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The Times/1907/Obituary/Sir W. Gairdner

Sir W. Gairdner

Sir William Gairdner, formerly Professor of Medicine in the University of Glasgow, died suddenly on Friday last at Bracondale, Colinton, Mid Lothian, at the age of 82.

William Tennant Gairdner was the son of Dr. John Gairdner, a physician in Edinburgh, and was born there on November 8, 1824, He was educated for his father's profession at the University of his native city, and graduated as M.D. in 1845. In 1850 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh; and a year or two later was appointed physician and pathologist to the Royal Infirmary. He filled these offices with great efficiency until 1862, when he accepted an invitation to take the professorship of medicine in the University of Glasgow, together with the post of physician to the Western Infirmary. In the following year much attention was directed in Glasgow to the insanitary state of the city; and Dr. Gairdner, at considerable pecuniary sacrifice, undertook the duties of medical officer of health, which he discharged for ten years in such a manner as brought about a total change in the conditions which he found existing. From this time forward he devoted himself to the duties of his professorship and to his increasing consulting practice. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was appointed honorary physician in ordinary in Scotland to Queen Victoria, receiving the corresponding appointment on the accession of the King. He was made K.C.B. in 1880, and in 1890 resigned his professorship and tool up his residence in Edinburgh. He was president of the British Medical Association in 1888, representative of the University of Glasgow in the General Medical Council for ten years from 1893 to 1903, and among other distinctions received the degree of LL.D. Edin. in 1883 and that of M.D. Dublin (honoris causa), with the honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, in 1887. His principal works were "Clinical Medicine," 1862; "Public Health in Relation to Air and Water," 1862; "On Some Modern Aspects of Insanity," "Lectures to Practitioners" (jointly with Dr. J. Coats), 1868; "The Physician as Naturalist," 1889; and "The Three Things that Abide," 1903. He married, in 1870, Miss H. B. Wright, of Norwich, who survives him, and he leaves also four sons and three daughters.

The professor of medicine in a University like that of Glasgow is expected, almost as a matter of course, to be become an important contributor to the advancement of the science which he teaches, and his duty Gairdner abundantly fulfilled. He did excellent work in this direction both as a sanitarian, as an original investigator of diseases of the heart, and in opposition to the excessive alcoholic stimulation of fevers, which had been rendered fashionable for a time by the teaching of Dr. Todd. His personal influence over successive generations of students was, however, greatly more remarkable and more important than his purely medical achievements. A correspondent writes of this aspects of his character :— "He was conspicuous for a sort of innocent directness of outlook, a perennial simplicity surviving all the coil and perplexity of life and studies, and giving a personal and original quality to all that he said or did. Notwithstanding this, he was by no means a brilliant of incisive person, but often rather prolix and discursive, although no one could converse with him without a sense of his having quite peculiar qualities, even if in only moderate measure. These qualities, if not anywhere piercing or deep, were of wide extent, so that he carried a certain air derived from them into all that he said or did. Whatever he considered, he considered with a child's earnestness and curiosity — i.e., with genius. In a word, his reflections were various and learned and intellectual, and yet never became sophisticated. In conversation he often seemed to forget both start and finish, his mind, regardless of form, or even of audience, pursuing its own logic, of a kind too often imperceptible to others, but most interesting to a sympathetic hearer, as he traced a subject up and down, regarding now this side of it and now that wit, like nature herself, no particular reason for ever stopping. He possessed in full measure the rich Scotch ethical imagination. Emancipated long ago from the vulgar creeds, he found the best of his life in purity of heart and conscience, and so in a moral order, and so again with a sort of cumulative conviction of a Divine Being, and probably therewith of some future phases of spiritual activity. And this was so true a life with him — no fictitious Sabbath day's excursion into morals — that it gave a beautiful dignity to all his actions and conversation. He never preached, and he had a keen sense of humour; but the took into the ethical world the same curious, affectionate, unsophisticated temper that in lower matters I have called genius. It was delightful, because wholly, so to speak, unconscious and effortless. Of 'unction' he had not a trace. As a clinical teacher, of course, all this mad him defective, and as a systematic teacher almost useless to the ordinary dunce, however well meaning; but for baptising disciples who never forgot him or to reverence him he was unique in his day. His medical ethics were ethereally fine. He was absolutely unselfish, and so serene in temper that he never saw, nay, never could comprehend, even in argument, the working of baser passions or intrigues in any of those around him. As a friend he was loyal to the core, and a most wise and affectionate father. His book 'The Physician as Naturalist,' if not written with any idea of self-portraiture, at least contains a large amount of self-revelation; while his last publication, 'The Three Things that Abide,' is made up of lay sermons on faith, hope, and love, of no common interest and beauty."

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.