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Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow - Library

Address. 234 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5RJ [Map]
Telephone. (0141) 221-6072
Fax. (0141) 221-1804
e-mail. [james.beaton@rcpsglasg.ac.uk]
Internet. http://www.rcpsglasg.ac.uk/

Governing body or responsible institution. College Council
Function. Research library.
Subjects. Medicine, surgery, botany.

Access. Open to the Fellows and Members of the College, and also to the wider academic community and members of the public on the basis of prior arrangements. - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Special facilities. Photocopying; access to online databases.
Printed information. Available on the College's website.
Travel directions. Within easy walking distance west of the two main railway stations and also of the bus station.


1.1 The College was founded by a charter granted in 1599 by James VI, the terms of which were designed to ensure that medicine was practised in the west of Scotland only by those who had undergone training at a university or as an apprentice to a recognised surgeon. The present name of the College dates only from the early 1960s. The first President of the College was Peter Lowe (c. 1550-1610?), who had practised for over twenty years as a military surgeon in France and Flanders before moving to Glasgow in 1598.

1.2 It is likely that most of the early members of the College were surgeons rather than physicians. To the considerable embarrassment of some of the members the College also admitted barbers for more than a century after its foundation, although they were forbidden to deal with anything other than simple wounds. Although the physicians, who considered themselves vastly superior in education and social status to surgeons, were considerably outnumbered among the members of the College initially, by the 1670s they had gained control of the College, and did not relinquish it until the 1830s.

1.3 The College had close links with the Medical School at the University of Glasgow, which was established in 1751, through two of that latter body's members, William Cullen (1710-1790) and Joseph Black (1728-1799), who both served as President of the College. However, the early 19th century saw legal disputes between the two bodies over the question of the College's claim to license surgeons, a dispute which the College eventually won by referring to the royal charter of 1599. The College has had only three permanent premises in its 300-year history. The first was not occupied until 1698, when, a century after its foundation, it acquired a home of its own beside the Tron Kirk, near the foot of the High Street, from which it moved in 1791 to St. Enoch Square. From there it moved to its present premises in 1862.

1.4 For almost a century after the establishment of the College there seems to have been no attempt to form a library. The explanation of this was the lack of premises owned by the College, which would have allowed for both the accommodation and the security necessary for such a facility. In 1698 the core of a library was formed, achieved by voluntary donations chiefly on the part of the members but also on that of others. From the titles recorded in the large folio volume acquired for that purpose the College intended to assemble a general library similar to that being developed by the physicians in Edinburgh. However, some titles recorded therein can now no longer be found in the library because non-medical ones, which dealt with theology or history, were either disposed of through deliberate weeding or were lost at a later date. Unfortunately it is impossible to say if any volumes, and at what cost, were bought in the early years of the library's existence, as the College's records and accounts for the period up to 1733 were burnt accidentally.

1.5 However, the surviving records do inform us that a librarian had been appointed from the first, although the post had been linked to that of collector, or treasurer, up to 1755. We also know that the records refer to the state and progress of the library on several occasions, on a number of these dating to 1741 referring to missing books, which had the benefit of leading to the decision to draw up a catalogue, which was ordered to be kept in a box. Among other references is one to the formation of a library committee for the first time in 1768, and to the issuing of a set of regulations for the use of the library. One of these stated that the librarian had to be present at the monthly meetings of the College, in order that he could lend books. Many entries in the records allow us to know that the library was small during the 18th century, a fact borne out by the stipulation of the minutes of the 1st of June 1778 that the printing costs of the proposed catalogue should not exceed £3.0.0. It has been stated twice in print that that catalogue was indeed printed, but no copy of it can be found in the College's library.

1.6 The new century, however, saw the members stirring themselves into action over the deficiencies of the library, when the College as a whole, responding to a proposal from the library committee, decided that £300.0.0 should be spent on the purchase of new books and that the librarian should attend twice a month. However, the annual sum spent on purchases continued to be small, as witnessed by the £500.0.0 spent for the years 1803 to 1813. In contrast to the supposed first catalogue of 1778 a later one, printed in 1817, does indeed still exist. In 1820 the library was estimated to contain 3,500 vols and to be valued at £2,102.13.4. A calculation in the College's balance sheet for 1846 estimated that between 1733 and 1845 £5,626.4.7. had been spent on the library.

1.7 An attempt to improve on the ability of the members to borrow books only twice in a month was made in 1819, when it was proposed that a reading room should be made available, but this was not achieved for almost two decades. Another catalogue was printed in 1842, with two supplements, the first in 1861 and the second in 1871. In that first year, 1842, a start was made on an ambitious project to compile an index of subjects covered by the library's holdings, including monographs as well as articles in periodicals. Towards the end of 1880 a careful survey of the library was conducted, which finally revealed many gaps in its holdings of a number of subjects. These gaps were filled gradually by way of scanning the catalogues of older medical literature offered for sale, or by exchanging duplicates with other medical libraries.

1.8 The shelf catalogue could serve as a subject catalogue as soon as a re-arrangement of the books led to a rudimentary subject classification. The printing of the catalogue had no sooner started around 1883 when it had to be halted, in order that the substantial donation of books formerly belonging to William Mackenzie (1791-1868) could be catalogued and placed on the shelves. The general enrichment of the library by this donation was underscored by its holdings on ophthalmology. As soon as Mackenzie's library had been processed, the printing of the catalogue could be resumed. A second volume of the printed catalogue appeared in 1901, after which no other attempt has been made to issue one. For many years thereafter additions to the library were recorded on cards, until the arrival of computers rendered these obsolete. Despite what has been said about the deliberate weeding of non-medical titles from the library's holdings the College has for some time made a point of reversing this practice in one important area of collecting, and that is books dealing with the history of Glasgow. This policy decision is to be attributed to the College's position as one of the city's incorporations.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The library at present holds c. 3,500 pre-1851 works on medicine and surgery (including periodicals, among them c. 200 STC and c. 700 Wing items). There are 5 incunabula in the collection and c. 300 to 500 pre-1600 titles. Latin is the predominant language in the publications. There are no reliable statistics available for holdings printed after 1700.

Subject outline

2.2 The collections contain 5 incunabula and 300 to 500 titles from the 16th century. Given the close links between medicine and botany in the early modern period, it is appropriate that some of the 16th-century titles are of a botanical content. Among these may be mentioned Conrad Gesner, Epistolae medicinales. De aconito, et oxymelitis elleborati descriptione et usu (Zürich 1577), Leonhardt Thurneisser zum Thurn, Historia seu descriptio plantarum, tam domesticarum quam exoticarum (Cologne 1587), Julius Caesar Scaliger, In libros duos, qui inscribuntur de plantis, Aristotele authore, libri duo (Marburg 1598) and Hieronymus Tragus (alias Bock), De stirpium, maxime earum, quas in Germania nostra nascuntur (Strasbourg 1552).

2.3 Early texts from that same period on medicine and surgery include titles by Joannes Actuarius, De urinis, A. L. Nolano interprete, etc. (Basel 1529), Adamantius, Physiognomonicon (Basel 1544), Jakob Schegk, Tractationum physicarum et medicarum tomus unus (Frankfurt 1585), Gaspar Taliacotius, Cheirurgia noua, de narium aurium, labiorumque defectu (Frankfurt 1598) as well as Johannes Zacharias, De urinis actuarii (Basel 1529) and Conrad Gesner's Chirurgia: de chirurgia scriptores optimi quique veteres et recentiores, plerique in Germania antehac non editi (Zürich 1555). The collection includes some holdings of ancient Greek medical writers such as Galen, namely two editions of the Omnia opera (Basel 1538, Basel 1561) as well as Dissertationes, de causis, utilitate et difficultate respirationis, etc. (Basel 1536). Hippocrates is represented by two editions of his Opera (Basel 1526 and Frankfurt 1624), Dioscorides by his Europista, hoc est de curationibus morborum per medicamentorum paratu facilia, libri II (Strasbourg 1565).

2.4 Better represented, however, are the works of the two leading writers of the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus and Albrecht von Haller, who both combined an active interest in botany and in medicine. Of the former there are copies of his Species plantarum, exhibentes plantas rite cognitas ad genera relatas secundum systema sexuale. Curante C. L. Willdenow (Berlin 1797-1805), Philosophia botanica, in qua explicantur fundamenta botanica (Vienna 1755) and Systema naturae. Cura J. F. Gmelin (Leipzig 1788-1793), while of the latter there are copies of his Opuscula botanica (Göttingen 1749), Iconum anatomicarum quibus praecipue partes corporis humani delineatae continentur fasciculi duo (Göttingen 1743), Elementa physiologiae corporis humani (Lausanne 1757), Opuscula pathologica; accedunt experimenta de respiratione (Lausanne 1755) and Bibliotheca chirurgica, qua scripta ad artem chirurgicam facientia recensentur (Bern 1774-1775). Also worth noting is the vast collection of disputations edited by Haller under the general title of Disputationes anatomicae selectae and published in seven volumes at Göttingen from 1746 to 1751.

2.5 The library is reasonably well provided with works by other German medical writers of the same century, of which the two most prolific were Christian Gottlieb Ludwig and Joseph Jacob von Plenck. The former is represented by, among others, his Institutiones medicinae clinicae (Leipzig 1769), Institutiones physiologiae (Leipzig 1752) and Institutiones medicinae forensis (Leipzig 1788), and the latter by, among others, his Methodus argentum vivum aegris labe venerea infectis exhibendi (Vienna 1766), Doctrina de morbis venereis (Vienna 1779) and Elementa artis obstetriciae (Vienna 1781). Among the other lesser known writers represented in the collection are Johann Christian Gottlieb Ackermann, Institutiones historiae medicinae (Nuremberg 1792), Franciscus Christianus Brunatti, Dissertatio ...historiam cancri mammae ...per operationem feliciter curati (Jena 1794) and Johann Zacharias Platner, Institutiones chirurgiae rationalis (Leipzig 1746), and here and there the odd exotic title such as Johann David Schöpf's Materia medica Americana, potissimum regni vegetabilis (Erlangen 1787).

2.6 The majority of the titles from this period are still, as with those from earlier centuries, in Latin, but some of the holdings do afford a glimpse of the increasing tendency known from other disciplines of writers to publish in German, e.g. H. Frahm's Beschreibung einer neuen Methode veraltete Geschwüre der untern Gliedmassen zu heilen (Halle 1731) and Plenck's Anfangsgründe der gerichtlichen Arzneywissenschaft und Wundarzneywissenschaft (Vienna 1788). In 1820 the number of volumes in the collection was estimated at 3,500 and at the end of the century the figure was said to have risen to 40,000. Leaving aside the question of the reliability of these figures, it is clear that there must have been a huge increase in the size of the book stock, which cannot be accounted for simply by the bequest of Mackenzie's private library of books on ophthalmology. It would seem that efforts were made to acquire many more contemporary works, both foreign and domestic, in several branches of medicine, for there are increasingly numerous German names to be found in the catalogues from 1842 onwards, and titles in the vernacular.

2.7 Indeed, although the evidence found elsewhere of works continuing to be published in Latin can be cited from the 19th-century German imprints in the College's library, German becomes more and more the medium of scholarly communication. That century is important in medicine for the rise of specialisations and a number of these can be seen in the library's holdings of German-language monographs, most notably in those dealing with ophthalmology. The following titles may be mentioned as an indication of the bibliographical enrichment effected by Mackenzie's bequest: Christian Heinrich Theodor Schreger, Versuch einer vergleichenden Anatomie des Auges (Leipzig 1810), Friedrich Müller, Anatomische und physiologische Darstellung des menschlichen Auges (Vienna 1819), J. Baptist Müller, Die neuesten Resultate über das Vorkommen, die Formen und Behandlung einer ansteckenden Augenliederkrankheit (Leipzig 1823), Anton von Rosas, Handbuch der theoretischen und practischen Augenheilkunde (Vienna 1830) and Friedrich Philipp Ritterich, Lehre von den blutigen Augenoperationen am menschlichen Körper (Leipzig 1859).

2.8 A close examination of the catalogues throws up many volumes on psychology and psychiatry, of which the following are noteworthy examples: Carl Gustav Carus, Vorlesungen über Psychologie (Leipzig 1831) and Psyche: zur Entwickelungsgeschichte der Seele (Pforzheim 1846), Johann Baptist Friedreich, Versuch einer Literärgeschichte der Pathologie und Therapie der psychischen Krankheiten (Würzburg 1830) and Historisch-kritische Darstellung der Theorie über das Wesen und den Sitz der psychischen Krankheiten (Leipzig 1836); J. Ehrenbaum, Der Psycholog (Leipzig 1837), Philipp Friedrich Hermann Klencke, System der organischen Psychologie (Leipzig 1842) and Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert, Die Krankheiten und Störungen der menschlichen Seele (Stuttgart 1845). The collection includes practical works on the care of psychiatric patients, of which the following can be cited: W. Ruer, Irrenstatistik der Provinz Westphalen (Berlin 1837) and G. J. Popp, Kurze Beschreibungen mehrerer Irrenanstalten, Deutschlands, Belgiens, Englands, Schottlands, und Frankreichs (Erlangen 1844).

2.9 Although the library's holdings of early medical periodicals from the German-language areas of Europe is not large, they are not without interest. The earliest is Miscellanea medico-physica (vols 2-3, Jena 1671 and Leipzig 1675), issued by the Academia Naturae Curiosorum Germaniae, followed next in date by Acta medicorum Berolinensium. Collecta a J. D. Gohl (Berlin 1719-1730). In the second half of that century Göttingen played a significant role in the intellectual life of Germany, as can be seen in the College's holdings of the Novi commentarii (Göttingen 1771-1778) and Commentationes (Göttingen 1779-1800) published by the Societas Regia Scientiarum Gottingensis. Of more general coverage was the highly influential Acta eruditorum, with its Supplementa and Indices (Leipzig 1682-1721; 1692-1721 and 1693-1723).

2.10 Examples of the early 19th-century German-language periodicals held are Archiv für Anatomie und Physiologie (ed. Johann Friedrich Meckel, Leipzig 1826-1830), Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medizin (ed. J. Müller, Berlin 1834-1860) and Archiv für physiologische und pathologische Anatomie, Chemie und Microscopie (Vienna 1844-1847). An illustration of the diverse contributions made by Germans to the scientific progress of other European countries can be seen in the Medicinisch-praktische Abhandlungen von deutschen in Russland lebenden Aerzten (Hamburg 1835), issued by the ``Verein praktischer Aerzte zu St. Petersburg'.


3.1 Modern catalogues

Card catalogue

[containing details of books acquired after the appearance of the last published catalogue in 1901]

Online catalogue

[for new acquisitions]

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

3.2 Historic catalogues

Catalogue of books in the library of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Glasgow 1778

[no copy available for inspection in the College's library]

Catalogue of books in the library of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Glasgow 1817

Appendix to the catalogue of books in the library of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Glasgow 1826; 1836

Catalogue of books, in the library of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Vol. 1. Glasgow 1842 [The Preface states, inter alia: ``The present volume is a reprint of the Catalogue of 1817'.]

Appendix to the catalogue of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 1842-61. Glasgow 1861 [with a classified index of subjects, and alphabetical lists of authors]

Alphabetical catalogue of the library of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Preceded by an index of subjects. Ed. by A. Duncan. Glasgow 1885; vol. 2, comprising the additions 1885-1900. Glasgow 1901


Weir, W.: Address on the origin and early history of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Glasgow [1864]

Duncan, A.: Memorials of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow 1599-1850, with a sketch of the rise and progress of the Glasgow medical school and of the medical profession in the west of Scotland. Glasgow 1896

Gibson, T.: The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. A short history based on the portraits and other memorabilia. Edinburgh 1983

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 652-653

November 1998

William A. Kelly

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.