Lower, Richard (1631-1691) (DNB00)

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LOWER, RICHARD (1631–1691), physician and physiologist, born in 1631 at Tremeere, near Bodmin, Cornwall, second son of Humphrey Lower, by Margery Billing, was elder brother of Thomas Lower [q. v.], and was related to Sir William Lower [q. v.], the poet. Richard was baptised at St. Tudy 29 Jan. 1631–2. He was educated at Westminster School, whence he obtained in 1649 a studentship to Christ Church, Oxford. He graduated B.A. 17 Feb. 1653, M.A. 28 June 1655, M.B. and M.D. 28 June 1665 (Wood, Fasti Oxon.) After taking his arts degrees he continued to live in Oxford, where he studied chemistry in the class taught by Peter Sthael, whom Boyle had brought to Oxford in 1659. He also assisted the celebrated Dr. Willis in his anatomical researches on the nervous system, and in January 1661–2 prescribed pills for Wood, whose physician he was. Wood was a friend as well as a patient, and has preserved some details of Lower's life at Oxford. In 1666 Lower went to London, apparently following Willis, who had settled there earlier in the same year. He became candidate of the Royal College of Physicians, 22 Dec. 1671, fellow 29 July 1675 (Munk, Coll. of Phys.), and 17 Oct. 1667 was elected fellow of the Royal Society. He first lived in Hatton Garden, but soon obtaining a large practice, removed to the then fashionable quarter of King Street, Covent Garden. The death of Willis in 1675 gave him a leading position, and, according to Wood, he ‘was esteemed the most noted physician in Westminster and London, and no man's name was more cried up at court than his.’ Lower's political sympathies, however, interfered with his professional success, for on the occasion of the ‘Titus Oates plot’ in 1678 (as Wood tells us), ‘he closed with the whigs, supposing that party would carry all before them; but being mistaken, he lost much of his practice at and near the court, and so consequently his credit.’ About this time, too, he left the Royal Society, for what reason does not appear.

Lower died at his house in London, 17 Jan. 1690–1, and was buried in the church of St. Tudy, near Bodmin. By his wife Elizabeth (d. 1704), daughter of John Billing of Hengar, and widow of Samuel Trelawny, he left two daughters, but no son, and the family property did not pass to his heirs. By his will he bequeathed 1000l. to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and a like sum to the Irish and French protestant refugees.

Lower must be regarded as one of the most important of English physiologists. Modern research gives him higher credit for his work in anatomy and physiology than was formerly assigned him. The anatomical researches in Willis's work, ‘De Cerebro,’ of which he has generously, though evidently with justice, assigned the chief credit to Lower, are of great importance in the history of science. The distinction of the cranial nerves is classical, and long remained the standard of anatomical teaching, while the whole account of the brain exhibits a profound and original anatomist. His name is preserved in the ‘tubercle of Lower.’

Lower's physiological researches are of still greater importance. He was one of that remarkable group of scientific men in Oxford, including Willis, Wallis, Boyle, Wren, and others, who experimented in physics and physiology, originating researches still of fundamental importance. Lower's own contributions related to the heart and the circulation. His most remarkable experiment was that of the direct transfusion of blood from one animal into the veins of another, which had probably never been actually performed before, though already proposed in Lower's own time and earlier, and was suggested by Christopher Wren's experiment of injecting drugs and poisons into the veins. Lower's classical experiment of passing blood direct from the artery of one dog into the vein of another was first performed at Oxford, February 1665, in the presence of Boyle and others, and repeated in London before the Royal Society (Tractatus de Corde, 1669, p. 174; Clarke, Phil. Trans. ii. 672). The intention was to use this operation as a means of treating disease in man, but difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable and willing human subject to try the new method upon; and in this Lower was anticipated by Denys in Paris, who followed up the suggestion and performed the first transfusion on man, 15 June 1667. At length an eccentric scholar named Arthur Coga submitted himself to the operation, carried out by Lower and King before the Royal Society, 23 Nov. 1667, and professed himself greatly benefited thereby (Birch, Hist. of Royal Soc. ii. 214; Phil. Trans. ii. 557). Transfusion of blood was frequently repeated in France and Italy, but was opposed as being illegitimate and useless, upon which a long controversy arose involving theological as well as medical arguments. Ultimately it was prohibited in France, and for nearly two centuries neglected elsewhere; but within the last twenty or thirty years direct transfusion has undergone a brilliant revival as a recognised surgical operation, of great utility in certain cases.

Lower wrote: 1. ‘Diatribæ T. Willisii de Febribus Vindicatio,’ Lond., 1665, 8vo. A defence of Dr. Willis's doctrine of fevers against the criticisms of Dr. E. O'Meara [q. v.] 2. ‘Tractatus de Corde,’ Lond., 1669, 8vo; 3rd ed. Amsterdam, 1671; 4th ed. Lond., 1680. This contains, besides the subject already mentioned, important observations on the arrangement of muscular fibres in the heart, on the production of dropsy by ligaturing veins, on the coagulation of blood in the heart, the motion of the chyle, and other physiological topics very clearly and concisely stated. 3. ‘Dissertatio de Origine Catarrhi.’ A tract appended to the later editions of the treatise on the heart, and published separately, Lond. 1672, 8vo. It is notable for denying the old doctrine that catarrhal defluxions come from the brain.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), vol. iv. col. 298; Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark (Oxf. Hist. Soc.); Biog. Brit. 1760, v. 3009; Willis's Cerebri Anatome, 1664, pref.; Oldham's Poems, ed. Bell, 9, 10, 180; Pepys's Diary, iii. 482; Evelyn's Diary, ii. 333; Birch's Hist. Roy. Soc. ii. 197 etc.; Phil. Trans. No. 19 p. 352, No. 20 p. 353, No. 30 p. 557; Prof. Gotch's Two Oxford Physiologists—Lower and Mayow, 1907; Dechambre's Dictionnaire Encyc. de Médecine, Paris, 1864, &c., art. ‘Transfusion;’ Jaccoud's Dictionnaire de Médecine, Paris, 1884, art. ‘Transfusion.’]

J. F. P.