By H Dominic W Stiles, on 18 July 2014
John Coakley Lettsom (1744–1815) was a Quaker philanthropist, botanist, natural historian and doctor, author of Hints designed to promote Beneficence, Temperence & Medical Science which we have in the library. He was another of those 18th century men who makes one feel inadequate, so wide were his interests and works. He was the founder of the oldest medical society in the United Kingdom, the Medical Society of London. Born in the British Virgin Islands, Lettsom (also Lettsome) trained as a doctor at St. Thomas’ in London before returning to Tortola where he freed the slaves he had inherited. Among other things he promoted use of the mangel-wurzel and wrote a book on entomology. The Wikepedia article on him quotes this rhyme he is supposed to have penned about himself,
I, John Lettsome,
Blisters, bleeds and sweats ‘em.
If, after that, they please to die,
I, John Lettsome.
Lettsom was friends with Benjamin Franklin and corresponded with George Washington (DNB), and Erasmus Darwin. The DNB entry tells us,
Lettsom was an ardent believer in the benefits of useful knowledge, medical advice, and moral exhortation, and a tireless writer on such topics; he produced books and pamphlets against drunkenness, for example, and on the evils of tea drinking. In The natural history of the tea tree with observations on its medical qualities, and effects of tea-drinking (1772) he argued that the habit made society enervated and effeminate.
In the three volume Hints, which were originally published in 1801, were reprinted (our edition) in 1816, is full of fascinating essays and beautiful illustrations. Chapter titles include, ‘Hints respecting the Immediate Effects of Poverty’ from which the illustration next is taken (click for larger size);
Hints respecting Female Character, and a Repository for Female Industry; Hints respecting the Cowpock; Hints respecting a Substitute for Wheat Bread etc.
The reason we are interested in the books is due to Lettsom’s essay on the Old Kent Road Asylum, which was co-founded by the Rev. Henry Cox Mason (illustrated in silhouette below), namely Hints respecting the Support and Education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor. Click onto the link to read his short chapter on the asylum, including a list of pupils (whether from 1801 or 1816 I cannot say).