American views of Sir Victor Horsley in the era of Cushing

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Sir Victor Horsley was a pioneering British neurosurgeon known for his numerous neurosurgical, scientific, and sociopolitical contributions. Although word of these surgical and scientific achievements quickly spread throughout Europe and North America in the late 19th century, much of modern neurosurgery’s view of Horsley has been colored by a single anecdote from John Fulton’s biography of Harvey Cushing. In this account, Cushing observes a frenetic Horsley hastily removing a Gasserian ganglion from a patient in the kitchen of a British mansion. Not long after, Cushing left Britain saying that he had little to learn from British neurosurgery. The authors of this paper examined contemporary views of Horsley to assess what his actual reputation was in the US and Canada. The authors conducted a thorough search of references to Horsley using the following sources: American surgical and neurosurgical textbooks; major biographies; diary entries and letters; PubMed; newspaper articles; and surgical and neurosurgical texts. The positive reception of his work is corroborated by invitations for Horsley to speak in America. Research additionally revealed that Horsley had numerous personal and professional relationships with prominent Americans in medicine, including William Osler, John Wheelock Elliot, Ernest Sachs, and (yes) Harvey Cushing. Horsley’s contributions to medicine and science were heavily reported in American newspapers; outside of neurosurgery, his strong opposition to the antivivisectionists and his support for alcohol prohibition were widely reported in popular media. Horsley’s contributions to neurosurgery in America are undeniable. Writings from and about prominent Americans reveal that he was viewed favorably by those who had met him. Frequent publication of his views in the American media suggests that medical professionals and the public in the US valued his contributions on scientific as well as social issues. Horsley died too young, but not without the international recognition that was rightly his.

ABBREVIATIONS MGH = Massachusetts General Hospital.

Article Information

Correspondence Michael Schulder: Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, NY.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online March 9, 2018; DOI: 10.3171/2017.8.JNS171438.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Photograph of Sir Victor Horsley with his dog Noah. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license CC BY 4.0 (, Wellcome Library no. 12928i.

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    A headline reporting Sir Victor Horsley’s first successful operation for epilepsy in the Richmond Dispatch, September 12, 1886.

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    An 1892 headline from the New York Times profiling Victor Horsley’s experiments and conflict with the antivivisectionists.

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    An American advertisement from the Scientific Temperance Federation in Boston, Massachusetts, concerning the effects of alcohol on the human body citing Horsley’s Alcohol and the Human Body on the bottom left. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license CC BY 4.0 (, Wellcome Library no. 679992i. Figure is available in color online only.

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    Photograph of Sir Victor Horsley, at the far left, taken for his address in Toronto. His bulk is from a large antiseptic dressing placed to sterilize the skin prior to an appendectomy he was to undergo the next morning. Image courtesy of the Queen Square Archives, University College London.

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    Photograph of Sir Victor Horsley speaking to a large crowd. Image courtesy of the Queen Square Archives, University College London.



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