Lives of the fellows

Henry (Sir) Holland

b.27 October 1788 d.27 October 1873
BART MD Edin(1811) LRCP(1816) FRCP(1828)

Sir Henry Holland, Bart., M.D., was born 27th October, 1788, at Knutsford, in Cheshire, and was the son of Mr. Peter Holland, a much respected medical practitioner in that town. In his eleventh year he was placed as a pupil with the Rev. William Turner of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and after residing with him for four years, went for one year to the school of Dr. Estlin, near Bristol. At sixteen he became an articled clerk to a great mercantile house in Liverpool, with the privilege, reserved to him, of passing two sessions at the college of Glasgow in furtherance of his general education. These two sessions (1804 and 5, and 1805 and 6) virtually decided the course of his future life. He returned to the office in Liverpool in the interval between them; but at the close of the second session at Glasgow he obtained a release from his articles. He then turned to the study of medicine, and in October, 1806, proceeded to Edinburgh, where he went through the ordinary course of medical studies; and where, with the intervention of two winters spent in London attending lectures and the two borough hospitals, he graduated doctor of medicine 12th September, 1811 (D.M.I. de Islandiæ Morbis).

His love of travel and of society—the society of persons of rank and station, and of all who had already succeeded in attaining to celebrity in any department of literature or science, or in any of the varied walks in life—his two most obvious characteristics, were early manifested. In 1810 he accompanied Sir George Mackenzie and Dr. Richard Bright to Iceland, where they spent four months; and the éclât of having made this journey, and some other circumstances, gained for him admission to much of the best society of the northern capital. Early in 1812 he quitted England for Portugal, Gibraltar, Sardinia, Sicily, the Ionian Isles, and Greece. The publication in 1814 of a narrative of the eastern portion of these travels, served to introduce him into good society in London, as had the publication of his contributions to Sir George Mackenzie’s Travels in Iceland done for him in Edinburgh in 1811.

In the summer of 1814, Dr. Holland accepted the appointment of domestic physician to Caroline princess of Wales; engaging to accompany her royal highness on her travels and remain with her during the first year of her intended residence on the continent. The duties of this very delicate position he performed with marked prudence, and he passed without discredit or impeachment of his tact through the examination to which he was subjected at the bar of the House of Lords, when he was called as a witness at the queen’s trial.

Sir Henry Holland was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 8th April,1816, and then entered on his professional life in London. His early success in business, which was great, was materially aided by visits for four successive years, at the close of the London season, to Spa, then in much repute and largely visited. His progress was uninterrupted; it was too well and too early assured to need the aid of any hospital appointment, which though once contemplated was never possessed, nor indeed sought for by him.

At an early period of his career he resolved to limit his professional exertions to the procuring an income of five thousand a year, and from this determination he never swerved. Sir Henry Holland was admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1828: he delivered the Gulstonian lectures in 1830, was Censor in 1832, 1836, and 1842, and Consiliarius in 1836,1839, 1844, 1845, 1846, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1869. On the 16th April, 1835, he was gazetted physician extraordinary to the king (William IV). But it was not until the next reign that his medical relations with the court were other than nominal. On the accession of the queen to the throne in 1837 he was appointed one of her majesty’s physicians extraordinary, and on the queen’s marriage he was honoured with the like appointment on the establishment of the prince Consort. At the close of 1852 he was gazetted physician in ordinary to the queen; and in April, 1853, was created a baronet; an honour which had been offered to him by lord Melbourne in 1841, but had then, from prudential motives, been declined. At the Oxford commemoration of 1856 he received the honorary degree of doctor of civil law.

Sir Henry Holland’s love and capability of travel continued to the last. During the whole of his lengthened professional career in London, extending to over half a century, there were but two years, and these were devoted to Scotch and Irish excursions, in which he had not passed two autumnal months in journey or voyage abroad, accomplishing greater distances as nearer objects became exhausted, and finding compensation for growing age in the increased facilities of travel. In the series of these annual journeys, he visited (and most of them repeatedly) every capital in Europe. He made eight voyages to the United States and Canada, travelling over more than 26,000 miles of the American continent; one voyage to Jamaica and the other West India islands; made four voyages to the East ; three tours in Russia ; two in Iceland; several in Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal, and Italy ; voyages to the Canary islands, Madeira, Dalmatia, &c.; and, to use his own words, "other excursions which it would be tedious to enumerate."

Sir Henry Holland had through life enjoyed an unwonted share of health, and he continued hale and vigorous to the last. But his lengthened travels were carried to an excess. "The length and rapidity of his journeys," writes Dr. Williams,(1) "which were his boast, became his snare, and advanced as his age was, we can hardly doubt that it might have been further prolonged had not his enthusiasm carried him within the last two months of his life, first to the north of Russia, and then to the south of Italy." Towards the completion of this tour which he had been making with his son, the Rev. F. J. Holland, he attended the trial of marshal Bazaine, at Versailles, and dined that same day (Friday, 24th October, 1873), at the British embassy, in Paris, where he was especially remarked as "cheerful and happy, and full of conversation." He returned to London the following day (Saturday), and died at his house in Brook-street, on Monday, October 27, 1873, on his eighty-sixth birthday.

Sir Henry Holland "was a remarkable instance of a man rising to eminence in his profession, whilst entirely cut off from all professional interests. Yet no name was better known in polite society during the last fifty years, and few failed to recognise the slight figure, bowed of late by age, and the intellectual face, with its piercing eyes. Sir Henry was essentially homme de société, and having early in life gained his footing as a practitioner among the upper ten thousand, it was his pleasure— perhaps his foible—to be on intimate, or apparently intimate terms with every one of note. Whether in actual medical attendance or not upon any sick celebrity, Sir Henry’s carriage was to be seen waiting at the door, and he always had the latest bulletin of the invalid’s health. Admitted as a medical friend where others were denied, he enjoyed great opportunities of thoroughly knowing all those with whom he was intimate, and his remarks on deceased celebrities in his ‘Recollections of Past Life,’ have thrown light upon the characters of many of the brilliant circle of wits and littérateurs with whom he was brought in contact."(2)

Sir Henry Holland was an able and frequent contributor to the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews. In his profession he will be remembered by his Medical Notes and Reflections. 8vo. Lond. 1839; a work pregnant with information and with thought. It comprises a number of detached essays on various subjects relating to the philosophy and to the practice of medicine, and affords proof of its author’s acuteness. A few of the chapters having closer relation to mental philosophy than to medicine, were detached from the last edition of the "Medical Notes," and with some other essays on kindred subjects, were published in 1852, in one volume, entitled "Chapters on Mental Physiology." He also published in one volume, a selection from his "Essays on Scientific and other Subjects contributed to the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews."

Of this celebrated man, it has been truly remarked that "as a physician his practice, distinguished as it was, was more aristocratic than extensive ; that his path in literature lay more in dilettanti criticism than in solid authorship; and that his contributions to medical and other sciences were more in speculative and suggestive essays than in careful observation or profound re-search."(3) Sir Henry Holland’s last contribution to our literature, his Recollections of Past Life 8vo. Lond. 1872, is one of the most amusing of books. It gives a pleasing sketch of his numerous travels, and many most interesting notices of the distinguished persons he had met. As an autobiography it is unique. It has an individuality peculiarly its own; it vividly portrays the character of its author, and we do not exceed the bounds of truth when we say, that no one but Sir Henry Holland could have written such a book.

He left behind him a volume of manuscript papers, the thoughts and speculations of former years, reduced into more definite form as regards the subjects, and studiously rendered as concise as possible, which have been edited by his son, the Rev. Francis J. Holland, under the title, Fragmentary Papers on Science and other Subjects. 8vo. Lond. 1875. To these are added three reviews contributed by Sir Henry to the Edinburgh Review in 1864, 1871 and 1873.

Sir Henry Holland was twice married; first to Margaret Emma, daughter of James Caldwell, esq., by whom he had two sons and one daughter; secondly, to Saba, daughter of the Rev. Sydney Smith, canon of St. Paul’s, by whom he had two daughters.

William Munk

[(1) Proceedings of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London. Vol. vii, p. 245.
(2) Lancet, November 1, 1873, p. 650.
(3) Dr. C. J. B. Williams, ut supra, vol. vii, p. 244.]

(Volume III, page 144)

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