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1818 William Lawrence Surgeon atheism

1818 William Lawrence Surgeon atheism

C028/9865

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Credit

PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption

Contemporary lithograph, later color. Sir William Lawrence (1783 - 1867) was a surgeon whose early career was turbulent but who later became President of the Royal College of Surgeons of London and attendant to the Queen. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society by 30 and in 1815 Professor of Surgery and Anatomy. He ran into trouble however when he declared that human thoughts were purely a function of the living brain rather than, as in the view of vitalists, an expression of action on a higher order. His materialism found greatest strength in his 1819 book "The Natural History of Man". For treating man like a species of animal, his book was officially deemed blasphemous. This meant that copyright was withheld. Faced with such a concerted and hostile response he withdrew the book. It was a storm Darwin knew and would fear for his own publication nearly 40 years later. Lawrence recovered.

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