Experimental Essays on the Following Subjects: I. On the External Application of Antiseptics in Putrid Diseases. II. On the Doses and Effects of Medicines. III. On Diuretics and Sudorifics (1768).

Experimental Essays on the Following Subjects: I. On the External Application of Antiseptics in Putrid Diseases. II. On the Doses and Effects of Medicines. III. On Diuretics and Sudorifics (1768).

     

   

     

Alexander, William (? – 1783)

William Alexander was a relatively obscure Scottish physician educated in Edinburgh. We know very little about his life except that in 1769, he moved to London, and sometime later, he moved back to Edinburgh, where he died in 1783.

He published two books, the one we possess and one published in 1779, entitled The History of Women, from the Earliest Antiquity to the Present Time. That work, in two volumes, “gives account of almost every interesting particular concerning that sex, among all nations, ancient and modern”. The work had seen three editions.

The book in our collection, Experimental Essays, described three experiments. The first experiment deals with stopping putrefaction. His experiments used animals left to rot on purpose, onto which chemicals were placed to see if the process was reversible. For instance, in one experiment, he used bark boiled in niter and poured over a putrid animal (rabbit, rat). After six hours, the chemical agent removed the odor. 

In the second part, William Alexander discusses the doses and effects of medications. He describes four experiments with saffron, 21 with niter, and five with camphire (camphor). Next, he experimented with diuretics and sudorific. The former was administered as part of a tea and carefully recorded fluid intake and output. For sudorific, extra clothing, volatiles, alkaline, and spirits (alcohol) were used through nine experiments. The book concludes with two specific clinical cases.

The end of the 18th century was the start of formal experimental research in science. The design of experiments we read in Williams’ book would not stand up today. However, for the period, it was an exciting read. If for nothing else, the book is valuable to teach how not to design experiments.

Our copy was in worn condition when purchased, with the upper board detached. It belonged to the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland Library. It was restored in-house.

Editorial notes by Andrew I Spielman .

Digital Version