Dr. William Cullen (1710-1790) was a Scottish physician and chemist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. This man, unknown to most perhaps, was one of the leading academics of the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the most important professors that the Edinburgh Medical School has ever seen.
However, Dr. Cullen is perhaps mostly remembered for his unique international mail-order medical business. During his career, Dr. Cullen received more than 3000 letters from people all over the world, seeking his advice on everything from pregnancy to obesity. This event, led by Professor David Purdie, actress Elayne Sharling and college librarian Iain Milne, looks into this practice and the man behind the letters.
The beautiful and spectacular Royal College of Physicians is a suitable venue for a show dedicated to one of the College’s most esteemed professors. As the three speakers take us through the life of Dr. Cullen and (more importantly) recite from letters both received and written by him the audience gains an insight into this remarkable man, and the generosity with which he offered his expertise. For the dazzling price of two guineas - about £250 in today’s money - the doctor would give his sincere reply; a reply, judging from his letters, that very often involved his patients travelling even further away from the Doctor himself.
Dear Doctor Cullen is an interesting event in that it informs us about a man that the people of Edinburgh ought to know just a little bit more about. Do not expect to be moved to tears or scared out of your chair – this isn’t that kind of spoken-word performance. However, the three speakers talk with warmth and humour and manage to make the story of a remarkable man who lived in the 1700s fun, interesting and relevant to people in the 21st century.