Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Anderson, William (1842-1900)

Full name is William Edwin Anderson

ANDERSON, WILLIAM (1842–1900), professor of anatomy to the Royal Academy, was born in London on 18 Dec. 1842, and educated at the City of London School. Upon leaving school he studied at the Lambeth School of Art and obtained a medal for artistic anatomy. In 1864 he entered St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he studied surgery under Sir John Simon and Le Gros Clark. In successive years he won the first college prize, the Physical Society’s prize, and in 1867 carried off the coveted Cheselden medal. He passed F.R.C.S. in 1869, and after a house-surgeoncy at Derby returned to St. Thomas’s on the opening of the new buildings in 1871 as surgical registrar and assistant demonstrator of anatomy. He displayed a faculty of illustrating his teaching of anatomy by drawing, which was the admiration of successive generations of students. In 1873 he was appointed professor of anatomy and surgery at the newly founded Imperial Naval Medical College at Tōkio and sailed with his newly married wife for Japan. There he lectured not only on anatomy and surgery, but also on physiology and medicine. At first he had the assistance of an interpreter, but he rapidly acquired a working knowledge of the language, and soon gained the affection of his pupils. In 1880, after a gratifying audience with the emperor, he left Tōkio to accept a position on the surgical staff at St. Thomas’s, where he became senior lecturer on anatomy, while he examined in the same subject for the College of Surgeons and London University. A stream of Japanese students flowed to St. Thomas’s as a result of Anderson’s connection with the college at Tōkio. In 1891 he was promoted from assistant to full surgeon to his hospital.

While in Japan Anderson formed a superb collection of Japanese paintings and engravings, and upon his return he disposed of the bulk of it, forming what is regarded as historically the finest collection in Europe, to the British Museum. A selection of its treasures was exhibited in the White Room at the Museum between 1889 and 1892. Between 1882, when the transfer was made, and 1886 Anderson prepared his admirable ‘Descriptive and Historical Account of a Collection of Japanese and Chinese Paintings in the British Museum’ (London, 1886), containing the most complete account which at present exists of the general history of the subject. It was followed by his great work, ‘Pictorial Arts of Japan, with some Account of the Development of the allied Arts and a brief History and Criticism of Chinese Painting’ (issued in portfolio form, 1886, 2 vols, with plates). This was an expansion of ‘A Sketch of the History of Japanese Pictorial Art,’ published in the ‘Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan’ for 1878. Of the remainder of Anderson’s collections many examples were purchased by Ernest Abraham Hart [q. v. Suppl.] and have since been dispersed. In 1885 Anderson had contributed the introductory essay on the ‘Pictorial and Glyptic Arts of Japan’ to Murray’s handbook for that country; in 1888 he issued ‘An Historical and Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Engravings exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club,’ and in 1895 he wrote a ‘Portfolio’ monograph on ‘Japanese Wood Engravings: their History, Technique, and Characteristics.’ Anderson was chairman of the council of the Japan Society from its constitution in January 1892 until his death. In 1895 he was made a knight commander of the Japanese order of the Rising Sun.

In January 1891 he was elected professor of anatomy at the Royal Academy in the room of Professor Marshall, whose worthy successor he approved himself. His sudden death on 27 Oct. 1900 was due to a rupture of the cord of the mitral valve. He was twice married: first, in 1873, to Margaret Hall, by whom he left a son and a daughter; and, secondly, to Louisa, daughter of F. W. Tetley of Leeds, who survives him. Of high culture and distinguished appearance, Anderson’s retiring nature alone prevented him from becoming a more prominent personality. Attractive portraits are given as frontispiece to ‘Transactions of the Japan Society’ (vol. iv.), and in the ‘Lancet’ (10 Nov. 1900) and ‘St. Thomas’s Hospital Gazette’ (November 1900).

Anderson wrote a paper, excellently illustrated, on ‘Art in relation to Medical Science’ (‘St. Thomas’s Hospital Reports,’ vol. xv.), which is the best sketch on that subject accessible in English. In 1896 he published a small work on ‘The Deformities of the Fingers and Toes,’ and in the same year, in conjunction with Mr. Shattock, he wrote the section on ‘Malformations,’ a laborious and recondite piece of work in the ‘Nomenclature of Diseases.’

[Times, 29 Oct. 1900; Lancet, 10 Nov. 1900; St. Thomas’s Hospital Gazette, November 1900; City of London School Mag. Nov. 1900; Anderson’s Works and printed Testimonials (1891) in British Museum Library; information kindly given by Mr. E. Phené Spiers and Mr. Arthur Diósy.]

T. S.