Friday, 12 December 2008

Triumphing over smallpox

I was intrigued when I came across this monument to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Lichfield Cathedral a few days ago, though puzzled as to its origins, given that she's buried in (I think) Yorkshire. It reads:
Sacred to the Memory of The Right Honorable Lady MARY WORTLEY MONTAGUE, who happily introduced from Turkey into this country the Salutary Art of inoculating the Small-Pox. Convinc'd of its Efficacy she first tried it with Success On her own Children and then recommended the practice of it To her fellow-Citizens. Then by her Example and Advice we have soften'd the Virulence and escaped the danger of this malignant Disease. To perpetuate the Memory of such Benevolence, and express her Gratitude for the benefit she herself has receiv'd from the alleviating Art, this Monument is erected by HENRIETTA INGE relict of THEODORE WILLIAM INGE, Esq.r. and Daughter of Sir JOHN WROTTESLEY Baronet in the Year of OUR LORD MDCCLXXXIX

Happily, Rob Hardy's blog, written during a sabbatical in Warwickshire, answers my questions, provides a neat little biog of Lady Mary, and an overview of the scourge of smallpox in the 18th century.

A small addendum to Hardy's article: Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, England, on 17 May 1749, and would become a pioneer of smallpox vaccination. The act of deliberately giving people smallpox to create immunity, popularised by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, became known as variolation. Jenner was variolated at school: he was starved, purged and bled, then locked up in a stable with other artificially infected boys until the disease had run its course! Because variolation was still an imprecise science, the technique was a risky one, and some died from it.

Operating as a country doctor, Jenner soon observed the effects of cowpox, and speculated, correctly, that it could act as a safer protective against smallpox. In his garden he installed what would become known as the Temple of Vaccinia: a small hut with a thatched roof where he vaccinated the local poor.

Subscribe now!

No comments: