Dr. William Stokes

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Stokes, William, M.D., an eminent physician, son of preceding, was born in Dublin in 1804. He was never at school or at college; and was educated chiefly by the Rev. John Walker. He took his diploma, along with Sir Dominic Corrigan, in Edinburgh, in 1825, and in 1828 married, and commenced his career in Dublin, where he attained to one of the largest practices ever enjoyed in Ireland, and for fifty years held a prominent position in the medical profession. He was the author of numerous medical treatises. The first, on The Application of the Stethoscope, which appeared in 1828, immediately attracted the attention of the faculty, and laid the foundation of his fame. He was appointed physician to the Meath Hospital, and there, in conjunction with his friend, Dr. Graves, initiated a general medical reform, and commenced the system of clinical lectures. In 1837 he published his masterly work on The Diagnosis and Treatment of Diseases of the Chest, which brought him many honours and honorary degrees at home and abroad. In 1839 Trinity College conferred on him the degree of M.D., and in the same year he was elected a Fellow of the King and Queen's College of Physicians in Ireland, of which on three separate occasions he was president.

His statue, by Foley, was placed in the hall of the institution in 1876. In 1845, on the death of his father, he was chosen Regius Professor of Physic to Dublin University. In 1849 he produced the most important of his medical works — The Diseases of the Heart and Aorta. As remarked by Dr. Haughton at the time of his death, "His medical treatises on the stethoscope, the chest, and the heart would be his monument for ever — a monument more lasting than brass. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that he could have been only a physician. Those who were honoured with his immediate friendship and intercourse knew that he was so keen an observer of nature that the verv qualities which made him a great clinical physical physician would, if directed into other channels, have made him not second to Darwin himself. His keen appreciation of nature and his love of its study, extending from the highest to the lowest animals, and at the same time the profound reverence and awe with which he regarded all the phenomena of nature, as coming from a high spiritual power, would have rendered Dr. Stokes, had he cultivated natural science, second to none that he was acquainted with, living or dead, amongst the students of nature."

In 1865 Oxford gave him its honorary D.C.L., and Cambridge its honorary LL.D. in 1874. Edinburgh also conferred upon him its honorary LL.D.. 18th May 1866, at the same time as the Rev. W. Reeves, and John Forster, the biographer. In 1875 the German Emperor presented him with the envied Prussian Order of Merit. Dr. Stokes was remarkably successful as a teacher. Much of his attention was devoted to Irish history and antiquities; he was an ardent disciple of George Petrie, whose Life he wrote; and he accompanied the Earl of Dunraven in several of his archaeological tours in Ireland. Dr. Stokes was a man of affectionate and sociable disposition, and to the last was surrounded by a large circle of devoted relatives and friends. His professional residence was in Merrion-square, Dublin; but he delighted in his country seat at Carrig Breac, on the side of Howth, in view of Dublin bay and the mountains. There he died, 7th January 1878, aged 76, and was buried on Howth, beside the ancient ruined chapel of St. Fintan. The following remarks form part of a brilliant personal sketch, by the Rev. J. P. Mahaffy, which appeared in Macmillan's Magazine for February 1878: "William Stokes.. was indeed the greatest physician in Ireland, whose books on the chest and heart have been, for a generation, standard books all over the world, but who was a far greater man than all these things signify, and whom strangers will never know and estimate at his true value... He represented, moreover, another combination, which now-a-days might be thought a contradiction, but which was the leading feature in the very remarkable society about him: I mean the society led by Graves, Todd, Ferguson, Petrie, Wilde, and Reeves. These men were thorough patriots, who spent all their leisure studying their country and promoting her interests, while at the same time they were the most loyal subjects, and had no sympathy, or rather had a profound contempt, for the noisy policy of exhibiting a love of Ireland by railing against England... Though Stokes was all his life a staunch Tory, even the men of '48 — Davis and Mangan, and their comrades — all knew him and loved him, and felt that they had, in some respects, his sincere sympathy. There were indeed few people who were not attracted by the largeness of his heart, and the quick response of his overflowing sympathy."

Sources

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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