Lawson Tait: A Biographical Study

Short extracts from the book

Chapter one:

Robert Lawson Tait was born in Edinburgh at 45 Frederick Street, on May 1st, 1845. His father, Archibald Campbell Tait, was a lawyer by profession, a Guildbrother of Heriot’s Hospital and a cousin of the late Archbishop Tait. His mother was Isabella Stewart Lawson, of Leven; she was thought to have been a Roman Catholic as Robert was brought up as a catholic ..... see more

Chapter five:

The diseases of women held a special place in the interests of Lawson Tait and dominated his work in Birmingham. When he acquired the practice of Dr. Thomas Partridge in the Lozells Road towards the end of 1870, it might have been supposed that he would settle down in general practice and Harvey Flack records that it was in that year that he took the Edinburgh Fellowship. ..... see more

Chapter ten:

It may be recalled (see reference on page 9) that Professor Eardley Holland—now Sir Eardley Holland—was mentioned, in The Lancet, July 14, 1945, as having suggested at the Celebration of the Centenary of Lawson Tait’s birth, that the great surgeon’s “original mind and services to surgery deserved to be commemorated in a statue in his adopted city. If Birmigham delayed, perhaps Edinburgh might claim the privilege . . .” ..... see more

Synopsis of the book:

For this purpose, I think it would be difficult to improve on the contribution of, to quote Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles (chapter 14, pp. 570-71): “Wilfred’s by now long-time vocational colleague, and very probably personal friend, Lord Dowding GCB, GCVO, CMG”:—

“This book is a history and appreciation of the life work of the most eminent surgeon of this age if not of all time. I refer to Robert Lawson Tait whose life work was spent between Edinburgh and Birmingham, but latterly and principally in Birmingham.

From the point of view of those anti-vivisectionists concerned in the foundation and carrying on of the Lawson Tait Memorial Trust, his fight against vivisection, even if it cannot be claimed to be the most important part of the work, is the most important from the point of view of Lady Dowding and the other Founders of the Trust which was formed in his name, because it gave the Society the most important Ally which they have ever had.

The majority of the medical profession is still deeply committed to the support of vivisection as a central assistance to the progress of human surgery whereas Lawson Tait and those who follow his line of thought are convinced that the contrary is the case and that in fact this has misled the medical profession on many aspects of human physiology.

It even appears to me that Lawson Tait’s claim to be absolutely the leading surgeon of his day has been damaged by his opposition to the common view of the medical profession on this subject.

From this point of view a careful study of Mr. Risdon’s remarkable book is important as it shows in how many aspects of surgery Lawson Tait’s work has led the surgical profession and to what extent it has caused surgeons to change their minds on many important matters. An instance of this latter state of affairs is supplied by the change of instructed views towards aseptic versus antiseptic surgery where Lawson Tait’s thinking and teaching post dated those of Lister.

It was in 1867, when Tait was twenty-two years old, that Lister published his first work on the antiseptic principle in surgery (Lancet, 1867, Vol. 1, pages 326-29, 357-59, 387-89, and 507-09). It was nearly four years later that Tait challenged the soundness of the Listerian method and backed his criticism with the records of 6 cases. His own method from then on was scrupulous cleanliness and occlusion of wounds.

I think that any dispassionate reader of the book will come to the conclusion that Lawson Tait deserves not only the appreciation but the affection of the public at large not only for his forceful and original mind but also for his many loveable traits.”

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