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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 November, 2004, 09:36 GMT
Historic manuscripts on display
Pringle manuscript
The papers were donated on the condition they were not made public
A collection of historic medical manuscripts is to go on public show for the first time in more than two centuries following a court ruling.

For 223 years, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has acted as custodian for a unique historical archive of medical papers.

The documents have remained hidden on the instructions of the physician who donated the material.

But it has since been decided that the papers should be made public.

The 10-volume collection, considered to be one of the most valuable manuscript sources of historical information on the practice of medicine in 18th century Europe, belonged to the renowned Scottish physician Sir John Pringle.

He donated his personal collection to the college on the condition that his papers would never be printed, quoted in print or taken out of the college.

The manuscripts provide a real insight into the practice of medicine in the 18th century
Iain Milne

The college had honoured the conditions since 1782, but it meant researchers were unable to quote or publish extracts from the manuscripts.

Earlier this year, a fellow of the college funded legal action intended to allow the college to change the restrictive terms of the Pringle donation.

The case was heard by Lady Paton and the college was granted its wish to open the collection to the public.

'Best cures'

Iain Milne, head of library and information services at the college, said: "The college is very proud of the Sir John's manuscripts which provide a real insight into the practice of medicine in the 18th century.

"However, the terms of the donation were very restrictive in the 21st century and we believed it was important to take legal action to make the material available to medical researchers, historians and the public."

The documents give an insight into medical thought and practice in the 18th century with one section devoted to the best cures at the time for diseases.

Pringle not only collected thoughts and notes from his own medical experience but also from other scientists of the time, including Benjamin Franklin.

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