Treating Deafness: Hannah Thatcher, William Wright, and the Danger of ‘Thin Shoes’
By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 15 February 2013
From the RNID Library picture collection, we have this charming image of a young girl. The picture was presented to the Pierre Gorman of the RNID Library by Mrs Selwyn Oxley on May 2nd 1963. The inscription on the engraving below reads,
Miss Hannah Thatcher, Born Deaf and Dumb, who at the Age of Eleven was presented to the late Queen on acquiring the sense of Hearing and the faculty of Speech under the surgical treatment of Wm. Wright Esq. Her Majestys Surgeon Aurist, Dedicated by Permission to His Royal Highness the Duke of York by his very grateful and devoted humble Servant, Robert Webster. Published April 10 1820 by R. Webster 3 Queens Row, Printer
The name of the artist is faded away, and it looks as if the engraver was Robert [Webster]. Click on for a larger size image. You can read more about William Wright on the excellent website by our friend Jaipreet Virdi, From the Hands of Quacks.
The Ear Institute Library (our two collections are separate) has a copy of Wright’s 1829 book, On the Varieties of Deafness and Diseases of the Ear with Proposed Methods of Relieving Them. The book was presented ‘with the author’s compliments’, we might speculate to Charles Hawkins, ‘House Surgeon’, who gave it to St. George’s Hospital Library in 1856. The book went on the the Royal Ear Hospital before ending up with us. It is fascinating to see the many lives of a book, and consider how such an ordinary object can pass through many hands, outliving the transient owners.
Wright covers various causes of Deafness, and supposed or actual cures for hearing maladies, such as damp clothes (cause) or urine of a variety of animals (supposed cure) (here Wright appears to be a sensible materialist, explaining a possible ‘mechanical’ effect by reason of the liquid acting on wax). Of ear tickling , we learn “in China, it is said that this forms a species of luxurious enjoyment amongst the great”. As for ‘Bethesda-Pool mineral water’, “see St. John, Chapter 5”, “recommended by a licenciate of the College of Physician, as a cure for deafness,”
in proof that the water was genuine, the angel of the Lord, he said, periodically troubled it in each individual bottle,-the same as we are told he used to trouble the pool. There were many persons who drank a considerable quantity of this water for a variety of complaints, until the shafts of ridicule spoiled the Doctor’s trade in the article, by correcting the aberration of his patient’s minds from the true standard of sanity. (see Plain Advice for the Deaf, p.167) After this, we must not be surprised if a portion of clay and water, said to be from Siloam’s pool, were to be sold by some empiric, to cure blindness! (see St. John, Chap. 9) Or a pretended importation of casks of water from the River Jordan, to be made by some adventurer, and disposed at a high price, as a cure for leprosy! (see 2d Kings, Chap. 5) This is not so very unlikely, after the above example; and one much on a par with it, namely, the Quack who a few years ago advertised wild elephants’ milk for sale, and gave a description of the manner in which his agents in Africa performed to operation of obtaining it.
Wright also points to to the dangers of ‘thin shoes’ – “Ladies frequently cause serious derangement of their own health, as well as diminution of the sense of hearing, by want of caution as to this part of their dress: damp, or cold applied to the feet of persons of delicate constitution, or who from habits of life are accustomed to warm rooms, or the use of a carriage, is extremely injurious, and sometimes even fatal.”
Now didn’t your grandmother say exactly that? You have been warned!