Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Glisson, Francis

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

GLISSON, FRANCIS, M.D. (1597–1677), physician, second son of William Glisson of Rampisham in Dorsetshire, was born there in 1597. He entered at Caius College, Cambridge, in 1617, graduated B.A. 1621, and M.A. 1624. He was incorporated M.A. at Oxford 25 Oct. 1627, and in 1634 took the degree of M.D. at Cambridge. In 1635 he was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians of London, and in 1636 was appointed regius professor of physic at Cambridge, an office which he held till his death. He lectured on anatomy, a term which then included pathological and comparative as well as normal human anatomy, at the College of Physicians, and in 1640 he delivered the Gulstonian lectures. Up to this date he resided chiefly at Cambridge, but a little later took a house in the parish of St. Mary at the Walls in Colchester, and soon obtained much practice there. He was in the town during the siege of 1648, and his house escaped, though fifty-three in that parish were destroyed. On 21 Aug. he was sent out by the royalists to Lord Fairfax to ask for better terms (Morant, Colchester, i. 63), but, after two interviews, failed to obtain any concession. After the siege Colchester was much impoverished, and Glisson went to London. On previous visits to London he had lodged above a cutler's shop next to the Three Kings in Fleet Street (Sloane MS. 2251, in Brit. Mus.), and he ultimately took a lease of a house in New Street, near Shoe Lane, in the parish of St. Bride, Fleet Street. This was renewed 22 May 1666, and he resided in the parish till his death. Before he came to London he had petitioned for the payment of the arrears of his salary as professor, having received no part of it for five years, and at last, on 7 April 1654, an order in council was issued at Whitehall ordering his payment (original in Sloane MS. 2251, in Brit. Mus.). He attended the meetings which led to the formation of the Royal Society, and he was one of its first fellows. In 1650 he published ‘De Rachitide sive morbo puerili qui vulgo The Rickets dicitur, Tractatus.’ This work was printed by William Dugard, and published by Laurence Sadler and Robert Beaumont in Little Britain, and, with the exception of ‘Caius on the Sweating Sickness,’ a much less thorough treatise, was the first monograph on a disease published in England. Rickets is mentioned as a cause of death in the bills of mortality for 1634 (Grant, Bills of Mortality), and has no doubt existed ever since children were given solid food during the period of suckling, but Glisson seems to have shared the belief of his time, that the disease had but lately developed and first appeared in England. The origin of the book was Glisson's own observation of the chief symptoms of rickets, enlarged joints and bent bones, in the children of his native county of Dorset. He communicated his notes to other fellows of the College of Physicians, of whom seven added some remarks of their own. Dr. George Bate [q. v.] and Dr. A. Regemorter [q. v.] were appointed to aid Glisson in preparing a treatise on the subject. As the work went on it became clear that he had made nearly all the observations and conclusions, and the other physicians desired him to take as his due the whole honour of the work. After more than five years of this open scientific discussion the book appeared. In 1645 Dr. Whistler [q. v.] to whom, as a student in London, the knowledge of the investigation at the College of Physicians of this new disease was easily accessible, published at Leyden ‘Disputatio Medica inauguralis de morbo puerili Anglorum quem patrio idiomate indigenæ vocant The Rickets.’ An examination of the dissertation shows that Whistler's knowledge was second-hand, obtained from Glisson himself in England (Vir Consummatissimus, pt. v.), and indeed he only lays personal claim to one thing, the proposal of the name Pædosplanchnosteocaces for the disease. Whistler was a young man trying to utilise an imperfect knowledge of the well-known but not yet printed discovery of a great scientific investigator. What little information there is in his thesis is due to Glisson, while Glisson owes nothing to him. The ‘Tractatus de Rachitide’ will always remain one of the glories of English medicine. To his description of the morbid anatomy as observable to the naked eye, subsequent writers, and even so laborious a pathologist as Sir William Jenner, have added little. All writers on the diseases of children agree in their admiration of the book. Its 416 pages are full of original observation. The propositions arrived at are stated in a scholastic manner, and some of the accompanying hypotheses are associated with physiological doctrines now forgotten, but these are not mixed up with the observations of patients during life and after death, which make the book a work of permanent value. It has had many editions, and has been translated into English (Philip, Armin. 1681). In 1654 his next work appeared, ‘Anatomia hepatis,’ a full account of the anatomy, normal and morbid, of the liver. From the clear description given of it in this book the fibrous sheath of the liver is always spoken of at the present day as Glisson's capsule, and thus he is one of those physicians whose name is known to every student of medicine in England. He became a censor of the College of Physicians in 1656, and was elected president in 1667, 1668, and 1669. He gave 100l. towards the rebuilding of the college in 1669. In 1672 he published ‘Tractatus de Natura Substantiæ energetica, seu de vita naturæ ejusque tribus primis facultatibus,’ dedicated to Lord-chancellor Shaftesbury. In the preface he mentions that he had for many years been Shaftesbury's physician. The love of scholastic forms visible in all his writings is prominent in this philosophical dissertation. In 1675 he was obliged to appoint Dr. Brady, master of Caius, his deputy as physic professor at Cambridge (Sloane MS. 2251, in Brit. Mus.), and in 1677 he published in London, in the summer, his last work, ‘Tractatus de Ventriculo et Intestinis,’ a long anatomical treatise based on some of his past lectures. It is dedicated in touching language to the university of Cambridge and the College of Physicians of London, the two societies in which he had spent his life. He died in London 16 Oct. 1677, and was buried in his parish church of St. Bride, Fleet Street. His portrait at the age of seventy-five hangs in the College of Physicians, and is engraved with his arms beneath it, sable on a bend argent three mullets, pierced, gules, with a crescent for difference, in the ‘Tractatus de Natura Substantiæ.’ His will was proved by his executor, Paul Glisson, 27 Nov. 1677. It contains bequests to numerous nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters, to Caius College and to Trinity Hall. Dr. Robert Taylor, in his eloquent Harveian oration of 1755, eulogised Glisson along with Harvey and Haller.

[Works; Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 218; Philip Morant's History and Antiquities of Colchester, London, 1748; Norman Moore's Cause and Treatment of Rickets, London, 1876, and The History of the First Treatise on Rickets; St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, vol. xx.; copy of will from P. C. C., Hale, f. 116; Sloane MSS. 1106, 2251, in British Museum. These contain some rough drafts in Glisson's hand, letters to him, notes of lectures, and some entire series of lectures. C. de Rémusat's Histoire de la Philosophie en Angleterre (Paris, 1875, ii. 163–8) gives an account of his philosophical views.]

N. M.