Sir William Lawrence, 1st Baronet - Career - Surgical Career

Surgical Career

Said to be a brilliant scholar, Lawrence was the translator of several anatomical works written in Latin, and was fully conversant with the latest research on the continent. He had good looks and a charming manner, and was a fine lecturer. His quality as a surgeon was never questioned. Lawrence helped the radical campaigner Thomas Wakley found the Lancet journal, and was prominent at mass meetings for medical reform in 1826. Elected to the Council of the RCS in 1828, he became its President in 1846, and again in 1855.

During Lawrence's surgical career he held the posts of Professor of Anatomy and Surgery, Royal College of Surgeons (1815–1922); Surgeon to the hospitals of Bridewell and Bethlem, and to the London Infirmary for Diseases of the Eye; Demonstrator of Anatomy, then Assistant Surgeon, later Surgeon, St Bartholomew's Hospital (1824–1865). Later in his career, he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary, later Serjeant Surgeon, to the Queen. His specialty was ophthalmology, although he practised in and lectured and wrote on all branches of surgery. Pugin and Queen Victoria were among his patients with eye problems.

Shelley and his second wife Mary Shelley consulted him on a variety of ailments from 1814. Mary's novel Frankenstein might have been inspired by the vitalist controversy between Lawrence and Abernethy, and "Lawrence could have guided the couple's reading in the physical sciences".

Despite reaching the height of his profession, with the outstanding quality of his surgical work, and his excellent textbooks, Lawrence is mostly remembered today for an extraordinary period in his early career which brought him fame and notoriety, and led him to the brink of ruin.

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