John Goodsir - Encyclopedia

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JOHN GOODSIR (1814-1867), Scottish anatomist, born at Anstruther, Fife, on the 20th of March 1814, was the son of Dr John Goodsir, and grandson of Dr John Goodsir of Largo. He was educated at the burgh and grammar-schools of his native place and at the university of St Andrews. In 1830 he was apprenticed to a surgeon-dentist in Edinburgh, where he studied anatomy under Robert Knox, and in 1835 he joined his father in practice at Anstruther. Three years later he communicated to the British Association a paper on the pulps and sacs of the human teeth, his researches on the whole process of dentition being at this time distinguished by their completeness; and about the same date, on the nomination of Edward Forbes, he was elected to the famous coterie called the "Universal Brotherhood of the Friends of Truth," which comprised artists, scholars, naturalists and others, whose relationship became a potent influence in science. With Forbes he worked at marine zoology, but human anatomy, pathology and morphology formed his chief study. In 1840 he moved to Edinburgh, where in the following year he was appointed conservator of the museum of the College of Surgeons, in succession to William Macgillivray. Much of his reputation rested on his knowledge of the anatomy of tissues. In his lectures in the theatre of the college in1842-1843he evidenced the largeness of his observation of cell-life, both physiologically and pathologically, insisting on the importance of the cell as a centre of nutrition, and pointing out that the organism is subdivided into a number of departments. R. Virchow recognized his indebtedness to these discoveries by dedicating his Cellular Pathologie to Goodsir, as "one of the earliest and most acute observers of cell-life." In 1843 Goodsir obtained the post of curator in the university of Edinburgh; the following year he was appointed demonstrator of anatomy, and in 1845 curator of the entire museum. A year later he was elected to the chair of anatomy in the university, and devoted all his energies to anatomical research and teaching.

Human myology was his strong point; no one had laboured harder at the dissecting-table; and he strongly emphasized the necessity of practice as a means of research. He believed that anatomy, physiology and pathology could never be properly advanced without daily consideration and treatment of disease. In 1848 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and in the same year he joined the Highland and Agricultural Society, acting as chairman of the veterinary department, and advising on strictly agricultural matters. In 1847 he delivered a series of systematic lectures on the comparative anatomy of the invertebrata; and, about this period, as member of an aesthetic club, he wrote papers on the natural principles of beauty, the aesthetics of the ugly, of smell, the approbation or disapprobation of sounds, &c. Owing to the failing health of Professor Robert Jameson, Goodsir was induced to deliver the course of lectures on natural history during the summer of 5853.

The lectures were long remembered for their brilliancy, but the infinite amount of thought and exertion which they cost broke down the health of the lecturer. Goodsir, nevertheless, persevered in his labours, writing in 1855 on organic electricity, in 1856 on morphological subjects, and afterwards on the structure of organized forms. His speculations in the latter domain gave birth to his theory of a triangle as the mathematical figure upon which nature had built up both the organic and inorganic worlds, and he hoped to complete this triangle theory of formation and law as the greatest of his works. In his lectures on the skull and brain he held the doctrine that symmetry of brain had more to do with the higher faculties than bulk or form. He died at Wardie, near Edinburgh, on the 6th of March 1867, in the same cottage in which his friend Edward Forbes died. His anatomical lectures were remarkable for their solid basis of fact; and no one in Britain took so wide a field for survey or marshalled so many facts for anatomical tabulation and synthesis.

See Anatomical Memoirs of John Goodsir, F.R.S., edited by W. Turner, with Memoir by H. Lonsdale (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1868), in which Goodsir's lectures, addresses and writings are epitomized; Proc. Roy. Soc. vol. iv. (1868); Trans. Bot. Soc. Edin. vol. ix. (1868).

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