Despite his acknowledged pre-eminence among British psychiatrists of the 19th century, Henry Maudsley (1835–1918) remains a ‘shadowy figure’, a name known through the Hospital and annual lecture funded by his beneficence. Apart from the homage paid by Sir Aubrey Lewis in 1951, there has been no recent attempt at any biography nor any critical reappraisal of Maudsley's life and work. On the basis of reviewing his role in the Medico-Psychological Association (MPA), his rather pessimistic and degenerationist philosophy, his undoubted wealth and his ‘hypercritical nature’, it is possible to define an alternative view of his significance and influence.
‘…comical, almost pitiable at times, is the ludicrous display of vanity by men of great eminence…they leave behind them carefully preserved letters and elaborate memoirs of what they thought and felt’. (Maudsley, 1918)