|Description||James Gregory, son of John Gregory (1724-1773), was born at Aberdeen in January 1753. He was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh University, where he did an arts course. He spent a year (1766-7) at Christ Church, Oxford, where his cousin David Gregory (1695/6-1767) was dean. In 1767 Gregory returned to Edinburgh to study medicine under such teachers as William Cullen, Alexander Monro secundus, Joseph Black, and John Hope, as well as his own father, who died in the middle of his course. James suggested that he should complete his father's lectures, so, while still a student, he became temporary professor. He graduated MD at Edinburgh in June 1774, and then spent two years studying medicine in Leiden, Paris, and in Italy.|
In June 1776 Gregory was elected professor of the institutes of medicine in Edinburgh, a vacancy arising because of the transfer of Cullen to the chair of the practice of physic on the death of John Gregory. This was the beginning of a lifelong connection between James Gregory and the University of Edinburgh. The university had an excellent reputation in medicine, and Gregory was effectively chief of the medical faculty. He took a leading part in the teaching and examination work at the medical school and at the same time gradually established himself in practice in the city. As a result of his teaching he came to feel the need for a new book on the theory of medicine, and in 1788 he published Conspectus medicinae theoreticae. For many years this was a leading textbook, and was also the standard work for examination in medical Latin. Because of the elegance of its writing it was also sometimes used as a Latin text.
By 1790 Gregory had so well established his reputation that he was appointed joint professor of the practice of physic, with the right to survivorship, on Cullen's retirement. After Cullen's death he remained the sole occupant of this chair for the rest of his life. In November 1818, because of the increase in his practice, he employed his nephew William Pulteney Alison to assist with the lectures.
It was the practice of the members of the colleges of physicians and surgeons to attend the Edinburgh Infirmary by a monthly rotation, so that the patients could never be sure which physician would treat them. The public in general, and Gregory in particular, took exception to this and Gregory attacked this system in Memorial to the Managers of the Royal Infirmary (1800). With public support Gregory eventually persuaded the managers of the infirmary to appoint medical officers on a permanent basis.
Gregory's public feuds, although considered by many to be a waste of his talents, were often a source of entertainment and were never conducted for selfish ends. As a result of one of his publications, Review of the Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh (1804), he was charged by the college with violation of his oath not to divulge its proceedings. Eventually Gregory was pronounced guilty by the college and in May 1809, having refused to apologize, was suspended from the rights and privileges of the fellowship of the college.
In 1818 Gregory had a serious carriage accident, and during 1820 had attacks of difficulty in breathing, being unable to lecture after Christmas of that year. He died in Edinburgh of hydro-thorax on 2 April 1821. His name lived throughout the country well into the twentieth century because of the celebrated Gregory's powder or Gregory's mixture. Composed of powdered rhubarb, ginger, and magnesium oxide, it acted as an antacid, stomachic, and cathartic.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Lectures on medical institutions, c1780; clinical notes, 1779-c1781; cases of patients in the Royal Infirmary, 1781-1782; notes taken from lectures by James Gregory, c1805-1814; prescriptions, 1804-1816