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A Moment in History

Self-portrait, Henry Vandyke Carter, MD (Public Domain)
Self-portrait, Henry Vandyke Carter, MD (Public Domain)

Henry Vandyke Carter, MD
(1831 – 1897)

English physician, surgeon, medical artist, and a pioneer in leprosy and mycetoma studies.  HV Carter was born in Yorkshire in 1831. He was the son of Henry Barlow Carter, a well-known artist and it is possible that he honed his natural talents with his father. His mother picked his middle name after a famous painter, Anthony Van Dyck. This is probably why his name is sometimes shown as Henry Van Dyke Carter, although the most common presentation of his middle name is Vandyke.

Having problems to finance his medical studies, HV Carter trained as an apothecary and later as an anatomical demonstrator at St. George’s Hospital in London, where he met Henry Gray (1872-1861), who was at the time the anatomical lecturer. Having seen the quality of HV Carter’s drawings, Henry Gray teamed with him to produce one of the most popular and longer-lived anatomy books in history: “Gray’s Anatomy”, which was first published in late 1857.  The book itself, about which many papers have been written, was immediately accepted and praised because of the clarity of the text as well as the incredible drawings of Henry Vandyke Carter.

While working on the book’s drawings, HV Carter continued his studies and received his MD in 1856.

In spite of initially being offered a co-authorship of the book, Dr. Carter was relegated to the position of illustrator by Henry Gray and never saw the royalties that the book could have generated for him. For all his work and dedication, Dr. Carter only received a one-time payment of 150 pounds. Dr.  Carter never worked again with Gray, who died of smallpox only a few years later.

Frustrated, Dr. Carter took the exams for the India Medical Service.  In 1858 he joined as an Assistant Surgeon and later became a professor of anatomy and physiology. Even later he served as a Civil Surgeon. During his tenure with the India Medical Service he attained the ranks of Surgeon, Surgeon-Major, Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel, and Brigade-Surgeon.

Dr. Carter dedicated the rest of his life to the study of leprosy, and other ailments typical of India at that time. He held several important offices, including that of Dean of the Medical School of the University of Bombay. In 1890, after his retirement, he was appointed Honorary Physician to the Queen.

Dr. Henry Vandyke Carter died of tuberculosis in 1897.

Personal note: Had history been different, this famous book would have been called “Gray and Carter’s Anatomy” and Dr. Carter never gone to India. His legacy is still seen in the images of the thousands of copies of “Gray’s Anatomy” throughout the world and the many reproductions of his work available on the Internet. We are proud to use some of his images in this blog. The image accompanying this article is a self-portrait of Dr. Carter. Click on the image for a larger depiction. Dr. Miranda

1. “Obituary: Henry Vandyke Carter” Br Med J (1897);1:1256-7
2. “The Anatomist: A True Story of ‘Gray’s Anatomy” Hayes W. (2007) USA: Ballantine
3. “A Glimpse of Our Past: Henry Gray’s Anatomy” Pearce, JMS. J Clin Anat (2009) 22:291–295
4. “Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter: Creators of a famous textbook” Roberts S. J Med Biogr (2000) 8:206–212.
5. “Henry Vandyke Carter and his meritorious works in India” Tappa, DM et al. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol (2011) 77:101-3

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Empedocles of Agrigentum

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.
Empedocles of Agrigentum (ca. 495–430 BC). Greek philosopher, poet, physician, physiologist, politician, Empedocles was born in the city of Agrigentum, a Greek colony in Sicily.

Empedocles presented himself as an immortal god. Versed in magic and incantations, he was seen as a healer by people that followed him.

A philosopher, Empedocles developed the theory that nature consists of the combination of four “elements”— earth, water, air, and fire —with each of these elements being a combination of two qualities:  water is wet and cold, air is dry and cold, fire is dry and hot, and earth is wet and hot. Empedocles went further to explain that the combination of these elements is based on the balance of love and hate. The balance of the elements represented balance in life.

Further development of this theory by observation of the human body, led to the “Humor theory” or “bodily fluids” theory based on four fluids whose imbalance led to disease. The four humors were “blood” or sanguineous, which belongs to the air element, “phlegm”, which belongs to water, “yellow bile”, which corresponds to fire, and “black bile” or “melancholy” which corresponds to earth. This theory dominated human physiology and medicine until the 17th century.

Empedocles of Agrigentum
Because the humor theory also explained moods and temperaments, Empedocles’ influence is still seen in our language as we refer to people and personalities as “phlegmatic”, “sanguine”, “bilious”, and “melancholy”.

Empedocles’ death is the stuff of legend. To maintain his image as a god, he threw himself into the Etna volcano to disappear. This was foiled as it is said that the volcano spew one of his golden sandals. Others said that he made a “divinity” party and after dinner when everyone was asleep he disappeared, making everyone believe he had risen to heaven. Fact is, we do not know.

1. “Mythical Conceptions of the Problem of the Unity of Culture” Tagliacozzo, G. Am Behav Scient Apr 1963; 6-8
2. “The Nature and Formation of Teeth According to Spanish Authors from the 16th to the 18th Centuries” Romero-Maroto, M. J Dent Res (2008) 87(2):103-106
3. “The evolution of Modern Medicine” Osler, W. 2nd Ed. Yale University Press 1922
4. “Empedocles” N Brit Rev Vol LXV (1866) 420-440

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