Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anstie, Francis Edmund
ANSTIE, FRANCIS EDMUND (1833–1874), physician, was born at Devizes, Wiltshire, 11 Dec. 1833, the son of Mr. Paul Anstie, a manufacturer belonging to a family long notable for their attachment to liberal principles. He was educated at a private school till the age of sixteen, when he was apprenticed to his cousin, Mr. Thomas Anstie, a medical practitioner, with whom he remained three years. In 1853 he entered the medical department of King's College, London, where his teachers were Sir William Fergusson, Mr. Bowman, and especially Dr. R. B. Todd, whose doctrines and practice produced a permanent impression upon Anstie's mind. He became M.R.C.S. and L.S.A. in 1856, was M.B. London in 1857, M.D. 1859. He was admitted a member of the College of Physicians in 1859, fellow 1865. In 1860 he was elected assistant physician to the Westminster Hospital, but did not become full physician till 1873. He was lecturer at that school, first on forensic medicine, afterwards for many years on materia medica, and for a short time on medicine. In 1862 Anstie married a daughter of Mr. Wass of Cromford, Derbyshire, whom he left a widow with a son and two daughters.
On his first entrance into professional life Anstie was occupied in administering chloroform for the operations of Sir William Fergusson; but he soon went into practice as a physician, and became very fully occupied in hospital work and in journalism, being for some years a member of the editorial staff of the 'Lancet;' while in the last few years of his life he was beginning to get a good consulting practice. Dr. Anstie's life was cut short by an illness contracted in the course of a sanitary inspection. Some strange cases of fatal disease having occurred in the schools of the Patriotic Fund at Wandsworth, Anstie was called in to make an inspection of the buildings and investigate the causes of the epidemic. In making a post-mortem examination he received a slight wound, from the effects of which he died on 12 Sept. 1874. The sudden death of a man so full of energy and promise by a wound received in the discharge of duty caused an acute and painful sensation throughout his own profession and the public. Shortly afterwards a large number of his personal friends and others raised a memorial fund in his honour, which was applied for the benefit of his family.
Dr. Anstie was a skilful physician, an eager investigator, and a vigorous writer. Literary work connected with medicine, in addition to regular journalism, occupied much of his energy during his whole professional life. His activity was mainly directed in three lines -in the advancement of therapeutics, in questions of public health, and in the study of nervous diseases. In therapeutics he began with investigating the action of alcohol on the body in health and disease; and in this he was a pupil of Dr. R. B. Todd, one of whose leading principles was the use of stimulants in medicine. After writing scientific and popular papers on the subject (in the 'London Medical Review,' 1862, and the 'Cornhill Magazine' respectively), Anstie brought out in 1864 his important work on 'Stimulants and Narcotics,' containing the result of experiments, observations, and literary research, and these subjects continued to occupy his attention till the last year of his life.
In 1868 he became joint-editor (and in the next year sole editor) of the 'Practitioner,' a new journal intended to advance the scientific study of therapeutics. The special character and importance of this journal, which has done much to invigorate the study of therapeutics in this country, were of Anstie's creation.
In questions of public health Anstie was warmly interested; and he took an important part in initiating two important public reforms. In 1864 certain scandals connected with the administration of the poor-law infirmaries attracted public attention, and induced the proprietors of the 'Lancet' to appoint a commission, consisting of Dr. Anstie, Mr. Ernest Hart, and Dr. Carr, to report on the subject. Anstie took the largest part in examining the London infirmaries, and wrote the report which appeared in the 'Lancet' 1 July 1865. Others followed, and one on the state of Farnham workhouse, published in 1867, led to an inquiry by the Poor Law Board, which justified the report of the 'Lancet' commissioners. These inquiries may justly be regarded as the starting-point of the movement of reform which has of late years greatly improved the system of poor-law medical relief. In 1874 Anstie brought before the College of Physicians a motion that the college should petition the prime minister to provide some remedy for the injurious overcrowding of the poor in London, which the introduction of certain railways and improvements had lately aggravated. The petition, being adopted and sent in, was largely influential in inducing the then home secretary, Mr. Cross, to bring in a bill in parliament which became law as an 'Act for facilitating the Improvement of the Dwellings of the Working Classes in large Towns. In this momentous question, the solution of which has not yet been found, Anstie deserves honourable mention as a pioneer.
On diseases of the nervous system Anstie wrote several memoirs, and finally a book on 'Neuralgia and the Diseases which resemble it,' London, 1871, on which his friends would be inclined to rest his reputation. He also contributed an article on the same subject to Reynolds's 'System of Medicine.' The views which he expounded in both works were to a large extent original, and doubtless open to criticism; but many of his observations are of permanent value. In 1867 he gave two lectures at the College of Physicians on the sphygmograph.
There can be no doubt, however, that the completeness of his scientific work was much interfered with by his multifarious occupations and the ceaseless literary activity which circumstances imposed upon him. Though finding little time for elaborate research, he was a zealous advocate of new and more accurate methods, and did much not only to make known the results of investigation, but to stimulate and sustain the scientific movement in medicine.
At the time of his death Anstie's reputation was rapidly growing, and was as great in America as at home. It is no secret that brilliant offfers were made to induce him to accept a professorship and hospital appointment in that country, which family reasons, among others, induced him to decline. In 1874 he took part in the foundation of the Medical School for Women, and acted with great energy as the first dean of the school.
Anstie was a man of singularly attractive character. He was warmhearted and generous, a firm friend and an honourable opponent. Though as a reformer he was often engaged in controversy, he gained the regard of the best among his antagonists; one of whom wrote after his death: 'It was impossible to mistake the ardour of the man, or to doubt the complete and very unusual disinterestedness with which he threw himself into all his work.'
Besides the works mentioned above, he wrote a very large number of papers and articles, some signed, some anonymous. Among the former were: 1. 'Lectures on Diseases of the Nervous System ' (Lancet, 1872-73). 2. Articles in Reynolds's 'System of Medi- cine,' vol. ii. 1868: Alcoholism, Neuralgia, and Hypochondriasis the latter jointly with Sir William Gull; ibid. vol. iii. 1871: 'Pleurisy, Pleurodynia, Hydrothorax, Pneumothorax, and Hepatalgia.' 4. 'On the Hereditary Connection between certain Nervous Diseases' (Journal of Mental Science, Jan. 1872). 5. 'Notes on Epidemics, for the use of the Public,' 1866. Several medical papers in the Practitioner.[Memoir by Dr. Buzzard (his brother-in-law), Practitioner, Jan. 1876; Lancet, 19 Sept. 1874.]