Lives of the fellows

Henry Herbert Southey

b.1783 d.13 June 1865
MD Edin(1806) LRCP(1812) FRCP(1823)

Henry Herbert Southey, M.D., was born in 1783, at Bristol. He was a younger son of Robert Southey, of that city, by his wife Margaret Hill, and was a brother of Robert Southey, the poet laureate. After some private instruction under Mr. George Burnett, an Unitarian minister at Great Yarmouth, and Mr. Maurice, of Normanstown, near Lowestoft, he began the study of medicine under Mr. Martineau, a distinguished surgeon at Norwich, and in the autumn of 1803 proceeded to Edinburgh. He had acquired an unusual facility in the use of Latin, which he wrote and spoke with elegance and ease. This was an accomplishment fully valued at Edinburgh at that time; it gave Southey a reputation, and caused his society to be sought by some of the best of his contemporaries. He was one, and it would seem the centre figure, of a group of men, all of whom became distinguished physicians, viz., Dr. Lockyer, of Plymouth, Dr. Fearon, of Sunderland, Sir William Knighton, and Dr. Gooch, with the last of whom Southey had become acquainted when they were boys together at Yarmouth. These five associated, worked, and talked Latin together, and laid the foundation of a friendship which was only terminated by death.

Dr. Southey survived the whole of them. He retained his fondness for Latin, and to the last seldom failed to carry in his pocket either Horace or Virgil, or the letters of the elder Pliny. He graduated doctor of medicine at Edinburgh 24th June, 1806 (D.M.I. de Ortu et Progressu Syphflidis), and spent the following winter in London in attendance on the hospitals. Soon after this he settled as a physician at Durham, where he met with immediate and marked success. But the sphere was too limited, and the largest emoluments that could be obtained there were too small to satisfy his aspirations; and on the recommendation of his friend Sir William Knighton he removed to London in 1812. He was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 22nd December, 1812, and on the 17th August, 1815, was elected physician to the Middlesex hospital, which office be retained until April, 1827.

In 1823 Dr. Southey, by the interest of his friend Sir William Knighton, was appointed physician in ordinary to George IV; in 1830 he was gazetted physician extraordinary to the queen (Adelaide); and in 1833 was appointed by lord Brougham, whose friendship he had secured at Edinburgh, one of the Lord Chancellor's physicians in lunacy. Dr. Southey succeeded, on Dr. Stanger’s death in 1834, to the Gresham professorship of physic, an office he continued to fill to the last. In September, 1836, he was nominated one of the metropolitan commissioners in lunacy, and in June, 1847, the university of Oxford conferred upon him the honorary degree of doctor of civil law.

Dr. Southey, who had been admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1823, was Censor in 1826, 1832, 1849, Harveian Orator in 1847, Consiliarius 1836, 1840, 1841, 1842, 1847, 1848, 1849, and was named an Elect 3rd March, 1848. He died 13th June, 1865, aged eighty-two, and was buried at Highgate cemetery.

"In his life and qualities," says Sir Thomas Watson,*(1)"Dr. Southey was not unworthy the name that his elder brother, the poet, has made famous. In his youth remarkably handsome, active, athletic, and fond of the sports of the field, he became a great favourite both as the companion and as the physician of many of the great aristocratic families in the north of England, and their favour and support followed him when he afterwards settled in practice in this town. It would be incorrect to speak of him as a great physician. I doubt whether he ever had that true love of his profession which is essential to the making of a great physician; but he possessed a large share of that useful faculty which we call, not very felicitously, common sense— for in truth it is not common at all—which in the business of life often stands a man in better stead than deep or abstract science; and he had thoroughly mastered and applied with safety and success those rules of practice which were current in his day, and which were then deemed the soundest and the best. Among his early friends was Henry (afterwards lord) Brougham, who when he held the great seal appointed Dr. Southey one of his referees in those cases of lunacy which fall within the care and jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery. From that time Dr. Southey’s practice lay chiefly, though not exclusively, among the insane; and here the natural good sense of which I have just spoken, his practical judgment, and his kindness of heart, gave him the power of conferring substantial benefits upon his afflicted clients, while he inspired corresponding confidence and comfort among their distressed relations and friends. Throughout his long life Dr. Southey was a general favourite; and one strong evidence of this appears in the fact that on three occasions at least valuable legacies were bequeathed to him by men who were bound to him by no ties of consanguinity, or, so far as I know, of professional obligation."

Dr. Southey was the author of Observations on Pulmonary Consumption 8vo. Lond. 1814, and he contributed to the Lives of British Physicians in Murray’s Family Library, an elegant memoir of his friend Dr. Gooch. He is known to have contributed also in early life to the Annual Review, and he probably did so to other journals, but of this nothing can be stated certainly.

William Muink

[(1) Address to the College of Physicians, 26th March, 1866.]

(Volume III, page 272)

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