Episode 5

Smallpox Part 5: Edmund Massey (again)

Hello, and welcome back to the Poison Room, and… the final part of our journey into 1722 to see part of the very beginnings of the anti-vaccination movement. So far we’ve seen inoculation start to take off, a reverend’s objections, a physician’s objections, the counter-argument to both from Charles Maitland and an incredibly sarcastic response to Massey from an anonymous letter writer.

So now we’re going to talk about Massey’s reply, right? Well. This hardly constitutes a plot twist at this point, but Massey actually mentions someone else in his response. Dr. Samuel Brady. He also published a pamphlet on the matter, still in 1722. It was a good year for the pamphlet print business. His pamphlet is titled ‘Some Remarks Upon Dr. Wagstaffe’s Letter, and Mr. Massey’s Sermon Against Inoculating the SMALLPOX: with an Account of the Inoculation of Several CHILDREN; and SOME REASONS for the Safety and Security of that Practice. In Three Letters to a Friend.

Brady is pro-inoculation, and in fact, has had his own four children inoculated. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go through Brady’s pamphlet in detail. The first letter is a criticism of Dr. Wagstaffe’s letter, pretty much along the lines we’ve already seen.

Just like everyone else, he thinks Dolhonde’s accounts are absurd, and notes that it’s really rather odd that we didn’t hear about it at the time if these experiments really were being performed in France and Spain thirty odd years ago (Brady 1722: 14). He’s also pretty sure that both Douglass (the guy in Wagstaffe’s postscript) and Wagstaffe himself knew that Dolhonde’s account was not held in high regard in Boston.

Brady agrees that they need to be cautious with inoculation – quarantine inoculants during the procedure, don’t inoculate ill people, etc. (14-15, 17). And he even acknowledges that passing on another disease at the same time is a legitimate concern (17). But again, all that means is that they need to be careful in who they choose as a source of gunk.

Wagstaffe’s only two instances of someone dying from inoculation are both disputed (22), and Brady doesn’t think much of the letters from Douglass either (23-24).

His second letter is the one that addresses Massey’s sermon. He, too, thinks Massey’s claim that Job had smallpox is ridiculous. Job was struck by boils. Boils and pustules aren’t the same thing. Again, he makes many of the same arguments we’ve seen already.

The one interesting detail he adds is that he sure hopes it isn’t the case that the anti-inoculators’ stance is driven by their attitude towards the Royal Family (30). I think it’s reasonable to read this as him accusing Massy of being a Jacobite, much like Friend was. The Jacobites thought that the wrong royal family was in power, and wanted to reinstall the house of Stuart. The implication is that certain people might be biased against inoculation not because of the procedure itself, but because they don’t like the people who are practicing it – pretty similar to Maitland’s suggestion that Douglass’ main objection to inoculation is not the practice itself, but the fact that the clergy are interfering in medicine.

At the end of this letter, Brady states that he’s spent an hour reading the sermon and writing his response. He apologises that he’s so often slovenly and hurried in his comments on it. That’s undeniably an accurate assessment of his style. He breezed through both Wagstaffe and Massey’s pamphlets, and his comments on the problems are accurate, but brief.

His third letter is his account of inoculating his own children, and some rational arguments in favour of inoculation. Luckily, he wrote a day-by-day account as it happened. They all survived just fine. He indicates that what he did was fairly controversial and caused a clamour, but despite this, one Mr. Waller, an apothecary in Gosport also inoculated his three children. They also all survived just fine.

This final letter isn’t dated, but the second letter was written on July 30th So this pamphlet had to have been published after then, but before October 6th, which is when Massey’s response is dated.

And yes. That means we’re finally getting to Massey’s response.

His first comment is that nothing either Maitland or Brady has said has disproved a single thing he’s said, so he’s going to carry on with his current view, thank you very much (Massey 1722: 1-2). He complains about the rude treatment he’s received from some of Maitland’s defenders and he hopes he never stoops to that level, even if it means losing his cause (2). Of course, Pseudo-Maitland seemed to think Massey had already been plenty rude enough. I don’t know if Massey is specifically referring to Pseudo-Maitland here, but it seems likely that he has this in mind.

But sure, Massey admits, people think it was rude for him to call inoculators some hard names, but that’s not him being rude or anything, it’s just that inoculation is so immoral it deserves such names (2-3).

In fact, the commotion his sermon caused puts him in mind of Shakespeare’s Fallstaff, who requests of Henry that when he becomes king, he refers to the ‘squires of the night’ with such appellations as ‘gentlemen of the shade’ rather than ‘thieves’. ‘Thieves’ is, of course, exactly what they are (3). The implication being that inoculators are evil, but are asking to be called not-evil. Won’t you just look at how well educated Massey is, throwing in his Shakespeare reference.

Massey assures Maitland he’s not saying this because he thinks Maitland had anything to do with the anonymously published pamphlets against him. Maitland, on the other hand, is only facetious, and ‘do circum praecordia ludere’ (4). This is a quote from a Roman satirist called Persius. It means ‘playing around with the heart’. In context, Persius is describing the poet Horace, who manages to point out faults with his friends and jokes with them in a sensitive way. So this is Massey acknowledging that, yes, Maitland sometimes makes jest, but does so sensitively. Whilst also showing off how smart and well-educated he is in being able to quote this. However, Massey still thinks that jokes have no place in discourse on so serious a matter. He drops in a quote from Juvenal’s fourth Satire just to make sure it’s obvious that he can Do Latin.

But now, says Massey, let’s turn to your actual response to me, Maitland. We’ll go over them together, and if it turns out I’m wrong on any point of scripture, I’ll happily acknowledge the error (4). Spoiler alert: he doesn’t think he’s wrong. He’s also kind of salty, because he says:

After having, as you suppose, triumphed over Dr. W. and his most excellent Understanding, in the former part of your Remarks; at p. 40 you turn your Forces against Dr. Massey, M. O. allowing him the wretched Privilege of being last devoured, and intending to make him an Example, to all those who shall dare to preach against what they conceive to be impious or immoral.


In short: Wagstaffe’s a super good doctor, you didn’t actually successfully argue against him, and also thanks for leaving me until last so you can make an example out of me. Kinda’ makes you think Massey’s previous comment might be sarcastic. So maybe he does think Maitland had something to do with those other nasty pamphlets, and doesn’t think Maitland’s jests are suitably respectful. This degree of passive aggressive sarcasm would be rather hypocritical, but obviously, Massey thinks that he’s allowed to be a sarcastic jerk because inoculation is just that bad.

Now, if you thought Massey sounds slightly petulant, he gets worse. He gripes that Maitland isn’t addressing his arguments in turn! Maitland starts his reply to Massey by framing his argument as him saying that inoculation is unlawful and first introduced by the devil – which isn’t until page six of Massey’s sermon! This definitely deserves an eye-roll. The first few pages of Massey’s sermon are primarily him summarising the story of Job. Does he really expect Maitland to comment on that?

He’s also upset that Maitland is totally misrepresenting him. Maitland makes it seem like Massey is stating that Job definitely had smallpox, but he didn’t! He only conjectured. He said the devil might give Job the smallpox, perhaps by some ‘such way’ as inoculation. Geeze, Maitland. The poor man was just speculating. He wasn’t saying this was the only way to interpret it. But since we’re at it, have you got a better interpretation to offer (6)? Hmmm? If you have, spit it out, and let other people judge which is more reasonable. Honestly. This kind of misrepresentation just makes you seem like a liar and a scoundrel (6).

Next Massey says that Maitland’s conclusions as to what else we can learn from the story of Job aren’t worth addressing. Of course, he is going to address them anyway. In fact, Massey’s perfectly happy to accept all but one of Maitland’s conclusions (7).

Yes, it might well be the case that Sydenham did not invent the cool regimen! Just like Dr. Harvey was not the inventor of the circulation of blood (7) (because discovering a method of treatment is totally comparable to discovering the circulatory system). And he’ll also allow that it might have been three weeks before Job’s friends visited him. If you remember, I actually defended Massey on this point, because Job’s friends don’t live close, so you’ve got to allow time for them to hear the news in the first place, and then more time for them to actually get there. And this is exactly the point that Massey himself makes. Hell, they might even just have been tardy, it makes no difference to Massey (7). But the point that Massey rejects is Maitland’s claim that Job must have had a mild case of smallpox, because it wasn’t accompanied by the more severe symptoms such as delirium. Scripture tells us that he was stricken all over, and was in lots of pain.

Massey concludes his comments on Maitland’s biblical exegesis by pointing out that even if Maitland’s arguments did prove Massey’s interpretation to be bad, this doesn’t actually make a difference to his overall argument (8). And he really is right about this.

Next he gets to the meat of Maitland’s arguments. First up is Maitland’s argument that just because the devil does something, doesn’t mean it’s intrinsically bad. After all, the devil assembles with the sons of God, and even quotes scripture. And Christians are actually supposed to do that. Massey counters that an honest man does so with good intentions, in order to do good. But the devil always does them with evil intentions, in order to do evil. So it’s just not the same (8-9). And by the way, even if a good man, with good intentions is mistaken in his understanding of scripture, this is decidedly different from deliberately perverting the meaning in order to do evil. These, too, are entirely reasonable points. So Massey’s not doing badly at defending himself so far.

But then he also adds that Maitland’s examples are of the devil quoting scripture, believing in God, and assembling with the sons of God, but not inoculation, even if Maitland thinks performing inoculation is his religious duty as much as going to church and believing in God are (10). This is kind of a silly point.

To break it down: Maitland uses some examples of the devil doing things that it is undeniably good for Christians to do, in order to disprove a general principle that something is intrinsically wrong just because the devil has done it. Massey’s counter is that Maitland doesn’t include inoculation on that list. Of course he doesn’t. That would be begging the question, and just asserting that inoculation is also good. You can’t use the thing you’re trying to prove is good as an example of things that are good. That’s just begging the question. Maitland wants to demonstrate that not everything the devil does is intrinsically evil. He has examples to back up his point. The fact that he doesn’t use inoculation as an example is just him not falling into a logical fallacy. And I’m very certain that, had Maitland done that, Massey would have been quick to point out the flaw in the logic. Massey’s good argument rate drops to 66.6%.

But he also argues that inoculation, a medical practice, just isn’t comparable to religious practices. Is Maitland really saying that inoculation should be held in the same esteem as faith? Answer: No. No he’s not. Maitland’s argument is just that we can’t declare something intrinsically bad because the devil does it. It must be proved to be intrinsically bad first. And despite his observations and arguments, that’s not actually a claim Massey has managed to counter, here. Success rate: 50%.

Next up, Massey turns to Maitland’s statement that should inoculation be proved intrinsically bad, then he would agree with Massey that it should not be used to try and achieve good ends. But, of course, he thinks Massey hasn’t proved that. He wants some definite references to scripture from Massey.

Now, Massey admits that if Maitland requires that the example specifically mention inoculation, that would indeed be difficult. But if he can convince Maitland to abandon that term for a more general principle then sure, he’s got some examples for ya’.

So first of all, he wants to define ‘inoculation’ in a broader sense. He defines it as:

an Engraftment of a corrupted Body into a sound one: An Attempt to give a Man a Disease, who is in perfect Health, which Disease may prove mortal.


Is Maitland likely to accept this definition? No. Because he doesn’t think inoculation is dangerous, if done properly. But if we do accept Massey’s definition then, he reminds us, that this constitutes tempting providence. Just like Jesus in the desert with the devil (11). Now, if Maitland didn’t accept this comparison first time around, he’s unlikely to accept it now, just because Massey has said it again.

Next he turns to Maitland’s analogy that getting inoculated is comparable to jumping out of a burning building. Sure, if your house is on fire and all your other means of egress are blocked off, then jumping out a window is a reasonable thing to do. But actually, Massey thinks, the situation is more comparable to a man jumping out of a window even when his house isn’t on fire, just to try out what he might be forced to do if the house did catch fire (12).

To be honest, it’s more like jumping out of a house that isn’t on fire because doing so will prevent the house catching fire in the first place. Maybe this house fire thing just isn’t a great metaphor. Equally, the situation isn’t exactly comparable to Jesus in the desert, either. The devil doesn’t suggest that Jesus jump of the temple in order to prevent him having to jump from a more deadly height later. He just wants Jesus to do something in order to demonstrate that a certain result will occur. So maybe the real comparison would be between Jesus in the desert and Maitland getting Eliza to keep babysitting people with smallpox. Or maybe we should just call this whole comparison thing off.

Anyway, Massey’s point is that it’s ridiculous to take a dangerous action to avoid a danger you’re not even in. Which kinda’ does actually make sense on a level. If you happened to, say, live in a country where there was no smallpox. It would be odd today, for example, to get inoculated against smallpox, because we’re not at risk of catching smallpox. But in 1722 England, smallpox is a definite risk.

Unfortunately, Massey’s not done making a mess of this house fire metaphor. Inoculation isn’t like jumping out the window, it’s like setting a house on fire that wasn’t on fire in the first place (13). So inoculation is like jumping out of a building that’s not on fire, but also like setting a building on fire. This is a good argument as to why this metaphor is broken, but not a good argument against inoculation. Though I would note that controlled fires are an actual technique used to prevent the spread of wildfires. That doesn’t help recover this metaphor, though. Let’s just accept that this horse is dead, and set it on fire.

Oh, no. Wait, let’s not. Since inoculation is now the act of setting the house on fire, rather than jumping out a window, Maitland clearly has to justify what right he has to set a house on fire (13). Or, in non-metaphorese, what right does Maitland have to take someone who is in perfect health, and put them in danger of their life? Which just brings us back to the fact that Maitland’s very probably not going to accept the part of the definition that specifies inoculation as putting someone in danger of their life.

But if we accept that it is putting someone’s life or health in danger, then it can’t be lawful, because even if that person consents they don’t actually have the right to put their own life in danger. Massey could definitely have provided some theological backing here, which might even have managed to make his argument compelling. But he doesn’t, and I’m not going to do that legwork for him.

Next is Maitland’s claim that inoculation cures pain, because it removes the anxiety of getting smallpox, and physical pain and mental anguish are comparable. Massey doesn’t dispute this claim, but he wants to know what right a surgeon has to treat anxiety (13-14). Stick to removing bodily pain, not mental pain. Now, this might sound like a weird argument: what does it matter whether the illness the surgeon is treating with surgery is physical or mental?

Well. Massey thinks that treating anxiety doesn’t fall in remit of medicine at all. Because anxiety… is a sin. At this point Massy quotes Matthew 6 in both Latin and ancient Greek. It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount. The specific verse he quotes is 34 – in plain English, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow’. The context is that if we put our faith in God, then God will provide. Your faith should protect you from anxiety (14). Reminds me of that joke about someone waiting on the roof of their house to be rescued from a flood, and rejecting the help of two boats and a helicopter because ‘God will provide’. When they inevitably die and get to heaven, they ask Saint Peter why God abandoned them. Saint Peter points out that God sent two boats and a helicopter, what more did they want?

It might be a joke, but it’s a valid theological point. What if inoculation is the security God is providing? Massey is focusing on the ‘put your faith in God to relieve anxiety’ part of the sermon, but ignoring the ‘because God will provide you with what you need’ part. Sometimes God works in mysterious ways, but sometimes God works in very obvious ways by providing food to stop you getting hungry, and inoculations to stop you getting smallpox.

Anyway. Given that Maitland is acting outside of his jurisdiction, and without authority, then what consolation or amends could Maitland possibly offer the friends or family of the deceased? True, the fact that you didn’t intend harm might protect you from the charge of wilful Murder, but so what? In Massey’s own words, you’ve still killed someone you didn’t have the authority to harm, and:

Great Consolation, no doubt, it must afford to his surviving Relations and Dependants, and entire Satisfaction to the Magistrate to have five or six Exotics assign his Death to some other Cause, or join in the Surprize, and say ---- *Who’d ha’ thought it?


Who’d ha’ thought it? Honestly, I wasn’t going to use a quote here until I saw him say ‘who’d ha’ thought it?’ It just tickles me. Anyway, his point is that ‘I didn’t meant to!’ isn’t going to console distraught relatives, nor will the testimony of a bunch of… exotics saying he died of something else, and neither will just being surprised about the matter.

Now, it’s possible that Massey is making a sly reference here to Maitland’s surprise that the servants of Mr. Batt apparently caught smallpox when he inoculated Batt’s daughter. Six servants got smallpox. Five of them survived. Initially Maitland offered this as proof that it was indeed smallpox that inoculation was conveying, but later he backtracks and claims they probably got it from some other source. It would help to know if Mr. Batt’s servants were… “exotics” by which he very probably means “black people”, because: racism. But this is just conjecture on my part. I’m just speculating that this might perhaps be what he’s doing. It’s just an interpretation. Nobody had better represent me as claiming this as a fact, damnit.

Moving on. Inoculators are just tempting people to part with perfect good health without being able to provide complete assurance that they’ll recover from it (15-16). This is, of course, still premised on the idea that Maitland will accept that some people die of inoculation.

Next Massey tackles Maitland’s claim that magistrates have the authority to inflict disease as punishment, which is itself a counter to Massey’s claim that men do not have the authority to inflict disease. Yes, execution by poison was practiced in ancient Athens, and mutilation is sometimes practiced in England, but neither of these cases contradict Massey’s own position (17). Note the fact that Massey has to refer to ancient Athens for an example of poison being used for execution. Which does suggest that it wasn’t being used at the time. But the death of Socrates by drinking hemlock would have been well known to any educated man, so perhaps this is what Maitland was alluding to in his pamphlet.

But, Massey wants to know, what has any of this to do with his position? Judges pronounce such punishments either to aid the recovery of the offender (presumably his moral recovery) or to destroy him. And if a non-lethal punishment should inadvertently be the second-hand cause of the offender’s death (e.g. whipping leads to an infection which kills them) then that death is not on the judge’s hands, unless the method he used was itself illegal. There’s a wee bit of a goalpost shift going on here. Maitland was pointing out that Massey was wrong in his claim that God didn’t grant man the power to inflict diseases. That was it. He wasn’t saying inoculation was the same as punishment. That would be incredibly counter-intuitive of him. But hey, Massey thinks he can score some points here so he’s going to go for them. His argument is that:

There is this material Difference between the Magistrates Practice and yours, That his Object is proper, his Intention right, and the Circumstances to bring it about lawful: The Second of these Requisites, which constitutes a good Action, you profess to have, but it still remains to be proved, that you are not defective in the other Two.


In the case of the actions of the magistrate, they have the proper object, correct intentions, and it’s lawful. Maitland claims that physicians have good intentions, but what about the other two? Having the proper object, and being lawful?

The proper object for the magistrate is the criminal. Obviously, for Maitland, the proper object of his practice is people who don’t want to die of smallpox. But Massey thinks that people who are already in perfectly good health are not the proper object for a physician’s practice, and physicians only want to inoculate people who are in good health already (15-16). So there’s an obvious incompatibility here, as far as he’s concerned.

The more I think about this objection, the more interesting I find it. To us, today, highly familiar with the idea of preventive medicine, this objection just doesn’t make much sense. But I think it shows what a profound development was taking place in medicine with the introduction of inoculation. Massey just can’t wrap his head around the idea that we might do something that temporarily makes us ill or uncomfortable in order to stave off future illness.

Before this point, preventive medicine in Europe has taken the form of quarantines to stop someone already with a disease spreading it to others, and improving sanitation. Neither of these have any sort of detrimental impact on the health of the people trying to stave off illness. Inoculation is a real revolution in preventive medicine, for Western Europe, at least.

Next Massey objects to the idea that mutilation should be classed as a disease. In all honesty, I was questioning this too, when I first read Maitland. Massey throws in a Latin quote to back up his position: Morbus est ille Corporis Status, qui functiones animals laedit (19). Massey is a bad scholar who never provides any citations for the things he quotes, but up until now I’ve been able to figure out the source. Unfortunately, this one, I do not know. Literally the only thing that comes up as a match in Google is this pamphlet. Aaand… probably at some point after today, this transcript. Fortunately, I can do Latin, too, Massey. It means ‘Disease is that condition of the body which harms the performance of the animal’. I.e: to class as a disease, it has to impair function. And there are some people who, either from birth or through punishment are… uh… “mutilated”, and their “animal functions” are not impaired (19). Now, without access to whatever he’s quoting, it’s hard to know exactly what is meant by ‘animal functions’, but his basic argument is that some people manage to cope with their disabilities just fine, and therefore would be excluded from the category of having a disease, according to this definition. Basically, Massey is disputing that mutilation should class as a disease. And many people today would find it a questionable claim that externally caused injuries should class as ‘disease’. If mutilation doesn’t count as a disease, then Maitland loses his example of judges as people given permission to cause disease.

But, Massey wants to know, even if judges do have the power to inflict disease, what’s that got to do with inoculation? Are inoculators judges? If they were, that would give them the power to inflict inoculation as a punishment. Which would mean that Maitland’s experiment on the Newgate prisoners is the only legal inoculation he’s done, because their lives were already forfeit (19-20). It’s okay to perform experiments on prisoners because they done wrong. Nice Christian ideals at work there, Massey.

Next up, Massey addresses Maitland’s jibe that Massey would no doubt be totally fine with inoculators being punished by being inoculated themselves:

And should, as you say, a Law be made, that the Inoculators should be punished, with the Inoculation of some Disease; whether I should think such a Law sinful or not, I should proclaim the Judgment righteous upon you.


Massey throws in some more Latin, here, this time quoting Ovid:

…Lex non est justior ulla quam Necis Artificis arte perire sua


It’s from Ars Amatoria Book one, verses 655-56. Basically: there’s no law more just than that he who has plotted death be destroyed by his own methods. So yeah, Maitland. If you were prosecuted for performing inoculations, then inoculation would be an entirely suitable punishment. And yes, for those of you who know the Ars Amatoria and are wondering, there will be an episode on it in future.

Next Massey takes Maitland to task for comparing amputation and mutilation:

Surely you cannot be in earnest, when you talk of Surgeons, who cut off Limbs, notwithstanding the Law against Mutilation; if you are, I pray explain to me, how Mutilation, which is generally taken in a bad Sense, and signifies, making a Man defective unlawfully; and Amputation, which is taken in a good One, and imports, cutting off of Necessity, which cannot be against the Law, because it has none, come to mean one and the same Thing: How evil Intent, and good Intent can stand upon the same Foot, and to destroy be no other than to preserve.


Amputation and mutilation are apples and oranges, Maitland. You can’t compare them. One aims at harm, the other is a necessary practice aiming at good. One has good intent, the other evil. To claim they’re the same is to say that destroying and preserving are the same thing. I mean… it’s not. It’s saying they can have the same method, not that they’re the same thing. You can kick down a house door to save someone inside, or you can kick down a house door so you can kill someone inside.

Next up, Massey turns the snark up to eleven:

I intended not to have taken leave so soon, but upon perusal of a late Plain and short Account, I find most of the Remarks, which you and others have made upon me, are sufficiently obviated: And if the Physical part of it be as good in its kind, as the Moral, I shall expect to hear, that you have relapsed into that violent fit of Sickness, which no wonder the reading of Dr. Wagstaffe’s Letter threw you into.


Massey was gonna say more, but then he read another pamphlet which he feels addresses Maitland’s other remarks sufficiently. And if the parts of it that argue from the medical perspective are as good as those from the moral perspective, then no doubt Maitland will soon be ill again, since it was totally reading Wagstaffe’s letter that made him ill before. The pamphlet he’s read, by the way, was published by one Isaac Massey. His uncle.

I read Isaac Massey’s pamphlet and it’s really not that great. There’s very little in it that’s either interesting or compelling. He makes some of the same arguments as Wagstaffe, some different ones that seem to be addressing things other pro-inoculators have said, and also declares that no doctor who saw the Newgate patients thought they had smallpox (Massey, I., 1722: 2). In his postscript (because of course there’s a postscript) he says that one of Mr. Heath’s sons was inoculated without the Consent of the mother, and that a Dr. Dimsdell claims that he’s never in his life had more difficulty than he did to save one of the boys.

He adds that there was a young woman living as a lodger in the same house who said she’d leave if they did an inoculation there, but she was eventually persuaded to have it done, and then died. Finally, he comments that a Dr. Morton, who was a physician to the fleet in the Mediterranean knew about the practice in Turkey, and claims that it doesn’t provide certain protection against catching smallpox.

He’s as short on details as Wagstaffe is, but given that Edmund Massey thinks Wagstaffe’s letter is brilliant, it’s no surprise he thinks his uncle’s pamphlet is also very good.

Next Edmund Massey turns back to Dr. Brady, and his not particularly subtle suggestion that Massey might be a Jacobite. Unfortunately there’s very little information available about either Edmund or Isaac Massey, so I have no idea how true that might be, but it’s interesting to note that from the very beginning of the anti-vaxx debate, some people have been tying it to political affiliations. Hilary Susan Morris states that ‘the willingness to associate opponents with anti-loyalist affiliations was an unprecedented event in the history of medicine’ (: 66). Which is incredibly interesting it itself. Both anti-vaxx sentiments and the idea of attacking one’s opponent in a medical debate by disparaging their political affiliations have their start right here.

Anyway. Massey rather resents Brady’s statement. He’s just as good a citizen as anyone, totally not a Jacobite, and he hopes that what he’s heard of the Royal Family isn’t true – and what he’s heard is that the princesses are still not fully recovered from inoculation (24). I don’t know where he heard this. I’m pretty sure it’s not true.

Massey finishes up by declaring that he’s speaking from a place of public-spiritedness, out of concern for the common good (24-25). And that’s the end of his letter.

So, to summarise:

At the very end of Massey’s pamphlet is a list of ‘books’ printed for a ‘W. Meadows’ at the ‘Angel’ in ‘Cornhill’, and this reveals that in 1722 the pamphlet of Massey’s sermon was on its third edition. Meadows also had a bunch of other non-inoculation things published, including some stuff on Seneca, an abridged account of Robinson Crusoe, a translation of the Odes and Satires of Horace, and a translation of Ovid’s Epistles. I’d make some comment about how he should have stuck to classics, but that would be rather hypocritical of me. Anyway. Whoever Mr. Meadows was, we can add him to the list of anti-inoculators.

What we’ve gone through in the last five episodes is just a small fraction of the literature that was published both in favour of, and against, inoculation, in the 1720s. Heck, it’s not even everything that was published in 1722. By 1729 fewer than 900 inoculations had been reported as having taken place (Christian Brunton 1990: 29). Part of the problem was the dearth of practitioners – only 70 practitioners in the 1720s, according to Deborah Christian Brunton (1990: 29-30), who also suggests that another part of the problem was that the cost of inoculation was prohibitively expensive (1990: 30).

The last case of naturally acquired smallpox was in 1977, in Somalia. In 1978 Janet Parker, a medical photographer at Birmingham University Medical School in England became the last know person to die of smallpox. When she was diagnosed, the World Health Organisation sprang into action, and more than 500 people were vaccinated to prevent the spread of the disease. (Rimmer 2018). In 1980 the Shooter Report, commissioned by the government, concluded that she had definitely contracted the disease from the laboratory on the floor below where she worked. The year before then, judges at Birmingham Magistrates Court ruled that the University had not broken the Health and Safety at Work Act. But that came far too late for Professor Henry Bedson, the head of the laboratory. He died a day after Deborah herself, from suicide (Rimmer 2018).

Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that after the incident in Birmingham, any remaining stock of smallpox in laboratories would be destroyed. But there are two laboratories – that we know of – that still have samples of the virus. One in the USA, and one in Russia. Comforting, I know.

But some believe that other laboratories may still have access to the disease. In 2002 then president of the USA George Bush announced that the smallpox vaccine was to be given to military and other government personal in high-risk areas (Roos 2002). Nearly 300 years after Wagstaffe first suggested the possibility, governments began to share his concerns about its potential use in biological warfare and terrorist attacks. The US government has vaccines prepared to roll out in the event of such an attack. Hopefully, they will never be needed.

In 2014 six vials of freeze-dried smallpox virus were found on the campus of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Scientists found them whilst cleaning out a storage area (Kaiser 2014).

In 2018 American anti-immigration conspiracy theorists shared an image that they claimed showed a man with smallpox at the Southern Border. It was, in fact, a photo from 2014, of a man with scabies (Kasprak 2018).

And just a few weeks ago there was an explosion at Vector – the Russian lab that actually still has some smallpox virus. No smallpox virus got out.

Over the course of researching and writing these episodes, not a week has gone by where someone has not shared a vaccine-related story with me.

There’s currently an outbreak of measles in New Zealand, which, as of the 13th of September, has 1,238 confirmed cases, with 1,028 of those in the Auckland region (New Zealand Ministry of Health). Recently four countries lost the status of measles free from the World Health Organisation. Those countries were Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece, and the UK (BBC News 2019).

In the same period of time I’ve stumbled in to several arguments with anti-vaxxers. I didn’t go looking for them, but Facebook decided I needed to see them. Thanks, Facebook. In one of these instances, someone shared a book from 1889 as ‘proof’ that people have known all along that vaccines don’t work. I can only assume that even the person who found the book didn’t get past the title, because the vaccine it claims is dangerous and does not work is… the smallpox vaccine.

As of yet, none of the anti-vaxxers have been able to answer the question ‘what happened to smallpox, if vaccines don’t work?’ It’s a quick and efficient way to end the conversation.

That’s it for now, for 1722, smallpox, and anti-vaxxers, and for this episode. Next episode will be something different entirely – something a little more fun. There’s a shark involved.

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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 that has nothing to do with setting houses on fire.


--- (2019) [‘Measles: Four European Nations Lose Eradication Status’](< https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49507253>), BBC news.

--- (1722) A Letter to the Reverend Mr Massey Occasion’d by his Late Wonderful Sermon Against Inoculation, J. Roberts

Brady, S. (1722) Some Remarks upon Dr. Wagstaffe’s Letter, and Mr. Massey’s Sermon Against Inoculating the Small-Pox with an Account of the Inoculation of Several Children. And Some Reasons for the Safety and Security of that Practice. In three Letters to a Friend, John Clark.

Christian Brunton, D. (1990) Pox Britannica: Smallpox Inoculation in Britain, 1721-1830 (unpublished doctoral thesis) University of Pennsylvania.

DeLacy, M. (2016) The Germ of an Idea: Contagionism, Religion, and Society in Britain, 1660-1730, Palgrave MacMillan.

Kaiser, J. (2014)Six Vials of Smallpox Discovered in U.S. Lab, Science Mag.

Kasprak, A. (2018) Is This a Photograph of an Immigrant with Smallpox?, Snopes.

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

Massey, E. (1722) A Letter to Mr. Maitland, in Vindication of the Sermon Against Inoculation, W. Meadows

Massey, I. (1722) A Short and Plain Account of Inoculation with Some Remarks on the main Arguments made use of to recommend that Practice, by Mr. Maitland and others W. Meadows.

Morris, H. S., (2018) Military and Naval Campaigning on Behalf of the Health of Society, with Reference to Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century Britain (unpublished doctoral thesis) University of Portsmouth.

Rimmer, M. (2018) ‘How Smallpox Claimed its Final Victim’ BBC News.

Wallace, A. R. (1889) Forty-Five Years of Registration Statistics, Proving Vaccination to be Both Useless and Dangerous, E. W. Allan.