Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Johnson, George (1818-1896)

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JOHNSON, Sir GEORGE (1818–1896), physician, born on 29 Nov. 1818 at Goudhurst in Kent, was the eldest son of George Johnson, yeoman, and Mercy, second daughter of William Corke, timber merchant, of Edenbridge in the same county. In 1837 he was apprenticed to his uncle, a general practitioner at Cranbrook in Kent, and in October 1839 he entered the medical school of King's College. While a student he was awarded many prizes and obtained the senior medical scholarship. At this early age he was commencing original work, and was awarded the prize of the King's College Medical Society for an essay 'On Auscultation and Percussion.' In 1841 he passed the first M.B. London, in the first class, and in 1842, at the M.B. examination, he received the scholarship and gold medal in physiology and comparative anatomy. In 1844 he graduated M.D. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1846, a fellow in 1850; in 1872-3 he was an examiner in medicine, censor in 1865, 1886, and 1875, councillor in 1865, 1874, 1881, 1882, and 1883, Gulstonian lecturer in 1852, materia medica lecturer in 1853, Lumleian lecturer in 1877, Harveian orator in 1882, and vice-president in 1887.

At the end of his college course Johnson held in succession the offices of house physician and house surgeon to King's College Hospital. He was an associate of King's College, and in 1843 became resident medical tutor : four years later he was appointed assistant physician to the hospital. In 1850 he was made an honorary fellow of King's College. In 1856 he became physician to the hospital, and in 1857 he succeeded Dr. Royle as professor of materia medica and therapeutics, an office which he continued to hold until 1863, when, on the resignation of Dr. George Budd, he succeeded to the chair of medicine, and also became senior physician to the hospital. He was professor of medicine at King's College for thirteen years. In 1876 he was appointed professor of clinical medicine an office he resigned ten years later when he became emeritus professor of clinical medicine and consulting physician to King's College Hospital.

In 1862 Johnson was nominated by convocation and elected a member of the senate of the university of London. In 1872 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society; in 1884 president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, and in 1889 physician-extraordinary to the queen. In 1892 he was knighted. He was a member of the British Medical Association and a frequent contributor to the pages of the 'British Medical Journal.' In 1871, at the annual meeting of the association at Plymouth, he delivered the address in medicine, taking for its topic 'Nature and Art in the Cure of Disease.'

Johnson died from cerebral haemorrhage at his residence, 11 Savile Row, on Wednesday, 3 June 1896, and was buried on 8 June at Addington. In 1897 an ophthalmological theatre at King's College Hospital was built and equipped in his memory. His portrait, by Frank Holl, subscribed for by the staff and students of King's College Hospital, was presented to Johnson in 1888 by Sir Joseph (now lord) Lister.

In 1850 he married Charlotte Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of the late Lieutenant William White of Addington, Surrey, but ten years later was left a widower with five children.

Johnson's contributions to medical literature were extremely numerous, and dealt chiefly with the pathology and treatment of kidney disease. He was an ardent exponent of the views of Richard Bright [q. v.], and extended Bright's observations in many directions. His discovery of the hypertrophy of the small arteries in Bright's disease, and his 'stop-cock' explanatory theory, led to what was known as the 'hyaline-fibroid degeneration' controversy with Sir William Gull and Dr. Sutton : the practical outcome was that attention was directed to the high tension pulse of chronic kidney disease, together with its importance in connection with other symptoms, and this has opened up new fields of treatment. In 1852 he published 'Diseases of the Kidney, their Pathology, Diagnosis, and Treatment,' and in 1873 'Lectures on Bright's Disease,' 8vo. His last publication was 'The Pathology of the Contracted Granular Kidney,' 1896.

Johnson's other works were:

  1. 'Epidemic Diarrhoea and Cholera: their Pathology and Treatment,' London, 1855, post 8vo.
  2. 'The Laryngoscope: Directions for its Use and Practical Illustrations of its Value,' 1865, 8vo.
  3. 'Medical Lectures and Essays,' London, 1887, 8vo.
  4. 'An Essay on Asphyxia,' 1889, in which he attacked the views advocated by many modern physiologists.
  5. 'History of the Cholera Controversy,' London, 1896, 8vo.

He reintroduced the picric acid test for albumen and the picric acid and potash test for sugar. He at once recognised the great use of the ophthalmoscope in renal pathology, and assisted Sir Thomas Watson [q. v.] in revising the last edition of his famous 'Lectures on the Principles and Practice of Medicine.'

[Lancet, 1896; Brit. Med. Journal, 1896; Brit. Mus. Libr. Catalogue; Churchill's Med. Directory; Biograph v. 514; private information; King's College Hospital Keports, 1897.]

W. W. W.