Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Todd, Robert Bentley

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TODD, ROBERT BENTLEY (1809–1860), physician, second son of Charles Hawkes Todd, an Irish surgeon of high reputation, and younger brother of James Henthorn Todd, D.D. [q.v.], was born in Dublin on 9 April 1809. He was educated with his elder brother at a day school, and under a tutor, the Rev. W. Higgin, afterwards bishop of Derry, and entered Trinity College in January 1825, intending to study for the bar; but in 1826, on his father’s death, he adopted the medical profession. He became a resident pupil, at the House of Industry hospitals in Dublin, and for two years availed himself to the utmost of the opportunities of study afforded by those hospitals. Chief among his teachers was Robert Graves [q.v.], professor of physiology in the university. Todd graduated B.A. at Trinity College in the spring of 1829, and on 16 May 1831 became licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland.

In the summer of 1831, at the age of twenty-two, he first came to London. An invitation to lecture on anatomy in the Aldersgate Street school of medicine determined him to settle there. For three sessions he lectured in Aldersgate Street, and attracted the kindly notice of Sir Astley Cooper, Sir Benjamin Brodie, and other well-known men in the profession; but, although his own class was generally well attended, the school did not prove a pecuniary success. He afterwards joined Guthrie and others in setting on foot a medical school in connection with Westminster Hospital, and about the same time he became physician to the Western Dispensary, where he also lectured.

He was incorporated at Pembroke College, Oxford, on 15 March 1832, and kept a term or two, proceeding M.A. on 13 June 1832, B.M. on 2 May 1833, and D.M. in 1836. In 1833 Todd was in Paris for some weeks to confer with the foreign contributors to the ‘Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology’ which he had projected a year before, and he then became acquainted with Milne-Edwards and other distinguished men of science. In 1838 he was again abroad, visiting the hospitals in Holland and Belgium with (Sir) William Bowman. In 1833 took the license of the College of Physicians and became a fellow in 1837 and censor in 1839-1840. He gave the Gulstonian lectures in May 1839, and the Lumleian in 1849. In 1838 he was made fellow of the Royal Society, and served on the council in 1838-9. In 1836-7 he served on a sub-committee of the British Association to inquire into the motions of the heart, and in 1839-40 was examiner for the university in London. In 1844 he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

It was not till 1836, when he was appointed, at the age of twenty-seven, to the newly established chair of physiology and general and morbid anatomy in King’s College, that Todd found work which completely satisfied him. This chair and one at University College were the first of the kind to be established in London; but Todd had known the advantage of a similar professorship in the university of Dublin. His desire was to become a physiological physician. He felt the supreme value of the study of physiological anatomy, a science at that time in its infancy.

While professor at King’s College Todd took a warm interest in medical education, and insisted upon the importance to the profession of a high standard of general and religious knowledge, and always strongly supported the theological principles of King’s College. He was one of the first to advocate the appointment of medical tutors and the collegiate system for medical students, and was instrumental in obtaining the foundation of valuable medical scholarships at King’s College. In 1838, with much warm support from friends of the college, Todd took a prominent part in establishing King’s College Hospital, which was opened in April 1840 in the unused poorhouse of St. Clement Danes, and it was largely through his energy that the commodious building which now occupies the site was begun in 1851. Todd was until his death one of the two physicians of the hospital.

Another subject in which he was interested was the improvement of the system of hospital nursing. In a letter to the Bishop Blomfield. Published in 1847, he suggested a scheme for the foundation of a sisterhood for training nurses. The next year St. John’s House training institution was opened under an influential council, with the bishop of London as president, and in 1854 its sisters and nurses furnished an important contingent to the band which was starting for Scutari, when Miss Nightingale was appointed its chief. In 1856 the sisters of St. John’s commenced, in accordance with Todd’s wish, and carried on for many years the nursing of King’s College Hospital.

In 1848 Bowman was, at Todd’s desire, associated with him in the professorship at King’s College. They worked together till 1853, when increasing practice obliged Todd to resign, and he was succeeded by his pupil, Dr. Beale. In his address on resigning the professorship in 1853 he touched on the great advance made in the science of physiological anatomy both in this country and on the continent during the sixteen years that he held the chair, an advance rendered possible by the improvement in the microscope.

During the last ten years of his life Todd’s private practice was very large, and, in spite of failing health, he was able to carry on the work of a leading London physician to the last. Only six weeks before his death he gave up with deep regret his clinical lectures at King’s College Hospital. He died in his consulting-room, at his house in Brook Street, a few hours after the last patient had left it, on 30 Jan. 1860. The circumstances of his death are touchingly told by Thackeray in the ‘Roundabout Papers.’

Todd left a widow and four children. His only son, James Henthorn Todd, born in 1847, was educated at Eton and Worcester College, Oxford, went to India in the Bombay civil service in 1869, made a reputation in his presidency as an able administrator, and was collector of Thana, where he died unmarried in 1891.

As a lecturer on physiology Todd was accurate and clear, and encouraged scientific work among his pupils. As a clinical teacher he was one of the most popular of his day, distinguished for accuracy in the observation of disease, correctness of diagnosis, and clearness and exactness in expressing his views. Many of his pupils won distinction in the profession, and no master ever took a greater interest in the success of those he taught.

Todd worked a striking revolution in certain departments of medical practice. His master, Graves, fed fevers. But Todd was the first to lay down definite principles for the treatment of specially serious cases of fever, such as influenza and rheumatic fever, besides inflammations associated with exhaustion in which life was in jeopardy. In these cases Todd proved from patient observation the desirability of a steady administering of alcoholic stimulants at short intervals, day and night, while the danger lasted. By this treatment not only was the strength maintained, but the period of convalescence was shortened. In the preface to his last volume of clinical lectures, completed only a few days before his death, Todd summarised the principles of his treatment.

In his Lumleian lectures given before the Royal College of Physicians in 1849, and published in the ‘London Medical Gazette,’ Todd discussed the nature and treatment of the various forms of delirium, and brought forward many cases not depending upon inflammation or other morbid conditions of the brain, but due rather to exhaustion and an abnormal condition of the blood. He showed that in cases of this class the delirium was increased by bleeding and lowering remedies, while a supporting treatment, ammonia and stimulants, was followed by relief.

Todd’s contributions to medical science were numerous. In 1832 he projected, with Dr. Grant of University College, London, ‘The Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology.’ This work, of six thousand pages with numerous illustrations, was edited by him, and was only completed a short time before his death. He contributed many important articles, especially those on the heart, the brain, and nervous system. Among the other eminent contributors were Sir Richard Owen, Sir William Bowman, Sir James Paget, and Sir John Simon. The first number was published in June 1835. It was completed in 1859. This cyclopædia did more to encourage and advance the study of physiology and comparative and microscopic anatomy than any book ever published. Todd’s other publications were:

  1. ‘Gulstonian Lectures on the Physiology of the Stomach,’ 1839 (‘London Medical Gazette’).
  2. ‘Physiological Anatomy and Physiology of Man,’ 1843-56, with W. Bowman; this work was among the first physiological works in which an important place was given to histology—the accurate description of the structure of the various organs and tissues as displayed by the microscope.
  3. ‘Practical Remarks on Gout, Rheumatic Fever, and Chronic Rheumatism of the Joints,’ 1843.
  4. ‘Description and Physiological Anatomy of the Brain, Spinal Cord, and Ganglions,’ 1845.
  5. ‘Lumleian Lectures on the Pathology and Treatment of Delirium and Coma,’ 1850 (‘London Medical Gazette’).
  6. ‘Clinical Lectures,’ 3 vols. 1854-7-9 (2nd ed. Edited by Dr. Lionel Beale in one vol., 1861).

Todd also contributed memoirs and papers to the ‘Transactions’ of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society from 1833 to 1859, and ten articles to the ‘Cyclopædia of Medicine,’ 1833 to 1835, of which the most important are on paralysis, on pseudo-morbid appearances, on suppuration, and on diseases of the spinal marrow.

A statue of Todd, by Noble, was erected by his friends in the great hall of King’s College Hospital.

[In Memoriam R.B. Todd, by Dr. Lionel Beale, 1870; obituary notice in the Times, February 1860, written by Sir W. Bowman, and the latter address on surgery, British Medical Association, 1866; obituary notices in British Medical Times and Gazette, British Medical Journal, and Proceedings of the Royal Society; Memoir of Sir W. Bowman by H. Power.]


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