Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/October 1898/Sketch of Sir Richard Quain



BESIDES being an extraordinarily popular and successful practicing physician. Sir Richard Quain contributed materially by his researches to the advancement of medical science, served the public in many responsible and highly useful positions, and earned a world-wide recognition by his work on the "Rinderpest" Commission.

Richard Quain was born at Mallow, on the Blackwater, Ireland, October 30, 1816, and died in London, March 13, 1898. He came of a family which contributed several eminent men to public life—two of his cousins, Jones Quain and Richard Quain, having distinguished themselves in anatomy and surgery, and a third, John Richard Quain, as a lawyer and a judge in the Court of Queen's Bench. His mother also belonged to an honorable family, that of the Burkes of Mallow, and was a great-grandniece of Bishop Burnet, who conducted the services at the coronation of William and Mary. Young Quain is said to have been precocious in his childhood, to have become thoroughly grounded in English and the classics, and to have distinguished himself at the examinations. When fifteen years old he was apprenticed for five years to an apothecary in Limerick, and gained considerable experience and made sagacious observations even at that age; and he is said to have resolutely fought the cholera when it raged in Limerick. In 1837 he proceeded to London and entered University College, where his cousins Richard and Jones held professorial chairs; was graduated thence M. B., in 1840; gained the scholarship and gold medal, and took honors in surgery and midwifery. He was appointed at that time house surgeon, and one year later house physician, or "resident medical officer," at University College Hospital. This institution was, during the five years he held that position, much thronged with "casualty" patients, the work on the extension of the London and Northwestern Railway bringing a large accession of laboring population within its bailiwick. With the degree of M. D., in 1842, he received a gold medal and a certificate of special proficiency. The next year he was elected a fellow of University College. In 1846 he was elected assistant physician to the Hospital for Diseases of the Chest at Brompton; was for many years consulting physician to the Seamen's Hospital at Greenwich, and to the Royal Hospital for Consumptives at Ventnor. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1846, a fellow in 1851, and was at different times member of its council and censor, Lumleian lecturer, senior censor, Harveian orator, and vice-president. From 1864 till his death he was one of the most conspicuous members of the General Medical Council, having been appointed crown member seven times, serving as chairman of some of its most important committees, and having been president of the council since 1891, He was one of the founders of the Pathological Society, an early secretary of it, and a frequent exhibitor at its meetings. While exceptionally popular and successful as a practitioner in medicine, a favorite in society, and a recognized authority on tuberculosis and diseases of the heart, Quain, his biographer in Nature says, "was closely set on the public work associated with medicine. Medical education, medical research, medical relief at hospitals—these were the subjects at which he mainly worked, and with an energy and avidity which appeared to grow rather than wane as time passed, and he attained in his old age the highest positions in the profession. A senator of the University of London; chairman of the Brown Institution, with Burdon-Sanderson, Klein, Greenfield, Horsley, and their equally distinguished successors working as professors there; one of the most prominent fellows of the College of Physicians, which was passing through a critical period of its history; and, finally, president of the General Council of Medical Education and Registration, of which he had been for thirty years a member—Quain had his hands full; yet he never appeared to grudge his time to a friend in want of advice; and he was always keen and ready for the latest information in science."

Probably Quain's greatest service to knowledge and to the general welfare was rendered in connection with the investigations of the royal commission to inquire into the nature, causes, and methods of prevention of the cattle plague, to which he was appointed in 1865, in association with Lord Spencer (chairman), the present prime minister, then Lord Cranbourne, Lord Sherbrooke, Dr. Lyon Playfair, Dr. Edmund Parkes, and Dr. Henry Bence Jones. "In the valuable transactions of this royal commission," the Lancet says, "Quain took a very prominent and useful part; in fact, for several months the question occupied almost his whole time. The whole matter was gone into most extensively by the commission, and not the least searching among the frequent questions were those addressed by Dr. Quain to the various veterinary and medical witnesses. He throughout this inquiry showed himself an excellent and logical cross-examiner. Among the medical witnesses called were Dr. Burdon-Sanderson, who made an exhaustive report describing his experiments; Dr. Marcet, Dr. John Syer Bristowe, and Dr. Lionel Beale, who conducted the microscopical part of the inquiry. It is not surprising that after hearing the evidence adduced during the long sitting of this commission Dr. Quain should have sided with the section which desired the extermination of the plague 'at any price.' This was the view of the majority, but throughout the country there was an opinion, founded on insufficient data, that too high a price might be paid even for the stamping out of this fearful disease. This section of public opinion found its spokesmen on the commission in the persons of Earl Spencer, Lord Cranbourne (Salisbury), Mr. Clare Sewell Read, and Dr. Bence Jones. The majority included Mr. Lowe (Lord Sherbrooke), Dr. Lyon Playfair, Dr. Richard Quain, and Dr. Edmund Parkes. Dr. Quain's work on this commission very thoroughly justified his appointment, and his letters to the Times and articles in the Saturday Review went far indeed to change public opinion on the whole matter. The voice of the public at large was at first very strongly raised against the stamping-out recommendations of this commission. These recommendations, as Dr. Quain ably pointed out, would ultimately save many millions of pounds to the country, and the event has proved the correctness of his views. In the conduct of the Royal Commission of Inquiry perhaps the most essential detail is the arrangement of the method and scheme of the investigation. For this portion of t]ie work of this most successful inquiry Richard Quain was in great measure responsible. In the third report of this commission there were a number of valuable drawings illustrating the pathology of the disease, and these were, at the instance of Quain, presented to the Royal College of Physicians of London."

Quain's first important essay in medical science, and the one on which the foundation of his reputation was laid, was his essay—"brilliant research," Nature calls it—on Fatty Degeneration of the Heart, which was contributed to the Transactions of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society for 1850, and appeared afterward in an expanded and exhaustive article in his Dictionary of Medicine. "Simple as the doctrine appears to us at the present day," says Nature, "fifty years ago it was a startling pronouncement by a young man fresh from his medical studies that fat may be and often is a product of the decomposition of muscular tissue, and that this change goes on in the living body. The ideas of life, nutrition, and death were greatly influenced by the doctrine. This, let us remember, was many years before Bauer and Voit, working with phosphorus in starving animals, furnished the proof experimentally and qualitatively; and Quain's claim was freely admitted by Virchow and Paget." Previous to this he had published, early in his career at University College Hospital (1845), contributions on Bright's Disease of the Kidneys, and on Injuries to the Valves of the Heart. His Lumleian lecture before the Royal College of Surgeons in 1872 dealt with Diseases of the Muscular Walls of the Heart.

The Dictionary of Medicine, on which Dr. Quain's leisure time had been spent for several years since 1875, appeared in 1882, and met a real want, for Copeland's Dictionary had gone out of date, and Reynolds's System was not intended to be an encyclopedic book of reference. The Dictionary first appeared as a volume of nineteen hundred pages, and was the joint work of a very large number of prominent medical writers, among whom Dr. Quain himself and his editorial coadjutors. Dr. Frederick Roberts and Dr. Mitchell Bruce, contributed largely. The work, according to the Lancet, "admirably filled the want long felt by the medical profession of a thoroughly convenient and at the same time exhaustive book of reference. It had the additional advantage of being thoroughly brought up to the knowledge of the day, for, as its editor remarked in the preface, although it occupied some years in production, each part of it was so arranged as to permit of alteration and addition up to the very time of going to press. The editor's own articles chiefly dealt with affections of the heart." The Lancet points out that Sir Richard Quain's faculty for the arrangement of facts in such an order as to convey them to the mind of the reader in a succession which makes the whole train of reasoning symmetrical is particularly noticeable in the essay on Fatty Degeneration of the Heart, already mentioned, and is also traceable to but little less an extent in the articles on Angina Pectoris, Aneurism of the Heart, and Diseases of the Bronchial Tubes, and in the general remarks on Disease.

In 1885 Dr. Quain delivered the Harveian Oration at the Royal College of Physicians, taking for his subject The Healing Art in its Historic and Prophetic Aspects, and beginning his address with citations of the adverse remarks that had been made as to the progress of medicine by Hoffmann, Gregory, Sir William Hamilton, and others. In refutation of these statements he mentioned many curious and amusing instances of extraordinary superstitions concerning medicine and surgery from which mankind had freed itself. As a speaker he was not eloquent, and it is admitted that there was even a lack of breadth and dignity in his presentation of a subject; yet the Lancet commends the addresses he made at the meetings of the Medical Council as showing his familiarity with the details and the clearness of his memory on all subjects, and as presenting practical and statesmanlike views which were generally sustained by the after history of the affairs to which they pertained. Besides the Dictionary of Medicine, Dr. Quain, with a number of eminent colaborers, prepared an Elements of Anatomy, which has passed through many editions, and has a high rank in the literature of the profession.

Dr. Quain received an honorary degree of M. D. from the Royal University of Ireland in 1887, and was made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in the same year; was made a Doctor of Laws of the University of Edinburgh in 1889; in the same year was appointed Physician Extraordinary to her Majesty the Queen; was made a Doctor of Medicine of the University of Dublin in 1890; was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1871; was a fellow and late president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society; a fellow of the Royal Botanical Society; a member and late president of the Pathological Society of London, to the Transactions of which he made several valuable contributions; was a member and late president of the Harveian Society of London; and a member of the senate of the University of London. On New Year's day, 1891, he was made a baronet of the United Kingdom.

His medical practice was largely in the higher circles of London society, and he enjoyed the personal friendship of many of the leading men of his time, among whom Carlyle, John Delane, proprietor of the Times, Landseer, and Robert Lowe are named.

Sir Richard Quain had been ill for more than a year previous to his death, and for the last six months confined to his bed. His last appearance in public was at the reading of his paper on the Cause of the First Sound of the Heart, before the Royal Society, in June, 1897, when the president made a special reference to the courage he displayed. The paper had been written in bed, and he had left his bed to present and defend it.

"His life," says Nature, "had been one of ceaseless activity, good health, and overflowing spirits; and when overtaken by disease he appeared not to regard or understand rest, physician though he was." The Lancet says: "To few men in our profession has the gift of every characteristic that calls forth the affectionate esteem of their brethren been so liberally vouchsafed as to Sir Richard Quain. His genial presence and his brilliant power of saying epigrammatic things, and saying them with the true humorous instinct of his race, made him ever popular; while his wide sympathies and unvarying kindness gave him in the eyes of those who had the privilege of personal relations with him something more true and permanent than social popularity, the affection of his younger brethren in the profession of medicine."