Loose notes of Duncan's Theory of Medicine

Scope and Content

Notes taken from lectures given by Andrew Duncan (1744-1828) on the theory of medicine consisting of the first two lectures only. The notes are written on one sheet of paper folded to form two folios. The first lecture is the introductory lecture which sets out how Duncan divides this branch of medicine into two parts, namely pathological physiology and therapeutics, as opposed to the five parts favoured by Boerhaave. The lecture then looks at the attainment of science through different types of knowledge and the duty of the teacher. The second lecture gives a short historical view of the progress of medical science divided into four periods, namely Greek, Roman, Arabian, and modern literature. These notes are clearly not complete and discussion does not go beyond the Greeks.

Administrative / Biographical History

Andrew Duncan was born near St Andrews on 17 October 1744, the son of Andrew Duncan and Catherine Vilant. After having first gained an MA from St Andrews in 1762 Duncan proceeded to Edinburgh University to pursue his medical studies, which he completed in 1768. Following a brief spell as surgeon to the East India Company's ship Asia he returned to Scotland and graduated from St Andrews with an MD in October 1769 and became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in May 1770, all with a view to becoming a university lecturer. His first university appointment was at Edinburgh from 1774 to 1776 when he stood in for the professor-elect of medicine, Dr Drummond, who had failed to return following a period of absence. The post was then filled on a permanent basis by James Gregory and Duncan instead established an extra-academical course on the theory and practice of medicine. Duncan eventually held the chair of the theory of medicine in 1790 after Gregory moved to take the professorship of medicine recently vacated by William Cullen. He took this opportunity to introduce teaching on public health and physiology and also campaigned hard for the establishment of a chair of medical jurisprudence which was eventually established in 1807. His son, Andrew Duncan (1773-1832) was the first to hold this position and also joined his father as joint-professor of the theory of medicine in 1821.

Duncan was also known for his great efforts in the establishment of new medical institutions in the city; firstly a public dispensary, which later became the Royal Public Dispensary, and secondly a public lunatic asylum erected at Morningside in 1807, 15 years after his initial proposal. He also appreciated the value of professional societies, beginning from his student days when he first served as president of the Royal Medical Society in 1767 and then again from 1769 to 1774. He also founded the Aesculapian Club (1773), the Harveian Club (1782), and the Caledonian Horticultural Society (1809), with former two aimed at fostering unity between physicians and surgeons. In 1821 he was elected president of the Edinburgh Medico-Chirurgical Society and in 1824 president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. From 1773 to 1803 he published the medical journal Medical and Philosophical Commentaries, which changed its name in 1795 to Annals of Medicine. The journal was discontinued in 1804 in favour of the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, which was edited jointly with his son.

Duncan died on 5 July 1828.


G.T. Bettany, 'Duncan, Andrew, the elder (1744-1828)', rev. Lisa Rosner, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004, [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8212, accessed 24 June 2016]. Michael Clark & Catherine Crawford Legal Medicine in History, Cambridge University Press, 1994.