Lives of the fellows

Walter Langdon (Sir) Langdon-Brown

b.13 August 1870 d.3 October 1946
BA Cantab MB BChir(1897) MA MD Hon DSc Oxon Hon LLD Dalhousie NUI FRCP(1908) Hon FRCPI

Walter Langdon Brown, who altered his surname to Langdon-Brown when he was knighted in 1935, was born at Bedford, the son of Rev. John Brown, D.D., pastor of Bunyan Meeting, Bedford, and biographer of Bunyan, and of his wife Ada Hayden Ford, niece of J. L. H. Langdon-Down, F.R.C.P. He attended Bedford School as a boy and, after a year at Owens College, Manchester, went up to St. John’s College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences. Having graduated with first-class honours in both parts of the tripos, he completed his studies at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and took the M.B, B.Chir, degrees in 1897. Then followed a long tenure of junior appointments at St. Bartholomew’s, interrupted by service in the Boer War as a physician in the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital, Pretoria, until the year 1913, when he was elected to the staff as assistant physician; he became full physician in 1924 and consulting physician in 1930. He was also assistant physician (1900-06) and physician (1906-22) to the Metropolitan Hospital, where he had acted as a resident, and in the 1914-1918 War served in the 1st General Hospital as a captain.

Langdon-Brown’s fame moved well in advance of his promotion on hospital staffs. In Physiological Principles in Treatment (1908), which ran through eight editions, he showed himself to be one of the first physicians in England to appreciate the bearing of modern physiology on clinical medicine. The Practitioner's Encyclopaedia of Medical Treatment, of which he was joint editor, appeared in 1915, and among his later works were The Sympathetic Nervous System in Disease (1920) and The Endocrines in General Medicine (1927). For some years he was the only English physician to accept and apply Freud’s teachings. His grasp of modern trends in medicine and of their historical "background" fitted him well for his final post of Regius professor of physic at Cambridge. He occupied this chair from 1932 until he reached the retiring age in 1935, also acting as physician to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and as the University’s representative on the General Medical Council. Cambridge remained his home till his death. In 1938, he published Thus We are Men, a discussion on human nature which revealed its author’s intellectual depth, his erudition, and his fluency of thought and expression. Langdon-Brown was no innovator or originator, but he was, supremely, an interpreter and commentator, one to hold the balance between competing branches of medicine. Hence, perhaps, his teaching, while invaluable to the advanced student, went beyond the understanding of the average. His speech, in its hesitancy, matched the immobility of his massive physique rather than the agility of his mind. Although his early struggles had made him sensitive to criticism, he was not himself critical of others.

At the Royal College of Physicians, of which he was Senior Censor, he delivered the Croonian Lectures in 1918 and the Harveian Oration in 1936. He gave the Linacre lecture at St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1941. He married, firstly, Eileen Presland, a ward sister at the Metropolitan Hospital, and secondly, Freda, daughter of Henry Bishop Hurry. There were no children of either marriage. He died at Cambridge. In his memory, his widow founded the Langdon-Brown Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1946; B.M.J., 1946, 1952; St. Bart.'s Hospital Journal, Nov. 1946, 1, 147; Al.Cantab., i, 410]

(Volume IV, page 491)

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