Sermons and Philanthropy

I briefly wrote about the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear, remarking how Curtis’ efforts to increase the prestige of the RDDE relied on patronage and support from respectable physicians and surgeons. London society had praised the RDDE and applauded Curtis for drawing attention the plight of the deaf and providing the poor and destitute public a much-needed services.

The recognition of the RDDE’s historical value beyond its medical measures is also apparent in its inclusion into London society through the fundraising efforts that were taken on its behalf. Public sermons were often preached to draw attention to the merits of the RDDE and its founder, as well as to aid it financially if necessary. When the RDDE ran into serious financial trouble sometime during the 1830s, a small pamphlet containing a sermon preached in aid of the RDDE was circulated. The pamphlet included an introductory letter written by Henry Sheppard Smyth, the RDDE’s secretary, who declared that a desperate need was required to “awaken the sympathies of meek-eyed Charity.”

The sermon within the pamphlet, preached by Reverend Richard Ponsonby of the St. Martin-in-the Fields-Church, urged the congregation to support their dependent fellow-creatures. Such support, the Reverend declared, is beneficial for a class of human sufferers who “have no voice to speak their misery; and to the accents of friendship they are utter strangers.” Emphasizing that the RDDE represented the vast improvements made in aural surgery and the state of the deaf in London society, the Reverend argued financial support was necessary to evoke the Christian spirit of charity and duty:

To me indeed, it seems difficult to imagine any institution more entirely deserving of your support than which now implores it, whether you consider the wide extent of its influence, or the deplorable state of those whom it purposes to relieve. This humane establishment has been in existence for more than seventeen years, during which time it has been found of unquestionable utility; not confining its benevolent views to the inhabitants of the metropolis, but extending them generally throughout the country (original emphasis).

Ponsonby’s sermon was printed and circulated, clearly emphasizing the extend to which both the RDDE’s patients and the wider public saw the importance of this institution for assisting those “who have no voice to speak their misery.”

Additionally, in the 1830s, a grand fête champétre was organized by a women’s group to be held in Mr. Jenkins’ Grounds in Regent’s Park to raise funds for the RDDE. The event, which soon was held annually, was heavily advertised in London’s newspapers by Smyth, and was often heralded as the social event of the year. The event was also captured in a colored lithography by M. Gauci (fl. 1810-1846), in 1832, a gift to the “Ladies patronesses of the Royal Dispensary” by a William Franklin:

The Regent's Park Fair (from the Wellcome Library Collection)

It seems to me that London society clearly recognized the value of the RDDE and strove to ensure its success and continuance in providing care and treatment for ear diseases.

*Richard Posonby’s pamphlet, A Sermon Preached…in aid of the Royal Dispensary for the Disease of the Ear (London: Published by J.G. and F. Fivington, 1834), is available at the British Library.

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