Lives of the fellows

Frederick William Price

b.13 March 1873 d.19 March 1957
MB CM Edin(1898) MD Edin(1908) Hon MD Belf(1947) MRCP(1903) FRSE(1915) FRCP(1936)

Frederick William Price was born the son of William Price, master tailor, of Weston Rhyn, Shropshire, and Catherine (Tunnah) Price. He was educated at Ruabon Grammar School and afterwards at Edinburgh University, where he qualified with honours. After holding the post of resident physician at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary he came to London as assistant resident officer at the Brompton Hospital.

He held many appointments in and around London—pathologist and registrar to the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, physician and pathologist to the Mount Vernon Hospital for Consumption, medical registrar to the Westminster Hospital, and physician to out-patients at the Hampstead General and North-West London Hospital.

He established himself as a sound physician and was always interested in cardiology—an interest that was stimulated by his association with Sir James Mackenzie and Professor A. R. Cushny. About this time he carried out some investigations on the action of digitalis on the blood pressure and of aconite on the pulse rate, but later he found his time fully occupied with his books and his hospital and private practice.

In January 1914 the National Heart Hospital moved to its new buildings in Westmoreland Street, and later that year Frederick Price and Strickland Goodall were both appointed physicians on the staff. These two were among the first physicians who confined their work to patients with heart disease. They were popular consultants and good teachers, and in both these directions greatly improved the position of the Hospital, but they were not happy as colleagues.

In 1918 Price published his first book, Diseases of the heart. Soon after this he must have been working on A Textbook of the practice of medicine. Till then most textbooks had been written by one man, but in the preface to the first edition, published in 1922, Price wrote that the ever-widening field of medicine was beyond the scope of any one authority, and the different branches of medicine should be dealt with by authors who had made a special study of them. He showed great skill in his choice of the contributors, and it is said that when one of them sent in a section that he did not like he paid him handsomely for his work, but said that he did not wish to use it. The success of its eight editions gave him great pleasure.

Price seemed to enjoy his hospital work and teaching, and must have been proud of his large consulting practice in cardiology. He lived alone and was never a good mixer. He did not make many friends. His health was not always good, or at least he thought this was so, and felt he had to have very simple meals.

Tom Cotton wrote:‘When,in 1937, the time came for him to retire from his work at the National Heart Hospital he drifted away from his colleagues. One night during the blitz his home in Harley Street was seriously damaged and he was found walking in the street in his dressing gown, hugging his first love—the manuscript of a new edition of his famous textbook. He seemed lost and found it difficult to adapt himself to new surroundings.

‘He combined a deeply religious nonconformist outlook with a well-defined astuteness. Shyness was largely responsible for some of his mannerisms and some of his bodily complaints. He did not seem to have many outside interests and would be content in the evenings to walk to his club and read the Irish Times. His complaint was always the heavy duties imposed on him as editor of his opus magnum, and perhaps there was an element of escapism in this concentration throughout the years.’

In 1943 his colleagues were surprised to hear that he had married Hilda Gertrude, the daughter of George Samuel Brown, of Bath. His wife was a lady of unusual charm and must have relieved his loneliness and brought him a happiness in personal relations that had been uncommon in his life before. But it was too late for her to make much change in his habits.

He continued with his private practice till 1948 and personally supervised the production of the eighth edition of his Textbook in 1950. When it appeared, he and the other contributors he had chosen were entertained to dinner at the Athenaeum by the publishers, the Oxford University Press. He felt a proud man on this occasion, but sad at giving up his last work. He lived for another seven years till March 19th, 1957, but was a semi-invalid for much of the time.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1957, 1, 765 (p); Lancet, 1957, 1, 694 (p); Times, 20 Mar. 1957.]

(Volume V, page 337)

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