Richard Bright, M.D. (1789-1858): Father of Nephrology
RICHARD BRIGHT, M.D.F.R.S.
Physician Extraordinary to the Queen
Travels in the island of Iceland, during the summer of the year 1810. "Cave at Stappen." Sketched by Richard Bright.
Richard Bright was born at 29 Queen's Square, Bristol, England, September 28, 1789, third son of Richard and Sarah Bright. Both his maternal and fraternal ancestors were important figures in Bristol's golden age of merchant venturers who made substantial fortunes in the West Indies during the eighteenth century. In addition to being an astute businessman, Richard Bright, Sr., was keenly interested in science, especially the contemporary chemical experiments of Joseph Priestley and Humphry Davy. He encouraged his son's interest in science and medicine. At the young age of six, Richard Bright was sent to the school of Dr. John Prior Estlin, near Bristol. Later he transferred to the school of Reverend Lant Carpenter in Exeter. In 1808, at the age of nineteen, Richard Bright enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. His first year was devoted to academic studies, the following year to medicine, particularly anatomy.
During the summer of 1810, Richard Bright accompanied Sir George Mackenzie on a scientific expedition to Iceland. This was his first experience of foreign travel, and he enthusiastically collected geological and botanical specimens and climbed several mountains. Bright contributed numerous drawings to Mackenzie's publication, Travels in Iceland, and wrote the chapters on zoology and botany.
Richard Bright began his lifelong association with Guy's Hospital in the fall of 1810, when he registered as a medical student. Lectures on medicine, chemistry, botany, physiology were held at Guy's; and St.Thomas Hospital provided instruction in surgery and anatomy. Bright spent two years attending lectures, "walking the wards," and watching surgeons, such as Astley Cooper, perform their art. It was during his time at Guy's, that Bright began to see the importance of morbid anatomy in the understanding of disease. He used his talents as an artist to record the appearances of normal and diseased organs. In 1811 he first drew a granular kidney. In a letter to his father, he wrote, "for my part I am very fond of seeing." Richard Bright possessed the artist's eye for detail. His dedication to work and powers of observation were noted and praised by his teachers. In October 1812, Bright returned to Edinburgh to complete his last year of medical training. He received his M.D. on September 13, 1813, with the dissertation De Erisipelate Contagioso, in which he pointed out the similarity of the spread of erysipelas from patient to patient and also noted that Dr. Gordon of Aberdeen had in 1795 pointed out this similarity of the disease to puerperal sepsis.
Bright returned to London to work with William Bateman in the Public Dispensary at Guy's. During the summer of 1814, he travelled to Europe, stopping at various clinics and hospitals. The following summer, he toured Hungary and published an excellent account of that country and its economy. Many of the illustrations in Travels in Lower Hungary were drawn by Bright.
On the 23rd of December, 1816, Bright was admitted Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. He was then assistant physician at the London Fever Hospital, where he developed a severe fever and nearly died. He made another trip to the Continent in 1818, visiting clinics in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France. Two years later he was established in practice at 14 Bloomsbury Square, a well-trained physician for those days. In this same year (1820) he was elected to the Royal Society. He soon became one of the leading consultants in London and Physician Extraordinary to her Majesty, Queen Victoria.
On the 11th of December, 1858, Richard Bright (who had known for some years that he had valvular disease of the heart) was seized with great prostration, dyspnea, and sigmoid pains. He failed to rally and died on the 16th, aged 69.
From Travels from Vienna through Lower Hungary, by Richard Bright