John Thomson’s An Account of the Life, Lectures and Writings of William Cullen (1832; 1859) remains a primary source for the career of the most influential academic physician in eighteenth-century Scotland and is also a significant work of medical history. But this multi-authored text, begun around 1810 by the academic surgeon, John Thomson, but only completed in 1859 by Dr David Craigie, has its own complex history. This chapter addresses what this history can reveal about the development of medical biography as a literary genre. It argues that the Account is a hybrid work shaped by a complex array of practical, domestic, intellectual, and professional pressures, as Thomson, in seeking to bolster his own career, was caught between the demands of Cullen’s children for a traditional “Life” and his own more theoretical and socio-cultural interests.
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In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the publications of such academies held the same place as specialized scholarly and scientific journals do today. Many of the ideas and inventions of the great scholars of those days were first published in the Transactions or Memoirs of an Academy of Science. Such publications are not only a fundamental source for the history of science but also a goldmine for researchers in many other fields.