1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Prichard, James Cowles

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PRICHARD, JAMES COWLES (1786–1848), English physician and ethnologist, was born on the 11th of February 1786 at Ross in Herefordshire. His parents were of the Society of Friends, and he was educated at home, especially in modern languages and general literature. He adopted medicine as a profession mainly because of the facilities it offered for anthropological investigations. He took his M.D. at Edinburgh, afterwards reading for a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, whence, joining the Church of England, he migrated to St John's College, Oxford, afterwards entering as a gentleman commoner at Trinity College, Oxford, but taking no degree in either university. In 1810 he settled at Bristol as a physician, and in 1813 published his Researches into the Physical History of Man, in 2 vols., afterwards extended to 5 vols. The central principle of the book is the primitive unity of the human species, acted upon by causes which have since divided it into permanent varieties or races. The work is dedicated to Blumenbach, whose five races of man are adopted. But where Prichard excelled Blumenbach and all his other predecessors was in his grasp of the principle that people should be studied by combining all available characters. One investigation begun in this work requires special mention, the bringing into view of the fact, neglected or contradicted by philologists, that the Celtic nations are allied by language with the Slavonian, German and Pelasgian (Greek and Latin), thus forming a fourth European branch of the Asiatic stock (which would now be called Indo-European or Aryan). His special treatise containing Celtic compared with Sanskrit words appeared in 1831 under the title Eastern Origin of the Celtic nations. It is remarkable that the essay by Adolphe Pictet, De l'Affinité des langues celtiques avec le sanscrit, which was crowned by the French Academy and made its author's reputation, should have been published in 1837 in evident ignorance of the earlier and in some respects stricter investigations of Prichard.

In 1843 Prichard published his Natural History of Man, in which he reiterated his belief in the specific unity of man, pointing out that “the same inward and mental nature is to be recognized in all the races.” Prichard may fairly be honoured with the title of the founder of the English branch of the sciences of anthropology and ethnology. In 1811 he was appointed physician to St Peter's hospital, Bristol, and in 1814 to the Bristol infirmary. In 1822 he published Treatise on Diseases of the Nervous System (pt. i.), and in 1835 a Treatise on Insanity and other Disorders affecting the Mind, in which he advanced the theory of the existence of a distinct mental disease, “moral insanity.” In 1842, following up this suggestion, he published On the different forms of Insanity in relation to Jurisprudence designed for the use of Persons concerned in Legal Questions regarding Unsoundness of Mind. In 1845 he was made a commissioner in lunacy, and removed to London. He died there three years later, on the 23rd of December, of rheumatic fever. At the time of his death he was president of the Ethnological Society and a fellow of the Royal Society. Among his less important works were: A Review of the Doctrine of a Vital Principle (1829); On the Treatment of Hemiplegia (1831); On the Extinction of some Varieties of the Human Race (1839); Analysis of Egyptian Mythology (1819).

See Memoir by Dr Thomas Hodgkin (1798–1866) in the Journal of the Ethnological Society (Feb. 1849); Memoir read before the Bath and Bristol branch of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association (March 1849) by Dr J. A. Symonds (Journ. Eth. Soc., (1850); Prichard and Symonds in Special Relation to Mental Science, by Dr Hack Tuke (1891).