1902 Encyclopedia > John Goodsir

John Goodsir
Scottish anatomist
(1814-67)




JOHN GOODSIR, (1814-1867), anatomist, born at Anstruther, Fife, March 20, 1814, was the son of Dr John Goodsir, and grandson of Dr John Goodsir of Largo. He was educated at the burgh and grammar schools of his native place, and at the university of St Andrews. He served an apprenticeship for a short time to Mr Nasmyth, the eminent dentist, but the higher studies of medicine and surgery were more to his liking, and, under the fascinating impulsion of the lectures of Dr Knox, anatomy, descriptive, surgical, and pathological, became his hobby,—the work of Carus giving the first impetus to his investigations in developmental anatomy. From his mother he had imbibed a love of art, and his sketches and casts and methodical demonstrations were the admiration of his fellow students. In Dr Knox's rooms he made the acquaintance of Edward Forbes, the naturalist. Goodsir also worked under Mr Syme, Professor Christison, Dr John Macintosh, Professor Eobert Jameson, Dr Thomas Hope, and Dr Graham. His earliest scientific paper was on the snail,—a novel, elaborate, and highly illustrated treatise. In 1835 he became a licentiate of the Boyal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. After aiding Mr Nasmyth, he joined his father in practice at Anstruther. Three years later he communicated to the British Associa-tion a paper on the pulps and sacs of the human teeth, his researches on the whole process of dentition being at this time distinguished by their completeness. He had already commenced the formation of a natural history museum, which attracted many visitors,—the habits of animals, from the polype to the ape, possessing an irresistible charm for him. The results of his studies in natural history were laid before the Society of St Andrews, at the request of whose president, Sir D. Brewster, he furnished an account of cilia, reading to the society in 1840 his views on the cephalic termination of the sympathetic nerve. The ich-thyolites of the Concerres quarry had not escaped him; and we find him now foreshowing his diversified knowledge in essays on the eye of the cephalopodous mollusks, in descrip-tions of his dredging expeditions with Edward Forbes, and in his lectures at Cupar on the conditions of health. On the nomination of Forbes, he was in 1838 elected to the famous coterie called the "Universal Brotherhood of the Friends of Truth," which comprised artists, scholars, naturalists, and others whose relationship became a potent influence in science. Goodsir was a noble example of the brotherhood, which sought to bind man to man in ties of home and friendship, love and good will. Goodsir and Forbes worked together at marine zoology, but human anatomy, pathology, and morphology formed Goodsir's chief study. The connexion of these two men was illustrated in a paper read at the British Association in 1840 on Pelonaia, and further researches on the British Ciliograda. In that year Goodsir became a member of the Wernerian Society, contributing several papers, some jointly with Forbes. Professor Jameson was the president, which may account for the greater part of Goodsir's studies in comparative anatomy from 1840 to 1847 being imparted to its members. In 1841 he joined the Edinburgh Botanical Society, holding the office of secretary from 1842-48, when he was chosen vice-president. In 1840-42 ulcers and abscesses and continued fever, in cases of which he advocated the deple-tive system, occupied his attention. He had associated himself with the Boyal Medical Society in 1833, and was in 1841-42 elected the senior president, at the same time becoming president of the Anatomical and Physiological Societies, to which he submitted his studies on the struc-ture of the liver and kidneys. A member of the Boyal Physical Society in 1841, he read his papers on the develop-ment of the skeleton in the series of invertebrate animals; in 1849 he was elected president, remaining in office till 1852. His own estimate of his work at this period was represented to the Boyal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh on his candidature for the post of conservator of the museum. He stated that he had practised every de-partment of preparation and conservation, that he had con-siderable experience in modelling in clay, plaster, and wax, and in the use of microscope and pencil, and that his own collection of preparations in human, comparative, and morbid anatomy exceeded 400 examples. He succeeded Macgillivray in April 1841, giving lectures on the subjects illustrated by the museum. Goodsir rested no small part of his reputation on his knowledge of the anatomy of tissues. In his lectures in the theatre of the college in 1842-43 he evidenced the largeness of his observation of cell-life, both physiologically and pathologically, advocating the importance of the cell as a centre of nutrition, and pointing out that the organism is subdivided into a number of departments. Virchow recognized his indebtedness to these discoveries by dedicating his Cellular Pathologie to Goodsir, as " one of the earliest and most acute observers of cell-life." In 1843 Goodsir obtained the post of curator in the university of Edinburgh; the following year he was appointed demonstrator of anatomy to Professor Monro, and in 1845 curator of the entire museum. He elucidated about this time much that had been obscure in digestion, in parasitic formation and in the secreting structures. He fully confirmed the supposition that cells are the structures which perform the process of secretion, and that the func-tions of nutrition and secretion are essentially alike in their nature. His views on the nucleated cell as the great agent in absorption, nutrition, and secretion are established data in the science of physiology. In 1846 Goodsir was elected to the anatomical chair in the university of Edinburgh, his highest ambition being thus satisfied. The same year the Royal Society of London enrolled him as a fellow. All his energies were now devoted to the perfection of the science of anatomy; and his system of teaching was regarded as the best that ever regulated the anatomical department of any British university or medical school.





Human myology was his strong point; no one had laboured harder at the disseeting-table; and he strongly emphasized the necessity of practice as a means of research. He believed that anatomy, physiology, and pathology could never be properly advanced without daily consideration and treatment of disease. In 1848 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and in the same year he joined the Highland and Agricultural Society, acting as chairman of the veterinary department, and advising on strictly agricultural matters. In 1847 tie delivered a series of systematic lectures on the comparative anatomy of the invertebrata; and, about this period, as member of an assthetic club, he wrote papers on the natural principles of beauty, the sesthetics of the ugly, of smell, the approba-tion or disapprobation of sounds, and other refinements. Owing to the failing health of Professor Jameson, Goodsir was induced to deliver the course of lectures on natural his-tory during the summer of 1853. It was mainly zoological, and included the psychological conditions of man as com-pared with the brute, and the highest exercise of the human faculties—perception, logic, and science. These lectures are among the memorabilia of the university; but the infinite amount of thought and exertion which they cost broke the health of the lecturer. Goodsir, nevertheless, persisted in work till 1853, when the necessity for rest urged itself with painful force. A sojourn on the Continent, though it refreshed, could not rid him of incipient paralysis, the common penalty for overtaxing powers. The death of Forbes in 1854 was a sore trial to Goodsir, and though other friends were numerous, the firm attachment of this man could not be replaced. Goodsir persevered in his labours, writing in 1855 on organic electricity, in 1856 on morphological subjects, and afterwards on the structure of organized forms,—his speculations in the latter domain giving birth to his theory of a triangle as the mathematical figure upon which nature had built up both the organic and inorganic worlds. The fundamental principle of form he conceived to exist within the province of crystallography, and to be discernible by a close study of the laws of that science. As he believed that every cell had a parent cell, or " a mother," so he argued there was an umbilicus or centre in everything. He regarded man as simply a con-glomerate of cells, rising up, maturing, and decaying. He saw in the growth and form and finished structure of man a tetrahedron,—man, a physical being and a form divine, but a crystal in his structural entity and arrangement. Goodsir hoped to complete the triangle theory of formation and law as the greatest of his works. In his lectures on the skull and brain he held the doctrine that symmetry of brain had more to do with the higher faculties than bulk or form. Goodsir was still working out these higher studies when death ended his labours. He expired at Wardie, near Edinburgh, on the 6th of March 1867, in the same cottage in which his friend Edward Forbes died. Goodsir's anatomical lectures are remarkable for their solid basis of fact; and no one in Britain took so wide a field for survey, or marshalled so many facts for anatomical tabulation and synthesis.

See Anatomical Memoirs of John Goodsir. F.E.S., edited by W. Turner, M.B., with Memoir by H. Lonsdale, M.D., Edinb. 1868, 2 vols., in which. Goodsir's lectures, addresses, and writings are epitomized; Proceedings of the Hoy. Soc. of Lond., vol. iv., 1868; Transactions of the Botanical Soc. Edin.. 1868, vol. ix. (T. N.)







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