Biography of Dr. Creighton from the Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

CREIGHTON, CHARLES (b. Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 22 November 1847; d. Upper Boddington, Northamptonshire, England, 18 July 1927), medical history.

Creighton, one of Britain's most learned medical historians, incurred the disdain of contemporary physicians by denouncing Jennerian vaccination and by disputing the germ theory of infectious diseases.

Born in a seaport town, Charles was the eldest son and second child of Alexander Creighton, timber merchant, and his wife Agnes Brand, who had five sons and three daughters. He attended the local school and went on to grammar school in Old Aberdeen. In 1864, he won a bursary to King's College, Aberdeen, where he obtained his M.A. in 1867. Enrolling as a medical student at the affiliated Marischal College, he took clinical courses at Edinburgh, and in 1871 passed his M.B. and M.S. examinations at Aberdeen. The university awarded him the M.D. degree in 1878.

After graduation, Creighton studied for a year in Vienna under Karl von Rokitansky and in Berlin under Rudolf Virchow. On his return in 1872, he obtained successive annual appointments as surgical registrar at St. Thomas' Hospital and medical registrar at Charing Cross Hospital, London. He also did part time research on cancer for the Local Government Board, for whom he worked full-time in 1875 on the physiology and pathology of the breast. These studies, conducted at the Brown Institution, were the subject of his first publications.

Appointed demonstrator of anatomy in the University of Cambridge in 1876, within five years he published the book Bovine Tuberculosis in Man and eleven articles on normal and pathological anatomy in the Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, of which he became a co-editor in 1879. In 1881 he unaccountably severed these promising academic associations and went to London. After applying unsuccessfully in 1882 for the chair of pathology at Aberdeen, Creighton assumed the mantle of a dedicated, erudite scholar. He lived and worked alone for the next thirty-seven years.

Apart from a three-month visit to India in 1904 to investigate the plague (financed by the Leigh Browne Trust, founded in 1884 "for the promotion of original research in the biological sciences without any recourse to experiments upon living animals of a nature to cause pain"), he resided within walking distance of the British Museum, whose resources were indispensable to him. In 1918 he bought a small house in a Northamptonshire village and lived peacefully there until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage nine years later.

Tall and handsome in his prime, Creighton was abstemious, devout, and fond of music. A kind, gentlemanly, self-contained individualist, he upheld his beliefs inflexibly, regardless of consequences. His dogmatic opinions lost him friends and he became a frugal recluse. His financial anxieties were relieved in later life by a small civil pension granted by Prime Minister Asquith.

Creighton's three-volume translation of August Hirsch's Handbuch der historisch-geographischen Pathologie, an outstanding accomplishment, appeared between 1883 and 1886. The next several years were devoted to the great task of compiling A History of Epidemics in Britain, whose two volumes, published in 1891 and 1894, earned him lasting distinction. During this period, Creighton also wrote numerous articles for the Dictionary of National Biography, besides making notable contributions on medicine and public health to H. D. Traill's Social England.

His industry and judgment were not always soundly exercised. A comprehensive article on pathology (1885), commissioned for the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, cast doubt upon the existence of pathogenic bacteria; another on vaccination (1888) was so reactionary and misleading that it provoked vigorous protests from leading medical journals. Especially condemned was the apparent claim, implicit also in his book The Natural History of Cowpox and Vaccinal Syphilis (1887), that vaccination and infantile syphilis were related. Creighton denied this allegation but further blemished his reputation by publishing another polemical volume, Jenner and Vaccination (1889).

He maintained an active interest in pathology. For about a decade beginning around 1898, he visited the London Hospital, where his closest friend and fellow-Aberdonian, the bacteriologist William Bulloch, provided access to pathological specimens and records. Creighton prepared and examined the specimens microscopically at home. His subsequent publications on tuberculosis and cancer were unorthodox and had no impact. Likewise his literary studies on Shakespeare gained no following.

Creighton's obdurate rejection of bacteria as causal agents of such diseases as tuberculosis and plague was probably instigated by Rokitansky's humoral theory of pathology and Virchow's early skepticism about the bacteriologists' budding claims. Yet he clung perversely to the least defensible features of these doctrines long after their proponents had modified them. A deep-seated faith in miasmata, soil poisons, and seismic disturbances as instigators of epidemics, which doubtless arose from intimate contact with Hirsch's Handbuch, permeates the History. His accuracy in citation of rare chronicles is undisputed, although R. S. Roberts (1968) claims he sometimes selected historical data that fitted favorite theories. The final keys to Creighton's controversial career and anachronistic beliefs are concealed within his enigmatic personality.

Despite many peculiarities, Creighton commands respect for his self-sacrificing industry, rare scholarly insights, linguistic talents, splendid literary style, and especially for his chief work, which will long remain a unique source book on the interrelations of epidemic diseases and social history.


I. ORIGINAL WORKS. Incomplete bibliographies, listing only Creighton's chief works, have been provided by W. Bulloch and by E. A. Underwood (see below). Among his more noteworthy publications are the following: "Anatomical Research Towards the Aetiology of Cancer," in Reports of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council and Local Government Board, no. 4 of n.s. 3 (1874), 95-112; "On the Development of the Mamma and of the Mammary Function," in Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 11 (1877), 1-32; Contributions to the Physiology and Pathology of the Breast and its Lymphatic Glands (London, 1878); Bovine Tuberculosis in Man, an Account of the Pathology of Suspected Cases (London, 1881); "On the Autonomous Life of the Specific Infections," in British Medical Journal, 2 (1883), 218-224; Dr. Koch's Method of Cultivating the Micro-organism in Tubercle (London, 1884); Illustrations of Unconscious Memory in Disease Including a Theory of Alteratives (London, 1886); The Natural History of Cow pox and Vaccinal Syphilis (London, 1887); Jenner and Vaccination; a Strange Chapter of Medical History (London, 1889); Handbook of Geographical and Historical Pathology; trans. from 2nd German ed. of Dr. August Hirsch's Handbuch der historisch-geographischen Pathologie, 3 vols. (London, 1883-1886); A History of Epidemics in Britain from A.D. 664 to the Extinction of Plague (Cambridge, 1891; repr. London, 1965); A History of Epidemics in Britain, from the Extinction of the Plague to the Present Time (Cambridge, 1894; repr. London, 1965); Microscopic Researches on the Formative Property of Glycogen, 2 vols. (London, 18961899); "Plague in India," in Journal of the Society of Arts, 53 (1905), 810-827; Contributions to the Physiological Theory of Tuberculosis (London, 1908); Some Conclusions on Cancer (London, 1920).
Creighton contributed articles on malaria, medicine (synoptical view), Morgagni, pathology, pellagra, and vaccination for the 9th ed. of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1885-1888). He wrote forty-seven articles for the Dictionary of National Biography (before 1893) and several articles on medical subjects in Janus. He also contributed about 30,000 words to H. D. Traill's Social England, vols. I-IV (1893-1895). His first and chief Shakespearean work was Shakespeare's Story of His Life (London, 1904).
II. SECONDARY LITERATURE. Obituaries include W. Bulloch, "The Late Dr. Charles Creighton," in Lancet (1927), 2, 250-251; and "Charles Creighton, M.A., M.D.," in Aberdeen University Review, 15 (1928), 112-118; M. Greenwood, "Charles Creighton, M.D.," in British Medical Journal (1927), 2, 240-241.
Other tributes are F. H. Garrison, "A Neglected Medical Scholar," editorial in Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 4 (1928), 469-476; E. A. Underwood, "Charles Creighton, M.A., M.D. (1847-1927): Scholar, Historian and Epidemiologist," in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 41 (1947), 869-876; and "Charles Creighton, the Man and His Work," in A History of Epidemics in Britain, vol. 1, repr. ed. (1965), 43-135; D. E. C. Eversley, "Epidemiology as Social History," ibid., 3-39.
Various contemporary editorial reviews of Creighton's publications are cited by E. A. Underwood in a prolix account of his life and work prefacing the repr. ed. of A History of Epidemics in Britain. Specific reference is made here to only one editorial, headed "Vaccination Reviewed," Lancet (1888), 2, 1027-1028. Creighton responded in an equivocal letter to the editors, headed "Infantile Syphilis and Vaccinations," ibid., 1096-1097. A later appraisal of Creighton's views on vaccination is M. Greenwood, Epidemics and Crowd Diseases (London, 1935), pp. 245-273. A critical review of Creighton's epidemiological theories is R. S. Roberts, "Epidemics and Social History," in Medical History, 12 (1968), 305-316.
Useful references to the pathological doctrines of Rokitansky and Virchow are E. R. Ackerknecht, Rudolf Virchow; Doctor, Statesman, Anthropologist (Madison, Wis., 1953); L. J. Rather, "Virchow's Review of Rokitansky's Handbuch in the Preussische Medizinal-Zeitung, Dec. 1846," in Clio Medica, 4 (1969), 127-140.



Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles Scribner's Son, New York, 1971.