William Mackenzie, M. D.
Click to see the book in this collection by Dr. Mackenzie
Born in Glasgow’s Queen Street in April 1791, the
son of a muslin manufacturer, Mackenzie initially studied divinity but found he
was unable to reconcile the scientific facts of geology with a literal
interpretation of the Book of Genesis, and so turned to the study of medicine.
He trained at the University of Glasgow and the
city’s Royal Infirmary. In 1815, after obtaining the diploma of the Faculty of
Physicians and Surgeons, he moved to Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. The years
1816-18 were spent on the Continent, where he developed his interest in
He joined the Royal College of Surgeons and
returned to Glasgow in 1819, entering general practice. In 1824, with Dr George
Monteath, he established an eye infirmary, initially very small. He continued to
lecture, and his book entitled “Practical Treatise of the Diseases of the Eye”,
published in 1830, became a standard work.
DR. WILLIAM MACKENZIE, Surgeon Oculist in
Ordinary to the Queen, was the son of James Mackenzie, muslin manufacturer, and
was born in Queen Street, Glasgow, in April, 1791, and died in July 1868. He
received his education at the Grammar School and the University. After passing
through the Arts course he entered the Divinity Hall, but being unable to
reconcile the facts of geology with the literal interpretation of Genesis, had
to give up the study of theology before he had completed the prescribed course,
and devoted himself to study of medicine.
His medical studies were prosecuted in his own
University, and in the Royal Infirmary, where he became resident clerk to Dr.
Richard Millar. In 1815, after obtaining the diploma of the Faculty of
Physicians and Surgeons, he proceeded to London, and attended Bartholomew’s
Hospital, under Abernethy. In 1816 he went to the Continent, where he remained
While a student, Dr. Mackenzie seems to have had
his attention specially attracted to the anatomy and physiology of the eye; and
his interest in the practical departments of ophthalmology was stimulated by the
letters and advice of his friend, the late Professor Rainy, who had gone to
London and Paris before him, and who was particularly struck by the superiority
of the French mode of treatment of Egyptian ophthalmia, then devastating our
armies, and especially by the successful operations on the eye performed by
Roux, the most brilliant operating surgeon of the day. In Paris Dr. Mackenzie
attended the various courses on natural history delivered at the Jardin des
Plantes by Lamarck and other celebrities, and also the clinic of the Hotel Dieu,
under Dupuytren and Roux.
Apparently not so deeply impressed as his friend
with the superiority of French surgery, he started for Italy, and visited the
various hospitals and places of interest on the way. Having letters of
introduction to Scarpa, he went to Pavia, and spent a short time with that
celebrated anatomist. Scarpa, who had visited London about 1780, and formed a
close intimacy with Pott, Hunter, and others, told Mackenzie that there was no
necessity for his leaving England to learn surgery. Mackenzie has left on record
that of all the great men it had been his fortune to meet with, Scarpa was the
one who had impressed him the most. After going as far as Rome, he returned to
Paris. Taking advantage of the greater facilities afforded there for the study
of anatomy, he devoted the winter of 1816-17 to that subject, with the view of
ultimately becoming a lecturer on anatomy. In 1817 he went to Vienna, then the
most celebrated school of ophthalmology, and became a pupil of the celebrated
Beer, in whose practical class he performed his first operations on the eye.
After having visited all the important schools of France, Italy, and Germany, to
learn the best method of treating eye diseases, the teaching and practice of
Beer seems to have made the most profound and lasting impression on him.
On his return to this country, in 1818, he became
a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and began practice in London as an
oculist and lecturer on the eye. After having devoted eight years to the study
of his profession under the most celebrated teachers of the day, his success as
a practitioner and lecturer does not seem to have been encouraging; and having
been disappointed in regard to a popular lectureship on anatomy for which he
applied at the age of twenty-seven, he left the Metropolis and settled in
Glasgow in 1819, when he was elected a Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and
Surgeons and entered upon general practice, which he never entirely
In 1824, in concert with Dr. George Monteath,
then the chief oculist in Glasgow, he opened a subscription for the purposes of
establishing an eye infirmary. The success of the hospital, which was commenced
on a very small scale, was due in a great measure, not only to the professional
ability of Dr. Mackenzie, but to the strict economy which he inculcated, and to
the careful supervision which he exercised over its affairs in the first years
of its existence.
In 1828, after having delivered lectures on
different branches of medicine, including that of the eye, he was appointed
Waltonian lecturer and lecturer on diseases of the eye in the University. As a
lecturer Dr. Mackenzie was remarkable for the lucidity of his style and the
elegance of his diction. The labour of preparing so many courses must have been
very great, for he went with almost finical minuteness into
every subject to which he directed his attention; but his
methodical habits and great powers of application and
excellent natural talents carried him through triumphantly.
He used jocularly to remark that it was necessary to teach a
subject in order to learn it; and there can be no doubt that
the accurate study of his profession which his duty as a
lecturer on so many different subjects imposed on him, and
the experience acquired in his general practice, contributed
in no small degree to the value of the great work on which
his reputation was to be founded.
The first edition of the “Practical Treatise of the Diseases
of the Eye” was published in 1830.
It at once attracted the attention of the profession, and
took its place as the standard work of the period, and made
his name famous throughout Europe. At forty years of age,
with a European reputation, as one of the most learned and
expert oculists, Dr. Mackenzie does not seem to have
relinquished the hope of becoming a professor in one of the
regular branches of medicine, for in 1833, when the chair of
materia medica became vacant, he was an unsuccessful
candidate, although bringing in support of his candidature
the highest testimonials from the most eminent professors at
home and abroad. Besides other medical works Dr. Mackenzie
edited, for two years, the first series of the “Glasgow
Medical Journal,” and almost to the last contributed
articles and reviews on ophthalmic subjects to the journals;
some of these manifest great ability and perhaps more
original thought and research than his larger works. But Dr.
Mackenzie’s reputation, and the place he will ultimately
occupy in the history of ophthalmology, will not be so much
in the field of original research as in arranging and
supplementing what was already known.
(The personal edited research
notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or
may not be completely documented)