manuall of the Anatomy or Dissection of the Body of Man, which usually are shewed in the Publike Anatomicall Exercises, methodically digested into six books,’ London, 12mo, 1634; 2nd edit. 1637, reprinted 1638; 3rd edit. 1642; 4th edit. 1650; 5th edit. 1653; this is a digest of the lectures which he delivered as professor of anatomy. 4. ‘Chirurgicall Lectures on Tumours and Ulcers,’ London, 4to, 1635. 5. ‘A Treatise of the First Part of Chirurgery called by mee συνθετική,’ London, 1638. 6. ‘A Treatise of all the Muscles of the Body of Man,’ London, 4to, 1637; 2nd edit. 1650; 3rd edit. 1659. 7. ‘Alphabeticall List of Physicall Secrets, by O[wen] W[ood],’ 8vo, 1639. 8. ‘The Workes of that Famous Physitian, Dr. Alexander Read,’ 4to, London; 2nd edit. 1650; 3rd edit. 1659. This contains Nos. 2, 3, 5, and 6. 9. ‘An Epitome of Secrets by Alexander Read,’ 8vo, 1651 and 1660. 10. ‘Most excellent Medicines and Remedies for most Diseases … lately compiled by A. R., Doctor in Physic, deceased … and since revised by (T. A.) an able Practitioner,’ London, 8vo, 1651. 11. ‘Chirurgorum Comes, or the whole Practice of Chirurgery, begun by the learned Dr. Read and completed by a Member of the College of Physicians in London,’ London, 8vo, 1687: a collection of Reid's surgical works, with an appendix (concerning a chirurgeon's report before a magistrate on the view of a wounded person) which resembles that given by Thomas Brugis [q. v.] The work is completed by a treatise on midwifery and another on plastic operations.[Information kindly given by Mr. P. J. Anderson, the librarian at the university of Aberdeen, in whose Fasti Acad. Mariscallanæ Aberdonenses Reid's will is published, and notes kindly supplied by Dr. Norman Moore. See also Wood's Fasti; Munk's Coll. of Phys.; Baldwin Hamey's Bustorum aliquot reliquiæ; Dugald Stewart's Life of Thomas Reid, D.D., who was a member of the same family.]