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Dr. Charles Creighton (1847–1927)


Founder of modern British epidemiology, Charles Creighton, who was born on November 21, 1847, towered above his fellows yet partook of their foibles and frailties. After obtaining the M.D. at Aberdeen in 1878 and studying in Berlin and Vienna, he practised for a time in London, but his heart was never in his work. He practically lived in the British Museum, where he collected material for his “History of Epidemics in Britain”(1891–94), described by Garrison as a “classic of unimpeachable accuracy”. To the gigantic task of translating unaided Hirsch's “Handbuch der historisch-geographischen Pathologie” for the New Sydenham Society he devoted twelve hours a day for three years. He was the most learned British medical scholar of the nineteenth century, who stood for something fundamental in the intellectual world of his generation. He was handicapped, however, by a curious mental obliquity which forced him to believe that the generally accepted must be necessarily false. Incapable of sharing much of the current medical teaching and frequently clashing with his medical colleagues, he brought matters to a head when in his article on vaccination in the “Encyclopædia Britannica” he declared that cowpox had nothing to do with smallpox, affording no protection against it. This was acclaimed by the antivaccinators, and Creighton was ostracized by the medical profession. He spent his last years in philosophical isolation in a tumble-down cottage at Upper Boddington, turning to Shakespeare for solace. His slender means were amplified by a Civil List pension secured for him by Mr. Asquith, who admired his learning.

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Dr. Charles Creighton (1847–1927). Nature 160, 668 (1947).

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