Book Update

A stuffed doll dressed as a ballerina and wearing a hearing aid is placed next to a yellow book with the title Hearing Happiness. On the doll's lap is a golden 1950s hearing aid.

It is gut-wrenching to write this update.

As you all know, the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has upended our worlds. The new reality requires us to practice intense social distancing, quarantining and isolation in the hopes to flatten the curve. People are getting sick and dying. The economic repercussions has devastated many people’s lives and will be felt for a long time.

In the face of things, it seems silly to be writing an update about a book, but I wanted to reach out personally and let readers know what’s happening with Hearing Happiness, which was scheduled to be out on May 19, 2020.

Given that bookstores and libraries have closed, Amazon is not accepting shipments of books, and there is a threat that book delivery from the printers will be delayed, the University of Chicago Press has made the difficult decision to postpone until September the publication of their Spring 2020 books — including Hearing Happiness.

Hearing Happiness will now have an official September publication date. If you have already pre-ordered a copy, you should receive it in August. You’ll be able to buy copies from bookstores or online retailers at that time as well. And of course, you can still pre-order in now, if you’d like; and if you do, do enter the pre-ordering giveaway campaign.

In the meantime, I hope you all are safe and in good health. We’ll get through this crisis together and hopefully emerge stronger in the end.

All the best,

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)

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)