Lives of the fellows

Charles James Blasius Williams

b.3 February 1805 d.24 March 1889
MD Edin(1824) FRCP(1840) FRS

Charles Williams was born at Hungerford, the eighth child of Rev. David Williams, the incumbent of Heytesbury, Wiltshire, by his wife, the daughter of a surgeon at Chepstow also named Williams. After a sound classical education from his father, he went to Edinburgh University, where he graduated as M.D. in 1824. He then studied for a time in London and in Paris, where he attached himself to Laennec’s clinic at La Charite. On returning to London he was befriended by (Sir) James Clark, who was for many years Queen Victoria’s most trusted physician. He also became acquainted with Michael Faraday and, in addition to writing a treatise on the new science of auscultation, worked for a time on the phenomenon of "low" combustion and later on the physical explanation of the heart sounds. In 1830, he began practice in Half Moon Street; and, at the age of thirty-four, he was appointed professor of medicine at University College and physician to University College Hospital —filling the vacancy caused by the dismissal of the brilliant but erratic Elliotson, whose championship of mesmerism had brought him into conflict with the authorities.

Williams himself was not averse to combat and fought hard against what he considered the too exclusive atmosphere of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal Society, although he was himself a Fellow of both bodies, and a Censor of the former, to which he delivered the Goulstonian Lectures in 1841 and the Lumleian Lectures in 1862. But this quality, although it may have interfered with his attainment of the highest honours, did not affect his large practice, and he became president of the Harveian, the Westminster Medical, the New Sydenham, and the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Societies, and of the Pathological Society of London. He was Physician-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria. Williams was one of the principal founders of the Brompton Hospital. He contributed in 1833 to the Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine and in 1840 to Tweedie’s Library of Medicine, and in 1843 published his own Principles of Medicine, which remained a standard textbook for many years. He numbered amongst his pupils at University College such men of future distinction as Sieveking, Garrod and Graily Hewitt. Williams was in his early seventies when he retired and, for the rest of his life, he lived peacefully at Cannes, devoting himself to a study of sun-spots and a criticism of the revised version of the New Testament. He married in 1830 Harriet, daughter of James Jenkins of Chepstow, and was the father of C. T. Williams, F.R.C.P. He died at Cannes, five years after writing his autobiography, entitled Memoirs of Life and Work.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1889; B.M.J., 1889; D.N.B., lxi, 383]

(Volume IV, page 25)

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