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Royal College of Physicians

BRUCE, John Mitchell (1846-1929)


Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-BRUCJ

Held at: Royal College of Physicians

Title: BRUCE, John Mitchell (1846-1929)

Date(s): 1881

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 1 volume

Name of creator(s): Bruce | John Mitchell | 1846-1929 | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

John Mitchell Bruce was born on 19 October 1846 at Keig near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, and then went to the University of Aberdeen, where he was awarded his MA in 1866. He subsequently chose to study medicine and joined the Middlesex Hospital in London, where he gained several distinctions including the gold medal in forensic medicine. He graduated MB in 1870. To complete his training, Mitchell Bruce then undertook postgraduate study in pathology in Vienna and at the Brown Institution, under the tutelage of Sir John Burdon-Sanderson and Professor Emanuel Klein. In 1872 he graduated MD and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

Mitchell Bruce worked briefly as resident at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary before obtaining the post of lecturer on physiology at Charing Cross Hospital, in 1871. In 1873 he was elected assistant physician at the hospital, and then full physician in 1882. He had been elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1878. He also served as physician for the East London Children's Hospital, the Brompton Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, and the King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst.

He relinquished his lectureship in physiology at the Charing Cross Hospital in 1877, and taught materia medica until 1890, and then medicine until 1901. It has been said that he was `the most brilliant teacher of his day at Charing Cross' (Munk's Roll, vol. IV, p.255). He was also dean of the Medical School between 1883 and 1890, during `one of the most formative periods in its development' (ibid).

Mitchell Bruce also conducted his own consulting practice for many years, which grew in size throughout his professional career. He was a relatively junior doctor when he attended his most famous patient, Benjamin Disraeli, first Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister, in the last ten days of Disraeli's life, in April 1881. The part Bruce played in attempting to prolong Disraeli's life was little known at the time as his name did not appear in the public debates about the former Prime Minister's deteriorating health and the treatments applied.

His best-known contribution to the medical profession was his publication, Materia Medica and Therapeutics (1884), of which 70,000 copies were sold during his lifetime. He was also an editor of The Practitioner, and an assistant editor of Sir Richard Quain's A Dictionary of Medicine (1882-94), writing the sections on 'heart disease' and 'acute and chronic rheumatism'. In 1899 his work The Principles of Treatment and their Applications in Practical Medicine (1899) first appeared, to be reprinted three times. The success of this work was largely due to the fact that up to this point therapeutic teaching, in the medical literature of the time, was purely empirical. In contrast Mitchell Bruce offered a sound logic and systematic methodology in his approach. He assumed no therapeutic laws but attempted to find them in the facts of aetiology, pathological anatomy and clinical characters, which he examined in order to find lines of treatment.

In 1904 he retired from the active staff of the Charing Cross Hospital and became consulting physician to the hospital. He was appointed examiner in medicine for the University of Cambridge, as well as the Conjoint Examining Board of England, and examiner in materia medica to the Universities of London and Manchester, on several occasions. He also served as Censor for the Royal College of Physicians in 1911.

His involvement with the Royal College of Physicians was long standing. In 1911 he delivered the Lumleian Lectures to the College, and the Harveian Oration in 1913. He also served as President of the Medical Society of London, and the Section of Medicine of the Royal Society of Medicine. In 1919 Mitchell Bruce was created CVO (Commander of the Royal Victorian Order). The University of Aberdeen made him Doctor of Laws (LLD) and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland gave him an Honorary Fellowship.

He had married, and had one son, during his life. He died at Harley Street, London, on 7 July 1929 at the age of 82.

Materia Medica and Therapeutics (London, 1884)
The Principles of Treatment and their Applications in Practical Medicine (Edinburgh, 1899)
Sections in Sir Richard Quain's A Dictionary of Medicine (1882-94) and articles for The Practitioner
Lettsomian Lectures on the Diseases and Disorders of the Heart and Arteries in Middle and Advance Life (London, 1902)
Lumleian Lectures on Cardio-Vascular Degeneration (1911)
The Harveian Oration on the Influence of Harvey's Work in the Development of the Doctrine of Infection and Immunity (London, 1913)


Scope and content/abstract:

John Mitchell Bruce's letters and notes relating to the fatal illness of the first Earl of Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) (1804-1881), 1881


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

One volume

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:



Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Presented to the College by Mrs Mitchell Bruce on 9 October 1929


Related material:

There is material relating to Mitchell Bruce amongst the College's own records, including letters from him about his attendance at the Harveian dinner, 1884 (MS1024/48), and regarding his delivery of the Lumleian Lectures, 1910 (MS1022/2). There is a report for the College by Mitchell Bruce and William Hale-White on Chinese drugs, 1892 (MS4048/1). Mitchell Bruce's signature can be found in the College's Autographed Letters Collection (ALS). He is also referred to in a letter to Sir William Broadbent, from Sir Richard Quain, regarding entries for Quain's A Dictionary of Medicine (1882-94) (MS-BROAW/807/3).

Publication note:


Archivist's note: Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1826-1925, compiled by G.H. Brown (London, 1955) [Munk's Roll, vol. IV, p.255]; `Obituary - John Mitchell Bruce', The Lancet, 13 July 1929, ii, pp.97-98; `Obituary - John Mitchell Bruce', British Medical Journal, ii, 13 July 1929, pp.77-78; `Dr John Mitchell Bruce's Notes Relating to the Last Illness and Death of Benjamin Disraeli', Doreen Leach & Julie A. Beckwith, Journal of Medical Biography, 2001, 9, pp.161-66.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: March 2003

Medical sciences

Personal names
Bruce | John Mitchell | 1846-1929 | physician
Disraeli | Benjamin | 1804-1881 | 1st Earl of Beaconsfield | statesman x Beaconsfield | 1st Earl of

Corporate names