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Curing and Inoculating Smallpox: The Career of Simeon Worlock in Paris, Brittany and Saint-Domingue in the 1770s


Bennett, M, Curing and Inoculating Smallpox: The Career of Simeon Worlock in Paris, Brittany and Saint-Domingue in the 1770s, French History and Civilization, 7 pp. 27-38. ISSN 1832-9683 (2017) [Refereed Article]

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Endemic in Paris and other cities, and epidemic in the countryside once or more a decade, smallpox was a major cause of death and disability in eighteenth-century France. The people who escaped the disease in their youth lived in fear of it as adults. The observation that smallpox survivors were very rarely afflicted a second time, however, raised scope for human agency. From the 1730s, Voltaire and other philosophes urged their fellow countrymen to adopt the English practice of inoculation, a procedure that provided immunity to the disease, though at some risk. In an address to the Academy of Sciences in 1754, Charles-Marie de la Condamine claimed that smallpox, when taken naturally, killed around 1 in 10, but when inoculated, killed only around 1 in 1,000. Condamine argued that since the value of inoculation was a matter of statistics the educated layman was as fit to evaluate it as the physician.1 After a decade of controversy, and a ban on inoculation by the Parlement of Paris in 1763, opinion became more favourable to the practice. An improved mode of inoculation, generally known as the Suttonian method after the English family of surgeons who made it into a successful business, was attracting keen interest across Europe in the late 1760s. In France, members of the ruling class, including ministers like Étienne François, duke of Choiseul and Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, used inoculation in their own families and saw its broader value in terms of a larger and healthier population. Beginning in 1768, English inoculators came to France to ply their trade. By the early 1770s, there were pockets of inoculation activity in Paris and the provinces. The decision of Louis XVI to have himself inoculated in 1774 set the seal of approval on the practice. Though common enough in aristocratic and educated circles, the practice remained limited in scale in most regions. After the turmoil of the French Revolution, there were moves to extend smallpox inoculation (technically, variolation), but after 1800 energy was directed at introducing the new practice of cowpox inoculation (vaccination).

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:worlock smallpox inoculation medicine France Haiti
Research Division:History and Archaeology
Research Group:Historical Studies
Research Field:European History (excl. British, Classical Greek and Roman)
Objective Division:Cultural Understanding
Objective Group:Understanding Past Societies
Objective Field:Understanding Past Societies not elsewhere classified
Author:Bennett, M (Professor Michael Bennett)
ID Code:122129
Year Published:2017
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2017-11-02
Last Modified:2017-11-06

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