Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/May 1876/Sketch of Dr. Austin Flint Jr.

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AUSTIN FLINT Jr.


SKETCH OF DR. AUSTIN FLINT, Jr.

THIS gentleman has won his scientific eminence in the field of physiology. Though but forty years of age, he has attained the highest rank in his chosen department as an experimental inquirer, teacher, and author—having published the most elaborate treatise upon the subject of physiology in the English language.

The name of Flint is now famous in the medical world through the celebrity of both father and son; but there is probably a factor of inherited genius in this line which goes to their making up, for they have come from a long race of doctors. This is the genetic line of the generations of medical Flints, so far as Americans will be interested to know it. They are descended from Thomas Flint, who came from Matlock, Derbyshire, England, in 1638, and settled in Concord, Massachusetts. Edward Flint, physician of Shrewsbury, Mass., was father of the great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch. The great-grandfather, Austin Flint, after whom the contemporary Flints are named, was a physician who died at Leicester, Massachusetts, in 1850, over ninety years of age. He served as a private soldier and afterward as a surgeon in the Revolutionary War. The grandfather of Austin, Jr., was Joseph Henshaw Flint, a distinguished surgeon of Northampton, Massachusetts, and afterward of Springfield, in the same State. His father is Austin Flint, now an eminent physician in New York City. He was born at Petersham, Massachusetts, in 1812, and graduated M. D. at Harvard, in 1833. He is a voluminous author and a distinguished practitioner.

Austin Flint, Jr., was born at Northampton, Massachusetts, March 28, 1836, and his parents removed to Buffalo, New York, in the same year. He was educated at private schools in that city, and, when fifteen, he spent a year in the Academy of Leicester, Massachusetts. He prepared for college at Buffalo, and entered Harvard University as Freshman in 1852. He left the university in 1853, and spent a year in the study of civil-engineering. He began the study of medicine in the spring of 1854 at Buffalo, and attended two courses of lectures at the medical department of the University of Louisville (1854-'55 and 1855-'56). His taste for physiology was early developed, and he made some experiments on living animals for Prof. Yandell, of the Louisville school, while he was a student there. His final course of lectures was taken at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, in 1856-'57, and at the close of the course he graduated. His inaugural thesis on the "Phenomena of the Capillary Circulation" was honored with the recommendation to be published, and appeared in the American Journal of Medical Sciences in July, 1857. It was based upon numerous original experiments. He was editor for three years (1857-'60) of the Buffalo Medical Journal, which was founded by his father in 1846, and ultimately transferred to New York and merged in the American Medical Monthly.

In 1858 Dr. Flint was appointed one of the attending surgeons of the Buffalo City Hospital. The same year he became Professor of Physiology in the Medical School of Buffalo. In 1859 he removed with his father, and was appointed Professor of Physiology in the New York Medical College, delivering a course of lectures in 1859-'60. In 1860 he received the appointment of Professor of Physiology in the New Orleans School of Medicine, delivered a course of instructions in 1860-'61, and resigned the position at the breaking out of the war. While in New Orleans he experimented on alligators, and developed some important points with reference to the influence of the pneumogastric nerves upon the heart. He also made some experiments there upon the recurrent sensibility of the anterior roots of the spinal nerves. He was the first physiologist in this country to operate upon the spinal cord and the spinal nerves in living animals.

In the spring of 1861 Dr. Flint went to Europe, and studied several months with Charles Robin and Claude Bernard, with the former of whom he had close friendly and scientific relations, and maintained a frequent correspondence. Prof. Robin presented his memoir, "Sur une nouvelle fonction au foie" ("On a New Function of the Liver"), to the French Academy of Sciences for the Month yon prize without the knowledge of the author. In 1863 Dr. Flint made some important experiments upon the blood, employing a new mode of analysis for its nitrogenized constituents. He was one of the founders of the Bellevue Hospital Medical College, in 1861, and has been from the first, as he still is, Professor of Physiology and Secretary and Treasurer of the Faculty. He was also for eight years Professor and Lecturer on Physiology in the Long Island College Hospital of Brooklyn.

In 1862 Dr. Flint made some remarkable observations on the excretory function of the liver, published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, in October, 1863; translated into French, and presented by Robin to the French Academy of Sciences for the "Concours Monthyon" and which received honorable mention and a recompense to the author of 1,500 francs in 1869. The important discovery put forth in this memoir was the production of cholesterine in the physiological wear of the brain and nervous tissue, the elimination of cholesterine by the liver, and its discharge in the form of stercorine in the faces. It was established that the new substance (stercorine) results from the transformation of cholesterine in the faces. The diseased condition caused by the retention of cholesterine in the blood (cholesteræmia) is now recognized as a very important pathological fact. Dr. Flint's laborious researches and interesting conclusions upon this subject have been lately confirmed in Germany by experiments in which cholesteræmia has been produced in animals by injection of cholesterine into the blood.

In 1867, at the request of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of New York City, Dr. Flint reorganized the dietary system for the institutions under their charge, including Bellevue Hospital, Charity Hospital, Poorhouse, Workhouse, Penitentiary, etc., etc., making diet-tables for more than 10,000 persons. In 1871 he made observations upon Weston, the pedestrian, analyzing his food and secretions for fifteen days before, during, and after one of his great walking-exploits. These inquiries help to decide some important physiological questions.

In 1869 Dr. Flint published an elaborate review of the history of the discovery of the motor and sensory properties of the roots of the spinal nerves, in which the discovery was ascribed to Magendie instead of to Sir Charles Bell, who has generally been regarded as its author. This review, originally published in the Journal of Psychological Medicine, New York, in 1868, was translated into French, and published in Robin's Journal de l'anatomie. It produced such an impression that it was soon followed by the publication, in the English Journal of Anatomy, of the original paper of Charles Bell, "Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain," which was privately printed (not published) in 1811. The original manuscript was furnished to the Journal of Anatomy by the widow of Sir Charles Bell. It was upon this paper that the claims of Charles Bell to the discovery were based; and, before its publication in the Journal of Anatomy, it had been entirely inaccessible.

Claude Bernard has been the eminent advocate of the theory that the liver is a sugar-producing organ; but observations upon this subject were discordant, and eminent physiologists contested Bernard's position. In 1869 Dr. Flint published, in the New York Medical Journal, a series of experiments upon the "glycogenic function of the liver," in which he endeavored to harmonize the various conflicting observations, and is considered by most physiologists to have settled the question.

In 1866 he announced the publication of the "Physiology of Man," a work in five volumes, of 500 pages each, and the last volume was issued in 1874. He printed a little work in 1870 on "Chemical Examinations of Urine in Disease," which went through several editions. He contributed the articles on gymnastics and pugilism to the "American Cyclopædia," was appointed Surgeon-General of the State of New York by Governor Tilden in 1874, and has recently published a voluminous "Text-book of Human Physiology." He has also written much for scientific periodicals and popular journals, and has been actively engaged in his duties as a physiological teacher.