Philip, Alexander Philip Wilson (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 45
Philip, Alexander Philip Wilson

by Joseph Frank Payne

PHILIP, ALEXANDER PHILIP WILSON (1770?–1851?), physician and physiologist, was born in Scotland, his surname being originally Wilson. He studied medicine at Edinburgh, and graduated M.D. on 25 June 1792, with an inaugural dissertation 'De Dyspepsia,' and in the same year published the first of a long series of medical works. Being admitted fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on 3 Feb. 1795, he practised in that city for a few years, and gave a course of lectures on medicine. About 1799 he settled at Winchester, and afterwards removed to Worcester, being elected in 1802 physician to the Worcester General Infirmary. He was successful in practice, but in 1817 resigned his appointment, and removed to London. On 22 Dec. 1820 he was admitted licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, and on 25 June 1834 a fellow. In 1835 he delivered and published the Gulstonian lectures 'On the Influence of the Nervous System in Disease.' He was also elected fellow of the Royal Society. Before removing to London he had assumed the additional surname of Philip; his books appeared up to 1807 under the name of Wilson, and after that date under that of Wilson Philip, by which he is generally known.

Wilson Philip, after carrying on for many years a large and apparently lucrative practice in Cavendish Square, was overtaken by misfortune in his old age. About 1842 or 1843 he suddenly disappeared from London. Dr. Munk states that his investments were injudicious, and the scheme in which he had placed his accumulated fortune failed, so that he had to leave the country to avoid arrest for debt. He went to Boulogne, and is thought to have died there, his name disappearing from the list of the College of Physicians in 1851. It is conjectured that these circumstances may have suggested to Thackeray the career of Dr. Firmin in 'The Adventures of Philip.'

Wilson Philip deserves to be remembered, not only as a popular physician, but as an assiduous and successful worker in the advancement of medicine by research, even while he was busily engaged in practice. His researches in physiology and pathology had considerable importance in their day. He was one of the first to employ the microscope in the study of inflammation, and his observations attracted much attention, both at home and abroad; the work in which they were contained (‘An Experimental Enquiry’) being translated into German and Italian; and they have been often quoted since. He was also a physiological experimenter, and the principles which he states to have guided him in the performance of experiments on living animals are both rational and humane. His more practical works, especially on indigestion, were widely circulated, and translated into several languages. They show large medical experience. The following list gives all the more important of his numerous published works. Most of them are in the library of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society: 1. ‘Inquiry into the Remote Cause of Urinary Gravel,’ Edinburgh, 1792, 8vo; in German by Stendal, 1795. 2. ‘Experimental Essay on the Manner in which Opium acts on the Living Animal Body,’ Edinburgh, 1795, 8vo. 3. ‘Treatise on Febrile Diseases,’ 4 vols. Winchester, 1799–1804, 8vo; German translation by Töpelmann, Leipzig, 1804–1812; French by Létu, 1819; portions of this work were republished as ‘Treatise on Simple and Eruptive Fevers,’ 4th edit. London, 1820, 8vo; and ‘Treatise on Symptomatic Fevers,’ 4th edit. London, 1820. 4. ‘Observations on the Use and Abuse of Mercury,’ Winchester, 1805, 8vo. 5. ‘Analysis of the Malvern Waters,’ Worcester, 1805, 8vo. 6. ‘Essay on the Nature of Fever,’ Worcester, 1807, 8vo. 7. ‘Observations on a Species of Pulmonary Consumption,’ Worcester, 1817, 8vo. 8. ‘Experimental Enquiry into the Laws of the Vital Functions, partly reprinted from the “Philosophical Transactions,” 1815 and 1817,’ London, 1817, 8vo; 4th edit. 1839; in German by Sontheimer, Stuttgart, 1822; also in Italian by Tantini, 1823. 9. ‘Treatise on Indigestion and its Consequences,’ London, 1821, 8vo; 6th edit. 1828; Appendix, ‘On Protracted Cases of Indigestion,’ 1827; translated into German by Hasper, 1823, and Wolf, 1823; also into Dutch by Hymans, Amsterdam, 1823. 10. ‘Treatise on Protracted Indigestion and its Consequences,’ London, 1842, 8vo. 11. ‘Treatise on Diseases which precede Change of Structure,’ London, 1830, 8vo. 12. ‘Observations on Malignant Cholera,’ London, 1832, 8vo. 13. ‘Inquiry into the Nature of Sleep and Death,’ London, 1834, 8vo. He also contributed to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ several papers, among which were those ‘On the Nature of the Powers on which the Circulation of the Blood depends,’ 1831; ‘Relation between Nervous and Muscular Systems,’ 1833; ‘On the Nature of Sleep,’ 1833; to the ‘London Medical Gazette,’ where in 1831 he carried on a controversy with Dr. William Prout [q. v.], criticising the latter's Gulstonian lectures; and to the ‘Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal,’ ‘The Medico-Chirurgical Transactions,’ and other periodicals.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, iii. 227; (Upcott's) Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Callisen's Medizinisches Schriftsteller Lexikon, Copenhagen, 1830, &c. vol. xv.; Gurlt und Hirsch's Biographisches Lexikon der Aerzte, iv. 556.]

J. F. P.