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Dr. Calvin Ellis, who died at his
residence in Boston last Friday, December 14th, was born in Boston, at
the corner of McLean and Chambers Streets, in 1826, being, therefore, at
the time of his death fifty- seven years old. He was the son of Luther
Ellis, a prominent iron merchant. Dr. Ellis received his early education
in the Chauucy Hall school, entered Harvard College in 1842, and
graduated in 1846. After leaving college he entered the medical school,
from which he took his diploma in 1849, serving then a year in the
Massachusetts General Hospital as house physician, and spending two
years abroad in study before beginning the practice of medicine in this
He was appointed Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Harvard
Medical School and visiting physician at the General Hospital in 1864,
succeeding Dr. H. I. Bowditch in both offices. He was a member of the
Massachusetts Medical Society since 1850, of a number of medical
societies, and was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences. He contributed several valuable papers to the pages of this
journal, and at the time of his death was engaged upon a book upon Symptomatology, which he leaves unfinished.
The origin of the malady, duodenal ulcer, which brought Dr. Ellis's
active and useful career to a premature close, probably dates back at
least ten years. In 1874, when returning from one of several visits to
Vienna, he experienced a good deal of abdominal distress, attributed at
the time to the disturbance of the sea voyage. For the last three or
four years the diagnosis was ulcer
of the duodenum. They have been years of much suffering, well borne, in
which the discharge of professional duties as a teacher and practitioner
has been greatly interfered with, and latterly rendered impossible.
The end came in the usual way, by perforation of the intestine and
A. B. 1846;
M. D. 1849.
Adjunct Professor Theory and
Professor Clinical Medicine
School. Accordingly on April 25,
1863, the Corporation appointed Ellis Adjunct Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic. After serving
George C. Shattuck for two years in this place, he was transferred to
the Department of Clinical Medicine, and on October 20, 1865, was made
Adjunct Professor to Henry I. Bowditch, whom he succeeded on September
28, 1867, as Professor of Clinical Medicine. Two years later he was
chosen Dean of the Medical School, and
held this office till June 25, 1883.*
Whether we consider
Calvin Ellis as the cheerful,
courteous, successful physician; the able, forceful, writer; the
lucid, systematic, scientific teacher; the progressive reformer of
medical thought and methods of
teaching; or as one of Harvard's generous benefactors, we find that
he did all things well. Ellis was
unquestionably one of the most valuable teachers the
Harvard Medical School has had. He
showed that we must place the diagnosis of disease upon a scientific
basis, he scouted mere authority. Nothing was to be regarded settled
until proven. "Snap" diagnoses were beneath his notice, and
so-called intuition in diagnosis was to him little less than
charlatanism. He taught that every step in the diagnosis should be
proven. In this he drilled his pupils in a fashion which to many
other teachers seemed slow and overdone. Diagnosis by elimination
was his method. How well he succeeded is shown by
the fact that if there is one distinguishing
mark about Harvard Medical graduates
to-day it is their adherence to this method. The foundation for
practice was well laid by Ellis and
his followers. Nor was this reform his only work of reconstruction.
He was Dean of the
Medical School in the reformation period,
and the newly elected President found in him a leader ready and able to
carry out reforms in that department of the University where custom,
tradition, and personal interests seemed strong enough to defeat any
attack. It will not seem invidious to claim a great share of the victory
for this gentle, fearless, honest teacher. He lived to see success
assured. Not so with his life work on Symptomatology. It must be one of
our keenest regrets, as it is a loss to medicine, that this able man did
not leave this last work of his in form for publication. But many of his
writings survive. A full list includes some forty-two articles published
between 1855 and the year of his death. His Boylston Prize Essay in 1860
on "Tubercle" was perhaps the best paper on that subject prior to Koch's
discovery of the bacillus. Then his introductory lecture to the
Medical Class in 1866 remains luminous
for him who looks for good things in medicine.
became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
on November 9, 1859, and was a distinguished member of that learned
body at the time of his death. During the Civil War he went twice to
the front upon errands of mercy, and twice returned a victim to the
infection from which he tried to rescue others.
His generous bequests to the
School so faithfully executed by his sister have been as helpful in
a material manner as was his teaching to the intellectual side of
student life. His old friends and pupils quote him with pride and
affection. Said his former teacher, Holmes :
Another of his teachers, Henry I.
He was my pupil in his days of
medical study, my assistant at the
Massachusetts General Hospital, and afterwards my successor there
and also in the Professorship of Clinical Medicine in
Harvard University; and finally he
was always a most beloved friend. For many years past I have often
sought his advice, and no one that I met gave wiser counsel than he
did; for his words were uttered only after a most rigid examination
of the matter in hand.
acquired his interest in morbid anatomy from J. B. S.
Jackson, with whom he was a favorite assistant. This knowledge and
training were important factors in his life as a teacher. He was the
friend of students, and entered into their life and studies with the
enthusiasm of a junior; he was appreciative of their endeavors, but
the critic of their mistakes. The trustees of the Massachusetts
General Hospital wanted him for Visiting Physician and were glad to
get him. So too felt the Corporation of the University when they
elected him Professor of Clinical Medicine. Finally, when his
failing health made these duties impossible, the Corporation waited
three years in the hope that his strength might return and his labor
be renewed. He died on December 14, 1883.
method of instruction has been mentioned.
Here is a tribute; "Dr. Ellis
while unravelling any case was less brilliant than some other
more fluent professors, and he was called a little 'slow' and
tedious, as some thought. But, upon our arrival at Vienna, by
comparing our method of grappling with cases in the German
Hospitals with the desultory and imperfect examinations made by
students of some noted schools in other large cities of our
country, we soon found that we had been more thoroughly
drilled than they. The result was that we understood more
quickly and fully than they did all of the intricacies of a
case." In his connection with the Medical
School, Ellis stood for higher education. In the changes of 1870-71 he was
known as a "conservative reformer." He was slow and deliberate
in coming to a decision, but once he had decided that a certain
course of action was the best, no opposition could turn him. It
is to this spirit of determination that the younger members of
the Medical Faculty owe the
victory won under his leadership.
new Medical Library needed funds
for a card catalogue, Ellis gave
one thousand dollars, and at his death he left one hundred and
fifty thousand dollars to the Medical
President Eliot in his report
for 1883-84 pays the following tribute to
conscientious, earnest and cheerful, he was one of the best
teachers of medicine the University has ever had. His daily
example, as a wise and high minded practitioner, and a kindly,
honorable and disinterested man, was of great worth to the
students, for they saw that these qualities were the foundation
of his success as a physician, and of his wholesome influence in
the Hospital, the School and the Medical
profession. He was Dean of the Medical
School from 1869 to 1883, and in this important
office contributed with all his weight to the reform in
medical education which the
Faculty effected within that period. Of his strong faith in the
beneficence of medical science he
gave proof by leaving large bequests for the promotion of that
science at the University.
At a meeting of the
Medical Faculty of
Harvard University, held February
2, 1884, the following was adopted :
He began early his
professional life, giving his especial attention to the subject,
of morbid anatomy, following in the steps which had marked the
long and patient career of our lamented friend, the late Dr. J.
B. S. Jackson. This branch of science involves great labor and
self sacrifice, and repays them with an exact knowledge of the
nature and course of disease not to be obtained by any easier
method of study. His devotion to this arduous pursuit laid the
foundation in science of the skill which he carried into the art
of healing, and of his success as a teacher of pathology and
took an active and never flagging interest in all
that related to the administration of the
Medical School of the University.
He had a special care for the microscopic department, which was
largely developed under his influence, and for the use of which
he made a gift in 1872. of five hundred dollars. From 1869 to
1883 he was dean of the Medical Faculty, and discharged all the duties of that office with the
fidelity which he carried into whatever he undertook. It is now
several years since he began to suffer from the disease which
caused his death. Even after this disease had greatly impaired
his active powers he would still attend the meetings of the
Faculty and when at length he was missed from his usual place
those who knew him felt that he was doomed, for no less than
some imperative hindrance could keep him from being with them.
1855. " Evidences of Arrest
of Tuberculosis Disease in the Lungs." Am. Journal of the
Medical Sciences, Philadelphia.
1855. " Induration of the
Brain m a Child." Am. Jour. Med. Sc., Philadelphia.
1855. " Glandular Proliferous
Cyst. Disease of the Liver. Autopsy." Am. Jour. Med. Sc.,
1856. "Inflammation and
Abscesses of the Lung, caused by Closure of the Primary
Bronchus." Boston Med. and Surg. Jour.
1856. " Case of Suicide by
Antimony." Boston Med. and Surg. Jour.
1857. " Remarkable Case of
Extra-uterine Foctation, coexisting with Uterine Pregnancy."
Boston Med. and Surg. Jour.
1858. " Case of Purpura
simulating Rheumatism and Erysipelas." Boston M. & S. Jour.
1860. " Leucocythaemia."
Boston Med. and Surg. Jour.
1860. "Two Cases of
Malformation." Boston Med. and Surg. Jour.
1860. " On Tubercle."
(Boylston Prize Essay.) Am. Jour. Med. Sc., Philadelphia.
And the following, printed in
the Boston Medical'and Surgical
1861. "Autopsy of a Case of
Cerebral Disease without Cerebral Lesion." 1861. " Softening of
the Heart as a Cause of Sudden Death."
1861. " Obstinate Vomiting
terminating in Death. Disease of Kidneys." 1861. " Two Cases of
Leucocythaemia, in which Crystals formed in the Blood after its
Removal from the Body."
1863. " Case of Addison's
1864. " A Malformed Heart."
1864. Reports of Cases.
Cerebro-spinal Meningitis, Typhoid Pneumonia, Disease of Heart,
and Aorta; Intestinal Hemorrhage. 1865. The Action of Causes of
Depression in the Production of Structural Change; the
Pathological Anatomy of Pneumonia.
1865. " Congenital Tumors,
containing Foetal Structures." 1865. " Spontaneous Laceration of
the Aorta. Two Cases."
1865. " The Relations of
Health and Disease." An Introductory Address at the
Harvard Medical School.
1866. " Spontaneous Evolution
in Labor. (Curious Powers of Nature.)"
1867. " Letter Explanatory of
a Criticism on his ' Relations of Health and Disease.' "
1869. " Letter from Berlin.
Account of the Medical School
1870. " The Tendency of
so-called Local Diseases to Generalization."
1871. " Vomiting as the Sole
Prominent Symptom of Disease of the Kidneys."
1871. "Autopsy of a Double
Monster (Ischiopagus Tripus)." 1874. " On a Case of Echinococcus
Cyst." (Interesting as foreshadowing his "Symptomatology.")
1874. " Ovarian Cyst."
1875. " Capillary Bronchitis
of Adults." (In Am. Gin. Lect. Series.)
1876. "General Softening of
the Brain, seldom seen as a Pathological Condition; never as a
1876. " The Curved Line of
1877. " Constant Irrigation
in a case of Chronic Cystitis."
1877. " The Point of Origin
of the so-called ' Bronchial Respiration.'"
1877. " Ulcerative
Endocarditis: Embolism of the Arteries of the Left Leg."
1878. " Ostcomalacia in a
1879. " Chest Expansion in
1879. " Dilated Bronchi."
1879. " Probable Acute
1879. " Effusion of Blood
into the Left Hemisphere and Lateral Ventricle."
1880. " The Significance of
Albuminuria as a Symptom."
1884. " Symptomatology." (An unfinished manuscript.)
(The personal edited research
notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or
may not be completely documented)