|Description||Pitcairne was born in Edinburgh on 25 December 1652. He entered the University of Edinburgh in 1668 and graduated MA on 20 March 1671. He initially studied law but changed to medicine and obtained his MD degree from the University of Rheims, on 13 August 1680. He returned to Edinburgh and immediately entered the circle of élite, improving physicians around Robert Sibbald. Pitcairne was a founder member of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, for which Sibbald obtained a charter on 29 November 1681. Pitcairne served as second secretary in 1684. |
When Sibbald attempted to found a medical school in the University of Edinburgh in 1685 Pitcairne was appointed one of the professors in September of that year, along with Sibbald himself and James Halkett. However, the town council gave the new faculty no financial support, and it does not appear that any of the professors ever lectured.
Pitcairne's first publication was a Latin pamphlet, Solutio problematis de historicis, seu, De inventoribus dissertatio, published in Edinburgh in 1688. In his work Pitcairne displayed an impressive knowledge both of the classics and of William Harvey's work. On the basis of this rather slender published evidence, he was offered the chair of the practice of medicine at the University of Leiden in November 1691. In his inaugural lecture on 26 April, Pitcairne set the tone for his professorship. He claimed that he would liberate medicine from the thrall of philosophical sects by linking it to the true philosophy, the natural philosophy of Newton. In a series of four dissertations which followed, Pitcairne attempted to outline his new theory of medicine, based on a system of vascular hydraulics.
In the summer of 1693 Pitcairne visited Scotland for a holiday and did not return to Leiden, resigning his position in December. Despite his short stay in Leiden, Pitcairne's lectures and dissertations had an impact on a number of individuals. His Leiden students included William Cockburn, Richard Mead, and the surgeons John Monro and Robert Elliot. In addition, the prestige of his Leiden professorship emboldened Pitcairne to embark on new projects in Edinburgh. He encouraged the surgeon Alexander Monteith to petition the town council for the provision of bodies for dissection, much to the dismay of the Incorporation of Surgeons, who did not welcome competition for scarce cadavers, he succeeded.
Ever the controversialist, Pitcairne entered the debate at the Edinburgh College of Physicians over the correct therapy for fevers. Pitcairne's contribution to the debate, Dissertatio de curatione febrium, delivered in November 1694, provoked an uproar among the fellows. As a result Pitcairne and his supporters, were ejected from the college in December 1695. A general amnesty was declared only in 1703; meanwhile, Pitcairne had allied himself with the surgeons, being elected to the Incorporation of Surgeons on 16 October 1701.
Less is known of Pitcairne's life after 1700. He published little, and seems to have devoted himself to his extensive medical practice and to his poetry. His correspondence with his friend Robert Gray and others reveals his sharp opinions of his contemporaries, but he did not enter into further public controversy. He did instigate a reply by Thomas Bower (under the pseudonym of James Walkinshaw) to the 1709 Letter from Sir R---t S---d, to Dr Archibald Pitcairne. This letter was probably written by William Cockburn in response to Pitcairne's criticisms of his works. Bower's reply defended Pitcairne.
Pitcairne, who had apparently been in poor health for some time, died in Edinburgh on 23 October 1713.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Praxis Medica Pitcairniana and Collegium Medicinae Practicum Secundum Methodum Riverianam Ordinatum, c1700; copies of letters by Archibald Pitcairne, 1694-1701