Thursday, 19 March 2015

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Doctors: Part 2

Her magnum opus
The year 1792 brought Mary to prominence among the self-consciously progressive philosophers and philosophesses of the time. She had already boldly weighed in against Edmund Burke’s denunciation of the French Revolution with her Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), but it was with A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (VRW) that she developed her particular unique contribution to the current debates, and expounded her matured social critique. (1) The topics of medicine and health care are clearly not the main issue in VRW, but loom rather larger than might be expected, from childcare, to life-style advice such as the benefits of exercise, to the reassertion that medicine was a suitable job for women. She rejected the notion of female delicacy debarring them from such a career choice: “Women might certainly study the art of healing, and be physicians as well as nurses. And midwifery, decency seems to allot to them, though I am afraid the word midwife, in our dictionaries, will soon give way to accoucheur [masculine gender]...” (p.337)
As indicated previously, it did not follow that she was hostile to male doctors, indeed she rather prided herself on having been able to communicate with them on equal terms:
“I have conversed, as man with man, with medical men, on anatomical subjects, and discussed the proportions of the human body with artists – yet such modesty did I meet with, that I was never reminded by word or look of my sex, or of the absurd rules which make modesty a whimsical cloak of weakness. And I am persuaded that in the pursuit of knowledge women would never be insulted by sensible men, and rarely by men of any description, if they did not by mock modesty remind them that they were women.”  (p.278, note)
At the same time she set a high value on a sense of privacy (‘personal reserve’), along with cleanliness and neatness in coping with everyday physical functions. Nor did she go to the opposite extreme of idealising traditionally female-dominated folk-healing: “Women should be taught the elements of anatomy and medicine... for the bills of mortality are swelled by the blunders of self-willed old women, who give nostrums of their own without knowing any thing of the human frame.” (p.411) Not that women were the only culprits, and they were often the victims of the assorted ‘quacks’ and charlatans she held to be guilty of preying on the gullibility and folly of many of them, as in the “fashionable deceptions... practised by the whole tribe of magnetisers...” (p.419)
Her own prescription was typically straightforward: “If the functions of life have not been materially injured, regimen, another word for temperance, air, exercise and a few medicines, prescribed by persons who have studied the human body, are the only human means, yet discovered, of recovering that inestimable blessing health, that will bear investigation.” (p.419)
Realising nevertheless that it could not always be so simple, and that even basic common-sense measures were not within everyone’s reach, she showed an awareness of the social causes of ill-health: repression and confinements of female children; the fads and fancies of their mothers; ‘libertines’ and drunkards whose excesses ruined their own and their families’ health; and the grinding poverty and ill-paid labour that was the lot of the lower classes. (Of the prostitutes to whom libertines had recourse she spoke as evoking mingled pity and ‘disgust ‘– not shutting her eyes to their existence as would have been thought proper, but fiercely denying the validity of double standards which always blamed and persecuted the female in any case.
From the cradle...
In the matter of ‘infant management’ – or the care of babies and small children, another recurring theme – she found herself more in tune with advanced medical opinion than with prevailing reliance on traditional practices: “I have often heard women ridiculed... only because they adopted the advice of some medical men, and deviated from the beaten track in their mode of treating their infants... [by adopting] the new-fangled notions of ease and cleanliness... What a number of human sacrifices are made to that moloch prejudice!” (p.418) Even with the best management, she envisaged infancy as a dangerous time, and the risk of one or two neonates or toddlers per family dying as normal, a scenario that sadly fitted her future grand-children. According to Godwin, she was working on a monograph, Letters on the Management of Infants while pregnant with her second child, before she died, and Dr Carlisle, “whom to name is sufficiently to honour”, had promised to look it over. (2) She was strongly in favour of breast-feeding by the mother (rather than a wet-nurse), which had something of a vogue in radical ’circles but was not generally favoured among the upper and middle classes. A beneficial side-effect, supposedly, was the postponement of renewed fertility: “Nature has so wisely ordered things, that did women suckle their children, they would preserve their own health, and there would be such an interval between the birth of each child [and the next], that we should seldom see a houseful of babes.” (p.442)
Soon enough she had the opportunity to put her ideas on motherhood to the test, with a baby daughter of her own. (3) In spite of difficult, stressful circumstances, and being already in her mid-thirties, she seems to have managed well. Realistic but upbeat, she described her experience of childbirth in a letter to Ruth Barlow six days later: “Nothing could be more natural or easy than my labour – still it is not smooth work.” (4) “This struggle of nature,” she added, “is rendered more cruel by the ignorance and affectation of women.” Pleased with her quick recovery, she went for a walk no more than eight days afterwards, contrary to the custom of the time. She was pleased too with the flourishing “little animal” she had produced. She practised what she had preached with regard to breast-feeding and close maternal care generally, albeit with the indispensable help of a maid. Fanny Imlay, the child in question, was at age three and a half, in her step-father’s view, “a singular example of vigorous constitution and florid health.” (2)
In the midst of Revolution
This first experience of becoming a parent took place in revolutionary France where Mary continued to associate by preference with a fairly close-knit group of mostly politically-motivated people. Some like her had come from abroad to observe at first-hand and report on what was happening, others adhered to similar groups and networks of French writers and thinkers. Most of her affinity group were in sympathy with the ‘Girondin’ faction, rather than the more authoritarian and anti-feminist hard left.  One new acquaintance was Fran├žois Lanthenas, a Paris physician and member of the National Convention. He was a foremost exponent of what has been called the ‘Rousseauist fantasy’ that “the regeneration of society would restore mankind’s primitive good health and make medicine itself unnecessary.” (5) Although involved with the Rolands’ entourage, unlike them he survived the Terror, reputedly by disassociating himself in time from his dangerous connections. Evidently he did not totally renounce old friendships, since he sponsored the application for French citizenship of Mary’s brother James, in 1796. (6)
Not surprisingly perhaps, all things considered, in spite of her initially positive reaction Mary went through a phase of uncertainty and low spirits, exacerbated by her dismay at the course of public events, after her daughter Fanny was born. Worries about her health resurfaced, and the baby fell ill too, with what was diagnosed as smallpox (happily she got over it, a result for which her mother felt she, as nurse, could take some credit). Her letters to Gilbert Imlay, Fanny’s father, who was more or less in the process of leaving her to fend for herself as a single parent and expatriate, convey something of her negative feelings and worries. In February 1795: “Physicians talk much of the danger attending any complaint in the lungs, after a woman has suckled for some months. They lay a stress also on the necessity of keeping the mind tranquil. – ” She tried to overcome her symptoms by will-power, asserting at one point that her mind could make her body do anything it wished, a theory popular with rationalists.
Norway, Sweden, Denmark
Tranquility, though, was not to be the prevailing mode of the relationship. Within a few months its breakdown had led to Mary’s first suicide attempt, back in London, by means of a laudanum overdose; perhaps ‘para-suicide’ would be more accurate, since she notified Imlay of her intention in time to be rescued. Godwin thought it was “perhaps owing to [Imlay’s] activity and representations that her life was saved” on this occasion. By way of therapeutic distraction she found a new type of purpose-directed activity in the form of a journey to Scandinavia, accompanied by her child and maid, on Imlay’s business. While waiting to sail from Hull, she called on a physician to whom she had been given, or as she put it had had forced on her, a letter of introduction, and was pleased to find him “an intelligent and rather interesting man” who with his wife and “young brood” showed her great hospitality.
Travel eased her mind, if only temporarily, to the extent of supplying the material and impulse for the production of a successful book, her Letters Written during a short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (1796).  This dealt with and dwelt on her own psychological state as well as the countries she visited. Her capacity for observation and tendency to introspection were both in evidence, in a combination that appealed to many readers.  The consolations of landscape and interesting novelty of meeting different people did not always carry the day, but she tried:
“I need scarcely inform you, after telling you of my walks, that my constitution has been renovated here; and that l have recovered my activity, even whilst attaining a little embonpoint. My imprudence last winter, and some untoward accidents just at the time I was weaning my child, had reduced me to a state of weakness which I have never before experienced. A slow fever preyed on me every night, during my residence in Sweden, and after I arrived at Tonberg.” (7)
In London on her return she had to confront once more the reality of her moribund relationship with Imlay. A second attempt at suicide, this time by drowning, in 1796, was more determined than the first and more nearly succeeded. She was, however, retrieved from the River Thames and revived; an unnamed physician was sent for and attended her at the Duke’s Head public house. The Royal Humane Society, with which her old acquaintance Dr Lettsom was closely involved, had shown the practicality and propagated the technique of reviving the apparently drowned. (8) Mary found the experience of near-drowning extremely painful, and resolved to try another method if she should feel suicidal in the future. There were in fact no more such attempts, although she went on alluding occasionally to the possibility, for a while.
Wrongs of Woman
Again she set about writing it all out of her system, and doing much more besides, in a second novel, The Wrongs of Woman (a.k.a. Maria).  Although it was to remain unfinished, she wrote enough to provide many useful insights into various aspects of the society of the time, and especially on how the laws made by men dominated and damaged the lives of women in different social strata. (9)
The setting of the opening scenes is a lunatic asylum in which the (sane) heroine, Maria, is incarcerated by an ill-intentioned husband, with a cover story to keep her there: “No person, excepting the physician appointed by the family, was to be permitted to see the lady... The malady was [alleged to be] hereditary, and the fits not occurring but at very long and irregular intervals, she must be carefully watched; for the length of these lucid periods only rendered her more mischievous, when any vexation or caprice brought on the paroxysm of phrensy.” Thus however sane she appeared, it was to be taken as only a temporary remission, and the longer it went on the worse it would be when it ended.
In his journal Godwin recorded a visit he and Mary made to ‘Bedlam’ (Bethlehem Hospital, for those considered mentally ill, or ‘mad’) in February 1797, with Joseph Johnson. It was quite a fashionable pastime to walk round looking at the lunatics, but in their case morbid curiosity was no doubt less of a motive than research for their respective writings and analyses of the contemporary world in all its aspects. Certainly Mary seems to have come away with deep and lasting impressions that influenced her novel. She was aware of different categories of inmate: “Melancholy and imbecility marked the features of the wretches allowed to be at large; for the frantic, those who in a strong imagination had lost a sense of woe, were confined.” One of the minor characters is a “fair maniac” similar to those found in other 18th century fictions, for example, Fanny Burney’s Camilla and Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling. But perhaps her most significant and original creation in the book is the asylum attendant, Jemima. The story of this woman’s life, presented as a narration in her own voice, is an indictment of the established class structure and economic inequality, including the (lack of) medical care for the poor. When after a number of adverse events she is forced by an accident at work to seek medical help, her experience as a moneyless patient in a money-driven set-up is recounted at some length, in damning detail:
Hospitals, it should seem (for they are comfortless abodes for the sick) were expressly endowed for the reception of the friendless; yet I...  wanted the recommendation of the rich and respectable, and was several weeks languishing for admittance; fees were demanded on entering; and, what was still more unreasonable, security for burying me, that expence [sic] not coming into the letter of the charity. A guinea was the stipulated sum – I could as soon have raised a million; and I was afraid to apply to the parish for an order, lest they should have passed me [under the Poor Law regulations] I knew not whither. The poor widow at whose house I lodged, compassionating my state, got me into the hospital; and the family where I received the hurt [injury], sent me five shillings, three and sixpence I gave at my admittance – I knew not for what.
My leg grew quickly better ; but I was dismissed before my cure was completed, because I could not afford to have my linen washed to appear decently, as the virago of a nurse said, when the gentlemen (the surgeons) came.  I cannot give you an adequate idea of the wretchedness of an hospital; every thing is left to the care of people intent on gain. The attendants seem to have lost all feeling of compassion in the bustling discharge of their offices; death is so familiar to them, that they are not anxious to ward it off. Every thing appeared to be conducted for the accommodation of the medical men and their pupils, who came to make experiments on the poor, for the benefit of the rich. One of the physicians, I must not forget to mention, gave me half-a-crown, and ordered me some wine, when I was at the lowest ebb.  I thought of making my case known to the lady-like matron; but her forbidding countenance prevented me. She condescended to look on the patients, and make general enquiries, two or three times a week; but the nurses knew the hour when the visit of ceremony would commence, and every thing was as it should be.  – pp.117-8.
Mary had not been a hospital patient herself, nor had she experienced hardships comparable with those of Jemima, although she may have heard first-hand from women who had. For one, there was a young sister of Fanny Blood’s who had fallen into extremely distressed circumstances and whom Mary tried to rehabilitate. Then there were her doctor friends with hospital appointments, who may have talked about their work environment. It is worth noting that a ‘good’ doctor is on hand to give help when Jemima most needs it.
The story allows Jemima to have found a kind of asylum in the asylum, but she has no illusions about it as an institution: “The overseer... purchased this dwelling, as a private receptacle for madness. He had been a keeper at a house of the same description ... [He] offered to instruct me how to treat the disturbed minds he meant to intrust to my care. The offer of forty pounds a year, and to quit a workhouse, was not to be despised, though the condition of shutting my eyes and hardening my heart was annexed to it... Four years have I been attendant on many wretches, and the witness of many enormities.” In spite of everything she retains enough humanity to respond to the heroine’s plight and help her escape. Maria’s troubles are not over but she too has at least met with much-needed kindness from a stranger.
Towards the end
In their author’s life the recent melancholy was now mitigated by a new relationship, with fellow writer and political thinker William Godwin. Like her he had produced substantial, original works both of fiction (Caleb Williams, or, Things As They Are, 1794) and non fiction (An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793); he had also spoken for the defendants in the Treason Trials. 
Together, they maintained their contacts with other radicals and literary personages, in spite of government repression of dissent and the growing climate of reaction. Mary’s circle of acquaintance was broadened to include women writers Mrs. Barbauld and Amelia Alderson, both daughters of dissenting medical men, John Aiken and James Alderson respectively. Fanny Imlay, Mary’s daughter, was of course still with her, growing satisfactorily but coming in for her share of childhood ailments. In September Mary wrote to another new friend, Mary Hays, “A fever, which has tormented my darling for some days past, gave me no little uneasiness. I am now reassured by the sight of the Chicken-pox, and know that she will soon be well again.”
Not all their acquaintances stayed close to William and Mary when they married, since the fact that Mary had not been married to the father of her first child was now inescapable, and the ensuing scandal was too much for some. Doctors Fordyce and Carlisle, however, were among those who were not put off; Mary mentioned a visit to the former in February 1797, and from the latter in June – in each case social rather than professional, apparently, although she was by that time pregnant again. It was also primarily as friends rather than physicians that the same two made their first visits after the birth of a daughter on 30th August.
Mary had taken a positive attitude to her second pregnancy, and initially at least, expressed confidence at the prospect of her imminent confinement. She had been through it once, in more daunting circumstances, and survived. This buoyancy, regardless of what was she had seen of death in ‘childbed’, was not in itself rash or irrational; distressing as its incidence was, research has shown maternal mortality to have been not quite as prevalent in Mary’s world as may be supposed. (10) Of course it was a home birth; an experienced midwife, Mrs. Blenkinsop of Westminster Lying-in Hospital, had been booked to attend.
Unfortunately Mary’s optimism turned out to be misplaced. There were complications (retention of the placenta) and a doctor had to be called in after all. Dr Louis Poignand, physician and man-midwife, was also from Westminster Hospital. Prominent in his field, he had published in 1778 a translation of a French work on a substitute for the caesarean operation. (11) At first his intervention seemed to have succeeded. After she had got past the pain – the worst, she said, that she had ever experienced – Mary’s condition appeared greatly improved. When Dr Fordyce visited her he “saw no particular cause of alarm; and quoted Mary’s case as a corroboration of a favourite idea of his, of the propriety of employing women in the capacity of mid-wives. Mary ‘had had a woman, and was doing extremely well’”. Dr Carlisle’s first visit likewise passed without any sign of foreboding, but shortly afterwards things took a turn for the worse; the most likely retrospective diagnosis is that the attempt to deal with the problem of the afterbirth had introduced an infection (puerperal sepsis). A few days later, Poignand withdrew from the case, saying he would make no more visits, ostensibly because the household had “thought proper to call in Dr. Fordyce”, but possibly, it has been suggested, because his greater experience convinced him there was no hope.
Mary’s last few days, until her death on 10th September 1797, were meticulously recorded in Godwin’s journal, from which he compiled the Memoirs he began only a fortnight later. Nursed by Mrs. Blenkinsop and a friend, Eliza Fenwick (another writer, commended by Carlisle as “the best nurse he ever saw“), the patient received every attention that devotion could suggest and current knowledge provide. (11a) Godwin, who had attended lectures on medicine the previous year, did his best to ensure that her care was state-of-the-art, using his many contacts. He recorded that he had called on John Walcot, Gilbert Thompson and George Tuthill during this time, in addition to the four medical men who actually attended Mary. The fourth was Dr John Clarke, who had been brought in by Fordyce because he was not himself a specialist in obstetrics, in case an operation was considered advisable; no doubt mercifully, it was not. Clarke was the author of Practical Essays on the Management of Pregnancy and Labour and of Epidemic Diseases of Lying-in Women. (12) He continued in attendance despite a possible clash between his outlook and that of the other doctors and the household. He had a name for opposing female midwives, but on examining some of his strictures on ignorance and superstition they appear not so very different from things Mary herself had written. Any difference of opinion did not lead to a lack of respect on his side: he described her to Godwin, in a note of thanks for a copy of Memoirs and Posthumous Works, as a valuable member of society and a worthy woman. (13)
 Modern-minded as they were, those around her were ready to resort to anything that might help to ease her situation. When the pain became too severe, she was plied with “as much wine as the stomach could bear” and any other beneficial “cordials” available. A week after the birth Carlisle was fetched from dinner on the far side of town, and stayed on in the house for the remaining four days that Mary lingered. “It was impossible,” Godwin wrote, “to exceed his kindness and affectionate attention – ever upon the watch, observing every symptom.” He was frank about the prognosis and “observed that her continuance was almost miraculous – remarking that perhaps one in a million in her state might possibly recover.” The most that could be done was to try to relieve her suffering. She cooperated with their efforts to the limits of her considerable physical and mentality strength, but will-power, the mind-over-matter theory she and Carlisle both favoured, could not prevail against the overwhelming odds or postpone the inevitable end for long.
Did she die of a surfeit of doctors? In the view of at least one biographer, medical men did not just fail to save her, they were responsible for the tragedy, insofar as her chances would, it is argued, have been better if Godwin had not been so quick to involve them. (14) Even if the fatal infection was iatrogenic, though, it must be open to doubt whether, given that the expectation of a straightforward delivery and trouble-free recovery had not been fulfilled, leaving nature to take its course would have brought a happier end result. It would be almost another half century before the classic description of transmission of infection by (hospital) doctors to women in childbirth was published. (15)
Recording aspects of health provision and medical practice in the context of her times was hardly a major part of Mary Wollstonecraft’s life work, but it stands as a not insignificant, if so far largely unregarded, feature of her legacy.
E. A. Willis
Originally written c.1995; published online only (so far).
It was the basis of a seminar paper for London Socialist Historians at the Institute of Historical Reaearch c.1996
Notes to Part 2:
1. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Facsimile edition. Gregg International Publishers, 1970. Page references in the text are for this edition.
2. William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman [1798]. Facsimile edition, bound with VRW, Gregg International Publishers, 1970, as at Note 1.
3. Biographical information here mainly from Claire Tomalin, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976.
4. Ralph, ed., Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft. Ithaca/London, Cornell U P, 1978. Superseded by Janet Todd, ed. (Allen Lane 2003). Quotations from MW’s letters in the text are from the Wardle edition.
5. Matthew Ramsay, Professional and Popular Medicine in France, 1770-1830. Cambridge U P, 1988; p.72.
6. Tomalin, p.135.
7. Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters Written during a short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (1796). Fontwell, Sussex, Centaur Press, 1970. Excerpt in Dale Spender, Janet Todd, eds., Anthology of British Women Writers. London, Pandora, 1989, p.317.
8. Joseph Johnson published at least one of the Royal Humane Society’s prize essays: Edmund Goodwin, The connexion of life with respiration... London, printed by T. Spilsbury for J. Johnson, 1788.
9. Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary, and The Wrongs of Woman, ed. and intro. G. Kelly, OUP 1961.
10. pp 16-17 in Irvine Loudon, ‘Deaths in childbed from the eighteenth century to 1935’, Medical History 1986, vol. 30: 1-41.
11. Poignand is in Munk’s Roll: William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol.2, (1978), pp. 390-1.
11a. An unreliable edition (maddeningly rife with grotesque mistranscriptions), of Eliza Fenwick’s novel ‘Secresy’ [sic, not a mistranscription] was published by Pandora in 1989.
12. Clarke is in Munk’s Roll vol.2, pp. 369-71; and Sir George Clark, A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol.2, OUP, 1966, pp. 588-9.
13. Kenneth N Cameron, ed., Shelley and his Circle, vol. 1. Oxford U P 1961. Notes on pp. 186, 195, 201.
14. William St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys. Faber & Faber, 1989, pp. 177-8.
15. Oliver Wendell Holmes, The contagiousness of puerperal fever, 1843 (“classic paper”).

London street art portrait of MW

Now available: Both parts combined (with fewer illustrations)
                           as 16-page article (Word); also as pdf 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Doctors

An Intelligent Woman’s Observation and Experience of 18th Century Medicine
[Part 1]
As was normal in the 18th century, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) lived with a semi-permanent awareness of the possibility of ill-health, more or less serious, and a certain amount of knowledge as to what might be done about it, if and when it befell. Her letters, novels and polemical writings (1) without being more obsessively morbid or hypochondriacal, contain numerous reference to states of health, medicine both preventive and curative, and doctors. Inevitably her own life, and that of people close to her, involved encounters with all of these, in her case culminating in her death from post-partum complications (the baby was the future Mary Shelley), at age 38. In medical as in other contexts, she did not believe in passively putting up with whatever was happening around or being done to her. She held strong views and made them known.
                The start she got in life could have been worse. She was born into a middle-class household, grand-daughter of a fairly prosperous weaver and daughter of a fairly unsuccessful ‘gentleman farmer’. (2) Her earliest years were spent in London, then the family moved several times, first to Epping then to Beverley in Yorkshire. Few details of her childhood are on record, but she seems at least to have been reasonably healthy, and her siblings likewise survived and flourished. Her first biographer, William Godwin (3), noted that, whatever Mary’s mother’s limitations, she had a good record in this respect, contributing to her daughter’s ‘remarkably robust’ constitution. One brother, Henry Woodstock Wollstonecraft, for a time unknown to biographers then supposed to have died as a neonate, was apparently apprenticed to an apothecary in Beverley in 1775. (4) The general silence about him has been taken to indicate that he was something of a ‘back sheep’; on the other hand, he may have been content to shake off his often erratic family. This tenuous connection with the practice of medicine was in any case a lot less significant for Mary than the contacts she formed through affinity and shared ideas. It may, however, ‘place’ her socially on a level comparable with a section of its professionals.                   
Section of family tree
That robust constitution was usually ‘supported by both will-power and common sense’, but not always. In spite of her professed contempt for ‘nervous complaints, and all the vapourish train of idleness’ (5), her letters often seem to harp on a succession of ill-defined malaises and souffrances. Perhaps these complaints served as a safety-valve, enabling her to give vent to her more negative feelings even as she devoted her considerable energies to a range of projects and activities that would be daunting to most people. (6) The occasions when a physician was actually consulted on her behalf seem to be rare; when necessary, she evidently acquiesced or accepted their ministrations with stoicism. Following a recommended treatment, she gave credit where it was due: in October 1779 ‘I was advised by one of the faculty [a doctor] to bathe in the sea, and it has been of signal service to me.’ That was at Southampton, after she had left home to be employed as companion to a notoriously ‘difficult’ elderly lady in Bath. (7)
Some months later she wrote to her girlhood friend Jane Arden about a pleasant encounter during a journey from Windsor to London: “The post Coach is very convenient, and the passengers happened to be agreeable. – They consisted of a Physician and his Son, whose character I was acquainted with, and whose conversation was very rational and entertaining: –  he has published several things that have been much approved of, and he has travelled thro’ the old and new continent. – “
Not free of bodily ills, she confided to George Blood, brother of her friend Fanny, in a letter of 3rd July 1785, “I have been very ill, and gone through the usual physical operations, have been bled and blistered – yet still I am not well.-“  In February 1787, by which time she was governess to an aristocratic family in Ireland, she wrote to her sister Everina: “My little pupil is still delicate, tomorrow the physician is to pay us a visit Lady K[ingsborough] intends consulting him about me, though I have requested her not, as I am sure it would answer no good end.” The following month: “l am not well, the Physician who attends this family thinks I have a constant nervous fever on me – and I am sure he is right.” The spring didn’t help much. In May: “I am still unwell, and begin to believe that I ought never to expect to enjoy health. My mind preys on my body – and, when I endeavour to be useful, I grow too interested [emotionally involved] for my own peace.”
Much of this may have been psychosomatic in origin, due to her depressed state of mind, compounded by discontents and difficulties in the Kingsborough household; anyway, the impression of non-stop introspective moping is belied by indications that she was not only managing to lead quite an active social life, but had made a start with her writing career. She had already written and had published her Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1786. Among its innovative ideas, she particularly recommended ‘elementary’ medicine as a suitable subject of study for women, an idea to which she returned later on. For most women, a more likely prospect was to be conscripted as unpaid and often unthanked nurses when relatives or close friends – or sometimes mere acquaintances – fell ill or met with accidents.
“When pain and anguish wring the brow...”
Mary performed her share of such ‘duties’ and was to be on occasion, in her turn, at the receiving end of friendly care. In 1782, although their relationship had not been particularly happy, she attended her mother during her last illness until she herself became ill from the stress of constant demands and lack of sleep. A couple of years later she was called in to look after her sister Eliza who appears to have been suffering from post-natal depression. Mary took the situation so seriously that she decided Eliza had to be rescued from her husband, braving the scandal this would cause. It was not entirely a successful intervention; Eliza survived to make some kind of life for herself, part of it with her sister Everina, but the baby and the marriage did not. Mary was of course blamed at the time, and some of her biographers have been almost equally judgmental, but no-one can know whether leaving her sister to her matrimonial fate would have had a better outcome. They had seen something of domestic violence in their own family; Mary told Godwin that she had sometimes tried to protect her mother from her father by sleeping outside of her room.
Not long after this episode, in late 1785, Mary travelled to Portugal to be with her friend and former colleague in running a school, Fanny Blood, now Fanny Skeys, who had recently married and was pregnant. She was also in an advanced stage of pulmonary tuberculosis. On the voyage out Mary got an idea of what this might involve, when she helped a fellow-traveller, also a TB sufferer, through bouts of coughing and seasickness.  She had done some reading in medical books and realised there could not be much hope for Fanny, who died along with her infant shortly after the birth. Mary had no complaints about the medical care provided, as she wrote to George Blood, commending “Dr. Jeffray who accompanied her to Lisbon” as “such a man as my fancy has painted and my heart longed to meet with – his humane and tender treatment of Fanny made me warm to him.” She added, “I am still trying to get him a place but my hopes are very faint”, suggesting that she was already a person of some influence with useful contacts. Fanny her self had fostered the friendship, having mentioned when writing to Mary’s sisters (also involved in the school) “a young and romantic but ugly” physician who was there in Portugal, having described him to Mary too: “and she is, I hope, prepared to love him.”
Writing as Therapy
Her time in Portugal with her terminally ill friend became the basis for Mary’s first novel, entitled Mary: A Fiction (1788) but clearly partly autobiographical in substance, the clue being not only in the name. (8) Its subject is a young woman who loses both her best friend and her sweetheart to disease. The heroine, endowed with character and intelligence, realises the situation:
“Her anxiety led her to study physic [medicine], and for some time she only read books of that cast; and this knowledge, literally speaking, ended in vanity [emptiness] and vexation of spirit, as it enabled her to see what she could not prevent [...]”  “The physician, who was in the house, was sent for, and when he left the patient, Mary, with an authoritative voice, insisted on knowing his real opinion. Reluctantly he gave it, that her friend was in a critical state; and if she passed the approaching winter in England, he imagined she would die in the spring; a season fatal to consumptive disorders.”
As well as nursing friends, the title character is ready to undertake the care of strangers in distress. At one point, finding a “poor woman… dying of a putrid fever, the consequence of dirt and want...” she takes direct action to help her. “Mary sent the husband for a poor woman, whom she hired to nurse the woman, and take care of the children... Her knowledge of physic had enabled her to prescribe for the woman... Cleanliness and wholesome food had a wonderful effect.” This is not without risk to herself: “Not aware of the danger she ran into, she did not think of it until she perceived she had caught the fever. It made such alarming progress, that she was prevailed on to send for a physician; but the disorder was so violent, that for some days it baffled his skill... She slowly recovered.”
Another case evinces a more melancholy-romantic view of bodily ills. At first “Henry’s illness was not alarming, it was rather pleasing...” but before long, succumbing to “the close air of the metropolis” and the progress of the disease, his condition deteriorates and he too dies. “Mary” devotes herself to good works, amid strong hints that she is not long for this world. Although she later expressed doubts about the book’s literary value, it seems to have fulfilled a psychotherapeutic function for its author, together with her resolve henceforth to be ‘useful’ in the world and to try the experiment of earning her living as a writer: “Nothing calms the mind like a fixed purpose”.  
Her time in Ireland, in the worst phase of her depression prior to writing the book, had brought further occasions to take on a caring role, with a happier outcome. She nursed her “little pupil”, Margaret King, through more than one episode of sickness, including a “very violent fever” which led to her life being “despaired of”. Meanwhile Mary herself continued “unwell” as reiterated in her letters, with such symptoms as “spasms and disordered nerves”, “violent pains in the side”, difficulty in breathing etc. In the summer of 1787 her employers took her with them to Bristol Hot Wells, which failed to lift her spirits much. Her novel alludes to the depressing effect of so many sick people congregated there.
Writing as Profession
It was on her return to London after deciding to give up the occupation of governess that Mary became a full-time writer. As such she participated in the literary and political circle centred on her friend and publisher, Joseph Johnson – a set she referred to as ’a sort of menagerie of live authors.” When she had lived in London before, she had come into contact with some well-known dissenters around Newington Green where she, her sisters and Fanny Blood had tried to run their school – one was Dr Richard Price – and she had met the famous Dr Samuel Johnson, neither of those being medical doctors. Among the names she was able to drop in her letters, however, was that of “Dr. Lettsome”, in the context of a picture being produced for him by the artist Sowerby, who was then introduced by the doctor to several others who had their pictures drawn. John Coakley Lettsom had written on ‘gaol fever’ and was called in to advise on its prevention in Newgate; a committed philanthropist, he also worked among the London poor. (9)
                Now the scene was changing, awareness was spreading about the French Revolution’s outbreak and what it might mean, and Mary was about to gain recognition as a personage in her own right (or indeed her won right). That she succeeded in doing so was due in no small measure to Joseph Johnson. He had begun by selling medical books in his first shop, in Fish Street, near Guy’s and St. Thomas’s hospitals, and continued his interest in the subject when he went in for publishing – texts on it were prominent on his lists – and began the Analytical Review, in 1788. His partner in the latter venture, Thomas Christie, had studied medicine in Edinburgh and London, and planned to specialise in obstetrics before turning to journalism. (10) Christie’s Letters on the Revolution in France and the new Constitution established by the French Assembly were published by Johnson in 1791. He and his wife featured in Mary’s life as valued friends who gave her vital support in more than one crisis.
Mary was a contributor to the Review and attempted, among many literary tasks, an abridgement of Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy which had been translated by Thomas Holcroft in 1789. (Holcroft was a friend of William Godwin, and was interested in, among other things, the possibility of overcoming disease by will-power.) Later she wrote about Lavater, met when he visited London in 1792, with some scepticism: he would no doubt discern qualities of a statesman in the face of a certain individual, she thought “...  because he has a knack of seeing a great character in the countenances of men in exalted stations, who have noticed him, or his work”.  Incidentally, ‘physiognomical’ analysis of Mary’s and Godwin’s daughter as a baby found signs of “memory, intelligence, quick sensibility and a certain lack of patience” – perhaps the analyst had known her mother.
          In the inter-acting in-crowd of 1790s radical London there were naturally several medics to be found, some of whom would be inclined to try to integrate their views on medicine into a more general, political world-view. One or two may even be seen as engaging in a consciously enlightened effort to share their specialised knowledge with like-minded members of society at large, in a free and equal exchange of ideas. Such a project would be distinct both from an expert-provider/ passive-consumer model of health provision, and from that of an affluent and well-connected ‘customer’ ordering up the services required.
One doctor whose name comes up in this sort of context is Thomas Beddoes, although he was at this time based in Oxford rather than London. (11) Described as “fiercely radical and feminist” he had ideas in common with Mary, including a strong interest in education. At the time of her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in early 1792, he had printed, although not published in full, A Letter to a Lady on the Subject of early Instruction, Particularly that of the Poor. He is said to have concluded, upon consideration or advice, that it was too subversive to be distributed. He was in favour of opening up medical education for women, in part at least, in the form of “a more select course, adapted for a female audience” because “No objection on the ground of indelicacy or disgust, can be brought against some anatomical subjects”. Later, in Bristol, he continued his efforts to this end; in 1797 Joseph Johnson published his introductory lecture to an anatomy course. He was also a friend of Godwin. Both, as philosophers who would help to establish the ideal national curriculum, were included in Josiah Wedgwood’s plan for educating an elite of moral improvers. (12)
Some of her best friends...
Two of the doctors from the radical scene who were to be in attendance, as friends as well as physicians, during  Mary’s last days, were Anthony Carlisle and George Fordyce. The home life of the latter – not to be confused with the Rev. Fordyce whose restrictive and repressive views on women she denounced – was the subject of a favourable reference in a letter from Mary to her sister Everina in December 1792: “You remember Dr. Fordyce, I lately dined at his house, and I have seldom been in company with more intelligent pleasing women than his two daughters.” Considered by some as eccentric, he was charged in sundry anecdotes with drunkenness and uncouth behaviour (hardly character traits that would be expected to appeal to the somewhat fastidious Mary), not to mention with being persistently Scottish. She would be expected, though, not to have much of a problem with his reputed disregard of fashion and ornament, and general no-nonsense attitude. (13)
Anthony Carlisle, younger by about thirty years, had attended Fordyce’s lectures, and had studied under the famous surgeon John Hunter at the Windmill Street School; he had already achieved some success, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society at 32. He was appointed surgeon to the Westminster Hospital in 1792, and was to rise to a certain eminence in his profession, seemingly fairly distant from radical currents. Traces of continuing influence from the spirit of the 1790s may be traceable in his reputed forthright style, unorthodox ideas, and “unaffected and invariable humanity to the suffering poor.” (14) He was said to have originated the practice of open consultation on ‘the propriety of operating in cases admitting the slightest doubt’; he advocated common sense, and down-to-earth skills deployed with neatness and precision. Perhaps Mary’s own influence impinged on his thinking, which seems to echo hers at a few points. He was firmly opposed ‘man-midwives’, and wrote to Robert Peel in support of women practitioners of midwifery. His style of pithy realism can evoke Mary too: “In your idea of the powers of remedies do not be too sanguine, for you are liable to disappointment”. He went further than she had done in criticising orthodox medicine when he defined it as an art “founded in conjecture and improved by murder.”
Godwin reports that in the early 1790s, Mary “took a young girl of about seven years of age under her protection, the niece of Mrs. John Hunter and of the present Mrs. Skeys [Fanny Blood’s widower had remarried], for whose mother, then lately dead, she had entertained a sincere friendship.” The implication that John Hunter’s name would be familiar to readers suggests that one of the girl’s aunts was Anne Hunter, wife of the celebrated surgeon, whose own household was incurring heavy expenses at the time. (15) The fostering by Mary did not last very long; the girl was sent to Everina, by then in Ireland, in 1792 when Mary was preparing to go to France, and subsequently to Ruth Barlow, another of the radical set. This sort of passing round of children was not particularly unusual nor perceived as necessarily damaging, as evidenced in novels as well as biographies of the time.
Mary’s acquaintance in the medical profession, then, was not comprised of merely marginal figures. Idiosyncratic and unconventional they may have been, but most (Beddoes being an exception, and her connection with him is uncertain) made their way to and remained in the mainstream.
E. A. Willis
Published online only (so far).
Next, Part 2: Magnum Opus, travels to France and Scandinavia, and more.
1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman [VRW] and several other books by Mary Wollstonecraft can be found in various editions in libraries and/or currently in print. A multi-volume edition of MW’s collected works, edited by Marilyn Butler and Janet Todd, was published in 1989.
2. Claire Tomalin, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976.
3. William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman [1798]. Facsimile edition, bound with VRW. Gregg International Publishers, 1970.
4. Ralph, ed. and Preface, Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft. Ithaca/London, Cornell U P, 1978. Superseded by Janet Todd, ed. (Allen Lane 2003).
5. VRW, Facsimile edition as at note 3 above; p.272, note.
6. Quotations from MW’s letters are as in the Wardle edition, note 4 above.
7. Sources for biographical incidents:  Notes 2, 3, 4 as above; and Kenneth N Cameron, ed., Shelley and his Circle, vol. 1. Oxford U P / Harvard U P, 1961.
8. Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary, and The Wrongs of Woman, ed. and intro. G. Kelly, OUP, 1961.
9. John Coakley Lettsom, Medical Memoirs of the General Dispensary in London, for part of the years 1773 and 1774. London, Edward and Charles Dilly, 1774. MW’s Letters to George Blood, July and August 1785. On gaol fever and Newgate, see previous post.
10. Tomalin, p.78.
11. Sources for Beddoes’ biography: J E Stock, Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Beddoes with an Analytical Account of his Writings, London, John Murray, 1811; Roy Porter, Doctor of Society: Thomas Beddoes and the Sick Trade in Late Enlightenment England, Routledge, 1991.
12. William St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys. Faber & Faber, 1989, pp.99-100.
13. Sources for George Fordyce’s biography: F G Parsons, The History of St. Thomas’s Hospital, vol.2, From 1600 to 1800, Methuen 1914, pp. 225-7; Sir George Clark, A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol.2, OUP, 1966; William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol.2, 1700 to 1800 (1978), pp. 173-6.
14. Sources for Carlisle’s biography: John Langdon-Davies, Westminster Hospital: Two Centuries of Voluntary Service, 1719-1948, John Murray, 1952; R J Cole, ‘Sir Anthony Carlisle, FRS (1768-1940)’, Annals of Science, vol.8, 1952, pp. 255-70.
15. With reference to John Hunter: Sir D’Arcy Power, British Masters of Medicine. London, Medical Press & Circular, 1936, p.47. Anne Hunter was a poet, some of whose verses were set to music by Haydn, so she may well have been around, among other literati.

Suggestions for Further Reading. Published after the above article was written (c1995)
Lyndall Gordon, Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. (Little, Brown 2005) Virago 2006.
Janet Todd, Mary Wollstonecraft, a Revolutionary Life. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000.
Janet Todd, ed. The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft. Allen Lane 2003.
Claudia L. Johnson, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. CUP 2002.
Black Flag No. 227, Summer 2008, includes writing by Emma Goldman on Mary Wollstonecraft.

See also: an assessment of MW from a left-libertarian perspective on this blog.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Look Around Ealing’s First World War Dissidents

(some of them)
Over the past year it has become increasingly recognised in many places, including the Imperial War Museum, that remembrance of the First World War is not complete without at least some acknowledgement that opponents of the war existed, many of them prepared to suffer for their beliefs. In several cases evidence has already emerged to challenge the prevailing view of them as a tiny, eccentric and universally reviled minority, as estimates both of their numbers and of the extent of their support keep mounting up.
The Pearce Register of British COs (Conscientious Objectors)  shows that Ealing (as in the present-day London Borough), like other places, had its share of such dissidents – over 40 at least, as listed below and discussed previously on this blog. The database from which most of these names and details are taken has more than doubled in size since the early version used here (its promised appearance, updated and interactive, on-line has been eagerly awaited by researchers for about a year) so that we may extrapolate a total of 100 or more whose objection was explicit, open and in some way acknowledged.

Prison etc.
Baker, Hinman J.

Chemistry Student

Baker, Paul William
21, Cumberland Park, W3
21 in 1916
Mechanical Engineer

Carter, Percival Charles
St. Mary's Villa, Beaumont Road, Acton Green
20 in 1916
FOR - Dartmoor Branch; Quaker Attender

Case study on blog
Cook, Albert James
39, Mill Hill Grove,
22 in 1916
Solicitor's Clerk

Davidson, James Tisdall
50, Grafton Road
18 in 1917
Solicitor's Articled Clerk
Christian Brethren

Nicoll, Samuel Arthur John
373, Uxbridge Road, Acton Hill
35 in 1916

Spencer, Reginald Ackland
38, Birkbeck Road
28 in 1916
Motor bodymaker

Boxell, Percy
42, Grafton Road, Acton
Sanctioning  Clerk
Quaker (Willesden PM)

Green, Albert
3, St.Dunstan's Gardens
Civil Servant - Inland revenue
Quaker (Acton PM)

Greenwood, John Danforth Herman
39, Hillcrest Road
26 in 1916

Winchester CP

Case study on blog
Ealing/West Ealing
Bromberger, Frederick Cole
10, Sutherland Road
21 in 1916
Accountant's Clerk
Dyce; Dartmoor 
 Case study on blog
Brown, Thomas Arthur
73, Adelaide Road
29 in 1916
Outfitter's assistant

Burford, H
152, Murray Road

Caws, Geoffrey Tulloh
38, Clovelly Road
18 in 1916
Junior Insurance Clerk

Cox, Rivett Johnson
19, Gloucester Road
30 in 1916
Bank Clerk
Christian; Plymouth Brethren

Denne, Ronald Davidson
61, Westfield Road
19 in 1916
Shop Porter

Gibbons, A. H.

Gibbons, Henry G.
37, Culmington Road


Hodgson, H. G.

Quaker Attender (Ealing PM)
 30.3.17 Wormwood S.;20.7.17(2nd)3.8.17,26.10.17 Canterbury - 7.12.17; released and  'discharged' on health grounds (Illness)
Household, William Scott
80, Leighton Road
26 in 1916
Commercial Clerk
Quaker (Ealing PM)
Lewes MP 16.6.16; Crawley Aug.1916; 1.9.16, 8.9.16 Lewes CP
Hustler, Henry William
14, Claygate Road
38 in 1916
Salesman, Company Director

Irwin, Harold Maude
37, Corfton Road
25 in 1916
Salesman and Sub-Manager
Christian but also because his four brothers already serving -

 "The family has done enough"
Johnson, Samuel
34, Alacross Road
33 in 1916
Gardener and florist
Plymouth Brethren

Jones, S. L.

Quaker Attender
(Ealing PM)
13.3.18 (2nd),26.4.18,26.7.18,25.10.18 Pentonville
Luxford, Thomas
26, Holyoak Walk
39 in 1916
Insurance Clerk
Christian - Brotherhood Movement

 member of NCF since "late 1915"
Mather, Archibald Montague
72, Adelaide Road
30 in 1916
Christian - formerly Baptist, then "Brethren" because...

 ... objected to the pro-war stance taken at Baptist chapel.
Melhuish, A. G.
68 Meadvale Road

 Case study on blog
Muirhead, Douglas Cogill 'F'
40, Oxford Road
30 in 1916
Shop Assistant - ironmonger
NCF; Internationalist and Co-operator
Pentonville CP serving 2nd sentence 9.5.19.
Case study on blog
Preece, Arthur John Stewart
66, Windsor Road
23 in 1916
Estate Agent's Clerk

Ricketts, Oscar Gristwood
73, Mayfield Avenue
21 in 1916
Bank Clerk
Christian and pacifist
Winchester CP
Case study on blog
Rodwell, William. E. G.
25, Neville Road
29 in 1916
Bank Clerk
Quaker (clerk to Ealing P M)
Nov.'16 to 2.2.17 Wormwood S.; 16.3.17(2nd.CM),4.5.17 (letter), 18.5.17, 26.10.17, 25.1.18, 26.4.18, 26.7.18(3rd), 25.10.18, Jan.'19 Pentonville - Illness - suffering from TB and in isolation. Subject of appeal to War Office
Sim, Alexander
44, Fowler's Walk, Brentham
26 in 1916
Worker for Alliance of Honour
FOR; present job WNI; Quaker

 Religious and moral objections to war
Smith, A. W.

HOS 19.9.16 released from Dyce Camp on health grounds - Illness
Sutherland, H. H. D.
32, St .James Avenue

Thackway, Hubert Charles
85, Woodfield Road
36 in 1916
General manager Tailors

 International Bible Students Association
Thorn, Frank

Thorogood, H.

Watts, Leonard C.

Quaker (Ealing PM)

Reynolds, C.
1, Neville Road, Brentham


Burr, William Hugh
61, Oswald Road
18 in 1916
Plymouth Brethren - willing to join RAMC

 Case study on blog
Evans, Alfred  William
26, Endsleigh Road
20 in 1916

Roman Catholic
Winchester CP; May 1917 Pentonville; Maidstone - released 12.4.19
Case study on blog
Gobell, Arthur George
122, Townsend Road
22 in 1916
Notary's Clerk

Jones, M.

[= Arthur Morley Jones?]
Jones, Arthur Morley
24, Grove Ave.
31 in 1916
Bank Clerk
Case study on blog
Locke, H. W.
12, Milton Road

Friends Ambulance Unit

CP           Civil Prison
FOR        Fellowship of Reconciliation
HOS       Home Office Scheme (for alternative service)
NCF        No-Conscription  Fellowship
PM         (Quaker) Prayer Meeting
WNI       Work of National Importance
More data on many of the above individuals may be found by referring to the records of the Middlesex Appeals Tribunal; files usually include personal statements and some have letters of support (images of original documents can be downloaded free).