Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lefevre, George William

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LEFEVRE, Sir GEORGE WILLIAM, M.D. (1798–1846), physician, was born in 1798 at Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire. After apprenticeship to a local practitioner of medicine in Shropshire, he studied medicine at Edinburgh, and at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospitals in London, and graduated M.D. at Aberdeen, 4 Aug. 1819. He was threatened with pulmonary disease, and on the advice of Dr. Pelham Warren [q. v.] decided to go abroad. After ineffectual attempts to obtain an Indian appointment, he went to Pau with a patient, who died there of phthisis. Lefevre then returned to England and tried to get into practice. He was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians of London 1 April 1822, but having failed in his candidature as physician to a dispensary, he decided to go abroad again, and, through the influence of Benjamin Travers [q. v.] the surgeon, became physician to a Polish nobleman, with whom he travelled for nine years, five in France and the rest in Austria, Poland, and Russia. His position gave him the opportunity of seeing much of the domestic life of the Polish nobility, in many of whose castles he stayed (Life of a Travelling Physician). He finally left the Pole at Odessa and went to St. Petersburg, where he engaged in private practice and became physician to the embassy. In 1831 he was appointed to the charge of a district during the cholera epidemic, and published, in London, 'Observations on the Nature and Treatment of the Cholera Morbus now prevailing epidemically in St. Petersburg.' His experience led him to oppose the indiscriminate use of calomel and opium in the treatment, to favour the use of purgatives, and to avoid that of astringents. In 1832 he came to England for a short time (manuscript note in his hand in copy of 'Observations 'in Library of Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, London), but returned to Russia, and was soon after knighted by patent as a reward for his services to the embassy. He settled in London in 1842, and was admitted a fellow of the College of Physicians, 30 Sept. In 1843 he published 'The Life of a Travelling Physician' in 3 vols. It is an account of his travels on the continent and residence in Poland and Russia, and is chiefly interesting for its description of social life in Poland and of that of the members of the English factory at St. Petersburg. It was published without his name, but is acknowledged in the preface to a later work (Apology for Nerves, p. v). In the same year he published 'Advantages of Thermal Comfort,' of which an enlarged edition came out in 1844. It is a short treatise on the temperature of rooms, clothing, and bedmaking, suggested by his Russian experience of the effect of a severe climate on health and on sick persons. In 1844 he published 'An Apology for the Nerves, or their Influence and Importance in Health and Disease,' a collection of medical notes, of which the most useful is his account of plica Polonica, but of which none are very valuable. He resided in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, and in 1845 delivered the Lumleian lectures at the College of Physicians. He was at times melancholic and, 12 Feb. 1846, killed himself by swallowing prussic acid, at the house of his friend Dr. Nathaniel Grant in Thayer Street, Manchester Square.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. iii. 246; Gent. Mag. 1846, i. 537; Dr. W. F. Chambers's Address to Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, 2 March 1846; Works.]

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