Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Babington, Benjamin Guy

BABINGTON, BENJAMIN GUY (1794–1866), physician and linguist, was the son of Dr. William Babington, and was born in Guy's Hospital when his father was resident apothecary there. He entered the navy as a midshipman, and served at Walcheren and Copenhagen, but left the service early, and, having obtained a nomination for the Indian civil service, studied at Haileybury College, and was appointed to the Madras presidency. He possessed a remarkable faculty for languages, and soon became distinguished as an oriental scholar. He translated into English the Tamul-Latin Grammar of C. J. Beschius, and published other translations. Though a man of powerful frame, Babington found the climate of India trying to his health, and, returning to England, studied for his father's profession at Guy's Hospital and Cambridge. Entering the university comparatively late in life, and a widower with a family, he did not (says his contemporary, Sir James Alderson) go out in honours, but became M.D. in 1830. He was elected fellow of the College of Physicians, 1831; assistant physician to Guy's Hospital, 1837; and full physician in 1840. He was also fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1861 president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. He was the founder, and for some years the president, of the Epidemiological Society. He was appointed by the crown a member of the medical council of the General Board of Health. He was also physician to the Deaf and Dumb Hospital, and to other charities. He resigned his appointments at Guy's Hospital in 1855, and died on 8 April 1866.

Dr. Babington was a man of remarkable and very versatile intellectual power. He was proficient in several sciences, and in all of them exact and thorough. Soon after his appointment at Guy's Hospital he gave much attention to the subject of animal chemistry, and assisted Sir Astley Cooper, Dr. Bright, and others of his colleagues by making analyses of morbid products. He also wrote in the 'Medico-Chirurgical Transactions' two memoirs on the blood, in one of which he described the fat constantly present in the serum; in another he employed for the first time an expression now always used for the fluid portion of the blood, 'liquor sanguinis.' He wrote some more strictly medical papers in the 'Guy's Hospital Reports,' which are thoroughly done, but not very notable. He translated from the German Hecker's ‘Epidemics of the Middle Ages,’ and edited a translation of Feuchtersleben's ‘Medical Psychology’ for the Sydenham Society (London, 1847).

Those who knew Dr. Babington best had the highest opinion of his abilities; by the profession in general he was greatly respected, but he hardly enjoyed the public reputation or gained the success which might have been considered his due. Partly this was owing to his retiring and unambitious character; partly, perhaps, to his having entered the profession somewhat late in life. He was a man of genial character, and physically well-favoured. His wife, a daughter of Mr. Benjamin Tayler, died before him.

Dr. Babington wrote no independent and separate work in medicine, but published: 1. ‘A Grammar of the High Dialect of the Tamil Language. Translated from the Latin of Constantius Josephus Beschius,’ Madras, 1822, 4to. 2. ‘The Adventures of the Gooroo Paramartan,’ by C. J. Beschius. With a translation and vocabulary (Tamul and English), London, 1822, 4to. 3. ‘The Vedàla Cadai, being the Tamul version of a collection of ancient tales in Sanscrit,’ translated by B. G. Babington. Oriental Translation Fund, London, 1831, 8vo. 4. ‘An Account of the Sculptures and Inscriptions at Mahâma Laipûr in Captain M. W. Carr's Descriptive Papers relating to the Seven Pagodas on the Coromandel Coast,’ Madras, 1869, 8vo. 5. An English Translation of Hecker's ‘The Black Death in the Fourteenth Century,’ London, 1833, 12mo. (This is included in the translation of Hecker's ‘Epidemics of the Middle Ages,’ London, 1844 (Sydenham Society) and 1859.) Besides papers in ‘Guy's Hospital Reports:’ ‘Cases of Small-Pox which occurred in the Deaf and Dumb Asylum,’ series 1, i. 159; ‘Experiments and Observations on Albuminous Fluids,’ series 1, ii. 534; ‘Observations on Epilepsy,’ series 1, vi. 1; ‘On Chorea,’ series 1, vi. 411. Also papers in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ in the ‘Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology,’ and elsewhere.

[Obituary Notice in Proceedings Roy. Med. and Chir. Society, v. 249, 1867; Lancet, 21 April 1866; Medical Directory, London, 1866.]

J. F. P.