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Patrick McCarthy <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 17 Nov 1994 09:40:47 -0800
text/plain (82 lines)
Responses From Lynn Schoch and Fred Levit to inquiry from Steven Pachuta:

From: Lynn Schoch <[log in to unmask]>

In technical parlance, inoculation refers to the process of
exposing the patient to a live strain of smallpox virus with the
hope that the patient would have a mild case of the disease and
so become immune to further attack. Jenner's process, which used
a cowpox virus, was technically dubbed (though not initially by
him) "vaccination."  It is quite possible that the terms could be
misapplied in everyday usage.

Lady Montagu introduced inoculation to England around 1720.  The
reference in *Silas Marner* could easily be to the older process.
However, by 1805, tens of thousands all over the world were sub-
mitting to vaccination.  Until the 1830s (and again in the 1880s)
the process was controversial among medical and pseudomedical
authorities, but was embraced almost immediately by the less
medically enlightened, who saw little harm and much potential
benefit. Anthony Wohl's *Endangered Lives* gives considerable
space to the history of vaccination in Britain.

Although I have not found a positive reference to Dickens being
vaccinated (have not looked very hard), it is very likely he
would have been.  *Bleak House* avoids the name of smallpox and
does not permit too close attention to the medical issues of
potential immunity.  While we might wonder about the
irresponsibility behind Esther's lack of immunity, the novel does
not make room for asking such a question.

Lynn Schoch, Indiana University, [log in to unmask]

From: [log in to unmask] (Fred Levit)

        Vaccination and innoculation are not the same thing.
Innoculation (taking pus from a patient with smallpox and putting
it into an incision in another person's skin) was first done in
England in 1721.  It gradually became  widespread, being fairly
effective but not without danger. Vaccination (using material
from a patient with cowpox, or later with material from artifi-
cially induced lesions on a cow) was finally published by Jenner
in 1798. It was safer than innoculation, since the person vac-
cinated could not develop smallpox, let alone fatal smallpox, and
could not therefore transmit smallpox to anyone else.

        Vaccination also spread rapidly, but was not mandatory in
England until 1853, although it was required in the British army
in 1802. In spite of vaccination, smallpox persisted in England
and an epidemic in Gloucester, in 1895-6, resulted in 2000 cases
and 434 deaths. This obviously was because too few of the popula-
tion were protected by vaccination. In additon it was not until
1858 that even the British military began to require revaccina-
tion, it having taken that long to realise that vaccination did
not confer lifelong immunity.

        There was widespread opposition to vaccination for many
years after it was introduced. The grounds were religious (it
showed a distrust of Providence), economic (the large business of
innoculations and small-pox houses would be destroyed),
scientific (it was not adequately proven), and superstitious (you
would grow hairy and begin to moo like a cow).

        Jo's illness, in Bleak House, is hardly described but is
apparently a febrile disease. Charley certainly catches it from
him, and her disease is also febrile, and severely so. The hint that it is small-pox comes when Ether says --I was very sorrowful
to think that Charley's pretty looks would change and be dis-
figured, even if she recovered---. Esther's illness is the same,
she certainly caught it from Charley, and she does become dis-
figured. All of which, while not well specified, is more likely
smallpox than anything else.

        Dickens certainly knew about vaccination (the word
appears in David Copperfield (chapter 48), but there were, in the
England of Bleak House, many, many people who were not vaccinated
and it was not stretching the possibilities to include Jo, Char-
ley, and Esther among them.

        Mr. Skimpole and Mr. Jarndyce were also exposed to Jo,
but did not become ill. Were they of a class that would have been
vaccinated or was it fortuitous?