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The difference between an aurist and a surgeon?

“…quacks, and aurists, get reputation for syringing the ear, when surgeons lose it; not because the quack has more knowledge of his profession, but because he takes more pains than the surgeon.”

-Unknown, c.1828/1829.

(Yes, I’m still holed up in the British Library reading 19th century treatises on aural surgery)

Dedications

One of my favorite parts of experiencing a book–whether it’s a nineteenth century treatise, or a trashy beach novel–is reading the dedication page.  I always wonder how much time and effort the author puts into deciding who gets the honor of the dedication (and of course, thinking about who I will dedicate my dissertation to…) and am at times marveled at the beauty of the words.

Having said that, here’s one of my favorite dedication from John Cunningham Saunders’ (1773-1810) atlas, The Anatomy of the Human Ear (1806):

To Astley Cooper, Esq., F.R.S.

Sir,

The dedication of this book to you indulges at once my gratitude and my ambition. I avail myself of this opportunity to acknowledge the many obligations which your kindness and uniform attention have conferred on me. With pleasure I render this tribute to your friendship.

In seeking the authority of your name I have consulted the means of enhancing my own reputation. Who can more properly patronize a work on the Ear than one who has signalized himself by the elucidation of its diseases? Who so well appreciate the merits which it may possess, or shield its defects against the severity of criticism? The world is acquainted with your professional abilities, and respects your opinion. Your enthusiasm and unremitting endeavours to cultivate the department of Surgery, are displayed in the works which you have already given to the public; and it is confidently predicted that your talent for observation, quickened by an ardent desire to improve the science, will contribute fresh accessions to our knowledge, and add lustre to the profession.

But it is not merely by your own labours, great as they are, that you benefit society. Placed as a principal teacher in the first medical school in Great Britain, you impart a portion of your energy to your pupils, many of whom will be excited by the influence of your example to professional exertions not worthy of the place where they received their education.

I am, Sir,

With respect and attachment,
Your most obedient Servant,

J.C. Saunders.

Ely Place, March 12, 1806.

On a related note: how come we don’t close our correspondence that way anymore? There’s some romantic flair in professing one’s respect to another…no? Too outdated?

On Pretended and Itinerant Aurists

As focused as I’ve been on John Harrison Curtis, my current research focus has branched out, exploring a seeming network of aurists that also practiced in London during Curtis’ time.

William Wright (1773-1860), as I’ve mentioned previously, was one of Curtis’ contemporaries, and perhaps his most fierce and prominent competitor. Wright had a very long career–nearly 50 years–and published as many treatises on deafness and ear diseases as Curtis did. While his early work concentrated on warning the public against the dangers of using mercury as a treatment for deafness, much of his later work commented on various types of treatments described by other aurists at his time.

In fact, Wright’s writing actually serves as a commentary on the state of aural surgery during the early 19th century: his early publications remarks on the lack of expertise in the field, then he writes about the various treatments offered by aurists of his day, and during the latter part of his career, he scorns the level of quackery in the field and commends the newer generation of anatomists (like Joseph Toynbee) for taking a more “scientific” interest in the field. Pretty much every aurist during the period is mentioned in one or more of Wright’s publications!

I’ll write a longer essay in the near future examining the evolution or transformation of Wright’s perceptions of aural surgery. In the meantime, here’s one of Wright’s comments on “pretended and itinerant aurists”:

It is high time that some legislative enactment should put a stop to these nefarious practices, and to the evils which these impostors inflict through want of skill, upon many families among the poor. But it is almost hopeless to expect any change, whilst government receive so much from the advertisements issued by these empirics, and whilst the country newspapers are so materially benefited from the same source. Even Royalty itself has been imposed upon more than once, and made a medium for promulgating the names of some of the most notorious quacks to the world; which circumstances must be fresh in the recollection of the public.

Wright, Plain Advice for all classes of Deaf Persons, the Deaf and Dumb, and those having Diseases of the Ears (London, 1826)