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June 15, 1994

William Cullen and the Eighteenth Century Medical World

Author Affiliations

Parsons, Kan

JAMA. 1994;271(23):1879. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510470083041

William Cullen (1710-1790) was a distinguished Scottish physician of the 18th century. He was a ship's surgeon and a practitioner in his hometown of Hamilton. Later he taught at Glasgow and Edinburgh. He had a large consultant practice not only in Scotland but also in England and Europe. He taught chemistry and medicine and wrote several books. He had such distinguished contemporaries as Adam Smith and such famous pupils as Joseph Black, discoverer of carbon dioxide ("fixed air"), and William Withering, who discerned foxglove's medicinal properties. Cullen was generous, sympathetic, modest, and well liked.

All these attributes and accomplishments should have been enough to earn him a safe place in the history of medicine. History, though, is an unforgiving judge, and it accords a much more prominent position to Cullen's contemporaries Smith, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Benjamin Franklin, and Benjamin Rush. This may be so because Cullen "discovered nothing; no

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