Saturday, 23.02.2019

Carl Lange1834 – 1900. A Founding Father of Neurology, Psychophysiology and Lithium Therapy. A Biographical Portrait byJohan Schioldann
Barry Blackwell’s comment


       Professor Schioldann has provided an exemplary informative biography of the Danish psychiatrist Carl Lange. This is a generous and significant contribution to INHN as well as a treasure trove of original discoveries across a broad spectrum of neuropsychopharmacology.

       It includes the pathogenesis and phenomenology of Tabes Dorsalis, the James-Langetheory of emotional awareness with its physiological origins, conditioned reflexes (two decades before Pavlov) and a dissection of the phenomena in affective disorders including sorrow, morbid anxiety and alternating periods of depression and mania.

       Lange also distinguished between truly genetic and misleading familial patterns of psychopathology. Briefly mentioned in this biography, the complete story of Carl Lang’s and his brother Frederick’s contribution to prophylactic lithium therapy in recurring affective disorder, is told in the author’s seminal book (Schioldann 2009).

       As sometimes occurs in our field of enquiry Carl Lange’s original findings were often “re-discovered” years later by others and his contributions forgotten. This biography also describes the vicissitudes accompanying Carl’s career, colored in its early years by the nation’s defeat in the Second Danish-Prussian War (1864) after which all citizens were compelled to become German and Danish medicine suffered a temporary loss of self-respect coupled with a decline in international publications that may have diminished its reputation.

       Although described by some as “a poor teacher” Carl mentored two scientists who became Nobel Laureates after his death, two decades apart: Finsen in 1903 and Fibiger in 1927.

       Widely regarded as an important figure, involved citizen and a polymath Carl was involved in public health, poor relief, medical education and jurisprudence, as well as a leader in medical organizations. He was also considered an expert in anthropology, cultural history, geology and philosophy. This biography presents a variable picture of Carl’s persona and temperament; subject to fluctuating moods and a tendency to shun public recognition he could be a harsh critic although paradoxically considered “an excellent advisor” by some.

       Overall, I was struck by Carl Lange’s significant scientific contributions to the evolution of Neuropsychiatry in its early era. His lifetime and career (1834-1900) coincided almost exactly with that of Thudicum (1829- 1901). Both of their early careers were blighted by involvement in the Danish-Prussian Wars. Thudichum in the first war (1848), in which he served on the Danish side after which, as a German citizen, he was unable to find work and forced to migrate to Britain where he lived, worked and died (Blackwell 2015).  Carl’s in the Second Danish-German War (1864) which the Danish lost with the effects noted above.

       Widely regarded as “The Father of NeurochemistryThudichum’s work was confined to the chemistry of the brain and he was firmly convinced mental illness was due to its dysfunction. Carl Lange’s contemporaneous career provided the clinical evidence to fulfill that prediction. Like two sides of the same coin these men shared similar origins, experiences and probably a common language. Were they aware of this and did they ever communicate?  My biography, based on Drabkin’s, revealed no evidence of this. Does Professor Schioldann know of any connection between these two back to back pioneers?



Blackwell B. Father of Neurochemistry on INHN in Biographies. 7.30.2015

Schioldann J. History of the Introduction of Lithium into Medicine and Psychiatry. Adelaide; Academic Press, 2009.


November 29, 2018