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Keill, James

1. Dates
Born: Edinburgh, 27 March 1673
Died: Northampton, 16 July 1719
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 46
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
This is an informed surmise. It is known that his grandfather was of the affluent gentry and that his uncle, Dr. William Cockburn, was the son of a gentleman of some estate.
No information on financial status. I have chosen not to guess, but it is worth noting that Keill was able to travel about the continent for some six years, studying medicine but without any visible source of income.
3. Nationality
Birth: Scottish
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Edinburgh, Leiden; Aberdeen, M.D.
A school in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh University, 1688-92. No degree.
Keill travelled about on the continent. It is known that he was in Paris part of the time and attended Lemery's lectures on chemistry.
University of Leiden, 1696-8.
M.D. at Aberdeen, 1699. He did not in fact ever study there.
Honorary M.D. from Cambridge University, 1705. This was on the occasion of Queen Anne's visit to the university; it must have been the same time when Newton was knighted.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Keill's brother John was closely allied with the high church party, and I suspect that he was also.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Anatomy, Physiology
Subordinate: Medicine, Chemistry
Keill revised, completed, and published the translation of Lemery's Course of Chymistry, 1698.
Anatomy of the Human Body Abridged, 1698--largely derivative although later edition incorporated Keill's own incring knowledge of anatomy. Despite its derivative nature, it was the most popular English compensium of anatomy of its time.
Keill was an iatromechanist in the tradition of Pitcairne. His physiological theories showed up in later editions of the Anatomy. In 1708, An Account of Animal Secretion . . . and Muscular Motion, which drew heavily on the Newtonian concept of attraction. Keill was the first to calculate, on dubious grounds, the rate at which the blood flows. Essays on Several Parts of Animal Oeconomy, 1717, was the second edition of Secretion. Tentamina medico-physica, 1718, translated the Essays into Latin.
Keill attempted to relate his physiology to practice. His Medica statica, 1718, conclused with a number of health precepts and with two medical essays.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Secondary: Schoolmastering
Keill taught anatomy privately at oxford and Cambridge in the late 90's and early years of the 18th century.
Medical practice at Northampton, 1703-19. His practice included a number of the nobility, apparently Hans Sloane's patients who had country estates near Northampton.
8. Patronage
Type: Physician
Owed his honorary degree to Queen Anne's visit to Cambridge in 1705. I don't know who engineered this, but I am not going to list it as patronage from the court.
Dedicated Anatomy. 1698, to Dr. Edward Tyson whose encouragement and favor he acknowledged.
He dedicated Medicina statica britannica (appended to the Tentamina to Dr. John Freind, who was an old acquaintance.
Sir Hans Sloane introduced him to the Royal Society and sent him his wealthy patients when they were at their country seats. There is no way to avoid the conclusion that Keill was Sloane's client.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Friendship and extensive medical correspondence with Sir Hans Sloane.
Royal Society, 1712.
  1. F.M. Valades and C.D. O'Malley, "James Keill of Northampton, Physician, Anatomist, and Physiologist," Medical History, 15, (1971), 317-35.
  2. T.M. Brown, The Mechanical Philosophy and Animal Oeconomy, Ph.D dissertation, Princeton University, 1968, pp. 309-26.
  3. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950) 10, 1197-8. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 4, 2809-11.
  4. Anita Guerrini, "James Keill, George Cheyne, and Newtonian Physiology," Journal of the History of Biology, 18 (1985), 247-66.
  5. _____,"The Tory Newtonians: Gregory, Pitcairne, and their Circle," Journal of British Studies, 25 (1986), 288-311.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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