Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Addison, Thomas

ADDISON, THOMAS (1793–1860), an eminent physician, was born at Long Benton, near Newcastle, in April 1793. His father, Joseph Addison, belonged to a family of yeomen which had long been settled at Lanercost in Cumberland, and was in business as a grocer. Thomas, the younger son, was educated at Newcastle grammar school, and afterwards at the university of Edinburgh, where he graduated M.D. in 1815, writing an inaugural dissertation, ‘De Syphilide.’ He afterwards came to London, where he was appointed house surgeon to the Lock Hospital, and studied diseases of the skin under the celebrated Bateman. Although a doctor of medicine, Addison entered as a student at Guy's Hospital, was appointed assistant physician to the hospital in 1824, and lectured on materia medica in 1827. In the latter position he attracted a large class of students, and was in 1837 promoted to the office of physician to the hospital and joint-lecturer on medicine with Dr. Bright. In his hospital practice he soon became distinguished for his remarkable zeal in the investigation of disease both by observation of cases during life and by post-mortem examinations. He thus acquired a brilliant reputation as a clinical teacher, and contributed perhaps more than any of his colleagues to the fame which Guy's Hospital attained as a school of medicine during his connection with it. Addison laboured as a teacher and investigator till the state of his health compelled him to resign his hospital appointments, and he died not long after his retirement at Brighton on 29 June 1860. He was buried in Lanercost Abbey, Cumberland.

Addison's contributions to the science of medicine were numerous and important. His researches on pneumonia (published 1837 and 1843) brought to light truths novel at the time, which are now generally accepted as indisputable. The memoir on pulmonary phthisis was not less original, though its conclusions are more open to question. They have nevertheless had great influence on the progress of knowledge in this subject. After publishing some important papers on diseases of the skin, Addison produced in 1855 the work by which he is, and will always be, best known, though less valued by his own pupils and immediate successors than his earlier works. In this, the ‘Essay on Disease of the Supra-renal Capsules,’ he announced a discovery of remarkable originality, viz., that these organs, not previously known to be the seat of any definite disease, were in certain cases affected in such a way as to produce a fatal malady, with well-marked symptoms, including a remarkable discoloration of the skin, and now known as ‘Addison's disease.’ The novelty of Addison's views, as well as the rarity of the phenomena by which they could be confirmed, caused them to be received with much incredulity, and two memoirs relating similar cases, not written but supported by Addison, were declined by a London medical society to which they were presented for publication. But the reality of the facts and the correctness of Addison's explanation are now generally admitted, both in this country and abroad. Although the disease, from its rarity, has fortunately no great practical importance, its discovery remains one of the most brilliant achievements of medicine in the nineteenth century. To the therapeutical side of medicine Addison devoted less attention, and in this he was less successful than in research. Partly from this cause, and partly, perhaps, from defects of manner which are attributed to him, he never obtained a large practice or accumulated great wealth; but, indeed, to both these objects of the ambition of many men, Addison seems to have been comparatively indifferent. His soul was in his hospital work; the correct diagnosis of disease, the efficient instruction of his pupils, and the prosperity of the Guy's medical school were the objects for which he lived.

Addison's independent publications were: 1. ‘An Essay upon the Operation of Poisonous Agents’ (jointly with John Morgan), 8vo, London, 1829. 2. ‘Observations on the Disorders of Females connected with Uterine Irritation,’ 8vo, London, 1830. 3. ‘Elements of Practice of Medicine’ (jointly with Richard Bright, M.D., but chiefly by Addison), vol. i. only published, 8vo, London, 1839. 4. ‘On Disease of the Supra-renal Capsules,’ 4to, London, 1855.

His other memoirs were chiefly published in the Guy's Hospital reports for various years, and republished as ‘A Collection of the Published Writings,’ &c. Edited by Dr Wilks and Dr. Daldy. New Sydenham Society, London, 1868.

[Munk's Roll of the Royal College of Physicians, 2nd edition, iii. 205, London, 1878; Biography prefixed to Syd. Soc. collection above cited; Greenhow's Lectures on Addison's Disease, London, 1875; Lonsdale's Worthies of Cumberland, London, 1873.]

J. F. P.