James Crichton-Browne

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James Crichton-Browne
James Crichton-Browne.jpg
Born 29 November 1840
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 31 January 1938 (aged 97)
Dumfries, Scotland
Fields psychiatry, public health, medical psychology
Institutions Royal Medical Society, West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Court of Chancery, Medico-Psychological Association, Royal Institution, Royal Society
Alma mater Edinburgh University
Known for Functional specialization (brain), cerebral asymmetry, biological psychiatry, Scottish medical history, photography, memoirist
Influences George Combe, Thomas Carlyle, Andrew Combe, Robert Chambers, William A.F. Browne, Duchenne de Boulogne, Hugh Welch Diamond, Charles Darwin, Thomas Laycock, Paul Broca, Henry Maudsley

Sir James Crichton-Browne MD FRS[1] (29 November 1840 – 31 January 1938) was a leading British psychiatrist and medical psychologist. He is known for studies on the relationship of mental illness to brain injury and for the development of public health policies in relation to mental health. Crichton-Browne was the second son of the phrenologist Dr. William A.F. Browne.

Crichton-Browne was the editor of the highly influential West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports (six volumes, 1871–76), one of Charles Darwin's correspondents and collaborators – on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) – and, like Duchenne de Boulogne and Hugh Welch Diamond, a pioneer of neuropsychiatric photography. Crichton-Browne was based at the West Riding Asylum in Wakefield from 1866 to 1875, and there he set up the teaching of psychiatry for students from the nearby Leeds School of Medicine. In 1920, after 45 years as Lord Chancellor's Medical Visitor, Crichton-Browne delivered the first Maudsley Lecture to the Medico-Psychological Association in the course of which he outlined his memories of Henry Maudsley. In the last 15 years of his life, he published seven volumes of reminiscences.

Throughout his career, Crichton-Browne emphasised the asymmetrical character of the human brain and behaviour; and also, like Emil Kraepelin and Alois Alzheimer, made some remarkable predictions about the neurological changes associated with severe psychiatric disorder.

Family background and education 1840 - 1866[edit]

Crichton-Browne was born in Edinburgh at the family home of his mother, Magdalene Howden Balfour. She was the daughter of Dr Andrew Balfour and belonged to one of Scotland's foremost scientific families – the home (at St John's Hill near Salisbury Crags) had been built in 1770 for the unmarried geologist James Hutton (1726–1797).[2][3][4]

Crichton-Browne's father, the asylum reformer William A.F. Browne (1805–1885), was a prominent phrenologist[5][6] and his younger brother, John Hutton Balfour-Browne KC (1845–1921), wrote a classic work on the legal relations of insanity.[7]

Crichton-Browne spent much of his childhood at The Crichton in Dumfries where his father was the first medical superintendent from 1838 to 1857.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] William A. F. Browne was a pioneering Victorian psychiatrist and an exponent of moral treatment[16][17][18][19] with an interest in the psychological lives of his patients as illustrated by their group activities, dreams and art-works. W. A. F. Browne also hoarded a huge collection of patient art[20] and this interest found a parallel in Crichton-Browne's later asylum photography. In his childhood, Crichton-Browne lost an older brother, William (aged 11) in 1846. He went to school at Dumfries Academy and then, in line with his mother's episcopalian outlook, to Trinity College, Glenalmond. Shortly before his death, Crichton-Browne wrote a valuable account of his Dumfries childhood, including a description of the visit of the American asylum reformer Dorothea Lynde Dix.[21]

Crichton-Browne studied Medicine at Edinburgh University, qualifying MD in 1862 with a thesis on hallucinations. Among his teachers was his father's friend Thomas Laycock (1812–1876) whose "magnum opus" Mind and Brain[22] is an extended speculative essay on neurology and psychological life.[23] Crichton-Browne also drew on the writings of the physicians Sir Andrew Halliday[24] and Sir Henry Holland. Like his father, Crichton-Browne was elected one of the undergraduate Presidents of the Royal Medical Society[25] and, in this capacity, he argued for the place of psychology in the medical curriculum. After working as assistant physician at asylums in Exeter (with John Charles Bucknill), Warwick and Derby, and a brief period on Tyneside, Crichton-Browne was appointed Physician-Superintendent of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum at Wakefield in 1866. This was also the year in which his father served as the President of the Medico-Psychological Association (now the Royal College of Psychiatrists).[26]

Ferrier, Darwin and the West Riding Asylum Reports 1866 - 1875[edit]

Ferrier's neurology: Crichton-Browne spent ten years at the West Riding Asylum.[27][28] He believed that the asylum should be an educational as well as a therapeutic institution and set about a major research programme, bringing biological insights to bear on the causes of insanity. He supervised hundreds of post-mortem examinations of the brain and took a special interest in the clinical features of neurosyphilis. In 1872, Crichton-Browne invited the Scottish neurologist David Ferrier (1843–1928) to direct the asylum laboratories and to conduct electrical studies on the cortical localization of cerebral functions, a research initiative which developed W.A.F. Browne's phrenological theories. (In 1832–34, William A. F. Browne had published a paper in the Phrenological Journal on language centres in the brain[29] and in his later writings there is a reiterated emphasis on the relationships of brain injury, psychosis and language[30][31][32]). Ferrier's work at Wakefield transformed the asylum into a world centre for neuropsychiatry and he summarised his research in the neurological classic The Functions of the Brain (1876).[33]

Darwin's correspondence: At the instigation of Henry Maudsley[34][35] (1835–1918), Crichton-Browne corresponded with Charles Darwin (1809–1882) from May 1869 until December 1875.[36][37][38][39][40] The bulk of the correspondence occurred during the preparation of Crichton-Browne's famous West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports and of Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.[41][42] On 8 June 1869, Darwin sent Crichton-Browne his copy of Duchenne's Mechanism of Human Facial Expression[43][44][45] asking for his comments. Crichton-Browne seems to have mislaid the book for almost a year at the Wakefield asylum; but, on 6 June 1870, he returned it with considerable embarrassment, and enclosed the one photograph which Darwin used in his book. Darwin explored a huge range of subjects with Crichton-Browne, including references to Maudsley's Body and Mind,[46] the psychology of blushing, the functions of the platysma muscle (Darwin's "bête noire"), and the clinical phenomena of bereavement and grief. Darwin's mysterious symptoms which included vomiting, sweating, sighing, and weeping, particularly troublesome in the early months of 1872, seem to have largely resolved around the time that he completed his work on the human emotions.[47] Interestingly, Crichton-Browne declined Henry Maudsley's invitation to review The Descent of Man for The Journal of Mental Science; and it is notable that Darwin did not make a contribution to Crichton-Browne's Asylum Reports, nor did he visit the Wakefield Asylum when invited by Crichton-Browne in 1873.

"April 20th 1882 – Charles Darwin has passed away, and with him I have lost a friend, illustrious and kind. Recalling my delightful intercourse with him, I pick out of a sheaf of letters one showing, as indeed they all do, the scrupulous care with which his inquiries were conducted, his marvellous suggestiveness, and his generous acknowledgement of any help given to him." James Crichton-Browne (published in) What the Doctor Thought (1930), page 61.

Mental Science: Building on the early asylum photography of Hugh Welch Diamond (1809 -1886)[48] at Brookwood Hospital, Crichton-Browne sent about forty photographs of patients to Charles Darwin during the composition of his The Expression of the Emotions;[49] however, Darwin used only one of these in the book (Figure 19) and this (Darwin Correspondence Project Letter 7220) was of a patient under the care of Dr James Gilchrist in the public wing of Crichton Royal at Dumfries. The complete correspondence between Crichton-Browne and Charles Darwin forms a remarkable contribution to the beginnings of behavioural science. Nevertheless, Crichton-Browne attached greater importance to his six volumes of West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports (1871–1876)[50] – sending Darwin a copy of Volume One on 18 August 1871 – and to the neurological journal Brain which developed from them, in which he was assisted by John Hughlings Jackson (1835–1911).[51][52][53]

In 1875, Crichton-Browne ridiculed the classification of mental disorders produced by the Edinburgh psychiatrist David Skae[54] (1814–1873) which had been promoted by Skae's pupil Thomas Clouston[55] (1840–1915); Skae had sought to associate specific kinds of mental illness with variously disordered bodily organs. Crichton-Browne characterised it as

In 1879, Crichton-Browne published his own considerations of the neuropathology of insanity[57] making some exact predictions about the morbid anatomy of the human brain in cases of severe psychiatric disorder: he proposed that in the insane the weight of the brain was reduced, that the lateral ventricles were enlarged and that the burden of damage fell on the left cerebral hemisphere. This involved an evolutionary view of cerebral localisation with an emphasis on the asymmetry of cerebral functions which he derived from the clinical research of the French neurologist Paul Broca (1824–1880)[58][59] on language centres in the brain – originally published in 1861 – and presented by Broca to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at its 1868 meeting in Norwich.[60] The question of asymmetrical cerebral functions had been raised many years earlier by the phrenologist Hewett Cottrell Watson in the Phrenological Journal.[61][62][63][64] Crichton-Browne's own views on psychosis and cerebral asymmetry have been appraised by Crow, 1995[65] and Compston, 2007.[57]

Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy 1875 – 1922[edit]

In 1875, Crichton-Browne was appointed as Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy, a position which involved the regular examination of wealthy Chancery patients throughout England and Wales.[66] He held this post until his retirement in 1922 and he combined it with the development of an extensive London consulting practice, becoming a familiar figure on the metropolitan medical scene.[67] In 1878, he followed his father as President of the Medico-Psychological Association; in 1883, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society; and he served as Treasurer and Vice-President of the Royal Institution from 1889 till 1926. Crichton-Browne also made friendships in the literary world with the idiosyncratic historian Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) whose marital reputation he defended against the allegations of James Anthony Froude;[68] and, less controversially, with his exact contemporary, the novelist Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) who - concerned about his wife's health - consulted Crichton-Browne about the peculiarities of the female brain. Whatever the substance of Crichton-Browne's response, Hardy presented him with an inscribed copy of his Wessex Poems in 1898.

Crichton-Browne was a notable stylist and orator and he often combined this with a kind of couthy vernacular evocative of the Dumfries of his childhood. He was proud to have served as President of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society from 1892 to 1896 and, on 24 January 1895, he gave a remarkable and light-hearted Presidential lecture[69] – in Dumfries – On Emotional Expression – in which he discussed some reservations about Darwin's views and touched on the role of the motor cortex in expression, on the relations of gender to expressive asymmetry and on the relationship of language to the physical expression of the emotions. A few months later, on 30 June 1895 in London, Crichton-Browne delivered his famous Cavendish Lecture On Dreamy Mental States,[70] in which he explored the relationship of trauma in the uniquely vulnerable temporal lobes to déjà vu, hallucinatory and supernatural experiences; this caught the attention of William James (1842–1910), who referred – rather dismissively – to Crichton-Browne in his Gifford lectures on The Varieties of Religious Experience (delivered in Edinburgh in 1901–02). In the early years of the 20th century, Crichton-Browne delivered a number of lectures on the asymmetry of the human brain, publishing his conclusions in 1907.[71]

"Sir James Crichton-Browne has given the technical name of "dreamy states" to these sudden invasions of vaguely reminiscent consciousness. They bring a sense of mystery and of the metaphysical duality of things, and the feeling of an enlargement of perception which seems imminent, but which never completes itself. In Dr Crichton-Browne's opinion they connect themselves with the perplexed and scared disturbances of self-consciousness which occasionally precede epileptic attacks. I think that this learned alienist takes a rather absurdly alarmist view of an intrinsically insignificant phenomenon. He follows it along the downward ladder, to insanity..." William James (1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience – The Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion: Lecture 16: Mysticism.

President of the Sanitary Inspectors Association 1901 - 21[edit]

Crichton-Browne was elected and re-elected as President of the Association on an unprecedented 20 occasions. Like his predecessors in that office, Sir Edwin Chadwick and Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, he took a close interest in the affairs of the Association and gave much assistance in its negotiations with the Local Government Board (predecessor of the Ministry of Health) and its attempts to secure security of tenure, superannuation and improved education, training and qualifications of sanitary inspectors; this in the face of opposition from some sectors of the medical profession that saw the rise of the sanitary inspector as a threat to the professional aspirations of the Medical Officers of Health, and who tried to keep the inspectors 'in their place'. He was viewed with much affection and respect by the sanitary inspectors and he was a frequent invited speaker at their conferences and dinners - even if his speeches could be lengthy.

In 1914, on being re-elected for a further term as President, he responded

" I am an old man; I feel I ought to make way for a someone who might be more energetic -" - cries of 'No, No!' from the Conference - " - one who might better represent your interests -" - 'No, No!' - " - But I am somewhat reconciled to holding office a little longer by discovering that Lord Fisher, who has just become First Lord of the Admiralty, is exactly the same age that I am. If he is capable of directing the energies of our Fleets, then I think I am capable of presiding over you!" - Loud Cheers! - The Sanitary Journal, November 1914, 10, No. 6, p. 107

Elder statesman of mental science 1920 – 1938[edit]

In the early Summer of 1920, Crichton-Browne delivered the first Maudsley Lecture to the Royal Medico-Psychological Association,[72] giving a generous tribute to Henry Maudsley whose enthusiasm and energy in the 1860s had been a source of inspiration and encouragement to him.

Four years later, on 29 February 1924, Crichton-Browne gave the Ramsay Henderson Bequest Lecture in Edinburgh, The Story of the Brain.[73] In this, he delivered a tribute to members of the Edinburgh Phrenological Society – to George Combe (1788–1858), author of The Constitution of Man (1828), to Andrew Combe (1797–1847), author of Observations on Mental Derangement (1831) – and to Robert Chambers (1802–1871), who had sought to combine phrenology with evolutionary Lamarckism in his Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation[74][75][76] – written in St Andrews as Chambers recuperated from depression and published in 1844. Chambers inverted Hutton's aphorism "no vestige of a beginning". However, Crichton-Browne did not mention that his Henderson lecture was delivered a century (almost to the day) after his father had joined the Edinburgh Phrenological Society.

With increasing age, with the death of his first wife, and with the loss of two grandsons in the first world war, Crichton-Browne's rhetoric took on a more strident tone and this compromised his reputation in the last two decades of his life.

Legacy[edit]

Medical Psychology: Crichton-Browne usually described himself as a medical psychologist – but, in spite of the pervasive influence of his medical psychology, he remains a rather shadowy figure in the history of British mental science.[77][78] His raffish – almost louche – demeanour, strangely snobbish social attitudes – and his elegant, but convoluted, Victorian prose – have doubtless contributed to this. However, his unusual longevity, taken together with his father's distinguished psychiatric career, brought the world of the Edinburgh phrenologists into contact with developing neuroscience in the course of the 20th century. To the medical world, he held out the promise of a continuum of neurological and psychiatric illness. Crichton-Browne's psychiatric thinking contained a remarkable blend of social and neurological concerns and his considerations of the cerebral basis of psychotic disorder were well ahead of their time.

Social Concerns: Very early in his career, Crichton-Browne stressed the importance of psychiatric disorders in childhood[79] and, much later, he was to emphasise the distinction between organic and functional illness in the elderly.[80][81][82] He was considered an expert in many aspects of psychological medicine, public health and social reform. He supported a campaign for the open-air treatment of tuberculosis, housing and sanitary reform, and a practical approach to sexually transmitted diseases. He condemned the corporal punishment of children. He stressed the importance of the asymmetric lateralization of brain function in the development of language and deplored the fads relating to ambidexterity advocated by (among others) Robert Baden-Powell. He was critical of public education systems for their repetitive and fact-bound character, warning of mental exhaustion in otherwise happy and healthy children. He was openly – even offensively – sceptical concerning the claims of psychic investigators (including Frederic William Henry Myers[83]) and spiritualists[84][85][86] (see The Times articles of 1897/1899 concerning the Ballechin House controversy) and of dietary faddists and vegetarians. He argued that the benefits of Freudian psychotherapy had been assessed with insufficient rigour. He advocated (in 1892) the fluoridation of human dietary intake[87] and he worried about the consequences of mass transportation by motor vehicles.

Retirement: In the last years of his life, from retirement at his home "Crindau" in the Nunholm district of Dumfries, Sir James published a notable study of Robert Burns' medical problems and physical decline[88] and seven volumes of memoirs, ranging widely over medical, psychological, biographical and Scottish themes.[89][90][91][92][93][94][95]

Crichton-Browne was twice married and, like his mother, cherished a lifelong affection for the traditions of the Anglican liturgy; he was a loyal member of the congregation at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Dumfries. Through family connections he became friendly with the painter Hannah Gluckstein ("Gluck") (1895–1978) who executed an arresting portrait of Sir James in 1928, now in the National Portrait Gallery. (Another portrait – by Sir Oswald Birley, painted in 1934 – is in the Crichton Royal Collection in Dumfries). Crichton-Browne was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society in 1883 (with posthumous support from Charles Darwin) and he was knighted in 1886. He was a vigorous opponent of teetotalism, stating that "no writer has done much without alcohol". When he died on 31 January 1938, at the age of 97, Crichton-Browne – like Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle and James Clerk Maxwell – was acclaimed as one of the greatest sons of South-West Scotland; one of the last men in Britain to sport Dundreary whiskers – and as one of the last Victorians.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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