Withering Letters

Scope and Content

Letters of William Withering to various correspondents. Subject matter relates mainly to botany and medical matters particularly concerning the plant Drosera.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Withering, botanist and physician, is credited with the introduction of digitalis into the practice of medicine. Withering was born in Wellington, Shropshire, England in 1741. He followed in the medical footsteps of his father who was an apothecary-surgeon. Withering received his degree in 1766 from the University of Edinburgh. Withering published 19 articles during his lifetime. After fighting a long battle with tuberculosis, he died on 6 October 1799, at the age of 58. Digitalis purpurea in the 18th century was a blessing for people with dropsy. At the same time, foxglove concoctions began to appear in an attempt to cure, albeit unsuccessfully, illnesses such as asthma, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, insanity and others. The 18th century brought foxglove into medical light, but it would take several hundred years before its true healing powers could be harnessed completely.

Reference: Hand Kocher, Digitalis Purpurea Cardia Glycoside (http://www.csoll.tamu.edu/FLORA/wilson/481/medbot/bot2.htm).

Access Information

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Acquisition Information

This is an artificial collection; it was begun with a purchase of letters made in 1963/64. A number of additions have been made subsequently.

Other Finding Aids

A paper catalogue to file and item level is available in the Special Collections Department and at the National Register of Archives in London.

Alternative Form Available

Some of the items in the collection are xerox copies of originals.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections. Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Further deposits are expected.

Related Material

University of Birmingham Information Services, Special Collections Department also holds the Withering Collection: Papers of T.W. Peck and K.D. Wilkinson (GB150 WP), acquired whilst writing William Withering of Birmingham, Bristol, 1950.