Thomas Hodgkin

Jay, Venita

The morbid alterations of structure which I am about to describe are probably familiar to many practical morbid anatomists, since they can scarcely have failed to have fallen under their observation in the course of cadaveric inspection. They have not, as far as I am aware, been made the subject of special attention.”

Thus began the famous January 1832 text of Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) entitled On some morbid appearances of the absorbent glands and spleen. Hodgkin brought to attention and emphasized the simultaneous involvement of the lymph glands and the spleen in a series of cases but had perhaps not intended to define a new pathologic entity. He was, in fact, dealing with not only cases of lymphoma but also examples of other etiologies such as tuberculosis. It was Samuel Wilks, the illustrious biographer of Guy’s Hospital, who in 1865 coined the name Hodgkins disease, which now remains etched in history.

Hodgkin received his early education from his father, who was a well-known classicist and grammarian. He graduated with a medical degree from Edinburgh Medical College in 1823 and also studied in France and Italy. In 1825, he was appointed lecturer in morbid anatomy and curator of the museum in London’s Guy’s Hospital. Thus started the illustrious career of this great English pathologist, who was later named one of the “Great Men of Guy’s.”

Performing autopsies and handling a large volume of pathologic material, Hodgkin significantly enhanced the museum’s collection and aided retrieval of tissue samples and their use by adding an accurate catalog. His essay on medical education in 1823 encompassed a significant volume of work, and his morbid anatomy of the serous and mucous membranes, written between 1836 and 1840, was one of the earliest English treatises on pathology.

Of course, Hodgkin’s name is preserved in history for his classic description of a disease characterized by the enlargements of groups of lymph nodes and spleen. Malpighi had previously alluded to the simultaneous enlargement of the spleen and lymphatic glands in 1665. Hodgkin’s own description was before the time of “cellular pathology” and was based on gross appearances. Hodgkin also wrote another classic paper on the insufficiency of the aortic valve in 1829, antedating the classic paper by Corrigan 3 years later. This important work focused on retroversion and incompetence of the aortic valves.

Hodgkin held his post as curator at Guy’s Hospital until 1837. Greatly disappointed when he failed to get promoted to assistant physician, Hodgkin left the hospital and his pathology practice. A devout Quaker and a member of the Society of Friends, Hodgkin achieved international eminence for his social activism in championing the emancipation of oppressed Africans, the poor, and persecuted Jews. He undertook an unforgettable joumey to Morocco in 1863 to intercede on behalf of some Jews facing persecution on accusations of poisoning a local official. Narrative of a Journey to Morocco in 1863 and 1864 was an extraordinary account by Hodgkin of his journey, with a vivid commentary of social customs and geography and his encounter with the emperor of Morocco. On April 4, 1866, following a severe attack of dysentery Hodgkin died in Joppa.

Accepted for publication July 26, 1999.

From the Division of Pathology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The author acknowledges that the general biographical overview presented does not necessarily include all of the accomplishments or achievements associated with the person discussed. Dr. Jay welcomes comments from readers concerning the “A Portrait in History” section.

Reprints not available from the author.

Copyright College of American Pathologists Dec 1999

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