Lives of the fellows

William Babington

b.21 May 1756 d.29 April 1833
MD Aberdeen(1795) LRCP(1796) FRCP(1827) Hon MD Dublin(c.1831) FRS

William Babington, M.D.—This estimable man and excellent physician was born 21st May, 1756, in the county of Antrim, and received his preliminary education in Ireland. He was apprenticed to a practitioner in Londonderry, but completed his professional education at Guy’s hospital. Through the influence of kind friends he received, in 1777, an appointment from government as an assistant-surgeon at Haslar hospital ; and being, in the course of his duty, ordered thence to attend the prisoners of war at Winchester, among whom a malignant jail fever had broken out, he became himself the subject of it, and narrowly escaped with his life. From Haslar he was, after four years’ service, recalled to London to undertake the office of apothecary to Guy’s hospital, to which he was appointed in the year 1781. He then commenced lecturing on chemistry at the hospital school ; and, having obtained the countenance and friendship of Dr. Saunders, was induced, on his recommendation, to take a degree in medicine, and qualify himself as a physician. He was created doctor of medicine by the university of Aberdeen, 13th March, 1795; in the course of the same year was elected physician to Guy’s hospital ; and on the 25th June, 1796, was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians. Dr. Babington’s progress as a physician was rapid, and in the course of a few years he was in the possession of a large and lucrative city business. In 1811 his private engagements had become so numerous that he was compelled to resign his office at the hospital, and for many subsequent years was the acknowledged head of his profession in the city. History does not supply us with a physician more loved or more respected than was Dr. Babington. Dr. Gooch, writing in Dr. Babington’s lifetime (and many still alive re-echo the sentiment), describes him as "a man who, to the cultivation of modem sciences, adds the simplicity of ancient manners ; whose eminent reputation and rare benevolence of heart have long shed a graceful lustre over a profession which looks up to him with a mingled feeling of respect, confidence, and regard." Dr. Babington was admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians, speciali gratiâ, 26th July, 1827; and about the year 1831 was presented with the honorary degree of M.D. by the university of Dublin, which, as an Irishman, and yet wholly unconnected with that seat of learning, he justly valued as the highest compliment which could be paid him by his countrymen. Dr. Babington’s last professional effort was in the service of our College. In common with most physicians, he had been much harassed by the epidemic of influenza which began in London, in March, 1833, and was prevented by the demands made upon him by others, from giving to his own case the repose and care which it required. Though labouring under cough attended with great debility, he yet continued to visit his patients on Wednesday, the 24th April, till seven o’clock in the afternoon. He was then much oppressed and extremely weak, but a committee for preparing the new Pharmacopœia having been appointed to sit at his house that evening, he insisted on joining it, and up to eleven o’clock that night was occupied at what proved the last of his professional labours. He then went to bed exhausted, became delirious, and was next morning in a hopeless state; the chest affection rapidly assuming the character of peripneumonia notha; and the lungs becoming oppressed with mucus, which he was unable to expectorate, he died (at his residence in Devonshire-street, Portland-place) on the 29th April, 1833, in the seventy-seventh year of his age. (1) His death elicited an universal feeling of regret from all ranks of the profession: and the medical press, without an exception, did itself honour by the eulogies that were penned to his worth. "The character of Dr. Babington," writes one of them, (2) "was probably as nearly without fault as is consistent with human nature. Benevolence was most strikingly depicted on his countenance, and it was also the leading feature of his mind. We allude not to mere sentiment or feeling, but to an active principle of philanthropy, which led him to do all the good he could to others;—thus we know that some of the last visits he ever paid, and at a time when he was himself suffering severely from the epidemic (influenza), were to persons whose circumstances prevented him from accepting any remuneration. No man in our profession was more extensively known, no man was more universally respected, none will be more sincerely regretted." Dr. Babington’s remains were interred in the family vault, at St. Mary-the-Virgin, Aldermanbury, and a handsome monument by Behnes, with a full-length figure of the doctor in the academic gown of his degree, was erected by public subscription in St. Paul’s cathedral. The inscription, from the pen of Dr. J. A. Paris, is as follows:—

William Babington, M.D., F.R.S.,
Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians,
Born May 21st, 1756. Died April 29th, 1833.
Eminently distinguished for science,
Beloved for the simplicity of his manners
and the benevolence of his heart,
Respected for his inflexible integrity
and his pure and unaffected piety,
In all relations of his professional life
he was sagacious, candid, diligent, and humane.
Firm in purpose, gentle in execution,
justly confident in his own judgment,
yet generously open to the opinion of others;
liberal and indulgent to his brethren,
but ever mindful of his duty to the public.
To record their admiration of so rare a union
of intellectual excellence and moral worth,
and to extend to future generations the salutary influence which his living
example can no longer diffuse,
this monument has been erected
by the public subscription
of his contemporaries, A.D. 1837.

Dr. Babington was a fellow of the Royal Society, and was one of the founders of the Geological and of the Hunterian Societies. He was one of the best mineralogists of his time, and was one of the referees appointed by government to put a price upon the Greville collection of minerals bought by the nation, and now in the British Museum. Dr. Babington’s bust is in the library of the College of Physicians. It was presented to the College 25th March, 1839, through their chairman, Dr. Paris, by the committee for raising the monument to the memory of Dr. Babington in St. Paul’s. His portrait, by Medley, was engraved by N. Branwhite.

Dr. Babington was the author of—
A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures read at Guy’s Hospital on Chemistry. 8vo. Lond. 1789.
A Systematic Arrangement of Minerals. 4to. Lond. 1795.
A New System of Mineralogy, in the form of a Catalogue, &c. 4to. Lond. 1799.

William Munk

[(1) "Ecce autem ejusdem ævi, scientiâ insigni, mirâque morum suavitate, anno vix præterito, ex oculis aufert nostris incassum lugentibus et
'duræ rapit inclementia mortis'
provectâ jam ætate Gulielmum Babington, virum sane cui fortius acumen, ingenium mitius acriusque judicium dedit natura quàm cuivis sæpe contigit.
"Mihique indulge te, precor, O Socii qui non mihi copiosam verborum supellectilem compararim nec pari consequar gressu—
‘manet' enim ‘altâ' mente repôstum
Judicium Paridis’
illud, qui jam sub ipsum amici interitum tam veris variisque coloribus, ingenium, virtutes, comitatem, sagacis hujus dilectique senis tam disertè dilucideque depinxit, ut nemo rectius aut fidelius magisve luculentè rem totam exprimat. Certè dulci quâdam abundavit et nativâ suavitate amici nostri ingenium solari que inopes, ægrisque auxilium ac levamen præbere inter delicias habuit vitæ— nec benignitate tantum affectibusque cordis mitioribus vigere videbatur, quicquid enim ingenii acumen investigare, quicquid usus et exercitatio conservare potuit, id omne in communem efferre fructum gaudebat. Sagacitasque admirabilis, quo pluribus stipata virtutibus, eo sit amabilior, et sive hominis fidem spectetis singularem, sive apud suos morum comitatem, sive denique apud omnes probitatem, neque in ullo unquam gratior enituit neque pulchrior."— Oratio Harveiana habita sext. Kalend. Juli An. MDCCCXXXIV, ab Edvardo Tho. Monro, M.D., pp. 15, 16.
(2) Medical Gazette, May, 1833]

(Volume II, page 451)

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