1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie

Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie
English physiologist and surgeon
(1783-1862)




SIR BENJAMIN COLLINS BRODIE, Bart., a distinguished physiologist and surgeon, was born in 1783 at Winterslow, county of Wilts, and died at Broome Park, 21st October 1862, in the 79th year of his age. His paternal grand-father, connected with the family of Brodie of Brodie, was born in Banffshire about the year 1710, and came as an adventurer to London, where he acquired considerable wealth as an army clothier. One of his sons, the father of the subject of this notice, was educated at the Charter House, and afterwards at Worcester College, Oxford, where he took holy orders. Here he probably acquired the friend-*hip of the first Lord Holland, with whom he afterwards lived at Holland House. The second Lord Holland having purchased the estate of Winterslow, Mr Brodie rented a cottage near the same place. The second Lord Holland died in 1774, and directed in his will that Mr Brodie should have offered to him the presentation of the first of three livings which he had in his gift when a vacancy occurred. This event took place in consequence of the death of the incumbent of Winterslow, and Mr Brodie became rector of the parish. In 1775 he married one of the daughters of Mr Collins of Milford, a banker of Salisbury. They had six children,—four sons and two daughters,—and the sub-ject of this sketch was their fourth child.

He received his early education from his father, who appears to have been a man of energy, ability, and method. and at an early age he had acquired a considerable know-ledge of the classics. When the time for choosing a profes-sion arrived, his father intimated to him that he was intended for that of medicine, and accordingly, in the autumn of 1801, he began to attend the anatomical lectures of the celebrated Abernethy in London. As his family was connected by marriage with several of the leading members of the profession, such as Dr Denman (the father of the first Lord Denman), Dr Baillie, and Sir Richard Croft, the young student enjoyed many advantages of distinguished professional society, but it does not appear that at this period of his life he had any predilection for medical studies or any aptitude for surgical work. The great eminence as an operator to which he afterwards attained was gained, as he himself said, by persistent application and perseverance.

He devoted great attention to the clinical study of disease, and began to make an elaborate series of notes of cases ,vhich came under his observation. This habit he continued throughout life, and thus gradually amassed that enormous amount of practical experience which afterwards gave his advice as a consulting surgeon such weight.





Like most young adventurers in the fields of science of that day, he early began to teach. He gave many courses of lectures upon anatomy, not only as it bore on surgical practice, but as a science having important physiological and teleological relations. In 1808 he became assistant-surgeon to St George's Hospital, and he continued on the staff of that institution for over thirty years. This gave him the opportunity of teaching clinically, and he soon acquired a reputation as an able and fluent extempore speaker. In 1810 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in the following year communicated a series of papers " On the Influence of the Brain on the Action of the Heart, and on the Generation of Animal Heat." In 1812 he also communicated a paper " On the Mode in which Death is produced by certain Poisons." These papers were founded upon a series of careful physiological experiments, having for their object to determine, first, the relation of the nervous system to the circulatory and nutritive systems in higher animals, and, second, to ascertain, if possible, how poisons produce death. The most important fact ascertained by the first series of experiments was that the stoppage of the heart's action at the moment of death does not depend on the removal of the influence of the brain, but on the arrest of respiration. He also pointed out some important facts which could only be accounted for by supposing that the nervous system has an influence on the production and diffusion of animal heat, an idea not then generally accepted For these researches he received the Copley medal of the Royal Society in 1811. In 1813 he delivered the Cioonian lecture, " On the Effect of the Nerves on the Heart and on the Involuntary Muscles," and in 1814 he contributed another paper " On the Influence of the Nerves of the Eighth Pair on the Secretions of the Stomach." In 1816 he performed many experiments on animals, to ascer-tain the influence of bile on the food during its passage through the bowels. These papers comprehend what Brodie accomplished in physiology. They are all characterized by lucidity, conciseness, sound judgment, and a modest inter-pretation of results. They are valuable at the present time not so much for the facts they contain, most of which are now incorporated in the general mass of scientific knowledge, but as admirable illustrations of the application of the experimental method of research to physiological questions.

At this period of his career Brodie rapidly glided into a large and lucrative practice, and more especially he quickly gave evidence of superior powers as an operator, having knowledge, coolness, and readiness of resource. From time to time he wrote upon surgical questions, contributing numerous papers to the Transactions of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, and to the medical journals. Prob-ably his most important work is that entitled Pathological and Surgical Observations on the Diseases of the Joints, in which he attempts to trace the commencements of disease in the different tissues which form a joint, and to give an exact value to the symptom of pain as evidence of organic disease. The thoughts suggested by this volume led to the adoption by surgeons of measures of a conservative nature in the treatment of diseases of the joints, by which the number of amputations has been reduced, and many limbs and lives have been saved. He also wrote on diseases of tha urinary organs, and on local nervous affections of a surgical character. Brodie was a man of restless activity; to use his own words, he felt " his happiness to be in a life of exertion." When released from professional cares he had recourse to literary and scientific pursuits, and especi-ally to the study of psychological questions. He was fond of reading, collecting facts, and speculating on all matters connected with mental phenomena; and in 1854 he pub-lished anonymously a work entitled Psychological Inquiries —the First Part. A second edition of this work appeared in 1855, a third in 185G, a fourth in 1862, and in the same year the Second Part was also published. This work en-joyed well-merited popularity, as it was written in clear untechnical language, and revealed the speculations of the writer concerning the mind of man. When the name of the author became known, the greatest interest was excited in the work, although it contains nothing new to professed psychologists. He wrote also occasionally for the quarterly reviews.

Brodie received many honours during his career. He was tha medical adviser of three successive sovereigns, and in 1834 he was elevated to the rank of a baronet. It is generally believed that he might have been created a peer had he desired the honour. He became a corresponding member of the French Institute in 1844, D.C.L. of Oxford in 1855, and president of the Boyal Society in 1858 ; and he was the first president of the Medical Council under the Act for the Education and Registration of the Medical Profession.

A complete edition of his works, with an autobiography, in three volumes, appeared in 1865, collected and arranged by Charles Hawkins, fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England ; and a generous and discriminative biographical sketch, by Professor Henry W. Acland of Oxford, appeared in the obituary notices in the Proceedings of the Boyal Society for 1833. (J. G. M.)







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