1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gull, Sir William Withey

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GULL, SIR WILLIAM WITHEY, 1st Bart. (1816–1890), English physician, was the youngest son of John Gull, a barge-owner and wharfinger of Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, and was born on the 31st of December 1816 at Colchester. He began life as a schoolmaster, but in 1837 Benjamin Harrison, the treasurer of Guy’s Hospital, who had noticed his ability, brought him up to London from the school at Lewes where he was usher, and gave him employment at the hospital, where he also gained permission to attend the lectures. In 1843 he was made a lecturer in the medical school of the hospital, in 1851 he was chosen an assistant physician, and in 1856 he became full physician. In 1847 he was elected Fullerian professor of physiology in the Royal Institution, retaining the post for the usual three years, and in 1848 he delivered the Gulstonian Lectures at the College of Physicians, where he filled every office of honour but that of president. He died in London on the 29th of January 1890 after a series of paralytic strokes, the first of which had occurred nearly three years previously. He was created a baronet in 1872, in recognition of the skill and care he had shown in attending the prince of Wales during his attack of typhoid in 1871. Sir William Gull’s fame rested mainly on his success as a clinical practitioner; as he said himself, he was “a clinical physician or nothing.” This success must be largely ascribed to his remarkable powers of observation, and to the great opportunities he enjoyed for gaining experience of disease. He was sometimes accused of being a disbeliever in drugs. That was not the case, for he prescribed drugs like other physicians when he considered them likely to be beneficial. He felt, however, that their administration was only a part of the physician’s duties, and his mental honesty and outspokenness prevented him from deluding either himself or his patients with unwarranted notions of what they can do. But though he regarded medicine as primarily an art for the relief of physical suffering, he was far from disregarding the scientific side of his profession, and he made some real contributions to medical science. His papers were printed chiefly in Guy’s Hospital Reports and in the proceedings of learned societies: among the subjects he wrote about were cholera, rheumatic fever, taenia, paraplegia and abscess of the brain, while he distinguished for the first time (1873) the disease now known as myxoedema, describing it as a “cretinoid state in adults.”