Stokes, William (DNB00)

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STOKES, WILLIAM, M.D. (1804–1878), physician, was fifth child of Whitley Stokes, regius professor of medicine in the university of Dublin, and his wife Mary Anne, daughter of Hugh Picknell of Lough Gall, co. Armagh.

Whitley Stokes, M.D. (1763–1845), the father, was son of Gabriel Stokes, D.D., fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, prebendary of Elphin, chancellor of Waterford, and rector of Desart Martin in the diocese of Derry, and grandson of Gabriel Stokes, an engineer and deputy surveyor-general of Ireland in 1735, the first of the family to settle in Ireland. Whitley was born in 1763, entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1779, obtained a scholarship in 1781, and was elected a fellow in his twenty-fifth year. He proceeded to the degree of bachelor of medicine in 1789, and to that of doctor in 1793. As a young man he joined the United Irishmen, and won the admiration of Wolfe Tone, who designated him the fitting ‘head of a system of national education’ should Ireland become independent (Tone's Autobiography). Although Stokes denied that he had any connection with the Society of United Irishmen after 1792, he was suspended for three years from all functions as a tutor on the ground of his political opinions in 1798, when Lord Clare made his visitation of Trinity College. But Stokes soon regained the confidence of his colleagues. He was elected a senior fellow in 1805 and lecturer in natural history in 1816. He became regius professor of medicine in 1830, resigning in 1843. He died at his residence in Harcourt Street, Dublin, on 13 April 1845. He married, in 1782, Mary Anne, daughter of Hugh Picknell of Lough Gall, co. Armagh, and had nine children.

The son, William, who was born in Dublin in 1804, was educated in classics and mathematics by John Walker, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and in science by his father. He studied medicine and graduated in 1825 at Edinburgh. On his return in the same year to Ireland he became a licentiate of the College of Physicians there, and was immediately elected physician to the Meath hospital. He published in 1825 ‘An Introduction to the Use of the Stethoscope,’ one of the earliest treatises on the subject in English. It is dedicated to William Cullen [q. v.], and shows that the author had done much solid pathological and clinical work. Dr. Robert James Graves [q. v.] was his colleague at Meath Hospital, and they reformed the clinical teaching of Dublin. Stokes at once became famous as a teacher of medicine, and in the great epidemic of typhus in Dublin in 1826 his exertions in the treatment of the poor were conspicuous. He was himself attacked by the fever in 1827. In April 1828 he married. He first lived at 16 Harcourt Street, Dublin, and in 1828 published two lectures on the application of the stethoscope to the diagnosis of thoracic disease. His practice increased, and in 1830 he moved to a larger house in York Street, Dublin. Every Saturday he had an open evening, and the excellent society of his house became a powerful influence in Dublin. He encouraged the labours of George Petrie [q. v.], and stimulated by kindly sympathy the studies of younger men in all branches of learning. Asiatic cholera visited Dublin in 1832, and he reported the first case. He gave clinical lectures at the Meath hospital, and contributed lectures to the ‘London Medical and Surgical Journal,’ as well as a paper on the curability of phthisis. In 1832 he published ‘Clinical Observations on the Use of Opium,’ and in 1833 and 1834 papers in the ‘London Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine.’ He became in 1834 editor of the ‘Dublin Journal of Medical Science,’ and in 1835 began a work entitled ‘A Treatise on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Diseases of the Chest,’ which was published in 1837. It is based on his clinical discourses, and is remarkable for the lucid and definite character of its summaries on each of the diseases described. It sets forth and discusses all the views of Laennec and his school, but is most valuable where it is most original, and whatever additions may be made to the information contained in it will always be useful as a model of medical exposition. In 1838 he founded the Pathological Society of Dublin, and in 1839 the university of Dublin conferred upon him the degree of M.D. His foreign travels, which he repeated in 1840, enabled him to add to his already extensive knowledge of art, and in Ireland George Petrie [q. v.] and (Sir) Frederick Burton were his favourite artists and dearest friends. Miss Helen Faucit (afterwards Lady Martin) visited Ireland, and they became friends. He discharged the duties of regius professor of medicine in the Dublin University from 1843, and on his father's death in 1845 his appointment was confirmed. In that year he visited Icolmkill and the Hebrides, and in 1849 he enjoyed a period of repose and antiquarian study in South Wales. He published in 1854 ‘Diseases of the Heart and Aorta,’ a profound work of the same kind of merit as his treatises on diseases of the chest, and in 1863 he edited ‘Studies in Physiology and Medicine’ by Robert James Graves. He was made physician in ordinary to the queen in Ireland in 1861, and elected F.R.S. in the same year. His ‘lectures on fever,’ which are chiefly valuable from the light they throw on Irish epidemics, were edited by Dr. J. W. Moore in 1874.

Meanwhile in 1866–7 he wrote the ‘Life and Labours in Art and Archæology of George Petrie.’ This was published in 1868. Throughout life he took deep interest in Irish antiquities, visited the isles of Arran twice and many other remote parts of Ireland with his daughter Margaret and the Earl of Dunraven [see Quin, Edwin Richard Windham Wyndham-, third Earl of Dunraven]. He was elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1874.

Stokes owned a house called Carrig Breac on the most remote part of the promontory of Howth, and he retired thither when he gave up practice. In 1876 he was awarded the Prussian order Pour le Mérite in recognition of his medical writings. He had a paralytic stroke in November 1877, and died on 10 Jan. 1878. He was buried at St. Finlan's, Howth.

Besides the works mentioned, he published numerous medical essays and several addresses on medical education, in which he insists on the advantage of a wide general education for students of medicine. His services to his country in encouraging the study of her architecture, artistic work, and music, were very great, and every young man found in him a generous friend. He was long the undoubted head of his profession in Ireland, and Sir George Edward Paget [q. v.], a most capable authority, expressed in 1868 the opinion that Stokes was the greatest physician of that time in Europe. Several of his works were translated into French, German, and Italian.

His portrait, by Sir Frederick Burton, was in the possession of Mr. Whitley Stokes, and has been engraved; and his statue, by John Henry Foley [q. v.], is in the hall of the King's and Queen's College of Physicians of Ireland. In April 1828 he married Mary, daughter of John Black of Glasgow. His eldest son, Whitley (1830–1909), became a legal member of council in India, and was well known as a Celtic scholar; while another of his sons was an eminent Dublin surgeon Sir William Stokes. One of his daughters, Miss Margaret Stokes, has published several works on Irish art and its history.

[Information from Miss Margaret Stokes; Stokes's works; Ormsby's Medical History of the Meath Hospital; personal knowledge.]

N. M.