Richard Morton (physician)

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Richard Morton (1637-1698) was an English physician who was the first to state that tubercles were always present in the tuberculosis disease of the lungs. In Morton's time, this wasting disease was termed consumption, or by its Greek name of phthisis. Recognition of the many possible symptoms of this infection belonging to a single disease was not until the 1820s and it was J.L. Schönlein in 1839 who introduced the term we use to this day of tuberculosis.

He was born in Worcestershire and, having trained at Oxford's Magdalen Hall, elected to enter the Church, becoming Vicar of Kinver in Staffordshire. With his refusal to acquiesce to the Act of Uniformity 1662 following the Restoration of Charles II, he was forced to resign. His whereabouts for the following eight years are unclear, although he probably travelled to Holland. He reappeared in 1670 when, on the sponsorship of the Prince of Orange, he was awarded doctorate of medicine by Oxford University.

His landmark paper Phthisiologia, seu exercitationes de Phthisi tribus libris comprehensae was published in Latin in 1689, with an English translation appearing in 1720. Its significance is partly due to the disease receiving little study by other doctors of the time as well as it being a major cause of death; accounting for over 18% all deaths in the City of London in 1700.

Medicine of that time was deferential to the ideas of Galen and so Morton undertandably mistook tubercles for being caused by glandular degenerations; mycobacterium tuberculosis not being identified until 1882 by Robert Koch.


  • R R Trail (1970). "Richard Morton (1637-1698)". Med Hist. 14 (2): 166–174. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  • "Léon Charles Albert Calmette". Who Named It. 2001.
  • Keers RY. "Richard Morton (1637-98) and his Phthisiologia". Thorax. 37 (1): 26–31. PMID 7041321. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help); Text " year-1982 " ignored (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)

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