Sharp, Samuel (1700?-1778) (DNB00)

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SHARP, SAMUEL (1700?–1778), surgeon, son of Henry Sharp of the island of Jamaica, was born about 1700. He was bound apprentice for seven years to William Cheselden [q. v.], the great surgeon at St. Thomas's Hospital, on 2 March 1724. He paid 300l. when his indentures were signed, the money being found by Elizabeth Sale, a widow living at Hertford. Sharp appears to have spent a part of his apprenticeship in France, where he made the acquaintance of Voltaire, and acquired that knowledge of French surgery which afterwards stood him in good stead. He was admitted a freeman of the Barber-Surgeons' Company on 7 March 1731, obtained his diploma on 4 April 1732, and on 6 June, when he was living in Ingram Court, Fenchurch Street, he ‘was admitted into the livery and clothing of the Company.’ He was elected surgeon to Guy's Hospital on 9 Aug. 1733, the year in which Cheselden published his ‘Osteographia.’ Sharp is said to have assisted his former master in the preparation of this great work, and Cheselden introduced a portrait of Belchier and Sharp into the frontispiece. Sharp rapidly acquired an extensive practice. In 1746 want of leisure, probably combined with frequent attacks of asthma, led him to resign to William Hunter the ‘course of anatomical lectures, to which were added the operations of surgery, with the application of bandages.’ He had been in the habit of delivering the lectures in Covent Garden on winter afternoons to a society of navy surgeons. Out of these lectures grew Hunter's Great Windmill Street school of medicine, which laid the foundations of modern medical teaching. Sharp paid a second visit to Paris in 1749, and was elected a member of the Paris Royal Society, having been made a fellow of the Royal Society of London on 13 April 1749. The direct outcome of this journey was ‘A Critical Enquiry into the Present State of Surgery,’ published in 1754, a work which gives an interesting account of the contemporary practice of surgery, especially in French schools.

Sharp resigned his appointment at Guy's Hospital on 23 Sept. 1757 on the ground of ill-health; but he continued to practise until 1765, when he set out on a winter tour through Italy. The results were published in his plain-speaking ‘Letters from Italy,’ which appeared in August 1766. Dr. Johnson thought ‘there was a great deal of matter in them.’ The publication of a second edition in 1767 called forth Baretti's ‘Account of the Manners and Customs of Italy,’ an acrid criticism of Sharp's views. It was answered by Sharp in ‘A View of the Customs, Manners, Drama, &c., of Italy, as they are described in the “Frusta Litteraria,”’ London, 8vo, 1768. Sharp died on 24 March 1778.

‘Sharp,’ says Sir James Paget, ‘was a thoroughly informed surgeon, well read, observant, judicious, a lover of simplicity, wisely doubtful. I think, too, he must have been an eminently safe man, who might be relied on for knowing or doing whatever, in his time, could be known or done for the good of his patients. In this view, I believe he was as good a surgeon as Hunter; but there is nothing in his books that can justly be called pathology, nor any sign of a really scientific method of study. They contain the practice, not the principles, of surgery.’ Sharp's work attracted much notice upon the continent, and he is interesting as the immediate link connecting the old with modern surgery. Cheselden was his master; Hunter, if not actually his pupil, learnt from him by tradition. Among other improvements in surgical instruments introduced by Sharp, he is said to have been the first to suggest that the barrel of a trephine should be conical.

Besides the ‘Letters from Italy,’ Sharp published: 1. ‘A Treatise on the Operations of Surgery,’ London, 1739; 2nd edit. 1739; 3rd edit. 1740; 4th edit. 1743; 6th edit. 1751; 8th edit. 1761; 10th edit. 1782; French translation by A. F. Jault, Paris, 1741. 2. ‘A Critical Enquiry into the Present State of Surgery,’ London, 8vo, 1750; 2nd edit. 1750; 3rd edit. 1754; 4th edit. 1761; translated into French 1751, into Spanish 1753, into German 1756, and Italian 1774. This book, written clearly and in good English, contains thirteen short chapters upon hernia, lithotomy, amputations, concussion of the brain, tumours of the gall-bladder, extirpation of the tonsils, hydrocele, and a few other matters. To the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ Sharp contributed two papers in 1753 on ‘A New Method of Opening the Cornea in order to Extract the Crystalline Humour,’ and in 1754 a paper ‘On the Styptic Powers of Agaric.’

[The manuscript records at the Barber-Surgeons' Hall, by the kind permission of the master, Sidney Young, esq., F.S.A.; Wilks and Bettany's Biographical Dictionary of Guy's Hospital; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill; additional facts kindly given to the author by Dr. Wilks, F.R.S.; Paget's Hunterian Oration, 1877; Hutchinson's Address in Surgery in the British Medical Journal, 1895, ii. 273.]

D’A. P.