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November 2, 1970

Simpson and Syme of Edinburgh

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

JAMA. 1970;214(5):918. doi:10.1001/jama.1970.03180050072027

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The middle third of the 19th century saw a rapid development in medicine and surgery. A great change took place, involving the introduction of new ideas, and this in turn entailed a conflict between the new and the old. The drama inherent in the transformation comes out vividly in this new biographical study, which takes up the careers of two Edinburgh physicians, James Syme and Sir James Simpson. Syme was the leading surgeon of Edinburgh (if not of all Great Britain) — a crusty and quarrelsome person, yet reserved and enigmatic, innovative in many ways, oppressively conservative in others. Simpson, primarily an obstetrician, won lasting fame by introducing chloroform as an anesthetic agent. He was a much more exuberant and extroverted figure, and quite a foil to Syme. The two men were rivals in many ways, and hard feelings unfortunately developed.

Shepherd presents well-rounded biographical studies of these two outstanding