Greenhill, William Alexander (DNB01)
GREENHILL, WILLIAM ALEXANDER (1814–1894), physician and author, born at Stationers' Hall, London, on 1 Jan. 1814, was youngest of the three sons of George Greenhill, treasurer of the Stationers' Company. There was a long-standing association of the family with the company, his grandfather having been master in 1783, and his brother Joseph, after serving as treasurer for about sixty years, being elected master in 1890. Greenhill received his early education at a private school at Edmonton, and thence he went to Rugby in 1828, the year when Dr. Arnold became head-master. At Rugby among his chief school friends were A. H. Clough, W. C. Lake, A. P. Stanley, and C. J. Vaughan. He then belonged to the band of Arnold's attached pupils who have spread the traditions and influence of the school over the world. He was the anonymous 'old pupil,' a letter to whom from Arnold is printed in Dean Stanley's 'Life' (i. 372, ii. 54, 116). In 1832 he left Rugby with an exhibition, and, after unsuccessfully standing for a scholarship at Trinity College, matriculated there as a commoner on 9 June 1832. At Oxford a renewal of friendship with A. P. Stanley increased his interest in the life and studies of the university, which at first appear to have been distasteful to him (Stanley's Life and Letters, i. 125). In 1837 he laid the foundation of his life-long friendship with Benjamin Jowett [q. v. Suppl.] Having determined to take up medicine as a profession he studied at the Radclift'e Infirmary, Oxford, and visited Paris to acquaint himself with hospital practice there, 1836-7. By this means he gained a full and accurate knowledge of the French language. Although, he passed the requisite examinations, Greenhill took no degree in arts, but graduated M.B. in 1839 and M.D. in 1840. He was appointed physician to the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1839, and continued to hold the office until 1851. He then began practice as a physician in Oxford, and lived at 91 High Street. His work in sanitary matters began in 1849, when there was a visitation of cholera at Oxford, and he drew up, for the Ashmolean Society, a series of reports upon the public health and mortality of the city (see Acland, Memoir upon the Cholera at Oxford in 1854)
As a parishioner at Oxford of St. Mary's, Greenhill came into association, soon after his settlement in practice, with the vicar, John Henry Newman [q. v.], who appointed him churchwarden, an office which he held at the time when the latter resigned the living in 1843. His personal intercourse with Newman then ceased, although they corresponded on friendly terms (cf. Letters and Correspondence of Newman, ii. 477). He was a member of Dr. Pusey's theological society (Life of Pusey, i. 337, 410), and was intimate with other leaders in the Oxford movement. He was one of 'the younger liberals' who wished the proctors to exercise their power of veto when the condemnation of Tract No. XC. was proposed in 1845 (Life and Letters of Dean Church, p. 61). While he lived in Oxford his house was a gathering-place for the leaders of thought at the university, and among his close friends were C. P. Eden, W. J. Copeland, C. Marriott, J. B. Morris, and James Bowling Mozley. At this time he turned his attention to the study of Arabic and Greek medical writers. His labours bore fruit in a Greek and Latin edition of the 'Physiology of Theophilus' (1842), a Latin edition of Sydenham's works for the Sydenham Society (1844) ; an English translation from the Arabic of Rhazes on the small-pox (1847), in addition to numerous articles in (Sir) William Smith's 'Dictionaries of Greek and Roman Antiquities and Biography' (1842-9).
In 1847 Greenhill worked enthusiastically to promote the election of W. E. Gladstone as member of parliament for the university (Burgon, Twelve Good Men, ii. 110). He remained a liberal in politics through life, but he abstained from supporting the party at the election of 1885, through fear of the threatened disestablishment of the church of England, and in 1886, when he disapproved of the home-rule proposals.
In 1851, mainly on account of his health, Greenhill left Oxford and settled at Hastings, taking the practice of James Mackness [q. v.] Here he became one of the physicians of the local infirmary, and took an active part in the work of various public charities. In 1855 he published 'Observations on the Death-rate of Hastings' in the first volume of the 'Journal of Public Health,' conducted by his friend, (Sir) Benjamin Ward Richardson [q. v. Suppl.] This subject he pursued in a paper on 'Hastings Parish Registers' in the 'Sussex Archaeological Collections,' vol. xiv. (1862). Greenhill's early investigations showed him how unhealthy were many of the dwellings of the labouring classes, and how injurious their condition was to the prosperity of the town, then rising into public favour as a health resort. With a view to remedying some part of the evil, he founded in 1857 the Hastings Cottage Improvement Society, which was worked as a company, and always paid a fair dividend. The society bought up, repaired, and improved, as far as possible, old and insanitary dwellings, besides building new houses upon approved modern principles. He was secretary from 1857 to 1891. So successful was this venture that, with some of the original shareholders, he started a similar organisation, the London Labourers' Dwellings Society, of which also he was secretary from 1862 to 1876. In 1881, on Gladstone's recommendation, he was granted a pension of 60l. on the civil list.
Greenhill devoted his spare time to the study of the writings of Sir Thomas Browne [q. v.] After several years of careful preparation he published his edition of 'Religio Medici,' 'Christian Morals,' and 'A Letter to a Friend,' in Macmillan's 'Golden Treasury' series in 1881. This was at once accepted as the standard edition of the book. It was characterised by scholarship and critical acumen, scrupulous accuracy, and loyalty to the author (Professor Saintsbury, in Sir H. Craik's English Prose Selections, ii. 313). He contributed an article on the bibliography of the 'Religio Medici' to the 'Bibliographer,' vol. i. No. 6, May 1882. For some time before his death he was engaged upon an edition of Sir Thomas Browne's 'Hydriotaphia' and 'Garden of Cyrus,' at which he was at work on the last evening of his life. It was left unfinished, and being completed by his friend, E. H. Marshall, was issued in the 'Golden Treasury' series in 1896.
Greenhill died at his residence in The Croft, Hastings, after a very short illness, from syncope, on 19 Sept. 1894. He was buried in the borough cemetery on 22 Sept., and a brass tablet has been placed to his memory in St. Clement's, his parish church. In 1840 he married Laura, daughter of John Ward, collector of H.M. customs at West Cowes, and niece of Dr. Arnold. By her, who died in 1882, he had three sons and two daughters, of whom a son and a daughter survive him.
Greenhill's principal works are : 1. 'The Physiology of Theophilus, in Greek and Latin,' London, 1842. 2. 'Prayers for the Medical Profession,' London, 1842. 3. 'Advice to a Medical Student,' London, 1843. 4. 'Advice to a Patient in a Hospital,' pts. i. and ii., London, 1843. 5. 'Sydenham's Works in Latin' (Sydenham Soc.), London, 1844. 6. 'Life of Sir James Stonhouse,' London, 1844. 7. 'Life of Thomas Harrison Burder, M.D.,' London, 1845. 8. 'Rhazes's Treatise on the Small-pox,' translated from the Arabic into English, London, 1847. 9. 'Άρτος έκ τού Ούρανύ: Bread from Heaven:' Scripture Texts for every day in the year, in Greek and English, 1872. 10. 'A Form of Prayer to be used on the opening of a new House, or Block of Buildings,' London, 1873. 11. 'A Classified List of the Charitable Institutions of Hastings and St. Leonards,' Hastings, 1873. 12. 'The Contrast: Duty and Pleasure, Right and Wrong,' Hastings,' 1874 ; 6th edit., London, 1893. 13. 'Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, Letter to a Friend, &c., and Christian Morals,' London, 1881. 14. 'Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia and the Garden of Cyrus,' London, 1896. To this 'Dictionary' he contributed many articles.
[Authorities referred to above; Memoir, with portrait, by Sir B. W. Richardson, in the Asclepiad, vol. xi. No. 42; Athenæum, 29 Sept. 1894; Guardian, 26 Sept. 1894; Lancet, 29 Sept. 1894; private information.]