[Robert Willan, pioneering dermatologist.] Autograph Letter Signed ('R: Willan') to A. J. G. Marcet, on the election of James Sheridan Knowles as resident vaccinator to Royal Jennerian Society, with reference to Jenner, Walker, Ring, Paytherus, Field

Robert Willan (1757-1812), pioneering dermatologist [Alexander John Gaspard Marcet (1770-1822), physician and chemist; Royal Jennerian Society; James Sheridan Knowles (1784-1862); vaccination]
Publication details: 
Bloomsbury Square [London]; 30 September.[1806].
SKU: 21545

A highly interesting letter, casting light on the tensions between the various factions (including the 'Anti-Jennerian party') surrounding the vaccination movement in early Georgian London. See the Oxford DNB for information on Willan. Marcet and the subject of the letter, the Irish playwright James Sheridan Knowles, and others (Ring, Field, Walker) referred to. Knowles's entry only states that he studied medicine 'under Dr Willan, taking the degree of MD from the University of Aberdeen, and becoming resident vaccinator to the Jennerian Society'. In fact such was Willan's opinion of Knowles that he offered him a share in his practice. The letter is 3pp, 12mo. Bifolium. In good condition, lightly aged, with thin strip of paper from mount adhering to reverse of second leaf. Addressed, with postmark, on reverse of second leaf, to 'Dr: Marcet | Post Office | Cheltenham'. Begins: Dear Sir / | We should have been particularly happy to have had your countenance on thursday next; but as circumstances are at present, I think you need not put yourself to any trouble. Knowles is the only candidate returned for election by the General Committee: We waited week after week to accommodate Mr. Wagstaffe [presumably Matthew French Wagstaffe, Borough surgeon, author of 'Strictures on the Cow Pox, or Vaccine Inoculation', 1800], till he shd. have obtained proper testimonials, and a Certificate, or Diploma from the Colle of Surgeons. As these were not produced at the time agreed upon by himself & friends, and in place of them only a lame & confused apology, with requisition for more time (though we had wasted a month) I fear the poor fellow has been rejected by the College.' 'The Anti-Jennerian party brought their whole force consisting of nine to make us put off the election (sine die). However, some just observations made by Mr. Paytherus [Thomas Paytherus (1752-1828), surgeon] & Mr. Field [Henry Field (1755-1837), apothecary], confirmed by a compact & well-arranged speech by Mr Ring [John Ring (1752-1821)], the best, I shd: think , he ever uttered, made the Committee assert its dignity, and got us a majority of two for an immediate election, as Walker [i.e. John Walker (1759-1830)] was paid off & to go yesterday or today. The Committee expressed much satisfaction on Knowles's testimonials, which were of a much more extensive nature, both as to education, and attention to Medico-Chirurgical science than Mr. Wagstaffe's had to produce, though much boasting preceded.' Willan ends the letter by asking Mercel to present his 'best respects to Dr. Jenner', whose 'approbation' he is very happy to have received regarding his 'book'. He hopes Jenner will be kind enough to 'make notes', as there will probably be a second edition. 'Dr: J: will be kind enough to send his Proxy, as a feather to us: Your's will not avail. Dr. Walker is about establishing a “London Vaccine Institution” in aid of others for the extinction of ye small-pox &c. The House to be near your residence in town.' From the distinguished autograph collection of the psychiatrist Richard Alfred Hunter (1923-1981), whose collection of 7000 works relating to psychiatry is now in Cambridge University Library. Hunter and his mother Ida Macalpine had a particular interest in the illness of King George III, and their book 'George III and the Mad Business' (1969) suggested the diagnosis of porphyria popularised by Alan Bennett in his play 'The Madness of# George III'.