Tag: Martin Lister

The Problem of Mad Dogs in the Eighteenth Century

Surgeon John Burnet shared “a very strange account” with Sir Hans Sloane in March 1720. The tale, sent to the French Académie des Sciences, had come straight from the Czar of Muscovy (Peter the Great) himself. Apparently,

a Man was bitt by a Mad-dog & that he lay with his wife the same night & after three fitts dyed, but that his wife was brought to bed nine weeks afterwards of five puppies.

Curious, indeed. Did this mean that rabies (or hydrophobia, as it was called) might be spread like a venereal disease? Or that the dog-bite had transmitted canine qualities into the infected man, which he then passed on to his offspring? Burnet was sceptical about account, noting “how far this is true, I know not”, but similar stories could be found in the Philosophical Transactions.

Rabies: Slaying a mad dog. From Dioscordes, Acera de la materia medicinal y de los venenos, 1556. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Rabies: Slaying a mad dog. From Dioscordes, Acera de la materia medicinal y de los venenos, 1556. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Physician Martin Lister, for example, wrote “An Observation of Two Boys Bit by a Mad Dog” (1698). Back in 1679, two boys aged nine and ten washed the head wounds of a dog that had been bitten by a mad dog. The injured dog was saved, but several months later, the boys became ill with stomach pains and convulsions.

What suggested a diagnosis of hydrophobia was that, by August 1680, the boys feared the water and had become, well, a bit dog-like. They regularly went into simultaneous fits that would last an hour, during which time “the Eldest especially, snarled, barked and endeavoured to bite like a Dog”. By September, “they became more wild” and, even after the fits had passed, could not endure the company of people. They had become more animal than human. The case seemed dire, but the boys were on the mend by the end of September.

Clergyman and antiquary, Abraham de la Pryme, wrote to Sloane in 1702 about a 1695 case from his brother’s household (see also Phil. Trans. 23, 1702-3). De la Pryme noted the regularity of timing in several cases, but was particularly intrigued by the way that tiny “Particles of this Poyson” could spread to infect a “mass of particles millions of times bigger”.

This case started with a “pretty grey-hound Bitch that had Whelps” being bitten by a mad dog. Three weeks later, the greyhound also went mad and had to be put down. The puppies appeared well and were looked after, but (again) three weeks later, “all pull’d out one anothers throats except one”. This one continued to eat, but would drink no liquid. Two servants caring for the puppy stuck their fingers into its mouth to check for a blockage, but there was none. The puppy soon went mad.

Three weeks later, both servants became ill. One, “a most strong and laborious Man”, managed to sweat off his symptoms: acute headache, tightened throat and red eyes (which makes me think of Black Shuck’s fiery eyes). But the fourteen-year old apprentice was much sicker. He became so savage that it took four adult men to hold him down

and all his discourse was of fighting, and how if that they would but let him alone, he would leap upon them, and bite, and tear them to pieces.

He soon lost his ability to speak altogether (one of the marks of humanity), then died.

The economic problem of the disease was obvious, as it could easily spread to livestock. In George Dampier’s recipe for rabies (published in the Phil. Trans.), Dampier reported that his remedy “did [his neighbours] a Hundred Pound’s Worth of Good” during a local outbreak when it saved their cattle.

But the social consequences of transmission was even more worrying. Rabies was, after all, considered a type of poison (see here and here), but so too was venereal disease, which could also be passed to one’s offspring. The real fear? That the mad animal’s qualities might be passed on to the human—or, worse yet, the victim’s children.

As De la Pryme concluded in his account, it was a pity “that the most Noble of creatures lyes at the Mercy of the most ignoble of particles”, but a wonder “that a few Atoms should be able to destroy a whole world”.

Shell Game: Martin Lister and the Conchological Collections of Sir Hans Sloane

By Anna Marie Roos

For my forthcoming book with Bodleian Library Press (The Lister Sisters: Women and the Art of Scientific Illustration), I have been researching the work of Martin Lister (1639-1712), a royal physician, vice president of the Royal Society, the first scientific conchologist and arachnologist, and a colleague and correspondent of Hans Sloane. Lister and his daughters Susanna and Anna produced the Historiae Conchyliorum  (1685-92), the first comprehensive study of conchology.  The work consisted of over 1000 copperplates portraying shells and molluscs that Lister collected from around the world, as well as an appendix of molluscan dissections and comparative anatomy.

We can see here that Lister's daughters Susanna and Anna were credited with doing the illustrations: "Susanna et Anna Lister pinx[erunt]".

We can see here that Lister’s daughters Susanna and Anna were credited with doing the illustrations: “Susanna et Anna Lister Figuras pin[xerunt]”.

Some of the shells that Lister’s daughters illustrated still exist in the collections of the Natural History Museum in London, as part of the original collection of Sir Hans Sloane.  When Sloane went to Jamaica in 1687, Lister asked him to bring back specimens not only of shells but of what he termed ‘naked snails’ or slugs.   Lister also borrowed specimens from the virtuoso and collector William Courten or Charleton (1642–1702), dedicating his Historiae to him.  Courten had a public museum of curiosities in a suite of ten rooms in the Temple, London, including artwork, specimens of flora and fauna, and archaeological objects.  In turn, Sloane bought the collection entire, including Courten’s shells that the Listers illustrated in their book.

When he catalogued the Sloane Shell collection, Guy Wilkins first noticed the existence of the original specimens in the NHM collections, and I wished to investigate the provenance of the shells a bit further with the help of the delightful Kathie Way, the senior curator of mollusca.  I also was curious about the techniques that Susanna and Lister used to portray the specimens. There were no set rules for scientific illustration in the seventeenth century, and it was an era before the development of binomial nomenclature to classify species taxonomically. Lister and his daughters were therefore creating standards for classification and identification of species.

I first noticed that when the Listers had an actual specimen to illustrate, they portrayed the shells in a one-to-one scale for ready identification.  In the case of a shell from the genus patella, or a true limpet, the shell can be laid flatly on the page, and it seems that his daughters traced around its periphery to portray its margins accurately in the final engraving.  It is possible to place the shell down on the drawing and get a perfect match.

Patella granulatis, Sloane 1013, Natural History Museum, London next to its portrayal by Anna Lister in the Historiae Conchyliorum.  Courtesy, NHM, London

Patella granulatis, Sloane 1013, Natural History Museum, London next to its portrayal by Anna Lister in the Historiae Conchyliorum, Table 536. Photo by Anna Marie Roos, © The Natural History Museum, London.

patella1

Photo by Anna Marie Roos, © The Natural History Museum, London.

 

Ostrea squamosa, Sloane Collection, NHM London and its portrayal in the Historiae Conchyliorum

Ostrea squamosa, Sloane Collection, NHM London and its portrayal in the Historiae Conchyliorum, Table 184. Photo by Anna Marie Roos, © The Natural History Museum, London.

We also see the same technique utilized in the portrayal of this scallop shell, Ostrea squamosa, which is the lectotype, a biological specimen selected to serve as a definitive “type” example of a species.  Anna Lister portrayed the markings on the surface of the shell absolutely accurately in her copperplate engraving.

There is effective use and adaptation of perspective in the illustrations by the Lister Sisters.  Melo aetheopica has a distinctive umbilicus, the origin from which the whorls of the shell grew.  However, looking down upon the shell hides this feature that is of great use in classification.  As a result, Susanna Lister traced its outline to obtain the general shape and then tilted it upwards to reveal the umbilicus. Her use of perspective construction was thus was not “strictly correct” but opportunistic, entirely in keeping with what Martin Kemp has demonstrated in his work concerning the historical uses of perspective construction.  Her artistic judgment went beyond copying the shell, to featuring it as a taxonomic specimen of use in identification.

Melo aetheopica, Sloane Collection, Natural History Collection net to its portrayal by Susanna Lister. Note she altered the perspective to see the distinguishing characteristic of the umbilicus.

Melo aetheopica, Sloane 2374, Natural History Collection next to its portrayal by Susanna Lister in the Historiae, Table 801. Note she altered the perspective so it is possible to see the distinguishing characteristic of the umbilicus. Photo by Anna Marie Roos, © The Natural History Museum, London.

umbi2

Photo by Anna Marie Roos, © The Natural History Museum, London.

Currently, we are tracing the provenance of Sloane’s shell collection using inventories, correspondence, and information from the drawings themselves.  Specimen exchange and collection involved far-reaching networks: traders, apothecaries, physicians, naturalists, and collectors all populated a vast intellectual geography to create the conchological collections of Sloane and the British Museum.

References

Martin Kemp, The Science of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

Martin Lister, Historiae Conchyliorum (London: by the author, 1685-92).

Anna Marie Roos, ‘The Art of Science: A ‘Rediscovery of the Lister Copperplates’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 66 (1) (2012), pp. 19-40.

Anna Marie Roos, ‘A discovery of Martin Lister ephemera: the construction of early modern scientific texts‘, The Bodleian Library Record, 26, 1 (April 2013), pp. 123-135.

Anna Marie Roos, Web of Nature: Martin Lister (1639-1712), the First Arachnologist (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

Kathie Way, ‘Invertebrate Collections’, In: Arthur MacGregor, (ed.) Sir Hans Sloane, Collector, Scientist, Antiquary, Founding Father of the British Museum (London: British Museum Publishing, 1994). pp. 93-110.

Guy Wilkins, ‘A Catalogue and Historical Account of the Sloane Shell Collection’, Bulletin of The British Museum (Natural History) Historical Series, 1, 1, (London: 1953), pp.  3-50.