19th-Century Medicine in the United Kingdom
Professor comments: In this paper, the student synthesizes several sources about nineteenth-century medicine and medical education into a focused and coherent essay that provides information about aspects of this topic especially relevant to understanding Lydgate's position in Middlemarch: the differences among physicians, apothecaries, and surgeons, both in terms of training and duties on the one hand, social status on the other; the processes by which someone obtained a medical education and became a licensed practitioner; and the differences in English, Scottish, and French training. In doing so, the student displays an awareness of the importance of the contextual material for more than merely factual purposes, and she employs a principle of selection, concentrating on material that will facilitate her interpretation of Lydgate's role in the novel--especially in the connection between medical and political reform--in a separate essay.
Nineteenth-Century Medicine in the United Kingdom
At the turn of the nineteenth century, medicine was hardly the enlightened profession it is today. Medical practices were often barbaric, employing methods that had been used for centuries, yielding little or no results and often killing the patient with a different affliction than the original ailment. Leeching (or blood letting), purgation, poor liquid diets, and cold water dousing were common practices as late as the 1850's. Even after newer, more effective methods of medical treatment had been introduced, many of the physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries hesitated to use them. Fearing the loss of their reputations, they hung on to superstitious beliefs, doubting the effectiveness of such advances, and were basically unwilling to try something new.
Medical men weren't always respected as educated, intelligent members of society because some "practiced with university degrees, various forms of medical licenses, sometimes a combination of these, and sometimes with none at all" (Peterson 5). Part of the problem with educating and licensing doctors was in the conflicting struggle for rights and power between licensing bodies; there were nineteen of them in the United Kingdom alone. There was also no representation of any reputable doctors within the medical universities and corporations that voted in Parliamentary elections. By the end of the century, medical training facilities were forced to upgrade their standards due to pressure within some parts of the medical community and because discoveries in fields like chemistry and physics ultimately led to advances in medicine.
Early nineteenth-century medical training was extremely diverse. While some practitioners held university degrees from the most respected medical colleges of the world, some were apprenticed to apothecaries where they "spent most of their time capping bottles and rolling pills" (Youngson 12). Still others were quacks and drug...