Episode 4

Smallpox Part 4: Maitland and Pseudo-Maitland

Welcome back to the Poison Room, and part four of a bunch of people throwing a lot of shade at each other about their varying stances on stopping people dying of smallpox.

Last episode we went through the first part of Maitland’s response-pamphlet to Wagstaffe and Massey, where he replies to Wagstaffe’s medical arguments. Now he turns to Edmund Massey, our sermon writer from episode one. The one who thinks Job had smallpox and the devil invented inoculation.


Maitland starts off pretty sarcastically:

From useful discoveries, there can always be drawn important Consequences. First, Hence we learn, that the Smallpox is an ancient Disease; for if it was conveyed to Job by some Such Way as Inoculation, the Matter must have been taken from some Body Infected with the Distemper. Secondly, that Sydenham was not the first that began the cool Regimen; for Job sat down upon the Ashes in the open Air; his Friends saw him afar off. Thirdly, That his Friends were tardy, above three Weeks before they came to see him; for in the Genuine Confluent Kind of Smallpox, it will be that Time before they can bear scraping with a Potsherd. (40-41)

Shots. Fired.

Job had smallpox? Gosh! What other conclusions can we draw from this remarkable discovery? Well. Firstly, if the devil got the gunk from someone who already had smallpox, as he must have done if he conveyed it to Job via inoculation, then smallpox must be very old indeed (actually, it was). Secondly, if we’re looking at this from a medical point of view, then we can actually attribute the invention of the cool regimen to Job himself, rather than Sydenham.

The ‘cool regimen’ was the idea of treating smallpox by opening the window, using thin bed sheets, and not heating the room. It had been controversial when Sydenham suggested it in the last decade of the 1600s, but had now been accepted as an appropriate treatment in certain cases.

Anyway, in Job we see a clear example of this cooling regimen, because Job sits outside in the cool, open air.

Thirdly, his friends were tardy and took too long to visit him. Job had had to ‘scrape’ his own pustules with a ‘potsherd’. He’d had to use a piece of broken ceramic to push the gunk out of his own smallpox pustules. And, since, in the case of real smallpox, it takes three weeks to get to that stage, Job’s friends didn’t come to visit him for at least three weeks. In their defence, they come when they hear about the case, and it’s likely they didn’t live close. So the news first has to get to them, and then they have to get to Job. So it’s plausible that they came as soon as they heard, rather than hearing about it immediately and then dossing around a while before going to see him.

What else can we learn?

Fourthly, Beloved, this confluent Sort of the Smallpox were more gentle, to be sure, than the common natural Ones; for he seems neither to have had Delirium, sore Throat, nor shortness of Breath; he talk’d distinctly and in good Sense. (41)


Now, remember, this is a pamphlet of a letter Maitland wrote to Hans Sloane. It’s unlikely that Maitland is addressing Sloane as ‘beloved’. So either he’s addressing Massey, or he’s addressing the reader. The former would be undeniably incredibly sarcastic, but I think it’s the latter. I think Maitland is trying to mimic the style he imagines a preacher to have, and deliver this sentence as if the readers are his congregation. Which… is still pretty damn passive aggressive, but not so sarcastic. Anyway, his point is that if Job had smallpox, he had a gentle kind, which lacked the usual accompanying nasty symptoms.

However. Massey’s argument doesn’t hinge on this idea that Job had smallpox. It’s how he introduces the topic, and it allows one to easily compare oneself to Job, but Massey is using Job to demonstrate how we should react to disease and misfortune in general, not how we should react specifically to smallpox.

These four points are, therefore, a particularly flippant start to Maitland’s response to Massey. He’s not actually interested in a theological debate about the merits of identifying Job’s disease with smallpox. They both know that’s not actually important. Instead, he’s trying to show that he thinks that whole approach is absurd, by taking it to logical extremes. If you want to take it as smallpox, here’s what else must be true.

Now on to the more serious concerns. Maitland raises a question: is man allowed to do what the devil can also do? I.e. if the devil does it, is it intrinsically bad (41)? Clearly not, because in the book of Job we also see the devil doing things like believing in God and quoting scripture, which isn’t just something good men can do, but something they should do. Now, Massey doesn’t actually make this argument, but Maitland is doing what Maitland likes to do, and running hypotheticals. Given that you can’t argue that it’s intrinsically immoral just because the devil does it, you need to be able to justify why it’s immoral. And Maitland doesn’t think Massey does manage to do that.

Next he addresses Massey’s claim that it’s utterly unlawful for Christians to ‘inflict diseases’. He has a couple of points to make about this. The first is that, if it were specifically a Christian law, then there should be evidence of it in specifically Christian texts – i.e. the New Testament. But Massey doesn’t provide any (41). Maitland’s second argument feels almost like a quibble, like he’s picking at Massey’s words: he cannot think of anything that is immoral and forbidden to Christians but allowed for others. If it’s against the will of God then it’s against the will of God for everyone. Christians (obviously) might have more insight into what God wants and what God’s law is, but that doesn’t change the fact that if it goes against providence, or God’s natural law, then it’s immoral for everyone (42).

After this he turns to Massey’s argument that the power to inflict disease is only granted to humans in very specific instances in the bible, and is in order to punish sinners. But, Maitland argues, this does not preclude the possibility that the power was granted to man when he does so to benefit someone. And as to Massey’s claim that no one has even been given sickness as a punishment for breaking the law? That’s a lie. Diseases can be internal and external, and magistrates inflict them plenty. Mutilation of the body is a common punishment. And that’s a type of inflicting disease. There are executions performed by administering poisons, and death is a mortal disease. Now, as far as I know, neither Britain nor the colonies were using poison as a method of execution at this time, but Maitland refers to it in present tense, as if it is still happening. The main form of execution at the time in England was hanging. Burning at the stake was still used for some crimes. But I can’t find any evidence that poison was in use.

Anyway. Massey’s own logic works against him now, because if diseases are there to punish our sins, and God has granted magistrates the power to punish crimes, then he has granted them the power to inflict disease. This might be true, but it doesn’t help Maitland prove that it’s moral or lawful to inflict a disease in order to help someone.

Maitland takes another jab at Massey next:

If… there should be a Law made to punish the Inoculators with the Inoculation of some disease, I fancy this Reverend Divine would not think it sinful or unreasonable. (43)

If a law was passed that punished inoculators by giving them an inoculation, Massey, this Reverend Divine, would probably think that was fine and dandy. Not the best insult we’ve heard in this debate.

Next part: Maitland criticises Massey for spending a decent paragraph proving what no one has disputed: that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and that the method as well as the intention must be good and lawful. That’s all fine, thinks Maitland, but, Massey hasn’t proved that the case of inflicting disease for a good purpose is unlawful, he’s just assumed that it is (43).

And what about Massey’s suggestion that life might not be good? Well, in that case, certainly inoculation would be bad, but so would all other medicine and anything at all that we do to help someone (43-44). So much for Christian charity, then.

The next part of Massey’s argument is that inoculation doesn’t even work. But, if Massey is so sure that the disease Job got was smallpox, and that it was via inoculation, as the good reverend claims, then we may note that Job recovered from it, and apparently never had it again (44). Also, mate, you’re out of your depth. You’re a reverend, not a physician. Which, incidentally, makes you a hypocrite, because you want the rest of us to lay medicine aside and trust in God. You don’t get to say that and then also try and use medical arguments to bolster your position.

After this, Maitland turns to Massey’s argument against inoculation based on the sixth commandment: thou shall not kill. Massey argued that this commandment covered all harm, especially that which might lead to death, even if death was not the intent. Maitland’s counterargument is amputation. Despite having a tendency to result in death, physicians still cut off people’s limbs to try and save their lives, and that’s definitely mutilation. And we all accept that as an appropriate and acceptable practice in the right circumstances (44). And, surgeons sometimes perform surgeries to remove stones. Both bladder and kidney stone surgery had already been performed in medicine for literally millennia (Tefekli, & Cezavirli 2013), gallstone surgery wasn’t a thing yet, in Europe at least (British Medical Journal 1939: 464), and it’s bladder stones he’s talking about here. Just in case you were wondering.

Anyway. Sometimes we do surgery to remove bladder stones, and the patient dies, but they might have lived a long time had we not cut them open, and maybe not ever died from the stones (45). The fact that one of these is a cure and the other a preventative doesn’t matter: they’re both putting someone in immediate danger to try and prevent a future death that may or may not happen. So: do or do not physicians have a lawful power to hurt or cause disease for a good purpose?

And besides all that, fear of getting smallpox causes a lot of distress and suffering, and anxiety and physical pain are pretty similar, so you can’t say it’s fine in one case but not the other (45). Inoculation cures the anxiety caused by the fear of getting smallpox.

Next Maitland turns to Massey’s claim that inoculation is tempting God in the same way Jesus would have been tempting God had he given in to the devil’s suggestion and thrown himself off the temple roof to prove that angels would catch him. Maitland does not think much of this argument:

It is wonderful, into what Absurdities, Zeal for an Opinion, will drive a Man, even to assert that there is no Difference between a Man’s running into a Danger absolutely unnecessary, and from which nothing but a direct Miracle can save him; and a Venturing on a small Hazard to avoid a much greater. The Case put it as disadvantageously as possible, more resembles that of a Person who leaps out of a Window for fear of a Fire, and surely can never be reckon’d a Mistrust of Providence, even if he did it before he was much in Danger; for no body can say that God Almighty may not save a Man from Fire in the ordinary Course of his Providence; And if a Person, who being prompted by his too early Fears had taken this Course, and lost his Life by the Fall; no body will arraign him of Self-Murder: He might have done an imprudent, but not a sinful Action. (45-6)

Dear Lord what lengths people will go to in order to justify their wrong opinion. It’s ridiculous to compare the temptation of running into a totally unnecessary danger from which only God can save us, and doing something that’s not even that dangerous to avoid something that really is dangerous.

Inoculation is more comparable to jumping out of the window in a burning building. And we don’t accuse people of going against providence when they do that, even if they jump before the fire is right at their heels. In fact, we even accept that this action might have been God’s way of saving them.

And if someone does die from jumping out of the window to avoid the fire then we might consider their actions rash, but not unlawful. We don’t accuse them of having murdered themselves (46). If you remember, Wagstaffe uses the example of buildings being on fire, too. Apparently physicians in the early 1700s just like comparing things to burning buildings.

Maitland continues. People already have smallpox parties to expose their children to the disease, and if the kids die in those cases, we don’t accuse the parents of having murdered their children. No. We understand that they were acting out of love, and in the best interests of their child; we don’t accuse them of going against providence (46).

Next Maitland moves on to… Well. He construes the claim that he wants to counter as Massey saying that inoculants are unable to pray to God for help with their efforts, because you can only pray for help with lawful things. That’s not actually the argument Massey makes. Massey’s claim is that God helps us when we are overwhelmed by troubles, but he won’t help us if those troubles are ones we have inflicted upon ourselves deliberately. It’s a difference between what we cannot do and what God will not do, but I see no reason to elide it, and his argument doesn’t really depend on it. Because Maitland thinks that Massey has not proved that inoculation is unlawful, there’s no basis to claim that God won’t answer the inoculant’s prayers, and in fact, the inoculant is putting themselves even more in the hands of God, because anyone with any sense would be praying to God for his blessing in this method which has not been proved to be unlawful (46-47). Frankly, I think an all-loving God would probably save you anyway, even if your situation was your own fault, because that’s what it means to be all-loving.

Even without the reframing, this isn’t a particularly strong argument, and certainly not one that Massey would find compelling. Massey is claiming that provoking a bad situation is tempting God, Maitland’s just saying ‘nu-uh, it’s putting your faith in God that he will save you’. That doesn’t disprove Massey’s interpretation, it just offers an alternative possibility.

Next Maitland turns to Massey’s argument that removing the fear of smallpox as a punishment will lead to an increase in sin (47). This is, apparently, the most extraordinary of all Massey’s arguments. Maitland accepts that before, Massey rightly said that we should not do evil in order to achieve a positive end – i.e., the ends don’t justify the means. But here, what Massey’s actually doing is establishing a replacement that’s just as dangerous as the idea of doing evil in order to achieve good: Massey is, in fact, suggesting that we avoid doing good in case some evil comes from it. Which brings us back to the idea that Massey’s argument also works against all medicine. Since it all helps reduce the fear of dying from illness we should probably just get rid of physicians, because they’re nothing but a nuisance (47). And hell, let’s extend this to its logically absurd conclusion: the hope of forgiveness encourages us to sin, and the hope of being able to rely on the Christian charity of others in order to survive discourages us from doing good, honest work.

Unfortunately, some people still think that’s a compelling argument today with regards to immigrants, refugees, and the unemployed. Again, so much for Christian charity.

Next, Maitland returns to his sarcastic style:

I am touched with the devout Reflections upon Providence, that are all along spread through his Sermon, to which I subscribe with all my Heart; but I cannot so much commend the Distorting those great and solemn Truths of our Holy religion to maintain the Party Interests and fashionable Opinions. The Text that is quoted P. 22. That the very hairs on our Head are numbred; I take to be a stronger Argument against Periwigs and Shaving; than all that Sermon contains against Inoculation. (48)

Maitland’s totally on board with everything Massey says about the nature of providence, but this bible quote Massey uses to argue that everything, even down to the number of hairs on our head, is preordained by God, is a stronger argument against wigs and shaving that anything Massey has said against smallpox. And after all, people have apparently died from shaving. Because… shaving… might mean you get a cold. And… that might lead to a deadly illness. Who knew shaving could be that dangerous?

Now, the next part I’m gonna give you a pretty long quote for:

The Peroration Page 29, is equal to any piece of the whole Performance, Let the Atheist and the Scoffer, the Heathen and the Unbeliever disclaim a Dependance upon Providence: Let them Inoculate and be Inoculated, &c. I think this clinches the whole Matter; and this Reverend Gentleman has furnish’d us with a new, sensible and religious Test, an Atheist or Infidel can be found out, as a Witch, by the Marks upon his Body: And that, as it has been intimated already, that the Devil was the first Inoculator; I think, it is not impossible that the next zealous Preacher upon this Subject may prove the Cicatrices of Inoculation to be the Mark of the Beast. (48)

Hey! Given that you think atheists and heathens should all get inoculated, and that you think the devil performed the first inoculation, then we might as well say inoculation scars are the mark of the beast. Maitland’s sure the next overenthusiastic preacher will take that leap. Obviously, he’s is being hella sarcastic, but maybe don’t give them the idea, Maitland.

Maitland then wraps up his response to Massey by explaining that he’s been more particular in his response to the sermon, because he considers the religious and moral objections to be more important than those of medicine. One is just being a bad doctor, the other is an actual sin.

In final conclusion, no one has a good enough objection to halt experiments in inoculation. But if good evidence appears of it being disadvantageous overall, he’d happily condemn it. But there isn’t. So there.

To Summarise:

That’s the end of Maitland’s letter, with its delightful combination of weird maths, sarcasm, and mostly good arguments. But whilst I was researching this topic, I came across another letter to Edmund Massey that many sources claim was also written by Maitland. It was one of the only things I couldn’t find access to online. But fear not. Turns out my local university library had an original copy of it. In fact, they have a whole book of such pamphlets that was donated to them in the 1800s. So I got to go visit the special collection and look at this book. And, even more excitingly, this particular letter was annotated. Unfortunately, the handwriting is illegible, to me right now, anyway. But I’ll post a photo of one of the pages on twitter so you can see it if you want to.

However. After actually reading it, I don’t think this letter was written by Maitland. Neither does Margaret DeLacy (2016: 250 n. 88). DeLacy doesn’t think it matches Maitland’s style, and it’s certainly far more sarcastic than Maitland’s response pamphlet. And when I say ‘far more sarcastic’ I mean ‘so brilliantly sarcastic that I’m going to give you the highlights from it because blimey Charlie I need to share this’. And that’s definitely the only reason. Not at all anything to do with the fact that I’d written like… 4,000 words before I realised this very probably was not Maitland’s work.

The pamphlet is not signed by Maitland. The author is anonymous. In my defence, pretty much every source does attribute the letter to Maitland. In fact, DeLacy is the only person I could find who even questions its legitimacy. I find that really odd, because there’s something in the letter that really does suggest that it’s not by Maitland and it’s the kind of thing that makes the attribution so questionable that it’s just absurd not to mention it, but we’ll get to that later. As of yet, I haven’t been able to track down the original source that lead everyone to believe this was by Maitland, so I have no idea if they provide a reason for the identification.

Given that I don’t think it’s by Maitland, and it’s pretty clumsy to just keep referring to ‘the author’, I’m going to follow Classical convention here, and refer to them as ‘Pseudo-Maitland’.

Like the previous pamphlets, this was published in 1722. There’s no specific date on it, but the post-script refers to Maitland’s response to Wagstaffe as forthcoming, so this was actually published first.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go through it all in detail, because a lot of it is stuff we’ve already seen. I’m just going to pick out the parts that are particularly sarcastic or say something new.

The first 4 pages are Pseudo-Maitland making a bunch of the arguments we’ve already seen in favour of inoculation (3-7). After that, they really take a swipe at Massey:

Abundance of People have, by their Teachers, been made stupid enough to believe, that though Inoculation should uncontestably appear to be a safe Preservative against all the Danger usual in the Small-Pox, and consequently very beneficial to mankind; that yet it is a Practice contrary to the Principles of Religion, and therefore ought to be the Abhorrence of every godly Soul. So little are they acquainted with the Nature of a truly Divine Religion, which never can discourage any Practice conducive to the Good of Mankind. You are not ignorant, who are the Persons that teach and propagate such false and pernicious Notions of Religion. You have instructed them to say, that God has ordain’d the Physician to cure our Diseases, not to create them. (7-8)

Some foolish religious types who are apparently wholly unacquainted with the real nature of Christianity have been discouraging inoculation despite the fact that it works, and have been claiming it is sinful. And you know who I’m talking about, Massey, because you’re the one who’s been instructing them to say this, you unhelpful walnut.

From this you can already see that this has an even harsher tone than in the previous pamphlet, so you can see why DeLacy doesn’t think the style matches. This also tells us that Massey was not the only religious type preaching against inoculation, but it also paints him as the ringleader of that group.

Pseudo-Maitland then basically tells Massey to back off out of medicine. He’s a man of the cloth, not a doctor. Leave medicine to those who actually know what they’re talking about (10). They then bash Massey again for trying to scare people away from the idea, and bash his sermon for being incomprehensibly contradictory (11).

And then they carry on bashing him:

A grand Objection against Inoculation is its being Diabolical; for “the Devil inoculated Job,” P.6. And P. 15. “Remembring our Text I shall not scruple to call it Diabolical.” You seem so fond of this Whim, that I shan’t rob you of the Pleasure of believing it; but only tell you, ‘tis so very merry an Argument, that I never heard it mentioned without a Smile, either by the Friends or Enemies of this Practice.’ (11-12)

Hey, Massey, it’s cute that you really like your Job idea, but, uh, just so you know, everyone thinks it’s hilariously absurd – even people actually on your side. Lol.

On page 15 they point out the contradiction between Massey’s (incorrect) claim that inoculation has a higher mortality rate than smallpox, and his subsequent claim that it’s evil because it increases vice. It can only increase vice if it’s lessening the danger from smallpox, you utter parsnip.

They then go back to attacking Massey for not knowing what he’s talking about and being contradictory. Seriously, if I wanted to tell you about all the instances of sarcasm, I’d just have to transcribe the whole damn pamphlet.

The next part that’s interesting is on page 21, where Pseudo-Maitland attacks Massey’s argument about prolonging life meaning that we potentially provide people with more opportunity to sin. Isn’t it also the case that fear of danger frequently prevents people from behaving as they should? The fear of getting smallpox could prevent someone from doing a virtuous thing. For the record, I think this is actually a really good counterargument.

By page 22, Pseudo-Maitland thinks they’ve gone through all of Massey’s arguments and addressed them sufficiently from a medical perspective. I’d say it’s been a combination of medical and logical arguments. They repeatedly point out the contradictions between the various arguments Massey makes. But Pseudo-Maitland’s only about halfway through their letter. Now they’re going to talk about how good Massey’s arguments aren’t from a religious perspective. Also, sarcasm:

However, having considered you as a Disputant in Medicine, to enquire a little how able a Divine you are, can’t be improper. For if we find you an accomplish’d Divine, your Mistakes in any other Science have a juster Claim to Forgiveness; though we must censure your Intrusion and Weakness in meddling with Things beyond the Reach of your Understanding. You must excuse the Freedom of this plain Truth, that as bad Physicians as you are, without doubt you are still a worse Divine. (22)

Pseudo-Maitland makes a bunch of fairly punchy, unrelated arguments in quick succession for the next few pages. It’s pretty much one per paragraph. They don’t dawdle. This is quite a change of pace from the first half of the letter, where they basically take two pages per argument. Or, rather, half a page per argument and then another one and a half pages dissing Massey. Pseudo-Maitland has clearly shifted to attack mode. The effect is kind of overwhelming – they makes a point very briefly, and you expect the next paragraph to be elaborating it, but then you realise halfway through that actually they’re already onto another point altogether.

Their first line of attack is a return to pointing out internal contradictions in Massey’s argument. First Massey claims that it was almost a shame first time around when Job lost his possessions and his sons, because surviving such misfortune is a greater unhappiness than being the one who dies from it. But then a few pages later, when Satan gets to attack Job a second time and covers him in boils, Massey says that this was the greatest unhappiness (22-23). Which is it? Is it a greater unhappiness to be dying of an illness, or to not be dying of an illness?

Now, in Massey’s… uh… defence… this point doesn’t actually undermine the meat of his argument. You could literally just strip out that first comment and his core arguments would remain untouched. And I’m sure Pseudo-Maitland knew this. So this is more just them… setting up Massey as a poor theologian in general.

The next argument I want to highlight is… well. Let’s get Pseudo-Maitland’s own words, first:

I am sorry to find you so unacquainted with you Bible, as no to know that St. James, ch. Iv. 7. Has told us that if we resist the Devil he will flee from us: Had you known this, I suppose you would not have told us, P. 5. “That the Devil, according to his usual Ways, after being once defeated, returns to the Assault with fresh Vigor and additional Strength;” unless perhaps this was asserted in order to introduce the might pretty Similie that follows: “Temptations, like Waves, commonly break in upon us, and commonly the last is the biggest, and goes the farthest.” Did you ever see such Waves? One would rather imagine the last to be the least. (24)

Have you even seen waves, Massey? That’s not how they work. But more to the point, Saint James says that if you resist the devil he will flee from you. I.e.: he won’t come back. But Massey claims that the devil returns to try again, with greater strength. But… again, in Massey’s defence (I can’t believe I’m doing this), that’s not a problem with Massey’s argument, that’s a problem with the Bible. The book of Job does have the devil returning, even stronger, to try again. So… if anyone’s wrong, here, it’s Saint James.

Next they attack Massey’s assertion that disease is sent for two main reasons – either to test you, or punish you. Pseudo-Maitland’s response is that Massey does not know the mind of God, and there are many more causes than Massey, a mere mortal, can comprehend. And this must certainly be the case with children, because… illness in children can’t correspond to these two causes (24). Which kind of depends on how old the kid is, but it’s certainly true for babies: they’re too young to understand temptation and haven’t exactly had much time to wrack up some serious sins. This is a shift away from the arguments about internal contradictions. There’s a hint of a theological argument here about how much of God’s plan humans can ever really know or understand, as well as an assertion that Massey’s claim just doesn’t match reality.

They carry on with more quick-fire arguments, but one detail amused me: at one point they say that Massey’s interpretation is:

‘as conceivable, as a Globe without Roundness’ (26)

I.e.: not at all. Guess we know what Pseudo-Maitland would think of flat-earthers. This comment is part of Pseudo-Maitland addressing another actual theological question, about the nature of virtue. People avoiding things for fear of punishment is not virtuous. Virtuous actions must proceed from a love of what is just and beautiful. This is a proper philosophical argument. Took me back to Aristotle for a moment. Someone else who also knew the world was round.

After that, Pseudo-Maitland throws chapter and verse at Massey:

But I must now take occasion of exhorting you to be more conversant with your Bible; and inform your self, that there are more Instances of the Infliction of Diseases upon on Men, besides those on the Egyptians and Gehazi, which you tell us are the only ones you are, as yet, acquainted with: You having never read, that Elimas the Sorcerer was struck blind; or in the next Chapter to that where Gehazi’s Case is recorded, that there was a like Instance upon a whole army, whom Elisha smites with Blindness. Many others might be mentioned, but I shall only produce one, which will make you bite you Nails to think you omitted; ‘tis the Case of Uzziah, recorded 2 Chron. 26. Whom the Chief Priest smites with Leprosy for being wroth with the Priests, and having a Censer in his Hand to burn Incense, v. 19. (28)

Moses and the Egyptians, and Elisha with Gehazi? Those are the only two examples of someone inflicting illness on another? Clearly you don’t know your bible very well, Reverend Massey. Because in literally the next chapter after Gehazi’s illness, Elisha smites a whole army with blindness. And has Massey forgotten that the sorcerer Elimas was afflicted by blindness, too? There are a bunch more examples that they’re not going to mention, but there’s one more they do want to bring up, because Massey is totally going to kick himself for forgetting it. In 2 Chronicles, Uzziah is smote with leprosy by the chief priest. Honestly, Massey, how did you forget this?

But Pseudo-Maitland’s not done criticising Massey’s use and interpretation of the bible. Next they criticise his use of Romans 14. Massey uses this to support his argument that bad means are not justified by a good end. Massey’s phrasing of the verse is ‘do not let your Good be evil spoken of’, which he interprets to mean that we shouldn’t tarnish the good that we do by achieving it through bad means. Pseudo-Maitland disagrees. It clearly means that we should not let people speak evil of the genuinely good things we have done. And Pseudo-Maitland supports their interpretation with… context. What Paul actually says is that nothing is intrinsically bad, but if one of our siblings in Christ considers it bad, then to them it is bad. And as good Christians, we should abstain from doing to them the thing they consider to be bad (28-29).

To place this in an even broader context, Paul is talking about supporting those who are weaker in faith, by which he means those who are following stricter regulations. Specifically, regulations that fall into grey areas of interpretation. And even more specifically, he’s talking about diet. Some people are still following Jewish dietary laws and keeping kosher. Others think that they should abstain from meat altogether. Paul thinks these regulations are unnecessary, but he also thinks that Christians shouldn’t be judging each other about this. And they shouldn’t antagonise those who follow stricter dietary regulations, because this could cause them to stumble in their faith and fall into sin. It might not be intrinsically bad to eat meat, but if you do it despite knowing that it upsets other Christians, then that’s bad.

So I’d suggest that actually, the real message here as applicable to inoculation is that, if your fellow Christians think inoculation is wrong, then you shouldn’t do it to them or in front of them. So it would be immoral to inoculate Massey, but inoculation in itself is not immoral. Assuming that inoculation can’t be proven specifically to be bad.

Next, Pseudo-Maitland observes that, given Massey apparently can’t tell the difference between doing good and doing evil in order to produce good, it’s no surprise he erroneously thinks that inoculation is tempting God (29). You can’t tell the difference between a disease and it’s remedy, Massey. Pseudo-Maitland is kind of stumbling here, because I’m pretty sure that Massey would dispute that inoculation is a ‘remedy’. A remedy is something you do to correct a situation. Inoculation is designed to prevent the situation in the first place. That difference might not be important to Pseudo-Maitland, but it is important to Massey.

After this, Pseudo-Maitland returns to just being hella’ salty:

Did I not observe a great deal of laboured Obscurity in the Stile of almost every Sentence, I should imagine you had scribbled over your Sermon in a hurry, and never permitted yourself to dwell upon any Thought of it. Otherwise, how could you, whose Lips should preserve Knowledge, suffer so many ignorant Blunders to escape you, or allow you self to treat worthy Gentlemen with so much ill Manners, and be so lavish is scurrilous Language upon them. I am persuaded, unless you are hardened to the last Degree, you will take the first Opportunity to acknowledge your Blunders in Casuistry and Divinity, and beg Pardon for your Failure in Point of Civility. (29-30)

Massey, your sermon is so bad that anyone would think you’d written it last-minute if it weren’t for the laboured style. And having written it in a hurry would be the only excuse for how many mistakes you make and how rude you are. But now that I, Pseudo-Maitland, have shown you the error of your ways, you’ll obviously apologise immediately to the gentlemen you’ve insulted. I’m waiting.

And while we’re at it, what about the fact that you claim that you like and encourage rational enquiry, but on the very same page then say you want those people engaging in said rational enquiry to be expelled from the college and stripped of their titles (30)? Is rational enquiry to be lauded or punished, Massey? Make your mind up.

The next part – the very final page of the damn letter, is the part that made me realise that, oh. This really probably was not written by Maitland:

As for myself, perhaps asserting I am a saucy Blockhead, nay a Wizard, an Atheist, a Devil, may be the safest way of answering my Letter. But I can assure you, I am unconcerned about myself, if you do but make a just Satisfaction to the Gentlemen you have publickly abused, and affronted. I can assure you, I am one who never practiced Inoculation, nor have had any Hand in promoting it; and therefore not a Party in the Cause. (31)

Saucy Blockhead. Pseudo-Maitland claims they don’t have any skin in this game, they’ve never performed an inoculation, nor done anything to promote it. They just think Massey’s sermon is that bad that they had to respond. And they think their response is that damning that it would be safer for Massey if he just dismissed them with insults rather than trying to reply to their points.

If this is Maitland, then he’s flat-out lying here. Now, I agree with DeLacy that this is not Maitland’s style – neither the extreme sarcasm and insults, nor the lying. Of course, one could suggest that this is because he’s writing anonymously, and as we all know, the mask of anonymity tends to make people bolder and ruder. So maybe Maitland is just taking advantage of that to be as sarcastic as he likes. But honestly, that just doesn’t sound like Maitland. Maitland wants to defend himself, and he’s perfectly capable of doing so. He doesn’t need to publish an anonymous letter.

So who is Pseudo-Maitland? We don’t know. DeLacy doesn’t hazard a guess. Given that they know Maitland is planning to publish a reply, it’s probably someone at least acquainted with him. I could have spent hours reading so much stuff to try and figure out whose style this matches, but this is a podcast, not a thesis.

In summary… and, uh, just assume that all of these points are interspersed with copious insults:

Anyway. I said before, that’s not a detailed summary of this particular letter, it’s just the highlights reel. I hope you enjoyed that, and agree that it was worth including. I genuinely enjoyed reading it. I did not expect to laugh out loud whilst reading a smallpox inoculation pamphlet from 1722, but there we are. If enough people are interested, I might be persuaded to type the pamphlet up, so everyone can enjoy it in its full glory.

That’s it for this episode. If you like the show, please subscribe on whatever podcatcher you use. Rate and review the show, especially on iTunes, or Apple Podcasts or… whatever it is these days. If you’re the type of person who can be convinced to leave a review for the prospect of getting a shout-out, start the review with the words ‘we can learn from Job that…’ and I will bless you with this most esteemed honour. If you’re the type of person who can be convinced to do something out of fear of being punished by God, then… leave a positive review, or God will punish you for your sins. Or just do it out of Christian charity and love of virtue. I don’t mind.

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Transcripts of this episode are available at poisonroom.com, where you can also see the references and bibliography. Again, if the sources are publicly available, they’re linked to.

You have been listening to The Poison Room, a podcast inflicted upon you for your sins, or to deter you from sinning, or to test your faith.


--- (1939) ‘The History of Gall-bladder Surgery’ British Medical Journal, Mar 4; 1 (4078): 464–465.

Maitland, C., (1722a) Mr. Maitland’s Account of Inoculating the Small Pox, London.

Maitland, C. (1722b) Mr. Maitland’s Account of Inoculating the Small Pox Vindicated, From Dr. Wagstaffe’s Misrepresentations of that Practice, with some Remarks on Mr. Massey’s Sermon. . J. Peele.

Tefekli, A. & Cezavirli, F. (2013) ‘The History of Urinary Stones: In Parallel with Civilisation’ The Scientific World Journal, 423964.