In the knowledge of the
emptiness of this bounce, it nay seem malicious to withdraw it from
forgetfulness; but it serves to point the truth that human nature in 1726 was
much the same as human nature at this day, and that the same arts of audacious
assertion and rowdy rhetoric were in practice then as now. Indeed, whoever is
sufficiently wicked to presume on the natural trustfulness of mankind, and will
lie loud enough and long enough, may attain an appalling success—as our story,
alas! will prove.
One thing goes to Boylston's
credit: he did not propose to make poxing universal—to poison and sicken
everybody, and inflict certain injury to avert future and uncertain danger from
a few. He proposed to reserve inoculation for emergencies—
The narratives of Mather and
Boylston are of special importance because we have in them the true lineage of
inoculation as introduced from the eastern to the western world. Boylston tells
us that when smallpox appeared in Boston—
For some inscrutable reason
the true position of Cotton Mather in the history of inoculation is continually
overlooked or mis-stated. For instance, in Mather's biography In the excellent
English Cyclopœdia, it is said that he derived his information and
impulse from the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; a statement repeated in
the memoirs of that lady, which is entirely fabulous.
As for History “said the Duke
of Marlborough, "I know that it is false;” and whoever has occasion to enter
minutely into any historical question will be apt to concur with the Duke.
Happening to refer to Walter Bagehot's essay on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, I
found this passage—
Now Bagehot loved accuracy and
abhorred credulity and yet in these lines, delivered with as much confidence as
a column of the multiplication table, there are exhibited about as much
inaccuracy and credulity as could be packed into the space. Let us see what Lady
Mary really did in the matter of inoculation.
Mr. Wortley Montagu was
appointed ambassador to the Porte, and set out for Constantinople in the autumn
of 1716 accompanied by his wife, then in her twenty-seventh year. The Ottoman
Empire was in those days powerful and proud, disdaining to send representatives
to Christian Courts, and receiving ambassadors as commercial agents, or as
bearers of homage from their respective sovereigns. The English ambassador
reached his destination early in 1717, and ere a month had passed, and ere Lady
Mary had time to look around and appreciate the strange world into which she had
entered, with sprightly audacity she wrote as follows to her friend Miss Sarah
In this letter there was
material for a smallpox idyl—nothing easier, nothing surer, "smallpox made
entirely harmless." But idyls are deceptive; their paradisiacal effects are
obtained by the sedulous exclusion of whatever is otherwise. About the time
that Lady Mary romancing so triumphantly to Miss Sarah Chiswell she despatched
this note to her husband—
The boy1 was engrafted last
Tuesday, and is at this time singing and playing, and very impatient for his
supper. I pray God my next may give as good an account of him. ... I cannot
engraft the girl; her nurse has not had the smallpox.
1.* Born in Yorkshire,
Why should the engrafting of
the infant have been hindered because the nurse had not had smallpox ? The
answer to the question reveals a peril concealed from Miss Sarah Chiswell.
Because the engrafted child would probably have communicated unmitigated
smallpox to the nurse. Why not then engraft nurse and child ? Because they
would have sickened together, and mother Mary did not care to incur the risk.
There was no danger, she said; none whatever, only a pleasant diversion;
nevertheless she preferred discretion to her own voluble assurance.
In History we have always to
suspect the picturesque, for mankind have a fatal preference for handsome error
over uncomely fact; and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu as mother of English
inoculation, and derivatively of vaccination, is ever so much more graceful than
dull Timoni and Pylarini in the Philosophical Transactions or Cotton
Mather in New England. Few condescend to inquire whether Lady Mary, as primary
inoculator, was acting independently, or whether she had advisers and
prompters. "All of her self and by her self " is the heroic; representation—"
a woman's wit against the world;" and judgment surrenders to fancy, as is the
way with myths ancient and modern.
But it so happens that what in
itself ought to be incredible—that a young Englishwoman should suddenly adopt
the strange practice of a strange people—is demonstrably incredible. Lady Mary
did not act alone. She had for counsellor and director, Charles Maitland, the
physician to the embassy, who, familiar with the fame of inoculation, was glad
to observe its practice experimentally. Maitland writes—
In the year 1717, when I had the honour to
attend the English Ambassador and his family at Constantinople, I had a fair
opportunity fully to inform myself of what I had long before heard,
namely, the famous practice of transplanting, or raising the smallpox by
Here we may note, too, that
Maitland was aware that inoculation did not originate in Turkey. He says—
Whilst universally practised all over Turkey for
three-score years it has been known in other parts of the East, a hundred, or,
aught we know, some hundreds of years before.2
1. Account of Inoculating for Smallpox.
2. A Short Account of Inoculation. London, 1723.
It was Maitland who managed
the inoculation of young Montagu, and he thus described the operation—
About this time, the Ambassador's ingenious lady
resolved to submit her only son to it, a very hopeful boy of about six years of
age. She first of all ordered me to find out a fit subject to take the matter
from, and then sent for an old Greek woman who had practiced this way a great
many years. After a good deal of trouble and pains, I found a proper subject,
and then the good woman went to work; but so awkwardly by the shaking of her
hand, and put the child to so much torture with her blunt and rusty needle, that
I pitied his cries, who had ever been of such spirit and courage that hardly
anything of pain could make him cry before; and therefore, inoculated the other
arm with my own instrument, and with so little pain to him that he did not in
the least complain of it. The operation took in both arms, and succeeded
perfectly well….He had about an hundred pox all upon his body. This operation
was performed at Pera in the mouth of March, 1717.
That is to say, almost
simultaneously with the Ambassador's arrival in Turkey.
The embassy returned to
England in 1718, after a residence of little over a year in Constantinople. The
dates are worth observation; for whilst it appears that the doctor and the lady
were in common resolved to recommend the practice of inoculation to their
countrymen, the dates prove with what inexperience and levity they assumed the
grave responsibility. If quackery be assertion in absence of knowledge or of
evidence, then we may accurately stigmatise Maitland and Montagu a couple of
quacks. But so far as concerns Maitland we may go farther, for he expressly
I was assured and saw with my eyes that the
smallpox is rather more malignant and epidemic in the Turkish dominions than
with us; insomuch that, as some have affirmed, one-half, or at least one-third
part of the diseased, at certain times, do die of it; and they that escape are
terribly disfigured by it.1
1. Account of Inoculating for Smallpox p4
Yet this same Maitland, who
thus testified of the impotence of inoculation to mitigate and restrain smallpox
in Turkey, came to England ready to assert its power to, mitigate and restrain!
It is difficult to find words of due severity for such impudent inconsistency.
We shall see, however, in the course of this wonderful story, how every rule of
evidence may be defied in the matter of smallpox, and how it is possible to shut
one's eyes and prophesy in the name of science, and have noise and hardihood
accepted for veracity.
LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU
returned to England in 1718, but not until 1721 did she fulfil her intention of
making war on the doctors, and incurring their resentment for the good of
mankind. In the spring of 1721 she commenced action in earnest by the
inoculation of her daughter—the infant that it was considered unsafe to
"engraft" when at Pera in 1718. In Maitland's words—
The noble Lady sent for me last April, and when
I came, she told me she was now resolved to have her daughter inoculated, and
desired me forthwith to find out matter for the purpose. I pleaded for a delay
of a week or two, the weather being then cold and wet. I also prayed, that any
two physicians whom she thought fit, might be called, not only to consult the
health and safety of the child, but likewise to be eye witnesses of the
practice, and contribute to the credit and reputation of it. This was at first
denied me, it might be out of a design to keep it secret, or lest it should come
the meantime having found proper matter, I engrafted the child in both arms,
after the usual manner. She continued easy and well till the tenth night,
when she was observed to be a little hot and feverish. An ancient apothecary
in the neighbourhood being then called, prudently advised not to give the child
medicine, assuring the parents there was no danger, and that the heat would
quickly abate, which accordingly it did, and the smallpox began next morning to
appear. Three learned physicians of the college were admitted, one after
another, to visit the young lady; they are all gentlemen of honour, and will on
all occasions declare, as they have done hitherto, that they saw Miss Wortley
playing about the room, cheerful and well, with the smallpox raised upon her;
and that in a few days after she perfectly recovered of them. Several ladies,
and other persons of distinction, also visited this young patient, and can
attest the truth of this fact.
of the learned physicians who had visited Miss Wortley, having some years since
fully informed himself of this method of practice, and being thoroughly
satisfied of the safety and reasonableness of it, at length resolved to try it
in his own family; he had formerly lost some children in a very malignant kind
of the smallpox, therefore advised me to lose no time to engraft the only son he
had left. The boy (who was not quite six years of age) being of a pretty warm
and sanguine complexion, the Doctor ordered about five ounces of blood to be
taken from him; and then, in ten days, having found matter which he liked, I
inoculated him in both arms. This was performed the 11th of May, 1721.
The learned physician here
referred to was Dr. Keith, and the facility wherewith he adopted the novel
practice supplies an instructive commentary on Lady Mary's anticipation of the
resentment of "the profession"—her imitator coming from the ranks of the dreaded
self-seeking obstructives. Furthermore, we have to observe how different is
Maitland's account from the heroic myth current of " the one woman confronting
the prejudice and ill-will of the world." Even Lady Louisa Stuart, who made it
her business to correct many misconceptions as to her grandmother's career,
Only the higher motive of hoping to save
numberless lives could have given Lady Mary courage to resolve upon bringing
home the discovery. For what an arduous, what a fearful, and, we may add, what
a thankless enterprise it was, nobody is now in the least aware. Those who have
heard her applauded for it ever since they were born, and have also seen how
joyfully vaccination was welcomed in their own days, may naturally conclude that
when once the experiment had been made, and had been proved successful, she
could have nothing to do but to sit down triumphant, and receive the thanks and
blessings of her countrymen. But it was far otherwise. . . Lady Mary protested
that in four or five years immediately succeeding her arrival at home, she
seldom passed a day without repenting of her patriotic undertaking; and she
vowed that she never would have attempted it, if she had foreseen the vexation,
the persecution, and even the obloquy it brought upon her. The clamours raised
against the practice, and of course against her, were beyond belief. The
faculty rose in arms to a man, foretelling failure and the most disastrous
consequences; the clergy descanted from their pulpits on the impiety of thus
seeking to take events out of the hand of Providence; the common people were
taught to look at her as an unnatural mother, who had risked the lives of her
own children. . . We now read in grave medical biography that the discovery was
instantly hailed, and the method adopted, by the principal members of the
profession. . . But what said Lady Mary of the actual fact and actual time ?
Why, that the four great physicians deputed by Government to watch the
-progress of her daughter's inoculation, betrayed not only such incredulity
as to its success, but such an unwillingness to have it succeed, such an evident
spirit of rancour and malignity, that she never cared to leave the child alone
with them one second, lest it should in some secret way suffer from their
1. Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley
Montagu. Vol. i. pp. 88-90. Ed. 1861.
Thus is History written! An
apothecary and three doctors, selected by the Wortleys at discretion, and
admitted singly to view a private experiment, are converted into " four great
physicians deputed by Government," rancorous and dangerous ! Thus are myths
Lady Mary was a woman of mark
in society, fashionable and literary, and her exploit was naturally the talk of
the town. Among her friends was Caroline, Princess of Wales, a lady of more than
ordinary strength of mind and intelligence, with a taste for theology and
philosophy, the patron of Butler, and his sympathetic student. It has been said,
" There never was a clever woman that was not a quack ;" and Princess Caroline
was an illustration of its truth. The new remedy for smallpox caught her fancy,
and she determined to put it to the test. She begged of George I. that six
felons should be pardoned on condition of their submission to inoculation, and
the King was pleased to comply with the extraordinary request. Maitland was
then called upon to exhibit his skill, but he hesitated to act as hangman's
substitute ; whereon Sir Hans Sloane, the court physician, was appealed to. Sir
Hans held counsel with Dr. Terry of Enfield, who had practised physic in
Constantinople, and knew something of inoculation; and fortified with Terry's
assurance, he was enabled to overcome Maitland's scruples, real or affected.
Accordingly, on the 9th of August, 1721, writes Maitland—
I performed the operation of inoculating the
smallpox on six condemned criminals at Newgate in presence of several eminent
physicians, surgeons, and others. The names of the criminals were—
NOETH, . . . Aged 36 years.
2. ANNE TOMPION,
3. ELIZABETH HARRISON, 19
4. JOHN CAWTHERY,
5. JOHN ALCOCK,
EVANS, 19 years
On Wednesday morning, 9th
August, he made incisions in both arms and the right legs of the six. Thursday
passed and Friday passed without any indications of constitutional disturbance,
and, despairing of success, he obtained fresh pox on Saturday from Christ's
Hospital, and repeated the inoculation in new incisions in the arms of five of
them. He had no matter left for Evans, who, it appeared, had had smallpox in
September, 1720, and who therefore escaped hanging unwarrantably. The disease
now " took," and progressed satisfactorily. Says Maitland—
One day Mr. Cook, an eminent Turkey merchant,
having seen the persons engrafted in Newgate, and having fully considered their
incisions and eruptions, he openly declared they were the very same as he had
observed in Turkey, having seen a great many instances; and that we might be
assured they would never again be infected with smallpox.
Dr. Mead suggested another
experiment—that cotton dipped in pox should be inserted in the nostrils; and a
young woman sentenced to death received her life on condition of submitting to
the operation. Here we have Mead's own account of the transaction—
A learned author has given an account of the
practice of sowing smallpox, as they call it, known to the Chinese above three
hundred years, which is this. They take the skins of some of the dried
pustules, which are fallen from the body, and put them into a porcelain bottle,
stopping the mouth of it very close with wax. When they have a mind to infect
any one, they make up three or four of these skins, putting between them with
one grain of musk into a tent with cotton, which they put up the nostrils.
myself have had an opportunity of making an experiment to this purpose. For,
when in the year 1721, by order of his Sacred Majesty, both for the sake of his
own family, and of his subjects, a trial was to be made upon seven condemned
malefactors, whether or not the smallpox could safely be communicated by
inoculation ; I easily obtained leave to make the Chinese experiment in one of
them. There was among those who were chosen out to undergo the operation, a
young girl of eighteen years of age. I put into her nostrils a tent, wetted
with matter taken out of ripe pustules. The event answered: for she, in like
manner with the others, who were infected by incisions made in the skin, fell
sick, and recovered;. but suffered much more than they did, being, immediately
after the poison was received into the nose, miserably tormented with sharp
pains in her head, and a fever, which never left her till the eruption of the
Finally, says Maitland—
On the 6th of September they were all dismissed
to their several counties and habitations. The thing has been successful on all
the-five, far beyond my expectation, considering their age, habit of body, and
circumstances; and it has perfectly answered Dr. Timoni's account of the
practice, and also the experience of all who have seen it in Turkey.2
1. On Smallpox and Measles. By Dr.
Mead. London, 1747.
2. Mr. Maitland's Account of Inoculating the
Smallpox. 2nd. ed. London, 1723.
So Maitland asserted, but
others were of a different opinion. Dr. Wagstaffe, who visited the patients in
Newgate regularly, maintained in a letter addressed to Dr. Freind—
Upon the whole, Sir, in the cases mentioned,
there was nothing like the smallpox, either in symptoms, appearances, advance of
the pustules, or the course of the distemper. And it would puzzle any one to
conceive how it is possible that smallpox can ever be prevented by inoculation.
With the exception of one of the men, the girl who had cotton dipped in matter
thrust up her nostrils, had as fair a smallpox as any in the place. 1
Sir Hans Sloane and Dr.
Steigertahl, physician to the King, to test the matter farther, "joined purses,"
and had one of the women inoculated in Newgate sent to Hertford, where smallpox
of a severe form was prevalent, to lie in bed with smallpox patients. This she
did with impunity ; but it was reasonably objected that many who were not
inoculated did so likewise and escaped without harm.
The Newgate experiment, of
course, caused great excitement, and induced many repetitions in town and
country. The Princess of Wales was especially alive to the importance of " the
great discovery;" and for her additional satisfaction, six charity children,
belonging to the parish of St. James, were inoculated ; and all but one " took"
and did well; the exception being due to the craft of the child, who, for the
sake of the reward, concealed the fact of having had smallpox.
1. A Letter to Dr. Freind showing the Danger
and Uncertainty of Inoculating the Smallpox. By W. Wagstaffe, M.D. London,
Upon these trials, and several others in private
families [wrote Sir Hans Sloane], the Princess of Wales sent for me to ask my
opinion of the inoculation of the Princesses. I told Her Royal Highness, that
by what appeared in the several essays, it seemed to be a method to secure
people from the great dangers attending smallpox in the natural way. That
preparations by diet and necessary precautions being taken, made the practice
very desirable ; but that not being certain of the consequences which might
happen, I would not persuade nor advise the making trials upon patients of such
importance to the public. The Princess then asked me if I would dissuade her
from it: to which I made answer that I would not, in a matter so likely to be of
such advantage. Her reply was, that she was then resolved to have it done, and
ordered me to go to the King, who commanded me to wait upon him on the occasion.
I told his Majesty my opinion, that it was impossible to be certain, but that
raising such a commotion in the blood there might happen dangerous accidents not
foreseen : but he replied that such might and had happened to persons who had
lost their lives by bleeding in a pleurisy, and taking physic in any distemper,
let never so much care be taken. I told his Majesty that I thought this to be
the same case, and the matter was concluded upon, and succeeded as usual,
without any danger during the operation, or the least ill symptom or disorder
The Princess Amelia, aged
eleven, and Caroline, aged nine, were therefore inoculated on the 19th of April,
Let us return to Maitland,
whose triumph for the moment appeared complete, and with it his assurance. To
his detractors he professed boldly—
I could bring a great many cases of persons
inoculated in Turkey to prove the constant and certain success of the
practice; in all which I have never seen any miscarriage, except in one,
which was wholly due to the rashness and inadvertence of a surgeon at
Is it not a matter of the greatest importance
for us to know how to prevent the mighty contagion of the smallpox, and how to
preserve our children from the violent attacks and fatal effects of it ?
To divine Maitland's
character—to determine how far he was deceiver or deceived is not easy. He
obviously made professions in vast excess of his knowledge. One of his
I remember Mr. Maitland at Child's Coffee House,
when the experiment was just begun at Newgate, was as confident and positive of
the success and security proposed by inoculation as if he had had twenty years
experience without any miscarriage, which made those who heard him justly
suspect he was more concerned for the employ than for the success of it. 2
1. An Account of Inoculation by Sir Hans
Sloane, Bart., given to Mr. Ranby to be published, 1736. Philosophical
Transactions, Vol. xlix. p. 516.
2. Isaac Massey to Sir Hans Sloane, 1722.
He had not the proper craft of
the conscious rogue, for alongside his assertions of absolute competence and
safety, he set forth such confessions of ignorance and disaster, that one is
impelled to pronounce him a purblind enthusiast. For example, take this case,
which he published without apparently any sense of its scope—
2nd October, 1721.—After
due preparation of the body, I engrafted Mary Batt, an infant of two years and a
half old, daughter of Thomas Batt, a Quaker, living at Temple, within three
miles of Hertford. The red spots and flushings appeared on her face and neck the
fourth day; and she kept playing about well till the seventh or eighth, when she
became a little heavy and thirsty, with a fuller and quicker pulse ; then the
pustules came out fresh and full, and the incisions discharged a thick and well
digested matter. She had not above twenty in all upon her; they continued about
three or four days, then dried away and fell off, and the child recovered
Thus far all was well; but what happened afterwards was, I must own, not a
little surprising to me, not having seen or observed anything like it before.
The case was in short this. Six of Mr. Batt's domestic servants, namely, four
men and two maids, who all in their turns were wont to hug and caress this child
whilst under the operation, and the pustules were out upon her, never suspected
them to he catching, nor indeed did I, were all seized with the right
natural smallpox, of several and very different kinds; for some had the round
distinct sort, some the small continued, and others the confluent; all of 'em
had a great many, but especially the last, with the usual bad symptoms, and
very narrowly escaped. But they all (God be thanked) did well (except
one maid, that would not be governed under the distemper, who died of it,)
and now enjoy a perfect state of health.1
Thus at the outset, smallpox
and death were the products of inoculation—the peril to be averted was incurred
and multiplied. Yet the man who thus records his own infamous ignorance, had the
impudence in the same pages to assert—
The practice prudently managed, is always safe
and useful, and the issue ever certain and salutary.2
1. Maitland's Account, p. 27.
2. Ibid. p. 33.
Words are wasted on such
reckless folly : we perceive how true is Carlyle's observation, " Stupidity
intellectual always means stupidity moral, as you will, with surprise or not,
discover if you look."
Before leaving Maitland, we
may take another leaf from his experience. He writes—
12th October, 1721.—I
inoculated Joseph and Benjamin, sons of William Heath, of Hertford; the first of
about seven, and the second three years of age ; both with the same matter and
at the same time : the last had a gentle and favourable kind; but the first,
namely, Joseph, being a fat, foul, gluttonous boy, who would not be confined to
the rules and directions I had strictly charged his mother withal, as to diet
and keeping warm, was taken very ill before the eruption, and after it had a
great load of the continued small kind, but at last recovered and did well.
What a mighty difference is here to be observed between those two boys! The
reason of it seems to be plainly this: the younger, who had the favourable kind,
was of a clean habit, moderate appetite, and easily governed during the whole
process. The elder was not only of a gross foul constitution, but likewise had
a voracious appetite, always eating and filling his belly with the coarsest food
—as cheese, fat country pudding, cold boiled beef, and the like, which I saw
myself as I came in by chance the third day after the operation; nor was there
any care taken to restrain or keep him within doors in cold, windy, frosty
weather; he once wet his feet in water—insomuch that had he taken the smallpox
by infection, the world could not have saved his life. Hence it appears how
necessary it is to cleanse thoroughly foul habits before the operation, and,
withal, to keep patients to a very strict regimen under it.1
1. Maitland's Account, p. 27.
Verily, as Cobbett said,
quackery is never without a shuffle. As we shall see, inoculation came to
require a preparatory course of very strict regimen—so strict as to be
impracticable for the rank and file of the world; but the practice was at first
commended without any such conditions. What said Maitland's patron, Lady Mary,
in her famous letter from Adrianople ?—
The smallpox, so fatal and so general amongst
us, is here entirely harmless by the invention of ingrafting…….. Every
year thousands undergo its operation; and the French ambassador says pleasantly
that they take the smallpox here by way of diversion, as they take waters in
other countries. There is no example of anyone that has died in it.
It was under cover of such
seductive assurances that inoculation was introduced to England, and established
in perversity and quackery.
THE FIRST OPPONENTS OF INOCULATION.
As we have seen, it is part of
the legend that the introduction of inoculation was fanatically resisted by
physicians, clergy, and mob; but the resistance was neither fanatical nor
extensive, and is chiefly the invention of the romancing biographers who
represent Lady Mary Wortley Montagu as a heroine and martyr of science. To do
that shrewd and brilliant woman justice, she made no pretence to the character
imputed to her, and in her copious correspondence, there is not a hint of
annoyance on the score of her patronage of the Turkish modification of smallpox.
On the contrary, it would appear that inoculation brought her a large share of
that veiled notoriety in which she had sincere pleasure. Writing to the Countess
of Mar in 1723, she says—
Lady Byng has inoculated both her children, and
since that experiment has not had any ill effect, the whole town are doing the
same thing; and I am so much pulled about, and solicited to visit people, that I
am forced to run into the country to hide myself.1
Lady Mary understood her
countrymen thoroughly, and, thirty years after her exploits in inoculation, she
wrote to Mr. Wortley Montagu as follows—
BRESCIA, 24th April, 1748.
I find Tar Water succeeded to Ward's Drop. ’Tis
possible, by this time, that some other quackery has taken place of that. The
English are easier than any other nation infatuated by the prospect of universal
medicines, nor is there any country in the world where the doctors raise such
immense fortunes. I attribute it to the fund of credulity which is in all
mankind. We have no longer faith in miracles and relics, and therefore with the
same fury run after recipes and physicians. The same money which three hundred
years ago was given for the health of the soul is now given for the health of
the body, and by the same sort of people-women and half-witted men. 2
1. Letters and Works of Lady M. W. Montagu,
Vol. i. p. 468, edition 1861.
2. Ibid. Vol. ii. p. 161.
Those who fancy there could be
any wide or effective resistance to inoculation in 1721 misapprehend the
conditions of the time. There was no scientific knowledge of the laws of health;
diseases were generally regarded as mysterious dispensations of Providence over
which the sufferers had little control; and a great part of medicine was a
combination of absurdity with nastiness. It would not be difficult to compile a
series of recipes from the pharmacopoeia of that day which would alternately
excite amusement, surprise, and disgust, and to describe medical practice from
which it is marvellous that ever patient escaped alive; but so much must pass
without saying. Suffice it to assert, that to inoculation there was little
material for opposition, rational or irrational; and that what we might think
the natural horror of transfusing the filth of smallpox into the blood of
health, was neutralised by the currency of a multitude of popular remedies which
seemed to owe their fascination to their ; outrageous and loathsome
Moreover, as the dates prove,
the interval was brief between the introduction of inoculation and its
authoritative acceptance. The girl Montagu was privately inoculated in April,
1721, Dr. Keith's boy on the 11th of May, the Newgate experiment took place on
the 9th of August, a variety of experiments followed, and lastly the Princesses
Amelia and Caroline were inoculated on the 19th of April, 1722—sharp work for
one year. There was not time for opposition. The citadel of social approval
was carried with a rush. As a contemporary observed—
I could not but take notice with what united
force and zeal the practice was pushed on upon the life and reputation it
received from its admission to the Royal Palace ; all pens and weekly papers at
work to recommend and publish it; and it was rightly judged, then or never was
the time ; and had it not been for some unlucky miscarriages, the inoculators
would have had the best chance for full practice and full pockets that ever fell
into the hands of so small a set of men.1
1. A Short and Plain Account of
Inoculation. By Isaac Massey. London, 1724.
The royal approval was
assiduously worked, and there were not wanting hints that to question the
goodness of inoculation was equivalent to disloyalty; and thus we find the Rev.
E. Massey protesting in a letter to Mr. Maitland—
I wish the Doctor more candour toward those who
differ from him than to insinuate that they are guilty of high treason, and a
hotter argument for this practice than the cry, Inoculation! and King George for
Bad reasons are often advanced
against bad policy, and whilst it is probable that some silly things were
uttered against inoculation, yet I think every candid mind would be impressed
with the moderation of Maitland's chief adversaries. There was Isaac Massey,
for instance, apothecary to Christ's Hospital, who published several pamphlets
in opposition, wherein candour and good sense are throughout conspicuous. He
Inoculation as an art of giving the smallpox to
persons in health, who might otherwise have lived many years, and perhaps to a
very old age without it, whereby some unhappily come to an untimely death.2
He objected to the exaggerated
dangers of smallpox wherewith the Inoculators operated on the public fears, and
appealed to his own experience in Christ's Hospital—
Where there are generally near 600 children, the
nurseries at Ware and Hertford constantly filling the places of those who go
off. It hath sometimes happened that great numbers have been down of the
smallpox, and 'tis but seldom that the House is free, or not long so: yet I
daresay, and Sir Hans Sloane, I presume, will say so too, that in twenty years
there have not died above five or six at most of the distemper, and in the last
eight years there died but one. 3
1. Letter to Mr. Maitland. By Edmund
Massey. London, 1722,
2. A Short and Plain Account of Inoculation, p. 1.
3. Ibid. p. 21.
So lightly did he regard the
peril of smallpox to the young that he delivered this challenge—
Suppose that twenty-five Bluecoat Hospital boys
at a medium, one year with another, taken ill of the smallpox.
Suppose we likewise, that the Inoculators take
out of the several wards, yearly, as they find them, twenty-five boys, which are
Quere, What the difference of success ? I
solemnly protest that if this could be put in practice, I would lay two to one
against the inoculated.
For, as I have said before, we have lost but one
smallpox patient these nine years [writing in 1723] although 1800 children have
been in the House during that time, and I declare to have met with no unequal
success in other families amongst children about the same ages (that is between
8 and 15) where I have been concerned, and I doubt not but many of the Learned
Faculty, as well as some others of my profession, can say as much from their own
experience and observation. 1
1. Letter to Dr. Jurin. By Isaac
Massey. London, 1723.
2. Letter to Dr. Freind. By W. Wagstaffe, M.D., P.R.S., one of the
physicians of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. London, 1722.
To appreciate Massey's
contention on this point, we have to remember that smallpox is the designation
of a disease of many degrees of intensity; a consideration which Dr. Wagstaffe,
another opponent of inoculation, thus enforced—
There is scarcely, I believe, so great a
difference between any two distempers in the world, as between the best and
worse sort of smallpox, in respect to the dangers which attend them. ... So true
is that common observation, that there is one sort in which a nurse cannot kill,
and another which even a physician can never cure.2
Of course the Bills of
Mortality were appealed to in evidence of the extent and fatality of smallpox;
and as it is matter of common belief that prior to inoculation and Jenner (there
is always a haze about the date) people were mown down with smallpox, it may be
worth while reviving the table of relative mortality in London during the first
twenty-two years of the 18th century.
Burials from all
By these tables [wrote Dr. Jurin] it appears
that upwards of 7 per cent., or somewhat more than, a fourteenth part of
mankind, die of the smallpox; and consequently the hazard of dying of that
distemper, to every individual born into the world, is at least that 1 in 14.1
1. A Letter to Caleb Cotsworth, M.D.
By James Jiirin, M.D. London, 1723.
This large induction from
London to universal mankind is noteworthy, because, as we shall see, it came to
be often made, and involved a serious fallacy; for unless universal mankind
dwelt in conditions similar to Londoners, it was idle to infer a common rate of
disease and mortality. The population of London in 1701 was estimated at about
500,000 (there was no exact census), rising to about 600,000 in 1720. It was
closely packed and lodged over cess-pools; the water supply was insufficient,
and there was no effective drainage. The vast multitude was disposed, as if by
design, for the generation and propagation of zymotic disease, and specially
smallpox. Little attention was paid to personal cleanliness, and still less to
ventilation, to light, to exercise. The condition of a large urban community a
century ago is almost inconceivable at the present day.
Londoners were then only
slowly and blindly rising out of those modes of existence which made the Plague
of 1665, and other plagues, possible. Hence we need not be astonished that
smallpox was a common and persistent affliction; but it was less prevalent and
less deadly than it is the custom to assert; and had the disease not been
attended with injury to feminine beauty, there might have been no more fuss made
about it than about any other form of eruptive fever.
It has also to be observed,
that smallpox as a cause of death was probably much exaggerated in the Bills of
Mortality; for as Isaac Massey pointed out—
These Bills are founded on the ignorance or
skill of old women, who are the searchers in every parish, and their reports
(very often what they are bid to say) must necessarily be very erroneous. Many
distempers which prove mortal, are mistaken for the smallpox, namely, scarlet
and malignant fevers with eruptions, swine-pox, measles, St. Anthony's fire, and
such like appearances, which if they destroy in three or four days (as
frequently happeneth) the distemper can only be guessed at, yet is generally put
down by the searchers as smallpox, especially if they are told the deceased
never had them.1
Massey, in the same spirit of
good sense, objected to generalisations about smallpox from the Bills of
Mortality, as if all who died were slain by the disease and by nothing else.
There ought to be no comparison [he said]
between sick people, well regimented with diet and medicine, and those who have
no assistance, or scarcely the necessaries of life.
The miserable poor and parish children make up a
great part, at least one-half of the Bills of Mortality; to confirm this I have
examined several yearly bills, and I find that the out-parishes generally bury
more than the ninety-seven parishes within the walls, and the parish of Stepney
singly, very near as many as the City of London yearly; this sufficiently shows
what little help and care are taken of the poor sick, which so much abound in
all those places.2
1. Letter to Dr. Jurin. London, 1723.
Of course there lurks a
fallacy in all statistics of disease wherein conditions of life are not
discriminated. Whether patients survive or die from any zymotic ailment depends
upon their breed, their circumstances, their habits, and their medical treatment
and nursing— all essential particulars, yet difficult to define and register on
a large scale. It would appear that in sound constitutions, and with fair
treatment, smallpox in 1721 was by no means deadly, whilst in bad constitutions,
and with exposure and neglect, it was extensively fatal. Yet of these
differences, little account was taken by the Inoculators, and the malady was
measured and discussed as though it were something uniform like water or gold.
Massey in one year had 49 cases of smallpox and one death; in Stepney an equal
number of cases might have shown a, mortality of 20 or 30 per cent.; whilst Dr.
Nettleton reported that of 1245 cases in Halifax and adjacent towns in
Yorkshire, there died 270, or about 22 per cent.1 One of Massey's
fears in relation to inoculation was the risk of poisoning the blood with more
than smallpox. He was not disinclined to experiment with " duly prepared
children infected with smallpox by inspiration," for then—
They will run no hazard of being infected by a
leprous, venereal, or scrofulous taint that may, for aught we know, be
transplanted by inoculation.2
1. Mr. Maitland's Account of Inoculating the
Smallpox Vindicated. London, 1722, p. 20.
2. Letter to Dr. Jurin, p. 12.
Massey's prescience has been
woefully verified; is indeed under perpetual verification in the pollution and
destruction of multitudes of infants. The notion that virus with a complex of
qualities can be transferred from one body to another, and operate with the
single quality the operator is pleased to favour, is a notion that might pass
muster in a manual of magic or folk-lore, but which never can have any warrant
in human physiology.
Of course the chief strength
of the opponents of inoculation (ere experience gave them stronger ground) lay
in the assertion of the folly of incurring a certain injury for an uncertain
advantage. Whatever the risk of smallpox to those who have it, yet large
numbers, it was argued, pass through life untouched; and why should they make
themselves sick, and risk their lives in order to obtain a superfluous security
The frequent assertion that
the clergy thundered against inoculation is untrue and invented for effect. The
Rev. Edmund Massey, Lecturer of St. Alban, Wood Street, did preach a sermon
against the new practice, and a fair sermon it was, according to the standard of
sermons. Maitland published some remarks on the sermon, to which Massey
rejoined; and if I select a passage from the rejoinder it will prove, better
than any description, that the divine was more than a match for the surgeon.
Said Massey to Maitland—
Inoculation, in your sense, is an engraftment of
a corrupted body into a sound one; an attempt to give a man a disease, who is in
perfect health, which disease may prove mortal.
This I said was tempting Providence.
To which you reply, It resembles that of a person who leaps out of a window for
fear of fire; and surely that can never be reckoned a mistrust of Providence.
certainly, Sir, if his house be really on fire, and the stairs burnt. 'Tis the
only probable way of safety left; and if the leap should kill him, the action
could neither be called sinful or imprudent. But what should we say to a man,
who jumped out of the window when his house was not a-fire, only to try what he
might perhaps be forced to do hereafter ? This mad action exactly hits the case
between us. For if my house be not on fire, that is, if I am in no apparent
danger, what need I jump out at the window ? What occasion is there to
inoculate me ?
To carry on your own allegory, I would ask you, Sir, what human or divine
authority you have to set a man's house on fire, that is, put a man who is in
perfect health in danger of his life by a fit of illness ? His own consent is
not sufficient, because he has no more lawful power over his own life or health
than you have, to put either of them in hazard.2
1. Jurin's Yearly Account of Inoculation,
2. Letter to Mr. Maitland in Vindication of the Sermon against Inoculation,
In short, nothing can be more
unfounded than the assumption in literature, popular and professional, that
Maitland and Montagu were confronted by a crowd of howling fanatics over whom
they triumphed as light over darkness. Marvellous is the imbecility wherewith
biographers and historians reproduce the fables of any inventive predecessor.
I shall now proceed to show
that the practice of inoculation introduced by Cotton Mather to New England, and
by Maitland to England, collapsed in a few years under stress of the mischiefs
and fatalities which attended it; that it was revived in a subsequent
generation; that it proved a curse wherever practised; and that finally it was
abandoned with execration in the Western world.
COLLAPSE OF INOCULATION.
WE sometimes fetch from afar
what is to be found at our own doors; and thus it was with inoculation. No
sooner was the great Eastern preventive advertised than it was said—Why, it is
nothing more than a practice common in Wales and the Highlands of Scotland!
Perrot Williams, M.D., and Richard Wright, surgeon, of Haverfordwest,
communicated to the Royal Society1 that the people in Pembrokeshire
had practised inoculation "time out of mind." They either scraped the skin thin
or pricked it with pins, and then rubbed in pus from a smallpox patient. This
they called " buying the smallpox," as it was customary to pay something for
what was fancied to be " good matter." The Welshmen gave the same account of the
practice as the Turks—there was no danger, no mishaps, and certain security from
smallpox. In Scotland it did not appear that the skin was scraped, but worsted
threads saturated with pus were tied round the wrists of children to whom it was
desired to communicate the disease.2
1. Philosophical Transactions, No. 375,
2. An Account of Inoculation in
By A. Monro. Edin., 1765.
Dr. Thomas Nettleton, of
Halifax, Yorkshire, was an early and energetic inoculator. He prepared his
patients by vomiting, purging, and bleeding. He disliked Maitland's small
punctures, and made gashes an inch long— one in the arm and one in the opposite
leg, and inserted bits of cotton steeped in pus, and covered them up with
plaster and rollers. It was his design to produce large wounds with copious
discharges, so that peccant matter might be freely evacuated. He was well
satisfied with his heroic practice, and a record of his cases was sent to the
Royal Society1—a record from which any reader will be apt to conclude
that there was little to choose between Nettleton's inoculations and smallpox
itself. He made no pretence that inoculation induced a trifling-ailment, but
only one less serious than the spontaneous disease, congratulating himself on
having conveyed some sixty inoculated patients through grave peril; whilst, he
In Halifax, since the beginning of last winter,
276 have had the smallpox, and out of that number 43 have died. In Bochdale, a
small neighbouring market town, 177 have had the distemper, and 88 have died.
It is to be noted that in this town [Halifax] the smallpox have been more
favourable this season than usual, and in Leeds they have been more than usually
mortal; but upon a medium there have died nearly 22 out of every 100 in these
three towns, which is about a fifth part of all that have been infected in the
1. Philosophical Transactions, No. 370,
2. Letter from Dr. Nettleton to Dr. Jurin, dated Halifax, 16th June, 1722.
English experience quickly
made an end of the fiction under cover of which inoculation had been introduced—
that it was attended with no risk, and might be performed by any old woman. Dr.
Jurin, secretary of the Royal Society, and a steady advocate of the practice,
thus laid down the conditions considered essential to success— conditions
arrived at through stress of suffering and disaster—
Great care ought to be taken to inoculate none
but persons of a good habit of body, and free, not only from any apparent, but,
as far as can be judged, from any latent disease.
The body, especially if plethoric, ought to be
prepared by proper evacuations—as bleeding, purging, vomiting, etc.—though in
many cases there will be occasion for very little or none of these, it being
sufficient to enjoin a temperate diet and proper regimen. But this must be left
to the judgment of the physician.
The utmost caution ought to be used in the
choice of proper matter to communicate the infection. It should be taken from a
young subject, otherwise perfectly sound and healthful, who has the smallpox in
the most favourable manner. When the pustules are properly maturated, and just
upon the turn, or soon after, two in three of them should be ripped with a
glover's needle or small lancet, and a couple of small pledgets of lint or
cotton are to be well moistened with the matter, and immediately put into a
little vial or box, and carried in the warm hand or bosom of the operator to the
house of the person to be inoculated.1
The publication of these
conditions was little short of a practical surrender, and the opponents of
inoculation wore not slow to avail themselves of the advantage. What had been
proclaimed the easy and universal defence against smallpox proved hedged about
with precautions and preparations for which only health with wealth was equal.
Where was the profit, argued Francis Howgrave, of a practice which leaves the
feeble and delicate and poor to their fate, which makes the well sick, and
wounds those that are whole, whilst smallpox in the natural way very rarely
affects life where the habit of body and constitution are good.2
1. An Account of the Success of Inoculating
the Smallpox in Great Britain.
By James Jurin, M.D.
2. Reasons Against the Inoculation of the Smallpox. By Francis
How-grave, Apothecary. London, 1724.
Isaac Massey was especially
indignant over Jurin's comparison of the mortality of smallpox with the
mortality of inoculation. Jurin reckoned that out of every 100 who took
smallpox, 20 died, whilst only 2 in 100 died from the effects of inoculation.
"He forgets," said Massey, "that the inoculated are picked lives. If this be
fair, Hang fair !" Massey was right. It was absurd to institute a comparison
between the common smallpox, comprising that of the poor and neglected, and the
well-fed and carefully tended subjects of inoculation. Massey, too, was strong
in his own experience, saying—
I have a list of the names of 32 children, who
are all that have had the smallpox during the last two years  in Christ's
Hospital, and every one recovered. I have had, besides, 17 or 18 more in my
private business, of whom only one died. Here, then, we have 49 cases of natural
smallpox and but 1 death.1
Emphatic likewise was his
protest against the exaggeration of the inoculators.
A natural simple smallpox seldom kills, unless
under very ill management, or when some lurking evil that was quiet before is
roused in the fluids and confederated with the pocky ferment.2
At this point we may see the
judgment and the fears of the English people had gone against inoculation, and
the practice appeared destined to gradual extinction. According to the
inoculators, their work was thus summarised—
182 inoculations in 1721 and '22, with 3
292 „ in 1723,
with 6 deaths.
40 „ in 1724,
with 1 death.
Prince Frederick and Prince
William were among the inoculated of 1724.
256 inoculations in 1725 and '26, with 4 deaths.
124 „ in 1727 and '28, with 3 deaths.
Dr. Scheuchzer, in 1729
tabulated 3 the cases and results of these years, 1721-28, as
No. operated upon
Had imperfect Smallpox.
Did not take.
Under 1 year
1 to 2
2 to 3
3 to 4
4 to 5
5 to 10
10 to 15
15 to 20
20 and upwards
1. Remarks on Dr. Jurins Last Yearly Account
of the Success of Inoculation. By Isaac Massey. London, 1727.
2. Ibid. p. 5.
3. An Account of the Success of Inoculating
the Smallpox in Great Britain.
By John Gasper Scheuchzer, M.D. London, 1729.
Thus stood the account by the
inoculators' own showing, and it was by no means a satisfactory balance-sheet.
What strikes one painfully in looking over it, is the vast preponderance of the
young and defenceless (780 out of 897) upon whom the abominable experiment was
tried. " Helplessness which commands the protection of the brave is the
opportunity of the investigating sneak." Whilst the inoculators argued
laboriously that if some danger attended artificial smallpox, it was trifling to
that attached to the spontaneous disease (among other obvious replies), it was
maintained that only after much wider experience could it be known what were the
precise effects of inoculation. Inoculation, as introduced by Maitland in 1721,
had proved vastly different after acquaintance, and there was no telling what
remained to be revealed.
As Dr. Wagstaffe observed---
Had it always been slight, gentle, safe, and
useful, with all those alluring epithets bestowed on it ; had none had above a
hundred or two hundred pustules, and no one died of it in the space of several
years ; and had there been no instance of any one's being over again infected
with smallpox who had any pustules at all, how few soever, raised by
inoculation, nobody would sooner have subscribed to the practice than myself.1
1. Danger and Uncertainly of Inoculating the
Smallpox, p. 64.
The primal promise that the
inoculated were thereafter proof against smallpox was speedily belied, but that
difficulty was disposed of by the assertion that inoculation in such cases must
have been imperfect, for it was impossible for any one to have smallpox twice.
The admission of fatalities from inoculation was very tardily made; and they
were generally referred to some cause perversely concealed from the inoculator,
which, had he known, would have prevented his operation. Then, the manifest
fatalities were naturally suspected to stand for a larger number sedulously kept
out of sight. As Massey put it —
The ill success of inoculation is very partially
and sparingly given to the world. The operator will not tell it, who lives by
the practice; nor will the relations, to whose authority the mischief is owing,
be fond of revealing that to the public, which is grief to them in private."1
Fortunately for the public,
several of the mishaps occurred in "good society," and were too conspicuous to
be hushed up or denied. Miss Rigby died eight weeks after inoculation."
miserably disordered by the operation." A son of the Duke of Bridgewater and a
son of the Earl of Sunderland likewise perished; and a servant of Lord Bathurst
died of confluent smallpox " consequent on engraftment." Such incidents struck
terror everywhere, and caused wise and timid alike to face the ills they knew
rather than risk certain peril for uncertain advantage.
Maitland returned to Scotland,
his native country, in 1726, and, going among his relations in Aberdeenshire,
showed off his skill by inoculating six children. One of them, Adam, son of
William Urquhart of Meldrum, aged 18 months, sickened on the seventh, and died
on the eighth day. There was a great outcry, and Maitiand; tried to excuse
himself by asserting that Adam was afflicted with hydrocephalus, which had been
improperly concealed from him. Anyhow, the Aberdeenshire folk were satisfied
with their experience, and recommended "Charlie Maitland to keep his new-fangled
remedy for the English in future." He was more fortunate in the west of
Scotland, where he "inoculated four children of a noble family," who escaped
alive. The Scots, however, were deaf to his persuasions, and he made no headway
among them. At a later date, 1733, inoculation began to be practised in and
about Dumfries, and occasionally elsewhere.
In Ireland little more was
effected than in Scotland. It was said that 25 inoculations took place between
1723 and 1728 with 3 fatalities. Dr. Bryan Kobinson inoculated five children in
Dublin in 1725, and was the death of two of them.2
1. Massey's Remarks, p. 18.
2. Scheuchzer and Massey.
Inoculation met with faint
acceptance on the Continent. Maitland went over to Hanover in 1724 and
inoculated Prince Frederick and eight children of Baron de Schulenberg. In
France the practice had been discussed by Dr. Boyer so far back as 1717 : and in
1723 the English experiments were recounted in Paris with much enthusiasm by Dr.
de la Coste, evoking a declaration from the College of Physicians, " that for
the benefit of the public, it was lawful to make trials of inoculation." A
commencement was about to be made in the hospitals under the sanction of the
Regent, the Duke of Orleans, when his death put a stop to the design. Soon
after Dr. Hecquet published Raisons de Doute contre l'Inoculation, which,
coupled with bad reports from England, made an end of the project.
If a London journalist had
been called upon in 1728 to report upon Inoculation, he might have written as
Seven years ago the practice
was introduced to this country under powerful auspices. It was confidently
averred that anyone might have his blood infected with the virus of smallpox,
that a trifling ailment would ensue, and that thenceforward he would be secure
from smallpox in the natural form. Experience rapidly belied these promises.
The trifling ailment proved, in many cases, a serious ailment—so serious that
physicians tried to anticipate and mitigate its severity by a preliminary
regimen of bleeding, purging and vomiting. So exhausting and hazardous is the
whole operation, that only sound and vigorous constitutions are considered fit
for it; and the delicate and feeble, who require protection most, are advised to
submit themselves as of old to the ordinary course of nature. Moreover, the
induced smallpox is occasionally as severe as the spontaneous; the pustules are
multitudinous, and sometimes confluent, with death for the issue. Fear may
exaggerate the risks of inoculation, but more are believed to have perished than
the inoculators are willing to confess. Again, many are not susceptible of
inoculation, and though the infection fails to operate in their blood as
desired, they do not always escape injury: they find their health disordered—are
rendered sickly and uncomfortable. Worst of all, what none at first reckoned
on, the artificial smallpox turns out to be infectious, and begets natural
smallpox in those who are with the inoculated. Thus, the very means taken to
limit the disease become a cause of its extension. Smallpox was more than
usually prevalent in Hertford in 1721, and in London in 1724, and there was fair
reason to conjecture that it was extensively disseminated by inoculation.
Lastly, it is doubtful whether even successful inoculation protects from
subsequent smallpox; for it is maintained that some of the inoculated have
already fallen victims to the natural disorder. In short, the preventive
appears to have so many drawbacks that it is questionable whether it is not
worse than the malady; and it is probable that in a year or two it will pass
into forgetfulness in common with many other remedies as highly extolled on
early and imperfect acquaintance.
So much might have been stated
and prognosticated in 1728: how the prognostic failed to be verified remains to
REVIVAL OF INOCULATION.
THE practice of inoculation,
thus discredited, revived, and not only revived, but prevailed. The revival was
gradual, and may be said to have acquired definition about 1748, under the
powerful approval of Dr. Mead. In the score of years from 1728 to 1748, it is
not to be imagined that the practice was abandoned: there were always a few
repeating the attempt to have smallpox without the penalties of smallpox, but
success was not conspicuous or encouraging. Inoculation was introduced to a
generation specially disposed to receive it; and it was only allowed to slip for
a time under the compulsion of manifest disaster. Perhaps there never was a
people with such a taste for dodges in favour of health as the English of last
century: the common intelligence was invested in quackery. Even Wesley found
time to dabble in medicine, and to compile a volume of prescriptions for his
followers, entitled Primitive Physic— a piquant mixture of sense with
absurdity and credulity. Our forefathers had no clear conception of the
connection of physical well-being with physical well-doing, and many of the
essential conditions of health were unknown to them. Their physical afflictions
were regarded as mysterious dispensations to be endured with resignation or
frustrated with medicines. The same attitude of mind is far from uncommon at
the present day, and many will recollect how, ere sanitary science attained
repute, it was considered profane to assert that typhus was subject to control,
and that cholera might be suppressed; whilst a drug to subdue either would be
heard of with gratitude. Superstition has rarely had any objection to the
An incident passed over in
histories, although far more inwardly characteristic of the mind of the 18th
century than a multitude of the superficialities wherewith their pages are
cumbered, is that of Joanna Stephens and her remedies for the stone. Her cures
were so remarkable and (on evidence) so indisputable, that a general demand
arose for the revelation of her secret for the public benefit. This revelation
Mrs. Stephens agreed to make on receipt of £5,000 as compensation; and a
subscription was started, to which Fellows of the Royal Society, physicians,
noblemen, bishops, ladies, and kindly folk of all orders set their names. Such,
however, was the unanimity and anxiety to possess the Stephens secret, that it
was pronounced a national concern, and Parliament was invoked to supply the
requisite funds; whereon an Act was passed " for providing a reward to Joanna
Stephens upon a proper discovery to be made by her of the medicines prepared by
her for the cure of the stone." The discovery was duly disclosed to appointed
trustees, one of whom was Archbishop of Canterbury, and the £5,000 was paid over
in 1739; and here we have the heads of the precious revelation—
My medicines are a Powder, a Decoction, and a
The Powder consists of egg-shells and snails,
The Decoction is made by boiling camomile,
fennel, parsley, and burdock leaves (together with a ball, which consists of
soap, swine's cresses burnt to a blackness, and honey) in water.
The Pills consist of snails calcined, wild
carrot seeds, burdock seeds, ashen keys, hips and hawes, all burnt to a
blackness, soap and honey.
16th June, 1739.
The public were apparently
satisfied with the purchase, but with the usual levity of credulity forgot Mrs.
Stephens and her marvellous cures in the pursuit of fresh nostrums. Fashions in
medicine are on a par with fashions in dress, and have only occasional reference
to the permanence and veracity of nature.
The revival of inoculation in
England was stimulated by reports from abroad. For instance, in the Gentleman's
Magazine it was stated that in 1737 there were inoculated in Philadelphia—
Men and Women,..... 32
Children under twelve,......64
Negroes, . ....... 32
and that out of the 128 only
one Negro died. Again, in the same magazine for 1738 we read—
In Barbados in March last there were upwards of
3,000 persons down in the smallpox, where inoculation is practised with great
Such reports, whilst secure
from examination, were none the less effective over the public imagination.
There was a report published by Dr. Mead in 1747, which derived great credit
from his endorsement, and which continues to be cited to the present day as
proof for inoculation, but which is a model of convenient and circumstantial
vagueness worthy of Defoe. Thus Mead's story runs—
The following relation was communicated to me by
a gentleman of great credit. He was a merchant at St. Christopher's in the West
Indies, and in the making of sugar employed a great number of slaves. In one
year, when the smallpox raged with more than ordinary violence in the
neighbouring islands, with his own hands he inoculated three hundred of them,
from five to sixty years of age, with such success, that not one of them died,
though most of them were negroes. And whereas all the Americans suffer this
distemper in a most terrible manner, yet experience shows, that it is much more
dangerous when it attacks the natives of Africa.1
Mead held positions which
later and more exact inquiry rendered untenable. He would not allow that the
pus of smallpox could communicate any disease but smallpox, if taken from
a proper subject—a condition that required supernatural assistance to fulfil.
He maintained that inoculation generated true smallpox, and that as no one could
have smallpox twice, therefore no one could have smallpox after inoculation, and
that reports to the contrary were not credible. It now goes without saying that
in this contention Mead was at fault, but at the time his confidence was not
inexcusable; and whilst defending and recommending inoculation, he made
admissions which fully justified those who resisted and condemned his counsels.
Let us not forget that the following passage was published in 1747, and was the
fruit of six-and-twenty years of experience in the best London practice. Thus
It ought not to be omitted, that boils and
swellings under the ears and in the arm-pits arise more frequently after the
distemper procured by art than after that which comes of its own accord ; for
this reason, as I suppose, that the venomous matter is pushed forward with less
force, which disadvantages Nature makes amends for in this way.
Therefore all possible means are to be used to
ripen such tumours of whatever kind they are: if this cannot be done, they must
be opened by incision; and when all the matter is drawn out, the body must be
purged by proper medicines, which are to be oftener repeated in this than in the
natural disease. 2
1. Medical Works of Dr. Mead, Vol.
ii. p. 146. Edinburgh ed., 1765.
2. Ibid, p. 149.
How just are the judgments of
Divine Order! These boils, swellings, and tumours, were the sequences of the
violated harmony of the body—of the faithless anticipation, the meddling and
muddling with its processes.
An extensive series of
inoculations took place in 1742-45 in the south of England. Smallpox was
prevalent in Winchester and adjacent towns, and Dr. Langrish operated freely on
whoever resorted to him. In Portsmouth, Chichester, Guildford, Petersfield, and
Winchester, it was said that at least 2,000 were poxed, and that only two
pregnant women perished, who, as usual, " were inoculated contrary to the advice
of their physician." The ill results, wrote Bishop Maddox, "were only such as
might reasonably be supposed to have been worse had those operated on had
smallpox in the natural way"—such being the euphemism wherewith boils, tumours,
and other sequelae were accounted for.
The reviving favour for
inoculation was indicated in this paragraph from the newspapers of 13th April,
Fourteen children, three years old, having been
inoculated for the smallpox in the Foundling Hospital, Hatton Garden, all with
good success, the Governors have resolved to have all their children inoculated
at the same age.
An important movement was made
in 1746 with the opening of a Smallpox Hospital in Cold Bath Fields at which "
the benefit of inoculation" was offered to the poor. At first those who applied
were taken into the house, and nursed through their self-inflicted illness, but
the proximity of the veritable smallpox, the regimen, and the seclusion were
sufficient to deter applicants : those, however, who have a hobby to ride grow
reckless in presence of obstacles, and by-and-by inoculation was offered to all
comers, who were dismissed to recover and diffuse infection in their own homes.
With the revival of
inoculation there was a revival of the controversy as to its lawfulness
theologically. Dr. Isaac Maddox, Bishop of Worcester, preached a sermon on
behalf of the Smallpox Hospital in St. Andrew's, Holborn, on 5th March, 1752,1
which excited considerable attention.
1. A Sermon before the Governors of the
Isaiah 1viii. 7. London, 1752; second ed., 1753.
He showed the necessity for
such an hospital for the poor and forsaken of the great city—a necessity
incontestable. He mentioned (and the remark supplies a curious note on the
hygiene of the time) that ventilators were to be introduced, and it was expected
that the access of fresh air might benefit the patients. The return of the
Hospital for 1752 showed 344 admissions, with 262 recoveries, and 82 deaths—a
proportion that does not contrast disadvantageously with 19th century hospitals,
fortified with sanitary appliances. During the same year 112 inoculations were
effected at the Hospital. The Bishop had been assured by three eminent surgeons
that they had inoculated 1500 persons with only 3 fatalities, one of them
(Sergeant Ranby) having accomplished one thousand without a mishap. The
practice was without doubt lawful, for it averted a dangerous disease, and some
risk was inseparable from all methods of cure. The practice had already done
much to lessen smallpox, and, as it became commoner, it would do more. The
result of the sermon was a subscription of £809 for the charity at the
subsequent dinner in the Drapers' Hall.
The Bishop was singularly at
fault in his ascription of diminished mortality to inoculation, for, in 1752,
smallpox was more than unusually rife in the Metropolis, and its prevalence was
not unreasonably attributed to infection, from the inoculated. In 1751 the
deaths from smallpox in London were 998; they rose to 3,588 in 1752; declined to
774 in 1753; and rose to 2,359 in 1754.
Dr. Doddridge lent his
powerful influence in favour of inoculation; and, considering the unqualified
assertions of medical men as to its benefits and harmlessness, it cannot be said
he was blameworthy. The audacious assurance with which many of them bore down
opposition overcame the simple-minded, who argued as if the world were
constituted after the pattern of their own innocent hearts. That smallpox
frequently followed inoculation is now known beyond dispute, and yet Dr.
I have heard myself a great many rumours of the
inoculated being naturally infected afterwards, which upon examination proved
just as many lies.1
1. An Analysis of Inoculation, 2nd ed.
1761, p. 145.
How could women and divines
resist such evidence ?
A voluble antagonist of
inoculation was the Rev. Theodore Delafaye of Canterbury. He preached a sermon
in that city on the 3rd of June, 1753, from the text, " Let us do evil that good
may come " (Rom. iii. 8), and published it under the title of Inoculation an
Indefensible Practice. He was in turn attacked by the inoculators, and in
1754 issued A Vindication of 200 pages, in which he returned more than he
received with vigour rather than discretion. His conclusion was—
Inoculation I maintain to be, in a religious and
moral view, a, self-destructive, inhuman, and impious machination, and in a
physical one an unreasonable, unnatural, unlawful, most hazardous, ineffectual,
fruitless, uncertain, unnecessary device; in a word, a practice which nature
recoils at, which reason opposes, and which religion condemns.
We sometimes read that
inoculation was denounced as Atheism, and we are expected to reprobate or to
smile at the bigotry; and, whilst we may not approve of the stigma, we may at
the same time recognise the honest sense in which it might be affixed. Some who
spoke of inoculation as Atheistic felt more vividly than they could otherwise
describe, that it was an infraction of the deeper sanctity of Nature, where
man's hand cannot enter and prosper, and that those who made the attempt could
have no proper sense of Him in whom they lived, and moved, and had their being.
Moreover, if we are to admit that they who thus expressed themselves are
blameable for excessive vehemence, what are we to say of the more numerous party
who did not hesitate to pronounce inoculation a discovery effected in the human
mind by God himself ? If it was reasonable to speak of the practice as
Theistic, why should it be fanatical to assert the contrary, and maintain that
it involved a negation of Divine Providence ? Dr. Kirkpatrick., with the
sycophancy which was the custom of his age, praised George II. for "the
benevolent, and even celestial disposition," which induced him to patronise "
the wonderful and probably Heaven-descended practice of inoculation;" and
extolled " its equal simplicity and success" as demonstrating "to a reflective
mind the goodness of Providence in making what may be so often necessary, so
easily accomplished." 1 It would not be difficult to cite scores of
confessions of gratitude to God for inoculation, but to what purpose ?
1. Analysis of Inoculation, p. 348.
What we think good we
necessarily ascribe to God; and we do well; but much that we think good is
otherwise, or is only partially good; and what then ? Why, we are undeceived and
corrected by experience. We put our notion of what is good to the test of
practice, and God answers us in the event—justifies, amends, or confounds us.
Thus with inoculation. It was fair that those who thought it good should refer
it to God, and thank him for it; and it was equally fair that those who thought
it bad should say it was none of his—that it was at variance with his order, and
a discredit to the intelligence of those who imputed it to Him. How was the
issue to be determined ? Only by God himself. And how would He speak ? In the
results of experience wherein his will would become manifest beyond
In 1754 inoculation obtained
full recognition from the London College of Physicians. It was declared "that
experience had refuted the arguments urged against the practice; that it was now
more extensively employed in England than ever; and that it was highly
beneficial to mankind. " The fence of hesitation was thrown down, and to be
inoculated became the distinction of all who wished to be numbered with the
enlightened and prudent. That the Circassians were famous for their beauty, and
that they practised inoculation, was a staple argument, and an irresistible,
with a multitude of Englishwomen. Opposition was chiefly confined to the lower
orders, who objected to have the inoculated at large among them, and in some
places threatened to demolish the houses where inoculation was performed.1
Occasionally a medical practitioner acquired reputation as an inoculator, and
was resorted to by patients from a distance, and his operations were not
regarded with much favour by his neighbours. Thus the physicians and surgeons
of Newbury, Berks, were compelled by their townsmen to promise to inoculate no
one who had not resided in Newbury at least two years.
The new practice created much
business, and its distribution excited some jealousy. Physicians complained
that surgeons inoculated without their assistance, and surgeons that
apothecaries did so likewise. Dr. Kirkpatrick laid clown the rule that every
rightly conducted inoculation involved the employment of physician, surgeon, and
apothecary—the physician to prepare and prescribe for the patient, the surgeon
to cut, infuse, and dress, and the apothecary to make up the medicines. Some,
however, dispensed with all three, and effected their own inoculations. A boy
poxed fourteen of his schoolfellows in sport, and amateur inoculators, male and
female, multiplied. As an example of amateur procedure, Dr. Kirkpatrick relates
that a gentleman of Kent sent his servant, Silvanus, a young man, to Mrs.
Chapman, at Heathfield, to be inoculated. He had to ride thirteen miles, and
arrived hot and fatigued at the house of the inoculatrix. As he had taken his
preparatory physic at his master's, Mrs. Chapman desired him to get ready at
once for the operation, which he begged her to defer as he was in such a heat.
She replied that he must be inoculated that very day, Tuesday, or remain until
the following week, for Tuesday was her lucky day. The poor fellow allowed
himself to be persuaded, and was then and there inoculated : severe smallpox
ensued, and he died. 2
Thus was inoculation revived
and established, and smallpox with it—established and diffused.
1. Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1753.
2. Kirkpatrick's Analysis of Inoculation,
TRIUMPH OF INOCULATION.
IT having come to pass,
according to the boast of Dr. K irkpatrick, that inoculation was regarded as "
the most salutary practice ever discovered for restraining a very loathsome and
destroying disorder, which it had nearly expunged from the catalogue of mortal
diseases," it was the aim of physicians and patients to reduce the trouble and
hazard of the operation to the lowest terms possible. In the words of Dr.
Jenner, " There was bleeding till the blod was thin, purging till the body was
wasted, to a skeleton, and starving on vegetable diet to keep it so;" and
practitioners who promised to mitigate these rigours, placed themselves in the
line of popularity and prosperity. Among distinguished easy inoculators was a
family named Sutton—"the Suttons" being a familiar name a century ago. Dr.
Robert Sutton practised surgery and pharmacy at Debenham, in Suffolk, and went
into inoculation with such energy that between 1757 and 1767 lie operated on
2,514 patients. His son, Robert, set up as inoculator at Bury St. Edmunds,
where he did a large business, but a second son, Daniel, was the genius of the
household. He had been acting as assistant to Mr. Bumstead at Oxford, and
returned to his father in 1763 enthusiastic over a new plan of inoculation
whereby the time of preparation was to be shortened, whilst the patients were to
live in the open air. Old Sutton showed no favour for the projected innovation,
whereon Daniel opened an inoculating house on his own account at Ingatestone, in
Essex, advertising himself as inoculator on a new, safe, and sure method. The
speculation answered. In 1764 he took 2,000 guineas, and in 1765 his receipts
were £6,300. His fame spread throughout the country, and so many resorted to
him that lodgings were scarcely to be had in and around Ingatestone. His
practice in Kent was also extensive, and he was obliged to employ assistants.
To crown his enterprise, he kept a parson—the Rev. Robert Houlton, to puff his
skill and success. According to Houlton, the business of Daniel Sutton during
three years was as follows—
Inoculated in 1764, . . .
„ 1765, . . .
1766, . . .
to which number was added
,6000 inoculated by Sutton's assistants, making a total of 20,000, without, said
Houlton, a single death.1
1. Sermon preached at Ingatestone,
12th October, 1766, in defence of
Inoculation, with App. on the present state of Inoculation,
Sutton was denounced as a
quack, and if to reserve as one's own, and to traffic in what is proclaimed to
be for the common advantage of mankind, constitutes a quack, Sutton was one.
Nevertheless, he was successful, and his success begot so much jealousy that he
was indicted at the Chelmsford quarter sessions, but acquitted with the thanks
of the grand jury for the lesson he had taught the Faculty.
Much ingenuity was exercised
in ferreting out Sutton's secret. His secret, so far as it was anything, was an
open one; and supposing it necessary to infect men's blood with variolous pus,
and then to operate for their recovery, there would be much to say for Sutton's
procedure. His patients were obliged to go through a strict preparatory regimen
for a fortnight, during which every kind of animal food, with the exception of
milk, and all fermented liquors and spices were forbidden. Fruit of all sorts
was allowed, unless on days when purges were taken. In the course of a
fortnight a powder was thrice administered at bed-time, and a dose of salts on
the succeeding morning. When the days of preparation were accomplished, the
patient was taken to the inoculating house, where in the public room was found
an array of people in various stages of smallpox. From one of these sufferers,
the operator selected a pustule to his mind, opened it with his lancet, and,
turning to the patient to be poxed, raised the cuticle on the outer part of his
arm with the moist lancet, and pressed it down with his finger. This was the
entire operation: no plaster or bandage was applied: and from that moment the
patient was pronounced proof against smallpox, even if he should lie in bed with
one suffering from the disease. Of course there remained the variolous
affection to be dealt with. The regimen of preparation was continued unchanged,
and a pill was taken nightly until the fever came on. None were allowed to rest
in bed, except for sleep, but had to walk abroad and enjoy fresh air, even in
winter weather. If a patient was too sick to go alone, he was supported by
attendants; and when the fever was at its height, he was encouraged to drink
copiously of cold water.
Much more was attributed to
Sutton's pills and powders than to his regimen, and these were no more than
preparations of antimony and mercury, with which practitioners of all orders
were only too familiar. Sutton, however, contrived to maintain his mystery until
he had no longer occasion for it, and lived to recognise a successor in Jenner.
He removed to London in 1767 in hope of enlarging his income, but like many
other provincial celebrities, discovered that he had better have remained where
he shone without rivals and detractors.
The Sutton regimen, so far as
it might be described as " cool," came into general favour, whilst what was
called the hot regimen of warm rooms, bed, and cordials was correspondingly
discredited. Contrasting the two methods, Sir George Baker, writing in 1771,
I found that in the counties of Norfolk,
Suffolk, and Essex, many thousands of people of all ages and constitutions, and
some of them with every apparent disadvantage, had been inoculated with general
good success; whereas at Blandford, in Dorset, out of 384 who were inoculated,
13 actually died, and many others narrowly escaped with their lives from
1. Medical Transactions, vol. ii. art.
A famous inoculator was Dr.
Thomas Dimsdale of Hertford, a Quaker of easy principles. He published in 1766 a
treatise entitled The Present Method of Inoculating for the Smallpox—an
exposition of the most approved practice of the time, which, by one of those
curious felicities of circumstance, conferred on him a European reputation; and
in 1781, Tracts on Inoculation—a record of his opinions and adventures at
home and abroad.
Dimsdale desired to
universalise inoculation, but with circumspection. He recommended that the
inhabitants of a suitable district should be dealt with as a whole and at once.
That the names of all should be taken, and on a certain day that everyone, who
had not had smallpox, should be inoculated. That the district should then
continue in quarantine for about three weeks, at the end of which the danger and
the fear of smallpox would cease, until an unpolluted generation should afresh
accumulate. The project was not mere dreaming. Dimsdale was a man of influence
and energy, and effected several complete inoculations of villages and parishes
in Hertfordshire according to his plan. In later years, he combined banking
with medicine, and the firm of Dimsdale, Fowler, and Co. of Cornhill originated
with him and perpetuates his name.
Dimsdale's practice lay
chiefly among the upper classes, to whom he made matters very comfortable. As he
I do not enjoin any restriction in respect to
diet, nor direct any medicines to be taken before the time of operation by such
as appear to be in a proper state of health.1
He was satisfied with
administering a powder on the evening of the day on which a patient was
inoculated, consisting of calomel, tartar emetic, and crabs' claws.
Whilst labouring to popularise
inoculation, Dirnsdalc was strongly opposed to the trade therein passing to xm-authorised
hands—simple, safe, and salutary though he asserted it to be. Thus he averred—
The mischiefs arising from the practice of
inoculation by the illiterate and ignorant are beyond conception.2
1. Tracts on Inoculation, p. 126.
2. Ibid. p. 107
How illiteracy should affect
inoculation, he left to conjecture. He apparently forgot that the practice was
derived from people who made no pretence to literature, and whose efficiency and
success were, moreover, set forth as warrant and encouragement for English
In 1775 a Society was formed
for General Inoculation, and an hospital was opened for the purpose at Battle
Bridge, on the site of what is now the Great Northern Railway station, King's
Cross. Dr. Lettsom, a popular Quaker physician, issued an appeal on behalf of
the enterprise, and having invoked Dr. Dimsdale's approval, a lively controversy
ensued between the brethren—personal rather than profitable. Dimsdale
disapproved of indiscriminate inoculation: he was ready to inoculate the whole
world, but systematically, and under strict safeguards. He pointed out that
whatever might be the advantage to the individual, unless the inoculated patient
was rigorously secluded, he would diffuse the disease from which he sought to be
delivered, and that the price of his life might be the destruction of many.
Dimsdale's warnings were, however, slightly regarded, and inoculation was
pursued with criminal recklessness. As Pascal observes, of all the faculties
given to man, the most awful in its consequences is the power of standing amid a
number of facts, and seeing such as we please to see, and being blind to the
Specially remarkable in
connection with the smallpox of last century was the exaggerated terror
expressed for it by professional inoculators, and the little real terror
manifested by the multitude. It was by no means the most fatal of diseases, nor
was it a large factor in the common mortality. Wherever we test the matter by
unbiased contemporary evidence, we find the outcry factitious: the dreadful and
desolating malady from which Jenner delivered his country is merely a fiction
continued by the vaccinators from the inoculators. For proof let us turn to the
evidence of Dr. Alexander Monro, Professor of Medicine and Anatomy in the
University of Edinburgh. The Faculty of Medicine in Paris had appointed a
commission to inquire into the advantages of inoculation, which in the course of
duty applied to Monro, who in response produced and published in 1765 An
Account of the Inoculation of Smallpox in Scotland. He reported that from
the introduction of the practice by Maitland in 1726, there had been 5,554
inoculations effected in Scotland with 72 fatalities; that is to say about 140
annually with deaths 1 in 78, according to the confession of the inoculators
themselves. Monro further stated that the practice was disliked in Scotland as
" a tempting of Providence," an unwarrantable risk of life for an uncertain
advantage. Our present interest, however, is in the statistics of deaths from
smallpox in Edinburgh for a series of twenty years thus adduced by Monro.
Burials from all Diseases
From Small pox.
Burials from all Diseases
From Small pox.
1. Monro accounts for the excessive mortality of
this year by the presence of regiments in Edinburgh after the suppression of the
rebellion of 1745.
Here we have a piece of valid
experience with every advantage to the smallpox terrorist: for Edinburgh last
century was a city contrived as if for the generation and perpetuation of
smallpox. The population of 55,000 was lodged thickly in flats, in houses of
many storeys, closely built in lanes and courts—a population densely compacted
as any in Europe, with arrangements for cleanliness indescribable, at this day
perhaps incredible. Yet in conditions so propitious to smallpox, we see before
us the total outcome during a series of twenty years; and reprehensible as the
result may appear to contemporary sanitarians, who hold, and rightly hold, that
all zymotic diseases are preventible, yet it affected Monro with no anxiety or
dismay: nor does the rate of mortality of old Edinburgh contrast unfavourably
with that of the modern city. The case of Edinburgh, however, serves to show
that in all cases when we hear of the ravages of smallpox before Jenner appeared
as deliverer, our policy is to insist firmly upon the production of special and
adequate evidence : it is monstrous that the assertions of common quacks,
whether inoculators or vaccinators, should pass into tradition and be accepted
as unquestionable verity.
We have, moreover, to observe
that the mortality from smallpox in Edinburgh was infantile mortality: for as
The inhabitants of Scotland generally have the
smallpox in their infancy or childhood; very few adults being seen in this
disease. Whether this is owing to any particular constitution of the air, or of
the people, or to the disease not being so much dreaded as to cause any to fly
from the place where it is, or to the great intercourse which must be among the
inhabitants of the towns, of which several, nay, many families enter to their
houses by one common stair, while in the villages the peasants are generally
assistant to their neighbours of whose family any is sick, it is not now
necessary to inquire.
Not only were the habits of
the people contributory to the diffusion of eruptive disorders, but likewise
their food, of which oatmeal was the staple, whilst vegetables were few, fruit
rare, and tea unknown. Hence many maladies had free course; and as Dean Ramsay
relates, a girl on her arrival at Mrs. Betty Muirheid's boarding-school in the
Trongate, Glasgow, when asked whether she had had smallpox, replied, " Yes, mem,
I've had the sma'pox, the nirls [measles], the blabs [nettle-rash], the scaw
[itch], the kink-host [whooping-cough], the fever, the branks [mumps], and the
A last word as to Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu. After a residence of twenty years in Italy, she returned to
England to die, 21st August, 1762. On the west side of the north door in
Lichfield Cathedral, there is a female figure, in marble, leaning on an urn
inscribed M. W. M. The inscription runs—
SACRED TO THE MEMORY
OF THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU,
WHO HAPPILY INTRODUCED, FROM TURKEY,
INTO THIS COUNTRY,
THE SALUTARY ART OF INOCULATING THE SMALLPOX.
CONVINCED OF ITS EFFICACY,
SHE FIRST TRIED IT WITH SUCCESS
ON HER OWN CHILDREN,
AND THEN RECOMMENDED THE PRACTICE OF IT TO
THUS, BY HER EXAMPLE AND ADVICE,
WE HAVE SOFTENED THE VIRULENCE, AND
ESCAPED THE DANGER, OF THIS MALIGNANT DISEASE.
TO PERPETUATE THE MEMORY OF SUCH BENEVOLENCE,
AND TO EXPRESS HER GRATITUDE
FOR THE BENEFIT SHE HERSELF RECEIVED FROM
THIS ALLEVIATING ART,
THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED BY
RELICT OF THEODORE WILLIAM INGE, ESQ.,
AND DAUGHTER OF SIR JOHN WROTTESLEY,
IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD,
Whilst we do not resort to
epitaphs for truth, we may discover in them what was taken for truth, or what
was wished to be taken for truth. We have in the foregoing epitaph the legend
which has caught the popular fancy, and which is likely to survive corrections
innumerable. It is the custom of mankind to identify a common movement with
some prominent or picturesque figure in the movement, and to suppress the rest.
The practice is convenient, but it taints all history with fable.
It may be said that the
practice of inoculation met with no active resistance in England during the last
thirty years of last century. How widely and deeply it extended it would be
difficult to determine. The probability is, that the mass of the population was
untouched, and that inoculation was limited to the upper and middle classes, and
to the lower so far as they came under the immediate influence of those above
them. We have, perhaps, an index to the condition of affairs in Dr. Wm.
Buchan's Domestic Medicine, first published in 1769, which ran through
eighteen editions, amounting to 80,000 copies, in the author's life-time. It is
not uncommon to refer contemptuously to Buchan, but his work was the production
of a man of vigorous good sense with faith in the good sense of his readers—a
book creditable to the author and to the people who appreciated him.
Buchan was an inoculator, a
zealous advocate of inoculation, and earnestly laboured to universalise the
practice. In the Domestic Medicine, ed. 1797, he wrote—
No discovery can be of general utility while the
practice of it is kept in the hands of a few. Had Inoculation been practised by
the same kind of operators in our country as in the countries from which we
derived it, it had long ago been universal. The fears, the jealousies, the
prejudices, and the opposite interests of the Faculty are, and ever will be, the
most effectual obstacles to the progress of any salutary discovery. Hence it is
that Inoculation never became in any manner general in England till taken up by
men not bred to physic.
Consistently with this
opinion, Buchan strongly advocated domestic practice, saying—
They know very little of the matter, who impute
the success of modern inoculators to any superior skill, either in preparing the
patient or communicating the disease. Some of them, indeed, from a sordid
desire of engrossing the whole practice to themselves, pretend to have
extraordinary secrets or nostrums for preparing persons for inoculation, which
never fail of success. But this is only a pretence calculated to blind the
ignorant and inattentive. Common-sense and prudence alone are sufficient both
in the choice of the subject and management of the operation. Whoever is
possessed of these may perform this office for his children whenever he finds it
convenient, provided they be in a good state of health.
This statement is not the result of theory, but of observation. Though few
physicians have had more opportunities of trying inoculation in all its
different forms, so little appears to me to depend on those generally reckoned
important circumstances, of preparing the body, communicating the infection by
this or the other method, etc., that, for several years past, I have persuaded
parents and nurses to perform the entire operation themselves.
have known many instances of mothers inoculating their children, and never so
much as heard of one bad consequence. Common mechanics often, to my knowledge,
perform the operation with as good success as physicians.
Having described the ordinary
method of inoculation by incision with a lancet dipped in pus, he goes on to
If fresh matter be applied long enough to the
skin, there is no occasion for any wound at all. Let a bit of thread, about
half an inch long, wet with the matter, be immediately applied to the arm,
midway between the shoulder and the elbow, and covered with a piece of common
sticking-plaster, and kept on for eight or ten days. This will seldom fail to
communicate the disease.
Instead of multiplying arguments to recommend this practice, I shall beg leave
to mention the ease of my own son, at the time an only child. After giving him
two gentle purges, I ordered the nurse to take a bit of thread which had been
previously wet with fresh matter from a pock, and to lay it upon his arm,
covering it with a piece of sticking-plaster. This remained on six or seven
days, until it was rubbed off by accident. At the usual time smallpox made
their appearance, and were exceedingly favourable. Surely this, which is all
that is generally necessary, may be done without any skill in medicine.
Thus was smallpox made easy!
Buchan appealed to the clergy for co-operation as inoculators—
The persons to whom we would chiefly recommend
the performance of this operation are the clergy. Most of them know something of
medicine. Almost all of them bleed, and can order a purge, which are all the
qualifications necessary for the practice of inoculation.
And as propagandists—
No set of men have it so much in their power to
render the practice of inoculation general as the clergy, the greatest
opposition to it still arising from some scruples of conscience, which they
alone can remove. I would recommend them not only to endeavour to remove the
religious objections which weak minds have to this salutary practice, but to
enjoin it as a duty, and to point out the danger of neglecting to make use of a
means which Providence has put in our power for saving the lives of our
offspring. Surely such parents as wilfully neglect the means of saving their
children's lives are as guilty as those who put them to death.
How familiar have vaccinators
rendered this line of adjuration! If you do not comply with our prescription,
and your children catch smallpox, then are you their murderers.
Here is another passage from
Buchan, which with equal accuracy might apply to Vaccination—is indeed what is
perpetually asserted to be the truth concerning Vaccination—
As the Smallpox is now become an epidemical
disease in most parts of the known world, no other choice remains but to render
the malady as mild as possible. This is the only manner of extirpation now left
in our power; and though it may seem paradoxical, the artificial method of
communicating the disease, could it be rendered universal, would amount to
nearly the same thing as rooting it out. It is a matter of small consequence
whether a disease be entirely extirpated, or rendered so mild as neither to
destroy life nor hurt the constitution; but that this may be done by
Inoculation, does not now admit of a doubt. The numbers who die under
Inoculation hardly deserve to be named. In the natural way, one in four or five
generally dies; but by Inoculation not one of a thousand. Nay, some can boast
of having inoculated ten thousand without the loss of a single patient.
In this deliverance, Buchan
did not lie, nor did he speak for himself alone, but expressed the medical
opinion of his time, precisely as a physician of to-day testifies concerning
Vaccination. Yet we all know that Buchan was completely at fault, and
substituted what he wished to be true for what was true.
I cannot leave Buchan without
a few words in his favour, for, according to his lights, he was a worthy fellow,
and the words shall be his own. He wrote—
I am old enough to remember the time when the
success of Inoculation was supposed to be entirely owing to the preparation of
the body, as it was called; but I am convinced that such preparation always has
done, and still does, more harm than good. The body cannot be better prepared
to meet a disease, than by being in good health. Medicine may cure a
disease, but it cannot mend good health. When a person enjoys the blessing of
health, he ought never to meddle with medicine on any account whatever.
No: nor with half an inch of
thread dipped in pox.
BEFORE proceeding to relate
how Inoculation was superseded and ultimately suppressed in England, it may be
expedient to make some notes on the prevalence of the practice in other lands.
And first in New England
where, as we have seen, Cotton Mather had precedence in subjecting the reports
of eastern inoculation to the test of western practice. Mather and his
coadjutor, Boylston, did not propose to make inoculation habitual, but to
reserve it for use in epidemics. Sometimes years elapsed in New England without
smallpox: there were no dense urban populations to constitute seats of zymotic
disease: and to provide perpetually against what was occasional was obviously
unnecessary. Nevertheless the colonists shared the common disposition of the
time for pottering in remedies, and their slaves afforded convenient
opportunities for experiments in which temerity had the sanction of
beneficence. With the Whites, cleanliness, ventilation, drainage, and pure
water, were conditions of accident rather than of providence, but with the
Blacks life was that of the stye, and the consequences in smallpox were thought
to be sufficiently accounted for by the assertion that Negroes were
constitutionally pre-disposed to that disorder. Wherefore the Blacks from
Boston to the Spanish Main were from time to time remorselessly inoculated, and
all of them who afterwards escaped smallpox had their immunity ascribed to their
Jonathan Edwards, the prince
of Calvinistic divines, was killed by inoculation. There was an epidemic of
smallpox in New Jersey, and, for security, Edwards was inoculated. The result
was the generation of smallpox in a severe form, of which he died, 22nd March,
1758, in his 54th year. In search of a superfluous safety was he slain. A man
of the age of Edwards had little to fear from smallpox; for the disease, in the
vast majority, was an affection of the young, concerning which, as having
attained middle life, Edwards might have maintained comparative indifference.
The colonists usually ascribed
any outbreak of smallpox to importation by shipping from Europe, if not
manifestly, then covertly; for, it was held that smallpox could never be evolved
spontaneously. Great pains were therefore taken to isolate patients, and Boston
and other sea-ports had hospitals erected on sites remote from habitation, from
which a flag was displayed whenever occupied by the sick. A physician who
visited an hospital was required to take off his wig, to change his shoes, and
to put on a gown which hung from his neck to his ankles; and, when he came out,
to wash his hands, and be fumigated with frankincense. In setting forth these
precautions, Professor Waterhouse of Cambridge, Massachusetts, observed in a
letter to Dr. Haygarth of Chester—
I cannot believe them altogether unnecessary.
Our towns are small, our houses scattered, most of them having a garden between
them, so that we have been able to trace the action of contagion. We have tried
many experiments with smallpox in New England, and persuade ourselves that we
have some pretensions of knowing more of that disease than you in Europe.
During the war with England,
smallpox broke out in the American army, and inoculation was so freely resorted
to that scarcely a man escaped the lancet. Washington had his New England
soldiers inoculated at Cambridge in 1776, and it was difficult to find men to
keep guard over the sick; that is to say, men who had passed through smallpox
and were not considered liable to infection, a curious evidence of the rarity of
the natural disease in the communities from which the army had been recruited.1
1. Humphries's Life of General Putnam,
Cotton Mather's triumph over
Boston was complete— complete beyond his intention; for it came to be as
thoroughly inoculated as any town in these days is vaccinated. Dr. Waterhouse,
writing on 28th October,
We find that in 1752 there were but 170 persons
liable to smallpox in Boston, and in 1754, when there was a general inoculation
in the town, I question whether there was a quarter of that number that did not
receive the infection via naturœ vel artis. In the years 1776, '77, and
'78 they inoculated pretty freely throughout the State. Two days ago, I was at
the review of part of the militia of the county of Suffolk, and of 520 men, I
scarcely think there were a hundred above twenty-five years of age that had not
passed through smallpox by means of inoculation ; and of 2,000 reviewed a week
or two before, in the county of Middlesex, there was not a greater proportion of
the same age liable to take the disease. Since 1764 the dread of smallpox has
lessened considerably; and since 1778 we meet the disorder with as little fear
as any people you can mention.
In another letter, dated 15th
October, 1787, the Doctor said—
I do not believe there is at present a single
person infected by smallpox in all the four New England Governments, that is,
not one in a million of people.1
1. These letters of Benjamin Waterhouse, M.D.,
Professor of Physic at Cambridge, Mass., appear in Haygarth's Plan to
Exterminate Smallpox. London, 1793.
However it may have been
elsewhere, inoculation was conducted in Boston with a formality and deliberation
that might have satisfied Dimsdale himself. There was an inoculation hospital
erected on Sewell's Point, which juts into Charles River, remote by a mile and a
half from the common road, and situated in pleasant grounds with trees and
walks. Three weeks were devoted to inoculation and the subsequent sickness, and
before dismissal, wrote Dr. Waterhouse—
The patients are washed all over in soap suds,
then rubbed with brandy, and lastly washed in vinegar; they put on fresh
clothes, and bury those they wore during their stay in the hospital. But even
then they are smoked and fumigated with sulphur in the smoke-house, which is
about twice the size of a common sentry-box. This smoke-house has a hole in its
side for the patient to put his head out of during the operation. Although this
seems formidable on paper, yet patients submit cheerfully, and with no slight
There are perhaps 150 under inoculation at present at Sewell's Point, not one of
them paupers. They are principally children, perhaps thirty or forty of them of
the first people in the commonwealth. The charge for the whole process is 8
dollars, or 36s. sterling, including every expense from incision to dismission.
In some places they inoculate for half that sum. You must conceive the whole
business conducted with a good deal of gaiety, where a patient, when ill, is as
apt to be pitied as if sea-sick with a sailing party. The established system of
mirth and good humour contributes not a little to the welfare of the patients.
It is a curious story, and
stands in broad contrast to the rough and ready practice of Turkey, and of many
inoculators in England and elsewhere. Dr. Waterhouse adds—
There were a considerable number of persons in
Boston to whom smallpox could not be communicated by inoculation. In some the
operation was repeated two, three, and four times with fresh matter. Several of
these have had the disease severely since in the natural way, and some have died
France was slow to accept
inoculation. After its introduction in 1723, about thirty years elapsed without
any serious movement in its favour, when Voltaire, Diderot, and their set began
to recommend the practice, which had the merit of being English and disliked by
those who held change and improvement in aversion. La Condamine read an eloquent
paper on the advantages of inoculation before the Academy of Sciences; and
Turgot, the ardent and sagacious lover of his kind, procured the inoculation of
a child in Paris, 1st April, 1755; which was followed on 14th May by a young
man, named Chastellux, submitting himself to the operation in the interest of
the common welfare. Then Dr. Hosty was sent to London to investigate and
report, and on his return issued these statements—
1. That out of 463 cases inoculated in the
London Hospital, only one had been unsuccessful; whereas in the Smallpox
Hospital nearly one in four had died.
2. That Mr. Ranby, principal surgeon to his
majesty, had inoculated 1600 persons, and Mr. Bell 903, without the loss of one.
3. That to form a just comparison between the
fatality of natural and artificial smallpox, it is only necessary to visit the
London Smallpox Hospital and then the Inoculation Hospital: the difference
between the two is so remarkable that the most incredulous must be convinced.
4. Lastly, with respect to the asserted
insemination of other diseases with inoculated smallpox: no instance of the kind
has ever been produced. Persons have been inoculated with variolous matter taken
from patients afflicted with venereal disease, yet they have received no
infection save that of smallpox only.
It would be superfluous to
deal with the fallacies involved in these statements: they served to satisfy
those who were disposed to be satisfied, and inoculation became the fashion
among the scientific and enlightened. Dr. Tronchin, a well-known inoculator,
was summoned from Geneva to Paris in 1756 to operate upon the children of the
Duke of Orleans, and his success was pronounced decisive. Nevertheless
inoculation did not extend beyond people of leisure and culture, and in 1763 an
outbreak of smallpox in Paris made an end of the practice. An inquiry was
instituted by the authorities, and the evidence left no doubt that the epidemic
had been diffused, if it did not originate, with the artificially poxed; and
inoculation was thenceforth prohibited in Paris. Any citizen who was resolved
to have the induced disease had to retire to country quarters.
Here we may observe that the
confidence of the inoculator was grounded on the assumption that whoever had
once passed through smallpox, whether natural or artificial, could never again
contract the disease. Nevertheless the inoculated did contract the disease, and
the disaster was uniformly accounted for as due to some imperfection in the
inoculation. There were also instances of smallpox after smallpox, but these,
too, were discredited; the first smallpox could not have been smallpox, but
chickenpox, measles, or some other eruptive disorder. There was a conspicuous
confutation of these evasions in the case of Louis XV. He had smallpox
unquestionably in his 14th year, and of unquestionable smallpox he died in 1774
in his 64th year. Notwithstanding, the assertion was perpetuated that there was
no possibility of smallpox after smallpox, and it was only when it became
necessary to maintain the credit of vaccination that the facts were admitted;
and in this form—Smallpox after vaccination is no more common or extraordinary
than smallpox after smallpox—a falsehood on the back of a former falsehood.
We have seen under what
safeguards inoculation was practised in Boston, and now we shall turn to Geneva
and discover how all the American precautions were set at naught in that city
with apparent impunity. The details are from a letter of the Council of Geneva,
dated 24th December, 1791, addressed to Dr. Haygarth in answer to his inquiries
and suggestions. Des Gouttes, secretary to the Geneva Syndic, wrote—
1.—The Republic of Geneva contains about 35,000
inhabitants, of whom 20,000 dwell in the city, and 9,000 in the adjacent
2.—The city is of small extent, and ill adapted
to so large a population; and its extension is not easy on account of the
fortifications wherewith it is surrounded. There are little more than 1,200
houses in the city, which are built in many storeys of many apartments like the
ancient part of Edinburgh, each house sheltering on an average twenty-one
3.—A great part of the population consists of
strangers, not only because most of our servants and labourers are natives of
other countries, but because Geneva being a frontier city, girt about by Savoy,
Switzerland, and France, and situated on the highways of intercourse between
these states, travellers are always coming and going.
4.—Notwithstanding this continual resort of
strangers within our walls, an epidemic of smallpox is of almost regular
occurrence every five years; and between the epidemics it frequently happens
that we have no natural smallpox whatever, either in the city or its vicinity,
5.—Inoculation began to be practised here in
1751, since which date we have inoculated a very large number of children
annually, and with such marked success that the deaths have but slightly
exceeded 1 in 300. Although we have often had to inoculate with pus brought from
a distance at times when there was no smallpox to be found in the city, and
although children so inoculated have gone freely into the streets, walks, and
other public places, before, during, and after the eruption, we have never
observed that they were sources of contagion, nor that they produced any
intermediate epidemic, nor that they accelerated the return of the periodical
6.—Lastly, our citizens enjoy a republican
constitution which requires us to pay most scrupulous regard to the liberty of
every individual. No coercive measures to hinder the introduction or
communication of smallpox are here practicable; and we believe we ought to limit
our action to advice, and to simple precautions of police, which must not, nor
even seem to be, oppressive to the citizens.
This glimpse into old Geneva
is not only instructive as concerns inoculation, but it is another exposure of
the monstrous fable that represents European cities as decimated with smallpox
until Jenner's advent as saviour—a fable that vanishes like smoke whenever
brought into contact with matter-of-fact.
Inoculation was introduced to
Rome and Florence during a severe epidemic in 1754; and attention being drawn to
the remedy, it was discovered that the Italian peasantry had long practised
voluntary smallpox just as did the peasantry of Wales and the Highlands of
Scot-. land. In Spain inoculation made little headway: in the words of Moore—
Some inoculations were effected in a few trading
cities, which held communication with England; but these efforts were of short
duration, and from the distinguished inaction of the Spaniards, inoculation was
soon relinquished; and no other country in Europe has suffered so little from
1. The History of the Smallpox. By
James Moore. London, 1815. P.288.
In Holland and Denmark
inoculation acquired a certain vogue among the upper classes, and in Germany the
like was true to a less extent. In Sweden inoculation was encouraged by the
Court, and Dr. Schultz was deputed to visit the London Hospital. His report was
so favourable that in 1755 inoculation houses were opened in several parts of
the kingdom, and the benefits of the practice were commemorated by a medal in
1757—a curious trophy of illusion under prepossession.
Perhaps the most notable event
in the story of inoculation was its introduction into Russia: how it was brought
about is thus described by Mr. Morley—
As soon as Catharine came into power (1762), she
at once applied herself to make friends in this powerful region [French letters
and philosophy]. It was a matter of course that she should begin with the
omnipotent monarch at Ferney. Graceful verses from Voltaire were as
indispensable an ornament to a crowned head as a diadem, and Catharine answered
with compliments that were perhaps more sincere than his verses. She wonders
how she can repay him for a bundle of books that he had sent to her, and at last
bethinks herself that nothing will please the lover of mankind so much as the
introduction of inoculation into the great Empire ; so she sends for Dr.
Dimsdale from England, and submits to the unfamiliar rite in her own sacred
1. Diderot and the Encyclopœdists. By
John Morley. Vol. ii. p. 114.
One day in the summer of 1768,
at his house in Hertford, Dimsdale received an unexpected message from Pouschin,
the Russian minister in London, to wait upon him ; and in his presence he learnt
that he was required to proceed at once to St. Petersburg to inoculate the
Empress. There was of course some hesitation about undertaking so long a
journey, but Pouschin had been authorised to overcome all obstacles. What would
the doctor require in the way of expenses ? The Doctor discreetly answered
that he would leave that to her Imperial Majesty, whereon Pouschin handed him
£1000 to pay his way to St. Petersburg. Dimsdale summoned his son from his
medical studies in Edinburgh, and the two set off for the North on the 28th of
At St. Petersburg Dimsdale was
received with every mark of respect and liberal hospitality. He was introduced
to the Empress, who was charming and gracious; and he was instructed to make the
requisite preparations for the serious duty before him. He had to find pus, and
to obtain pus he had to lay hands on a suitable sufferer from smallpox—a task
which proved by no means easy. Having discovered a case to his mind, he had
then had to overcome an obstinate objection to the abstraction of virus. He
had, at the same time, to find a couple of healthy young men, who had not had
smallpox, on whom to raise secondary virus, for the Empress could not be
expected to run the risk of smallpox without mitigation. His first attempt was
a complete failure, and he had to report accordingly to his expectant patient.
Catharine heard his report with philosophical equanimity, and left him to try
again. At last he was successful, and at the palace of Czarscoe Selo on
Saturday, 11th October, 1768, the Empress swallowed five grains of mercurial
powder, and late on Sunday evening Dimsdale inoculated her with fluid matter by
one puncture in each arm. She did well. From the time of the inoculation to
the commencement of the eruption, she walked every day for two or three hours in
the open air, and, on the 1st November, she returned to St. Petersburg in
perfect good health, to the great joy of the whole city.”1 The Grand
Duke was inoculated on the 30th October, and by the 22nd November had perfectly
1. Dimsdale: Tracts on Inoculation.
The Empress having played, the
nobility had to follow suit, and Dimsdale was requested to proceed to Moscow to
take them in hand; but at this time there was a new difficulty. There was said
to be no smallpox in Moscow, and as Dimsdale could not inoculate without fresh
virus, he had to inoculate two girls in St. Petersburg, designing so to time
their disorder that he should arrive with them in Moscow in prime condition for
business. One girl was a failure, and mishaps and delays on the sledge journey
almost made a failure of the other. He did, however, reach Moscow in time
enough to communicate the requisite infection to fifty patients, and in Moscow
he remained for two months operating and playing the lion. Then he set off for
home, and on his route through St. Petersburg found Catharine suffering from
pleurisy, for which he bled her, drawing eight ounces of imperial blood. Then
came the reckoning. In substantiate he had—
£2,000 for travelling expenses;
£500 a year for life, to be paid in net English
A superb gold snuff-box set with diamonds for
In honours he had the
Counsellor of State;
Physician to her Imperial Majesty; and Baron of
the Russian Empire with descent of title to his eldest son.
It was a barbarian's style of
recompense, paid under the eye of Europe. It cost Catharine nothing, for it is
subjects who suffer for the extravagance of despots.
Dimsdale had plans for the
systematic inoculation of Russia, but they resulted in little. Catharine's
purpose was sufficiently served in the display she had made ; and possibly she
came to consider Dimsdale an appendage of that deceiver Voltaire, whose busts,
that had adorned her saloons and corridors, were by her orders thrown into the
cellars when the French revolution opened her eyes to the consequences of French
In perusing the literature of
inoculation, nothing impresses a reader, enlightened by sanitary science, so
much as the manner in which smallpox was regarded as something like hail or
lightning that might be averted, but could not be prevented. So far, I have not
met with even a hint in that literature that smallpox was either induced by
unwholesome modes of life, or that it could be avoided by wholesome modes. In
conjunction with this blindness was the amazing assumption of the inoculators,
that every one inoculated was to be placed to their credit as saved from
smallpox ; as if (granting inoculation to be prophylactic) smallpox was ever a
universal epidemic, and as if multitudes did not pass through life without
smallpox before inoculation was heard of. The true problem to be set and solved
in all epidemics, whether of influenza or smallpox, is why some are susceptible
and some insusceptible, and whether it is not practicable so to modify
conditions as to carry over the susceptible to the ranks of the insusceptible.
INOCULATION SUPERSEDED AND SUPPRESSED.
THE illusory character of
human testimony is graphically illustrated in the case of inoculation. Suppose
an inquirer wished to ascertain the ratio of deaths to inoculations, he would be
completely bewildered. We have seen what Dr. Buchan wrote—
In the natural way, one in four or five
generally dies of smallpox ; but by inoculation not one of a thousand. Nay,
some can boast of having inoculated ten thousand without the loss of a single
John Birch, an eminent London
Not one in three hundred dies of inoculation in
the general irregular mode of proceeding, and not one in a thousand among
observant practitioners; and if the inoculated patient die, he dies of smallpox
and of nothing but smallpox.1
1. Serious Reasons for Uniformly Objecting to
the Practice of Vaccination. By John Birch. London, 1806.
In the Edinburgh Review,
October, 1806, we read—
Of those -who have smallpox naturally, one is
found to die in six. Of inoculated patients, only one dies in two hundred and
fifty. This at least is Dr. Willan's calculation; and we are persuaded that it
is very near the truth. In London, where it ought to he best ascertained, some
eminent practitioners have stated the proportion to be so high as one in the
hundred. The zealous anti-vaccinists have denied it to be greater, under
judicious treatment, that one in a thousand. It cannot be denied, however, that
besides the risk to life, the disease, even under the mitigated form, has
frequently proved an exciting cause of scrofula and other dreadful distempers,
and has often been attended with blindness and deformity.
In Reynolds's System of
Medicine, it is stated by Marson that—
The Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital was
founded in London in 1746, and inoculation was continued there until 1822. Dr.
Gregory went carefully over the records of the Hospital for that period of
seventy-six years, and found that only three in a thousand died of inoculation.
The inoculated disease was usually very mild, but not invariably so.
Scores of such testimonies
might be adduced, twitching the reader from conclusion to conclusion; and in
the conflict of authorities what is to be said ? It is true that if we select
what evidence we like, and call it sound, and reject what we dislike, and call
it unsound, we may prove anything; but it is also true, that if we are to be
fettered by evidence we shall stand paralysed amid contradictions. When men who
are competent, and obviously honest, deliver varying testimony, we are driven to
seek some method of reconciliation; and in this matter of Inoculation wherein
our resort is to books, and about which we can have no immediate experience, we
may derive much light from the corresponding practice of Vaccination. Thus,
what is commoner than for vaccinators to assert, that never within their sphere
of observation have they witnessed a single case of injury resulting from
Vaccination—not one! Subject any dozen ordinary practitioners to judicial
examination, and they would thus testify with scarcely a note of variation.
On the other hand, take any dozen mothers of families, especially from among the
poor, and they would tell of illness, disease, and death following the
vaccinators' lancets. The men are more or less competent and honest, and the
women likewise, and how shall we account for their variance ? In the first
place, the men have been drilled from the outset of their profession into the
conviction that Vaccination is absolutely harmless, and if any disaster follows,
it is coincidence, not consequence. Occasionally a practitioner of more
vigorous intelligence than the average, like Mr. Henry May of Birmingham, sees
what the mothers see, but does he report accordingly ? Not at all. In Mr.
May's own words—
A death from Vaccination occurred not long ago
in my practice, and although I had not vaccinated the child, yet in my desire to
preserve Vaccination from reproach, I omitted all mention of it from my
certificate of death.1
Birmingham Medical Review, January,
Mr. May recognised the fact
and concealed it: a duller man would have ascribed the death mechanically to
erysipelas or pyœ mia. Indeed, it is a commonplace with medical men, that no
child dies of Vaccination; and hence Vaccination is not an admitted cause of
death; and when the fact is insisted upon, there is no limit to the hardihood
wherewith the truth is crushed down and covered up. Coroners refuse to hold
inquests on children slain by Vaccination, and Dr. Lankester, as coroner for
Middlesex, did not hesitate to authorise a false certificate of death in order,
like Mr. May, "to preserve Vaccination from reproach." 1 As for
mothers, poor creatures, few of them have minds of their own, and if only they
were adequately assured that it was for the good of their offspring that their
noses should be slit, they would believe, weep, and submit.
1. The facts are set forth in Vaccination
Tracts, No. 14, p. 7.
But it will be pointed out
that inoculators of the more reasonable sort admitted a certain mortality from
the practice. It is so; but the admission was unavoidable. Inoculation
communicated smallpox, and there was no evasion of the fact that occasionally
the malady assumed a severe form, and the patient died. For such mishaps,
however, there were always excuses. The patient was not in a suitable condition
of body; he had been eating improperly; he had caught cold; and so on. There
remained, nevertheless, the sequelae of Inoculation, which were just as
persistently denied as are those of Vaccination, although there were always
clear-sighted observers who maintained that it was impossible to infect the
blood with a complex organic virus, and that it should exhaust its effects in a
single and definite issue. We all remember how we used to be assured with
contemptuous emphasis that it was utterly impossible to communicate Syphilis by
Vaccination, and that assertions to the contrary were the fables of ignorance
and malice; yet, we see that what was fabulous a few years ago, is now accepted
as medical matter-of-fact. Nowhere is scepticism so useful as among physicians;
for whenever they protest most, suspect most.
With the close of the 18th
Century, Inoculation with smallpox to avert smallpox was accepted as sound
practice throughout England. Its safety and efficiency were extolled by medical
writers in terms curiously identical with those applied to Vaccination. The
objectors were few, and for pious rather than physiological reasons; and the
question that exercised practical and benevolent minds was how to universalise
the remedy, which, on account of its troublesome accompaniments, was chiefly
confined to the upper and middle classes. On this point it may be well to cite
the words of Dr. Haygarth of Chester, who, in a letter to the Council of Health
of Geneva, dated 10th February. 1792, thus sets forth the position of affairs—
In Chester, and, I believe, in most of the large
towns of England, the casual smallpox is almost constantly present. All the
children of the middle and higher ranks of our citizens are inoculated in early
infancy. The populace, very generally regarding the distemper as inevitable,
neither fear nor shun it; but much more frequently by voluntary and intentional
intercourse, endeavour to catch the casual infection. All the difficulties of
our Smallpox Society in Chester proceeded from this strange delusion and
perversity of disposition. With us the smallpox is seldom or never heard of
except in the Bills of Mortality ; but there its devastation appears dreadful
The strong objection to
Inoculation was, that it diffused the disease generally which it was supposed to
avert individually. Inoculators tried to minimise and deny the danger, but in
vain; and nothing so contributed to the supersession of the practice by
Vaccination as the expectation of escape from the artificially propagated
disease. How extensive was that propagation, we leave the writer in the
Edinburgh Review of 1806 to describe—
The inoculated smallpox is an infectious
disease, and those who take it naturally from an inoculated patient have it as
violently as if they had been infected from a case of spontaneous disease ; it
is to all intents and purposes the natural smallpox again in them. Now, if it be
considered that several hundred thousand persons have been annually inoculated
in these Kingdoms for the last fifty years, it will be easy to calculate the
immense addition that must have been made in that period to the cases of actual
disease, and the increase of natural smallpox that may be supposed to have
arisen from this constant multiplication of the sources and centres of
Unless this culture and this
traffic in smallpox throughout the United Kingdom be realised, the potent cause
of the immediate and extravagant success of Vaccination will be left out of
reckoning. When we are harassed, anxious and impatient under some course of
conduct, our ears are open to any promise of relief; and it was to a generation
so afflicted and so receptive that Jenner in 1798 made his revelation of the
virtue of cowpox. No more need, said he, to inoculate with smallpox.
Substitute cowpox; and whilst it will protect as effectually, it will inflict no
injury and diffuse no infection. The revelation was received with acclamation,
and within eighteen months of its delivery (without due experience, and without
any warrant that could pass muster in the severe realm of science) the leading
physicians and surgeons of London subscribed and published the following
manifesto in the newspapers of 1800—
We, the undersigned physicians and surgeons,
think it our duty to declare our opinion, that those persons who have had the
Cow-pox are perfectly secure from the infection of the Smallpox, provided this
infection has not been previously communicated.
I do not wish to anticipate
the wondrous tale of Jenner—my present purpose is to show how Inoculation was
set aside; and it suffices to state that cowpox rapidly made an end of
inoculation with smallpox. Indeed, I question whether a revolution in practice
was ever effected with similar facility. Within eight years of the delivery of
Jenner's revelation, the writer in the Edinburgh Review of 1806, already
cited, was able to testify—
The bitterest enemies of Vaccination will not
deny, that more than nine-tenths of the medical world are decidedly and
zealously in favour of it, and that all their demonstrations of its dangers and
terrors have been insufficient to convert a single one of their brethren from
so damnable and dangerous a heresy. Testimonies, it may be said, should be
weighed, and not numbered; and in this respect the vaccinators, we are afraid,
will have a splendid and indisputable triumph. We give the anti-vaccinists all
the advantage in our power when we assign to them a few members of the
profession in London; for in the country at large, we believe, they have not one
respectable practitioner on their side in five hundred. In this great city and
school of medicine [Edinburgh] we are assured, they are without a single public
The resistance to Vaccination
was almost entirely confined to the resistance of inoculators, who were too
deeply compromised by their own disloyalty to Nature, to make effective
resistance. They were steadily borne down by the vaccinators, many of whom had
been energetic inoculators, and displayed the usual ardour of apostates in
condemning what they had formerly approved. Indeed, when we consider how
Inoculation was commended for its efficiency and harmlessness by the same
medical authorities who, within a year or two after Jenner's appearance,
denounced the practice for its difficulties and dangers, their tergiversation
appears little short of shameless. Dr. Lettsom had been an inoculator, yet on
2nd July, 1805, he felt warranted in writing—
What have not the abettors of Variolous
Inoculation to answer for ? To shoot a dozen or two innocent people in the
public streets of London would not be half so injurious as allowing the
murderers to kill the rising generation, the future hope of the State. Nothing
can show the supineness and ignorance of the Government more than legalising
these Variolous Murders.
How far the conquest of the
inoculators by the vaccinators had advanced, appeared in a debate in the House
of Commons in 1806, when Wilberforce urged that Inoculation should be
suppressed, or at least that those who insisted on Inoculation should be
compelled to place their patients in quarantine. Mr. Windham admitted the
scandal of wretched and miserable subjects of Inoculation being carried about in
the streets, but he hesitated to recommend coercive legislation until persuasion
had been fully tried and had failed. Dr. Matthews, M.P. for Hereford, took
occasion at the same time to run with the hounds. Inoculation, he said, was a
frequent cause of disfigurement and of death in its most awful form; it was a
magazine of the most dreadful evils; a magnifier of mortality; and a means of
introducing scrofula, a more dangerous and pernicious disorder than smallpox
itself—facts which it would have been more creditable to have proclaimed when
Inoculation was in fashion. It is so easy to kick when a foe has fallen, and
where all are kicking. Human nature is never so despicable as when thus engaged.
The question of restraining
Inoculation came again before the House of Commons in 1807, when the practice of
inoculating out-patients at the London dispensaries and hospitals was
energetically condemned. " I think that the legislature," said Mr. Sturges
Bourne, " would be as much justified in taking a measure to prevent this evil by
restraint, as a man would be in snatching a firebrand out of the hands of a
maniac just as he was going to set fire to a city."
No one was more eager to
suppress Inoculation by force than Jenner himself, and in July 1807, he sought
an interview with the Premier for the purpose. In a letter to Dr. Lettsom he
thus describes his mortification—
You will be sorry to hear the result of my
interview with the Minister, Mr. Perceval. I solicited this honour with the
sole view of inquiring whether it was the intention of Government to give a
check to the licentious manner in which Smallpox Inoculation is at this time
conducted in the metropolis. I instanced the mortality it occasioned in
language as forcible as I could utter, and showed him clearly that it was the
great source from which the pest of smallpox was disseminated through the
country as well as through the town. But, alas! all I said availed nothing, and
the speckled monster is still to have the liberty that the Smallpox Hospital,
the delusions of Moseley, and the caprices and prejudices of the misguided poor,
can possibly give him. I cannot express to you the chagrin and disappointment I
felt at this interview.
We are not accustomed to
regard politicians of Pereceval's order as favourable to liberty; and yet it is
refreshing to remark in even the Tories of the Georgian age a jealous regard for
the personal freedom of Englishmen and a hearty contempt for the plausible
quacks who were always contriving to circumscribe it. Perceval was not
opposed to Vaccination, but he would not consent to give it an illicit advantage
over Inoculation. If it were the good thing it was asserted to be, it might be
left to prevail by reason of its own quality.
Under medical and social
pressure, the practice of Inoculation at public institutions was gradually
abandoned. On 5th May, 1808, the inoculation of out-patients was discontinued
at the London Smallpox Hospital, but not until 20th of June, 1822, did the
inoculation of in-patients cease. In 1816 the Colleges of Surgeons of London
and Dublin pledged themselves against the practice. A formal attempt at
coercive legislation, often called for, was at last made by the directors of the
National Vaccine Establishment. They framed and promoted a bill, which was
introduced to the House of Lords in 1813 by Lord Boringdon, but it was
ignominiously withdrawn in 1814—a choice example of grandmotherly legislation.
Among its provisions was the enactment that whenever an inoculation took place,
the clergyman of the parish should receive notice, and that rod flags should be
displayed from the house where the patient lay! As Earl Stanhope observed,
instead of being a measure of humanity, it would, if passed into law, be one of
the most troublesome, inconvenient, and mischievous ever enacted.
In the discussion on this
foolish project, Lord Eldon pointed out that the common law was already
sufficient to arrest the exposure of sufferers from infectious disease ; and
acting on the hint the Vaccine Establishment prosecuted a woman, 27th April,
1815, for carrying her inoculated child covered with pustules through the
streets of her neighbourhood. Evidence was adduced that she had thus infected
eleven persons with smallpox of whom eight had died. The Court of King's Bench
pronounced her conduct illegal and criminal, but as it was the first prosecution
for such an offence, she was let off with a sentence of three months'
A practice thus banned could
not long survive in England, and by and by a medical man who would consent to
inoculate became a rarity, or was accounted disreputable. Yet there remained
old-fashioned folk who would have nothing to do with cowpox, and insisted on
having genuine human pox for their children and grandchildren. Hence Dr. Epps
writing in 1881 had to say—
There is a class of medical practitioners who
inoculate for the smallpox. Society should utter its voice of moral indignation
against such individuals, who glory in anything by which they can claim
singularity, or by which they can increase their pecuniary means. Let not
society be deceived into any parley with such practices upon the plea, that
parents will have their children inoculated with the smallpox.1
Gradually the inoculating
practitioner ceased, and the practice remained in the hands of " ignorant and
unqualified persons, old women, and itinerant quacks;" 2 and then the
end came. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1840 wherein it was enacted that—
Any person who shall produce or attempt to
produce in any person by inoculation with variolous matter, or by wilful
exposure to variolous matter, or to any matter, article, or thing impregnated
with variolous matter, or wilfully by any other means whatsoever produce the
disease of smallpox in any person in England, Wales, or Ireland, shall be liable
to be proceeded against and convicted summarily before any two or more justices
of the peace in petty sessions assembled, and for every such offence shall, upon
conviction, be imprisoned in the common gaol or house of correction for any term
not exceeding one month.
1. Life of John Walker, M.D. London,
1831, p. 326.
2. Letter of Poor Law Commissioners, 20th
The Government did not at
first intend to make the prohibition absolute, but Mr. Wakley insisted that the
time had arrived to suppress the nuisance summarily, and that not a voice would
be raised in opposition. Nor was there any opposition. Mr. Goulburn expressed
some hesitation, but the House was practically unanimous.
Outside the House few regrets
were expressed. Dr. George Gregory, physician of the Smallpox Hospital at St.
Pancras, was, however, a man of philosophic turn, and he did not see the old
idol cast down unmoved.
On 23rd July, 1840 [he wrote], the practice of
inoculation, the introduction of which has conferred immortality on the name of
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, which had been sanctioned by the College of
Physicians, which had saved the lives of many kings, queens, and princes, and of
thousands of their subjects, during the greater part of the preceding century,
was declared illegal by the English Parliament, and all offenders were to be
sent to prison, with a good chance of the tread-mill. Such are the reverses of
fortune to which all sublunary things are doomed.1
Gregory was not blind to the
extravagant claims made for Vaccination, and evidently had a lurking conviction
that all was not gain in the substitution of the new practice for the old,
Had not the discovery of Jenner interfered to
interrupt its extension and improvement, Inoculation would have continued to
this day increasing yearly in popularity.2
1. Lectures on Eruptive Fevers.
London, 1843, p. 39.
2. Ib., p. 93.
Yet was not Inoculation
abolished. Sometimes when we get the devil out at the door, he presently
re-enters by the window ; and thus while Parliament was making an end of
Inoculation in one form, it was reviving in another.
It is to be understood that
Jenner's cowpox, whatever it might be, was an uncommon and erratic disease, and
its discovery and maintenance difficult. To provide a substitute, cows were
from time to time inoculated with smallpox, and the resulting virus was used
instead of the Jennerian specific. Lest one should be accused of questionable
witness, let us refer to Dr. Seaton's Handbook of Vaccination. There we
Mr. Ceely of Aylesbury in February, 1839,
succeeded in inducing vaccine vesicles on two sturks by inoculation with
variolous lymph, and in thus establishing lymph-stocks, which passed at once
into extensive use, so that, in a few months, more than 2,000 children had been
vaccinated from them. In December, 1840, Mr. Badcock succeeded in variolating a
cow at Brighton, and deriving therefrom a stock of genuine vaccine lymph. In
this manner he has raised stocks of vaccine lymph for use on no fewer than
thirty-seven separate occasions. The lymph thus obtained by him is now largely
employed ; it has been supplied to many hundreds of practitioners, and very many
thousands of children have been vaccinated with it. Mr. Ceely's experiments
were repeated in America in 1852 by Dr. Adams of Waltham, and Dr. Putnam of
Boston, who were able, it is said, to furnish the city and neighbourhood of
Boston with all the vaccine matter used there since that period.
Again, Sir John Cordy Burrows,
a surgeon, speaking as a magistrate, at Brighton on 5th February, 1876,
The public seem scarcely to understand what
Vaccination means. The vaccine lymph taken from a child is nothing more than
what has passed from a smallpox patient through a cow. In 1856-58 I took an
active part in inoculating seventeen cows with smallpox, producing in three
cases vaccine lymph, and from these the world has been supplied.
Thus, as asserted, has
Inoculation been revived, and Jenner's specific set aside. When Dimsdale had
Russian nobles to operate upon, he tried to mollify the smallpox by passing it
through healthy children. Cows have now taken the place of children, and the
virus in its passage from arm to arm may still further be reduced in virulence,
when it does not take up fresh malignities such as syphilis; but it is
inoculation with smallpox all the same.
AS TO THE PREVALENCE OP SMALLPOX IN THE 18TH CENTURY.
THE exact truth as to the
prevalence of smallpox in the 18th Century is not attainable; vital statistics
were undeveloped; and in the absence of precision the imaginative revel. M.D.'s
and M.P.'s shut their eyes, tilt their noses skyward, and prophesy concerning
the frightful ravages, and the salvation wrought by the revered and immortal
Jenner. Any extravagance, as to the ravages, or as to the salvation, is
accepted as laudable zeal for humanity. " Decimation " is a favourite word in
this connection without any sense of its definite meaning. " What family before
1800 ever escaped decimation from smallpox?" asks Dr. Granville. "Smallpox
decimated the country in olden times," says Dr. Chavasse; "it ravaged like a
plague, whilst Inoculation caused the disease to spread like wild-fire;" adding
as a sequence, " Vaccination is an important cause of our Increasing
population." In the same temper, Lord Chief Justice Cockburn described an
unvaccinated infant as "a centre of contagion;" and as the folly of the great is
intensified in the little, Mr. Bompas, Q.C., informed the electors of
Marylebone, that "a person not vaccinated is like a flaming fire-brand among the
people." Thus the infants of last century were "centres of contagion ;" the
adults were "flaming fire-brands;" whilst England was "decimated" with smallpox
diffused like wild-fire by inoculation. What a picture of 18th Century England
painted by Rant and illuminated by Delirium !
The tendency of excess on one
side is to provoke to excess on the other, but the extravagance of these popular
Tables ought to put us in love with homely matter-of-fact—wherein indeed is the
true extreme of these frantic inventions. What was the extent of smallpox in
England last century is the question. With accuracy, we do not know. The
common estimates (when not evolved from inner consciousness) are based on the
London Bills of Mortality, and when these Bills are scrutinised we find nothing
to justify the opinion that the community was harassed and devastated by
smallpox over other ailments. In the first place, we have to remark that the
exact population of the metropolis was unknown. Some say it was 500,000 in
1701, and others 700,000. In 1751 it was generally reckoned at 750,000, and in
1801 it was said to be 958,863. Then we have to consider that the increase,
whatever it might be, lay only partially within the Bills of Mortality, for
several rising quarters were outside the boundaries, and there were extensive
exemptions within. Thus, so late as 1818, we find Dr. Burrows writing—
The parishes of Marylebone, Pancras, Chelsea,
Kensington, and Paddington, now forming an integral part of the metropolis, and
containing a population of 160,000 are not within the Bills of Mortality, and
make no returns. Neither are there any returns from St. Paul's Cathedral,
Westminster Abbey, the Temple Church, the Rolls and Lincoln's Inn Chapels, the
Chapter House, the Towel Church, and various other places of worship of the
Established Church. Besides, neither Dissenters, Papists or Jews who have
burying places of their own, are included in the Bills. Many of the wealthier
classes when they die are removed for interment into the country; nor do they
appear in the Bills.
With omissions so serious, the
Bills are obviously worth little as registers of the number of deaths in any
year in London ; and when we inquire how far they may be trusted as indicating
the relative prevalence of certain forms of disease, we find them equally
questionable. Dr Burrows thus describes the method by which the cause of death
Diseases as specified in the Bills are a
disgrace to the medical science and civilisation in which as a nation we are
acknowledged pre-eminent; nor can any effective reform take place while the
sources of information are so ignorant and venal as at present. The information
as to the disease of which any person dies is collected and verified in the
following way.—The Churchwardens of each parish within the Bills of Mortality
appoint two old women to the office of Searchers. These women as soon as they
hear the knell for the dead, repair to the sexton of the parish to learn the
residence of the deceased. They demand admittance into the house to examine the
body in order that they may see that there is nothing suspicious about it, and
judge of what disease the person died ; and they report to the
parish clerk. The regular charge for the performance of this office is 4d. to
each Searcher; but if an extra gratuity be tendered, they seldom pass the
threshold or hall of the house, and are content with whatever account is given;
or should they actually view the corpse, it is easy to imagine what credit due
to the judgment they pronounce.1
1. "On the Uses and Defects of Parish
Registers." By G. M. Burrow M.D. In
London Medical Repository,
No. 58, October, 1818.
In presence of defects so
grave as to the number of the dead, and of diagnosis so grotesque as to the
causes of death, it would be unwise to argue with any confidence from the data
of these Bills; yet, such as they are, we have nothing else to appeal to. The
variations of mortality from year to year were of wide irregularity; and
whatever influence smallpox might have had, it does not appear to have had
much in magnifying the annual totals. Let us take a dozen years when smallpox
was heaviest from the last seventy years of the century, and observe its
relation to the entire mortality, and to that from fevers—
Burials from all Diseases.
Again, let us take twelve
years when the death-rate from smallpox was at its lowest. Here they are-
Burials from all Diseases
We thus see that in twelve
years when the death-rate from smallpox was highest, as many died of fevers as
of smallpox; and in twelve years when the death-rate from smallpox was lowest,
there died thrice as many of fevers as of smallpox. Again, we have to remark,
that, on an average of all the years, smallpox was accountable for something
less than a tenth of the total mortality. Also we have to note, that the
mortality from smallpox was in great part infant mortality, and that there is
reason to believe measles was extensively confounded with smallpox. The infant
mortality was prodigious. Rarely a year passed in which a fourth of the deaths
was not set down to Convulsions—that is, to babes killed by improper feeding.
In 1772 (the worst smallpox year of the century when 3,992 died) there were,
6,605 ascribed to Convulsions, the total mortality being 26,053.
Now I have no wish to minimise
the London smallpox of last century, nor even to set 1797, when 522 died,
against 1796, when 3,548 died. I yield to none in detestation of smallpox as a
preventable and therefore disgraceful affliction. Let so much pass for granted;
but do not let us in any access of sanitary fury lose alike eyes and reason and
rave like maniacs. If smallpox was bad, fevers were worse, and as both had a
common origin, why should we make a wanton and unscientific distinction between
That smallpox should have been
constantly present in London throughout last century was in nowise surprising.
The citizens lived in a manner to invite and maintain fevers. I shall refer to
their food and drink presently, and would now call attention to the fact that
they were a stay-at-home generation almost beyond present-day belief. Cowper
did not violate credibility when he sang—
John Gilpin's spouse said to her dear,
" Though wedded we have been
These twice ten tedious years, yet we
No holiday have seen."
They had no ready means of
locomotion, and indeed did not think of fresh air and exercise. An apprentice
or maid from the country entered London and was immured as in a prison. We know
how the lower orders in our own time huddle together like pigs, unless so far as
restrained by lodging-house law, but middle-class Londoners a century ago
utilised their apartments, with more decency perhaps, but with equal ignorance
of the virtue of oxygen. The Londoners were a densely compacted community, and
at night the streets and lanes of the city were almost as thickly tenanted as a
man-of-war, but without benefit of sea-air. A Quaker told me that he served his
apprenticeship to a grocer in Cheapside between 1786 and 1793, that the shop was
opened at seven in the morning and closed at ten at night, that he slept under
the counter, that his ablutions were limited to his countenance, and that he
never went out except to meeting on First Days; adding, that he had no sense of
being hardly dealt with; it was the custom of the time, and he was as his
fellows. Memoirs of the 18th century prove that he spoke the simple truth.
Bishop Wilson of Calcutta records that he served in the house of a silk merchant
in Milk Street from 1792 to 1797, that he was occupied from six or seven in the
morning till eight at night; that there was supper at 8.30, followed by prayers,
and that all went to bed at ten. An apprentice in the same house said that he
never put on his hat for weeks together, and that more than three years elapsed
before his first holiday was granted. William Cobbett in 1783 got into a
lawyer's office in Gray's Inn where, he relates, " I worked like a galley slave
from five in the morning till eight or nine at night, and sometimes all night
long. I never quitted this gloomy recess except on Sundays when I usually took
a walk to St. James's Park." Such instances might be multiplied to any extent;
and in short it comes to this, that the Londoners of last century lived from
year to year in their houses, and had no outdoor exercise. If they were
careless about air, they were equally careless about light, and, but for the
cost of candles, might have disregarded it altogether. Water was chiefly
brought from wells or conduits, and was used sparingly; and it is needless to
add, there were no water-closets. Even in well-ordered households, stenches
were dreadful; and where there were slatterns, the condition of affairs may be
faintly imagined. Horrible cesspools lay behind or beneath most of the houses,
evolving pestiferous effluvia. Out of doors, the streets were scarcely less
noisome. Rain was the chief scavenger. Swift, in his description of a City
Shower, sets before us as graphically as Hogarth, the offices of the rain—
Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies -with them as they go:
Filths of all hues and odours seem to tell
What street they sailed from by their sight and
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. 'Pulchre's shape their
And in huge confluence joined at Snowhill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched
Dead cats, and turnip-tops, come tumbling down
Nor in estimating the sanitary
condition of 18th Century London is the influence of the dead on the living to
be forgotten. The twenty thousand who died annually remained to poison the
survivors. The city grave-yards were places of decomposition, rather than of
interment, and an odour of corpses pervaded many neighbourhoods. Mr. Samuel Gale
wrote in 1736—
In the church-yard of St. Paul, Covent Garden,
the burials are so frequent that the place is not capacious enough to contain
decently the crowds of dead, some of whom are not laid above a foot under the
loose earth. The cemetery is surrounded every way with close buildings; and an
acquaintance of mine, whose apartments look into the churchyard, hath averred to
me that the family have often rose in the night-time and been forced to burn
frankincense and other perfumes to dissipate and break the contagious vapour.
This is an instance of the danger of infection proceeding from the corrupt
effluvia of dead bodies.1
1. Nichols's Illustrations of Literary History,
vol. iv. p. 499.
Church-goers were subjected to
cadaverous influences from the dead in the yard without and from the dead in the
vaults below; and pious thoughts acquired an indescribable savour of the
sepulchre. Many illnesses originated in church; and families who led wholesome
lives at home were brought into deadly peril when they turned out on Sundays to
It is necessary to enter into
these details if we would know what manner of people the Londoners were who
suffered from smallpox, and what sort of place London was wherein they
suffered. Londoners have been taken for the standard of 18th century smallpox,
in forgetfulness of the fact that there did not then exist in England a town of
a hundred thousand inhabitants—perhaps only two or three of fifty thousand;
whilst the rural population bore a far larger proportion to the urban than is
the case at this day. In so far as the sanitary conditions of Bristol, Norwich,
or York resembled those of London, the analogy between them held good; but to
convert the London rate of smallpox into the common rate of England, of Europe,
and of the world, and to use the appalling result as a whip of terror wherewith
to enforce universal inoculation, and afterwards vaccination, was sheer
absurdity, if not something worse.
Whilst smallpox was always
present in London, its appearance in the country was irregular and usually
epidemic. The Bills of Mortality of towns as large as Northampton wore
sometimes clear of smallpox for years. Sir Gilbert Blane, in his advocacy of
Vaccination versus inoculation, said, that previous to the practice of
inoculation there were many parts of the country where smallpox was unknown for
periods of twenty, thirty, and even forty years. Mr. Connah, a surgeon of
Seaford, Sussex, with a population of 700, informed Dr. Haygarth in 1782, that
one person had died of smallpox in Seaford about eleven years before, and he
could not ascertain that any other death from the disease had occurred
subsequently; and that there was reason to believe that a like immunity
prevailed throughout the smaller towns and villages of southern counties.
Wherever we inquire, we are driven to the conclusion that the prevalence and
fatality of smallpox in the 18th century were grossly exaggerated by quacks and
panicmongers. Nor should we forget in this connection how Professor
Waterhouse, of Boston, an ardent inoculator, had to write in 1787—
I do not believe there is at present a single
person infected by smallpox in all the four New England Governments; that is,
not one in a million of people.
What we have to say of London
smallpox during last century is, that prevalent as it was, our wonder is that;
it was not more prevalent; that the disease was bred in the circumstances and
habits of the citizens; and that if it were possible to reproduce the same
conditions, we; should reproduce the same smallpox. On the contrary, say our
valiant vaccinators, the same conditions might be reproduced, but if the
citizens were universally and efficiently vaccinated and re-vaccinated, there
would be no smallpox. Thus we are taught that people may eat and drink as
they like, live in darkness, neglect personal cleanliness, take little exercise,
breathe air polluted by respiration, filth, and putrefaction, and that whatever
disease overtakes them, they will be proof against smallpox. The promise is
deceptive, but it was the promise of the inoculator, and it is the promise of
the vaccinator; and Dr. Drysdale, describes the practice which warrants the
promise as " the greatest triumph of hygienic science —I repeat, by far the
greatest triumph of positive hygienic science ever made."1
1. The Times, 23rd Oct. and 4th Dec.,
Some share in the fatality of
18th century smallpox must be charged to the treatment of the disease. What was
described as the cool regimen was no secret, yet its practice appears to have
been limited to few; whilst with the multitude, patients were confined to close
and heated rooms, under heavy bed-clothes, plied with hot drinks, cordials, and
alcohol, and kept in foul linen until killed or cured. Frequently, when
symptoms of smallpox appeared, bleeding, blistering, and purging were
energetically resorted to. If a family of children were affected, they were
commonly stowed away in one bed, and their skins would stick together with pus
and sweat. It was much the same in hospitals and workhouses. "I have seen above
forty children," says Dr. Buchan, "cooped up in one apartment, all the while
they had this disease, without any of them being admitted to breathe the fresh
air." The same course was pursued with other fevers, and the effluvia of the
sick-room was overpowering. Take this instance from Jenner's own household.
His nephew, Henry, and a maid-servant, were seized with typhus, and Jenner
The stench from the poor girl is so great as to
fill the house -with putrid vapour; and I shall remove Henry this morning, by
means of a sedan chair, to an adjacent cottage.1
Indeed, the cleanliness and
ventilation we consider so salutary were sedulously avoided. Cold air was
accounted specially pernicious, and occasionally when the poor, afflicted with
smallpox, were exposed to the weather, astonishment was expressed that recovery
instead of death was the issue. It is related in Hutchins's History of Dorset
that Blandford was burnt down in 1731, and several patients in smallpox were
laid under the arches of the bridge as a place of refuge, and, to the general
surprise, all got well, although many had died in their beds before the fire.
John Birch a London surgeon of high repute, writing in 1814, sums up the case
for us on this head in saying—
I consider the natural smallpox a mild disease,
and only rendered malignant by mistakes in nursing, in diet, and in medicine,
and by want of cleanliness, which last is the fomes of hospital fevers, and all
camp and contagious disorders.
It would hardly be too bold to say, that the
fatal treatment of this disease, for two centuries, by warming the chamber, and
by stimulating and heating cordials, was the cause of two-thirds of the
mortality which ensued.2
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i. p.
2. An Appeal to the Public on Vaccination.
By John Birch.
We now come to an interesting
question. If the reader refers to the list of twelve years of greatest
smallpox, and to the list of twelve years of least smallpox in London, it will
be observed that the years of least smallpox predominate in the last quarter of
the century, and this in spite of the diffusion of the disease by Inoculation.
The inoculators when charged with increasing smallpox appealed to the London
Bills of Mortality. "Let us," they said, "take the last ninety years of the
century, and we shall find that there died in London of smallpox in the thirty
From 1711 to 1740
1741 to 1770 63,308
1771 to 1800 57,268
Here we see, that the number
of deaths was greater in the first thirty years by 2,075 than in the second
thirty years during which Inoculation had acquired some stability, and greater
by 8,115 than in the last thirty years during which Inoculation was the
established practice of most prudent families.1 We are therefore
unjustly accused. These figures leave no doubt that smallpox decreasing, and
we claim that the decrease is due to our practice."
1. Dr. Adams in Medical Journal, 1810,
p. 31. Dr. Gregory in treatise on Eruptive Fevers, 1843, cites and
endorses this argument.
The decrease was certain, but
I cannot allow that was due to Inoculation; on the contrary I assume the
decrease would have been greater but for the culture of the disease by the
inoculators. The fact is extremely distressing to the more rabid vaccinators,
and Dr. Corfield tries to curse it out of existence as "the falsest of
falsehoods;" but there it abides. It is hard for those who represent Jenner as
the saviour of mankind from smallpox to have it shown that Londoners, at least,
were in process of salvation before his intervention ; but facts are cruelly
unkind to theorists, sentimentalists, quacks of all sorts. In the words of
Smallpox attained its maximum mortality after
Inoculation was introduced. The annual deaths from smallpox from 1760 to 1779
were on an average 2,323. In the next twenty years, 1780 to 1799 they
declined to 1,740. The disease, therefore, began to grow less fatal before
Vaccination was discovered ; indicating, together with the diminution of fevers,
the general improvement of health then taking place." 1
1. Article, "Vital Statistics: Epidemics," in
M'Culloch's Statistical Account of the
The decrease of smallpox
towards the close of the century, says Dr. Farr, was due to "the general
improvement of health then taking place;" but to what was that improvement due
? No marked improvement had been effected in the sanitary arrangements of
London— why then this change for the better ? My answer is, that a great
alteration was in progress in the popular diet.
Dr. George Cheyne, in his
famous Essay of Health and Long Life, published in 1724, says—
There is no chronical distemper whatsoever more
universal, more obstinate, and more fatal in Britain, than the Scurvy taken in
its general extent.
And more than fifty years
afterwards, in 1783, we have Dr. Buchan bearing similar testimony—
The disease most common to this country is the
Scurvy. One finds a dash of it in almost every family, and in some the taint is
It is scarcely necessary to
cite authority for what was so generally known and confessed; but in this
question of smallpox and its prevention we have to deal with many who appear to
be destitute of any historic sense; who argue as if what Englishmen are today,
they always were; and who contend that as there was more smallpox in London
before Jenner than since Jenner, therefore Jenner must be the cause of the
diminution. It is necessary to condescend to such feeble folk.
The cause of the general
scorbutic habit of the people was widely recognised by medical men, and Buchan
merely repeated their common opinion in saying—
A disease so general must have a general cause,
and there is none so obvious as the great quantity of animal food devoured by
the natives of this island. As a proof that Scurvy arises from this cause, we
are in possession of no remedy for that disease equal to the free use of
1. Domestic Medicine. Chap. 1vi.
Concerning the Diet of the Common People.
Cheyne said much the same at
the earlier date. He complained that the upper classes gorged themselves with
animal food, and slaked their thirst with wine, "which is now  become
common as water, and the better sort scarce ever dilute their food with any
other liquor." Beer had the place of wine among the middle and lower orders. In
the words of Buchan—
The English labourer lives chiefly on bread,
which being accompanied with other dry, and often salt food, fires his blood and
excites an unquenchable thirst, so that his perpetual cry is for drink.
If men will live on dry bread, poor cheese, salt
butter, broiled bacon, and such like parching food, they will find their
way to the alehouse—the bane of the lower orders, and the source of half the
beggary in the nation.
Were we to say that the diet
of the English for the greater part of last century consisted of Bread, Beef,
and Beer, we should not go far wrong. The London bread was then, as now, poor
stuff; "spoiled," says Buchan,"to please the eye, artificially whitened, yet
what most prefer, and the poorer sort will eat no other." Whenever it could he
obtained, beer was the beverage that went with bread, and was drank by young and
old. Salt beef and mutton, bacon, salt fish, and butchers' offal completed the
dietary of the multitude. The feeding of the poor in hard seasons exercised the
beneficent severely, for the baker's bill often went far to exhaust the
It was easy to recommend the
rich to get rid of their scurvy by a resort to vegetable food, but to the poor
with their obstinate prejudices, shiftlessness, and ignorance, such a
recommendation was a sort of mockery. Deliverance, however, came in a form
recommended by pleasantness and economy, namely, in the potato. It is true
the tuber had been known long before, but not as an article of free and ordinary
consumption. Toward the middle of the century it was discovered that potatoes
could be grown cheaply in large quantities, and supply and demand developed
together. Women and children especially rejoiced in the new food, whilst the
benevolent exulted in the liberal accession to the poor man's fare. It became
a point of duty with Lord and Lady Bountiful to recommend the culture and
consumption of potatoes everywhere; and to see how far the substitution of
potatoes for bread had extended early in the nineteenth century, we need only
refer to the pages of Cobbett, who denounced the change with unwearied virulence
as a degradation of humanity. Certainly potatoes are inferior to bread in
nutritive value, but in food we have to look for more than mere nutriment; and
the general use of the potato went far to purify and ameliorate the blood of the
The appearance of the potato
as a cheap constituent of common fare, was an argument wherewith Jenner
endeavoured to allay apprehensions, that, having stopped smallpox, there would
soon be more mouths than food to fill them. To Dunning he wrote, 10th February,
I have often urged the following argument when
too numerous a population has been thrown in my teeth, as one of the ill effects
likely to attend vaccination. Who would have thought a century ago, that
providence had in store for us that nutritious and excellent vegetable, the
potato—that ready made loaf, as it were, which is prepared in higher perfection
in the garden of the cottager than in the highly manured soil of the man of
And again to Worthington, 25th
What a gift from Heaven was this extraordinary
vegetable—a ready made loaf; reserved, too, till the hour when population, in
these realms at least, began first to increase; and then coming we scarcely know
how. Away with Malthus and his dreary speculations ! The skies are filled with
benevolence, and let population increase how it may, let us not distrust and
suppose that men will ever pick the bones of each other.1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. ii. pp.
348 and 410.
Nor was the change in the
people's diet limited to the introduction of the potato; with it came tea. Of
course we know that tea was drank in England long ere George III. was King, but
it was in his days that tea came into popular use. Here again we may refer to
Buchan, who was strongly opposed to the innovation. He wrote—
It is said the inhabitants of Great Britain
consume more tea than all the other nations of Europe together. The higher
ranks use tea as a luxury, while the lower orders make a diet of it. The lowest
woman in England must have her tea, and the children generally share it with
her. The mischiefs occasioned by tea arise chiefly from its being substituted
for solid food, and had I time to spare, I think it could not be better employed
than in writing against the destructive drug. Its use will induce a total
change in the constitutions of the people of this country. Indeed, it has gone a
great way towards effecting that evil already.
What Buchan had not time to
do, Cobbett subsequently did, and some of his most racy patches of vituperation
were applied to tea and tea-drinkers. In Bacon, Bread and Beer, according to
Cobbett, consisted the strength of the English working-man, whilst tea and
potatoes he held in abomination.
To this partial substitution
of potatoes and tea for salted animal food and malt liquor, we may justly
attribute the reduction of the scorbutic habit of the people, and that
improvement of health which were coincident with the close of last century and
were continued into the present. What every student of vital statistics has to
remember is, that conditions have to be identical to yield identical results.
The lives of the majority of the English people last century, and notably so in
London, were hard and sordid to a degree which in these times is difficult to
realise. Their sanitary conditions have been indicated, and I would now enforce
the observation, that they were ill fed and insufficiently fed; consequently
their diseases were malignant, and smallpox not un-frequently scarred deeply its
scorbutic victims. Wherefore to run a parallel between the Londoners of the
18th century and the English of the 19th in the matter of smallpox, and to
ascribe any difference between them to Jenner's specific, is to display
ignorance that is inexcusable, or craft unscrupulous.
JENNER'S EARLIER YEARS.
THE competent biographer, it
is said, must be an admirer of his subject, for only so far as he sympathises
can he understand. Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. But I neither
propose to write a Life of Jenner, nor do I believe it essential to insight to
sympathise where compelled to reprobate. In Jenner's case we have to deal with
an accident rather than with a vigorous personification of evil. It was his
fate to have a happy (or unhappy) thought, adapted to the humour and practice of
his time, which was immediately caught up and carried to world-wide issues. In
himself, he was as ordinary a character as was ever thrust into greatness. For
the mischief of his thought, some of his contemporaries were as responsible as
himself—some, indeed, more blameworthy. With Bishop Butler I may ask, "Why may
not whole communities be seized with fits of insanity, as well as individuals ?"
and with him aver, "Nothing else can account for a great part of what we read in
history." The common mind passes at times into unwholesome conditions, wherein
the words of Paul are exemplified, "For this cause shall God send them a strong
delusion, that they should believe a lie."
Edward Jenner, the son of a
clergyman, was born at Berkeley, Gloucestershire, on 17th May, 1749. After the
usual education of a youth of his class, he was apprenticed to Mr. Ludlow,
surgeon and apothecary, of Sodbury, near Bristol; and on the completion of his
time (1770) was sent to London, where he resided for two years with Dr. John
Hunter, who increased his means for scientific inquiry by the reception of
pupils, caring much more for his menagerie at Brompton than for patients, and
utilising his pupils as assistants in his researches. Captain Cook returned
from his first voyage of discovery in 1771, and his collection of specimens of
natural history was assigned to Hunter for arrangement, who set Jenner to work
upon them; and, it is said, he did his duty so well that he was offered the
appointment of naturalist in Cook's next expedition. Jenner was, however, eager
to commence business as country surgeon, and in 1772, at the age of 23, he
returned to his native vale, legally qualified by his experience at Sodbury, and
his two years with Hunter, to practise at discretion on the good folk of
It may be said that Jenner's
was a poor sort of training for a medical man, but it is to be questioned if he
lost much by his ignorance; for a century ago medical knowledge was largely
absurdity, and practice mischief; and he did best who stood most frequently
helpless in the presence of Nature. Sir Benjamin Brodie relates how he served
when a young man with a general practitioner near Leicester Square—
His treatment of disease seemed to be very
simple. He had in his shop five large bottles, which were labelled Mistura
Salina, Mistura Cathartica, Mistura Astringens, Mistura Cinchonœ, and
another, of which I forget the name, but it was some kind of white emulsion for
coughs; and it seemed to me that out of these five bottles he prescribed for
two-thirds of his patients. I do not, however, set this down to his discredit;
for I have observed that while young members of the medical profession generally
deal in a great variety of remedies, they commonly discard the greater number of
them as they grow older, until at last their treatment of diseases becomes
almost as simple as that of my Æsculapius of Little Newport Street.1
1. Autobiography of Sir B. C. Brodie, p.
Hunter's name is often used as
a sort of consecration of Jenner, but for no obvious reason. Hunter confirmed,
if he did not beget in Jenner a strong liking for natural history; and when
Jenner was settled in the country, he. often availed himself of his services as
observer and collector, writing to him for information about the habits of the
cuckoo, the breeding of toads and frogs, and the sexes of eels ; for cuckoos'
stomachs, crows and magpies' nests, for bats, hedgehogs, blackbirds, lizards,
hares, and fossils ; for a cock salmon, for salmon spawn and fry, for a large
porpoise, "for love or money;" for the arm of a certain patient when he dies;
suggesting horrible experiments on hedgehogs, bats, and dogs, and describing one
of special atrocity upon an ass. The most serious proposition in their
correspondence was that Jenner should come to London as a teacher of natural
history, but Hunter threw out the suggestion with hesitation, the qualification
for the appointment being 1,000 guineas down. Jenner had improved, or supposed
he had improved, the preparation of tartar emetic, and Hunter wrote—
DEAR JENNER,—I am puffing off your tartar as the
tartar of all tartars, and have given it to several physicians to make a trial
of, but as yet have had no account of their success. Had you not better let a
bookseller have it to sell, as Glass of Oxford did his magnesia ? Let it be
called Jenner's Tartar Emetic, or anybody's else you please.
Hunter died in 1793, and there
is no evidence that Jenner submitted to his judgment the question of
Vaccination, if even we allow that prior to that date the project had occurred
to Jenner himself. It is certain that he mentioned to Hunter that country folk
believed that to catch cowpox was to be secure from smallpox, and that Hunter
repeated the fact in his conversation and lectures ; but there is no reference
to the matter in Hunter's writing and correspondence.
It is the habit of Jenner's
admirers to represent him as a patient investigator to whom a great thought
dawned in boyhood, which was brought forth in the maturity of life. In
conformity with this legend, it is related that when an apprentice at Sodbury, a
young woman came to his master's surgery, and smallpox being mentioned, she
said, "I cannot take that disease, for I have had cowpox;" and her observation
was pondered in his heart; whereon Dr, Baron, his biographer, ecstatically
Newton had unfolded his doctrine of light and
colours before he was twenty: Bacon wrote his Temporis Partus Maximus
before he attained that age : Montesquieu had sketched his Spirit of Laws at an
equally early period of life : and Jenner, when he was still younger,
contemplated the possibility of removing from among the list of human diseases
one of the most mortal that ever scourged our race. The hope of doing this
great good never deserted him, though he met with many discouragements; his
notions having been treated with scorn and ridicule by some, and with
indifference by almost all.
Against such a paragraph we
may write, Sheer romance! Jenner was by no means reticent, and that the
prevention of smallpox was for any length of time the burden of his soul,
nowhere appears. The romance came into being after date in order to make much
of little, and to justify payment in cash and reputation. For, taking
Vaccination at the utmost, it was a slight advance upon existent knowledge and
practice. In the first place, it was a notorious belief in many dairy
districts, that to contract cowpox was equivalent to smallpox in averting a
subsequent attack of smallpox. In the second place, inoculation with smallpox
was the custom of the time; and if infection with cowpox prevented smallpox, why
should not inoculation with cowpox do so as effectually as inoculation with
smallpox ? The intelligence requisite to reach a conclusion so obvious was not
great, and therefore it was no cause for surprise that when Jenner's claim as
originator of Vaccination was brought forward, his priority should be disputed
from several quarters ; as by Benjamin Jesty of Yetminster, who inoculated his
wife and sons with cowpox in 1774; by Nash of Shaftesbury; Mrs. Kendall, and
others. Jenner was not insensible to the force of these claims, but evaded them
under the plea that there was cowpox and cowpox, and that he had
discovered and defined the right sort.
In parts of Holstein, too,
cowpox was regarded as good against smallpox, and on more than one occasion was
deliberately employed for the purpose. Plett, a village schoolmaster, near
Kiel, inoculated three children with the disease in 1791, who were afterwards
credited with resisting variolous infection in consequence of their vaccination.1
How thoroughly the asserted
prophylaxy of cowpox was known, Jenner himself was accustomed to bear witness.
He was a member of two clubs, the Medico-Convivial which met at Rodborough, and
the Convivio-Medical which met at Alveston; and he used to bring cowpox so
persistently under discussion, that, he said, he was threatened with expulsion
if he did not desist. "We know," said the jovial doctors, "that an attack of
cow-pox is reputed to prevent smallpox, but we know that it does not, and that
should end the matter."2
In pursuance of the tactics
that would represent Vaccination as the outcome of the labour of many years, we
have the following extraordinary narrative from Baron, Jenner's biographer—
It was not till 1780 that Jenner was enabled,
after much study and inquiry, to unravel many of the perplexing obscurities and
contradictions with which the question of cowpox was enveloped, and which had
impressed those who knew the traditions of the country with the opinion that it
defied all accurate and satisfactory elucidation. In the month of May of the
year just mentioned, 1780, he first disclosed his hopes and his fears,
respecting the great object of his pursuit, to his friend Edward Gardner. By
this time Jenner's mind had caught a glimpse of the reputation which awaited
him, but it was still clouded by doubts and difficulties. He then seemed to
feel that it might, in God's good providence, be his lot to stand between the
living and the dead, and that through him a plague might be stayed. On the
other side, the dread of disappointment, and the probability of failing to
accomplish his purpose, restrained that eagerness which otherwise would have
prompted him prematurely to publish the result of his inquiries, and thereby,
probably, by conveying insufficient knowledge, blight forever his favourite
1. Simon's Papers on Vaccination, p. xii.
2. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol.i. pp. 48 and 126.
3. Ib., vol. i. p. 127.
Many are the marvellous
relations in ancient and modern history, but in the records of the supernatural
it is questionable if there be anything to match the preceding. Painters depict
the runaway apprentice listening on Highgate Hill to the bells as they pealed,
"Turn again Whittington, twice Lord Mayor of London," but they might find a
finer subject in the young Gloucestershire surgeon, aged 31, habited "in blue
coat and yellow buttons, buckskins, well polished jockey boots with handsome
silver spurs, a smart whip with silver handle, and hair done up in a club under
a broad-brimmed hat,"1 with eye fixed in vision, contemplating his
glorious destiny, through clouds of doubt and difficulty, full twenty years
ahead; standing like another Aaron, censer in hand, between the living and the
dead until the plague was stayed ! Verily, if we do no I. see miracles, it is
because we do not choose to look for them.
1. Thus described by Gardner. Baron's Life,
of Jenner, p. 15.
The chapter of the wonderful
is not exhausted; yet greater things remain. Says Baron, and recollect the year
was 1780 and Jenner aged 31—
Jenner was riding with Gardner, on the road
between Gloucester and Bristol, near Newport, when the conversation passed of
which I have made mention. He went over the natural history of cowpox ; stated
his opinion as to the origin of this affection from the heel of the horse ;
specified the different sorts of disease which attacked the milkers when they
handled infected cows ; dwelt upon the variety which afforded protection against
smallpox ; and with deep and anxious emotion mentioned his hope of being able to
propagate that variety from one human being to another, till he had disseminated
the practice all over the globe, to the total extinction of smallpox"—
Which is to say, that in 1780,
Jenner, aged 31, had arrived at the conclusion which he offered to the world in
1798 at the mature age of 49; and in the meanwhile allowed mankind to perish
from smallpox, he having their salvation in his hands !
The miraculous conversation,
says Baron, was concluded by Jenner in words to the following effect—
Gardner, I have entrusted a most important
matter to you, which I firmly believe will prove of essential benefit to the
human race. I know you, and should not wish what I have stated to be brought
into conversation ; for should anything untoward turn up in my experiments I
should be made, particularly by my medical brethren, the subject of ridicule—for
I am the mark they all shoot at.1
Gardner, Jenner's friend, who
played the part of alter ego in the asseveration of an early date for
Vaccination, was a dealer in wines and spirits. Charity believeth all things,
but even charity would exhibit a sceptical countenance when what it is a man's
interest to prove and have placed to his credit, is in itself improbable ;
which, if true, might be proved by documents and witnesses; but which is merely
supported by his own word and that of a friend. Let me repeat, there was never
a vestige of evidence adduced for the revelations of 1780 beyond the bare
assertions of Jenner and Gardner; and further, that they are radically at
variance with the tenor and dates of Jenner's first publication—The Inquiry
The next date to which we come
is 1787, in which year Jenner is represented as having taken his nephew, George,
into a stable to look at a horse with diseased heels—
"There," said he, pointing to
the horse's heels, "is the source of smallpox. I have much to say on that
subject, which I hope in due time to give to the world."2
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i., pp.
2. Ibid., p. 135.
Baron gives no authority for
this anecdote. It is probably ante-dated six or seven years.
In 1788 Jenner married
Catherine Kingscote. In his domestic relations, he was devotedly affectionate,
even uxorious; ready to defer any duty and to surrender any advantage to the
pleasures of home.
As the phrase ran, Jenner was
a good hand at a "copy of verses," and one of these, "Signs of Rain,"
The hollow winds begin to blow,
The clouds look black, the glass is low—
has a place in nearly all
poetical collections. In 1792 Jenner applied to the University of St.
Andrews for the degree of Doctor of Physic. It cost £15, and nothing more.
Hunter used to say to
speculative pupils, "Don't think, but try ; be patient, be
accurate;" and Jenner, in relation to cowpox, required the advice ; for, by his
own account, he was content to think of cowpox for at least a quarter of
a century, whilst he knew by intuition its true origin, its magical efficacy,
and future triumph without any trial. His first experiment was made in
November, 1789, upon his son Edward, his first-born, an infant of eighteen
"He was inoculated with cowpox
O, no !
“Then with grease from a horse's heel ?"
Not at all!
" With what then ?"
Why, with swinepox ; and it answered !
The child sickened on the
eighth day; a few pustules appeared ; they were late and slow in their progress,
and small, but they proved sufficient. The poor child was then put through what
was styled the Variolous Test: not once or twice, but five or six times at
various intervals, he was inoculated with smallpox without other obvious effect
than local inflammation and erysipelas. Nothing ever claimed for cowpox turned
out more satisfactorily than this experiment with swinepox— supposing we trust
Arguing from the records (and
we have nothing else to argue from) it was not until about 1795 that Jenner
turned his attention with serious purpose to cowpox. This Baron allows, saying—
Many years elapsed before Jenner had an
opportunity of completing his projected experiments in Vaccination, and he
encountered numerous difficulties in carrying on the preliminary part of his
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i., p.
But Baron fails to specify
what were the projected experiments, or the difficulties which hindered their
performance. It is a common nuisance in "sympathetic" biographies to have
unlimited drafts made upon one's credulity. The evidence of example would go to
prove that Jenner placed his trust in swinepox rather than cowpox, at least as
late as 1789.
In April, 1795, a general
inoculation took place at Berkeley on Dimsdale's plan; that is to say, all in
the district who had not had smallpox were inoculated with the disease, so that
they might sicken together and do no mischief. Among the Berkeleyans was one
Joseph Merret, who, 1770, had attended horses with greasy heels and at the same
time milked cows, and from the cows had contracted cowpox. Jenner inoculated
him repeatedly with smallpox on this occasion, but with no effect; whence he
concluded that the attack of cowpox in 1770 had maintained Merret secure from
smallpox for five and-twenty years.1
Jenner's aim was now directed
to demonstrate that the common faith in cowpox as a defence against smallpox was
well-founded; and to do so it was necessary to clear away two objections—
FIRST, That some who had
caught cowpox had subsequently suffered smallpox.
To which he answered—
Various eruptions occur on the
teats of cows, which are confounded with cowpox, and infect the milkers; and
these, I admit, do not protect from smallpox.
In a letter to Edward Gardner
in 1798 he remarked—
The true has many imitations by the false on the
cow's udder and nipples; and all is called cowpox whether on the cow or
communicated to the human.2
1. Jenner's Inquiry, case i., p. 9.
2. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i., p.
SECOND, That some who had
contracted true cowpox had nevertheless fallen victims to smallpox. To which he
Admitted : but then the milker
had not received infection from the cow at the proper time, but at a stage of
the eruption too early or too late.
If the reader will set these
points clearly before him, he will have the measure of Jenner's claim. It was a
claim to define the truth there was in a popular belief— not to make an
Jenner at this juncture had
staked his hope on the identification of horsegrease with cowpox. Yet even in
this identification he does not seem to have been original.
It was a persuasion among the
farmers that pox on the cows was derived from grease on the horse; and that
infection with horsegrease was just as good against smallpox as infection with
its derivative cowpox. The fact, however, of this derivation of cowpox from
horse-grease was contested, but Jenner was positive. Writing in 1794 he said—
At our last meeting our friend treated my
discovery of the origin of cowpox as chimerical. Farther investigation has
convinced mo of the truth of my assertion heyond the possibility of a denial.
Challenged to produce direct
evidence that grease from the horse produced pox in the cow, he met with
considerable difficulty, so that on 2nd August, 1797, he had to write—
The simple experiment of applying the matter
from the heel of the horse, in its proper state, to the nipples of the cows,
when they are in a proper state to be infected by it, is not so easily made as
at first sight may be imagined. After waiting with impatience for months in my
own neighbourhood, without effect, I sent a messenger to Bristol, in vain, to
procure the true virus. I even procured a young horse, kept him constantly in
the stable, and fed him with beans in order to make his heels swell, but to no
In the matter of horsegrease,
it is to be observed as Dr. Mason Good informs us, "that for ages blacksmiths
and farriers, who had been infected with grease, were considered as generally
insusceptible of variolous contagion."3 Wherefore, to Jenner is not
to be ascribed the discovery of horsegrease as good against smallpox ; but
merely that he held with certain farmers that it was the cause of cowpox, and
one in constitution with cowpox; and thus endeavoured to combine the tradition
of the stable with that of the dairy.
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i, p.
2. Ibid. p. 141.
3. Study of Medicine, vol. iii. p. 59, 3rd ed, London, 1829.
It was not until 1796 that
Jenner made any experiment with cowpox—up to that date, whatever his visions, he
was in Hunter's phrase a thinker, not a trier. On 14th May of
that year, he took matter from the hand of Sarah Nelmes, who had been infected
by her master's cows, and inserted it by two incisions in the arm of James
Phipps, a child of eight years of age. The boy went through the disease in a
regular manner, and on the 1st July was inoculated with smallpox without effect,
to Jenner's intense satisfaction. He communicated the event to Gardner in the
BERKELEY, 19th July, 1796.
DEAR GARDNER,—As I promised to let you know how
I proceeded in my inquiry into the nature of that singular disease the Cowpox,
and being fully satisfied how much you feel interested in its success, you will
be gratified in hearing that I have at length accomplished what I have been so
long waiting for, the passing of the Vaccine Virus from one human being to
another by the ordinary mode of inoculation.
boy of the name of Phipps was inoculated in the arm from the pustule on the hand
of a young woman who was infected by her master's cows. Having never seen the
disease but in its casual way before, that is when communicated from the cow to
the hand of the milker, I was astonished at the close resemblance of the
pustules, in some of their stages, to the variolous pustules.
But now listen to the most delightful part of my story. The boy has since been
inoculated for the smallpox, which, as I ventured to predict, produced no
effect. I shall now pursue my experiments with redoubled ardour.
But the experiments could
not be pursued, for, from July, 1796 till the spring of 1798, Cowpox
disappeared from the dairies around Berkeley, and, as we have seen, horsegrease
was also unattainable. Jenner had, however, resolved on publication. Life was
advancing; he had made no mark in the world; and, as he wrote to Gardner—
Added to all my other cares, I am touched hard
with the reigning epidemic—Impecuniosity.
At first he proposed to embody
his views in a paper for the Royal Society, but on second thoughts determined to
issue a pamphlet. Having read his manuscript to Dr Worthington, Mr. Paytherus,
and Mr. H. Hicks, assemble I round the table of Mr. Thomas Westfaling, at
Rudhall near Ross, Herefordshire, and having secured their approval, the matter
was put to press, and about the end of June, 1798, appeared—
THE CAUSES AND EFFECTS
DISCOVERED IN SOME OF THE WESTERN COUNTIES OF
AND KNOWN BY THE NAME OF
THE COW POX.
JENNER’S INQUIRY, 1798.
The curious tradition among the dairy folk of
Gloucestershire, that persons who had suffered from Cowpox were thereby rendered
insusceptible of Smallpox, was made known to Edward Jenner when a doctor's
apprentice, and was never afterwards absent from his mind. Thirty
years elapsed before the fruit was borne to the public; but incessantly he
thought, and watched, and experimented on the subject, and the work in which
at length he recorded the incomparable results of his labour may well have
commanded the confidence of reflecting persons.
Little would ever be heard of objections to Vaccination, if all who undertake
the responsibility of its performance, and all who feel disposed to resist its
adoption, would but thoroughly study that masterpiece of medical induction,
and imitate the patience and caution and modesty with which Jenner laid the
foundations of every statement he advanced.
In the first Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolœ Vaccinœ,
Jenner set on a scientific basis the popular belief to which I have referred;
and the close of the 18th Century, which had much to darken it, will be
remembered till the end of human history for the greatest physical good ever yet
given by science to the world.—Papers relating to the History and Practice of
Vaccination. Pp. xi. and xii. London, 1857.
THESE are the words of Mr.
John Simon, and in them we have the Jennerian legend with the morsel of fact to
the mass of fable which characterises legendary matter, ancient and modern. The
recommendation to "study thoroughly that master-piece of medical induction,"
Jenner's Inquiry, is a mere flourish of panegyric; for, as Mr. Simon was
well aware, the book had been out of print for half a century, and was
practically inaccessible; whilst its reproduction has usually been considered
undesirable in the interests of Vaccination, inasmuch as it reveals more than is
expedient for common knowledge. An idol that is good to swear by is always
fortified by a convenient obscurity.
The Inquiry is a quarto
of less than seventy pages in large type, set in broad margins in the grand
style of the period, and illustrated with four coloured plates. There are eight
pages of Introductory Matter, followed by thirty-four pages of Cases, concluding
with twenty-six pages of General Observations.
It is to the Cases as the
ground of the argument, that I would first direct attention. They are
twenty-three, and may be thus assorted—
Cowpox communicated by accident.
4 of Horsegrease communicated by accident and inoculated by design.
6 of Cowpox inoculated by design or transferred from arm-to-arm.
It may be tedious, but I
should like to go with the reader over these Cases, for they are highly
instructive. Let us take the first twelve of Cowpox communicated by accident.
1.—JOSEPH MERKET, Gardener.
In 1770 attended to Horses, milked Cows, and caught Cowpox. Afterwards his
family had Smallpox, but he escaped. In 1795 Jenner repeatedly inoculated him
with Smallpox without effect.
2.—SARAH PORTLOCK, Farm
In 1771 had Cowpox. In 1792 nursed her child in Smallpox "conceiving herself
secure," and was at the same time inoculated with Smallpox in both arms without
3.—JOHN PHILLIPS, Tradesman.
Had Cowpox when nine years old. Was inoculated with Smallpox by Jenner at the
age of 62 without effect.
4.—MARY BARGE, Farm Servant.
In 1767 had Cowpox. In 1791 was inoculated with Smallpox without effect. Had
also acted as nurse to Smallpox patients without catching the disease.
5.—MRS. H- Gentlewoman.
Had Cowpox when very young,
contracted by handling dairy utensils. Was subsequently exposed to Smallpox,
"where it was scarcely possible for her to have escaped;" and in 1778 was
inoculated with Smallpox by Jenner without effect.
At this point, I would draw
attention to the ages of the persons set forth in these Cases: they were past
middle life when the susceptibility to Smallpox was either low or extinct. The
reason given by Jenner for their production was that he "wished to show that the
change produced in the constitution by Cowpox is not affected by time"—a claim
which vaccinators at this day surrender, insisting on the necessity of
re-vaccination to maintain "the benign influence;" but apart from that
consideration, there was nothing extraordinary in resistance to inoculated
Smallpox. Without the intervention of Cowpox, inoculators were constantly
meeting patients who would not "take," even with repeated attempts, and
especially among elderly people; and some who obstinately resisted inoculated
Smallpox, subsequently contracted the disease in the ordinary way. So much
Jenner himself allowed, saying—
There are many who from some peculiarity in
habit resist the common effects of variolous matter inserted into the skin, and
in consequence are haunted through life with the distressing idea of being
insecure from subsequent infection. (P. 60.)
Yet he was pleased to refer
this well recognised resistance to variolation in those who had had Cowpox to
Cowpox, allowing nothing for habit of body !
6.—SABAH WYNNE, Dairymaid.
In 1796 had Cowpox in May, and
"in so violent a degree, that she was confined to her bed, and rendered
incapable for several days of pursuing her ordinary vocation." On 28th March,
1797, she was inoculated with Smallpox by Jenner without effect.
Under this Case Jenner
observes, that "among our dairy farmers those who have had Smallpox either
escape Cowpox, or are disposed to have it slightly; and as soon as the complaint
shows itself among cattle, assistants are procured, if possible, who are thus
rendered less susceptible of it, otherwise the business of the farm could
scarcely go forward." At the farm where Sarah Wynne was employed, all had had
Smallpox except Sarah, and all save Sarah, escaped.
7.—WILLIAM RODWAY, Dairyman.
In 1796 had Cowpox. In 1797
was inoculated with Smallpox by Jenner without effect.
Under Rodway's Case Jenner
showed that the farmers were at fault in supposing that Smallpox kept off
Cow-pox. In the dairy where Rodway was employed, all the milkers had passed
through Smallpox, except Rodway, and all contracted Cowpox; "but there was no
comparison in the severity of the disease as it was felt by them and by Rodway.
While he was confined to bed, they were able, without much inconvenience, to
follow their ordinary business." Thus Jenner argued that though Smallpox might
not keep off Cowpox, it made Cowpox milder.
8.—ELIZABETH WYNNE, Dairymaid.
"In 1759 had Cowpox slightly
when 19 years of age." As the malady had shown itself in so slight a manner,"
observed Jenner, "and as it had taken place at so distant a period of her life,
I was happy with the opportunity of trying the effects of variolous matter upon
her constitution, and on the 28th of March, 1797. I inoculated her" without
effect. Nevertheless in the following year, 1798, she again caught Cowpox,
having a "large pustulous sore" accompanied with "general lassitude, shiverings,
alternating with heat, coldness of extremities, and a quick and irregular
9.—WILLIAM SMITH, Farm
Although [wrote Jenner as preface to this
Case] the Cowpox shields the constitution from the Smallpox, and the Smallpox
proves a protection against its own poison, yet it appears that the human body
is again and again susceptible of the infectious matter of the Cowpox.
In 1780, when attending to
Horses with sore heels, Smith conveyed the equine infection to Cows, "and from
the Cows it was communicated to Smith. In 1791, the Cowpox broke out at another
farm where he then lived as a servant, and he became affected with it a second
time; and in 1794 he was so unfortunate as to catch it again. The disease was
equally as severe the second and third time as it was on the first." He was
twice inoculated with Smallpox in 1795, and exposed to Smallpox without effect.
10.—SIMON NICHOLS, Farm
In 1782 was employed in
dressing the sore heels of Horses, and at the same time assisted in milking
Cows, thereby infecting them and generating Smallpox. Changing his situation,
he communicated the disease to other Cows, and was himself severely affected.
Some years afterwards, he was inoculated with Smallpox by Jenner without effect.
11.—WILLIAM STINCHCOMB, Farm
In 1782 had Cowpox severely on
the same farm with Nichols. In 1792 he was inoculated with Smallpox along with
a large party, but in his case without result. " During the sickening of some
of his companions, their symptoms so strongly recalled to his mind his own state
when sickening with the Cowpox, that he very pertinently remarked their striking
12.—HESTER WALKLEY, Farm
In 1782 had Cowpox when she
was attended by Jenner. In 1795 she, and seven other pauper women of Tortsworth,
who also had had Cowpox, were inoculated with Smallpox by Henry Jenner without
effect. " This state of security proved a fortunate circumstance," observed
Jenner, "as many of the poor women were at the same time in a state of
pregnancy." Why then, it might have been asked, did Henry Jenner try to
variolate them ?
These Twelve Cases illustrate
Jenner's procedure; and those familiar with scientific methods, and the scrutiny
and caution requisite to arrive at trustworthy physiological data, will view
with some astonishment his free and easy induction. In the majority of the
Cases he was without proof that his subjects had suffered Cowpox; and the
absence of this certainty was the more remarkable as he knew that the dairy-folk
described as Cowpox several varieties of eruption. The same rural observers who
held that Cowpox averted Smallpox, also held that Smallpox averted Cowpox; and
yet Jenner had to show in Rodway's Case No. 7., that they were mistaken;
although, granting the thesis that Smallpox and Cowpox were equivalents and
mutually preventive, the rural faith ought to have stood justified, and Smallpox
shown to be good against Cowpox. Again Jenner allowed that an attack of Cowpox
did not prevent a subsequent attack of Cowpox, saying—
It is singular to observe that the Cowpox virus,
although it renders the constitution insusceptible of the variolous, should
nevertheless leave it unchanged with respect to its own action.
Singular indeed! The
observation in presence of the principle to be established was nothing short of
imbecile. If Smallpox prevented Smallpox, and Cowpox was one with Smallpox, and
Cowpox did not avert Cowpox, how was Cowpox to avert Smallpox ? The
insusceptibility of Jenner's subjects to variolous inoculation was, as observed,
of little account. Resistance to inoculated Smallpox was of common occurrence,
and inoculators practised various dodges to overcome it. To have made such
experiments approximately conclusive would have required the inoculation with
Smallpox of subjects of corresponding ages and temperaments who had not passed
through Cowpox; and the probability is that the results would not have been
We must not, however, proceed
farther until Cowpox is described; and for that purpose I cannot do better than
cite Jenner verbatim.
Cowpox appears on the nipples of the Cows in the
form of irregular pustules. At their first appearance they are commonly a palish
blue, or rather of a colour somewhat approaching to livid, and are surrounded by
an inflammation. These pustules, unless a timely remedy he applied,1
frequently degenerate into phagedenic [spreading] ulcers, which prove extremely
troublesome. The animals become indisposed, and the secretion of milk is much
Inflamed spots now begin to appear on different
parts of the hands of the domestics employed in milking, and sometimes on the
wrists, which run on to suppuration, first assuming the appearance of the small
vesications produced by a burn. Most commonly they appear about the joints of
the fingers, and at their extremities ; but whatever parts are affected, if the
situation will admit, these superficial suppurations put on a circular form,
with their edges more elevated than their centres, and of a colour distantly
approaching to blue. Absorption takes place, and tumours appear in each axilla
The system becomes affected, the pulse is
quickened; shiverings, succeeded by heat, general lassitude and pains about the
loins and limbs, with vomiting, come on. The head is painful, and the patient
is now and then even affected with delirium. (P. 3.)
1. Such timely remedies were solutions of
sulphate of zinc or sulphate of copper—a hint for those in quest of antidotes
And Jenner might have added,
with convulsions. Having drawn this alarming picture of the effects of Cowpox,
These symptoms arise principally from the
irritation of the sores, and not from the primary action of the vaccine virus
upon the constitution. (P. 5.)
If Cowpox meant all this, some
might prefer, at least, the risk of Smallpox; hence the judicious
explanation—the irritation of the sores, and not the poison in the blood, was
the cause of the distressing symptoms. Jenner went on—
These symptoms, varying in their degrees of
violence, generally continue from one day to three or four, leaving ulcerated
sores about the hands, which, from the sensibility of the parts, are very
troublesome, and commonly heal slowly, frequently becoming phagedenic, like
those from whence they sprang. During the progress of the disease, the lips,
nostrils, eyelids, and other parts of the body, are sometimes affected with
sores; but these evidently arise [How evidently?] from their being heedlessly
rubbed or scratched with the patient's infected fingers. (P. 5.)
It was this serious disease,
this communicated Cowpox, which the subjects of the foregoing Cases were assumed
to have passed through; and Jenner, in conformity with the opinion of the
dairies, held that they were thereby rendered proof against Smallpox. Whilst
his Twelve Cases make a show of inquiry, they bear no trace of extensive or
critical research. In the general inoculations then prevalent, those who had
undergone Cow-pox were not treated as protected (as were those who had had
Smallpox) but were " cut" with their neighbours —as, in Case 12., were the eight
cowpoxed paupers of Tortworth. Yet Jenner was at no pains to collect and set
forth the evidence of other Gloucestershire practitioners, who, in the course of
duty, must have known as much of Cowpox as himself, and might have set scores of
Cases alongside his perfunctory dozen.
Having perused Jenner's
description of Cowpox, let us now turn to his account of its origin.
There is a disease to which the Horse, from his
state of domestication, is frequently subject. The Farriers have termed it THE
GREASE. It is an inflammation and swelling in the heel, accompanied in its
commencement with small cracks or fissures, from which issues a limpid fluid,
possessing properties of a peculiar kind. This fluid seems capable of
generating a disease in the human body (after it has undergone the modification
I shall presently speak of) which bears so strong a resemblance to the Smallpox,
that I think it highly probable it may be the source of that disease.
In this Dairy Country a great number of Cows are kept, and the office of milking
is performed indiscriminately by Men and Maid Servants. One of the former
having been appointed to apply dressings to the heels of a Horse affected with
the malady I have mentioned, and not paying due attention to cleanliness,
incautiously bears his part in milking the Cows, with some particles of the
infectious matter adhering to his fingers. When this is the case, it frequently
happens that a disease is communicated to the Cows, and from the Cows to the
Dairy-maids, which spreads through the farm until most of the cattle and
domestics feel its unpleasant consequences. This disease has obtained the name
of THE COWPOX. Thus the disease makes its progress from the Horse (as I
conceive) to the nipples of the Cow, and from the Cow to the Human Subject. (Pp.
2 and 6.)
This conception of the origin
and progress of the disease was not Jenner's specially: he shared it with the
farmers to whom it was a novelty—
The rise of Cowpox in this country may not have
been of very remote date, as the practice of milking Cows might formerly have
been in the hands of women only; which I believe is the case now in some other
dairy countries; and consequently that the Cows might not in former times have
been exposed to the contagious matter brought by the men servants from the heels
of Horses. Indeed a knowledge of the source of infection is new in the minds
of most of the farmers in this neighbourhood, but has at length produced
good consequences; and it seems probable from the precautions they are disposed
to adopt, that the appearance of the Cowpox here may either be entirely
extinguished or become extremely rare. (P. 56.)
Thus Cowpox was to be
extinguished by forbidding milkers to handle Horses' greasy heels. Jenner
himself tried to produce Cowpox in the manner described, but without success—
It is very easy [he wrote] to procure pus from
old sores on the heels of Horses. This I have often inserted into scratches
made with a lancet on the sound nipples of Cows, and have seen no other effects
from it than simple inflammation. (P. 45.)
What was requisite for
success, he concluded, was the limpid fluid from the Horse's heel at an early
stage of the disease, and that it should be applied to the Cow's nipples at a
The virus from the Horses' heels is most active
at the commencement of the disease, even before it has acquired a pus-like
appearance; indeed I am not confident whether this property in the matter does
not entirely cease as soon as it is secreted in the form of pus. I am induced
to think it does cease, and that it is the thin darkish-looking fluid only,
oozing from the newly formed cracks in the heels, similar to what sometimes
appears from erysipelatous blisters, which gives the disease. Nor am I certain
that the nipples of the Cows are at all times in a state to receive the
infection. The appearance of the disease in the spring and the early part of the
summer, when they are disposed to be affected with spontaneous eruptions so much
more frequently than at other seasons, induces me to think, that the virus from
the Horse must be received upon them when they are in this state in order to
produce effects. Experiments, however, must determine these points. (P. 45.)
Whilst thus explicit as to
what was requisite for the infection of the Cow by the Horse, Jenner did not
succeed in producing Cowpox from Horsegrease. He had to write—
The spring of the year 1797, which I intended
particularly to have devoted to the completion of this investigation, proved
from its dryness remarkably adverse to my wishes. No Cowpox appeared in the
neighbourhood; for it most frequently happens that while the farmers' Horses are
exposed to the cold rains of spring their heels become diseased. (P. 44.)
Yet without proof, he argued
as if he had proof, saying—
With respect to the opinion adduced, that the
source of the infection is a peculiar morbid matter arising in the Horse,
although I have not been able to prove it from actual experiments conducted
immediately under my own eye, yet the evidence I have adduced appears sufficient
to establish it. (P. 43.)
Evidence adduced! Of evidence
there was none. The farmers might be right in their opinion that Cow-pox sprang
from Horsegrease, but opinion was not evidence, nor even such assurance as this
I feel no room for hesitation respecting the
common origin of the disease, being well convinced that it never appears among
the Cows unless they have been milked by some who at the same time has the care
of a Horse affected with diseased heels. (P. 44.)
But not even to this
conviction did he adhere. "It was highly probable," he thought, " that not only
the heels of the Horse, but other parts of the body of that animal, are capable
of generating the virus which produces the Cowpox "—
An extensive inflammation of the erysipelatous
kind appeared without any apparent cause upon the upper part of the thigh of a
sucking Colt, the property of Mr. Millet, a farmer at Rockhampton, the
inflammation continued several weeks, and at length terminated in the formation
of three or four small abscesses. The inflamed parts were fomented, and
dressings were applied by some of the same persons who were employed in milking
the Cows. The number of Cows milked was 24, and the whole of them had the
Cowpox. The milkers, consisting of the farmer's wife, a man and a maid servant,
were infected by the Cows. The man servant had previously gone through the
Smallpox, and felt but little of the Cowpox. The servant maid had some years
before been infected with the Cowpox; and she also felt it now in a slight
degree. But the farmer's wife, who had never gone through either Smallpox or
Cowpox felt its effects very severely.
That the disease produced upon the Cows by the Colt, and from thence conveyed to
those who milked them, was the True and not the Spurious Cowpox, there can be
scarcely any room for suspicion ; yet it would have been more completely
satisfactory had the effects of variolous matter [Inoculation with Smallpox]
been ascertained on the farmer's wife ; but there was a peculiarity in her
situation which prevented my making the experiment. (P. 62.)
Spurious Cowpox! What was
Spurious Cowpox ? Here is Jenner's answer—
Pustulous sores frequently appear spontaneously
on the nipples of the Cows, and instances have occurred, though very rarely, of
the hands of the servants employed in milking being affected with sores in
consequence, and even of their feeling an indisposition from absorption. These
pustules are of a much milder nature than those which arise from that contagion
which constitutes the True Cowpox. They are always free from the bluish or livid
tint so conspicuous in the pustules of that disease. No erysipelas attends
them, nor do they show any phagedenic disposition, as in the other case, but
quickly terminate in a scab without creating any apparent disorder in the Cow.
This complaint appears at various seasons of the year, but most commonly in the
spring, when the Cows are first taken from their winter food and fed with
grass. It is very apt to appear also when they are suckling their young. But
this disease is not to be considered as similar in any respect to that of
which I am treating, as it is incapable of producing any specific effects
upon the Human Constitution. However, it is of the greatest consequence to
point it out here, lest the want of discrimination should occasion an idea of
security from the infection of the Smallpox, which might prove delusive. (Pp. 7
Nothing could be more
explicit. Cowpox was of two kinds—True and Spurious. The Spurious consisted of
pustular sores which appeared spontaneously on the nipples of Cows, and was of
no avail against Smallpox : the True Cowpox, on the other hand, was not a
disease of the Cow, but of the Horse transmitted to the Cow.
It is of prime importance to
bear this distinction in mind; for if it is not borne in mind, much that remains
to be told must appear confused or unintelligible. As we have seen, it was the
belief of the dairymaids that if they caught Cowpox they would never afterwards
catch Smallpox. Medical men in practice in Gloucestershire ridiculed the
dairymaids' belief. They said—
"We know that such is the
dairymaids' faith, but it is mistaken; for we know dairymaids who have had
Cowpox and afterwards had Smallpox in spite of their Cowpox."
At this point Jenner
"Let us distinguish.
Eruptions contracted in milking are indiscriminately described as Cowpox by
dairy-folk; but there is an eruption attended with erysipelas and fever which
has all the virtue they claim for it. This variety of eruption does not
originate on the Cow, but is communicated to the Cow from the Horse. Thus the
dairymaids are right and they are wrong. They are right when the pox they catch
is derived from the Horse through the Cow: they are wrong when the pox they
catch originates on the Cow without the Horse. In short Cowpox proper is of no
avail against Smallpox. It is Horsegrease Cowpox that is of sovereign and
infallible virtue. Any maid who receives Horsegrease Cowpox into her veins is,
as she believes, for ever after secure from the infection of Smallpox."
Let us therefore bear in mind
that Jenner's prescription was not Cowpox but HORSEGREASE COWPOX. It is a point
to be insisted upon ; for, as we shall see, it was lost from sight, and kept out
of sight, to the utter confusion of the question.
We now come to Jenner's Cases
of Horsegrease—for not only were farm-folk reputed secure from Smallpox by
reason of Cowpox, but farriers likewise in consequence of infection with
13.—THOMAS PEARCE, son of a
In consequence of dressing
Horses with sore heels at his father's when a lad, had sores on his fingers
which suppurated, and occasioned pretty severe indisposition. Six years
afterwards, Jenner inoculated him repeatedly with Smallpox, but only produced
slight inflammation, and exposed him to the contagion of Smallpox without
On this Case Jenner observed—
It is a remarkable fact, and well-known to many,
that we are frequently foiled in our endeavours to communicate Smallpox by
inoculation to blacksmiths, who in the country are farriers. They often, as in
the above instance, either resist the contagion entirely, or have the disease
anomalously. Shall we not be able now to account for this on a rational
14.—JAMES COLE, Farmer.
Was infected with Horsegrease
in the same way as Pearce. Some years afterwards was inoculated with Smallpox,
but only a few eruptions appeared on his forehead, which passed away without
15.—ABRAHAM RIDDIFORD, Farmer.
Was affected with very painful
sores in both hands, tumours in each arm-pit, and severe and general
indisposition, in consequence of dressing a Mare that had sore heels. He was
attended by a surgeon, who recognising a similarity of the sores upon, his hands
with those of Cowpox, and knowing the effect of Cowpox on the human
constitution, assured him that he never need fear Smallpox; but, twenty years
afterwards, he caught the disease, which ran its regular course.
From these Cases Jenner drew
Although the absorption of matter from sores on
the heels of Horses, secures, or nearly secures, the system from variolous
infection, yet it is possible that this cannot be entirely relied upon, until a
disease has been generated by morbid matter from the Horse on the nipple of the
Cow, and passed through that medium to the human subject.
Which conclusion he repeated
The active quality of the virus from the Horse's
heels is greatly increased after it has acted on the nipples of the Cow; as it
rarely happens that the Horse affects his dresser with sores ; and as rarely
that a milkmaid escapes infection when she milks infected Cows. (P. 45.)
From this conclusion, Jenner
at a subsequent period withdrew. The virus from the Horse was employed for
inoculation without transmission through the Cow, and with results equally
satisfactory. As we shall find, Jenner used and distributed Equine Virus neat,
which he certified as "the true and genuine life-preserving fluid."
So far the Cases set forth
described no more than ordinary Gloucestershire experience; but we now come upon
ground regarded as peculiarly Jennerian.
16.—SARAH NELMES, Dairymaid.
In 1796 was infected with
Cowpox, receiving the virus on a part of her hand scratched by a thorn. From
the large pustulous sore on Sarah's hand Jenner, on the 14th May, inoculated—
17.—JAMES PHIPPS, eight years
Said Jenner, "The more
accurately to observe the progress of the infection, I selected a healthy boy,
about eight years old, for the purpose of INOCULATION FOR THE COWPOX." The
matter was inserted into his arm by two incisions, barely, penetrating the
cutis, each about half an inch long. The inoculation "took," and was followed
by a chill, loss of appetite, headache, and restless sleep. On the 1st of July,
the poor lad. was inoculated with Smallpox, and again several months afterwards,
it is said, without effect.
Here [wrote Jenner] my researches were
interrupted till the spring of the year 1798, when, from the wetness of the
early part of the season, many of the farmers' Horses were affected with sore
heels, in consequence of which Cowpox broke out among several of our dairies,
which afforded me an opportunity of making farther observations upon the curious
About the latter end of
February, 1798, William Haynes and Thomas Virgoe, having to wash a Mare with
sore heels, were infected with Grease, and described their sensations as much
the same as when they were inoculated with Smallpox. Their infection proved
that if Grease was good against Smallpox, Smallpox was not good against Grease.
Haynes was employed as a milker, and Pox broke out among his master's Cows about
ten days after he had first assisted in washing the Mare's heels.
18—JOHN BAKER, five years old.
Inoculated, 16th March, 1798,
with matter taken from a pustule on the hand of the aforesaid Thomas Virgoe
poisoned with Grease from the Mare's heels. "He became ill on the sixth day
with symptoms similar to those excited by Cowpox, and on the eighth was free
On this case of Horsegrease
inoculation, Jenner observed—
We have seen that the virus from the Horse is
not to be relied upon as rendering the system secure from variolous infection,
but that the matter produced by it on the nipple of the Cow is perfectly so.
Whether the virus passing from the Horse through the human constitution, as in
the present instance, will produce a similar effect remains to be decided. This
would have been effected, but the boy was rendered unfit for Smallpox
Inoculation from having felt the effects of a contagious fever in a work-house
soon after this experiment was made.
Mark the assumption, "The
virus from the Horse is not to be relied upon as rendering the system secure
from variolous infection, but the matter produced by it on the nipples of the
Cow is perfectly so!" Such was Jenner's method of induction! How could he
leave the question undecided? Why not have waited until little Baker recovered
from his fever? or why not have inoculated another work-house child with
Horsegrease? The true sons of science do not rush into print in such shameless
19.—WILLIAM SUMMERS, aged five
and a half.
Inoculated 16th March, 1798,
from the nipple of one of the Cows infected with Horsegrease by Haynes.
Subsequently inoculated with Smallpox without effect.
20.—WILLIAM PEAD, aged eight.
Inoculated, 28th March, from
Summers. Subsequently inoculated with Smallpox without effect.
21.—HANNAH EXCELL, aged seven,
And several children and
adults were inoculated from the arm of Pead on 5th April. "The greater part of
them sickened on the sixth day, and were well on the seventh ; but in three of
the number a secondary indisposition arose in consequence of an extensive
erysipelatous inflammation which appeared on the inoculated arms. By the
application of mercurial ointment to the inflamed parts (a treatment recommended
under similar circumstances in the inoculated Smallpox) the complaint subsided
without giving much trouble."
Excell was inoculated in three
places on her arm. "This," said Jenner, "was not done intentionally, but from
the accidental touch of the lancet, one puncture being always sufficient."
The resulting pustules so much resembled those arising from inoculation with
Smallpox," that an experienced inoculator would scarcely have discovered a shade
On 12th April virus was taken
from Hannah Excell and inserted in the arms of—
ROBERT F. JENNER, aged 11
JOHN MARKLOVE, ,,18 „
MARY PEAD, ., 5 years,
R F. Jenner did not "take."
The arms of the others inflamed, and Jenner fearing erysipelas, as in the
preceding cases, applied a caustic of soap and quick-lime to Marklove and James,
"which," he says, "effectually answered my intention in preventing erysipelas."
The disease was suffered to take its course in Pead, and no erysipelas appeared.
23.—JOHN BARGE, aged seven.
Inoculated from Mary Pead, and
successfully. Was subsequently inoculated with Smallpox without effect.
"These experiments," said
Jenner, "afforded me much satisfaction; they proved that the matter in passing
from one human subject to another, through five gradations, lost none of its
original properties, John Barge being the fifth who received the infection
successively from Wm. Summers, the boy to whom it was communicated from the
These are Jenner's Cases. In
them we have his "Masterpiece of Medical Induction "—the fruit of thirty years
of incessant thought, of watching, and of experiment! Let us carefully observe
the dates. Until 1796, when he operated on Phipps, he never made an experiment
in Horsegrease Cowpox Inoculation; and not until the middle of March, 1798, a
few weeks before going to press with the Inquiry, did he repeat the
experiment; and though his later cases were complicated with erysipelas, he did
not stay to dispose of the difficulty and alarm thereby excited. He got together
his scratch lot of Cases, as if under some over-mastering compulsion, and
consigned the concern, crude and incomplete, to the public. By-and-by the hasty
performance came to be spoken of as the result of thirty years of incessant
thought, of patient research, and of unwearied labour. It is unnecessary to
argue the matter. Whilst there is nothing too great for the credulity of those
who are in the disposition of belief, yet facts are facts, and there is the
stone-wall of the Inquiry with its authentic details whereon to crack the
skulls of romancers. In Jenner's story as recited to the vulgar, we have the
advantage of witnessing the development of myth in the light of onr own age
under our own eyes.
Taking Jenner's Inquiry
at the utmost, What was it? A suggestion to substitute Horsegrease Cowpox for
Smallpox in inoculation. That was all. Beyond this there was no point of
novelty. Some have credited Jenner with originating the transfer of virus from
arm to arm; but in this respect he followed the example of many variolators.
There was a mild form of Smallpox occasionally prevalent in London called
"pearly pox," and Dr. Adams and others kept it going from patient to patient;
and the virus from the body of a healthy variolated child was in constant
request by timid folk, who fancied the virulence of the original infection might
thereby be abated in transmission.
So much for Jenner's data. Now
for a word or two as to the speculation that invested his prescription.
He considered that some of the
diseases which afflict men are derived from their domestication of animals, and
that thus several diseases might have a common origin. "For example," he asked,
"Is it difficult to imagine that measles, scarlet fever, and ulcerous sore
throat with a spotted skin, have all sprung from the same source?"
About the imagination, there
might be little difficulty : the difficulty lay in the production of proof that
any disease in man was derived from disease in animals, and that disease so
derived was variously manifested. Jenner wished to have it believed that a
variety of Cowpox was generated from Horsegrease, which Cowpox was the source of
Smallpox. He adduced no evidence, however, to connect outbreaks of Smallpox
with Cowpox ; nor did he ever suggest that dairymaids caught Smallpox from Cows,
or farriers from Horses. His identification of Horsegrease Cowpox with Smallpox
was the resemblance of their pustules, and on the ground of this resemblance he
affirmed the equivalence of the diseases. Thus in describing his first
inoculation of Cowpox, that of Phipps from the hand of Sarah Nelmes on the 14th
of May, 1796, he wrote—
The appearance of the incisions in their
progress to a state of maturation was much the same as when produced in a
similar manner by variolous matter. This appearance was in a great measure new
to me, and I ever shall recollect the pleasing sensations it excited; as, from
its similarity to the pustule produced by variolous inoculation, it
incontestably pointed out the close connection between the two diseases, and
almost anticipated the result of my future experiments. (P. 30.)
The similarity of the Cowpox
and Smallpox pustules incontestably pointed out the close connection
between the two diseases! The observation and the conclusion are worth notice,
being characteristic of Jenner's loose and illogical mind. He was familiar with
Tartar Emetic, and he might have observed that it produced pustules on the skin
exactly like those of Cowpox and Smallpox; wherefore would it have been fair to
argue that the pustules being alike, their causes were incontestably identical?
Dr. Hamernik of Prague observes—
Some years ago the theory was brought forward,
under the auspices of the great alchemistical artist, Hufeland, that Vaccination
from Tartar Emetic pustules was a perfect substitute for Vaccination with
Cowpox, and had the same beneficent effect. With this I fully agree ; and I
remark further, that if Tartar Emetic pustulation is produced in Cows and
Calves, and vaccine matter is then taken from them, such Vaccination is also
perfectly harmless. The most convincing proof of the beneficent and identical
action of such Vaccination with that of Cowpox, is furnished by the fact that it
presents pustules similar in size and form, therefore, necessarily of identical
1. Remarks on Certain Medical Principles.
Having identified Horsegrease
Cowpox with Smallpox, by reason of similarity of pustules, he went on to assert
that such Horsegrease Cowpox was equivalent to Smallpox for inoculation, and was
attended with the like prophylaxy, saying—
What renders the Cowpox virus so extremely
singular is, that the person affected with it is forever after secure from the
infection of the Smallpox ; neither exposure to the variolous effluvia, nor the
insertion of the matter into the skin producing this distemper. (P. 7.)
It is curious also to observe, that the virus, which, with respect to its
effects, is undetermined and uncertain previously to its passing from the Horse
through the medium of the Cow, should then not only become more active, but
should invariably and completely possess those specific properties which induce
in the human constitution symptoms similar to those of the variolous fever, and
effect in it that peculiar change which for ever renders it insusceptible of the
variolous contagion. (P. 48.)
And so on. The assurance was
absolute, and the warrant for the assurance was the Cases adduced, and the
similarity of Horsegrease Cowpox pustules and Cow-pox pustules! But if the
pustules were similar, the effects were not similar. Inoculation with Smallpox
produced Smallpox, mild or otherwise, with pustules few or many; but inoculation
with Horsegrease Cowpox was attended with no eruption beyond the points of
It is an excess in the number of pustules which
we chiefly dread in the Smallpox; but in the Cowpox no pustules appear, nor does
it seem possible for the contagious matter to produce the disease from effluvia
; so that a single individual in a family might at any time receive it without
the risk of infecting the rest, or of spreading a distemper that fills a country
with terror. (P. 58.)
Very good; but where are we?
If similarity of pustule proved the identity of Smallpox and Horsegrease Cowpox,
what did those graver dissimilarities between the diseases prove? That an
objection so obvious should never have occurred to Jenner indicates the extent
of his logical capacity.
Jenner's expectation from the
issue of the Inquiry had nothing of the prophetic character described by
his enthusiastic biographers. It is only necessary to peruse its pages and note
the dates in order to perceive the impossibility of the vision of 1780 described
by Baron when Jenner exhibited to Gardner his future glory, and how he was
destined to stand like Aaron between the living and the dead until the plague
was stayed. Alas! how many similar fables may we entertain because the means of
detection are not, as in Jenner's case, available.
When Jenner was writing, the
English people were committed to Smallpox Inoculation, or more accurately
Smallpox culture, and it was in competition with Smallpox that he advanced
Cowpox. "If asked," he said, "whether his investigation be matter of mere
curiosity, or whether it tend to any beneficial purpose," he replied by setting
forth the draw-backs to the existing practice, and contrasting them with the
advantages of his own.
Notwithstanding [he wrote] the happy effects of
Inoculation, with all the improvements the practice has received since its first
introduction into this country, it not very unfrequently produces deformity of
the skin, and sometimes, under the best management, proves fatal. (P. 57.)
On the contrary, he said—
I have never known fatal effects arise from the
Cowpox, even when impressed in the most unfavourable manner, producing extensive
inflammations and suppurations on the hands; and as it clearly appears that this
disease leaves the constitution in a state of perfect security from the
infection of the Smallpox, may we not infer that a mode of Inoculation may be
introduced preferable to that at present adopted, especially among those
families, which, from previous circumstances, we may judge to be predisposed to
have the disease unfavourably?
Inoculation was freely charged
with exciting scrofula ; thus Jenner observed—
In constitutions predisposed to scrofula, how
frequently we see the inoculated Smallpox rouse into activity that distressful
malady; and the issue does not seem to depend on the manner of the inoculation,
for it as often occurs in those who receive it mildly as in those who receive it
severely. (P. 60.)
Happily he had the grace to
refrain from the explicit assertion that Cowpox was exempt from similar hazard ;
yet with characteristic inconsistency, was disposed to advance a claim for it as
an expulsive irritant—
As we have seen [though he never showed] that
the constitution may at any time be made to feel the febrile attack of Cowpox,
might it not, in many chronic diseases, be introduced into the system, with the
probability of affording relief, upon well-known physiological principles ? (P.
A reader of the Inquiry
in 1798 could never have supposed that it was an attempt to displace the
existing practice of Inoculation. Nor is there any sign that Jenner at the time
contemplated such an issue. He referred to Variolous Inoculation with respect,
and was satisfied to suggest that in certain cases inoculation with Horse-grease
Cowpox might be substituted with advantage. As to the permanent existence of
Horsegrease Cowpox he was doubtful. Since, he said, the farmers had traced the
infection to the Horse, "the appearance of the Cow-pox may either be entirely
extinguished or become extremely rare." It may be replied that this behaviour
on the part of Jenner was due to reserve and tact, but the reserve and tact are
invisible. The Inquiry was simply what it appears—a hasty performance,
which, in other hands, developed to more, far more, than its author
contemplated. Subsequently he, and his friends for him, laid claim to years of
research under the influence of supernatural foresight; but, with the Inquiry
before us, I ask where is the evidence? I take the date, 14th May, 1796, when
Jenner inoculated Phipps from the hand of Sarah Nelmes, as the time when the
project of inoculation with Horsegrease Cowpox began to assume form, and I
maintain that the character, order and dates of the Cases set forth in the
Inquiry plainly show that they were got together to sustain the conclusion
then arrived at. When Mr. John Simon descants on Jenner's thirty years of
incessant thought, watching and experimenting which resulted in the production
of that Masterpiece of Medical Induction—The Inquiry, the answer is,
Peruse the Inquiry, and then say where the fruit of thirty years of labour is to
be found. The assertion is too absurd for discussion, whatever it may be as an
article of faith.
The single point of
originality in the Inquiry was the definition of the disease for which
prophylactic efficacy was asserted. The dairymaids said Cowpox: the farriers
said Horsegrease. Jenner said neither Cowpox nor Horsegrease, but their
combination in Horsegrease Cow-pox, which variety of Pox alone ensured life-long
security from Smallpox. We shall see as we proceed how this position was
surrendered and resumed, modified and confused beyond recognition. Let it
suffice at present to say that the note of Jenner's Inquiry was
HORSEGREASE COWPOX and nothing else. Strike out HORSEGREASE COWPOX, and the
affair is reduced to nonentity.
What was called the Variolous
Test worked wonderfully for Jenner; and as we shall have to refer to it
repeatedly, it may be well to describe and dispose of it at once.
We have seen how the Test was
practised in the Cases in the Inquiry. Those who had undergone Cowpox
were inoculated with Smallpox, and as the Smallpox did not "take," they were
assumed to be proof against that disease. Hence the absolute conclusion
proclaimed Urbi et Orbi, that none inoculated with Cowpox could ever
afterwards contract Smallpox.
It was replied, that some who
had suffered from Cow-pox had contracted Smallpox, and that others
had received the disease by inoculation; to which Jenner's summary answer
was, "There must have been some mistake about the Cowpox; for no one can
have genuine Cowpox and subsequently incur Smallpox, either by infection or
Cowpox was inoculated and
propagated from arm to arm; and, in proof that the constitution was fortified
against Smallpox, it was common to inoculate with Smallpox, which usually did
not "take"; whereon the operator exclaimed, " Behold! the patient is
insusceptible of Smallpox for ever!"
Such was the Variolous Test.
It was to multitudes absolutely conclusive; and to question its validity was to
exhibit a contentious and unphilosophic disposition.
What shall we now say
First, that failures were
numerous in Variolous Inoculation apart from Vaccination, and that it was not
supposed that when a patient did not "take," he was therefore insusceptible of
Smallpox; nor even when he did "take," that he was thereby rendered proof
against Smallpox. So many of the successfully inoculated did subsequently fall
victims to Smallpox, that Variolators at the end of last century were compelled
to argue (like Vaccinators at the end of this) that Variolation was a guard, but
not an absolute guard; and that when it did not altogether avert Smallpox, it
modified and mitigated an attack. The excuse for failure was as artful as the
motive was urgent: Variolation was too good a trade to be imperilled for lack
of a little ingenuity.
Nevertheless, if we make full
allowance on the score of frequent incapacity to receive Variolation, we have
yet to explain, on a candid view of the whole evidence, how it was that in
numerous cases Inoculation with Smallpox was ineffective after Inoculation with
"What can you urge against the
Variolous Test ?" was a frequent and imperious demand.
The explanation in general lay
in the fact, that Variolation was attempted before the complete subsidence of
the vaccine fever. The inoculation with Cowpox had set up a serious
constitutional disturbance, and during that disturbance the Smallpox virus could
not develop its malign energy. Let me show what I mean from the testimony of
On 15th March, 1800, the Duke
of York requested Jenner to proceed to Colchester to the 85th Regiment. Jenner
was unable to go, and sent his nephew, George, instead, who had to report a
complete failure. The reason of the failure was, that the entire Regiment, with
women and children, had the itch! Jenner was then driven to the conclusion
which, says Baron, he adopted and invariably maintained to the last hour of his
life, namely, that any cutaneous disease, however slight in appearance, was
capable of interfering with the regular course of the Cowpox and of preventing
it from exercising its full protecting influence."1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i. p.
Just so: and mark how the same
logic applies to the Variolous Test, which "nobody could get over." If any
cutaneous disorder, however slight, could nullify Cowpox, was it not equally
probable that the cutaneous disorder induced by inoculated Cowpox would nullify
inoculated Smallpox until the effects of the Cowpox had time to subside? When
the itch at Colchester was cured, then inoculation with Cowpox was found to be
practicable. Thus worthless was the Variolous Test on Jenner's own principle;
yet with such evidence under his eyes and among his fingers, he failed to
discern its significance. Nor apparently did he inquire whether the influence
of Cowpox was perpetuated over specified periods of six months, nine months, one
year, two years, and so on. As trader and adventurer, it suited him better to
be not over inquisitive, and to avow boldly that his specific conferred
life-long immunity from Smallpox.
Vaccinators at this day rarely
refer to the once famous Variolous Test: to do so would be absurd. The fact of
Re-Vaccination, of Vaccination after Vaccination at short intervals, proves,
that whatever the influence of the operation, it is transient and not permanent;
and the cases of Smallpox after Vaccination, and of Smallpox in its most
malignant forms after Re-Vaccination, as if induced thereby, leave the Variolous
Test, which so widely impressed and imposed upon our forefathers, an exploded
piece of jugglery.
JENNER IN 1798.
JENNER, with his wife and
daughter, left Berkeley for London on 24th April, 1798, in order to see the
Inquiry through the press. He remained in London until 14th July, and
failed, if he tried, to induce any inoculator to substitute cowpox for
smallpox. In the Jenner legend, it is usual to find some touching remarks on
this trip to town: genius unrecognised: truth turned from every door: the great
soul abiding in patience and courage invincible. Dates, however, are again
merciless. The Inquiry was not in the booksellers' hands until the end
of June, and, within a fortnight after publication, Jenner was on his way to
Berkeley. There was no occasion for the virtues specified.
Among Jenner's acquaintance
was Henry Cline, teacher of surgery in St. Thomas's Hospital; and with Cline he
left some virus in a quill that he had taken from the arm of Hannah Excell, at
Berkeley on 5th April. Cline had a patient, a child named Richard Weller, with
an affection of the hip-joint, and intending to create an issue by way of
counter-irritation, he inoculated the hip with Excell's virus, and thus
described the experiment in a letter to Jenner—
LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS, 2nd August, 1798.
The Cowpox experiment has succeeded admirably.
The child sickened on the seventh day; and the fever, which was moderate,
subsided on the eleventh day. The inflammation extended to about four inches
diameter, and then gradually subsided without having been attended with pain or
other inconvenience. The ulcer was not large enough to contain a pea;
therefore, I have not converted it into an issue as I intended. I have since
inoculated him with smallpox in three places, which were slightly inflamed on
the third day, and then subsided.
Dr. Lister, who was formerly physician to the Smallpox Hospital, attended the
child with me, and he is convinced that it is not possible to give him the
I think the substituting of cowpox poison for the smallpox promises to be one of
the greatest improvements that has ever been made in medicine; for it is not
only so safe in itself, but also does not endanger others by contagion, in which
way the smallpox has done infinite mischief. The more I think on the subject,
the more I am impressed with its importance.
Cline then attempted to
vaccinate with virus taken from Weller's hip, but failed. He wrote to Jenner—
LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS, 18th August, 1798.
Seven days since I inoculated three children
with cowpox matter, and I have the mortification of finding that the infection
has not taken, and I fear I shall be entirely disappointed unless you can
contrive to send me some fresh matter. I think it might come in a quill in a
letter, or enclosed in a bit of tin-foil.
Jenner was unable to comply
with Cline's request: he had no cowpox to transmit: and readers of the
Inquiry who addressed to him similar requests had to submit to similar
disappointments, out of which some suspicion was naturally developed. The
recommendation of a remedy whereof there was no available supply was not a
passport to confidence.
Baron relates, that "Mr. Cline
perceiving at once from the success of his first trial, what incalculable
blessings were connected with the diffusion of the new practice, immediately
advised Jenner to quit the country, and to take a house in Grosvenor Square, and
promised him £10,000 per annum as the result of his practice; in which opinion
Mr. Cline was supported by Sir W. Farquhar; but that all these splendid
prospects of wealth and distinction could not move Jenner."1
The story is either an
invention, or it does little credit to Cline's judgment. Jenner had neither the
means for a house in Grosvenor Square, nor was there any likelihood of his
earning £10,000 a year by cowpox. Nevertheless it would appear that at this
juncture some one was advising him to try London (one's vanity is never without
a prompter), and that Jenner replied—
CHELTENHAM, 29th September.
My perplexity really amounts to agitation. On
the one hand, unwilling to come to town myself for the sake of practice, and, on
the other, fearful that the practice I have recommended may fall into the hands
of those who are incapable of conducting it, I am thrown into a state that was
not at first perceptible as likely to happen to me ; for, believe me, I am not
callous to all the feelings of those wounds which, from misrepresentation, might
fall on my reputation; on the contrary, no nerves could feel more acutely ; and
they now are actually in a tremor from anticipation.
How very few are capable of conducting physiological experiments! I am fearful
that before we thoroughly understand what is cowpox matter, and what is not,
some confusion may arise, for which I shall, unjustly, be made answerable.2
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i. p.
154. 2. Ibid. p. 155.
If his correspondent had been
a man of sense, he might have replied—
Why so much ado about nothing! You recommend
that horse-grease cowpox he substituted for smallpox in cases of inoculation.
It is a simple prescription, easily determined altogether apart from you, and
there is no reason why you should work yourself into such a flutter.
But Jenner was not the
unimpassioned man of science, who can leave truth to take care of itself, and
submit when truth contradicts his prepossessions. Dr. Ingen-housz, an
Anglicised Dutchman (born at Breda, 1730), with reputation as electrician and
chemist, read the Inquiry with considerable amazement. He was himself an
inoculator of mark, having been selected by the Empress Maria Teresa to operate
upon the imperial family of Austria; and by her had been rewarded (after the
pattern of Catharine of Russia and Dimsdale) with a pension of £600 a year, and
the titles of Aulic Councillor and Imperial Physician. Naturally, therefore,
Ingen-housz had a lively interest in Jenner's project, and being on a visit to
the Marquis of Lansdowne at his seat in Wiltshire, addressed him as follows—
BOWOOD PARK, 12th October, 1798.
As soon as I arrived at Bowood, I thought it my
duty to inquire concerning the extraordinary doctrines contained in your
publication, as I knew the cowpox was well known in this county.
The first gentleman to whom I addressed myself was Mr. Alsop, an eminent
practitioner at Calne, who made me acquainted with Mr. Henry Stiles, a
respectable farmer at Whitley, who, thirty years ago, bought a cow at a fair,
which he found to be infected with what he called the cowpox. This cow soon
infected the whole dairy; and he himself, by milking the infected cow, caught
the disease which you describe, and that in a very severe way, accompanied with
pain, stiffness, and swelling of the axillary glands. Having recovered from the
disease, and all the sores dried, he was inoculated with smallpox by Mr. Alsop.
The disease took place, a great many pox came out, and he communicated the
infection to his father who died of it.
This being an incontrovertible fact, cannot fail to make some impression on your
mind, and excite you to inquire further on the subject before you venture
finally to decide in favour of a doctrine, which may do great mischief should it
The impression made on
Jenner's mind was simply one of annoyance. He fell back on the assertion that
all was not cowpox that was supposed to be cowpox, and that Farmer Stiles could
not have had the genuine distemper, or he would not have received smallpox by
inoculation. It did not even occur to him that it was necessary to investigate
and account for the evidence adduced by Ingenhousz, which was every whit as
valid as much of his own. He was content to protest—
In the course of my inquiry, not a single
instance occurred of any one having the disease, either casually or from
inoculation, who on subsequent exposure to variolous contagion received the
infection of smallpox..... Should it appear in the present instance that I have
been led into error, fond as I may appear of the offspring of my labours, I had
rather strangle it at once than suffer it to exist, and do a public injury. At
present, I have not the most distant doubt that any person, who has once felt
the influence of perfect cowpox matter, would ever be susceptible of that of the
Could universal conclusion be
deduced from more questionable premisses? and this, too, by one who had just
exclaimed, "How very few are capable of conducting physiological experiments!"
Always, as we shall see, ungenerous toward those who questioned his assertions,
Jenner wrote to his friend, Gardner—
This man, Ingenhousz, knows no more of the real
nature of the cowpox than Master Selwyn does of Greek: yet he is among
philosophers what Johnson was among the literati, and, by the way, not unlike
him in figure—
When, in fact, what provoked
him was that Ingenhousz knew too much about cowpox, and had laid his finger on
the point of error at the outset. Inquiry on the part of ,Ingenhousz brought to
light several other instances of smallpox after cowpox; and Dr. Pulteney of
Blandford reported that Dorsetshire inoculators were familiar with the one sort
of pox after the other sort. Jenner's constant answer to such objections was,
"Yes ; but it could not have been true cowpox to start with"— a style of
argument maintained with parrot-like persistency when smallpox followed
vaccination. "Ah!" it was said, "there must have been some mistake about the
vaccination; for no one can be thoroughly vaccinated and have smallpox."
Looking back on the final
years of last century, it is much to be regretted that more pains were not taken
to hold Jenner fast to his position that smallpox never followed cowpox, and to
demonstrate beyond contention that it was not true. It certainly was not true;
the evidence to that fact was indisputable; but few were disposed to follow
Ingenhousz into the West of England and search for the requisite proof; and
Ingenhousz was cut out of the controversy by his death at Bowood on 7th
September, 1799. Presently Jenner managed to have the contention shifted from
the experience of the dairies to vaccination from, arm to arm and the illusory
variolous test, and the advantage of a decision at the springs of fallacy was
lost. In the general confusion which ensued Jenner came to be taken for a
discoverer, and he posed diligently in the character, when he was nothing more
than the advertiser of the vulgar opinion of his neighbourhood, with the
modification that not Cowpox but Horse-grease Cowpox was the true and infallible
specific. The fact is so clear, that he was a mere advertiser, that it would
not be worth repetition, were it not so systematically treated as unseen. How
distinctly it was at first recognised appears in a letter of thanks for a copy
of the Inquiry addressed to Jenner by Francis Knight, a London surgeon,
wherein he observed—
I have read your publication with much
satisfaction; and, from a long residence in the dairy part of Wiltshire, as well
as in Gloucestershire, I know the facts to be well supported; at least, it was a
general opinion among the dairymen, that those who had received the cowpox were
not susceptible of the variolous disease. The cowpox pustule is very familiar
to my eye, and I am quite charmed with the delineation of it in your plates.
You have opened to the world a very curious field of investigation, and it is
too interesting a subject to die with the day.1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i. p.
In these remarks of Knight, we
have Jenner's position accurately defined. He made himself responsible for "the
general opinion among the dairymen"; and had some one at that time shown in
perspicuous and emphatic fashion that the dairymen were wrong, Jenner would have
been summarily disposed of. Vain, however, are such regrets; and we may find
comfort in the reflection that there is an order in the universe which converts
misfortune into means for greater and rarer good.
Another letter to Jenner from
Dr. Hicks contains these remarks—
BRISTOL, 3rd October, 1798.
I wish you had been able to have communicated
the cowpox to the cow by means of inoculation from a greasy horse's heel, for
your work would then have been more complete and satisfactory.
I do not see that you need hesitate to accept the invitation given you to
inoculate with the cowpox, convinced as you are that it will secure the persons
so inoculated from ever being infected with the smallpox.
Everlasting security from
smallpox! Such was the unqualified promise, and with how little warrant! In
presence of a Socratic inquirer with his persistent, how do you know? Jenner
must have stood confounded.
A letter to Jenner from Dr.
Percival, also contains some remarks worth notice. He wrote—
MANCHESTER, 20th November, 1798.
The facts you have adduced incontestably prove
the existence of the cowpox, and its ready communication to the human species.
But a larger induction is yet necessary to evince that the virus of the Variolæ
Vaccina renders the person who has been affected with it secure during the whole
of life from the infection of the smallpox.
Mr. Simmons, an ingenious surgeon of this town, has inoculated a human subject
with the ichor issuing from what is termed the grease in horses; but the fluid
introduced, though eight punctures were made, neither occasioned inflammation
nor eruption ; yet the same child was soon afterwards inoculated with success
for the smallpox. Mr. Simmons has now engaged a herd of cows, and is busily
employed in making such experiments as your publication has suggested.
It is very remarkable, that the cowpox has been hitherto unnoticed in Cheshire,
which is not less a dairy county than Gloucestershire, and where the office of
milking is performed also by men and maid servants indiscriminately.
The frequent statement that
Jenner's Inquiry was at first received with indifference is entirely
untrue : on the contrary, it was read with interest from the outset, and the
only check he met was due to his inability to supply the demands of
correspondents for samples of the precious virus. Cowpox was absent for awhile
from the dairies, and great was his relief and delight when toward the end of
1798 some matter was obtained from a farm at Stonehouse wherewith on the 27th
November he vaccinated the children of his friend, Henry Hicks of Eastington ;
"the first gentleman," says Baron," who had the merit of submitting his own
children to the new practice."
Ere 1798 had passed away,
Jenner had secured an energetic ally in Dr. George Pearson, F.R.S., Physician to
St. George's Hospital, London.1 Pearson entered into the cowpox
question with his whole heart, and constituted himself a sort of partner in
Jenner's project. He wrote to him—
8th November, 1798.
Your name will live in the memory of mankind, as
long as men possess gratitude for services and respect for benefactors; and if I
can but get matter, I am much mistaken if I do make you live for ever.
1. Born at Rotherham, 1751. Graduated M.D.,
Edinburgh, and practised at Doncaster until 1784, when he removed to London.
Died at his house in Hanover Square from a fall down stairs, 9th November, 1828.
And in a more decided strain
on 13th November—
I wish you could secure me matter for
inoculation, because, depend upon it, a thousand inaccurate but imposing cases
will be published against the specific nature of the disease by persons who want
to send their names abroad about anything, and who will think you and me
In the same letter he told
Jenner what some were saying about the suggested practice—
You cannot imagine how fastidious the people are
with regard to this business of the cowpox. One says that it is very filthy and
nasty to derive it from the sore heels of horses. Another, that we shall
introduce the diseases of animals among us, and that we have already too many of
our own. A third sapient set say, it is a strange odd kind of business, and they
know not what to think of it. All this I hear very quietly, and recollect that
a still more unfavourable reception was given to inoculation for the smallpox.
Such observations were natural
and to be expected. Jenner wrote to Gardner that "brick-bats and hostile
weapons of every sort were flying thick around him," but they were chiefly
imaginary. His revelation was communicated to a ready world. It was no
revolutionary project, but a seductive modification of existing practice.
Inoculation with smallpox was the order of the day among all respectable
people. The operation was troublesome and uncertain, perilous to patients and
to those in contact with them; and, when all was done, it afforded no
unquestionable security against the disease it was designed to avert. To a
community thus harassed and anxious, came Jenner with his prescription and his
promise—Substitute cowpox for smallpox and you will escape from this distress,
danger, doubt. You will have a harmless fever without pustules and without risk
of infection, and the security from smallpox will be absolute and perpetual.
What wonder that in such circumstances Jenner's message was heard gladly and
accepted with grateful enthusiasm. That he should have encountered some
resistance was inevitable, for what change is ever effected without opposition
and ominous prediction ? But the change Jenner proposed was the slightest of
changes with the largest prospects of advantage. Unless these conditions are
borne in mind, we shall never rightly understand the reception accorded by our
forefathers to inoculation with cowpox.
DR. PEARSON'S Inquiry
concerning the History of the Cowpox1 is a remarkable proof of the
alacrity and energy with which Jenner's project was entertained. As observed,
Jenner's Inquiry was published at the end of June, 1798, and ere six
months were over, in November, 1798, appeared Pearson's Inquiry, a
masterly review of Jenner's; and not only a review, but a record of
investigation, personal and by correspondence with country physicians and
farmers; the entire work displaying a capacity for business to which Jenner was
1. An Inquiry concerning the History of the
Cowpox, principally with a view to supersede and extinguish the Smallpox.
By George Pearson, M.D., P.K.S., Physician to St. George's Hospital, etc.
London, 1798, 8vo., pp. 116.
Cowpox did not come before
Pearson as a novelty, nor Jenner in connection therewith. He relates—
When I was in company with the late Mr. John
Hunter, about nine years ago, I heard him communicate the information he had
received from Dr. Jenner, that in Gloucestershire an infectious disorder
frequently prevailed among the milch cows, named the Cow-pox, in which there was
an eruption on their teats; that those who milked such cows were liable to be
affected with pustulous eruptions on their hands, which were also called the
cowpox; that such persons as had undergone this DISEASE COULD NOT BE INFECTED BY
THE VARIOLOUS POISON ; and that as no patient had been known to die of the
Cowpox, the practice of the inoculation of the poison of this disease, to
supersede the Smallpox, might be found, on experience, to be a great improvement
I noted these observations, and constantly related them, when on the subject of
Smallpox, in every course of lectures which I have given since that time. (P.
The communication of Jenner to
Hunter was nothing of a discovery. There was no secret in the existence of
Cowpox, nor in the belief that inoculation therewith fortified the sufferer
against Smallpox. Dr. Pulteney, of Blandford, informed Pearson that—
Cowpox is well known in Hampshire, Dorsetshire,
Somersetshire, and Devonshire. It is not unknown in Leicestershire, and other
midland counties ; but dairymen keep it a secret as much as possible, as it is
disreputable to the cleanliness of their produce. (P. 8.)
In the northern counties and
in Wales, Cowpox was either rarely seen or unknown. In Cheshire, as much of a
dairy county as Gloucestershire, where also men acted as milkers, the disease
was never met with. Where, however, Cowpox was recognised, the faith in its
efficacy against Smallpox appeared to be general, and inoculators regarded it as
a bar to their success. Thus Mr. Giffard, surgeon, Gillingham, wrote to
Pearson, 9th August, 1798—
Cowpox is more known in Dorsetshire than in most
counties. Last winter I inoculated three parishes, and some of the subjects
told me they had had the Cowpox, and that they should not take the Smallpox; but
I desired to inoculate them, and did so two or three times, but without effect.
Persons never take the Smallpox after they have had the Cowpox. (P. 14.)
At a milk-farm on the
Hampstead Road, Pearson found a man who had often seen Cowpox in Wiltshire and
Gloucestershire. He said that—
He had known many who had had Cowpox, and they
never suffered from the Smallpox, although it prevailed in their own families.
To use his own words, they who have had the Cowpox "are hard to take the
Smallpox." (P. 29.)
Mr. Rolph, surgeon, Peckham,
who had practised in Gloucestershire, informed Pearson that—
Cowpox was very frequently epizootic in the
dairy-farms in the spring.....A great number of instances of the Cowpox in
milkers had fallen under his observation, but not a single mortal, or even
dangerous, case occurred. There was not a medical man in Gloucestershire, or
scarce a dairy-farmer, who did not know from his own experience, or that of
others, that those who have suffered the Cowpox are exempt from the agency of
the variolous poison. (P. 95.)
Dr. Croft likewise told
That in Staffordshire to his knowledge, the fact
had been long known of the Cowpox, which prevails in that county, affording an
exemption of the human subjects from the Smallpox. (P. 35.)
Nor did what was so widely
believed escape mention in medical literature. Thus Dr. Beddoes, in Queries
concerning Inoculation, had written in 1795—
I have learnt from my own observation, and the
testimony of some old practitioners, that susceptibility to the Smallpox is
destroyed by the Cowpox, which is a malady more unpleasant than dangerous.
And Dr. Adams, in his treatise
on Morbid Poisons, 1795, observed—
Cowpox is a disease well known to the
dairy-farmers in Gloucestershire. What is extraordinary, as far as facts have
hitherto been ascertained, a person infected with Cowpox is rendered insensible
to the variolous poison.
And Dr. Woodville in his
History of Inoculation, 1796, argued—
It has been conjectured that the Smallpox might
have been derived from some disease of brute animals; and, if it be true that
the mange affecting dogs, can communicate a species of itch to man; or that a
person, having received a certain disorder from handling the teats of cows, is
thereby rendered insensible to variolous infection ever afterwards—then, indeed,
the conjecture is not improbable.
The belief, moreover, that
Cowpox was good against Smallpox, had tempted several to court the disease. The
Rev. Herman Drewe wrote to Pearson of himself and Mr. Bragge, surgeon, Axminster,
5th July, 1798—
Mr. Bragge and I endeavoured to try the
experiment of inoculating with the matter of the Cowpox, but from the scarceness
of the disease, and unwillingness of patients, we were disappointed. (P. 39.)
Mr. Dolling of Blandford
Mr, Justings, of Axminster, inoculated his wife
and children with matter taken from the teats of a cow that had the Cowpox. In
about a week afterwards their arms were very much inflamed, and the patients
were so ill that the medical assistance of Mr. Meach, of Cerne, was called for.
The patients did well. They were afterwards inoculated for the Smallpox by Mr.
Trobridge without effect. (P. 42.)
Dr. Pulteney of Blandford
informed Pearson that—
A respectable practitioner inoculated seven
children for the Smallpox, five of whom had been purposely infected with the
Cowpox by being made to handle the teats and udders of cows under the disease,
and in consequence contracted the distemper. These five, after inoculation for
the Smallpox, did not sicken, whilst the other two did. (P. 39.)
These cases were examples of
many; and if it be asked, why were not such inoculations repeated, we may take
an answer from Mr. Fewster, surgeon, of Thornbury, who, in a practice of thirty
years in Gloucestershire, inoculated thousands with Smallpox, and had known
"numberless instances of Cowpox." He wrote, 11th October, 1798—
In general, I think, Cowpox is a much more
severe disease than the inoculated Smallpox; nor do I see any great advantage
from its inoculation. Smallpox inoculation seems to be so well understood that
there is very little need of a substitute. It is curious, however, and may lead
to other improvements. (P. 104.)
To show still further how
Jenner's communication was "in the air" ready for descent. Mr. Downe, surgeon
of Bridport, wrote to Pearson, 1st August, 1798—
A few years ago when I inoculated a great number
for the Smallpox, I remarked that I could not by any means infect one or two of
them; and, on inquiry, I was informed that they had previously been infected
with the Cowpox. I know that a medical man in this part of the country was
injured in his practice by a prejudice raised unjustly that he intended to
substitute the Cowpox for the Smallpox in inoculation. So great an enemy to
improvement are the prejudices of the public in the country, that I think
experiments of importance can only be made in hospitals. (P. 10.)
Thus popular scandal
anticipated what was called Jenner's discovery!
Nor was Pearson content simply
to inquire of others : he experimented himself, and put Cowpox to the test a
week or so before the appearance of Jenner's Inquiry. He wrote—
Happening, on the 14th of June, to be with Mr.
Lucas, apothecary, on professional business at Mr. Willan's farm, adjoining the
New Road, Marylebone, where from 800 to 1,000 milch cows are kept, I availed
myself of the opportunity to make inquiry concerning the Cowpox. I was told it
was a pretty frequent disease among the cows of that farm, especially in winter,
and that it was supposed to arise from sudden change from poor to rich food. It
was also well known to the servants, some of whom had been affected with the
malady from milking the diseased cows. On investigation, I found that three of
the men-servants, namely, Thomas Edinburgh, Thomas Grimshaw, and John Clarke had
been affected with the Cowpox, but not with the Smallpox. I induced them to be
inoculated for the Smallpox, and, with the view of ascertaining the efficacy of
the variolous infection employed, William Kent and Thomas East, neither of whom
had either the Cowpox or the Smallpox, were also inoculated. (P. 14.)
The result conformed to
expectation: Edinburgh, Grimshaw, and Clarke did not take Smallpox, even though
inoculation was repeated, whilst Kent and East did. Pearson set forth his
experiments much more philosophically than Jenner, but his bias was pronounced,
and it blinded him to some obvious considerations; and it is marvellous how
easily we may accumulate details for which we have a fancy. Summing up the
testimonies he had collected, he held that—
The body of evidence is numerous and
respectable, declaring that a person who has laboured under the Cowpox fever and
local eruption, is not susceptible of the Smallpox. It does not appear that a
single well authenticated contravening instance has fallen under observation.
But I do not apprehend that accurate and able reasoners will consider the fact
as completely established, though, I doubt not, they will allow that the
testimonies now produced greatly confirm the probability, and that the cautious
appropriation of it in practice is warrantable. (P. 64.)
In this summary we perceive
the limit and imperfection of Pearson's Inquiry. Smallpox did
follow Cowpox: it was well known that it did : and Dr. Ingenhousz ascertained
the fact as soon as he looked for it. Moreover Pearson showed himself ignorant
of Jenner's position, who, recognising the fallacy of the rural superstition,
was compelled to discriminate Cowpox as genuine and spurious—the genuine being
the variety derived from Horsegrease.
Upon Jenner's assertion that
Cowpox was unaltered by transmission from arm to arm, Pearson remarked, "The
fact remained to be proved." That Cowpox produced a -harmless ailment was not,
he thought, to be hastily assumed. Dr. William Heberden had recently inoculated
800 poor persons at Hungerford without a mishap, and 1700 had passed through Dr.
Woodville's hands in the current year (1798) with only two deaths; yet how
erroneous would be to argue that variolous inoculation was harmless from such
Such instances of success can only be attributed
to a certain favourable epidemic state of the human constitution itself,
existing at particular times, for the proportion of deaths from inoculation is
usually much greater, owing, probably, to certain unfavourable epidemic states.
If Cowpox remained unchanged
in transmission from arm to arm, it would be no harmless ailment; for the
evidence was distinct that it was frequently a severe one. For example,
Edinburgh told Pearson that when suffering from Cowpox he had to give up work
and go into an hospital; and Grimshaw that the disease was uncommonly painful,
with swellings in his armpits, sore to the touch; and the servant at Rhodes's
farm in the Hampstead Road, who had seen much Cowpox in Wiltshire and
Gloucestershire, said the milkers were sometimes so ill that they had to keep
their beds for several days, though none ever died of the Cowpox fever. If,
however, by transmission from arm to arm, Cowpox became milder, it was not
improbable that at the same time it would lose more or less of its protective
Pearson might have seen and
added, that resistance to inoculated Smallpox, when the constitution was in no
humour for Smallpox, was no proof that the same constitution would resist
Smallpox when epidemic, or in condition for the evolution of the disease.
Pearson likewise took
objection to Jenner's evidence (such as it was) that it was possible to take
Cowpox after Cowpox, but not Smallpox after Cowpox; saying—
Most of professional men are extremely reluctant
in yielding assent to this statement. Some, indeed, reject it in the most
unqualified terms. That Cowpox follows Cowpox appears certain, but that Cowpox
should avert Smallpox, and not avert itself appears incredible. (P. 44.)
Here we see Pearson on the
verge of discovery of the illusion, but with all his training and Yorkshire
shrewdness he lost the scent, and allowed himself to be deceived; and not only
deceived, but to become a prime mover in the deception of the world. Jenner felt
the difficulty and replied—
27th September, 1798.
MY DEAR SIR,—You may be assured that a person
may he repeatedly affected, both locally and generally, by the Cowpox, two
instances of which I have adduced, and have many more in my recollection; but,
nevertheless, I have some reason to suspect that my discriminations have not
been, till lately, sufficiently nice..... Certain it is, that the skin is always
subject to the ulcerative effects of the virus; but whether the constitution can
repeatedly feel the primary effects of it, I have experiments in view to
determine. (P. 99.)
This passage is commended to
those who hold with Mr. John Simon that Jenner delivered to the world "a
Master-piece of Medical Induction," the fruit of thirty years of incessant
thought, watching and experiment. It is plain that in 1798 the very elements of
the problem were by him undetermined, and the most obvious objections unforeseen
Pearson's strongest opposition
was reserved for the asserted origin of Cowpox in Horsegrease. He said—
It has no better support than the coincidence in
some instances of the two diseases in the same farm in which the same servants
are employed among the Horses and Cows.
I have found that in many farms the Cowpox breaks out although no newcomer has
been introduced to the herd; although the milkers do not come in contact with
the Horses; although there are no greased Horses; and even although there are no
Horses kept on the farm.
It appears that the Cowpox does not break out under the most favourable
circumstances, if it be occasioned by the Grease. "I have had," writes Sir Isaac
Pennington, Cambridge, 14th September, 1798, "Dr. Jenner's book some weeks, and
the particulars stated in it are really astonishing. I have made inquiries upon
the subject at Cottenham and Willingham, in which two parishes 3,000 milch Cows
are kept; also a great many Horses of the rough-legged cart kind (much liable to
the scratches or grease) half the parishes being under the plough, and the men
much employed in milking. But I cannot find that any pustulous eruptions on the
teats of the Cows, or on the hands of the milkers, have ever been heard of." (P.
In the opening of his
Inquiry, Pearson was good enough to say of Jenner, "I would not pluck a
sprig of laurel from the wreath that decorates his brow " ; but, disputing the
origin of genuine Cowpox in Horsegrease, he might have asked himself, what sprig
of laurel he had left. That Cowpox originated in Horsegrease was not Jenner's
discovery. As Pearson ascertained in the London milk farms, "There was such a
notion entertained in several parts of the country, whatever might be its
foundation." (P. 86.) But the definition of Horsegrease Cowpox as the form of
Cowpox that justified the faith of the country-folk in the power of the disease
to avert Smallpox, was Jenner's solitary distinction—the principle and motive of
his Inquiry, which, to prove fallacious, was to extinguish his title to
regard. Cowpox apart from Horsegrease was clearly taught by Jenner to have no
influence on the constitution, and to be attended with no erysipelas. "Let me
call your attention," he wrote to Pearson, 27th September, 1798, "to a
similarity between the Smallpox and the Cowpox when inoculated. The symptoms of
absorption first disturb the system, and, secondly, the system feels the
consequences of the local sores. Exactly so with the Cowpox; and as the Cow-pox
inflammation is always of the erysipelatous kind, when it spreads over the skin
to any great extent, it produces symptoms not unlike the confluent Smallpox."
Pearson foresaw that if the
principle of inoculation with Cowpox were established it would lead to other
The Cow Poison appears to alter the human
constitution, so as to render it insusceptible of a different morbific poison,
namely, the variolous in producing the Smallpox. This fact is, I believe, quite
a novelty in physiology and pathology: it indicates a new principle in the mode
of prophylactic practice. And we now see a principle upon which diseases from
various other morbific poisons may possibly be prevented from taking place, such
as the Measles, Ulcerous Sore Throat, Hooping Cough, Syphilis, etc., namely, in
consequence of destroying the excitability of the constitution to such poisons
by the agency of different, and perhaps less hurtful ones. Whether the Cowpox
preserves the constitution from other morbific poisons, besides the variolous,
is an undecided question. (P. 79.)
Like Jenner, he also
recognised in Cowpox a counter-irritant—a safe sort of fever that might be used
to drive off other diseases—
If it be true that the same constitution is
liable to undergo repeatedly the Cowpox, to which distemper no one has fallen a
victim, practitioners may avail themselves of this means of exciting an innocent
fever as a remedy of various disorders ; it being a truth, admitted by men of
experience, that fevers are occasionally efficacious remedies, especially for
inveterate chronic maladies, such as Epilepsy, Hysteria, Insanity, St. Vitus's
Dance, Tetanus, skin deformities and diseases, etc. (P. 81.)
Nor was the notion without
warrant, for Smallpox itself was credited with a double action as a generator
and exterminator of disease—
A disposition to certain diseases, and even
diseases themselves, are not rarely brought on by the Smallpox; but sometimes
also dispositions to diseases, and diseases themselves of the most inveterate
kind are removed by the Smallpox. (P. 77.)
In one respect, Jenner showed
himself superior to Pearson, namely, in offering some explanation of Cowpox.
Pearson accepted the disease on the rural terms—as an eruption on Cows attended
with no serious illness. If in any way such Pox was equivalent to Smallpox, it
was inexplicable that it should be limited to the udder and teats of milch
cattle, and that males, and females not in milk, should be exempt from
infection. A disease so unique wanted accounting for; but Pearson made no
attempt to account for it, nor gave any sign that he apprehended the difficulty,
Jenner, on the other hand, accounted for Pox on the Cow by referring it to
infection from the Horse conveyed by the milkers, which explanation Pearson
rejected. But in giving Jenner credit for so much, let it not be for over
much. Whilst he ascribed Cowpox to a credible cause, he did not recognise his
advantage and summon gainsayers to explain how Cow-pox, as described by them,
could exist without Bullpox. On the contrary, as we shall see, Jenner submitted
to be silenced on this point for reasons far from creditable.
WOODVILLE, PEARSON AND JENNER.
ANOTHER early and earnest
examiner of Jenner's Inquiry was Dr. William Woodville, physician to the
London Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital. He was a Cumberland man, born at
Cockermouth, 1752 ; a member of the Society of Friends. An ardent botanist, he
turned two acres of the ground around the Hospital at King's Cross into a
botanic garden, which he maintained at his own expense. He died of a chronic
pulmonary complaint in 1805, and in his last illness had himself removed from
his house in Ely Place to the Hospital for the sake of the garden and the
Woodville was eager to try
cowpox, but Jenner had no supply, nor could any be had elsewhere. He therefore
resorted to horsegrease, but could make nothing of it. In his own words—
Conceiving that the distemper might be produced
by inoculating the nipples of Cows with the matter of the grease of Horses, I
proceeded to try whether the Cowpox could he actually excited in this manner.
Numerous experiments were accordingly made upon different Cows with the matter
of grease, taken in the various stages of that disease, but without producing
the desired effect.
Neither were inoculations with this matter, nor with several other morbid
secretions in the Horse, productive of any effects upon the human subject.1
1. Reports of a Series of Inoculations for
the Variolœ Vaccinœ or Cow-pox. London, 1799.
Thrice in person did Woodville
submit to inoculation with horsegrease, but in vain. Others in London and
elsewhere attempted to raise pox on cows in the same way without result save
malediction on Jenner for originating such a troublesome quest.
Thus closed 1798 with many
anxious to try the new prescription whenever there was a chance. Early in the
new year, there was a cry in London, 'Tis found! 'tis found! In Harrison's
dairy, Gray's Inn Road, close by the Smallpox Hospital, cowpox was discovered,
and thither hastened Woodville, Pearson, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William Watson,
Dr. Garthshore, Dr. Willan, and other medical men; and in their presence, on
19th January, Woodville inoculated six patients with the pox.1 The
eruptions on the cows' teats were diligently compared with the description and
plates in Jenner's Inquiry, and pronounced identical. Four-fifths of the 200
cows in the dairy became affected, those not in milk escaping the disease;
likewise some of the milkers, the first being Sarah Rice, who had undergone
smallpox in childhood— a proof that smallpox did not prevent cowpox. "At the
same time," wrote Dr. Pearson, "I received the agreeable intelligence that the
disease was also raging in the largest stock of cows on the New Road, near
Paddington, to which no one could gain admittance but myself."
1. S. C. Wachsel in
London Medical Repository,
1819, p. 257.
With cowpox thus provided in
abundance, Pearson and Woodville set to work—Woodville at his Hospital, and
Pearson in private practice. Be it observed, however, that this London cowpox
was not Jenner's cowpox. It was not horsegrease cowpox, but the variety
stigmatised by Jenner as spurious. How Pearson and Woodville pressed forward
with their enterprise appears from the following letter, enclosing cowpox
threads, sent by Pearson to two hundred medical practitioners throughout the
13th March, 1799.
Sir,—I hope you will pardon me for taking the
liberty to inform you (by way of additional evidence to the testimonies I have
published on the subject of the Cowpox) that upwards of 160 patients, from two
weeks to forty years of age, principally infants, have been inoculated since the
20th January last by Dr. Woodville and myself, separately.....
Not one mortal case has occurred.
Not one of the patients has been dangerously ill…..
None of the patients, namely above 60, inoculated with the Smallpox,
subsequently to the Vaccine Disease, took the infection. . . .
In many of the cases eruptions of the body appeared, some of which could not be
distinguished from the Smallpox.
I have sent the matter of Cowpox pustules on the thread enclosed, in order, if
you approve of the inquiry, to inoculate with it; and I entreat you to favour me
with the result of your trials : but I must trouble you to apply the test of
inoculating with variolous matter subsequently to the vaccine disorder.
GEORGE PEARSON, M.D., F.E.S.
P.S.—I am happy to be able to state that at
Berkeley, Dr. Jenner has continued his trials of inoculation with vaccine matter
sent from London with good success.
Jenner was of an indolent
disposition, but the part Pearson was playing stung him to action. His nephew,
Rev. G. C. Jenner, wrote to him from London, and thus roused his jealousy—
11th March, 1799.
After what Mr. Paytherus has written to you it
will be needless for me to say anything to urge the necessity of your coming to
town to wear the laurels you have gained, or to prevent their being placed on
the brows of another.....
Pearson is going to send circular letters to medical gentlemen to let them know
that he will supply them with Cowpox matter upon their application to him, by
which means he will be the chief person known in the business, and consequently
deprive you of that merit, or at least a great share of it, which is so justly
your due. Dr. Pearson gave a public lecture on the Cowpox on Saturday, and
adopted your opinions, except with regard to the probability of the disease
originating in Horses' heels......All your friends agree that now is your time
to establish your fame and fortune ; but if you delay taking a personal active
part any longer, the opportunity will he lost for ever.—Your affectionate
nephew, G. C. JENNER.
Jenner at once communicated
the alarming intelligence to his friend Gardner with a sly suggestion for
A letter just received from G. Jenner informs me
that Dr. Pearson on Saturday gave a public lecture on the Cowpox, and that it
was publicly exhibited at Sir Joseph Banks's on Sunday evening. He has also
given out that he will furnish any gentleman at a distance with the virus.
As this is probably done with the view of showing himself as the first man in
the concern, should not some neatly drawn paragraphs appear from time to time in
the public prints, by no means reflecting on the conduct of P., but just to keep
the idea publicly alive that P. was not the author of the discovery—I mean of
Cowpox Inoculation.—Yours truly, E. J.
As human nature exists, it was
not extraordinary that Jenner should feel anxious over the occupation of ground
he considered his own; but at the same time it is obvious, that Pearson had done
nothing wrong, nothing that was not allowable, nothing indeed that was not
praiseworthy. He allowed Jenner full credit for having advertised the
Gloucestershire faith in cowpox, and for the production of certain evidence for
that faith; but he set aside Jenner's prescription of horsegrease cowpox, and
was making use of a form of cowpox that Jenner had explicitly condemned. Whilst
Jenner, too, had excited curiosity, he did nothing, or could do nothing, to
satisfy it; and it was idle to expect the world to await his convenience : nor
was Pearson the man to rest content where action was possible. As he said—
From the time of the publication of the Inquiry
in June, 1798, the author contributed no further inoculated cases to the end of
that year; nor could I do more than investigate the history of the Cowpox
principally by inquiries among provincial physicians and farmers, from whom I
was enabled to confirm some of the facts in Dr. Jenner's book, and to render
doubtful or disprove others, and to bring to light new observations.1
1. Examination of Report of Committee of
House of Commons, 1802.
Jenner was not slow to respond
to his nephew's summons to London. He left Berkeley on the 21st of March, and
remained in town until the 11th of June, visiting medical men, asserting his own
claims, and counter-acting the operations of Pearson and Woodville.
In Dr. Pearson's circular, it
will be observed, that he described inoculation with cowpox as attended with
eruptions in some cases, which could not be distinguished from smallpox. So far
as Pearson and Woodville were concerned, it was an unfortunate statement, and
gave Jenner an advantage over them which he used unsparingly to their discredit.
Jenner's claim for inoculation
with cowpox was, that it excited a fever that was not infectious and was without
pustular eruptions; and here was Dr. Pearson setting-up as his critic, and Dr.
Woodville assuming to develop his practice, and producing a disorder that was
indistinguishable from smallpox! Such presumption and ignorance deserved to be
What was the explanation?
Simply this: that Woodville conducted some of his cowpox inoculations in the
variolous atmosphere of his Hospital, and that he thereby communicated smallpox
and cowpox simultaneously. In a scientific sense, the experience was valuable;
it proved that it was possible to have cowpox and smallpox at the same time—that
neither disease superseded or nullified the other.
Woodville tried to vindicate
himself, and in his failure magnified Jenner's triumph still further. Yet he
had much that was reasonable to say for himself. For example, he had
transmitted to Jenner some of the virus from one of the first of his cowpox
inoculations in January, and with it Jenner operated on twenty persons,
reporting to Woodville—
BERKELEY, February, 1799.
The rise, progress, and termination of the
pustules created by the virus were exactly that of the true Cowpox.
Nevertheless, wrote Woodville—
This virus which Dr. Jenner declared to be
perfectly pure and genuine was taken from the arm of an hospital patient who had
810 pustules, all of which suppurated.
Woodville also argued, that
"Cowpox, as casually produced by milking infected cows, differs considerably
from that which is the effect of inoculation"; which Jenner attested in saying—
Four or five servants were
inoculated at a farm contiguous to Berkeley-last summer with matter just taken
from an infected Cow. A little inflammation appeared on all their arms, but
died away without producing a pustule ; yet all these servants caught the
disease within a month afterwards from milking the infected Cows, and some of
them had it severely.1
1. Further Observations on the Variolœ
Others maintained that the
cowpox which saved milkmaids from smallpox was a much severer affection than
that induced by Jermer's lancet, and that it was folly to assume their
equivalence. There was force in the argument; for every one then knew how much
the issue of smallpox inoculation depended on the mode of its performance. The
infection when communicated through the skin was usually much less severe than
when communicated by incision; and Jenner related how a country inoculator, who
liked to "cut deep enough to see a bit of fat," was the death of his patients on
every side. The human body is of infinite delicacy and complexity, and we are
sure to find ourselves at fault when we deal with its mysteries according to our
crude and inanimate logic. It is by experiment and not by syllogism that
physiological truth is verified.
Whatever might be the perils,
immediate or remote, of inoculation with cowpox, it was not attended with
smallpox eruption; and at last it became manifest to Woodville himself, that the
virus he had used, and the virus he had distributed, which had produced such
eruption, was the virus of smallpox.
After much controversy and
many experiments these conclusions were arrived at—
1. That when a person was
inoculated with smallpox and cowpox about the same time, both inoculations
proved effective. There was a pustular eruption on the skin from the smallpox,
and the cowpox vesicle reached maturity in the usual number of days.
2. These effects took place,
without much variation, in all cases where the interval between the two
inoculations did not exceed a week; but—
3. When the smallpox matter
was inserted on the ninth day after the inoculation with cowpox, its action
seemed to be wholly precluded.1
1. On Vaccine Inoculation. By Robert
Willan, M.D. London, 1806.
That is to say, for a
time—until the influence of the vaccine fever had worn off. Some fancied that
smallpox when inoculated with cowpox generated a hybrid pox that was more
efficacious than either. There was occasionally some interaction of the
diseases, as of a subdued activity in each, but generally they proceeded
together unaffected, the cowpox maintaining its characteristics in the midst of
a crop of smallpox.
One point of great
significance in Woodville's experience was overlooked. He inoculated with
cowpox in the Smallpox Hospital, and some of his patients there contracted
smallpox, who certainly were not inoculated with smallpox, either accidentally
or by design. The lesson of this experience was unperceived, and though it has
been repeated again and again, is rarely acknowledged. Vaccination in presence
of smallpox, or in an epidemic of smallpox, is often a means of inducing the
disease it is intended to prevent. It lights the fire; and when the fire is
lighted, it is said, "Ah! it must have been a-light before." When we have a
mind for an excuse, our sophistry is usually equal to the requisition.
The New Inoculation, as it was
called, grew in favour daily. Woodville and Pearson did the real work of
publicity and promotion—Pearson especially. Within seven months, January to
August, 1799, they performed 2,000 inoculations. In the Philosophical
Journal, August, 1799, Pearson observed—
In Scotland the New Inoculation has not been
less successful. Dr. Anderson, of Leith, informs me that he has inoculated
above 80 persons; that Dr. Duncan has begun the practice in Edinburgh and that
it has been introduced in Dundee, Paisley, and Dalkeith.
Nor did Pearson limit his
efforts to his native land. He wrote—
In the course of the same year, 1799, I extended
the dissemination of the vaccine matter to Germany, for the Princess Louisa at
Berlin, to Hanover, Vienna, Geneva, Lisbon, Paris, and Boston, and into the
British Army through Mr. Keats.
Jenner regarded much of this
activity with a jealous eye: it did not sufficiently make for his glory. He was
anxious, fretful, helpless. "It is impossible for me, single-handed, to combat
all my adversaries," was his whine." I am beset on all sides with snarling
fellows, and so ignorant withal that they know no more of the disease they write
about than the animals which generate it." In order to keep his name to the
fore, he published a second pamphlet in the spring of 1799, in which are several
details of biographical interest.
JENNER'S FURTHER OBSERVATIONS.1
THIS pamphlet appears to have
been produced with many pains and extraordinary apprehensions. Jenner wrote to
Gardner, 7th March, 1799—
Every sentence must be again revised and weighed
in the nicest balance that human intellect can invent. The eyes of the
philosophic and medical critic, prejudiced most bitterly against the hypothesis,
will penetrate its inmost recesses, and discover the minutest flaw were it
suffered to be present. Language I put out of the question: it is the matter I
These words betray excitement
for which there was no warrant; and when we turn to the treatise that was to be
weighed sentence by sentence in the nicest of balances, it is clearly seen that
its author was a weak-minded creature. It is little more than a gossip about
Cowpox without advance upon the statements of the Inquiry. Indeed, he
sets out with the admission—
Although it has not been in my power to extend
the Inquiry into the causes and effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ much beyond its
original limits, yet, perceiving that it is beginning to excite a general spirit
of investigation, I think it is of importance, without delay, to communicate
such facts as have since occurred, and to point out the fallacious sources from
whence a disease resembling the true Variola Vaccinæ might arise, with the view
of preventing those who may inoculate from producing a spurious disease; and
further, to enforce the precaution suggested in the former Treatise on the
subject, of subduing the inoculated pustule as soon as it has sufficiently
produced its influence on the constitution. (P. 69.)
1. Further Observations on the Variolœ
Vaccinœ. By Edward Jenner, M.D., F.R.S. London, 1799. 4to pp. 73. Reprinted
with the third edition of the Inquiry in 1801, to which edition my references
2. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i. p. 322.
Sometimes when it is objected
that the evidence adduced in the Inquiry was hastily collected, meagre
and inconclusive, it is replied, "Yes, but recollect, it was merely a selection,
if a poor one, from the author's stores"—a reply which Jenner thus renders
nugatory in recording—
My late publication contains a relation of
most of the facts which had come under my own inspection at the time it was
written, interspersed with some conjectural observations—(P. 70)—
Which is exactly what any
perspicacious reader would infer from the cases adduced in the Inquiry.
They were Jenner's best and his all. Meanwhile, as observed, he had been able
to do little in extension of the Inquiry; but if idle and helpless, Dr. Pearson
had been active—
Since then Dr. George Pearson has established an
inquiry into the validity of my principal assertion, the result of which cannot
but be highly flattering to my feelings. It contains [Pearson's Inquiry]
not a single case which I think can be called an exception to the fact I was so
firmly impressed with—that the Cowpox protects the human body from the Smallpox.
Here we have a distinct mis-statement.
It was not Jenner's "fact" that Cowpox protected the human body from
Smallpox—that was a widespread superstition. His contribution to the question
was a definition of the Cowpox effective against Smallpox, namely Horsegrease
Cowpox, other Cowpox being adjudged spurious. Pearson so far from confirming
Jenner's position, deliberately set it aside. He not only accepted the rural
faith in Cowpox (which Jenner knew to be unwarrantable), but, when he proceeded
to practice, made use of Cowpox which owed nothing to Horsegrease. If therefore
Pearson's procedure was "highly flattering" to Jenner's feelings, he was either
easily pleased, or an adept in dissimulation.
The truth is, the publication
of Further Observations was designed by Jenner to loosen himself from
what was definite in the Inquiry, so that he might be able to appropriate
whatever might result from the investigations and experiments then going on. He
had defined prophylactic Cowpox as Horsegrease Cowpox, but Horse-grease did not
meet with favour, nor appear likely to answer; and it might be expedient to drop
it; and thus he described the ground of his attachment to that form of specific—
Firstly.—I conceived that Horsegrease was the
source of Cowpox from observing that where the Cowpox had appeared among the
dairies here [Berkeley] (unless it could be traced to the introduction of an
infected cow or servant) it had been preceded at the farm by a Horse diseased in
the manner described, which Horse had been attended by some of the milkers.
Secondly.-—From its being a popular opinion
throughout this great dairy country, and from its being insisted on by those who
here attend sick cattle.
Thirdly.—From the total absence of the disease
in those countries where the men servants are not employed in the dairies.
Fourthly.—From having observed that morbid
matter generated by the Horse frequently communicates, in a casual way, a
disease to the human subject so like the Cowpox, that in many cases it would be
difficult to make the distinction between one and the other.
Fifthly.—From being induced to suppose from
experiments, that some of those who had been thus affected from the Horse
resisted the Smallpox.
Sixthly.—From the progress and general
appearance of the pustule on the arm of the boy whom I inoculated with matter
taken from the hand of a man infected by a Horse ; and from the similarity to
the Cowpox of the general constitutional symptoms Which followed. (P. 91.)
The boy inoculated with
secondary Horsegrease was Baker, Case 18. of the Inquiry. He died of
fever in the parish workhouse before he could be subjected to the variolous
Jenner's drift in the
foregoing propositions was obviously to lighten his responsibility for the
advocacy of Horsegrease as the origin of Cowpox; but in doing so he deprived
himself of any vestige of claim as a discoverer. Cowpox and Horsegrease as
preventives of Smallpox were in common repute ; but their combination as
Horse-grease Cowpox was supposed by some to be Jenner's peculiar specific. "Not
so," he said. "It is the popular opinion throughout the country that Cowpox is
begotten of Horsegrease;" and proceeded to justify his prescription by the
popular authority. He produced a letter from Parson Moore of Chalford Hill to
prove how in November, 1797, his Horse had the Grease, with which his
boy-servant infected the Cow, which in turn infected the lad with Cowpox,
although eighteen months before he had been inoculated, and severely too, with
Smallpox; the parson adding—
I am firmly of opinion that the disease in the
heels of the Horse, which was a virulent Grease, was the origin of the Servant's
and the Cow's malady. (P. 94.)
To the objection that attempts
to raise Cowpox from Horsegrease had, so far, proved failures, Jenner replied—
The experiments published by Mr. Simmons of
Manchester and others on the subject, with the view of refuting the origin of
Cow-pox in Horsegrease, appear to have but little weight, as even the Cowpock
Virus itself, when repeatedly introduced into the sound nipples of Cows by means
of a lancet, was found to produce no effect. (P. 93.)
Having reached this point, I
would beg the reader to pause and ask, What was Jenner's discovery? It was not
Cowpox; it was not Horsegrease ; it was not Horse-grease Cowpox; all of which by
his own admission were recognised by those familiar with them as preventives of
Smallpox. What was it then?
Nothing is more conspicuous in
the Further Observations than the condition of ignorance and imbecility
they reveal. As we have seen, critics of the order of Mr. John Simon represent
Jenner's Inquiry as a Masterpiece of Medical Induction, the fruit of
thirty years of incessant thought, observation and experiment; whilst the
patience, the caution, and the modesty of the author are commended for
imitation. Those who have been subjected to Mr. Simon's homily cannot but
suffer disenchantment when they come face to face with the facts. Not after his
thirty years of asserted research could Jenner answer the simple question, What
is Cowpox ? Incredible as it may appear, the following was his deliverance in
presence of the doubts excited by the discussion of his original communication—
To what length pustulous diseases of the udder
and nipples of the Cow may extend, it is not in my power to determine; but
certain it is, that these parts of the animal are subject to some variety of
maladies of this nature; and as many of these eruptions (probably all of them)
are capable of giving a disease to the human body, would it not be discreet for
those engaged in this investigation to suspend controversy and cavil until they
can ascertain with precision what is and what is not the genuine
Cowpox? Until experience has determined which is the true Cowpock, and
which is spurious, we view our object through a mist. (P. 73.)
Consider this declaration
after thirty years of incessant thought, observation and experiment! The
Masterpiece of Medical Induction with the essential fact undetermined! The
discovery undiscovered! And the reputed discoverer sitting ready to appropriate
any praise or profit from the execution by others of his proper business! Was
there ever such an exhibition of self-satisfied futility?
Among the gossip adduced to
show that the country folk called eruptions Cowpox that were not Cowpox, we
learn that the affection induced by Horsegrease was thus designated—
From the similarity of symptoms, both
constitutional and local, between the Cowpox and the disease received from the
morbid matter generated by a Horse, the common people in this neighbourhood, by
a strange perversion of terms, frequently call it the Cow-pox. (P. 95.)
Wherefore, he argued, many
thus affected may fancy themselves secure from Smallpox, supposing they have
suffered Cowpox, when they have undergone nothing but Horsegrease; and in the
event of incurring Smallpox, would bring discredit on the virtue of true
Cowpox. How easy it was to confound the two diseases, he illustrated from the
case of William Morris, a servant, aged 32, who applied to him on 2nd April,
His symptoms and the sores on his hands were so
exactly like the Cowpox, that I pronounced he had taken the distemper from
milking Cows. He assured me he had not milked a Cow for more than half a year,
and that his master's Cows had nothing the matter with them. I then asked him
if his master had a Greasy Horse, which he answered in the affirmative; and
further said, that he had constantly dressed him twice a day for the last three
weeks or more, and remarked that the smell of his hands was much like that of
the Horse's heels. (P. 97.)
Thus Horsegrease sores so
simulated those of Cowpox, or of Horsegrease Cowpox, as to be indistinguishable
from them. At this time it was Jenner's opinion that Horsegrease, per se,
afforded no protection from Smallpox : it had to pass through the Cow to acquire
its sovereign efficacy. The opinion is noteworthy in view of its absolute
surrender at a later period, when the virus from the Horse's heel came to be
described by him as "the true and genuine life preserving fluid," and was used
by him for inoculation without any reference to the Cow.
One of the aims of Further
Observations was "to-enforce the precaution of subduing the inoculated
pustule as soon as it had sufficiently produced its effect on the
constitution." True Cowpox, according to Jenner, was a serious affection. "The
sores ate into the flesh." (P. 77.) They were capable of producing violent
effects. They were attended with erysipelas. "They closely resembled Smallpox
of the confluent sort." (P. 111.) To prolong such suffering he considered
useless, for the virus conferred its protective influence on the constitution as
soon as received—
The symptoms which (as in the accidental Cowpox)
affect the patient with severity, are entirely secondary, excited by the
irritating processes of inflammation and ulceration; and it appears to me this
singular virus possesses an irritating quality of a peculiar kind; but as a
single Cowpox pustule is all that is necessary to render the variolous virus
ineffectual, and as we possess the means of allaying the irritation, should any
arise, it becomes of little or no consequence. (P. 110.)
The means for allaying the
irritation were mercurial ointment, acetate of lead, caustic potash, or any
After the pustule has duly exerted its
influence, I should prefer the destroying it quickly and effectually to any
other mode. The term caustic to a tender ear (and I conceive none will feel
more interested in this Inquiry than the anxious guardians of a nursery) may
sound harsh and unpleasing, but every solicitude that may arise on this account
will no longer exist when it is understood that the pustule in a state fit to be
acted upon is then quite superficial, and that it does not occupy the space of a
silver penny. (P. 104.).
would not, however, recommend any application to subdue the action of the
pustule until convincing proofs had appeared of the patient having felt its
effects for at least twelve hours. No harm indeed could ensue were a longer
period to elapse before the application was made use of. In short, the pustule
should be suffered to have as full an effect as it could, consistently with the
state of the arm. (P. 109.)
Horsegrease annoyed Pearson—it
was like to damn the whole thing; and this treatment of the Cowpox pustule was
scarcely less objectionable to him and to Woodville.1 It gave the
public, they thought, a sense of the virulence of Cowpox that was wholly
unwarrantable; and they did not stay to consider whether what Jenner called
Cowpox in Gloucestershire and what they called Cowpox in London were the same
virus. Jenner's virus was Horse-grease Cowpox; Pearson and Woodville's was
Cowpox; and such being the case, the diversity of symptoms might have been
accounted for. Anyhow, the difference between Jenner and Pearson and Woodville,
as to a detail so elementary, shows in what an unfinished condition the Cowpox
prescription was shot upon the world, and affords a curious commentary on the
Masterpiece of Medical Induction, the fruit of thirty years of incessant
thought, observation and experiment. At the same time we have to do Jenner the
justice of allowing that at this date, 1799, he made no pretence to a finished
Masterpiece, but ingenuously ascribed the prevalent uncertainty to "the present
early stage of the Cowpox Inquiry; for early," he wrote, " it must be deemed."
(P. 115.) Early it was : not a point firmly determined : the reverse of what
might have been expected after thirty years of incessant thought, observation
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i. p.
OPERATIONS IN LONDON, 1800.
DR. PEARSON was the chief
actor in the formation of—
for the Inoculation of the Vaccine Pock,
Warwick Street, Charing Cross.
Founded 2nd December, 1799.
In April, 1801, the
Institution was removed to a more commodious house, 5 Golden Square. It was the
first establishment of the kind in the world. In the conspectus of the
Institution it was stated—
Of above 4,000 persons who have had the
inoculated Cowpock one only has died. There is, however, good ground for
believing that the proportional mortality will be even less than here stated.
a single well-attested instance has been produced among more than 2,000
inoculated with Cowpock, and subsequently with Smallpox, of the Smallpox being
taken, although many were exposed to the infectious effluvia of that disease.
Traditionally the fact is established from time immemorial that after Cowpox
there is no Smallpox.
may be fairly affirmed, that the inoculated Cowpock is generally a much slighter
disease than the inoculated Smallpox; and that the proportion of severe cases in
the latter is to the former as at least ten to one.
does not appear the genuine Vaccine Pock can be propagated like the Smallpox by
effluvia from persons labouring under it. Hence if the Vaccine Inoculation
should be universally instituted in place of the Smallpox, it is reasonable to
conclude, that this most loathsome and fatal malady will be extinguished; and,
like the Sweating-Sickness, the Plague, certain forms of leprosy, etc., be known
in this country only by name.
does not appear that the Vaccine Poison, like that of the Smallpox, can be
conveyed so as to produce the disease indirectly from diseased persons, by
adhering to clothes, furniture, bedding, letters, etc. Hence no danger of its
propagation in these channels is to be apprehended from the universal practice
of the inoculation of the Cowpock.
has been found that a person, whose constitution has distinctly undergone the
Vaccine Disease, is in future insusceptible of the same disorder. [Thus
re-vaccination was treated as impossible.]
Experience shows, that there is no reason to apprehend the smallest chance of
deformities of the skin from the Vaccine Inoculation.
The extensive practice of the Vaccine
Inoculation in the present year, and the accounts of the disease in the casual
way do not show that any other disease will be excited subsequently.
A further considerable public benefit expected
is, that a stock of efficacious Vaccine Matter, free from contamination by
the Smallpox, will by this Institution be preserved for the use of the
These statements are
interesting as showing how early the rollicking tunes were set to which at this
day we are expected to dance. The last paragraph is noteworthy as a confession
under Pearson's hand that vaccine poison had got confused with variolous, and
that the mistake would henceforth be avoided. Jenner maliciously and
persistently used this mishap, for which Woodville was responsible, to discredit
Pearson and magnify his own pretensions ; but, as Pearson observed, neither
Jenner nor any one else knew that it was possible to have cow-pox and smallpox
simultaneously. The mistake was made, however; and, as is the function of
mistakes, knowledge was enlarged. Pearson's behaviour in the matter was as
creditable to him as Jenner's was otherwise.
The Vaccine Pock Institution
was organised with a staff of physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries of the
highest London respectability; and as it was desired to have the benefit of
Jenner's name (his active co-operation, as a resident in Gloucestershire, being
out of the question) Pearson wrote to him—
10th December, 1799.
We have made some progress in the institution of
a charity for inoculating the Vaccine Pock. I do not know that I can confer any
honour on you by proposing you (if I am able) to the directors of our
establishment, nor do I well know what to propose to you. It occurs to me that
it might not be disagreeable to you to be an extra corresponding physician.
expense will be attached to your situation except a guinea a year as a
subscriber; and indeed I think you ought to be exempt from that, as you cannot
send any patients: but you may depute some proxy in town.
confess I was surprised that you neither called nor sent for me for the last
two months you were in town. However, if it was because you were too much
occupied, I certainly excuse you.
The invitation was given
stiffly, from duty more than inclination. Pearson knew very well why Jenner,
furious with jealousy, had kept away from him; and he was thus answered—
17th December, 1799.
SIR,—I received your letter of the 10th instant,
and confess I felt surprised at the information it conveys.
appears to me somewhat extraordinary that an institution formed upon so large a
scale, and that has for its object the inoculation of the Cowpox, should have
been set on foot and almost completely organised without my receiving the most
distant intimation of it. The institution itself cannot, of course, but he
highly flattering to me, as I am thereby convinced that the importance of the
fact I imparted is acknowledged by men of the first abilities. But at the same
time allow me to observe that if the Vaccine Inoculation, from unguarded
conduct, should sink into disrepute (and you must admit, Sir, that in more than
one instance has its reputation suffered) I alone must bear the odium. To you,
or any other of the gentlemen whose names you mention as filling up the medical
departments, it cannot possibly attach.
At the present crisis I feel so sensibly the
importance of the business that I shall certainly take an early opportunity of
being in London. For the present I must beg leave to decline the honour
intended me.—I remain, Sir, your obedient Servant,
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i. p.
Pearson's reply to this absurd
and thoroughly Jennerian letter does not appear. He might have thanked Jenner
for having drawn his attention to cowpox, and have proceeded to point out that
beyond that service he and his friends owed him nothing, nor in anywise admitted
his guardianship. Their practice was at complete variance with his teaching.
He had prescribed horsegrease cowpox in which they had no faith, having tried to
produce it in vain. On the other hand, they were operating with cow-pox per
se, which he had condemned as useless, being attended with no erysipelas or
constitutional effect; and that working with this condemned cowpox, they found
themselves producing a much milder disease, and were under no necessity of
following his advice and destroying the pustule formed at the point of
inoculation with escharotics; adding, that if they had been bound to his
horsegrease and caustics, they would have made no progress with the public
Vaccine Inoculation might be
good for mankind, but it was to be something better for Edward Jenner. There
was not the least reason, outside his jealousy and rapacity, why he should not
have congratulated Pearson on his enterprise and promised his assistance. As to
claiming the guardianship of Vaccine Inoculation, it was preposterous : it had
passed wholly beyond his control. It was Pearson's complaint that Jenner never
did anything useful after the publication of The Inquiry. He left to
others the discovery of virus, and the labour and responsibility of
experimenting, and only appeared on the scene when there was some disaster
whereat he could play the part of superior person, whilst insisting that all
supposed improvements and successes should be assigned to his credit.
Jenner is all-in-all in the
vaccinators' hagiology, but he holds the place at the cost of justice to Pearson
and Woodville. To prove that I am not making a fanciful assertion, let me cite
unprejudiced contemporary evidence. Dr. Paterson of Montrose in a communication
to the Medical and Physical Journal, dated 25th May, 1801, observed—
While we are irresistibly led to join the
wondering, the grateful throng, in paying the just tribute of applause to Dr.
Jenner, the immortal discoverer, we must, at the same time, confess how much we
are indebted to the ingenious and benevolent Dr. Pearson for bringing, in such a
handsome manner as he did, the business before the public; thereby exciting, all
at once, a universal, an unparalleled quest of investigation, and furnishing, by
innumerable and satisfactory experiments, a complete confirmation of the noble
Here, we may observe afresh,
that Pearson did not confirm Jenner's "noble discovery." On the contrary, his
use of cowpox was at distinct variance with Jenner's prescription of horsegrease
cowpox, and with his condemnation of cowpox. Jenner, as we shall see, followed
Pearson : Pearson did nothing to confirm Jenner.
Woodville lent his powerful
influence as head of the Smallpox Hospital to establish the New Inoculation.
He put Jenner's prescription
to the test with perfect sincerity and admirable courage, suffering himself to
be thrice inoculated with horsegrease in order to come at the truth;1
and only resorted to cowpox when he found horse-grease cowpox unattainable. Mr.
Anthony Highmore, surgeon, speaking over Woodville's grave in 1805, exclaimed—
1. Rees’s Cyclopœdia, vol. 38.
London, 1819. The writer of the article himself inoculated Woodville with
Who that have felt the benefits of Vaccination
will not teach their children, and their children's children, to bless the name
of Woodville when they bless the name of Jenner.
Yet Pearson and Woodville, who
made the New Inoculation practical and practicable, were pursued by Jenner with
implacable animosity, stigmatising their mishaps and appropriating their
To publish a pamphlet for the
detraction of Woodville, and if possible to upset Pearson's Vaccine Pock
Institution, Jenner left Berkeley for London on 28th January, 1800, taking Bath
on his way, where also a Vaccine Pock Institution was in progress.
Early in 1800 appeared A
Continuation of Facts and Observations relative to the Variolœ Vaccinœ—a
quarto of 40 pages, Jenner's third pamphlet. Like its predecessor, a trumpery
collection of gossip, it was designed to manifest his advantage over Woodville,
who had inadvertently confused cowpox with smallpox in his inoculations at the
First, Jenner expressed
satisfaction over the interest of Europe in Cowpox Inoculation—
I have the pleasure, too, of seeing that the
feeble efforts of a few individuals to depreciate the new practice are sinking
fast into contempt beneath the immense mass of evidence which has risen up in
support of it.
He then went on to describe
the accumulating mass of evidence—
Upwards of six thousand persons have now been
inoculated with the virus of Cowpox, and the far greater part of them have since
been inoculated with that of Smallpox, and exposed to its infection in every
rational way that could be devised, without effect.
"True," Pearson might have
observed," but who inoculated the vast majority of the six thousand ? Nor were
they inoculated with the horsegrease cowpox you prescribed, but with the cowpox
The introductory reference to
Woodville revealed Jenner's disposition and tactics—
It was very improbable that the investigation of
a disease so analogous to the Smallpox should go forward without engaging the
attention of the Physician of the Smallpox Hospital in London.
Accordingly, Dr. Woodville, who fills that department with so much
respectability, took an early opportunity of instituting an inquiry into the
nature of the Cowpox. This inquiry was begun in the early part of 1799, and in
May, Dr. Woodville published the result, which differs essentially from mine in
a point of much importance. It appears that three-fifths of the patients
inoculated were affected with eruptions, for the most part so perfectly
resembling the Smallpox, as not to be distinguished from them. On this subject
it is necessary that I should make some comments.
Woodville, whose experiments
were as a hundred to one of his patronising critic, and informed with purpose
too, must have received this languid commendation of his country acquaintance
with some surprise, if not with fierier sentiment. Jenner as an investigator
was never of much account. Of what constitutes scientific demonstration, he had
little perception. Incapable and indolent, he nevertheless was ambitious, and
had the craft to appropriate the research of others, and with assurance so
ineffable that even the plundered fell under the persuasion that what he took
was somehow his own. For example, the occurrence of smallpox and cowpox
simultaneously in Woodville's practice, which he had not foreseen, nor could any
foresee, he first used as a pretext for lofty reprehension toward Woodville, and
then converted into evidence of his own prescience, saying—
In my first publication I expressed an opinion
that the Smallpox and the Cowpox were the same disease under different
modifications. In this opinion, Dr. Woodville has concurred. The axiom of the
immortal Hunter, that two diseased actions cannot take place at the same time in
one and the same part, will not be injured by the admission of this theory.
Mark the adroit oblivion and
the adroit attachment. It was horsegrease that he assumed to be the origin of
smallpox through cowpox; and the cowpox used by Woodville was Jenner's condemned
cowpox, underived from the horse; yet the inconvenient was passed over, and the
Possibly cowpox and smallpox
are forms of the same disease: possibly they are not: possibly all diseases are
forms of one disease: possibly they are not: but whatever the fact, Jenner had
not an iota of evidence to adduce for his conjecture that grease in horses, and
pox from that grease in cows, was a modification of smallpox in men.
As we review these early days
of the New Inoculation, nothing so stirs regret as what appears to have been the
wilful shutting of men's eyes to facts—to notorious facts. It was well known in
Gloucestershire, that whilst the vulgar supposed that cowpox prevented smallpox,
it did not do so. Indeed, it was under stress of this knowledge that Jenner
rejected cowpox per se for horsegrease cow-pox. In the Gloucester
Journal of 9th May, 1799, Mr. C. Cooke wrote—
I not only very much doubt that the Cowpox is a
permanent preventive of Smallpox, but I am confirmed in this opinion by
occurrences in my own practice, by conversing with many medical men on the
subject, and by Dr. Beddoes, who writes, "I have a case where the Smallpox was
taken after the Cowpox had been twice gone through."1
1. Mr. Cooke's letter was reprinted in the
Medical and Physical Journal, vol. i. p. 322. London, 1799.
Yet in presence of such
testimonies, which were neither examined nor exploded, Jenner prophesied in this
Some there are who suppose the security from the
Smallpox obtained through the Cowpox will be of a temporary nature. This
supposition is refuted, not only by analogy with respect to diseases of a
similar nature, but by incontrovertible facts, which appear in great numbers
against it. A person had the Cowpox 53 years before the Smallpox was tried upon
him, and as he completely resisted it, I conceive every reasonable mind must be
satisfied that he was secure from the disease during the intervening time.
Such was the evidence that he
thought should satisfy every reasonable mind! How did he know that the said
person had cowpox 53 years before, or had the right sort of cowpox, and in the
right way ? Inoculation with smallpox was continually unsuccessful (without
reference to cowpox as cause of failure) and especially among elderly folk.
When, however, there is a disposition to believe, the most indifferent reasons
serve for conviction.
Cowpox and Smallpox, said
Jenner, were modifications of the same disease; and Smallpox, whether contracted
or inoculated, was a well-known excitant of scrofula; and Jenner was inclined to
consider it probable that "the general introduction of the Smallpox into Europe
had been among the most conducive means in exciting that formidable foe to
health." Then, it might be said, Cowpox as a modification of Smallpox must be
liable to the like objection. "Not at all!" protested the smooth-spoken
adventurer. "The diseases are the same, but unlike in the excitation of
Having attentively watched the effects of the
Cowpox in this respect, I am happy in being able to declare, that the disease
does not appear to have the least tendency to produce this destructive malady.
Considering his limited
experience, the asseveration as to the non-excitation of scrofula was sheer
quackery, and of a piece with the wilder assurance that follows. In 1798 he had
set forth cowpox as a useful alternative to smallpox for inoculation; but in
1800 the claim was thus magnified—
When scrutiny has taken place, not only among
ourselves, but in the first professional circles in Europe, and when it has been
uniformly found in such abundant instances—
That the Human Frame when once it has felt the influence of the genuine Cowpox
is never afterwards, at any period of its existence, assailable by the Smallpox,
I not with perfect confidence congratulate my country and society at large on
their beholding in the mild form of the Cowpox, an antidote that is capable of
extirpating from the earth a disease which is every hour devouring its victims;
a disease that has ever been considered as the severest scourge of the human
It is unnecessary to discuss
these wild words—it is sufficient to record them as evidence of what it was
possible to assert in the year 1800—and assert, too, whilst as yet the Cowpox
that was to work the miracle was one thing in the hands of Jenner, and another
in those of Pearson and Woodville !
The pamphlet published,
Jenner's other business in London was to undermine the institution for Vaccine
Pock Inoculation. He went about insinuating and protesting that its founders
and officers neither knew what was true Variolæ Vaecinæ, nor how to use it; that
not only were they ignorant, but perverse; and that the immeasurable blessing he
had been the means of conveying to mankind would never be rightly enjoyed until
there was an Institution with Edward Jenner for its guide and director.
In playing this game Jenner
had facilities and advantages. No one, not Pearson himself, contested his
position as advertiser of the New Inoculation, and to the public he was its
representative. He had attempted nothing and had no mishaps to account for:
these attached to Woodville and other credulous and active experimenters.
Moreover he had no awkward
information to contend with in those he addressed—they listened, were informed,
were convinced. Jenner's conduct at this juncture, in relation to Pearson and
Woodville, has been stigmatised as mean, thankless, despicable. These be hard
words. His tactics were the common tactics of men in whom self-love is
predominant, and we have not the strength for the use of the appropriate
epithets with the frequency that experience requires.
The poor were the chief
sufferers from smallpox, and under the name of the poor Jenner advanced his
project. He drew up the following memorandum, which he submitted to the Earl of
Egremont, and circulated privately—
PROPOSAL FOR A PUBLIC INSTITUTION FOR VACCINE
Having now pursued the inquiry into the nature
of the Cowpox to so great an extent as to be able positively to declare that
those who have gone through this mild disease are rendered perfectly secure from
the contagion of the Smallpox; and being convinced from numberless instances
that the occupations of the mechanic or the labourer will meet with no
interruption during its progress, and the infected and uninfected may mingle
together in the most perfect safety, I conceive that an Institution for the
Gratuitous Inoculation of the lower classes of society in the Metropolis would
be attended with the most beneficial consequences, and that it might be so
constituted as to diffuse its benefits throughout every part of the British
London, 16th March, 1800.
Then followed a scheme of the
Institution, including "a Physician to be appointed to superintend the medical
Whether from Jenner's
practical inefficiency, or because the time was not ripe, or because those who
were more actively interested in cowpox were satisfied with Pearson's
Institution, the project lay in abeyance till 1803. He took nothing ostensibly
by his intrigue save the withdrawal of the names of the Duke of York and Lord
Egremont from the patronage of the existing establishment.
Meanwhile Pearson continued to
operate with unabated energy, and his Institution became a recognised centre of
inquiry, advice, and supply. It was designed, as he wrote, "1st, to be useful
to the poor; but it had other objects, to wit, 2ndly, to ascertain the laws of
the new poison for the extinction of smallpox; and 3rdly, to serve as a public
office for the supply of the world with virus until supplies should become
unnecessary." One of the most flattering applications was received by Pearson
from the French Consulate on 5th April, 1800. In a reply, dated 12th May,
signed by the staff of the Institution, it was said—
We are not surprised that you have not yet found
the disease among the cows of France, it being on the whole a rare disease in
England; nor are we surprised at your want of success with the matter sent to
you, because from experience we know that it very frequently fails, unless used
immediately from the subject.
Vaccine matter may be conveyed in various ways : we have sent it to you in
three, namely, on threads, on lancets, and on glass.
you try the matter sent on thirty patients immediately we think you cannot fail
to excite the disease in some of them, and then you will please to preserve the
succession by inoculation as we do in England, having had no fresh matter from
the cow since January and February of last year, 1799.
The Frenchmen failed again
with this virus, but Dr. Woodville soon after went to Paris, and effected what
Cow-Pock Dispensaries were
opened in various towns throughout England, Bath and Manchester perhaps having
the lead ; and an Address to the Poor was drawn up as a common form to be issued
from such Dispensaries. In a copy of this Address, widely circulated in and
around Manchester in 1800, we read—
The experience of several years has fully proved
that inoculation for the Cowpox is a certain preservative against the
Smallpox; and is, besides, so mild and safe a disorder, when compared with the
inoculated Smallpox, that it has been generally introduced among the better
informed and more wealthy inhabitants, both of this kingdom and of various parts
Inoculation for the Cowpox has been practised for several years [less than
three] with constant success, in various parts of the Kingdom.
has never failed to prevent the infection of the natural Smallpox.
may be communicated with safety to persons of every age and sex, and at all
times and seasons of the year, with equal advantage.
does not produce eruptions, which scar and disfigure the face ; and it is
seldom, if ever, attended with any other marks of the disease than what appear
on the arms from inoculation.
far from proving hurtful, delicate and sickly children are often improved in
health by having passed through this complaint.
Scarcely any remedies or attendance are required for the Cowpox, nor is there
any necessity for a course of physic before or after the inoculation.
prejudices of the poor against inoculation for the Smallpox, by which thousands
of lives have been annually saved,1 have been often lamented; but if
they suffer unjust prejudices to prevent their laying hold of the advantages now
offered to them by the inoculation of the Cowpox, they will neglect the
performance of a duty they owe to themselves, to their families, and to society
at large. For surely it is little less than criminal to expose their helpless
children to the attack of so terrible and fatal a malady as Smallpox when it may
be readily avoided by the inoculation of so mild, simple, and safe a disease as
that of the Cowpox.
N.B.—All poor persons, whose affection for their families leads them to embrace
this favourable opportunity, may have their children inoculated for the Cowpox
at the Hospital and Dispensaries every day in the week (Sunday excepted)
throughout the year. No time ought to be lost by the poor in freeing their
families from the apprehension of the Smallpox, which daily increases in
frequency and malignity throughout this town.
1. By and by controversy with the Smallpoxers
waxed hot, and then the Cowpoxers averred that thousands of lives were annually
lost by their practice.
This manifesto is an
illustration of the unscrupulous and unwarrantable assertions with which the New
Inoculation was introduced to the world. There is no question that many who were
active in circulating these mendacities did so honestly, justified, as they
thought, by medical authority. What is marvellous is the survival of the
primitive fictions to the present day. It would seem that when the human mind
acquires a certain set, something like a surgical operation is requisite
to reverse it.
We shall now see how the New
Inoculation obtained this sudden popularity — a popularity so sudden that
opposition had not time to organise itself. There were protests, and some
raillery. In the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1799, we find a
There is a plan to mitigate Smallpox in the
human species by passing it through a Cow. Now as everyone is not in possession
of a Cow, I propose to pass it through animals that most people possess. I mean
Cats; and I shall call it the Catpox. When my plan is matured, the ingenious
shall hear further concerning it.
And Pearson writing in 1802,
when the success of cowpox appeared secure, observed—
How the new practice was sneered at by some :
how it was reprobated as a gross and mischievous imposition : how it was
stigmatised with the appellation of the Gloucestershire bubble : and how the
Inquirers were considered by many persons as fit candidates for a certain
asylum: to say nothing of the villainous jests made on the occasion, are recent
in our memory.1
1. Examination of Report of Committee of
House of Commons. London, 1802.
TRIUMPH OF THE NEW INOCULATION.
THE House of Hanover has been
reproached for indifference to literature, science and art, but an exception
might be asserted on the score of variolous and vaccine inoculation. It was
Caroline, Princess of Wales, who in 1721 promoted Maitland's experiments; and
Jenner found none so ready to hear and believe as George III. and his family.
His first convert was the Duke of Clarence, subsequently William IV. The Duke's
surgeon happened to be Francis Knight, who had lived in Wilts and
Gloucestershire, and was familiar with the country faith in cowpox, and received
Jenner's communication with a ready mind. In 1799 Knight was allowed to operate
upon the Duke's children by Mrs. Jordan, and the fact was noised abroad and
passed to Jenner's credit. Nor was the Duke's service limited to this example.
He made Jenner's acquaintance, listened to his stories, and became his active
partizan. Then the Duke of York, commander-in-chief of the army, was convinced,
and enforced the new practice to the full extent of his power. He, moreover,
acted as patron of the Vaccine Pock Institution until he was persuaded that
Pearson, its founder, was injurious to Jenner. On 7th March, 1800, Jenner was
presented to George III. at St. James's Palace, and delivered The Inquiry
bound in crimson to his majesty, who was pleased to accept the dedication of the
second edition. On the 27th he had an interview with Queen Charlotte, who
conversed about the new specific with all the curiosity of a grand-motherly
quack. The Prince of Wales followed suit; and Jenner found himself invested
with the full effulgence of the royal favour. It was a magical success; for,
consider, not two years had elapsed since the publication of The Inquiry.
Jenner naturally became very
popular. He wrote to Mr. Shrapnel—"I have not yet made half my calls in town,
although I fag from eleven till four;" and, "Pray tell Tierney how rapidly the
Cowpox is marching over the metropolis, and indeed through the whole island.
The death of three children under inoculation with smallpox will probably give
that practice the Brutus-stab."
With little ability to make
and maintain ground, Jenner, like many feeble folk, had the faculty of
converting those he called his friends to his private advantage. He did not
subdue them by will, but by weakness. Indeed, whoever chooses to observe will
often have to mark with amaze how stronger natures suffer their means and
energies to be appropriated by inferior organisms, and used with the
thanklessness of rightful possession.
John Ring was a remarkable
instance of this sort of possession. He was a surgeon in New Street, Hanover
Square, London. In 1799 he entered into correspondence with Jenner, and his
interest in cowpox and its advertiser developed into an enthusiasm without
qualification by weariness or fear. Whatever Jenner asserted he swore to ;
whatever charge was brought against the New Inoculation he denied. He was ready
for all comers with such voluble and hearty vigour that his outrages on
propriety were laughed at and excused as "John Ring's way." Among his earlier
services was the preparation of the Testimonial in favour of the New Inoculation
which he carried from house to house and obtained the signature of nearly every
London physician and surgeon of distinction. The Testimonial was published in
the Medical Review and Medical Journal for July, 1800, and was
reprinted in the newspapers. It ran as follows —
Many unfounded reports have been circulated,
which have a tendency to prejudice the public against the Inoculation of the
Cowpox: we, the undersigned physicians and surgeons, think it our duty to
declare our opinion, that those persons who have had the Cowpox are perfectly
secure from the future infection of the Smallpox, provided the infection has not
been previously communicated.1
We also declare that the inoculated Cowpox is a
much milder and safer disease than the inoculated Smallpox.
1. Meaning thereby, as happened under Woodville
at Battle Bridge Hospital where Smallpox and Cowpox were incurred
The first signatures comprised
thirty-two physicians and forty surgeons, and the example being set, others
hastened from town and country to record their adhesion. I feel proud," wrote
Mr. Witham in sending his name, "that my little bark may, with others more
Pursue the triumph, and partake the gale."
The Testimonial had great
effect on the public mind: to the majority it was irresistible. As Ring said,
"It confounded the enemies of the new practice"—adding in his characteristic
vernacular, "and it secured the triumph of reason over the scruples of prejudice
and ignorance, and the base manoeuvres of sordid and self-interested men."1
Thus early was it discovered that an opponent of Vaccination was an ignoramus or
a rascal. Ring's easy arrogance is concisely illustrated in this deliverance—
It is no want of candour to affirm that those
who are hostile to Vaccine Inoculation, are total strangers to it; those who are
doubtful, are almost total strangers to it; and I defy the whole world to
produce one single instance of a person that has had any experience of the
disease, who is not a decided friend to the practice.2
Jenner recognised his
thorough-going supporter, and used his loyalty to strike at Pearson and others
who failed to abide in like subservience. He wrote to a foreign physician—
The discovery which I had the happiness to
announce to the world is much indebted to Mr. Bing's ardent zeal and
indefatigable exertions for the rapid progress it has made; while some of those
who vainly conceived themselves instrumental in promoting its adoption have in
reality from their ignorance and indiscretion, rather retarded than accelerated
its progress. 3
1. A Treatise on the Cowpox containing the
History of Vaccine Inoculation. By John Ring. Part i. p. 297. London, 1801.
2. Ib. Part ii. p. 720. London, 1803.
3. The Beauties of the
Edinburgh Review, alias the Stink-Pot of Literature.
By John Ring. London, 1807. P. 49.
Wonder is frequently expressed
over the rapid conversion of England and the world to Vaccination, but, as I
have before remarked, wonder is much reduced when we set the circumstances
clearly before us. Inoculation with smallpox to avert smallpox was the practice
of the time, and it was not a universal practice simply because it was
troublesome and dangerous: everybody believed in the saving rite; and where
evaded it was as onerous and perilous duties are always and everywhere evaded by
the indolent and cowardly. Inoculation with cowpox was introduced to the public
as a substitute for inoculation with smallpox, equally efficient or more
efficient, and neither troublesome nor dangerous. Thus easy and seductive was
the transition from the one practice to the other. Jenner had no serious battle
to fight: the contest was decided in the years during which inoculation with
smallpox struggled for prevalence. The warfare that subsequently cost him so
much irritation was conducted by the conservatives of Inoculation, as experience
revealed the inefficiency and mischiefs of Vaccination. Resistance such as is
now offered to Vaccination on physiological grounds there was none, so far as I
can discover. It had apparently occurred to no one that smallpox was a
consequence of the transgression of the laws of health, and was preventable by
submission to those laws. It was imagined that the disease came by the will of
God, or the devil, or by force of fate, and that to dodge it by medical craft
was the utmost that was practicable. Unless we bear in mind these conditions of
the public intelligence, we shall misapprehend the demeanour of the people who
so cordially welcomed Jenner's advertisement. It is always a mistake to
criticise the conduct of an earlier generation by the light of a later. We turn
history to ill account when we use it to nourish our self-complacency; for the
probability is that had we lived with our forefathers, we should have done
exactly as they did.
Some will ask, How did it ever
come to pass that so many doctors in 1800 signed Ring's testimonial certifying
that inoculation with cowpox was a sure and everlasting protection from smallpox
when they had not, and could not have, any experience to warrant their assertion
? True, but they had an illusory experience by which they were beguiled,
namely, the Variolous Test. Hundreds were inoculated with cowpox and
subsequently with smallpox, and were also exposed to smallpox contagion, and as
the disease did not take, it was concluded it could never take, and that the
subjects of the operation were fortified for ever. The fallacy is now manifest,
but it was by no means manifest in 1800, and all manner of men received and
propagated the fable with energetic sincerity. It was once admitted that a tub
full of water did not overflow when a fish was slipped into it, and many
explanations were current of the curious phenomenon until a sceptical spirit
suggested that the experiment be tried. A like spirit might have suggested that
it was expedient to wait and see whether cowpox was indeed a perpetual defence
against smallpox, inasmuch as nature had an awkward habit of confuting
prognostications apparently irrefragable.
The ease with which it was
asserted cowpox inoculation could be performed, coupled with its harmlessness,
not to say wholesomeness, and the absolute security it afforded against
smallpox, induced benevolent busybodies to set up as vaccinators all over the
country. What the kindly quack delights in is something cheap and handy with a
touch of mystery and the promise of immeasurable advantage—conditions which the
new practice completely fulfilled. The memoirs of the time, especially of the
Evangelical party, abound with instances in which this good soul and that good
soul had vaccinated so many hundreds or thousands, delivering them from the
peril of an awful disease. Thus in the Gentleman's Magazine, for
December, 1800, we read—
Two respectable families near Manchester have
within these few months inoculated upwards of 800 of the neighbouring poor from
two months old to twenty years with uniform success. Twenty of them were
subjected to the variolous test, and all were found proof against the disease.
And John Ring relates—
Dr. Jenner lately met in a large party of
fashion a lady of Portman Square, who, with another lady, has inoculated 1,300
in the north of England. The rural swain, when he receives the blessing of
Jenner's discovery from such a fair hand, must conclude that the Goddess of
Health has adopted the practice.1
1. Treatise on the Cowpox, p. 520.
Of course medical
practitioners had little favour for this sort of intrusion into their domain,
but Jenner encouraged and boasted himself in the domestic diffusion of the
discovery. By and by when disasters became common it was found extremely
convenient to ascribe them to these unskilled operators; and ultimately
vaccination was resigned entirely to the legally qualified practitioner, whose
failures are rarely inquired into, and when proclaimed are, as professional
matter of course, explicitly denied.
Jenner after six months of
lionising left London on 23rd June, 1800, and on his way home passed through
Oxford where he was introduced to Dr. Marlow, Vice-Chancellor of the University,
and other dignitaries, who subscribed the following testimonial, drawn up by Sir
Christopher Pegge, Reader in Anatomy—
We, whose names are undersigned, are fully
satisfied upon the conviction of our own observation, that the Cowpox is not
only an infinitely milder disease than the Smallpox, hut has the advantage of
not being contagious, and is an effectual remedy against the Smallpox.
When a prophet in the country
turns out a prophet in London his country neighbours begin to believe in him;
and thus it was with Jenner. His metropolitan reputation was reflected in
Gloucestershire. Earl Berkeley wrote to the Duke of Beaufort—
Every father of a family owes the greatest
obligation to Dr. Jenner for preventing the dreadful effects of the smallpox.
And the sense of this
obligation took shape in a service of plate presented in 1801 and bearing this
THE NOBILITY AND GENTRY OF
THE COUNTY OF GLOUCESTERSHIRE
To THEIR COUNTRYMAN EDWARD
JENNER, M. D., F. R. S.
AS A TESTIMONY OF THE HIGH SENSE THEY
ENTERTAIN OF THOSE
EMINENT ABILITIES WHICH DISCOVERED AND THAT
DISINTERESTED PHILANTHROPY WHICH
THE VACCINE INOCULATION.
A DISHONOURABLE TRANSFORMATION.
HONOUR was abundant, but
honour is windy fare, and Jenner had an eye for something more substantial.
Among his papers we read—
While the vaccine discovery was progressive, the
joy I felt at the prospect before me of being the instrument destined to take
away from the world one of its greatest calamities, blended with the fond
hope of enjoying independence and domestic peace and happiness, was often so
excessive that, in pursuing my favourite subject among the meadows, I have
sometimes found myself in a kind of reverie. It is pleasant to me to recollect
that these reflections always ended in devout acknowledgments to that Being from
whom this and all other mercies flow.1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i., p.
But how was the fond hope of
enjoying independence to be realised ? The question was discussed by Jenner and
his friends, and it was finally decided to apply to the House of Commons for a
reward. But in order to go to Parliament it was necessary to have a good case,
and Jenner's case was open to various objections. The Inquiry, published
in 1798, was by no means a manual of practice. Its prescription was Horsegrease
Cowpox; but such Cowpox was neither producible nor accounted tolerable. Cowpox
that did not originate in Horsegrease, Jenner had adjudged spurious; and yet
such spurious Cowpox had been adopted by Pearson and Woodville, and under their
influence had obtained extraordinary popularity. It was therefore by no means
improbable that any claim for cash wherewith to enjoy independence might be
seriously contested. In this strait, what was to be done? The question was a
grave one, and called for a heroic solution. Resolved therefore, that
Horsegrease Cowpox be dropped, and with it the use of escharotics for the
subjugation of the pustules produced thereby. Absolute silence should
thenceforth be his rule as to Horsegrease. So much for the negative position:
the positive was more difficult. To claim Cowpox as his own, with the modes of
its exhibition devised by Pearson, was an evolution full of hazard, but unless
prepared to surrender "the fond hope of enjoying independence," it must be
effected. He had advantages. His name was associated with the new practice:
even Pearson had done him homage: neither the medical profession nor the public
were likely to study the Inquiry critically, or to trouble their heads
over obscure details: Cowpox was to them Cowpox: he had the world's ear; and
opposition would be set down as the ordinary behaviour of envy toward success.
Anyhow the transformation must be attempted: otherwise, farewell to dreams of
To initiate this
transformation, Jenner came to London, and in May, 1801, published a quarto
pamphlet of twelve pages, entitled The Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation.
First it was necessary to
represent that his investigations had extended over many years—a fact of which
there was no sign in the Inquiry, the evidence indeed being distinctly
otherwise; and thus he shaped his statement—
My inquiry into the nature of the Cowpox
commenced upwards of twenty-five years ago. My attention to this singular
disease was first excited by observing that among those whom in the country I
was frequently called upon to inoculate, many resisted every effort to give them
the Smallpox. These patients I found had undergone a disease they called the
Cowpox, contracted by milking Cows affected with a peculiar eruption on their
teats. On inquiry, it appeared it had been known among the dairies from time
immemorial, and that a vague opinion prevailed that it was a preventive of the
Smallpox. This opinion I found was comparatively new among them; for all the
older farmers declared they had no such idea in their early days—a circumstance
that seemed easily to be accounted for, from my knowing that the common people
were very rarely inoculated for the Smallpox till that practice was rendered
general by the improved method introduced by the Suttons: so that the working
people in the dairies were seldom put to the test of the preventive powers of
Jenner's design in the
foregoing statement was manifest. It was to minimise the faith of the country
folk, and to represent that by his own perspicacity he had discovered the virtue
of Cowpox through his failures to inoculate with Smallpox. The inquiries of
Pearson and others, however, showed conclusively that in many parts of the south
of England, in Ireland, and on the Continent it was believed that to have
suffered from Cowpox was to be secure from Smallpox; and the belief was
entertained altogether independently of failures to inoculate with Smallpox;
just as a similar belief prevailed among farriers as to the prophylaxy of
Horsegrease. The faith in Cowpox was neither vague, nor new, nor confined to
Jenner's neighbourhood; and his assertion to the contrary showed with what
hardihood he had undertaken to construct a case in his own favour.
In opposition to the rural
faith, medical men maintained that it was possible to have Smallpox after Cowpox
; and surgeons averred that they had successfully inoculated many who had
suffered Cowpox. Indeed it was indubitable professional testimony to this
effect that compelled Jenner to forsake his first fancy for Cowpox, and to
report the true specific as Horsegrease Cowpox. Having, however, to sacrifice
that discovery, and revert to the Cowpox he had discredited, a fresh manoeuvre
was requisite; and thus was it performed—
In the course of the investigation I found that
some of those who seemed to have undergone the Cowpox, nevertheless, on
inoculation with the Smallpox, felt its influence just the same as if no disease
had been communicated to them by the Cow. This occurrence led me to inquire
among the medical practitioners in the country around me, who all agreed in this
sentiment, that the Cowpox was not to be relied upon as a certain preventive of
the Smallpox. This for a while damped, but did not extinguish my ardour; for as
I proceeded I had the satisfaction to learn that the Cow was subject to some
varieties of spontaneous eruptions upon her teats, that were all capable of
communicating sores to the hands of the milkers, and that whatever sore was
derived from the animal was called in the dairy the Cowpox. Thus I surmounted a
great obstacle, and, in consequence, was led to form a distinction between these
diseases, one of which only I have denominated the true, the others the
spurious Cowpox, as they possess no specific power over the constitution.
Here we have the trick before
us at the very point of transformation. He consulted with medical
practitioners, "who all agreed that Cowpox was not to he relied upon as a
certain preventive of Smallpox." True. What did he do next ? He discovered
that what Cowpox did not prevent, the variety derived from Horsegrease did.
Such was the original revelation of 1798. In 1801 we have a different story,
and his quest a different issue. Not a word about the discovery of the sure
preventive- in Horsegrease Cowpox—not one word! Although his ardour was damped
by the medical evidence against Cowpox, he yet prosecuted his inquiry; and to
his satisfaction ascertained that what the milkers called Cowpox was not always
Cowpox, but that any sores whatever derived from the Cow were so designated. He
therefore was led to form a distinction between the diseases, and to denominate
one as true and the others as spurious Cowpox.
Thus the Horse, the obnoxious
Horse, was got rid of, and the Cow represented as of herself yielding pox, which
pox was the Cowpox that Pearson and Woodville (in contempt of Jenner's 1798
revelation) had brought into fashion; and which it had become all essential for
Jenner to claim as his own in order to realise his "fond hope of enjoying
In this connection the
question occurs, Why should "some varieties of spontaneous eruptions" have been
designated spurious Cowpox ? Such eruptions were not Cowpox in any sense. Why
then spurious? That Cows communicated a variety of sores to their milkers,
described by them in common as Cowpox, was an assertion for which Jenner never
adduced any evidence; which, too, (as we shall see) at a later date he disowned
as a misapprehension. Nevertheless spurious Cowpox got the New Inoculation over
many difficulties. When Smallpox, or any notable mischief, followed Cowpox it
was said, "Ah! the Cowpox must have been spurious; for Smallpox, or any harm, is
impossible after true Cow-pox." People did not stay to inquire whether spurious
Cowpox (that was to say, matter "from a variety of sores on the Cow," according
to Jenner's second version) could be propagated from arm-to-arm, even if taken
from the Cow by mistake. The illusory Variolous Test and the Spurious Cowpox
Dodge worked marvellously for the public deception.
Another point Jenner tried to
score at the cost of Pearson and Woodville. When they began to inoculate they
found they had to ascertain at what period the virus should be taken from the
Cow, and from the arms of the inoculated. Jenner afforded them no guidance.
Writing to John Ring, 1st July, 1801, he confessed—
In the early part of my inoculations I had not
learned to discriminate between the efficacy of the virus taken at an early and
at a late period of the pustule.1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. i., p.
Where Jenner had not learned
to discriminate, the line became clear in the course of general practice; and
Pearson was especially explicit as to the right time for taking virus; but to
make good his claim to national consideration, Jenner fancied it necessary to
exhibit himself as complete master of the art of Cowpox Inoculation, owing
nothing to others; and he therefore proceeded to appropriate the fruit of the
common medical experience, assigning it to a season when he alone was in the
field. Referring to his separation of true from spurious Cowpox, he thus
prosecuted his raid—
This impediment to my progress was not long
removed before another, of far greater magnitude in appearance, started up.
There were not wanting instances to prove that when the true Cowpox broke out
among the cattle at a dairy, the person who had milked an infected animal, and
had thereby gone through the disease in common with others, was liable to
receive the Smallpox afterwards. This, like the former obstacle, gave a painful
check to my fond and aspiring hopes; but reflecting that the operations of
Nature are generally uniform, and that it was not probable the human
constitution (having undergone the Cowpox) should in some instances be perfectly
shielded from the Smallpox, and in many others remain unprotected, I resumed my
labours with redoubled ardour. The result was fortunate; for I now discovered
that the virus of Cowpox was liable to undergo progressive changes from the same
cause precisely as that of Smallpox, and that when it was applied to the human
skin in its degenerated state, it would produce the ulcerated effects in as
great a degree as when it was not decomposed, and sometimes far greater; but
having lost its specific properties, it was incapable of producing that
change upon the human frame which is requisite to render it insusceptible of the
variolous contagion: so that it became evident a person might milk a Cow one
day, and having caught the disease, be for ever secure; while another
person, milking the same Cow the next day, might feel the influence of the virus
in such a way as to produce a sore, or sores, and, in consequence of this, might
experience an indisposition to a considerable extent; yet, as has been observed,
the specific quality being lost, the constitution would receive no peculiar
impression. . . .
This observation will fully explain the source of those errors which have been
committed by many inoculators of the Cowpox. Conceiving the whole process to be
extremely simple, as not to admit of a mistake, they have been heedless about
the state of the Vaccine Virus; and finding it limpid, as part of it will be,
even in an advanced state of the pustule, they have felt an improper confidence,
and sometimes mistaken a spurious pustule for that which possesses the perfect
No one apparently thought it
worth while to expose the fictitious character of these statements, invented by
Jenner to justify his pretensions and to baffle objections. Any careful reader
of the Inquiry of 1798, and the Origin of Vaccine Inoculation of
1801, cannot fail to perceive the radical inconsistency of the earlier and later
narratives, and how a few hasty experiments enveloped in unverifiable conjecture
and gossip, came to be magnified into years of arduous research.
He wound up his statement with
this flourish and prediction—
The distrust and scepticism which naturally
arose in the minds of medical men, on my first announcing so unexpected a
discovery, has now nearly disappeared. Many hundreds of them from actual
experience, have given their attestations that the inoculated Cowpox proves a
perfect security against the Smallpox; and I shall probably be within compass if
I say thousands are ready to follow their example ; for the scope that this
Inoculation has now taken is immense. An hundred thousand persons, upon the
smallest computation, have been inoculated in these realms. [May, 1801.] The
numbers who have partaken of its benefits throughout Europe and other parts of
the globe are incalculable; and it now becomes too manifest to admit of
controversy, that the annihilation of the Smallpox, the most dreadful scourge of
the human species, must be the final result of this practice.
For the end designed—to
establish and exalt a claim with the purpose of exacting corresponding
recompense, the Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation was an adroitly drawn
document: its veracity is a different matter. A just man, not to say a
generous, would have had some praise for Pearson, Woodville, and others to whom
the extension of the New Inoculation was due; but Jenner was essentially a mean
spirit; and for him to have stated his case truly would have been to jeopardise
"the fond hope of enjoying independence."
JENNER BEFORE PARLIAMENT, 1802.
JENNER was timid and indolent,
and, though eager for reward, required much prompting to use the means to the
end on which his heart was set. He wrote to Lord Sherborne to speak for him to
Prime Minister Addington; but Sherborne replied, 23rd April, 1801, that he did
not know Addington even by sight. He would however try to see Mr. Pitt, adding
for encouragement and direction—
If patriot Grattan gets £50,000 for his
patriotism, the true patriot Jenner deserves more: I am sure not less; and less
would be perfectly shabby to think of. I perfectly recollect Grattan's
business. It was settled among his friends to propose £100,000 for him,
determining to ask enough; and fearing that sum would not be granted, one of his
particular friends was to get up afterwards and propose £50,000, which was
immediately granted, and be took £47,500 for prompt payment.
Action had to be taken, and on
9th December, 1801, Jenner went to London to prepare a petition to the House of
Commons and to canvass for support. Even at the last moment, Wilberforce had to
warn him, 24th February, 1802, that no time was to be lost, or he would lose his
chance for the year. After prolonged consultation with those accustomed to such
business, the petition was got ready, and on 17th March, 1802, it was presented
to the House of Commons.
The humble Petition of EDWARD JENNER, Doctor of
That your Petitioner having discovered that a
disease which occasionally exists in a particular form among cattle, known by
the name of the Cowpox, admits of being inoculated on the human frame with the
most perfect ease and safety, and is attended with the singularly beneficial
effect of rendering through life the persons so inoculated perfectly secure from
the infection of the Smallpox.
That your Petitioner after a most attentive and laborious investigation of the
subject, setting aside considerations of private and personal advantage, and
anxious to promote the safety and welfare of his Countrymen and of Mankind in
general, did not wish to conceal the Discovery he so made of the mode of
conducting this new species of Inoculation, but immediately disclosed the whole
to the public; and by communication with medical men in all parts of this
Kingdom, and in Foreign Countries, sedulously endeavoured to spread the
knowledge of his discovery and the benefit of his labours as widely as possible.
That in this latter respect the views and wishes of your Petitioner have been
completely fulfilled; for to his high gratification he has to say that this
Inoculation is in practice throughout a great proportion of the civilised world,
and has in particular been productive of great advantage to these Kingdoms, in
consequence of its being introduced, under authority, into the Army and Navy.
That the said Inoculation hath already checked the progress of the Smallpox, and
from its nature must finally annihilate that dreadful disorder.
That the series of experiments by which this discovery was developed and
completed have not only occupied a considerable portion of your Petitioner's
life, and have not merely been a cause of great expense and anxiety to him, but
have so interrupted him in the ordinary exercise of his profession as materially
to abridge its pecuniary advantages without their being counter balanced by
those derived from the new practice.
Your Petitioner, therefore, with the full persuasion that he shall meet with
that attention and indulgence of which this Honourable House may deem him
worthy, humbly prays this Honourable House to take the premises into
consideration, and to grant him such remuneration as to their wisdom shall seem
Patriot Grattan asked for
£100,000, was awarded £50,000, and took £47,500: "true patriot Jenner deserves
more," said Lord Sherborne; but Jenner had not courage for the demand. What,
however, was undefined in cash was made up for in pretension.
As we read Jenner's petition
we note (1) the Discovery; (2) its Disclosure and Diffusion; (8) the Expense
thereby incurred; and (4) the Prophecies; and under these heads it is to be
1.—It was no discovery of
Jenner's that cowpox was inoculable and preventive of smallpox. That was a
rural superstition. Nor, be it again repeated, did he ever become responsible
for that rural superstition. Recognising its futility, he deliberately set it
aside, and recommended a disease of the horse, transmitted through the cow, for
inoculation. It was Pearson, who disliking Jenner's prescription, brought
cowpox into vogue; whereon Jenner, fearing that he might be cut out of the
enterprise, dropped his specific, adopted the cowpox he had rejected, and
claimed Pearson's work as the development of his own.
2.—That he disclosed his
discovery was true, but it was not the discovery set forth in the petition.
Moreover the merit of disclosure in such a case is measured by the advantage of
concealment; and what could Jenner have taken by concealment? The conditions of
successful quackery were not present in the secret practice of inoculation with
3.—That the discovery occupied
a considerable portion of Jenner's life, and was attended with great expense and
loss of practice, is answered by reference to his Inquiry. With what loss of
time, loss of money, and loss of practice could the series of cases therein set
forth have been attended ? And after 1798, he confessed he was able to achieve
4.—As for the prophecies about
the absolute security afforded by cowpox with the final extermination of
smallpox, we may estimate the worth of such vapouring by the asserted check at
that time, 1801, administered to the disease, when as yet an insignificant
fraction of the population had been subjected to the New Inoculation, and a
fraction, too, least likely to suffer from smallpox.
Petitions are petitions, and
not designed for over-much scrutiny. In them truth is rarely to be looked for
otherwise than warped to personal ends. The policy of a petition is to claim in
excess with a view to obtain a larger concession. Jenner's petition was a more
than usually flagrant instance of this policy, with the disadvantage that much
of its untruth passed into currency as matter of fact.
The Prime Minister, Mr.
ADDINGTON (afterwards Viscount Sidmouth), informed the House that he had taken
the King's pleasure on the contents of the petition, and that his Majesty
recommended it strongly to the consideration of Parliament. It was referred to
a committee, of which Admiral Berkeley, a zealous believer in Jenner, was
appointed chairman. The points to which the committee chiefly directed their
I.—The utility of the
II.—The right of the
petitioner to the discovery.
III.—The sacrifices of the
petitioner in making the discovery.
As an investigation the work
of the Committee was illusory. The points were decided in the petitioner's
favour from the outset. There was no opposition. Dr. Moseley, Mr. Birch, and
Dr. Rowley, who became active opponents of the New Inoculation, were summoned,
but the matter was new to them; they had not had time to collect evidence and
formulate conclusions: a rite that was to protect for a lifetime and to
annihilate smallpox, announced in 1798, was to be adjudicated upon in 1802! On
the other hand, Jenner's friends were influential and active, and used the
opportunity to parade their whole strength in his favour. The medical testimony
especially was unreserved and enthusiastic.
Dr. JAMES SIMS, president of
the London Medical Society, laid before the Committee a unanimous resolution of
the Society in Jenner's favour. He said he was at first adverse to Vaccine
Inoculation, but his confidence in it was increasing every hour. It introduced
no other disease to the human frame, whilst it made an end of the possibility of
smallpox, a disease that proved fatal to one in six of those it attacked. He
had never heard of Cowpox before the publication of The Inquiry, and
regarded the discovery therein communicated as the most useful over made in
medicine. If Jenner had kept and traded on his secret, he might have become the
richest man in the kingdom.
Sir GILBERT BLANE related how
the New Inoculation had been introduced to the Navy. He had had the men on
board the Kent, man-of-war, inoculated with cowpox, and then with
smallpox, and not one took the latter disease. Of every thousand deaths in the
country, smallpox was accountable for ninety-five. Taking London as the
standard, 45,000 must perish annually from smallpox in the United Kingdom. As
soon as the preventive discovered by Jenner became universal that large
mortality would cease.
Dr. LETTSOM, a popular
physician, a member of the Society of Friends, and an enthusiastic supporter of
Jenner, said he had paid much attention to smallpox statistics. Taking London
and the out-parishes as containing nearly 1,000,000 inhabitants, he calculated
that eight a day, or 3,000 annually died of smallpox. Allowing Great Britain
and Ireland to have a population of 12,000,000, that would give a mortality of
not less than 36,000 per annum from smallpox. He had reason to conclude that
about 60,000 persons had undergone the New Inoculation up to date. He did not
think that the genuine cowpox when inoculated could ever prove fatal. Had
Jenner kept his remedy secret he might have derived immense pecuniary profits
from it, as did the Buttons by their improved practice of variolous inoculation.
Asked whether he had known any
inoculated with smallpox subsequently contract smallpox, he replied that he had
two relatives inoculated who afterwards had smallpox, and one of them died. He
had recently attended two families, in each of which a child inoculated was laid
up a year after the operation with smallpox.
Dr. WOODVILLE, forgiving
Jenner's evil treatment, came, like a good Friend, to bear witness to the new
practice. He had learnt to prefer vaccine to variolous inoculation at the
Hospital. He had, up to January, 1802, operated with cowpox on 7,500 patients.
About half of them had been subjected to the Variolous Test with satisfactory
Dr. BRADLEY, physician to the
Westminster Hospital, said he looked on Jenner as the author of Vaccine
Inoculation, and believed no medical man doubted it. As accidental inoculation
with cowpox was proved to keep off smallpox for life, it was matter of course
that intentional inoculation would do so also. Not less than 2,000,000 of
persons had received Vaccine Inoculation, and he had never known an instance of
any one dying of it. One in 300 died of smallpox inoculation in England, and
not less than one in 150 throughout the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa and
America. Had Jenner settled in London he might have made £10,000 per annum for
the first five years, and double that sum afterwards.
Sir WALTER FARQUHAR, physician
to the Prince of Wales, had told Jenner that if he had come to London and kept
his secret, he would have ensured him £10,000 a year. He had however divulged
his secret and lost all chance of emolument. His remedy was a permanent
security against smallpox, and had never proved fatal; whilst variolous
inoculation, performed in the best manner, cost one life in three hundred.
Mr. CLINE, surgeon to St.
Thomas's Hospital, corroborated the opinion that Jenner could have earned
£10,000 a year in London by means of his secret. As smallpox was the most
destructive of all diseases, its suppression was the greatest discovery ever
made in the practice of physic.
Mr. JOHN GRIFFITHS, surgeon to
the Queen's Household and St. George's Hospital, had inoculated upwards of 1,500
persons with cowpox without any untoward symptoms.
Mr. JAMES SIMPSON, surgeon to
the Surrey Dispensary, had inoculated between fifty and sixty without any
injury. Considered them perfectly secure from smallpox. A child of nine months
covered with crusta lactea resisted all the usual remedies, but on the
tenth day after he had inoculated it with cowpox, the crust began to disappear,
and the twelfth day was entirely gone.
Dr. JOSEPH MARSHALL related
his experience as a vaccine inoculator in the Navy and at Gibraltar, Malta,
Palermo, Naples, Borne and Genoa. Everywhere was successful. Believed he had
operated on 10,000, and never witnessed any ill consequences whatever. On the
contrary, children in a weak state of health, after passing through the vaccine
infection, began to thrive and become vigorous.
Mr. JOHN ADDINGTON, surgeon,
had used Jenner's remedy since 1799 in eighty-one cases. One third of these he
had inoculated with smallpox, and subjected to every method of infection he
could devise, but found them perfectly proof against the disease.
Dr. SKEY, physician to the
Worcester Hospital, testified that in the spring of 1801 smallpox was epidemic
in Worcester. He inoculated a number of children with cowpox, and none of them
took smallpox although constantly exposed to contagion.
Dr. THORNTON, physician to the
Marylebone Dispensary, had inoculated a patient with cowpox, and afterwards with
smallpox at twelve different times during the past three years without effect.
He had even slept with a person in natural smallpox, who died, but took no
harm. When at Lord Lonsdale's in the North he had operated on upwards of a
thousand, and had completely satisfied himself, and all the medical
practitioners in that part of England, that cowpox was a mild disease, hardly
deserving the name of a disease. It was not contagious; it never disfigured the
person, never produced blindness, nor excited other diseases. It was equally
safe whether during the period of pregnancy, or the earliest infancy, or extreme
Dr. BAILLIE then gave his
influential judgment. He thought cowpox an extremely mild disease, and when a
patient had properly undergone it, he was perfectly secure from the future
infection of smallpox: and further, if Dr. Jenner had not chosen openly and
honourably to explain to the public all he knew upon the subject, he might have
acquired a considerable fortune. In his opinion it was the most important
discovery ever made in medicine.
Mr. DAVID TAYLOK, surgeon of
Wootton-under-Edge, had inoculated about two thousand persons with cowpox
without a single failure, nor had he met with any ulcerations, tumours, or other
diseases following the operation. He knew Jenner's practice in
Gloucestershire. It was in a very populous neighbourhood where there was not
another physician within sixteen miles. He had surrendered an income of £600 a
year to devote himself to the public service.
As a final specimen of this
medical evidence I may cite Mr. JOHN KING, the petitioner's henchman. He
considered Jenner the author of Vaccine Inoculation, a discovery the most
valuable and important ever made by man. It was a perfect and permanent
security against smallpox. He had himself inoculated about 1200, of whom a
thousand had exposed themselves to smallpox infection with impunity. There was
no danger whatever from the New Inoculation unless from ignorance and neglect.
One in every hundred inoculated with smallpox in London died, owing to the
unwholesome atmosphere and the necessity of operating on children at an improper
age. If Jenner had kept his discovery to himself he might have made £10,000 a
year by it; for others had got as much or more by the practice of physic.
This evidence, better than any
secondary description, will enable the reader to appreciate the prevalent furore
as it affected the leaders of the medical world. At the same time it is to be
borne in mind that the craze was superficial. Any radical change in conviction
or practice is never accomplished thus easily or thus rapidly. The medical men
who bore witness for cowpox had been bred to inoculation with smallpox, for
which cowpox was substituted. The change was essentially trivial. The trouble,
the danger, and the uncertainty of variolous inoculation were generally
recognised, and when cowpox was recommended as a mild form of smallpox, it was
not difficult to appreciate the asserted advantage: for, as it was argued, no
one can have smallpox twice, and as the mildest attack of smallpox is as
prohibitive of a second attack as the severest, therefore cowpox (which is
smallpox in mild form) must protect as effectually when inoculated. With logic
so admirable, it was in nowise wonderful that so many were carried away; but
unfortunately, as so often happens, matter-of-fact did not correspond to the
The DUKE OF CLARENCE testified
that he had availed himself of Jenner's discovery from the outset. His
children, his household and farm servants were all protected. A postillion
positively refused to be operated on, and eighteen months after he caught
smallpox in the most virulent form. Children who had undergone cow-pox were
constantly in the room where the lad lay and suffered no harm.
The EARL OF BERKELEY had his
son inoculated with cowpox by Dr. Jenner at the age of six months. One of his
maid-servants took smallpox and died, and the effluvia during her illness was so
offensive that his servants had to move to another part of the house. To test
the reality of his son's protection, he sent for Jenner, and got him to
inoculate the boy with pox from the maid. The child was found to be proof, for
the inoculation had no effect—To illustrate the validity of the Gloucestershire
tradition, he related how a man of 72 in his service had caught cowpox when a
boy of 15 whilst milking, and in consequence always reckoned himself secure from
smallpox, exposing himself to the disease with complete indifference.
LORD ROUS gave similar
evidence. His child had been inoculated with cowpox at the age of three months,
and he was perfectly satisfied that he could never have smallpox.
Then there were lay
practitioners, of whom Jenner's nephew, the Rev. G. C. JENNER, may be taken as
an example. He bore witness that he had inoculated 3,000 with cowpox without a
single unfavourable case, from the earliest infancy to eighty years of age, and
under circumstances in which it would not be prudent to use variolous virus; as,
for example, children during teething and women in every stage of pregnancy.
Upwards of two hundred of his patients had been afterwards inoculated with
smallpox matter, and an equal number exposed to variolous effluvia, and in no
instance did smallpox ensue. He was satisfied that as soon as the new practice
became universal, smallpox would be annihilated.
An early date being wanted for
"the discovery," EDWARD GARDNER, wine and spirit dealer, was brought from
Gloucester to affirm that he had known Jenner for more than twenty-two years,
and had been in the constant habit of hearing his medical opinions and
discoveries. It was in the month of May, 1780, that Jenner first informed him
concerning the nature of cowpox as a sure preventive of smallpox, and of the
theory he had formed on the subject; declaring his full and perfect confidence
that the virus might be continued in perpetuity from one human being to another
until smallpox was extinguished.
It is needless to stigmatise
Gardner's testimony afresh. It possibly had its foundation in Jenner discussing
the familiar rural faith in cowpox. Sir EVERARD HOME mentioned to the Committee
that Jenner had brought a drawing to London in 1788 of Variolæ Vaccinæ as it
appeared on the finger of a milker, and had shown it to John Hunter, who advised
him to look further into the matter; but it was not pretended that he spoke to
John Hunter of the matured conviction revealed to Gardner eight years before.
The Committee heard evidence
as to the knowledge and use of cowpox apart from Jenner, and their verdict was
given as follows—
The disorder itself, and its specific property
of securing against Smallpox infection, was not a discovery of Dr. Jenner's;
for in various parts of England, in Gloucestershire and Devonshire particularly,
there was an opinion of that sort current among the common people employed in
dairies, which the observations of the inoculators for the Smallpox tended to
confirm. It appears not improbable that in some very rare instances this
knowledge was carried one step farther, and that the Cowpox was communicated
either by handling the teat, or by inoculation from the animal, for the purpose
and with the intention of securing against the danger of Smallpox; but the
practice of which Dr. Jenner asserts himself to be the original Inventor is, the
inoculation from one human being to another, and the mode of transferring
indefinitely, the vaccine matter without any diminution of its specific power,
to which it does not appear that any person has ever alleged a title.
Thus the Committee disallowed
Jenner's claim, whilst indicating the only colourable point of novelty, namely,
the transfer from arm to arm of virus. At the same time, it should not be
forgotten that inoculation from arm to arm with "mild kinds of smallpox " was an
existing practice, and there was little merit to speak of in Jenner doing the
same thing with horse or cowpox.
There was no opposition—no
devil's advocate; but it may be held that Dr. Pearson assumed that office. He
was heard with impatience, and afterwards delivered his mind in An
Examination, to which we shall presently refer.
The Report to the House was
brought up on the 2nd of June, 1802, and was conclusive as to the utility of the
discovery. Indeed, the evidence on that head was only cut short because it
threatened to be interminable. The judgment of the Committee reiterated the
common persuasion—"As soon as the New Inoculation becomes universal, it must
absolutely extinguish one of the most destructive disorders by which the
human race has been visited."
Admiral BERKELEY, chairman of
the Committee, commended the Report to the House. He considered the discovery
as unquestionably the greatest ever made for the preservation of the human
species. It was proved that in the United Kingdom 45,000 perished
annually from smallpox; but throughout the world what was the desolation! Not a
second struck but a victim was sacrificed at the altar of that most horrible of
diseases. He should therefore move that a sum of not less than £10,000 be
granted to the Petitioner, but if the House thought fit to adopt any larger sum,
he should hold himself free to vote for it. Why, Dr. Jenner's expenses in
postage alone had been from 25s. to 80s. a day!
Sir HENRY MILDMAY did not
think £10,000 at all adequate. Had Jenner kept his secret he might have made at
least £100,000. He moved that he should have £20,000.
Mr. WlNDHAM said the
petitioner had surrendered his discovery to his country, and was therefore
entitled to remuneration. The discovery had been the labour of years and the
fruit of extensive practice.
Sir JAMES SINCLAIR ERSKINE was
assured that Jenner had expended £6,000 in the propagation of his discovery, and
if he had £10,000, he would be left with no more than £4,000. Besides, he had
given up a practice of £600 a year to benefit his fellow-creatures.
Mr. COURTNEY observed that the
evidence showed that 40,000 men would be annually preserved to the State by the
New Inoculation. These would return £200,000 a year to the Exchequer, and if
the Petitioner had only a tithe of that sum for one year, he was entitled to
Mr.WILBERFORCE stated that
Jenner had .spent upwards of twenty years in completing his discovery. He was
no adventurer seeking to push himself before the world. He had already attained
to great celebrity in his profession, and had sacrificed his practice for the
public good. In every view he thought the larger sum ought to be granted.
Mr. GREY thought £10,000 would
be no more than an indemnity for expenses. He hoped the House would vote for
Mr. BANKS said there was no
question as to the utility of the discovery. If he felt more niggardly than
other members, it was because his paramount duty consisted in guarding the
public purse. That purse was a large one, but it was not to be dipped into at
pleasure. The strength of the country lay in economy and sound finance. He did
not see that a case had been made out for so large a sum as £10,000. The
discovery itself might be trusted to pay its author. He always looked on a
Report of a Committee with jealousy, for it was controlled by the friends of the
Petitioner, and there was no one with sufficient motive to provide the
correctives required in the public interest.
Mr. ADDINGTON, Chancellor of
the Exchequer, held that the value of the discovery was without example, and
beyond calculation. So much, indeed, was not contested. The Petitioner had
received the highest reward in the approbation, the unanimous approbation of the
House; an approbation richly deserved, since it was the result of the greatest
discovery since the creation of man. Whatever money the House might see fit to
vote on some future occasion, his present duty was to recommend the smaller sum
of £10,000. In doing so, he admitted, he surrendered his private inclination to
his sense of public duty. He had, however, the satisfaction in knowing that
this discussion had conferred on Dr. Jenner a reward that would endure for ever,
whilst the comfort of his family would be amply ensured in the extension of
practice that would follow the approbation of the House.
The question was then put that
the words £10,000 do stand part of the resolution; when the Committee divided
—Ayes 59, Noes 56, Majority 3.
The discussion in the House of
Commons shows how wide was the general craze. Facts and figures were evolved at
discretion and repeated indiscriminately. To rave about Jenner, the saviour
from small-pox, was the mode. It was as if all had consented to go mad
together. Mr. Dunning, a surgeon, otherwise rational, broke into prophetic
With pride, with, just and national pride, we
boast a Newton and a Harvey; posterity will boast a Jenner! 1
Considering the value set on
"the great discovery," the award of £10,000 was not excessive. In the
Medical Journal it stands recorded—
We have never witnessed a more
unanimous and general disappointment than that which has been expressed, not
only by the profession, but by the public at large, at the smallness of the
On the other hand, it is to be
remembered that the times were dark and hard, cruelly hard, through war and
scanty harvests; the quartern loaf selling at 1s. 11d., a significant index of
the people's misery.
1. Medical Journal, January, 1802.
2. Ib. July, 1802.
A FEW weeks after the award of
£10,000 to Jenner by the House of Commons, Dr. Pearson published An
Examination of the report of the committee. He did not contest Jenner's
claim to consideration, but the ground on which it was advanced, and on which it
was conceded; drawing attention to the manner in which the claims set forth in
Jenner's petition had been reduced to "inoculation from one human being to
another," whilst a new claim was invented for him, "to wit, the mode of
transferring, indefinitely, the vaccine matter without any diminution of its
What Pearson held, and rightly
held, was, that the public acceptance of the New Inoculation was due to
Woodville and himself, and not to Jenner—
The Cowpock Inoculation (after Dr. Jenner's book
was published in June, 1798, which contained seven or eight cases, the whole
result of his experience) was not practised by any person that I know of, till
January, 1799, neither Dr. Jenner, nor any person that I could find being in
possession of matter; but, in January, 1799, in consequence of a general
inquiry, which I had instituted immediately after Jenner's publication,
information was given of the Cowpock Disease breaking out in two Cow-stables
near London, and from these sources Dr. Woodville and myself collected matter,
by which, in the course of three months, 300 persons (not fewer, I think) were
inoculated for the Cowpock in addition to the seven or eight cases of Dr.
Jenner, then the whole stock of facts of Inoculation before the public. Besides
carrying on the Inoculation ourselves in this manner, we disseminated the matter
throughout the country, in particular to Dr. Jenner himself; and especially, I
within that time issued a printed letter, directed to upwards of two hundred
practitioners in different parts of the kingdom, containing thread impregnated
with the Cowpock matter. . . By the close of 1799 about 4,000 persons had been
inoculated by Dr. Woodville, myself, and our correspondents.
1. An Examination of the Report of the
Committee of the House of Commons on the Claims of Remuneration for the Vaccine
Pock Inoculation: containing a Statement of the Principal Historical Facts of
the Vaccinia. By George Pearson, M.D., F.R.S. London, 1802. 8vo. Pp. 196.
Pearson also claimed to have
cleared away difficulties created by Jenner's statements, some of which were
most prejudicial to the public acceptance of the New Inoculation—
I published experiments of inoculating persons
with the Cowpock to show that they could not take the Cowpock after the
Smallpox, contrary to Dr. Jenner. Secondly, experiments to show that
persons could not take the Cowpock who had already gone through the Cow-pock,
also contrary to Dr. Jenner.1 Thirdly, many persons had at this
period made experiments to show that the Cowpox did not originate in the
grease of Horses' heels, as Dr. Jenner had asserted. In the spring of 1799,
a second publication appeared from Dr. Jenner recommending caustic or
escharotics to the inoculated parts in Cowpox, which we found wholly unnecessary
in practice; and I consider that the distinctive characters of the Cowpock were
better understood by some of us than by Dr. Jenner himself.
1. Such was the logic, but such was not the
fact. If no one could have Smallpox twice, and if inoculated Cowpox was
equivalent to Smallpox, no one could have Cowpox twice. Such was the argument.
Pearson did not foresee its systematic refutation exemplified in Re-Vaccination,
septennial, triennial, annual.
One can only say of these
statements of Pearson as against Jenner, that they are simple matters of fact,
impugn them whoso list. It is impossible to controvert Pearson's assertion—
That the whole of Jenner's
experience extended to seven or eight cases, and a part only of these—namely,
four—were from human subject to human subject; and not until long after Dr.
Woodville and myself had published several hundred instances of vaccine virus
transmitted from arm to arm, had he any experiments to set alongside ours.
They had to find out for
themselves when to take virus from the cow, how to preserve it when taken, how
to dress inoculated arms, when to take virus from the arm, and, in short, to do
everything that constitutes the difference between a suggestion and an art.
Pearson, too, as we have seen,
had a leading part in the formation of the first Institution for the Inoculation
of the Vaccine Pock, with which Jenner had not only nothing to do, but would
have nothing to do : concerning which wrote Pearson—
The Vaccine Inoculation was next considerably
established by the Cowpock Institution, of which I was one of the founders,
commencing at the close of 1799 ; which Institution has been the principal
office for the supplying the world in general, and the Army and Navy in
particular, with matter; and where a regular register is kept of each of the
As to Jenner keeping the
secret of Cowpox and making a great fortune out of it, Pearson replied, first,
that he had not proved his remedy; second, that he would have had to persuade
the public to believe in him; and, third, that too much was known about Cowpox
to have made a secret possible. Moreover, the assertion that he might have
earned £10,000 a year and a fortune of £150,000 was absurd—
Such a fortune no one ever acquired by physic in
this or any other country—far exceeding the greatest ever known, those of Sir
Theodore Mayerne in the first half of the 17th century, and of the still greater
one of Dr. Ratcliffe in the early part of last century.
When it was further said, that
experiments in Vaccine Inoculation had occupied twenty years of Jenner's life,
that they had cost him £6,000, and that he had surrendered a practice of £600 a
year in the populous neighbourhood of Berkeley for the public benefit—he would
not trust himself to characterise the allegations.
His own position, Pearson thus
I have admitted that Dr. Jenner first set on
foot the inquiry into the advantages of Vaccine Inoculation ; but I apprehend
that the practice has been established almost entirely by other practitioners;
and that his new facts, or which I consider to be new, have been, in my opinion,
disproved by subsequent observers; and that in consequence of those facts being
disproved, together with the very ample experiences of other persons, we owe the
present extensive practice of the Vaccine Inoculation.
Pearson further indicated on
what conditions he would have been satisfied to see Jenner rewarded—
A much more dignified and more just ground of
claim, and an equally favourable one for remuneration, would have been in terms
denoting that the Petitioner had proposed a new kind of Inoculation, and
actually furnished some instances of the success of it, founded upon facts; of
which some were brought to light and use, which heretofore had only been locally
known to a very small number of persons; and others were discoveries of the
Author: further, that in consequence of considerable subsequent investigation,
by the Author and others, such a body of evidence had been obtained, and such
farther facts had been discovered, as demonstrated the advantages of the new
Whilst willing that Jenner
should be rewarded, for Woodville and for himself, Pearson wanted nothing: he
simply maintained that the judgment of the House of Commons Committee should
have recognised the facts of the situation. He observed—
I have some authority for stating that the
members of the Committee did not unanimously think such exclusive claims
were just. I had some reason to expect that the representation of the Committee
in their Report would have been such as to have satisfied the expectations, not
exorbitant, of Dr. Woodville and myself; such as would have cost the Petitioner
nothing, to wit, a mere acknowledgment of services. The most unqualified
and exclusive claims having been decreed, this bounty of course has been
withheld, either because it was judged to be not owing, or from some other
motive which I will not name; but it is fitting that I disclaim any insinuation
of unworthy motives actuating those with whom judgment was invested.
Considering the injustice to
which Pearson had been subjected, and the provocation he had received, it is
impossible to refrain from admiration of the serene and impartial temper in
which he composed his Examination. Had he sat as judge between Jenner
and himself, he could not have stated the case with greater accuracy and absence
of bias. He fell into no exaggeration; he indulged in no sarcasm; he descended
to no abuse. He set forth the incidents of the New Inoculation with the
imperial simplicity and dignity of truth. Where others had gone crazed, he
preserved some degree of sanity. He held it to be premature to proclaim the
extinction of Smallpox, or to say with Jenner that reports of failure and injury
from inoculated Cowpox were beneath contempt. It was only time and experience
that could warrant such absolute assertion and prediction.
It is said that in hurricanes
of panic or enthusiasm, wise men go home and keep quiet until the sky clears,
resistance being folly. For immediate effect resistance may be folly, but the
protest of truth is sometimes imperative, whatever the disposition of the mob.
Pearson took little at the time by his Examination: it entered into far
too many details for general apprehension; and it was convenient to account for
his opposition as due to jealousy and envy. Jenner attempted no reply, and
assumed profound disdain. His silence was judicious, but it was not from
At this day it is easy to see
that Pearson as against Jenner played his part badly, failing to recognise his
proper advantage. Jenner's prescription in the Inquiry of 1798 was not
Cowpox. It was Horsegrease Cowpox. It was a disease of the horse inoculated on
the cow. Cowpox per se he expressly rejected as useless, having no
specific effect on the human constitution. Pearson and Woodville entertained
Jenner's prescription in good faith. They tried to generate pox on the cow with
grease from the horse, but did not succeed. Reluctantly they abandoned Jenner's
prescription, and resorted to Cowpox.
Whilst Pearson and Woodville
were without prejudice against Horsegrease Cowpox, it was otherwise with the
public. The origin of Cowpox in Horsegrease was voted detestable, and had the
origin been maintained, it is not improbable that the New Inoculation would have
This difficulty Pearson and
Woodville, the chief promoters of the New Inoculation, cleared away. They had
tried Horsegrease; they considered they had disproved Jenner's assertion
concerning it; and they were able to assure the public that they inoculated with
Cowpox, and nothing but Cowpox, and had no connection with Horse-grease
whatever. The public were satisfied ; and Inoculation with Cowpox became the
rage, fashionable and philanthropic.
What did Jenner do? Did he
vindicate his prescription, the fruit of thirty years of incessant thought,
observation and experiment? He did not. On the contrary he dropped it. He said
not another word about it; and proceeded to claim Cowpox as employed by Pearson
and Woodville as his discovery. In his petition to Parliament there was no
mention of Horsegrease Cow-pox ; but Cowpox, with "its beneficial effect of
rendering the persons inoculated therewith perfectly secure through life from
the infection of Smallpox," was set forth as the result of his most attentive
and laborious investigation at the sacrifice of time, money, and professional
advancement. We have to recollect that Jenner was inspired with what he called
"the fond hope of enjoying independence," and he was not slow to recognise, that
if he stood by Horsegrease Cowpox his "fond hope " would be wrecked. The
statement may seem incredible, but the fact of the transformation is manifest at
large to any one who will take the trouble to compare Jenner's Inquiry of
1798 with his Petition to the House of Commons in 1802.
Pearson failed to arrest the
imposture. He might have said to Jenner, "Your discovery was not Cowpox : that
was well known to every dairymaid in your neighbourhood. Your prescription was
Horsegrease Cowpox. You condemned Cowpox, which Cowpox has nevertheless been
brought into use by Woodville and me. Keep to your Horsegrease Cowpox; make
what you can of it; and leave us alone."
Had Pearson taken this course,
he would have fixed Jenner to his discovery, such as it was, and have clearly
defined and established his own and Woodville's service in rendering the New
Inoculation practicable and popular. But he failed to draw a firm line between
Woodville and himself and Jenner, and to insist that they were operating, not
only with a different pox, but with a form of pox by him rejected as useless.
Through this default, he enabled Jenner to intrude into a province that was not
his own, and to reap where he had not sown, and gather where he had not
strawed. It is to be admitted that the facts as stated were all involved in
Pearson's, but they were involved, and required picking out and sharper
definition to give them effect. Truth is truth, but truth to have its rightful
influence has to be made plain. It is of little avail to have a good cause at
law if the means are wanting to place its goodness manifest and paramount over
contention to the contrary. This, too, may be observed: Pearson was not in
condition to offer the manner of resistance specified. To have turned Jenner's
flank, it would have been necessary to discredit Cowpox; and Pearson was
committed to Cowpox. Jenner had been familiar from youth with, the dairymaids'
faith in Cowpox. Why then did he not advertise its virtue? Because it had been
proved to him that the dairymaids' confidence was illusory. His recommendation
of Horsegrease Cowpox attested his distrust in Cowpox. If Pearson had asked
himself, What induced Jenner to set aside Cowpox for Horsegrease Cowpox? the
answer would have revealed to him a whole series of facts to the discredit of
that prophylaxy of which he and Woodville had constituted themselves advocates.
Thus, fettered by his own prepossession, Pearson was unable to deal effectually
with Jenner without incurring a disenchantment fatal to his own enterprise.
When we recognise that
Jenner's prescription was a disease of the horse communicated to the cow, which
Pearson and Woodville set aside for Cowpox, the controversy as to the originator
of the use of Cowpox for inoculation loses significance. We have to assert
peremptorily that Jenner had no claim to the use of Cowpox whatever. It is true
that he advanced the claim in his Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation in
1801, and in his Petition to Parliament in 1802; but those who refer to his
Inquiry of 1798 will require no further proof of his mendacity. That his
claim to the use of Cowpox was entertained can only be ascribed to that
indolence, ineptitude and ignorance on the part of the world whereon quacks
presume and prosper.
It was Pearson and Woodville,
I once more repeat, who diffused and popularised Cowpox; and Pearson's inquiries
left no doubt that the faith in Cowpox as a preventive of Smallpox was widely
entertained; and that the substitution of Cowpox for Smallpox in inoculation was
a mere question of time and accident. Mr. Downe of Bridport informed Pearson
that a surgeon in his neighbourhood suffered discredit in practice because it
was reported that he inoculated with Cowpox instead of Smallpox; and the papers
of Mr. Nash, surgeon, of Shaftesbury proved that in 1781 he had the project of
Cowpox Inoculation distinctly before him. The evidence of Benjamin Jesty,
farmer of Downshay in the Isle of Purbeck, has usually been taken as most
conclusive in relation to the immanence of the New Inoculation in the common
mind. Jesty was invited to London by the conductors of the Original Vaccine
Pock Institution, 44 Broad Street, Golden Square; and in August, 1805, they had
him with his wife and two sons under examination. In their report1
it is said—
We think it a matter of justice to Mr. Jesty,
and beneficial to the public, to attest, that among other facts he has afforded
decisive evidence of his having vaccinated his wife and two sons, Robert and
Benjamin, in the year 1774; who were thereby rendered insusceptible of the
Smallpox, as appears from the frequent exposure of all three to that disorder
during the course of 31 years, and from the inoculation of the two sons for the
Smallpox 15 years ago.
Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal,
October, 1805. P. 513.
It is to be observed that
insusceptibility to Smallpox was by no means infrequent apart from Cowpox; and
as fear of Smallpox predisposes to attack, so, on the other hand, confidence in
security, whether by Cowpox or other charm, would tend to exemption.
Jesty's reasons for his
experiment were thus specified—
He was led to undertake the novel practice in
1774 to counteract the Smallpox, at that time prevalent at Yetminster, from
knowing the common opinion of the country ever since he was a boy (now 60 years
ago) that persons who had gone through the Cowpock naturally, that is to say by
taking it from cows, were insusceptible of the Smallpox.
himself being incapable of taking the Smallpox, having gone through the Cowpock
many years before.
From knowing many individuals who after the Cowpock could not have the Smallpox
From believing that the Cowpock was an affection free from danger; and from his
opinion that by the Cowpock Inoculation he should avoid engrafting various
diseases of the human constitution, such as "the Evil, madness, lues, and many
bad humours," as he called them.
In these reasons we have the
Cowpox doctrine as prevalent in Dorsetshire, which Jesty developed in family
practice. The report proceeds—
The remarkably vigorous health of Mr. Jesty, his
wife, and two sons, now 31 years subsequent to the Cowpock, and his own healthy
appearance, at this time 70 years of age, afford a singularly strong proof of
the harmlessness of that affection; but the public must, with particular
interest, hear that during the late visit to town, Mr. Robert Jesty submitted
publicly to inoculation for the Smallpox in the most rigorous manner; and that
Mr. Jesty also was subjected to the trial of inoculation for the Cowpock after
the most efficacious mode, without either of them being infected.
It is curious how evidence
conforms to prepossession. Dr. Pearson and his associates were persuaded that
as no one could have Smallpox twice, neither could any one have Cowpox twice.
Jesty had Cowpox when young, and when at three score they found him
insusceptible, they took it for granted that re-vaccination was impossible.
Robert Jesty, who had Cowpox thirty-one years before was at the same time
inoculated with Smallpox, and as that likewise failed to take, the experiment
enforced the desired conclusion.
Having turned out so well,
praise and portraiture were bestowed on Jesty—
The circumstances in which Mr. Jesty purposely
instituted the Vaccine Pock Inoculation in his own family, namely, without any
precedent, but merely from reasoning upon the nature of the affection among
cows, and from knowing its effects in the casual way among men, his exemption
from the prevailing popular prejudices, and his disregard of the clamorous
reproaches of his neighbours, will entitle him, in our opinion, to the respect
of the public for his superior strength of mind. Further, his conduct in again
furnishing such decisive proofs of the permanent anti-variolous efficacy of the
Cowpock, in the present  discontented state of mind in many families, by
submitting to Inoculation, justly claims at least the gratitude of the country.
a testimony of our personal regard, and to commemorate so extraordinary a fact
as that of preventing the Smallpox by inoculating for the Cowpock 31 years ago,
at our request, a three-quarter length picture of Mr. Jesty is painted by that
excellent artist, Mr. Sharp, to be preserved at the Original Vaccine Pock
Ev. A. BRANDE
Ph. De BRUYN
J. C. CARPUE,
6th September, 1805.
In the church-yard of Worth
Matravers, Dorset, there is a grave-stone with this inscription—
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
BENJAMIN JESTY, OF DOWNSHAY,
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
APRIL 16TH, 1816, AGED 79 YEARS.
He was born at Yetminster, in this County, and
was an upright honest man, particularly noted for having been the first person
known that introduced
THE COWPOX BY INOCULATION,
and who, from his great strength of mind, made
the experiment from the Cow on his Wife and two Sons in the year 1774.
Jesty is frequently played off
against Jenner, as having anticipated him, but under a misapprehension. Jesty
inoculated with Cowpox, sharing the dairymaids' faith that it prevented
Smallpox. Jenner knew that the dairymaids were wrong, and that Cowpox did not
avert Smallpox. What he recommended was Cowpox produced by Horsegrease.
Pearson and Woodville disregarded Jenner's recommendation and made use of Cowpox
like Jesty, which substitution Jenner did not resist; and not only did not
resist, but claimed as the fulfilment of his programme! Jenner should never be
suffered to get mixed up with Jesty, and the course of his procedure be thereby
I am explicit to iteration
because the truth is not recognised and may be accounted incredible. In another
way the facts may be thrown into relief if we inquire, How would Jenner have
fared had he applied for a patent? Suppose his several publications were
submitted to a patent-agent, In what manner could a tenable specification be
evolved from these materials?
1798.— The Inquiry
Prescribes Horsegrease Cowpox
1800.—Continuation of Observations.
Slackens off from Horse-grease Cowpox;
ascribes its efficacy to common repute; and recommends escharotics to
arrest its virulence
1801. Origin of Vaccine Inoculation
1802. Petition to Parliament
Claim of discovery and use of Cowpox,
previously condemned as spurious, and Horsegrease Cowpox dropped.
By no ingenuity could a valid
patent be got out of these documents. If Horsegrease Cowpox were selected as
the basis of claim, what of the repudiation of Cowpox? and if Cowpox, what of
Horsegrease Cowpox? And if Horse-grease Cowpox, what of the ascription of its
virtue to common repute? And if Cowpox, was not the committee of the House of
Commons in 1802 compelled to disallow Jenner's claim to the discovery, and to
define and limit his merit to the propagation of its virus from arm to arm? It
was, however, Pearson and Woodville who first propagated Cowpox from arm to arm:
Jenner's start being made with Horsegrease Cowpox. But allowing him so much
credit, it is nevertheless to be remembered that it was at that time a frequent
practice to inoculate with Smallpox from arm to arm; and the substitution of
Cow-pox for Smallpox was a trifle for which to pay £10,000 and dissolve in
ecstasies of admiration.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE POSITION IN 1802.
ONE of my medical readers
The House of Commons in 1802 was committed to a
variety of extravagances, but, allowing for these, you have to account for
certain evidence that Cowpox had some influence over Smallpox; for you surely do
not mean to contend that it had no influence over that disease, and that the
evidence before the Committee was a uniform tissue of illusion and delusion.
Put thus, it is as difficult
to deal with the objection as it is to prove a negative. It is not for me to
define the influence of cowpox over smallpox, but for those who believe in its
prophylaxy. I should argue that as ill-health leads to ill-health, and as
corruption breeds corruption, that inoculated cowpox would generate a habit of
body favourable to smallpox, and at the same time tend to excite and intensify
other forms of disease. I would also ask, What are the extravagances to be
allowed for? When these are determined we may then proceed to discuss what are
not extravagant. It is a common form of evasion to make a general confession of
guilt in order to avoid the pain of specific and explicit condemnation. It is
conceded that the House of Commons in 1802 "committed a variety of
extravagances," and under this appearance of candour the chief extravagance is
implicitly re-asserted and carried forward, namely, that inoculated cowpox had
an influence adverse to smallpox.
In the "variety of
extravagances," few, I suppose, would hesitate to include the asserted annual
smallpox mortality of the United Kingdom. Sir Gilbert Blane pronounced it
45,000, while Dr. Lettsom gave it as 36,000—a wide difference in the play of
fancy! Dr. Lettsom, who claimed to have paid much attention to figures
connected with smallpox, was pleased to convert an extreme London mortality,
namely, 3,000, into the ordinary mortality, although in some years it fell under
1000. Then estimating the population of London at one million, and the
population of the United Kingdom as twelve millions, he multiplied 3,000 by 12,
and evoked the astounding national death-rate of 36,000 annually from smallpox,
all of whom were to be saved by Jenner's prescription! But whether he had taken
the average or even the lowest metropolitan mortality, the computation would
have remained grossly fallacious. London overcrowded and pestiferous, was no
standard for the general population, urban or rural; and the assumption was
monstrous that smallpox, a notoriously sporadic disease, was constant and
equally diffused over the land. We are without comprehensive vital statistics
for the time in question, but arguing from the London of to-day in continual
connection with the provinces, to the London of 1802 in comparative isolation,
what do we find? Why, smallpox prevalent in London with little or no smallpox
in the country! In the Pall Mall Gazette of 31st May, 1878, we read—
The degree in which the Smallpox epidemic of the
last seven years has been localised in London is very remarkable. The Lancet
points out that during the week ending 25th May, 51 fatal cases were registered
in London and its suburban districts, whereas not one was recorded in any of the
nineteen large provincial towns having an aggregate population about equal to
that of London. Since the beginning of the year the fatal cases of Smallpox
within fifteen miles of Charing Cross have been 1,134, while but 8 have occurred
in the nineteen other large towns.
We find similar illustrations
of the sporadic character of smallpox wherever we can get at the facts. In 1874
there died in London 735 of smallpox, but not one in Birmingham; 386 in
Liverpool, but not one in Plymouth ; 347 in Salford, but not one in Nottingham ;
190 in Manchester, and but 1 in Sheffield; 24 in Bristol and 4 in Leeds; and so
on. What reason is there to believe that what is true of smallpox within our
own experience was otherwise in the experience of our forefathers?
I said that few would hesitate
to include Dr. Lettsom's 36,000 and Sir Gilbert Blane's 45,000 among the
extravagances of 1802, but I forgot myself. We have a National Health Society
with the Duke of Westminster for President and all manner of notables,
aristocratic, philanthropic, scientific, and literary, among its committee and
members. Now this Society issues a hand-bill of advices and warnings relating to
smallpox, approved too by the Local Government Board, and there we find set
forth as unquestionable matter of fact—
"Before the introduction of Vaccination Smallpox
killed 40,000 persons yearly in this country."
We thus see how hard it is for
a convenient fable to die, even when known to be false, and how respectable
people will keep repeating it as long as they fancy it is for good.
Absurd as was the extension of
the ratio of London smallpox to the populations of the United Kingdom, of
Europe, and of the world, the London disease itself afforded little warrant for
the extreme terms of horror and dismay with which it was described. Smallpox
did not increase the death-rate of London: when smallpox was most prevalent and
least prevalent, the total mortality was but slightly affected. As long as the
sanitary conditions of the great city remained unchanged, fevers replaced
smallpox and smallpox replaced fevers, and whether deaths were from one form of
disease or another, so that the people died the same, what did it matter?
Smallpox when most prevalent was never accountable for much more than 10 per
cent, of the total London mortality, and in some years for less than 3 per
cent.; and it is to be remembered that the larger portion of that mortality was
infantile mortality—smallpox being in the great majority of cases a disease of
the young ; none the less objectionable on that account, but less chargeable
than some other forms of zymotic disease with striking down the adult
bread-winner and enlarging misery and pauperism.
Again, in much of the talk
about smallpox, it was assumed that the disease had no limits—that it was
something like fire, and might spread to any extent if unchecked. But what was
there to justify such an assumption? Assuredly nothing in London experience.
Smallpox was always present in
London, waxing and waning under some unknown law; the deaths rising as high as
3,992 in 1772 and falling as low as 522 in 1797— the extremes of the century.
Why did 4,000 never die in any year, or 7,000, or 10,000? When a fire is
extinguished, we know it has met with a check; and if smallpox caused 3,992
deaths in 1772 and 522 in 1797, and smallpox be like fire, there was, we see, a
check ; and I ask, What was that check? There may be answers, but none for
unreserved acceptance. What is certain is, that in London smallpox was never an
illimitable affliction. It had limits, and it was only in the rhetoric of
alarmists that it had none.
And the check to the disease
(whatever it was) lay in the bodies of the citizens, and not in their
therapeutics, isolation was rarely attempted, and in their crowded habitations
was impracticable. Moreover they had not only the smallpox appropriate to their
evil conditions to contend with, but the disease as propagated and diffused by
the inoculators. What we have to say is, that whilst in the London of last
century we behold smallpox endemic and cultivated, yet in no year did the
mortality therefrom exceed 4,000; and further, that with so much to favour and
stimulate the disease it was a diminishing quantity. In the words of Dr. Farr—
London Smallpox attained its maximum mortality
after inoculation was introduced, and the disease began to grow less fatal
before vaccination was discovered.
We shall see as we proceed how
the natural check to smallpox (whatever it was), the immunity of the majority
from infection, and the decline of the disease were all claimed as the blessed
results of Jenner's prescription; and now-a-days it has passed into
common-place, for which evidence is thought superfluous, that without that
prescription smallpox might have illimitable extension. If anywhere a variolous
epidemic is slight, it is said that but for vaccination it would have been
severe; and if severe, that its intensity would have been doubled or trebled
save for the action of the same prophylactic.
We have a remarkable
illustration of this style of prophecy in the Report of the Select Committee of
the House of Commons upon the Vaccination Act of 1867, dated 23rd May, 1871,
where we read—
Smallpox unchecked by Vaccination, is one of the
most terrible and destructive of all diseases as regards the danger of
infection, the proportion of deaths among those attacked, and the permanent
injury to the survivors.
Your Committee believe that if Vaccination had
not been general, the epidemic [then prevalent] would have become a
pestilence, raging with the destructive force of the Plague of the middle ages.
What is beyond evidence is
beyond refutation; and the imaginations of M.P.'s, dull though they be, not
unfrequently prevail over their intelligence.
To set aside the mass of
testimony adduced by Jenner's friends before the Commons' Committee in 1802 is
sometimes described as a hopeless undertaking; but the answer to such a boast
is, that experience has nullified the essential part of that testimony, and that
there is little left to account for. No well-informed medical practitioner now
believes what the Committee was led to believe, that to be inoculated with
cowpox was to be secure from smallpox for life. The security, where still
credited, is subject to so many qualifications that the primitive inoculators
with cowpox would have thought such protection not worth paying for, still less
of exulting over as the greatest discovery ever made in medicine. Nor would
many now admit the validity of the Variolous Test which then carried conviction
with irresistible force. Inoculation with smallpox was in itself an uncertain
operation, and that it should fail after inoculation with cowpox, ere the
poisoning of the blood had been worked off, was in nowise surprising. The
exposure of vaccinated subjects to smallpox infection was in like manner
deceptive; and it was conveniently forgotten that all manner of people were
exposed to contagion with impunity in the usual circumstances of life. Taking a
year of exceptional smallpox in London, such as Dr. Lettsom set forth as
ordinary, when 18,000 were affected and 3,000 died (that is one in six), there
were in the million of inhabitants 982,000 who escaped. How did they escape? A
multitude must have come into immediate contact with the sick : How did they
remain unscathed? The question is simple, but it is crucial. If smallpox were
like fire, and men, women, and children like fuel, why did not all burn? Under
what prophylaxy did they abide secure? Again in this connection, we must not
lose sight of the magic of faith. Things being equal, two persons exposed to
smallpox, one confident that he was invulnerable through vaccination, and the
other apprehensive of danger, the chances are, that the fearful would be
attacked whilst the fearless would have his faith justified in immunity.
In considerations thus obvious
it is not difficult to understand how the testimony delivered to the Committee
had a semblance as of veracious Nature. Any one who has studied the history of
remedies, or the various quackeries within his own observation, will know how
easy it is to conjure up testimony, with asseverations presumptuous to question,
which by-and-by are gradually discredited and ultimately disappear in
forgetfulness. I have, therefore, no disposition to be hard on the men of
1802. From our vantage of experience we see how they were led astray, and
recognise the pressure of the influences under which they acted. Moreover a
remedy that bore the promise of relief from the pest of smallpox inoculation
came with strong seduction. What a pest that inoculation was, how it was
loathed, and how it was submitted to under the persuasion of duty are written at
large in the domestic memoirs of last century. Every mother among the upper and
middle classes was persuaded that it was necessary for her children to undergo
the variolous ordeal—an ordeal that involved the deliberate introduction of
smallpox into her household. It was hateful, it was intolerable, and yet it had
to be endured! The doctors minimised the risks to the uttermost, but what they
really believed plainly appeared when vaccination presented itself as an
Then smallpox inoculation was
denounced by its former practitioners with a fervour that contrasted painfully
with their antecedent professions; whilst parents heard with indescribable
satisfaction that absolute life-long security from smallpox was henceforward
insured at the price of a trifling operation attended by no peril whatever, and
with distinct benefit to health. To make the contrast clear I subjoin copy of a
hand-bill that was posted on walls and circulated by thousands in London and the
country at the time of which I write, 1801-2.
A TABLE SHEWING THE ADVANTAGES
OF VACCINE INOCULATION.
The Natural Smallpox
The Inoculated Smallpox.
The Inoculated Cowpock.
I. The natural Smallpox is a loathsome,
infectious, painful, and fatal disease. It is confined to no climate,
but rages in every quarter of the world, and destroys a tenth part of
I. The inoculated Smallpox also is
loathsome, infectious, painful, and sometimes fatal; and, when partially
adopted, spreads the contagion, and increases the mortality of the
I. The inoculated Cowpock scarcely
deserves the name of a disease. It is not infectious; and, in the
opinion of the most experienced practitioners has never proved fatal.
II. Those who survive the ravages of
that dreadful distemper, often survive only to be the victims of other
maladies, or to drag out a miserable existence worse than death.
II. It sometimes occasions the same
maladies as the natural Smallpox.
II. It occasions no other disease. On
the contrary, it has often been known to improve health, and to remedy
those diseases under which the patient before laboured.
III. This cruel and lamentable disorder
leaves behind it pits, scars, and other blemishes and bodily
deformities which embitter life.
III. It frequently leaves behind it the
same blemishes and deformities as the natural Smallpox, which are the
more deplorable as they are brought on by a voluntary act.
III. It leaves behind no blemish, but
a Blessing—one of the greatest ever bestowed on man—a perfect
security against the future infection of the Smallpox.
From this faithful statement of the advantages
attending VACCINE INOCULATION, it must appear evident to every unprejudiced
person, that it is the duty as well as the interest of every parent, of every
individual, and of every nation, to adopt the practice, and to hasten
THE EXTERMINATION OF THE SMALLPOX.
It was thus that Vaccination
was introduced to the English people, not by men accounted quacks, but by
leaders of the medical profession; and whatever the illusions and mischiefs of
the new practice, we must allow it the credit of discouraging and ultimately
superseding the grosser practice of inoculation with smallpox. As for the
various items in the bill, we have had, and shall have them before us, and I
would only now recall attention to the initial statement that "Smallpox destroys
a tenth part of mankind." The summary answer to the statement is that the
number of mankind was unknown, likewise their diseases, and the proportion in
which they were fatal. It was a repetition of Dr. Lettsom's unwarrantable
extension of a bad year of London smallpox to the whole earth. Even in an
occasional year when upwards of 3,000 died in London of smallpox, the total
average mortality was not seriously affected thereby. The deaths, as we have
observed, were merely taken out in smallpox instead of in some other form of
fever. That nothing can permanently reduce the death-rate of any community save
improved sanitary conditions and personal habits was unrevealed in 1802.
Notwithstanding the exultation
over Jenner, "the saviour of the world from smallpox," and over "the greatest
discovery since the creation of man," the suspicion is unavoidable that it was
largely factitious—"from the teeth outwards," as Carlyle would have said. The
vote of £10,000 to the miraculous benefactor of the human race was carried by a
majority of three in a Parliament to which no more than 115 members could be
whipped up, and neither Pitt or Fox thought it worth while to be present. Nor
was Jenner treated as if his asserted services to mankind were soberly
credited. "Yes," it may be said, "the world never recognises its true
benefactors;" but the observation does not apply, for Jenner was profusely
recognised, and received praise from his contemporaries which posterity
hesitates to repeat. Nevertheless the praise, though profuse, was little more
than verbal. Some expressed indignation at the paltry award of £10,000, and
proposed to start a national subscription, but no one took the initiative, and
the national gratitude was not put to the test. Even the £10,000 was paid
tardily. Writing to a friend on 3rd June, 1804, Jenner had to relate that—
The Treasury still withholds the payment of what
was voted to me two years ago; and now there are new officers, and it may yet be
very long before a guinea reaches me from that quarter.
When at last the money was
paid, nearly £1,000 was deducted for fees, etc.; and, having the repute of the
money, he was considered public property. As Dr. Baron records—
The people of England seemed to think that the
fee-simple of his body and mind had been purchased by the TEN THOUSAND POUNDS ;
and many an unjust and ungenerous intimation of this feeling was conveyed to
him. To a mind like his, this was no small annoyance. He was called upon for
explanations and opinions by every person who thought a direct communication
with the Author of Vaccination an honour worth seeking, while they might have
obtained all the information they wanted in his published writings.
So much was matter of course,
but Jenner had worse to encounter. He took the fine talk of his medical and
political friends au sérieux, bade farewell to Berkeley, and set up as
London physician in Hertford Street, May Fair. The result we have in his own
Elated and allured by the speech of the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, I took a house in London for ten years, at a high
rent, and furnished it; but my first year's practice convinced me of my own
temerity and imprudence, and the falsity of the Minister's prediction. My fees
fell off both in number and value ; for, extraordinary to tell, some of those
families in which I had been before employed, now sent to their own domestic
surgeons or apothecaries to inoculate their children, alleging that they could
not think of troubling Dr. Jenner about a thing executed so easily as vaccine
inoculation. Others, who gave me such fees as I thought myself entitled to at
the first inoculation, reduced them at the second, and sank them still lower at
His fees did not amount to
£350 a year, and he presently found himself nothing the better for the
parliamentary grant, and involved in grave financial difficulties. He wrote to
a friend, 2nd November, 1804—
The London smoke is apt to cloud our best
faculties. I do not intend to risk the injury of mine in this way, unless
occasionally for the transaction of business. The public has not the smallest
right to require such a sacrifice of me. I have received no reward for showing
them how to remove one of the greatest obstacles to human happiness; but, on the
contrary, am loaded with a tax of more than .£400 a year!
And to another correspondent—
I have now completely made up my mind respecting
London. I have done with it, and have again commenced as village doctor. I
found my purse not equal to the sinking of a £1,000 annually (which has actually
been the case for several successive years) nor the gratitude of the public
deserving such a sacrifice. How hard after what I have done, the toils I have
gone through, and the anxieties I have endured in obtaining for the world a
greater gift than man ever bestowed on the world before (excuse this burst
of egotism), to be thrown by with a bare remuneration of my expenses.
It was hard! People who
attributed to Jenner the greatest discovery ever made, the preservation of from
36,000 to 45,000 lives annually in the United Kingdom, and the salvation of the
human race from smallpox, were indeed entitled to have dealt with him more
handsomely. He had sympathisers and candid friends. "Your liberality and
disinterestedness every one must admire," wrote Mr. Benjamin Travers, "but you
are sadly deficient in worldly wisdom. If you had undertaken the extinction of
the smallpox yourself, with coadjutors of your own appointment, I am confident,
you might have put £100,000 in your pocket; and the glory would have been as
great and the benefit to the community the same." How that £100,000 was used to
tantalise him! and yet, as Dr. Pearson pointed out, never any one showed on what
practicable terms the immense sum could have been earned by means of cowpox.
THE ROYAL JENNERIAN SOCIETY.
JENNER, jealous of Pearson,
was anxious to supersede the Institution for the Inoculation of the Vaccine Pock
established by him in 1799; but Jenner was what Scots call "a feckless
creature," whose wishes rarely issue in fruit. After his success in Parliament,
he did not remain in London to improve his opportunities, but retreated to
domestic quiet at Berkeley and Cheltenham. His friends, however, were mindful
of him, and Dr. Hawes, Mr. Addington, surgeon, Benjamin Travers, and Joseph
Leaper met in Queen Street, City, 3rd December, 1802, and resolved to establish
a "JENNERIAN SOCIETY for the Extinction of the Small-Pox." Mr. Addington
transmitted the resolution of the meeting to Jenner, saying—
We look to your direction and assistance, and
feel very desirous of knowing when it is probable we may have the pleasure of
seeing you in town.
Joseph Fox of Lombard Street,
dentist and enthusiastic promoter of the new inoculation, also wrote to him, 4th
December, soliciting his co-operation—
The plan which is in agitation is of the most
extensive and liberal kind. It is even expected that the Royal countenance will
be gained; but much depends upon thee. All are looking toward thee as the
proper person to lay the foundation-stone. It would be well if this could be
done in the course of the present year, particularly as it is the memorable time
when the practice received parliamentary sanction.
But the ease-loving Jenner was
not to be drawn. He wrote to Mr. Addington from Berkeley, 10th December, 1802—
Your very obliging letter found me just returned
with my wife and children to our pleasant home, where I promised myself a few
weeks of domestic comfort after some years spent in constant anxieties.
This is the pull on one side. On the other is the delightful prospect held up to
my view of an Establishment for the promotion of Universal Vaccine
Inoculation—an establishment to which I have for years been looking forward with
a longing eye.
need not go farther into explanation, and shall only say, that if it be
incompatible with the generous design to suffer me to remain here for the time I
had allowed myself, I will certainly comply with the wishes of my friends and go
to town. Yet it must be observed that I humbly conceive and ardently hope that
my presence will not be absolutely necessary. I have written to my friend Dr.
Lettsom and requested him to have the kindness to be (as far as such a thing is
admissible) my representative. In his judgment on the present occasion I can
place every confidence.
The letter describes the man.
He did not like to be troubled—not even when action stood for the advancement of
his own glory. As Pearson observed, "If Vaccination had been left to Jenner, it
would never have come to anything." Benjamin Travers also wrote to him at the
same time urging the necessity of his presence in London, but he was put off
with similar excuses and with expectations of assistance from the public purse—
Government, I have no doubt, will give due
support to so just and laudable an undertaking. I am warranted in this
suggestion by a long conversation I had with Mr. Abbott, Speaker of the House of
Commons, who said that after the investigation of the Parliamentary Committee he
thought it became a public duty to form Institutions for Gratuitous Inoculation.
As Jenner was not to be had,
the promoters set to work without him, and their triumph was complete when at a
meeting in the London Tavern on 17th February, 1803, it was announced that his
Majesty had graciously condescended to become the patron of "THE EOYAL JENNERIAN
SOCIETY for the Extermination of the Smallpox:" that her Majesty had with great
benignity acquiesced in the request to become patroness : that his Royal
Highness the Prince of Wales and their Royal Highnesses the Duke of York, the
Duke of Clarence, and the Duke of Cumberland, had evinced, in a most flattering
manner, their willingness to accept the office of vice-patrons: that his Grace
the Duke of Bedford had consented to fill the office of president; and that many
prelates, noblemen, and gentlemen of the highest rank and respectability had
agreed to be vice-presidents of the Society.
The approval of the Prince of
Wales was conveyed in a letter of the Earl of Egremont, over which Baron,
Jenner's biographer (writing when the Prince had blossomed into George IV.),
bursts into worship in capitals, as follows—
The gracious and beneficent mind of the
Illustrious writer is displayed in every line ; and the whole is truly
characteristic of those great qualities which continue to add lustre to his
still more EXALTED STATION and shed so much of real glory on his REIGN.
Subscriptions flowed in
freely. The Corporation of London gave £500, the East India Company £100, the
Duke of Bedford £50, and guineas ten, five, two and one were contributed with a
liberality that attested the fervour of the common credulity. But it was much
easier to get money than to administer it with a nice adjustment of means to
ends. The Jennerians, too, were over-organised. There were a Medical Council
and a Board of Directors. The Medical Council consisted of twenty-five
Physicians and twenty-two Surgeons of the first eminence in London, with Jenner
for president and Lettsom for vice-president. Such mechanism could never work,
and at the point where real business was to be transacted, an officer was
selected of extraordinary character.
John Walker was born at
Cockermouth in 1759, and was a school-fellow of Woodville, subsequently
physician to the London Smallpox Hospital. After a rambling career as
blacksmith, engraver, and school-master, he turned his attention to medicine,
graduated at Leyden, associated with French revolutionists in the guise of a
member of the Society of Friends; then accompanied Dr. Marshall in a vaccinating
cruise to the Mediterranean, from whence, after a variety of adventures in war
and weather, he appeared in London in 1802, habited as a Quaker with a long
beard—an apparition in a clean shaven community. Joseph Fox, the dentist of
Lombard Street, gave him the use of a part of his house, and there, in his own
words, "I set up my VACCINIUM for the glorious cause." As soon as the Jennerian
Society was initiated, Walker was put forward by Joseph Fox and other Friends as
inoculator-in-chief, and Walker made application in the following terms —
To THE JENNERIAN SOCIETY.
Friends, — Perhaps there is not any individual
who has greater reason to be gratified with the interest ye are taking in the
Vacciole Inoculation than myself.
late years, the practice of it has been the chief business of my life, and I am
partly indebted, during some of the last months, to the zeal of individual
members of your Society for being enabled to continue it. They have sent
patients to me from remote and distant parts of this extensive City, when, for
want of notoriety, I might otherwise have been unemployed.
I offer to you my services in this way: during the infancy of your Institution,
you cannot do me a greater pleasure than to increase my number of patients ; for
where I now vacciolate tens, I could easily do the same for hundreds.
After this declaration, I hope you will consider the present address as neither
unseasonable nor intrusive, but rather as a mark of unwavering zeal in the happy
cause in which ye are now embarking.
54 Lombard Street, 29. xii.,
When the day of election
arrived, four, out of many, were selected as candidates, one of them being Dr.
Domeier, a German, strongly recommended by the Queen and Prince of Wales; but
the Friends stood by their man, and Dr. Walker was appointed Resident Inoculator
at the Central House of the Society in Salisbury Square with a salary of £200 a
year, coal and candles, and liberty to take fees for private "vacciolation."
The promoters of the Society,
operating under the prestige of Jenner's name, resolved to hold their annual
festival on his birthday, the 17th of May; and at the first dinner in 1803 he
was subjected to flatteries enough to turn any man's head who does not know the
reckless insincerity that prevails on such occasions. It was the adulation
connected with the formation of this Society that as much as anything induced
Jenner to set up as west-end physician. The attempt of the middle-aged country
doctor was the occasion of much grim humour, and his consequent embarrassments
were the concern of his friends for many a day. Apart from the inherent
difficulties of the enterprise (social rather than medical) Jenner was
constitutionally deficient in method and assiduity. Wrapped up in his wife and
family, business was always set aside when they claimed his affectionate regard;
and to leave London for Gloucestershire for some domestic cause was in his eyes
procedure that required no defence—all which might be amiable, but it constantly
annoyed and frustrated his associates; and it is not thus encumbered that any
man can expect to make way in the world. When the anniversary in 1804 came
round, Jenner was at Berkeley, and when pressed to attend he wrote—
Though a post-chaise might bring up my body, my
mind would he left behind. One cause of my absence, among many others, is the
sad state of Mrs. Jenner's health. I cannot leave her even for a day with any
comfort to my feelings. My friends, who honour the glorious cause of
Vaccination by assembling on the 17th, will, I trust, admit my apology. It is
my intention to collect a few staunch Vaccinists on that day at my cottage. I
shall give them some roast beef, not forgetting a horn or two of good October.
We shall close the day with bumpers of milk-punch to the health of the Friends
of Humanity at the Crown and Anchor; and if it were not for the indisposition of
my poor wife, we should roar like bulls.
If Jenner was idle and
self-indulgent, Walker was the reverse. He was a fine specimen of the GENUS,
Fanatic. Possessed with a lust for what he called Vacciolation, he had a
brow of brass, nerves of steel, and habits like clockwork. Thirteen stations
were opened in London where cowpox was inoculated gratis, and in eighteen months
Walker was able to announce that 12,288 patients had been operated on, and that
19,352 charges of virus had been dispatched to the country and foreign parts;
whereon Baron observes—
The effect of these exertions was immediately
perceived by a striking diminution of the number of deaths from smallpox within
the Bills of Mortality. In 1803 they amounted to 1,173; in 1804 they were only
622. The contrast will appear still greater when it is considered that the
deaths amounted to 2,409 in the year 1800; and that the annual average of deaths
for fifty years previously was 2018.1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, Vol. i. p.
The passage is noteworthy as
representative of many similar passages in the literature of Vaccination. It
might be described as dishonest, but the craft is so transparent that the
epithet would be extravagant. The probable explanation is that Vaccination had
come to be regarded as so unquestionably beneficial that anything might
be asserted in its favour, and that anything was true. Else a child
might have asked how 12,000 or 24,000 vaccinations could by any possibility
affect an immediate diminution in the deaths from smallpox in a population of
eight or nine hundred thousand. Baron would also lead his readers to suppose
that the low mortality of 1804, namely 622, was unexampled, though with the
Bills of Mortality before him, he might have seen that the deaths in 1797 fell
to 522; and he knew that the low figure of 1804 was not maintained, but rose to
1685 in 1805. But as remarked, any statement, if only it be favourable
to Vaccination, is expected to pass muster as veracious, and the public
credulity justifies the expectation.
Let us look at the London
Bills for ourselves, taking the last ten years of the 18th and the first ten
years of the 19th Centuries, and try to discover what they teach.
Burials from all Diseases.
It is to be observed, that we
have not here the record of the deaths in the whole of London, but merely the
number of intramural interments, which diminished as a number of graveyards
became gorged beyond capacity of decomposition and assimilation, and relief was
sought in the cemeteries of extra-mural parishes, such as St. Pancras and
Marylebone. It is only thus that the diminishing number of burials (which
ranged from 25,000 to 80,000 during many years of the 18th Century) is to be
accounted for. In this light we have to consider the following table, where we
note fewer burials, less smallpox, less fevers, but more measles.
Burials from all Diseases.
From whatever cause there was
an abatement of smallpox, but it was a continuous abatement which had set in
before Jenner was heard of; and at the same time we must repeat that at this day
(when all swear by the unity of Nature and the correlation and convertibility of
her forces) it is grossly unscientific to pick out smallpox from the zymotic
diseases and deal with it as an independent entity. It is a fever among fevers,
bred and propagated in the same conditions, and can never be studied apart from
its associates without serious misunderstanding.
These Bills of Mortality, as
compared with the more accurate statistics of our own time, are of little value;
but, such as they are, they are constantly referred to, and their items used, as
by Baron, as pretexts for most unwarrantable assertions. Any influence of
Vaccination on the smallpox mortality of 1801-10 was practically nothing.
Vaccination was limited to a few thousands, and those chiefly of the classes
least subject to the disease. The great seething mass of metropolitan squalor,
in which smallpox and typhus were endemic, was untouched by the vaccine lancet.
If the new practice did good, it was in discrediting and discouraging the
culture of smallpox in variolous inoculation.
To return to the ROYAL
JENNERIAN SOCIETY. Its halcyon-days were of brief duration. Enthusiasm abated,
subscriptions fell off, cases of smallpox after vaccination came to be heard of,
and serious illness and death consequent upon "the benign and harmless
operation." Opponents waxed bold and could not be silenced. Then jealousies
and dissensions began to operate within the Society. The financial secretary
strove with the medical secretary. Dr. Walker's habits and eccentricities,
viewed at first with amusement, excited irritation and disgust, whilst Jenner's
easy-going mode of life and impecuniosity were a source of scandal and
distrust. The climax was reached in 1806 when Jenner and Walker were set openly
at loggerheads, and a fight to the death ensued.
Walker, it is to be said,
never treated Jenner with respect. Like Pearson he took stock of his merits,
and did not rate them highly, and would not listen to his dictation.
"Vaccination," he used to observe, "is extremely simple as to facts, while, as
to causes, it is entirely out of the reach of medical men with all their
theories." Jenner, as president of the Medical Council, thought he had a right
to be obeyed, but Walker was the last man in the world to yield obedience when
he had formed an opposite conviction—
Jenner [writes Baron] considered it his duty to
admonish him, and repeatedly represented to him, in the most friendly manner,
the mischievous tendency of his innovations. These remonstrances were
unavailing, and he ceased to have any communication with Dr. Walker after the
summer of 1805 ; submitting rather to lament in silence the fate of the Society
than come before it as a public accuser.
Of course such forbearance
could not last long, and instructions, issued by Walker to the Nottingham
Vaccine Institution in March, 1806, were made the occasion of an open rupture.
Jenner brought Walker's conduct under the consideration of the Medical Council,
and secured his condemnation. The question was then referred to the General
Court of the Society on the 25th of July, when a motion that Walker be dismissed
from his office was negatived by a majority of three, Walker being supported by
Sir Joseph Banks and Jenner by Dr. Sims. But the victory was not satisfactory
to Walker, and on the 8th of August he put an end to the strife by sending in
Baron's solemn account of the
contest must appal every ingenuous reader. Jenner, it is written, regarded
Walker's proceedings as of "the most dangerous character," as "placing in peril
the safety of the practice," and "as likely to wreck the Society"; so that had
he not retired Jenner would have been compelled to withdraw his countenance from
Salisbury Square. As we read we exclaim, Whatever did the dreadful Doctor do?
Here is Baron's answer—
It is unnecessary to mention the specific
instances of misconduct which were established. They regarded even the very
name of the affection; the method of managing the pustules ; the characters of
correct vaccination ; the precautions to be observed in conducting the practice,
Moore states the offence
Walker's method of taking lymph was to cut open
the vesicles, and to wipe out the contents with lint, in order to procure the
fresh secretion. This harsh treatment of infants was the reverse of that which
he was directed to employ; and as he was unalterable in his resolution, it was
at length deemed necessary to remove him.1
Turning to the Life of
Walker, by Dr. Epps, we have the difference 'twixt Tweedledum and Tweedledee
still further illustrated—
Two different modes have been adopted in taking
the matter of inoculation from the vaccinated subject: one, by making punctures
round the outer part of the pock, Dr. Jenner's mode; the other, by removing the
crust or scab from the centre of the pock, wiping out the fluid beneath it, and
then taking the matter, indiscriminately, from any part of the whole substance
of the pock, Dr. Walker's mode.2
1. History and Practice of Vaccination,
p. 212. By James Moore. London, 1817.
2. Life of John Walker, M.D., p. 88. By John Epps, M.D. Lond., 1831.
As in brawls and wars
generally, the ostensible offence is rarely the true or entire offence, so when
we revert to the events of 1805-6 we discover that Vaccination was being found
out, and that Walker served Jenner's purpose opportunely as scape-goat.
Walker's behaviour, too, constituted him a convenient victim. Many who cared
nothing for his mode of "taking lymph " had been hurt by his scorn of their
self-importance, and were ready to assist Jenner in effecting his humiliation.
Mr. Cline, the surgeon, after listening to many speeches against Walker, summed
up the indictment, "All they complain of are his dress and address."
A naval officer, meeting Walker on 25th July, said, "I came to town to-day to
hold up my hand in your support. You and Jenner do not agree over some trifles,
and your enemies wish to turn the fact to your hurt, but they have been beaten.
Is the man who launches a vessel the only one who can navigate her ? If Jenner
were to live for fifty years to come, he could never have the authority of your
Jenner's victory over Walker
was utterly disastrous: it destroyed the Royal Jennerian Society. The
substantial supporters of the Society were the adherents of Walker, and with him
they seceded, secured another house in Salisbury Square, and established THE
LONDON VACCINE INSTITUTION with Walker for manager. The remnant of the
Jennerian Society appointed James Sheridan Knowles, a young Irish surgeon, as
Walker's successor, and for distinction purchased him the degree of M.D. from
St. Andrews. He had the suavity that Walker disdained, and little else beside.
He neglected his duties, and soon the traffic in the "benign fluid " was
transferred to the new establishment. Ultimately the lease, fixtures, and
furniture of the Jennerian house were disposed of, and a retreat effected to
humbler offices, until in 1813 what remained of the Society was incorporated in
Walker obtained much
assistance from members of the Society of Friends, and the fact affords Moore
(Jenner's apologist) occasion for certain sneers. He describes the meetings in
Salisbury Square as—
Shaded with the Quakers' broad-brimmed hats; for
their schismatic assiduity was most conspicuous, though their primitive meekness
was indiscernible. In support of their friend, they argued slyly, wrangled
tumultuously, and voted almost unanimously. Yet, in spite of this contentious
pertinacity, the turbulent Quaker, on the motion of Dr. Jenner, was dismissed
from his office, and peace was restored.
Dismissed he was not, and the
peace that ensued on his resignation was destruction. The success of Walker's
Institution (necessarily dependent on subscriptions) he accounts for by an
anecdote like this—
A noble Duke informed me that on a sultry day a
steaming, squab, broad-faced man, in a Quaker's garb, with his hat on his head,
entered his room, saying, "Friend, I am come on a charitable mission to request
thy mite." The Duke, amused with the oddness of the salutation, desired him to
be seated, and to explain his business. The Quaker wilily suppressed all
mention of disputes in the Jennerian Society, and of the dismissal of Dr.
Walker, which were the real causes for soliciting this subscription; and
enlarged tediously on the utility of vaccination, and by awkward encomiums on
Dr. Jenner, led the Duke to believe that the subscription was solicited for a
Society approved by him. This cunning harangue drew forth the Duke's purse,
which the Quaker spying, unrolled his list, and added his Grace's name as a
decoy for others; and saying, "Friend, fare thee well," strutted out with an
uncouth gait and an air of uprightness. By such artifices a large subscription
was raised from those who prefer paying to inquiry; and in the meantime the
Jennerian Society diminished in numbers, and, undermined by calumnies, declined
to its downfall.1
1. History and Practice of Vaccination,
It is not to be imagined,
however, that the collapse of the Royal Jennerian Society disposed of Jenner and
his party. There was Jenner to provide for: he could not with decency be
forsaken: and there was a stock of vaccine virus to be kept up, for which pride
forbade dependence on Walker's dispensary. It was in vain to appeal afresh to a
benevolent public, whose confidence had gone elsewhere, and whose suspicions
were excited. It was therefore determined to resort to Government for help.
The political influence of the Jennerian party was considerable, and we shall
see to what purpose it was exerted.
A new practice wants a new
name, and it was some time before one was found for Inoculation with Cowpox.
Dr. Walker made use of Vacciolation and to Vacciolate in 1802; but it was
Richard Dunning, surgeon, of Plymouth, who introduced Vaccination and to
Vaccinate, Jenner writing to Dunning, 2nd April, 1804, observed—
The useful terms Vaccination and to Vaccinate,
are undoubtedly yours, and as such I pronounced them at a meeting of the Royal
Jennerian Society, when an M. D. present mentioned them as imported from the
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. ii., p.
Vaccination is not as yet a
term accepted everywhere. Among the uneducated we hear of being "cut for the
cowpock," or simply of being "cut."
Whilst Vaccination was a
useful word, it was, and is, often misapplied. Jenner's prescription of
Horsegrease Cowpox was Equination rather than Vaccination; and when virus from
the horse was employed neat, Equination was the accurate designation without
question. Again, when virus was generated from Small-pox on heifers, the
subsequent inoculation of the human subject was not Vaccination but Variolation,
or at least Variolous Vaccination. The virus in public use at this day derived
from Horsegrease Cowpox, Cowpox, Horsepox, Smallpox, Smallpox Cowpox, etc.,
etc., inoculated from arm-to-arm, in series prolonged and unsearchable, is
called Vaccination ; but it is Vaccination in faith or fancy, evidence to
anything but uncertainty being unattainable.
APPLICATION TO PARLIAMENT FOR JENNER'S RELIEF, 1806.
BARON relates an instance of
Jenner's personal shyness and the mental torture he endured in prospect of a
festival of the Royal Jennerian Society in which he was expected to take part.
Speaking to Baron he said—
I can compare my feelings to those of no one but
Cowper, the poet, when his intellect at last gave way to his fears about the
execution of his office in the House of Lords. It was reading Cowper's Life, I
believe, that saved my own senses by putting me fully in view of my danger. For
many weeks before the meeting I began to be agitated, and, as it approached, I
was actually deprived both of appetite and sleep; and when the day came, I was
obliged to deaden my sensibility and gain courage by brandy and opium. The
meeting was at length interrupted by a dissolution of Parliament, which sent the
leading people to the country; and what was at first merely postponed was
ultimately abandoned to my no small delight and satisfaction.1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. ii. p.
Something of this timidity was
no doubt due to his consciousness of playing a deceitful part, and to the
appropriation of honour and reward to which he had no just claim. Like many shy
men, Jenner could be insolent with pen and ink—it was face to face courage to
which he was unequal; and this timidity, with other reasons, accounted for his
failure as a London physician—as "the Cowpox Doctor," as he was commonly
described. Those whose encouragement had helped to lead him to disaster, those
who were pleased to believe that he had taught mankind how to escape from
smallpox, and several of his professional brethren, were all concerned to help
him out of his difficulties, and, if possible, at the public expense. The
Duchess of Devonshire wrote to Mr. Angerstein—
I had not forgot your kind interest about
Jenner. I spoke to the Duke, the Prince, and Morpeth, and they will all do what
you think best; but Morpeth has undertaken to make inquiries whether it is not
possible to bring his case again before Parliament. He thinks if that could be
done, it would be more satisfactory than any subscription. I desired him to
find out how Pitt was really inclined in the matter, and I only waited
the result of these inquiries to write to you.
At the same time Jenner
himself was not inactive, and managed to advance his own interest effectually.
He came to London, 10th May, 1805, and at once saw Lord Egremont, and enlarged
upon the losses he had incurred in the public service; the result being a
determination to appeal afresh to the liberality of the House of Commons.
Moreover he succeeded in winning over the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the
manner he thus describes—
During my residence in town in the summer of
1805, Lady Crewe happened in conversation to tell me how much Lord Henry Petty
wished for a conference with me on the vaccine subject; and that she would like
to bring us together. We met at her villa at Hampstead, and went so fully into
the matter that his Lordship, convinced of the injury I had sustained, expressed
his determination to bring something forward in the ensuing session. Before the
session arrived Mr. Pitt died, and Lord Henry Petty became Chancellor of the
Exchequer. In the early part of 1806, I again saw his Lordship, and found that
his ardour in my cause had suffered no abatement. This was soon after proved by
his Lordship's motion in the House.1
1. Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. ii. p.
Lord Henry brought Jenner's
case before the Commons on the 2nd of July, and recited the fabulous matter
communicated to him with the force of personal conviction. Vaccination was a
preventive of smallpox, that loathsome disease which spreads death throughout
the world. It was in 1777 that Jenner obtained some obscure knowledge of the
peculiar virtue of Vaccine; and from that period he meditated profoundly on the
subject, accumulated information, and instituted cautious and decisive
experiments. At length he perfected his discovery, and published it for the
benefit of mankind. Lord Henry then proceeded to relate the triumphs of
Vaccination, not only throughout Europe, but China and India! Wherever the
practice was introduced, there smallpox diminished and vanished. There was
Vienna, for instance, where the average mortality from smallpox was 835
annually. Vaccination was commenced in 1789, and the mortality dropped in 1802
to 61, in 1803 to 27, and in 1804 to 2. Thus in Vienna there was an annual
salvation of 833 human beings. This undoubted fact had made a deep impression
on his mind [as well it might!] But, alas! what was doing so much good abroad
was neglected and distrusted at home. In the City of London the deaths from
smallpox had been on an average 1,811 annually, and this mortality had been
gradually reduced by Vaccination to 629. Through the diffusion of the disease
by variolous inoculation, the deaths last year (1805) had been raised from 629
to 1685. This dreadful destruction of life, especially shocking when a certain
preventive existed, demanded their most serious attention, and in the situation
he felt bound to propose a plan to bring forward a mass of evidence, to elicit
the truth, and enlighten the public. He would therefore move—
That an humble Address be presented to His
Majesty, praying that he will be graciously pleased to direct His Royal College
of Physicians to inquire into the state of Vaccine Inoculation in the United
Kingdom, and to report their opinion as to the progress it has made, and the
causes which have retarded its general adoption.
Should this report from the
Physicians corroborate the favourable opinion of Vaccination entertained by
foreign nations, it must greatly tend to subdue those prejudices against the
practice which have been fomented here. And in that case, the House may
consider whether the ingenious Discoverer has been remunerated conformably to
the liberal spirit and character of this country.
Dr. MATHEWS seconded the
motion, and contrasted the safety of the vaccine with the dangers of variolous
inoculation. He had no doubt the country would hasten to testify still further
its gratitude to the learned physician to whom they owed this inestimable
Mr. WILBERFOKCE did not
approve of the reference to the College of Physicians. He would have preferred
an investigation by a committee of the House, and another committee of the House
of Lords. The opinions of such unbiased persons would he more congenial to the
feelings of the people, and far more satisfactory than any medical report from
the College of Physicians. The latter might be suspected of being influenced by
professional motives, whereas a report from the Lords and Commons would be
universally received as proceeding from a pure desire to promote the general
good. It did not surprise him that Vaccination had made less progress at home
than abroad. The resistance was due to that curious principle in the human mind
which accepts what comes from afar with admiration whilst what is familiar is
neglected and despised. The remedy would be found in diffusing information as
to the complete success of Vaccination in foreign countries. They would thus
disperse those absurd prejudices which are engendered and fostered by certain
selfish and interested individuals.
Mr. WINDHAM did not concur in
the advice of Mr. Wilberforce to refer the matter to a parliamentary committee.
It was a question for medical men. To a committee of the House the adage might
be applied, Ne sutor ultra, crepidam. Let them enforce with their
approval the report of the physicians, and then let them proceed to remunerate
that meritorious individual to whom society owed the utmost gratitude. He could
not help thinking he had not yet received what was due for the expense and
trouble the discovery had cost him.
Mr. BANKS was of a sceptical
turn. He wished the motion had been made earlier in the session, for then he
should have supported the suggestion of Mr. Wilberforce. They wished to know
whether Vaccination really did afford reasonable security from smallpox. It was
not a question for medical men for which the House was incompetent. They were as
capable of determining the point, and setting it clearly before the public, as
the most learned body that ever existed. He wished too, since the motion would
be carried, that the Royal College of Surgeons might be united with the
Physicians in the production of the report. As for Dr. Jenner, if Vaccination
were as efficacious as asserted, he might be left to find his reward in its
Lord HENRY PETTY in summing up
the debate expressed his satisfaction with the general approval extended to his
motion. He did not think the House competent to form a judgment on
Vaccination. They could not decide whether cowpox was genuine or spurious, or
whether the affection resulting from its inoculation was regular or otherwise;
nor could they determine whether eruptions that might break out after
Vaccination were induced by the operation, or were due to other causes. Such
delicate questions could only be solved by medical men. As for the proposal to
annex the Royal College of Surgeons to that of the Physicians, it was
superfluous. The College of Physicians would not only consult the Surgeons, but
the Medical Colleges of Scotland and Ireland likewise. If the report should
prove favourable, it would then be his duty to propose that remuneration be
awarded to Dr. Jenner for his inestimable discovery.
The motion was then put from
the Chair and agreed to unanimously.
It is needless to remark that
the report of the College of Physicians was a mere formality toward a vote of
credit for Jenner's relief. He lay heavy on many hands, and none were more
anxious to be relieved from the pressure than certain influential members of the
College whose report was solicited. The operation was skilfully planned for the
end designed, and Lord Henry Petty allowed himself to be primed and applied with
singular facility: but public men have often to deliver as of themselves what is
communicated by others, and to stand responsible for absurdities of which they
REPORT OF THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS.
THE Report of the Physicians
appeared on the 10th April, 1807, a verbose document, wherein assertion and
conjecture were awkwardly intermingled. As to the extension of the practice, it
During eight years which have elapsed since Dr.
Jenner made his discovery public, the progress of Vaccination has been rapid,
not only in all parts of the United Kingdom, but in every quarter of the
civilised world. In the British Islands some hundred thousands have been
vaccinated; in our possessions in the East Indies upwards of 800,000, and among
the nations of Europe the practice has become general.
Professional men have submitted it to the
fairest trials, and the public for the most part have received it without
prejudice. The testimony in its favour has been most strong and satisfactory,
and the practice of it, though it has received a check in some quarters, appears
to be upon the increase in most parts of the United Kingdom.
From the Report it appeared
that the opposition to Vaccination proceeded from the Inoculators; and the
document may be described as a charge against the old practice as much as a
positive defence of the new—
However beneficial the inoculation of the
Smallpox may have been to individuals, it appears to have kept up a constant
source of contagion, which has been the means of increasing the number of deaths
by what is called the natural disease. It cannot be doubted that this mischief
has been extended by the inconsiderate manner in which great numbers of persons,
even since the introduction of Vaccination, are every year inoculated with
Smallpox, and afterwards required to attend two or three times a-week at the
place of inoculation, through every stage of their illness.
Some Inoculators asserted that
Vaccination produced "new, unheard-of, and monstrous diseases," and made use of
pictures to excite terror and disgust—
Publications with such representations have been
widely circulated, and though they originated either in gross ignorance, or
wilful misrepresentation, yet have they lessened the confidence of many,
particularly of the lower classes, in Vaccination.
Whatever the character of
Vaccination—had the claim made in its favour been a true claim, still the chief
resistance to its practice would have consisted in the common apathy—
The lower orders of society can hardly be
induced to adopt precautions against evils which may be at a distance; nor can
it be expected from them, if these precautions be attended with expense.
Unless, therefore, from the immediate dread of epidemic Smallpox, neither
Vaccination or Inoculation appears at any time to have been general, and when
the cause of terror has passed by the public have relapsed into indifference.
It is not easy to suggest a remedy for an evil so deeply implanted in human
The suggestion was, however,
made that Vaccination should be offered gratis, but at the same time it was the
opinion of the College that until Variolous Inoculation was superseded or
prohibited, "it would be impossible to prevent the constant recurrence of
The recommendation of
Vaccination gratis provoked the wrath of Dr. Moseley—
Gratis! [he exclaimed]: Why, every person knows
that for years past in almost every street of London, signs or boards on the
sides of houses, or on Methodists' shops, or in apothecaries' windows, have
invited the ignorant multitude to gratuitous Vaccination. I have seen as many
gratis Cowpox hand-bills, gratis puffs, gratis pathetic sermons and addresses,
and gratis station advertisements as would load an ox. What does the College
think of the mountebank Jennerian placard, dispersed on walls and alleys, and
among all the blackguard public houses in town and country, and hung up in the
shop or parlour of every Cowpoxer in England with Their Majesties' Names and
those of Their August Family audaciously emblazoned upon it ? 1
1. Review of Report on Vaccination. 1808.
By Benjamin Moseley. London.
The Report of the College is
interesting as a historic confession and a mark of progress. The physicians who
drew it up were the same men who in 1800 professed their unlimited confidence in
Vaccination, whilst as yet they knew little about it, proclaiming in the
newspapers that they considered it their duty to declare—
That those persons who have had the Cowpox are
perfectly secure from the future infection of the Smallpox.
From a profession so
unqualified an absolute retraction was not to be expected; but experience had
begotten caution, and it is instructive to remark with what qualifications the
retreat from the original position was attempted. Thus—
The security derived from Vaccination if not
absolutely perfect is as nearly so as can perhaps be expected from any
human. discovery ; for among several hundred thousand cases, with the results of
which the College has been made acquainted, the number of alleged failures
has been surprisingly small, so much so as to form no reasonable objection
to the general adoption of Vaccination.
The Report was not the
deliverance of men possessed with the confidence of 1800: throughout there was
manifest the failing conviction which evades responsibility and seeks for
confirmation from sources external to itself. After a reference to the
Variolous Test, the Report ran on—
It appears from numerous observations
communicated to the College, that those who have been vaccinated are secure from
the contagion of epidemic Smallpox. Towns and districts of country in which
Vaccination had been general, have afterwards had Smallpox prevalent on all
sides of them without suffering from the contagion. There are also in the
evidence a few examples of epidemic Smallpox having been subdued by a general
The liability to confound
coincidence with cause was not unknown in 1807, and might have been suggested as
a possible explanation of the cessation of a variolous epidemic
contemporaneously with Vaccination; although at the present day Vaccination,
when Smallpox is epidemic, is known to do little else than invite and extend the
How the general (that was to
say partial) Vaccination of certain towns and country districts secured
universal exemption from Smallpox, the Physicians failed to explain.
Extraordinary tales of Vicarious Vaccination were current and piously received.
If a fraction of an urban or rural community happened to be vaccinated (usually
a fraction least likely to be troubled with Smallpox in any event) and Smallpox
did not break out, or did not widely prevail, the salvation of the community was
ascribed to the Vicarious Vaccination. The phenomenon has, strange to say,
escaped the attention of theologians, although medical men constantly attest its
Ruefully was it conceded that
Vaccination was not an absolute preservative from Smallpox, but the pain of
concession was softened with the plea of mitigation—
In almost every case where Smallpox has
succeeded Vaccination, the disease has varied much from its ordinary course; it
has neither been the same in violence, nor in the duration of its symptoms, but
has, with very few exceptions, been remarkably mild, as if the Smallpox
had been deprived, by the previous vaccine disease, of all its usual malignity.
It goes without saying, that
such a statement was quackish romance. How could a physician know that any case
of Smallpox had been made milder by Vaccination ? for how could he know how
severe the disease would have been without Vaccination ? Any ground of
comparison was wanting. Smallpox is an eruptive fever of wide degrees of
intensity—slight as to be a trivial ailment, severe as to be inevitably fatal.
"So true," wrote Dr. Wagstaffe in 1722, " is that common observation, that there
is one sort in which a nurse cannot kill, and another which even a physician
cannot cure." Yet every case of mild Smallpox after Cowpox came into fashion
was placed to the credit of Vaccination!
Some writers [the Report continues] have greatly
undervalued the security Vaccination affords, while others have considered it to
be of a temporary nature only; but if any reliance is to be placed on the
statements laid before the College, its power of protecting the human body from
Smallpox, though not perfect indeed, is abundantly sufficient to recommend it to
the prudent and dispassionate. The opinion that Vaccination affords but a
temporary security is supported by no analogy in Nature, nor by the facts which
have hitherto occurred.
The analogy of Nature was a
treacherous support, whilst the Physicians did not foresee the time when their
successors would plead the fact of the temporary security of Vaccination as a
reason for systematic Re-Vaccination.
It is not difficult to discern
between the lines of the Report a spirit of doubt and hesitation. Those who
framed it had gone too far to turn back; there was Jenner on their hands; and a
public ready to hoot if there was any open apostasy. The outlook at home was
not encouraging, but there was the Continent, yea more, the wide world itself
wherein to cover the reproach of failure—
They could not be insensible [said the
Physicians] to the confirmation they receive not only from the introduction of
Vaccination into every part of Europe, but throughout the vast Continents of
Asia and America.
The vast Continents of Asia
and America! A fine phrase—a very fine phrase, with more comfort in it than
scoffers might imagine.
In the Report we detect one
good service, namely, the explosion of Jenner's fiction about Spurious Cowpox.
When Vaccination was first brought forward, cases were adduced of Smallpox after
Cowpox. Jenner at once asserted that the Cowpox in such instances must have
been spurious, for Smallpox after genuine Cowpox was impossible; and Spurious
Cowpox was thenceforward freely used to baffle inquirers and to account for
failures. Spurious Cowpox served the ends of the Vaccinators magnificently, but
by and by it began to have awkward consequences. Genuine Cowpox was said to be
harmless —it was the Spurious that was ineffective or worked mischief; and the
Inoculators plied the terror of Spurious Pox against Vaccination. It therefore
became necessary to clear Spurious Cowpox out of the way, and Jenner, before the
College of Physicians, pressed upon the point, "owned up," as Americans say, and
authorised the following explanation—
Some deviations from the usual course have
occasionally occurred in Vaccination, which the Author of the practice has
called Spurious Cowpox, by which the public have been misled, as if there
were a true and a false Cowpox; but it appears that nothing more was meant
than to express irregularity or difference from that common form and progress of
the vaccine pustule from which its efficacy is inferred.
Mark! Here was a third
definition of Spurious Cow-pox by Jenner.
First, in the
Inquiry of 1798, he described Spurious Cowpox as eruptions on the cow
underived from horse-grease, producing no erysipelas when inoculated on the
human subject, and without effect against Smallpox. True Cowpox was generated
from horsegrease, and from horsegrease only.
Second, in the Origin
of the Vaccine Inoculation of 1801 all reference to horsegrease was
dropped for commercial reasons, whilst the existence of Spurious Cowpox was
reasserted "as some varieties of spontaneous eruptions upon the cow."
Third, before the
Physicians in 1807, he removed the spurious disease from the cow altogether,
saying, nothing more was meant by Spurious Cowpox than variations in the form
and progress of vaccine pustules on the arms of the vaccinated !
In short, to vary the phrase
of Betsy Prig, "There never was no Spurious Cowpox." Slippery, very slippery,
was the immortal Jenner.
With the report of the Royal
College of Physicians were delivered reports from the London College of
Surgeons, and from the Edinburgh and Dublin Colleges of Physicians and of
The report from the London
College of Surgeons was considered most unsatisfactory, and could its tenor have
been foreseen, the Jennerians might never have asked for it. 1,100 circulars
were dispatched on 15th December, 1806, to all the members of the College whose
addresses were known in the United Kingdom, submitting the following questions—
1st. How many persons have you vaccinated ?
2nd. Have any of your patients had Smallpox
after Vaccination ?
3rd. Have any bad effects occurred in your
experience in consequence of Vaccination ? and if so, what are they ?
4th. Is the practice of Vaccination increasing
or decreasing in your neighbourhood ? if decreasing, to what cause do you impute
To the 1,100 circulars only
426 replies were received.
Why nearly two-thirds of the
members kept silent when at the outset they were converted in multitude to
Vaccination, was left unexplained. The replies were thus summarised by the
Board on 17th March, 1807—
The number of persons stated in such letters to
have been vaccinated, is 164,881.
The number of cases in which Smallpox had
followed Vaccination is 56.
The Board think it proper to remark under this
head, that, in the enumeration of cases in which Smallpox has succeeded
Vaccination, they have included none but those in which the subject was
vaccinated by the surgeon reporting the facts.
The bad consequences which have arisen from
66 cases of eruption of the skin, and
24 of inflammation of the arm, whereof
3 proved fatal.
Vaccination, in the greater
number of Counties from which reports have been received, appears to be
increasing: in the Metropolis it is on the decrease.
The principal reasons assigned
for the decrease are—
Instances of Smallpox after Vaccination,
Supposed bad consequences,
Publications against the practice,
The report of the Edinburgh
College of Physicians disowned acquaintance with Vaccination, the practice being
entirely in the hands of surgeons and other practitioners—
With a view, however, to publish their
conviction of the immense benefits which have been, and which will in future be
derived to the world, from Inoculation for the Cowpox, they had spontaneously
and unanimously elected Dr. Jenner an honorary Fellow of their College, a mark
of distinction which they very rarely confer, and which they confine almost
exclusively to Foreign Physicians of the first eminence.
The report of the College of
Surgeons, dated 3rd March, 1807, left nothing for the Jennerians to desire.
The Edinburgh surgeons were satisfied from their own experience that Vaccination
constituted a permanent security from Smallpox, and they had observed no ill
consequences from the practice. Vaccination commenced in Edinburgh in 1801, and
was now so general in the city—
That for two or three years past, Smallpox has
been reckoned rather a rare occurrence, even among the lower order of the
inhabitants, unless in some particular quarters about twelve months ago.
Among the higher ranks of the inhabitants the disease is unknown.
Rare, unless in some quarters
about a year ago! We turn to the report of the Edinburgh Dispensary for 1805,
and there we read—
The loathsome disease has unfortunately been
very prevalent in several quarters of the city.
And this coincidently with
extensive Vaccination to which apparently there was no active opposition! We
have also to remember in this connection the statement of Professor Alexander
Monro in 1765, that "the inhabitants of Scotland generally have Smallpox in
their infancy or childhood; very few adults being seen in this disease " ; and
that in Edinburgh, with conditions strongly favourable to Smallpox, the
mortality from the disease was on an average little more than a hundred a year.
The Edinburgh physicians knew nothing practically of Vaccination, and we see how
the Surgeons, who did know, shaped their evidence.
The Dublin College of
Physicians echoed the fashionable opinion "that Cowpox Inoculation was safe, and
fully answered its purpose." They were "willing to allow that doubtful cases
had occurred of Smallpox after Vaccination, but on minute investigation, these
supposed instances originated generally in misrepresentation, or the difficulty
of discriminating between Smallpox and other eruptions." Rather awkwardly,
seeing how the opposite opinion was in vogue, they professed their faith in
Variolous Inoculation —
The Smallpox is rendered a much less formidable
disease in Ireland by the frequency of Inoculation for it, than in other parts
of His Majesty's dominions, where prejudices against Inoculation have
prevailed. Hence parents, not unnaturally, object to the introduction of a new
disease, in the shape of Vaccination, preferring to trust to the practice with
the mildness and safety of which they are well acquainted.
The Dublin College of Surgeons
showed themselves more fully abreast of the time. They had nothing to say for
Inoculation, but testified their confidence in Vaccination, and how its practice
was increasing in Ireland. From 1800 to 1306 a total of 14,335 had been
"inoculated with vaccine infection" at the Dublin institutions, and many
Cowpox has been found to be a mild disease, and
rarely attended with danger, or any alarming symptom, and the few cases of
smallpox which have occurred in
Ireland after supposed Vaccination,
have been satisfactorily proved to have arisen from accidental circumstances.
Arisen from accidental
circumstances ! Thus was the 11 i vine illumination of experience veiled and
Fortified with this budget of
questionable evidence, the Government proceeded to claim from the House of
Commons a second endowment for Jenner.
WHILST the Royal College of
Physicians were preparing their report, there was perturbation in the political
world. Dull and bigoted George III. refusing on the pretext of his oath to
concede to Roman Catholics the rights of citizens, a change of administration
ensued, and Mr. Perceval, a man after the King’s own heart, replaced Lord Henry
Petty as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and proceeded to give effect to the plan
for relieving Jenner; a purpose for which the report "On the State of Vaccine
Inoculation in the United Kingdom" was merely a blind.
On the 29th July, 1807, the
House of Commons being in Committee of Supply, Mr. PERCEVAL moved that Dr.
Jenner be awarded a second sum of £10,000 for his matchless discovery. Smallpox
was one of the greatest afflictions of mankind, from which hardly any one
escaped. For this dreadful malady, Jenner had invented a preventive, unknown
before, or if known, which had never been published. He did not therefore think
the Committee would consider his proposal extravagant; indeed it was rather an
act of justice than of liberality. Those who had read the Report of the
Physicians would recognise the immense advantages of the new practice. As for
its inconveniences, they were as nothing to those which attended Variolous
Inoculation, and the few mistakes recorded were due to ignorance and
carelessness. It might be objected by those who adhered to Mr. Malthus, that
nothing was gained by saving lives from pestilence; for deaths were not losses
where means of subsistence were inadequate; but for his part he would disregard
the argument even if it were true. It was much better to follow the dictates of
their hearts, and preserve life whenever it was within their power. He had
often heard that the true riches of a state were its inhabitants. But he would
not attempt to measure Jenner's award by the number of lives that his invention
would preserve to the world. If he did so, what sum would they have to offer!
All he need say was, that the £10,000 proposed represented no more than a
moderate acknowledgment of labour and genius devoted to the service of humanity.
Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE opposed the
motion. He had thought the former application for £20,000 excessive, and had
concurred with those who reduced it to £10,000. He had moreover acquiesced in
the smaller sum by reason of his faith in the report of the Committee of the
House on the New Inoculation, but he now discovered that many of the statements
in that report were erroneous. It attested that Vaccination was an infallible
preventive of smallpox, whilst the report of the Surgeons now admits 56
failures! The first report stated that no disease followed Vaccination, whilst
now it is confessed that scrofula and other alarming symptoms are its occasional
sequences! The report thus prejudicial to Vaccination nevertheless argues in
its favour, and he would like to call witnesses to the bar of the House who
would make manifest still further its inconsistencies and inaccuracies. At this
late period of the session, it was not right to vote away such an amount of
public money. [Such "late periods " are, however, always selected for jobs.]
Besides, it was generally known that Benjamin Jesty of Worth in Dorsetshire
discovered the use of cowpox long before Jenner, and if the House was resolved
to be liberal, the reward should be shared with Jesty, or with Jesty's family.
He should oppose the vote, but he did not say that he would always do so. His
purpose was to gain time for more careful inquiry.
Lord HENRY PETTY, who had
first moved in the matter, came to his successor's support. He had no doubt as
to the efficacy of Vaccination, nor as to Jenner being its discoverer. His
difficulty was to find a rule for the justice of the case; for whoever
considered the value of the discovery must perceive that it would be impossible
for them to deal generously with the discoverer. His service to mankind was
entirely beyond any financial estimate. It was objected that Vaccination was
not infallible. He replied that absolute, never-failing perfection ought not to
be expected from any human device : they should rest well satisfied in the
approximation to infallibility that belonged to Vaccination. Its daily benefits
were numberless. Multitudes of seamen, soldiers, and citizens of every
description had been saved by it, and in contemplating its future effects on the
human race, the mind was lost in amazement and gratitude. How then should they
presume to talk of liberality towards Jenner, the benefactor ! They should
recollect how he stands in the estimation of the world, how they were acting in
view of all nations, and how their own characters were at stake in their
demeanour towards him. As to Malthus there was a misapprehension. He had
taught nothing that forbade the extinction of an infectious disease which so
greatly reduced human happiness. In their concern for Vaccination, the House
should not forget the mischief that was still wrought by inoculation with
smallpox. Zealous as he was for the new practice, he had no wish to meddle with
what others might imagine (however absurdly) tended to their own preservation
and that of their families, but no one had a right to endanger the lives of
others. It was proved beyond dispute that those who were inoculated with
smallpox diffused the fatal contagion by going abroad, or being carried abroad.
He thought, therefore, it was not only the right, but the duty of the State to
oblige those who were infected with smallpox to keep within doors until complete
recovery. He would not move an amendment to the resolution, but would have no
hesitation in acceding to a larger sum.
General TARLETON could not
withhold his tribute of praise from the author of this blessing to mankind. To
his knowledge, it had saved the lives of many in his Majesty's service.
Soldiers could march and perform every military duty when under the process of
vaccination. It had been said that gentlemen in the army had no respect for
anything save success in war, but he thought that many officers knew how to
admire Jenner, the preserver of millions, and to allow that in future ages his
glory would exceed the renown of the greatest warriors.
Mr. STUEGES BOURNE denounced
the practice of inoculating out-patients at the Smallpox Hospital whereby the
disease was systematically perpetuated and diffused throughout the community.
He thought the legislature would be as much justified in taking measures to
prevent this evil by restraint, as a man would be in snatching a firebrand out
of the hands of a maniac just as he was going to set fire to a city.
Mr. HAWKINS BROWNE confessed
with shame that he had voted for £10,000 instead of £20,000 in 1802 ; but at
that time he little knew the extent of Jenner's service to the human race.
Mr. EDWARD MORRIS did not
think that even what had been said sufficiently set forth their debt of
gratitude to Jenner. His discovery afforded a reasonable expectation of the
extermination of smallpox, and the merit of the transcendent discovery was all
his own. Inoculation in the old mode mitigated the disease in a few, and spread
it in full fury over many. It was therefore a curse to mankind instead of a
blessing. The Smallpox Hospital in its practice of inoculation, was a source of
pestilence and a multiplier of victims to this deplorable distemper. The
pre-eminent distinction of Vaccination was that it preserved its subject and
injured no one. This unspeakable blessing they owed to Jenner, nor had the
least improvement been effected upon his original and carefully matured
prescription. They were bound to consider how he had abandoned the lucrative
pursuit of his profession, and surrendered many years of his life for the good
of his country and mankind. He would therefore submit an amendment to the
resolution before the Committee, that the grant be £20,000 instead of £10,000,
to mark their sense of Jenner's merits and to place him in a state of
The amendment was warmly
supported by Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Windham, Sir John Sebright, and Mr. Herbert.
Mr. PERCEVAL, as Chancellor of
the Exchequer, stood to his resolution, but with indifferent arguments. It was
without precedent that a vote recommended by Government should be thus
increased. He admitted that Jenner was entitled to much more than they could
afford, but it was also without precedent that so great a sum as £30,000
(inclusive of the former vote) should be bestowed on any discoverer.
Mr. WILLIAM SMITH would not
submit to these objections. He recited the triumphs of Vaccination in Asia and
America, and said it was true as of old that a prophet had no honour in his own
country. [An observation singularly inapplicable to Jenner.] He urged the
Committee to vote for the larger sum, and said that whilst the Chancellor of the
Exchequer might in his public capacity protest, yet in his secret heart he would
not be displeased if overborne by the sentiment of the House, of the country,
and of the world.
Mr. WHITBREAD begged the
Committee to bear in mind that Jenner had scorned to monopolise Vaccination, and
had thereby sacrificed a great fortune. He called on the House to vote for the
larger sum. Vaccination furnished the means for lessening the poor rate.
Reduced smallpox signified fewer deaths, fewer orphans, fewer widows.
Vaccination meant better health for the poor and more money in the pockets of
the rich. They would excuse this appeal of his to the cupidity of the landed
interest inasmuch as he had been anticipated in the exhibition of loftier
considerations. He also wished to relieve the House from a renewal of this
question. Let them reward Jenner once for all, and liberally: and remember that
what was called economy in this connection, if practised by the House, would be,
in the eye of the world, their disgrace.
Others spoke in a similar
strain, and when the House divided, 60 voted for Mr. Morris's amendment, and 47
against it, £20,000 being carried by a majority of 13. Including the £10,000
voted in 1802, Jenner was thus awarded £30,000 of public money, in times, too,
of war and scarcity.
The debate, it will be
observed, was conducted in a House of 107 members at a late period of the
session, and the variations among the speakers consisted in degrees of
extravagance and credulity. The fabulous matter as to Jenner personally affords
curious evidence of the manner in which legends originate in the presence of
contemporaries, and how they come to be repeated with the fervour of good faith
by men whose competence and honesty might be taken for unimpeachable. Jenner's
party had whipped up their adherents, and the issue was sedulously arranged for;
but because they had their way it need not be assumed that it was necessary to
circumvent any active adversaries. Apathy was their chief difficulty. There was
little to be got out of cowpox by the ordinary politician; and then, as now, the
average M.P. rarely committed himself to any project that did not obviously make
for his popularity. As for the enthusiasm for Vaccination displayed by the
speakers in the House, we have to recollect that they were not converts to the
practice per se. No really new discovery was ever received with such an
instant chorus of approbation by the mob, educated or uneducated. They were one
and all bred under the severe and dangerous practice of Variolous Inoculation,
whereof Vaccination was no more than a modification with a seductive promise of
equal or greater security from smallpox, and exemption from its perils and
annoyances. Unless this prepossession be allowed for, the conduct of Parliament
toward Jenner cannot be rightly understood. There was not a word uttered
against Vaccination from the ground which physiologists at this day occupy, for
that ground, in a scientific sense, was as yet unknown. Smallpox was a
mysterious visitation to be mysteriously dealt with— dodged, if possible, by
medical artifice; and not, as we are persuaded, a crisis of impurity in the
blood induced by foul conditions of life, which cannot be better dispo