Archibald Billing

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Archibald Billing by Charles Baugniet, 1846
Archibald Billing in the 1860s

Archibald Billing FRS (10 January 1791 – 2 September 1881) was an English physician and writer on art.


Billing was the son of Theodore Billing of Cromlyn, in the county of Dublin. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1807, graduated A.B. 1811, M.B. 1814, M.D. 1818, and was incorporated M.D. at Oxford on his Dublin degree on 22 October 1818. He says himself that he spent seven years in clinical study at Irish, British, and continental hospitals before he sought a fee, but about 1815 must have settled in London, was admitted candidate (member) of the College of Physicians on 22 December 1818, and fellow on 22 December 1819. He was censor of the college in 1823, and councillor 1852-5. Billing was long connected with the London Hospital, to which foundation, after having been engfaged in teaching there since 1817, he was elected physician on 2 July 1822. In 1823 he began a course of clinical lectures. He ceased to lecture in 1836, and resigned the post of physician on 4 June 1845. On the foundation of the university of London in 1836, Billing was invited to become a member of the senate, and occupied an influential position on that body for many years. He was also for a considerable time examiner in medicine. He was fellow of the Royal Society, and an active member of many other scientific and medical societies. After a long and distinguished professional career, he retired from practice many years before his death, which occurred on 2 September 1881 at his house in Park Lane.

Billing was a physician of high general culture, and possessed of many accomplishments not professional. His acute and logical intellect served him well in embodying his large experience in a well-known manual, The First Principles of Medicine, which, in its first issue in 1831 hardly more than a pamphlet, grew to a bulky text-book. It was at one time very popular, and ran to six editions, though now almost forgotten. He gave special attention to diseases of the chest, and was among the earliest medical teachers in London to make auscultation, as introduced by Laennec, a part of regular instruction. His original views respecting the cause of the sounds of the heart, which have only partially been accepted, were first put forth in 1832. He restated them in the London Medical Gazette (1840, xxvi. 64), and also in his Practical Observations on Diseases of the Lungs and Heart, a work much less successful than the Principles of Medicine. In all Billing's writings his avowed aim was to base medicine on pathology; their most striking feature is clearness of thought, and a striving after logical accuracy which sometimes appears overstrained. Beginning as an innovator, he came in the end to be conservative, and was much opposed to what he regarded as the teachings of the German school. He took great interest in art, was himself a fair amateur artist, and a keen connoisseur in engraved gems, coins, and similar objects. On this subject he published an elaborate text-book, illustrated with photographs, which has reached a second edition. Billing was a man of great physical as well as mental activity, and was perhaps the last London physician who occasionally visited his patients on horseback. No portrait of him appears to have been published, except a very poor woodcut in the Medical Circular, 1852.

He is buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery, London.


  • First Principles of Medicine, 1st ed. 1831; 6th ed. 1868.
  • On the Treatment of Asiatic Cholera, 1st ed. 1848.
  • Practical Observations on Diseases of the Lungs and Heart, 1852.
  • The Science of Gems, Jewels, Coins, and Medals, Ancient and Modern, 1867.
  • Clinical Lectures, published in the Lancet, 1831, and several papers in other medical journals.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Billing, Archibald". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.