Carswell, Robert (DNB00)

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CARSWELL, Sir ROBERT (1793–1857), physician and pathologist, was born at Paisley, Scotland, on 3 Feb. 1793. He studied medicine at the university of Glasgow. While a student he was distinguished for his skill in drawing, and was employed by Dr. John Thompson of Edinburgh to make a collection of drawings illustrating morbid anatomy. In pursuance of this scheme Carswell went to the continent, and spent two years (1822–3) working at the hospitals of Paris and Lyons. He returned to Scotland, and took his degree of M.D. at the Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1826. After this he went again to Paris, and resumed his studies in morbid anatomy under the celebrated Louis. About 1828 he was nominated by the council of University College, London, professor of pathological anatomy, but before entering on his teaching duties was commissioned to prepare a collection of pathological drawings. He accordingly remained at Paris after receiving this commission till 1831, when he had completed a series of two thousand water-colour drawings of diseased structures. This collection is still preserved at University College. Carswell then came to London and undertook the duties of his professorship. He was in addition appointed at the same time, or soon afterwards, physician to the University College Hospital. He did not, however, at once engage in practice, but occupied himself with the preparation of a great book on pathological anatomy, the plates for which were furnished from his large store of pathological drawings, and put upon the stone by himself. This, the work on which the author's reputation rests, was published in 1837 as ‘Illustrations of the Elementary Forms of Disease,’ a fine folio, with remarkably well executed coloured plates, which still holds its place as a standard work. The illustrations have, for artistic merit and for fidelity, never been surpassed, while the matter represents the highest point which the science of morbid anatomy had reached before the introduction of the microscope. About 1836 Carswell entered on private practice, but did not meet with much success, and as, in addition, his health was not strong, he was in 1840 induced to resign his professorship, and to accept the appointment of physician to the king of the Belgians. The rest of his life was spent at Laeken, near Brussels, and was occupied in official duties and charitable medical attendance on the poor, but interrupted by several journeys to the south in search of health. Carswell made no further contributions to medical science. He was knighted in July 1850 by Queen Victoria for his services to Louis-Philippe when an exile in this country. He married Mlle. Marguerite Chardenot, who survived him, but left no issue. He died on 15 June 1857, after a lingering illness caused by chronic lung disease. Carswell was highly distinguished as a morbid anatomist, and perhaps no such anatomist was ever a better artist. His work has permanent value, and he had considerable influence as a teacher, though the abrupt termination of his scientific career prevented him from taking a leading place in the profession. He wrote, besides his great work: 1. ‘On Melanosis’ (with W. Cullen), ‘Trans. Med.-Chir. Society of Edinburgh,’ 1824, p. 264. 2. ‘Researches on the Digestion of the Walls of the Stomach after Death,’ ‘Edinb. Med. and Surg. Journal,’ xxxiv. 282, 1830, previously communicated in French to the Académie de Médecine, Paris. 3. In Forbes's ‘Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine’ the articles: Induration, Melanosis, Mortification, Perforation, Scirrhus, Softening, Tubercle.

[Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Sciences Médicales (Dechambre), xii. 701 (from communications by the widow, Lady Carswell); Proceedings Royal Med.-Chir. Soc. ii. 52, 1858.]

J. F. P.