John Abercrombie1780–1844


Abercrombie was trained in medicine and sought to relate disorders of the mind to pathologies of the brain as expressed in his Pathological and Practical Researches on Diseases of the Brain and Spinal Cord published in 1828. He provided an account of various diseases of the brain, accompanied by detailed case notes for patients. The cases increased with successive editions of the book and by the third edition the conditions of 140 patients were described; about one third of these had some language disturbance but he did not relate these to left hemisphere disorders. It was in the care of patients and in the careful observation of their symptoms that he excelled. However, his interests became more philosophical, metaphysical and religious as he aged, and one writer noted that his reputation would have remained higher if his written output had been lower! Abercrombie considered that his understanding of the brain would assist in the analysis of mental processes generally. This belief was expressed in his book Inquiries Concerning the Intellectual Powers and the Investigation of Truth published in 1830 and followed three years later with The Philosophy of the Moral Feelings. Abercrombie was born in Aberdeen and studied medicine at Edinburgh University where he graduated in 1803. He was unsuccessful in his application for the chair of medicine at Edinburgh but this was ameliorated by a very successful medical practice in the city. Abercrombie’s head (derived from a medallion struck in his honour) is shown in text from the opening chapter of his book on Diseases of the Brain and Spinal Cord describing various diseases of the brain.