Bird, Golding (DNB00)

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BIRD, GOLDING (1814–1854), physician, was born on 9 Dec. 1814 at Downham, Norfolk. He was educated at a private school, where he occupied himself out of school hours with the study of chemistry and botany, and even undertook to give lectures on those subjects to his schoolfellows. These proceedings, however, met with the disapproval of his schoolmaster, and led to his being taken away from the school. In December 1829 he was apprenticed to William Pretty, an apothecary, of Burton Crescent, London, and remained his pupil till October 1833. In 1832 he entered as a student at Guy's Hospital, where his industry and scientific knowledge attracted the notice of his teachers, especially of Dr. Addison and Sir Astley Cooper, the latter of whom availed himself of his pupil's assistance in the chemical section of his work on diseases of the breast. He was also occupied in giving private tuition to some of his fellow-students. When barely twenty-one he went up for examination at Apothecaries' Hall but the court of examiners, in consideration of the reputation he had already attained declined to examine him, and gave him at once the license to practise, with the 'honours of the court,' on 21 Jan. 1836.

Bird started in general practice in London, but, not meeting with much encouragement, resolved to begin anew as a physician. He accordingly took the degree of M.D. at St. Andrews on 24 April 1838, as was then possible without residence, and on 18 April 1840 that of M.A. He became licentiate of the College of Physicians of London on 30 Sept. 1840, and was elected a fellow on 9 July 1845. In 1836 he was appointed lecturer on natural philosophy at Guy's Hospital, and in this capacity delivered the lectures which were the basis of his book on that subject. He afterwards lectured also on medical botany and on urinary pathology. His course on the latter subject appeared in the 'London Medical Gazette' in 1843 as a series of papers, which were twice translated into German, and were ultimately incorporated in the author's well-known work on urinary deposits. About the same time he became physician to the Finsbury Dispensary. After seven years' hard work he was in 1843 elected assistant physician to Guy's, and joint lecturer on materia medica in the medical school. In 1847 he was chosen for the triennial appointment of lecturer on materia medica at the College of Physicians, and gave some important lectures on the therapeutical uses of electricity, and the influence of researches in organic chemistry on therapeutics. While thus occupied in medical practice and teaching, Bird was keenly interested in the natural sciences, and published one or two short papers on natural history subjects. He belonged to the Linnean and Geological, and was a fellow of the Royal Society. He was also a corresponding member of several learned societies on the continent.

There can be little doubt that Bird did too much. His foible was perhaps ambition, which led him to overstrain his powers in the twofold effort to obtain a large practice, and also to make a name in science. An attack of rheumatism in early life had permanently damaged the heart; and the weakness thus induced, combined with overwork, caused a breakdown of his health in 1849. Two years later a still more serious warning compelled him to take rest. He resigned his appointments at Guy's Hospital on 4 Aug. 1853, and in June 1854 retired to Tunbridge Wells, where he died on 27 Oct. of the same year. He married in 1842, and left a widow with five children, one of whom, Mr. Cuthbert H. Golding Bird, is now (1885) a lecturer on physiology and assistant-surgeon at his father's hospital.

Bird was a remarkable instance of intellectual precocity. He was very successful in practice, and there are few instances of a London physician having earned as large an income as he did so early in life. But he was more especially known for his researches in scientific medicine, which, though not placing him in the first rank of investigators, still show considerable originality. He carried on the work of Prout in applying chemistry to medical practice, and in studying morbid conditions of the urine. Although some of the novelties on which he laid great stress, especially 'oxaluria,' have not turned out to be so important as he believed, the work on 'Urinary Deposits' in its five editions from 1844 to 1857, had great influence on the development of medical chemistry in England. Bird's 'Elements of Natural Philosophy' was for many years a very popular text-book, especially with medical students, for whom its attractive style, and its comparative freedom from mathematical reasonings, alike fitted it; although, indeed, the writer's want of rigorous mathematical training constituted, from a scientific point of view, its weakness. It was strengthened on the mathematical side, and otherwise enlarged, by Mr. Charles Brooke, under whose editorship the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions appeared. Bird's shorter papers exhibit considerable originality and inventive capacity. One of them (London Medical Gazette, 11 Dec. 1840) contains the description of a flexible stethoscope, an invention revived of late years. In another (1839) he suggests a method of printing figures of natural objects by sunlight on paper impregnated with the salt ferridcyanide of potassium, which anticipates some of the modern photographic processes. In private life Bird was a man of amiable disposition and winning manners. His earnest piety led him to take a deep interest in the religious welfare of medical students, and hence to become one of the founders of the 'London Christian Medical Association.' He wrote: 1. 'Urinary Deposits, their Diagnosis, Pathology, and Therapeutical Indications,' 1st ed. 12mo, London, 1844; 5th ed., edited by Dr. E. L. Birkett, 1857. 2. 'The Elements of Natural Philosophy,' 1st ed. 12mo, London, 1839, edited by Charles Brooke; 4th ed. 1854, also 5th ed. 1860, 6th ed. 1867, American edition, Philadelphia, 1848 (from the 3rd ed. London). 3. 'Lectures on Electricity and Galvanism in their Physiological and Therapeutical Relations,' 12mo, London, 1849. 4. Papers in 'Guy's Hospital Reports,' viz. 'Remarks on Cystine,' ser. I. i. 486; 'The Chemical Nature of Mucous and Purulent Secretions,' ser. I. iii. 35; 'Report on Electricity as a Remedial Agent,' ser. I. vi. 84; 'Report on Diseases of Children treated in Guy's Hospital,' 1843-4, ser. II. iii. 108; and others. 5. 'Lectures on Oxaluria,' 'London Medical Gazette,' July 1842, xxx. 637; 6. 'The Influence of Researches in Organic Chemistry upon Therapeutics' (being lectures at Royal Coll. Physicians), 'London Medical Gazette,' 1848, vols. xli. and xlii. 7. 'The Medico-Chemical History of Milk,' 'London Medical Gazette,' March 1840 (and in Sir Astley Cooper's work on the 'Anatomy of the Breast,' 4to, 1840); besides very numerous lectures and papers in medical journals, some of which are incorporated in the separately published works.

[Biographical notice by his brother, Dr. Frederic Bird, reprinted from Association Medical Journal, 5 Jan. 1855; Balfour's Biographical Sketch, Edinburgh, 1856; Lancet, 11 Nov. 1854; Medical Times and Gazette, 11 Nov. 1854; manuscript communications from family.]

J. F. P.