Frank Nicholls, M.D., was descended from a respectable family in Cornwall, but was born in 1699 in London, where his father practised as a barrister. He received his rudimentary education at a private school in the country, whence he was removed to Westminster. Entered a sojourner at Exeter college, Oxford, 4th March, 1714, under Mr. John Haviland, he proceeded A.B. 14th November, 1718; A.M. 12th June, 1721; M.B. 16th February, 1724; and M.D. 16th March, 1729. From the commencement of his medical studies, he devoted himself to dissections, and thus laid the surest foundation for the fame he subsequently acquired as an anatomist and physiologist. He was appointed reader in anatomy in the university, and in this capacity obtained much reputation at Oxford. His lectures were commenced at an early period, probably soon after he took his first degree in arts, and were continued for several successive years. During this period, he did not permanently reside at Oxford; but, when his course of lectures was completed, repaired to London, where he continued his anatomical and practical studies. He settled in the first instance in Cornwall, where he practised for a time with considerable reputation, but the fatigue of a country business induced him, ere long, to return to London. He visited France and Italy for the sake of improvement in his favourite science, and on his return to England commenced a course of lectures on anatomy and physiology in the metropolis. The novelty of his discoveries, the gracefulness of his manner, and the charms of his delivery attracted to him not only the medical people in every line, but persons of all ranks and all professions who crowded upon him from every quarter. Dr. Nicholls was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society in 1728; a Candidate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1730; and a Fellow 26th June, 1732. He was Gulstonian lecturer in 1734, and again in 1736. On the former occasion he selected as his subject "the Structure of the Heart and the Circulation of the Blood." On the latter, "the Urinary Organs, with the Causes, Symptoms and Cure of Stone." He was Censor in 1735 and 1746, and delivered the Harveian oration in 1739. Dr. Nicholls was nominated Lumleian lecturer for a term of five years, 30th August, 1746, and commenced the duties of that office with his elegant and well-known dissertation "De Animâ Medicâ." On the death of Dr. John Coningham in the early part of 1749, the Elects of the College ignored the claims and well-founded reputation of Dr. Nicholls, and elected Dr. Abraham Hall, his junior in age and standing as a Fellow, into their body. For an act so disrespectful to Dr. Nicholls no adequate cause has ever been assigned, and contemporary Fellows of the College were unable to explain it. Dr. Nicholls resigned his Lumleian lectureship, and thenceforward took little part in the affairs of the College. His wife’s father, Dr. Mead, seems to have resented the slight offered to Dr. Nicholls, and on the 9th April, 1750, resigned his place as one of the eight Elects of the College.
In 1743 Dr. Nicholls married Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of Dr. Mead, through whose influence he obtained considerable practice. On the death of Sir Hans Sloane in 1753, he was appointed physician to George II, and held that office until the king’s death in 1760. Tired at length of London, and wishing personally to superintend the education of his son, he in 1762 removed to Oxford; but when the study of the law recalled Mr. Nicholls to London, the doctor retired to Epsom, where he resided several years, devoting himself to the study of botany and agriculture, and died 7th January, 1778, in the eightieth year of his age. The life of Dr. Nicholls was written in choice Latin by his pupil and intimate friend, Thomas Lawrence, M.D., "Franci Nichollsii Vita," 4to. Lond. 1780. His portrait, engraved by John Hall, from a model of Mr. Isaac Gossets, is prefixed thereto.(1) Dr. Nicholls was the inventor of corroded anatomical preparations. He was one of the first to study and teach the minute anatomy of tissues, in other words, general, as distinguished from regional and descriptive anatomy; a subject which he made his own by the originality and precision of his views, and to which he devoted many of the lectures of his anatomy course. Dr. Nicholls was also the first to give a correct description of the mode of production of aneurism; and he distinctly recognised the existence and office of the vasomotor nerves.(2)
He was the author of—
Compendium Anatomicum, ea omnia complectens, quae ad Humani Corporis (Economiam spectant. In usum Academiæ Oxoniensis constructum, 1732.
This ran to several editions, was much enlarged, and eventually appeared under the title of "Compendium Anatomico-Geconomicum."
De Anima Medica Prælectio. 4to. Lond., 1750.
To the second edition of which, in 1775, he added a dissertation " De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Homine nato et non nato."
The Petition of the Unborn Babes to the Censors of the Royal College of Physicians. 4to. Lond. 1751.
[(1) "Staturæ fuit mediocris, corporis compacti, et, cum ævi integer erat, agilis. Facies ei honesta et decora; vultus benevolentiam et dignitatem præ se ferens, ita ut primo aspectu reverentiam simul et amorem astantium sibi conciliaret; varius autem et mutabilis, ut hominis naturæ simplicis et aperti motus animi ex oris immutatione facile cognosceres. Mira suavitate et perspicuitate orationis, et in sermone familiari et in praelectionibus usus est; in his autem id præcipue laudis fuit, ut verbis propriis, ordine lucido extempore prolatis, orationem aliorum meditatam et lepore et vi et έναργϵία facile vinceret. In ægrotorum curatione nihil prius habuit, quam ut signa morbi propria a communibus, quod optime potuit, nempe qui physiologiam perspectam haberet, sejungeret, ut quid oppugnandum esset cognosceret, ut motus, quibus ex naturæ instituto morbi causa vel vinceretur vel expelleretur, a motibus illis, quibus homo patitur, nihil in malo amoliendo agit, secerneret: illum enim medicinam feliciter facturum putavit, non qui sympto-matis supprimendis, sed, qui, ex naturæ concilio, vim ejusdem ferocientis temperare, eamdem languentem excitare, errantem, in viam reducere contendit. Quis enim prudens in Cholera materiam acrem per alvum excituram cohiberet? Quis malo arthritico cum dolore et inflammatione pedem occupante, morbum in sanguine repelleret? ut æger molliculus et doloris impatiens άναλγησία frueretur. Nihil siquidem in morbis capitalius esse statuit, quam, morbi causa minime expulsa vel subacta, symptomata evanescere; unde vix aliud expectandum esse experientia docemur, quam ut ægrotus άμαχητί manus hosti det. Medicamentorum in curationibus quod satis esset, parca manu adhibuit; religio quippe illi fuit molestiis illis, quas morbus secum ferebat, alias addere. Literis Græcis et Latinis satis doctus; in multis libris legendis nonnulloram obscuram diligentiam contempsit; cum medicinæ principia vera, morborum facies varia, remediorum utendorum ratio paucis libris sint tradita, sententiam vero cujusque vel inepti, vel absurdi, vel delirantis, rogandi laborem stultum censuit." Franci Nichollsii Vita; Thoma Lawrence M.D., scriptore, p. 104
(2) " At arterias nunquam non comitantur nervi, qui surculos suos in earundem tunicas immittunt, quorum sensu peculiari sanguinis stimulus persentiscitur, pulsus moderamen fit, humorum in vasa, justa fit distributio, succorum utilium confectioni et secretioni, inutilium autem expulsioni prospicitur." Franci Nichollsii Vita scriptore Tho. Lawrence, p. 18]