Pearson, Richard (1765-1836) (DNB00)

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PEARSON, RICHARD, M. D. (1765–1836), physician, was born in Birmingham in 1765. After education at Sutton Coldfield grammar school, he began medical study under Mr. Tomlinson in Birmingham, and, while a student, obtained a gold medal from the Royal Humane Society for an essay on the means of distinguishing death from suspended animation. He proceeded to the university of Edinburgh, where he graduated M.D. on 24 June 1786. While a student he became president of the Royal Medical Society, as well as of the Natural History Society in the university. His inaugural dissertation was on scrofula, and was published at Edinburgh in 1786. It shows more reading than original observation, but the tendency even at so early a date to make clinical experiments with electricity is shown by his recommendation of that physical agent for the cure of enlarged lymphatic glands (Dissertatio, p. 38). After graduating he travelled in France, Germany, and Italy for two years with Thomas Knox, lord North- land and afterwards first earl of Ranfurley. On 22 Dec. 1788 he was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians of London, and began practice at Birmingham, where he became physician to the General Hospital in September 1792. In 1795 he published ‘A Short Account of the Nature and Properties of different kinds of Airs so far as relates to their Medicinal Use, intended as an introduction to the Pneumatic Way of Treating Diseases,’ and in 1798 ‘The Arguments in Favour of an Inflammatory Diathesis in Hydrophobia considered,’ in which he combats the then prevalent opinion of Dr. John Ferriar [q. v.] of Manchester that general inflammation and inflammation of the fauces were the chief pathological conditions in hydrophobia. Pearson expresses the opinion that the case of Dr. Christopher Nugent (d. 1775) [q. v.] was one of hysteria, and recommends the omission of bleeding in such cases, the administration of wine, and the application of caustics in regions distant from the bite. In 1799 he published ‘Observations on the Bilious Fever of 1797, 1798, and 1799,’ and in 1801 resigned his hospital appointment and settled in London, where he lived in Bloomsbury Square. He published in 1803 ‘Observations on the Epidemic Catarrhal Fever or Influenza of 1803.’ The epidemic had begun in London in February, and thence spread all over England; and this work, after a brief but lucid statement of the clinical features of the disease, discusses its treatment fully, and concludes with some interesting letters from practitioners in country districts. Pearson describes clearly the extreme mental depression which has been observed in subsequent epidemics as a frequent sequel of influenza. An epidemic of plague was raging on some of the coasts of the Mediterranean in 1804, and he published ‘Outlines of a Plan calculated to put a Stop to the Progress of the Malignant Contagion which rages on the Shores of the Mediterranean.’ Two treatises on materia medica in 1807 were his next publications: ‘Thesaurus Medicaminum,’ which reached a fourth edition in 1810, and ‘A Practical Synopsis of the materia Alimentaria and Materia Medica,’ of which a second edition appeared in 1808. In 1812 he published ‘Account of a Particular Preparation of Salted Fish,’ and in 1813 ‘A Brief Description of the Plague.’ After this he migrated to Reading, thence to Sutton Coldfield, and at last to Birmingham, where he was one of the founders of the present medical school. In 1835 he published ‘Observations on the Action of the Broom Seed in Dropsical Affections.’ He also wrote several medical articles in Rees's ‘Encyclopædia’ and in the ‘British Critic,’ and took part in the abridgment of the ‘Philosophical Transactions.’ He died at Birmingham on 11 Jan. 1836, and was buried at St. Paul's Chapel there.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. vol. ii.; works.]

N. M.