|Description||Duncan was born in Edinburgh on 10 August 1773, the eldest of the twelve children born to Andrew Duncan (1744-1828), professor of the institutes of medicine. The younger Duncan was apprenticed between 1787 and 1792 to Alexander and George Wood, surgeons of Edinburgh. He graduated MA at Edinburgh in 1793 and MD 1794, and then studied in London in 1794-5 at the Great Windmill Street school of medicine under Matthew Baillie, William Cruickshank, and James Wilson.|
At about this time Duncan twice visited Europe to study medical practice in all the chief cities and medical schools. During these visits Duncan gained a knowledge of continental languages and practice, and of people of importance, that few others of his time could boast. He returned to Edinburgh in 1796 at his father's request, and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and physician to the Royal Public Dispensary. He afterwards became physician to the Fever Hospital at Queensberry House, Edinburgh.
Duncan also assisted his father in editing the Annals of Medicine. In 1803 he brought out the Edinburgh New Dispensatory, a much improved version of William Lewis's work. This became very popular, a tenth edition appearing in 1822. It was translated into German and French, and was republished several times in the United States. The preparation of successive editions occupied much of Duncan's time. For many years from 1805, he was in addition the chief editor of the newly founded Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, which quickly gained a leading position in medical publishing. Duncan also served between 1809 and 1822 as secretary of senate and librarian to the University of Edinburgh, and from 1816 until his death he was an active member of the 'college commission' for rebuilding the university.
In 1807 Fox's whig government imposed the regius chair of medical jurisprudence and medical police (forensic medicine and public health) upon an unwilling University of Edinburgh and the younger Andrew Duncan became the first professor of these subjects in Britain. With no compulsion upon his lectures either for medical or legal students, few took his course and thus his fee salary was minimal; his professorial salary, paid from the civil list, was £100 per annum and presumably he derived the greater part of his income from private practice. In 1815 he became a founder member of, and medical adviser to, the Scottish Widows' Fund and Life Assurance Society.
In 1819 Duncan resigned his professorship of medical jurisprudence on being appointed joint professor with his father of the institutes of medicine. In 1821 he was elected without opposition professor of materia medica, in which chair he achieved great success. To his chief academic work, the Dispensatory, Duncan added a supplement, published in 1829. Perhaps his most distinctive discovery was the isolation of the principle 'cinchonin' from cinchona, as related in Nicholson's Journal.
Although Duncan was more cultured than his father, he lacked his strong constitution and balanced temperament. In 1827 he had a severe attack of fever, after which his strength gradually declined. He lectured until nearly the end of the session 1831-2, and died on 13 May 1832 only four years after his father.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Letters from James Duncan, 1820; copy of a letter to William Creech, 1803