James Douglas (physician)
Life and works
One of the seven sons of William Douglas (died 1705) and his wife, Joan, daughter of James Mason of Park, Blantyre, he was born in West Calder, West Lothian, in 1675. His brother was the well-known lithotomist John Douglas (died 1759).
One of the most respected anatomists in the country, Douglas was also a well-known man-midwife. He was asked to investigate the case of Mary Toft, an English woman from Godalming, Surrey, who in 1726 became the subject of considerable controversy when she tricked doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits. Despite his early scepticism (Douglas thought that a woman giving birth to rabbits was as likely as a rabbit giving birth to a human child), Douglas went to see Toft, and subsequently exposed her as a fraud.
Douglas practiced midwifery and performed public dissections at home.
Douglas mentored and befriended anatomist and surgeon William Hunter (1718–1783), whom he met in 1740 when Hunter came to London. Hunter would live in the Douglas household and remained there after Douglas died in London on 2 April 1742, leaving a widow and two children.
Douglas produced a series of manuscript English, French, Latin and Greek grammars, and an ample index to the works of Horace. A Treatise on English Pronunciation by James Douglas (1914) was edited by Anna Paues. Another edition was due to Börje Holmberg (Lund, 1956). He undertook botanical studies, notably his monograph on the Guernsey Lily.
As a result of Douglas's investigations of female pelvic anatomy, several anatomical terms bear his name:
- Inflammation of Douglas pouch.
- Douglas fold
- A fold of peritoneum forming the lateral boundary of Douglas' pouch.
- James Douglas on English Pronunciation, c. 1740; [an edition of the Hunterian Museum manuscript no. 586 edited, with an introduction and commentary, by Börje Holmberg; a thesis.] Lund: Gleerup, 1956