The Times/1925/Obituary/Thomas Clifford Allbutt
Sir C. Allbutt
Service to English Medicine.
The sudden death of Sir Clifford Allbutt, Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge, which we announce on another page, removes one of the great figures of English medicine and an outstanding Cambridge personality. An accomplished clinician, a devoted teacher, his active contributions to medical knowledge and practice had won for him a reputation which was deservedly worldwide. To the last he continued in vigorous work and in the pursuit of his many interests. Only eight days ago, it will be remembered, a letter from him was published in these columns, to which he was a frequent contributor, protesting against the disfiguration of Lakeland, where, as he said, he “had walked almost every year since the age of 14.”
Thomas Clifford Allbutt, son of the Rev. Thomas Allbutt, rector of Debach cum Boulge, Suffolk, was born at Dewsbury on July 20, 1836. He was educated privately at Ryde and afterwards at St. Peter’s School, York. Proceeding to Cambridge he entered at Caius College, where he gained several scholarships, taking his B.A. with first-class honours in the Natural Science Tripos with distinction in chemistry and geology. He was admitted a Bachelor of Medicine in 1860, and immediately began to practice in Leeds, where he was appointed physician to the General Infirmary. In 1868 he graduated M.D. at Cambridge and quickly obtained a very large consulting practice in the north of England. The Royal College o Physicians made strenuous endeavours about this time to bring their fold all University graduates who were practising medicine in the provinces and Dr. Allbutt was admitted M.R.C.P. in 1878, being elected a Fellow in 1882. In 1889 he began to realize that his work was overtaxing his strength, for in addition to his consulting practice, which involved much travelling, he was doing good original work on the pathology of the nervous system, tetanus and hydrophobia. He accepted, therefore, the office of a Commissioner of Lunacy, which he resigned in 1892, when he was chosen to succeed Sir George Paget as Regius Professor of Physic in the University of Cambridge, and as a pendant to the Professorship, physician to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He subsequently became consulting physician to the Belgrave Hospital for Children, to the Mount Vernon Hospital for Consumption, and to King Edward VII.’s Sanatorium at Midhurst.
In 1881 Allbutt published an important work on “The Ophthalmoscope in Medicine.” The ophthalmoscope is an instrument originally invented by the late Mr. Charles Babbage, but remained unknown until a modification of it was constructed by Helmholtz, and was restored to Babbage’s original form by Ruete. It permits visual examination of the interior of the eye; and, for the first time in the history of science, it rendered living nerves and blood-vessels open to inspection in situ. In the course of a few years it revolutionized knowledge of the internal diseases of the eye itself; and inasmuch as the nerve and blood-vessels displayed are continuous with the brain and with its vessels, it soon became apparent that the utility of the new instrument would not be confined to ophthalmic practice, but would extend to many diseases of the brain and to some still more general conditions. Dr. Allbutt’s book was the first to give a comprehensive outline of these new forms of usefulness, and may be said to have opened a new door in practical medicine. He had previously endowed the profession with a new instrument, the short or pocket clinical thermometer, which is now the indispensible companion of every practitioner. Wunderlich and others had already shown that the temperature of the body undergoes great variations in the course of illness, and that a recognition of these variations is of great practical value; but the only thermometers capable of measuring them were, in the late sixties, so large, cumbrous, and fragile as to be scarcely available outside the wards of a hospital. That the determination of a (illegible text)ily temperature holds it present place is due to Dr. Allbutt’s ingenuity. In 1885 he published with Pridgin Teale, his surgical colleague at Leeds Infirmary, a volume of clinical lectures “On the treatment of Scrofulous Neck,” in which operative measures were recommended instead fo the older treatment of allowing tuberculous glands of the neck to “come to a head,” burst, and leave unsightly scars.
In 1884 he delivered the Goulstonian Lectures (on visceral neuroses) before the Royal College of Physicians; in the following year he lectured on “Scrofula,” and in 1896 on “Diseases of the Heart.” During the years 1896-1899 he edited a “System of Medicine and Gynæcology by various authors,” which at once took rank among the leading books of its class and was re-edited in 1905 with the help of Sir Humphrey D. Rolleston. In 1901 he published a volume on “Science and Medieval Thought,” and in 1905 “The Historical Relations of Medicine and Surgery to the end of the Sixteenth Century.” In 1915 two volumes on diseases of the arteries appeared from his pen and in 1921 he issued “Lectures on Greek Medicine in Rome.”
His more engrossing occupations were not allowed to interfere with public work of various kinds. He was J.P. and D.L. for the West Riding of Yorkshire; J.P. for Cambridgeshire; a member of the Council of the Royal Society; and held office as Examiner in Medicine to the Royal College of Physicians of London and to the University of Oxford and served as a member of Departmental Committee of the Home Office on Trade Diseases. Honours were showered upon him by scientific and learned bodies; and the letters which he was entitled to place after his name would exhaust the alphabet. He was F.R.S., serving as Vice-President, 1914-16, F.L.S., F.S.A., and his honorary degrees included the D.Sc. of Cambridge, the D.Sc. of Oxford, the LL.D. of Glasgow, the M.D. of Dublin, the D.Sc. of Victoria, the D.Sc. of Leeds, the LL.D. of McGill University and of Toronto, the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and of the New York Academy of Medicine; and he was made a Knight Companion of the Civil Division of the Bath on the occasion of the King’s Birthday in 1907, and was nominated a Privy Councillor of Great Britain in 1920. He acted during the war as an honorary colonel, Eastern Division, R.A.M.C. To those who were privileged to enjoy his friendship he was one of the most charming of men. His varied and extensive learning, his sweet temper, his unfailing courtesy, his winning manners, his talk overflowing with wit and wisdom will long be remembered by all who knew him; and his influence over medical students, both at Leeds School of Medicine and at Cambridge, will be gratefully recognized by all who participated in the benefits of his instr4uction. Outside his profession he was known as a skilful Alpine climber, and as one of the bad of Sunday Tramps, organized by Leslie Stephen; and he was also an active member of the Cyclist’s Touring Club and a frequent visitor to the Athenæum. He married Susan, daughter of the late Thomas England of Headingly, There no children.
One Medical Correspondent writes:—
Sir Clifford Allbutt had for long been known as “the Grant Old man of British Medicine.” Yet his age never dimmed the lustre of a graciousness of mind and bearing which was the secret of the immense influence he exercised on all who came in contact with him. In his later year, indeed, he was held in veneration by every member of his profession, and his help and guidance were sought as a matter of course in every crisis and at the beginning of every fresh enterprise. Allbutt cherished that regard and laboured unceasingly to deserve it. His kindness never wavered, and the quality of his counsel was never strained; nor was any matter too small to engage his sympathy. This rare gentleness of nature was combined with an unbending attitude of as a member of a learned profession which no one misunderstood. Medicine in the eyes of this physician was a calling demanding the noblest qualities of the mind for its exercise. He urged continually on his students the value of clear thinking and cultivated expression; and his own writings bore witness in every line to the store which he set on that proper equipment of character, disciplined emotion and imagination fitted with exact knowledge,. He leaves a memory of the fragrance of which will remain in many spirits.