Charlton Bastian was born at Truro and educated at Falmouth and University College, London, where he took the degrees of M.A. in 1861 and of M.B. in 1863. His first appointments were as assistant physician and lecturer on pathology to St. Mary’s Hospital. These he resigned in 1867 to become professor of pathology at University College and assistant physician at University College Hospital; he later became full physician and in 1887 succeeded to the chair of medicine. In 1868 he was elected assistant physician, and in 1887 physician to the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic. For early work on parasitology he was made an F.R.S. at the age of thirty-one.
For the greater part of his life, Bastian devoted himself to the study of the nervous system and became, with Hughlings Jackson and William Gowers, a recognised pioneer in the modern science of neurology. For many years he made a particular study of aphasia, beginning with the publication, in 1869, of his paper On the Various Forms of Loss of Speech in Cerebral Disease and culminating in his work, in 1898, on Aphasia and other Speech Defects, based on his Lumleian Lectures of the previous year, which was to become a neurological classic. He also laboured on the problems of paralysis resulting from affections of the brain, his chief books on this subject being Paralysis from Brain Disease (1875), Paralyses, Cerebral, Bulbar, and Spinal (1886), and Various Forms of Hysterical or Functional Paralysis (1893). Another important work was his volume on The Brain as an Organ of the Mind, published in 1880, which was translated into French and German and ran into several editions.
The other great problem which Bastian explored, particularly in his younger and in his later years, was that of the origin of life. He was a convinced believer that there was no strict line of demarcation between non-living and living matter. Against all the biological and bacteriological opinion of his time, he firmly avowed the principle of spontaneous generation—that a fortuitous concourse of atoms had, in the immeasurably distant past, given rise to life, and could still do so. He claimed that his own experiments had proved this. But their validity was denied by most of his contemporaries. They had not sufficiently excluded, it was agreed, the possibilities of error; and although he refused, to the end of his life, to accept the majority verdict, he never succeeded in converting his fellow-scientists to his own way of thinking. He was a Censor of the Royal College of Physicians. He was a close friend and one of the trustees of Herbert Spencer. He married Julia, daughter of Charles Orme, and had three sons and a daughter. He died at Chesham Bois.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1915; B.M.J., 1915]