London: Sold at No. 13, Castle-Street, 1786. Hunter, John (1728-93). A treatise on the venereal disease. , 398, pp. 7 plates, each with tissue guard and explanation leaf. London: Sold at No. 13, Castle Street, Leicester Square, 1786. 266 x 210 mm. Old calf, rebacked in cloth retaining part of a later calf backstrip, endpapers renewed, extensive rubbing and wear. Light toning, and minor foxing, a few ink smudges, light offsetting from plates, but, except for the binding, very good. Ownership stamp on title and one other leaf of Dr. Charles N. B. Camac (1868-1940), pupil and friend of William Osler; see Cushing, Life of Sir William Osler, pp. 576, 699, 704, 1172. First Edition. The progress of knowledge and treatment of venereal diseases received a setback with the publication of Hunter’s treatise, which supported the old theory, current since the sixteenth century, that syphilis and gonorrhea were manifestations of the same venereal pathogen. Hunter’s erroneous conclusion was based upon an experiment designed to test this theory, in which an unknown subject was inoculated with infectious matter taken from a gonorrheal patient, who, unbeknownst to Hunter, had also contracted syphilis. When the subject developed syphilitic symptoms Hunter interpreted this result as validation of the theory, as eighteenth-century medical doctrine did not recognize the possibility of mixed infection. Qvist, in his biography of Hunter, has effectively debunked the myth that Hunter performed the above-mentioned experiment on himself, a myth first publicized in D’Arcy Power’s Hunterian Oration of 1925. As evidence for the untruth of this myth, Qvist cites the report of the autopsy performed on Hunter, which did not list any pathological changes that might have been caused by syphilis, but rather indicates beyond the shadow of a doubt that Hunter died from coronary artery disease of atheromatous origin. Qvist also mentions the fact that Hunter never described himself as the subject of this experiment or as a sufferer from venereal disease (this in contrast to the vividly personal accounts he left of his other ailments), and points out that Hunter subscribed to the common eighteenth-century medical practice of performing experiments on other human subjects. The Treatise on the Venereal Disease was the first book issued from Hunter’s private press, which he established in 1786 at his house on Castle Street in an attempt to prevent the unauthorized publication of cheap and foreign editions of his works. 1,000 copies of the first edition were printed. Crissey & Parrish, Dermatology and Syphilology of the Nineteenth Century, pp. 81-83. Garrison-Morton.com 2377. Qvist, John Hunter, pp. 42-53. Robb-Smith, “John Hunter’s private press,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 25 (1970), pp. 262-269. Norman 1117. (Inventory #: 43997)
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