Roberta Bivins, John V. Pickstone, eds. Medicine, Madness, and Social History: Essays in Honour of Roy Porter. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. x + 295 pp. $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-230-52549-8.
Mark S. R. Jenner, Patrick Wallis, eds. Medicine and the Market in England and Its Colonies, c.1450-c.1850. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. xiii + 269 pp. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-230-50643-5.
Reviewed by David M. Fahey (Department of History, Miami University)
Published on H-Albion (July, 2008)
Roy Porter, the Long Eighteenth Century, and the Medical Market
The social history of medicine loosely ties the two impressive collections of essays under review. One of them--edited by Roberta Bivins and John V. Pickstone--honors the late Roy Porter (1946-2002), and the other--edited by Mark S. R. Jenner and Patrick Wallis--critiques the medical marketplace, a concept associated with Porter. When the middle-aged Porter died, he left a huge scholarly legacy. How did he manage to do so much in a relatively short lifetime? Although affable and generous with his time, he was a disciplined worker; for instance, he replied to his correspondence by scribbling a terse response directly on the letters that he received. He slept very little (and suggested to a visiting faculty member to work until 10 p.m. and then sleep in his office to save commuting time). A few months before Porter died of a heart attack, he retired from teaching at University College London's Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine to focus on his research and his gardening.
The social history of the "long eighteenth century" benefited from Porter's energy and imagination. Unlike most of his predecessors, he approached the social history of medicine from the patient's perspective. It was people that most interested him. For good or ill, he was a descriptive historian who sidestepped grand theories. However, this approach did not keep him from addressing big topics. For instance, in 1997 he published The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity and in 2000 The Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World. Porter was fond of his book Flesh in the Age of Reason (published posthumously in 2003). Porter is remembered too for his books on madness. This explains the choice of the William Hogarth caricature featured on the front cover of the present collection of essays.
Porter was a colorful figure. Ordinarily "notes on contributors" are dull, but in Medicine, Madness, and Social History, they include candid memories of Porter. For example, Geoffrey L. Hudson reports that Porter "announced his fourth divorce with a 'post-it' on the office bulletin board," while Mary Lindemann remembers the nervousness of an American conference organizer when Porter appeared "in black silk shirt open to the navel, tight leather trousers, hairy chest and all" (pp. 230, 231) He liked wearing rings, earrings, and gold chains. Dorothy Porter, his third wife and collaborator in several books, imagines him as still "chuckling away at his 10,000th reading of Laurence Stern's ridiculous book [Tristram Shandy] or shaking his head at the latest postmodernist clap-trap" (p. 233).
Appropriately for a volume honoring a versatile scholar, Medicine, Madness, and Social History lacks a common theme. The essays are grouped into three parts: "The Science of History and Politics of Science," "Bodies, Commodities and Social Difference," and "Minds, Identities, and Social Order." Porter is the subject of several essays: "Roy Porter and the Persons of History" by Harold J. Cook, "Porter versus Foucault on the 'Birth of the Clinic'" by Adrian Wilson, and a memoir simply entitled "Roy" by William F. Bynum. All the essays in the book are very good. I was especially struck by Colin Jones's exploration of dentures in "French Dentists and English Teeth" and an essay in intellectual history by Daniel Pick, "Maladies of the Will."
The second book, Medicine and the Market in England and Its Colonies, has a sharper focus than does the Porter festschrift. In about the same number of pages, it offers fewer essays (twelve as compared with eighteen plus an introduction), so the contributors develop their arguments more fully. A characteristic of all the essays is that the authors place their discussions clearly in the historiography. This makes sense since the book is a critique, for the period 1450-1850, of a fairly new concept that historians quickly have taken for granted. In their introduction, editors Jenner and Wallis establish the need for such a critique. The term "medical marketplace" is ill-defined, overlooks cooperation among practitioners, plays down the continuation of healthcare based on principles other than financial payment, and neglects the wider story of promotion of good health, such as supplying pure drinking water. This book extends geographically beyond England to eighteenth-century New England and to Indian bazaar medicine. Many of the essays should interest the general historian, as for instance, Mary E. Fissell on the marketplace of print and Michael Brown on James Morison's Vegetable Universal Pills.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
David M. Fahey. Review of Bivins, Roberta; Pickstone, John V., eds., Medicine, Madness, and Social History: Essays in Honour of Roy Porter and
Jenner, Mark S. R.; Wallis, Patrick, eds., Medicine and the Market in England and Its Colonies, c.1450-c.1850.
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