Harley, George (DNB01)
HARLEY, GEORGE (1829–1896), physician, only son of George Barclay Harley and Margaret Macbeath, was born at Harley House, Haddington, in East Lothian, on 12 Feb. 1829. His father was sixty-three at the time of his birth, and his mother was forty. His father died soon afterwards, and he was brought up by his mother and grandmother, Mrs. Macbeath. He received his early education at the Haddington burgh schools, and at the Hill Street Institution, Edinburgh, and subsequently proceeded to the university of Edinburgh, where he matriculated at the age of seventeen and graduated M.D. in August 1850.
After acting for fifteen months as house surgeon and resident physician to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Harley spent two years in Paris, working in the physiological and chemical laboratories of Charles Dollfus, Verdeil, and Wurtz. He made many observations, which were recorded in the 'Chimie Anatomique' of Robin and Verdeil. Among these the most notable were the recognition of iron as a constant constituent of the urine, and the observation that the cherry colour of normal human urine was due to urohæmatin (Pharmaceutical Journal, 1852). He next worked in the physiological laboratory of the College de France, at first under Magendie and then under Claude Bernard, whose publications on the influence of the liver in the production of diabetes led Harley to undertake research as to the effects of stimulation of nerves on the production of sugar by the liver. During his two years' residence in Paris he was almost entirely occupied with physiological researches, and in 1853 he was elected annual president of the Parisian Medical Society. He subsequently spent two years in Germany at the universities of Würzburg (under Virchow), Giessen (under Liebig), Berlin, Vienna, and Heidelberg. When he was studying in Vienna, during the height of the Crimean excitement, he attempted to join the army of Omar Pasha as a civil surgeon, but, travelling with an irregular passport, he was arrested, and narrowly escaped being shot as, a spy.
His foreign study well qualified him for the lectureship on practical physiology and histology at University College, to which he was appointed on his return from Padua in 1855. He was also made curator of the anatomical museum at University College, and in 1856 he started practice in Nottingham Place. In 1858 he was elected a fellow of the Chemical Society, and fellow of the College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and he read at the Leeds meeting of the British Association a paper in which he showed that pure pancreatine was capable of digesting both starchy and albuminous substances. In 1859 he became professor of medical jurisprudence at University College in the place of Dr. Alfred Carpenter [q. v. Suppl.], and in 1860 physician to the hospital. These appointments he held till eye trouble obliged him to resign them. In 1862 he received the triennial prize of fifty guineas of the Royal College of Surgeons of England for his researches into the anatomy and physiology of the suprarenal bodies.
While at Heidelberg Harley had spent much time in studying in Bunsen's laboratory the methods of gas analysis. After his return to England he made researches on the chemistry of respiration. Some of the results were published in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' and had much to do with his election to the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1865 at the age of thirty-six. In 1864 he was elected fellow of the Royal College of Physicians; he afterwards held the post of examiner in anatomy and physiology in the college. He also became corresponding member of numerous foreign scientific societies.
In 1864 Harley took an active share in the labours of the committee of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society appointed to study the subject of suspended animation by drowning, hanging, &c. The experiments were carried out in his laboratory at University College, as were those for the committee of the same society on chloroform (1864), of which Harley was also a member. He energetically aided in founding the British Institute of Preventive Medicine.
Harley made careful researches into the action of strychnine, and on the ordeal bean of Old Calabar (Royal Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, 1863), and in 1864 read a paper to the British Association on the 'Poisoned Arrows of Savage Man,' in which he demonstrated the nature of the poisons used in Borneo the heart-paralysing poison of the upas tree, in Guinea the limb-paralysing poison of Wourali. He was the first to demonstrate that strychnia and wourali (arrow-poison) have the property of reciprocally neutralising the toxic effects of one another. In August 1863 he furnished the British Medical Association with an account of the botanical characters and therapeutical characters of the ordeal bean, which was translated into French, and published by Professor Robin in the 'Journal d'Anatomie et de Physiologie' of Paris.
Harley was a man of many hobbies. He invented a microscope which by a simple adjustment could be transformed from a monocular into a binocular or into a polarising instrument, either of a high or a low power. He tried hard to reform English orthography, and published a book entitled 'The Simplification of English Spelling' (1877), in which he advocated the total omission of redundant and useless duplicated consonants from all words except personal names.
Harley died suddenly from rupture of a coronary artery and haemorrhage into the pericardium on 27 Oct. 1896 at his house, 77 (now 25) Harley Street. His body was cremated at Woking on 30 Oct., and the remains buried at Kingsbury Old Church on the same day. He married Emma Jessie, daughter of James Muspratt [q. v.] of Seaforth Hall, near Liverpool. She survived him with three children, viz., Vaughan Harley, M.D.; Ethel (Mrs. Alec Tweedie, the authoress); and Olga Harley.
Harley contributed a large number of papers to various scientific periodicals. His most important publications treated of the diseases of the liver. In 1863 he published 'Jaundice, its Pathology and Treatment.' This he eventually replaced in 1883 by his book on 'Diseases of the Liver,' in which he focussed all his experience. This book was reprinted in Canada and in America, and was translated into German by Dr. J. Kraus of Carlsbad. In 1885 he published a pamphlet on 'Sounding for Gall Stones,' and in the following year a work on 'Inflammation of the Liver,' in which he advocated puncture of the capsule in congestive liver induration, and 'hepatic phlebotomy' for acute hepatitis. In 1868 his old pupil, Mr. George T. Brown, brought out a book on 'Histology,' being the demonstrations which Dr. Harley had given at University College. The second edition of the book Dr. Harley edited himself. Subsequently, during a long period of rest in dark rooms, owing to a breakdown of eyesight, he dictated to an amanuensis a book which he published in 1872 entitled 'The Urine and its Derangements;' this work was reprinted in America and translated into French and Italian. In 1859 he became editor of a new year-book on medicine and surgery, brought out by the New Sydenham Society, with the view of keeping an epitome of science applied to practical medicine; he worked for its success unceasingly for some years.
[George Harley, F.R.S., the Life of a London Physician, edited by his daughter, Mrs. Alec Tweedie (The Scientific Press), 1899; The Lancet, 7 Nov. 1896; The British Medical Journal, 31 Oct. 1896; Records of the Royal Society and Royal College of Physicians; private information.]