Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Williams, Charles James Blasius

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WILLIAMS, CHARLES JAMES BLASIUS (1805–1889), physician, eighth child of the Rev. David Williams (1751–1836), was born on 3 Feb. 1805 in the Hungerford almshouse in Wiltshire; his father was warden of the almshouse and curate of Heytesbury [see under Williams, John, 1792–1858]. His mother, whose maiden name was also Williams, was daughter of a surgeon in Chepstow, Monmouthshire. His father was a successful private tutor, and educated him at home till he entered the university of Edinburgh in 1820. He was there a resident pupil of Dr. John Thomson (1765–1846) [q. v.], and was influenced in his reading by Dr. Brabant of Devizes, then living in Edinburgh. While a student he published in the ‘Annals of Philosophy’ for July 1823 a paper on the low combustion of a candle. His inaugural dissertation for the degree of M.D., which he took in 1824, was ‘On the Blood and its Changes by Respiration and Secretion.’ He then came to London, but in 1825 went on to Paris, where he worked hard at drawing as well as at medicine. He attended Laennec's clinique at La Charité, and became a master of the new methods of physical examination of the chest which that great teacher had introduced. In 1827 he came back to London, and published in 1828 ‘Rational Exposition of the Physical Signs of the Diseases of the Lungs and Pleura,’ dedicated to Sir Henry Halford [q. v.], of which a third edition appeared in 1835. He travelled with Gilbert Elliot, second earl of Minto [q. v.], to Switzerland, and on his return married, in 1830, Harriet Williams Jenkins, daughter of James Jenkins of Chepstow, and, having received the license of the College of Physicians of London, began practice in Half Moon Street. He wrote in 1833 ten articles for the ‘Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine,’ and in 1835 was elected F.R.S. He lectured in 1836 at the anatomical school, then existing in Kinnerton Street, on diseases of the chest. In 1839 he succeeded John Elliotson [q. v.] as professor of medicine and physician to University College, and moved to Holles Street, Cavendish Square. He wrote in 1840 the part on diseases of the chest in Tweedie's ‘Library of Medicine,’ and in 1840 was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians. He was early in life possessed with the idea that he could improve the existing state of things in the medical world, and soon after his admission endeavoured to alter the constitution of the college, but received little support. He became a censor in 1846 and 1847, and delivered the Lumleian lectures on ‘Successes and Failures in Medicine’ in 1862. He took part in 1841 in founding the Consumption Hospital at Brompton, and continued throughout life to do all he could for it. In 1843 he published a concise summary of medicine entitled ‘Principles of Medicine,’ of which a second edition appeared in 1848, and a third in 1856. When the Pathological Society was formed in 1846 he was elected its first president. He moved to 24 Upper Brook Street, and was there engaged in an extensive practice for many years. He was chiefly consulted as to diseases of the chest, but was not negligent of other parts of medicine. In 1869 the Duchess of Somerset, disturbed by the painful and to her unexpected death of her son, Lord St. Maur, from aneurism of the aorta, printed for private circulation an account of the illness, with reflections on the conduct of Williams. He brought an action for libel, with the result that the aspersions were unreservedly withdrawn. Six of the chief physicians of the time—Watson, Burrows, Jenner, Gull, Quain, and Sibson—and three of the chief surgeons—Fergusson, Paget, and Erichsen—issued an opinion in support of Williams's diagnosis and treatment of the case, and he himself published an ‘Authentic Narrative’ of the whole circumstances, which reached a second edition. In 1871 with his son, Dr. Charles Theodore Williams, he published a general treatise on pulmonary consumption. From 1873 to 1875 he was president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, and in 1874 was appointed physician extraordinary to the queen. In 1875 he gave up practice and retired to Cannes, where he continued astronomical studies, for which he had had a liking all his life. Before leaving London he made an attempt to alter the constitution of the Royal Society. A committee was appointed to consider his views, but reported against them. He published his autobiography, entitled ‘Memoirs of Life and Work,’ in 1884, and died on 24 March 1889 at Cannes. A complete list of his works is printed in the ‘Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-general's Office, United States Army,’ vol. xvi.

[Memoirs of Life and Work, 1884, with portrait; Memoir by Sir E. H. Sieveking in Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, 1890.]

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