A Medical Commentary on Fixed Air

From Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

by Matthew Dobson

A Medical Commentary on Fixed Air

Title page from A Medical Commentary on Fixed Air, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Matthew Dobson
Editor William Falconer
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: T. Cadell
Date 1787
Edition Third
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages vii, 172
Desc. 8vo (22 cm.)
Location Shelf N-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

A Medical Commentary on Fixed Air, first published in 1779, was written by English physician, experimental physiologist, and natural philosopher Matthew Dobson (1732-1784). Born to parents who were both ministers, Dobson attended Glasgow University for his M.A., and then attended medical school at Edinburgh University.[1] After graduating with his M.D. in 1756, he married translator and writer Susannah Dawson, and moved to Liverpool where he worked as a doctor.[2] In 1769, Dobson worked with surgeon Matthew Turner to establish the Liverpool Academy of Art.[3] Dobson found much success in his life as a physician, being appointed to the Liverpool Infirmary (1770), elected Fellow of the Royal Society (1778), and, near the end of his career, named head of the Liverpool Medical Library (1779).[4]

As a physician, Dobson had delved into many areas of medical research, including diabetes (he was credited with the discovery that diabetic patients had sugar in their urine), heat treatments, and kidney stones.[5] A Medical Commentary on Fixed Air advocated the use of carbon dioxide, or "fixed air," as an external disinfectant against putrid diseases.[6] In the book, Dobson describes the process of putrefaction, where all organisms — including humans — are eventually reduced down to their elements after death.[7] He also believed that nature was a system that functioned on its own without divine intervention.[8] A Medical Commentary on Fixed Air showcases Dobson's fascination with the human body, and goes beyond describing the body's simple mechanistic function by taking on complex physiology.[9]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Dobson’s Commentary on fixed air. 8vo." This was one of the titles kept by Thomas Jefferson and later sold to the Library of Congress in 1815. George Wythe's Library[10] on LibraryThing indicates "Precise edition unknown. Octavo editions were published at Chester in 1779; London in 1785 and 1787; and Dublin in 1785 and 1790." The Brown Bibliography[11] lists the 1787 (3rd) London edition, based on Millicent Sowerby's entry in Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson.[12] This edition includes An Appendix on the Efficacy of the Solution of Fixed Alkaline Salts Saturated with Flexible Air by William Falconer. Jefferson's copy no longer exists to conclusively verify the edition, however, the Wolf Law Library did choose to purchase the edition suggested by Sowerby.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in modern half calf. Purchased from David and Lynn Smith.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. Margaret DeLacy, "Dobson, Matthew (1732–1784), physician and natural philosopher," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed November 6, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. The Royal Society Fellowship Collections Database, s.v. "Dobson, Matthew (- 1784)," accessed November 18, 2013.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Jan Golinski, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 111.
  7. Christine Hallett, "The Attempt to Understand Puerperal Fever in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: The Influence of Inflammation Theory," Medical History 49, no. 1 (2005), accessed November 14, 2013.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe" accessed on November 11, 2013.
  11. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433
  12. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 1:386 [no.843].