This is the first issue of the medical journal The Lancet. Founded by the surgeon Thomas Wakley in 1823,The Lancet was the first medical journal to appear weekly rather than monthly or less frequently still. Its regularity enabled it to be highly topical and, partly as a result of this, it quickly became the country’s leading medical journal. It continues to be so today.
What was in The Lancet?
The journal contained transcriptions of medical lectures, news, correspondence and details of noteworthy cases. From its beginning, The Lancet campaigned ferociously for medical reform.
The first issue opens with the transcript of a lecture the role of the surgeon, given by distinguished surgeon Sir Astley Cooper. He begins with the then distinction between surgeons and physicians: 'while it is the province of the Physician to attend to internal diseases, it is the duty of the Surgeon to attend to those that are external’ (p. 3). Traditionally, surgeons were of lower status than physicians, and less educated, but Cooper notes that this is changing (p. 9).
The distinction between surgeons and physicians became less and less pronounced during the 1820s, and in 1832 The Lancet published a lecture by Professor Samuel Cooper in which he suggested the need to re-evaluate the relationship between the two professions.
Middlemarch and The Lancet
George Eliot read early numbers of The Lancet while researching Middlemarch, to help her understand medical debates of the 1820s and 1830s. Early on in the novel, the ‘new young surgeon’ Lydgate is associated with The Lancet: on hearing some of his progressive ideas, Mr Chichley the coroner says that he ‘hope[s] you are not one of the “Lancet’s” men, Mr Lydgate’. The physician Dr Sprague says that he ‘disapprove[s] of Wakley’, and Lydgate speaks up in favour of Wakley’s belief that a coroner should have medical rather than legal training.