Gowers: the man, his work, and his legacy

Ann Scott, Mervyn Eadie and Andrew Lees

in William Richard Gowers 1845-1915

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692316
Published online November 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191753527 | DOI:
Gowers: the man, his work, and his legacy

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For the first ten years of his life, Gowers was a member of a small, close-knit, working-class family. From the age of 6, when his sister Letitia died, he must have been particularly treasured as the only one of his parents’ four children to have survived. However, at the age of 11 Gowers’ secure world was shattered by the death of his father, and his mother’s decision to return from London to Yorkshire. After his father died, Gowers became an intensely lonely young man. He had to adjust to living with a large family of cousins in Oxford, and attending a new school. Fortunately, Christ Church College School provided the sound educational grounding that enabled him to study by correspondence when he eventually set his sights on gaining a place at the University of London. After deciding that he was unsuited to farming, he almost accidentally chose medicine as a career. However, he applied himself to his correspondence studies for the London matriculation examination with a single-minded sense of purpose from the moment he signed his apprenticeship indentures with Dr Simpson of Coggeshall. The chance advice he received from strangers—of the benefits of shorthand, the importance of statistics, and the need for clarity in his written English—he absorbed with enthusiasm, approaching each with characteristic perfectionism. These early lessons provided a sound foundation on which to build his work as a clinician, a researcher, a writer, and a lecturer. When he decided to teach himself to draw and to etch, he again approached the task as a perfectionist, achieving a standard of draughtsmanship that enabled to him to draw his own illustrations, including those in the Manual of Diseases of the Nervous System, and also provided a hobby from which he derived lifelong satisfaction.

Chapter.  4006 words. 

Subjects: Neurology ; History of Medicine

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