Lives of the fellows

Frederick Parkes Weber

b.8 May 1863 d.2 June 1962
BA Cantab(1886) MB BCh Cantab(1889) MA Cantab(1890) MD Cantab(1892) MRCP(1890) FSA(1891) FRCP(1898)

Frederick Parkes Weber, elder son of Sir Hermann Weber, M.D. (Bonn), F.R.C.P., and Matilda, daughter of J. F. Gruning, was born in London. When Sir Hermann Weber, whose ancestors were merchants in Westphalia, came to London he took the L.R.C.P, as a student of Guy’s Hospital, became physician to the German Hospital, Dalston, and to consumption hospitals at Ventnor and North London, and had a large and distinguished practice. His patients included five Prime Ministers—Derby, Russell, Salisbury, Rosebery and Campbell-Bannerman. He was an Alpine climber and a numismatist, and died in 1918 in his ninety-fifth year. In his interests, activities and longevity Parkes Weber closely resembled his father, and collaborated with him in a book on the spas and mineral waters of Europe (1896). Sir Hermann was a close friend of E. A. Parkes, physician to University College Hospital and later professor of hygiene at the Army Medical School, and named his son after him.

Parkes Weber’s youthful years were spent in London, first in Finsbury Square and afterwards in Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. From 1874 to 1877 he was educated at Temple Grove School, East Sheen, and from 1877 to 1881 at Charterhouse, and he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1882. He completed his medical education at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. After being house surgeon to Sir William Savory, the opponent of Lister’s antiseptic theory, house physician to Sir Dyce Duckworth at his hospital, and house physician at the Brompton Hospital, and doing post-graduate work in Vienna and Paris, Parkes Weber was appointed physician to the German Hospital in 1894. In May 1943, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday and fiftieth anniversary as physician to the German Hospital, his friends and colleagues presented him with a collection in seven volumes of his reprints from various journals and a bibliography of his books and writings, which then numbered nearly 1000: a unique Festschrift.

He inherited his father’s special interest in pulmonary diseases, and from 1899 to 1911 was physician to the Mount Vernon Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. In 1921 he was first Mitchell lecturer to the College. The lecture was published under the title of The Relations of tuberculosis to general bodily conditions and to other diseases. In 1930 he was awarded the Moxon gold medal of the College for distinguished observation and research in clinical medicine. He well merited this distinction, for, in addition to his many papers on clinical subjects, his name is associated eponymously with the following three diseases: Rendu-Osler-Weber disease (familial telangiectasis); Weber’s disease (localised epidermolysis bullosa); and Sturge-Weber-Kalischer disease or Weber-Dimitri disease (angioma of brain revealed by radiography). His name for the eponymous Osler-Vaquez disease —namely, splenomegalic polycythaemia—has been adopted in this country.

Parkes Weber’s profound knowledge and phenomenal memory of rare and obscure diseases gave him an international reputation. He was the last court of appeal on unusual cases, and, it was said, collected them as he did coins and medals. Although he incorporated notes on many rare diseases into two small books, to universal regret he never wrote a great work on the subject though urged to do so. But in his many papers the material for such a volume exists and awaits a future compiler. It would be a most valuable work, a classic of medical literature.

All Parkes Weber published was ably written and supported by accurate observation and references. For instance, his essay on endocrine tumours has nine-and-a-half pages of references to thirty pages of text. He read and spoke German, French and Italian.

Primarily a general physician, Parkes Weber was also a pathologist. He became a member of the Pathological Society of London in 1894, the year after its foundation, and was a frequent contributor to its Transactions and Journal. His first published pathological paper appeared in 1890, and he contributed writings on the subject up to 1961, an astonishing and unique record. His pathological work is very comprehensive, including researches into blood diseases, tumours, chemical pathology, vascular diseases and cardiac diseases, and the morbid anatomy and histology of the liver and spleen, bones and other diseased organs and tissues of the body; on each and all of these he made new and important observations of permanent value.

His main work in pathology was done between the years 1890 and 1909, and, as in other subjects, he always gave his collaborators full credit. After 1909 medicine and dermatology chiefly engaged his attention, although his bibliography records an important number of pathological papers up to 1951, and his long series of ‘Miscellaneous notes’, which reached to no. 13 in 1961, contain several pathological annotations. So extensive was the field in pathology that Parkes Weber covered that it is only possible to give this general account.

Endowed with a scholarly mind, he had many and varied interests. Two books that he brought out were entitled Some thoughts of a doctor (1935) and More thoughts of a doctor (1938-47), and not .the least attractive parts of them were the chapters in which he put aside the clinician and wrote on diverse matters that interested him. Another book entitled Aspects of death and correlated aspects of life in art, epigram and poetry (1910), which reached its fourth edition in 1922, was dedicated ‘Guilelmo Osier, medico peritissimo .. .’; in it he contested the view that death was a painful process. He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a member of the Cambridge Antiquaries Society, and read papers of interest to both these illustrious bodies.

A born collector, as a boy Parkes Weber collected postage-stamps, butterflies and moths, mineralogical specimens and fossils. In 1880 he began to collect coins, medals and antiquities. In all his collections he was helped by his father, who in 1885 began to collect coins for himself. He introduced Parkes Weber to the British Museum authorities, and took him on travels to museums and collections on the Continent. Sir Hermann gradually limited his collection to ancient Greek coins. On his death his complete collection was sold, but an illustrated catalogue was prepared entitled ‘The Weber Collection'.

Both father and son were numismatic authorities, and the Royal Numismatic Society elected the latter to its honorary fellowship. In 1906 Parkes Weber disposed of his collection. Some medals of medical interest, together with a complete set of ‘touch pieces’ were given to Dr H. R. Storer to be included with the recipient’s collection of medical medals in the Boston Medical Library (U.S.A.). Weber presented to the British Museum a series of 5,000 specimens; a series was selected from the remaining portion by Sir Charles Oman for the Bodleian Library at Oxford (they are now in the Ashmolean Museum); other specimens were given to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and to the Guildhall Library, London. The small residue was sold for the benefit of the German Hospital.

Weber gave his remarkable collection of manuscript notes, reprints and case reports to the Wellcome Historical Medical Library in 1958. In 1959 he gave £3,000 to the Royal College of Physicians to form a trust for promoting advance in dermatology (see p. 475). In this he again followed his father’s example, for in 1895 Dr Hermann Weber had presented a similar sum to the College to found the ‘Weber-Parkes Prize’, to be awarded triennially for the best work done in tuberculosis.

Parkes Weber for many years was a sedulous attendant at meetings of the pathological, dermatological and clinical sections of the Royal Society of Medicine, to the honorary fellowship of which he was elected in 1958. His figure was tall, spare and dignified. In latter years he was white-haired and white-moustached. A speaker on many diseases and many subjects, he overflowed with erudition, sometimes so copiously that he perplexed his hearers with the profundity of his knowledge. His utterance was almost pedantically careful, and he was a coiner of words and apt to employ unusual medical terminology. He had a gentle, courteous manner—old-fashioned it appeared to this abrupt, hurried age—and was always ready to enlighten, guide and help others. He lived through two World Wars, and regretted bitterly the aggressive and hostile attitude of Germany towards Great Britain.

In his declining years blindness and other infirmities assailed him, but his superb mental faculties and his curiosity and zest in life never failed. He continued to be a frequent correspondent to medical journals and contributed original articles to them long after he became a nonagenarian. In 1921 he had married Dr Hedwig Unger-Laissle. A devoted wife, she read to him, saw his books through the press, and wrote articles and letters at his dictation. Parkes Weber enjoyed life and enriched knowledge. He died peacefully in his hundredth year.

Richard R Trail

[Arch. Derm., 1963, 87, 649-51 (p); Brit.J.Derm., 1962, 74, 467-70(p);, 1953, 1, 1044 (p); 1962, 1, 1630-31 ip); Cerebr. Palsy Bull., 1961, 3, 21-3 (p); J. Amer. med. Ass., 1963, 183, 45-9, bibl.; J.Path.Bact., 1963, 85, 539-46 (p), bibl.; Lancet, 1962, 1, 1308-20 (p); 2, 463; Times, 4 June 1962.]

(Volume V, page 436)

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