This short news piece, 'The Medical Profession' (third column), refers to three medical issues important in the 1820s and 1830s. The first two short notices report the progress of the Anatomy Bill and the move towards surgical reform. The third and longest notice describes a court case which turned upon the means by which surgeons and apothecaries earned their living.
Attendance and prescriptions
In the early 19th century, surgeons charged for the drugs they dispensed rather than for attendance. The danger of this was that a surgeon might prescribe medicine where no medicine was necessary, since he had no other way of making a living. The case described here concerns Mr Handey, an apothecary-surgeon who charged a patient for attendance as well as for drugs. The patient’s husband objected to having to pay for the visits, and so took Mr Handey to court. The judge observes that Mr Handey has behaved ‘honourabl[y]’ by ‘not sending in large and useless quantities of medicine’, and the jury votes in favour of Mr Handey.
Prescribing drugs in George Eliot's Middlemarch
Shortly after Lydgate moves to Middlemarch, word spreads that he refuses to dispense drugs. The reason for his refusal is that it ‘must lower the character of practitioners, and be a constant injury to the public, if their only mode of getting paid for their work was by their making out long bills for draughts, boluses, and mixtures’ (Middlemarch, ch. 45). Lydgate aims to raise the status of surgeons and serve his patients better. However, his actions offend both his fellow surgeons in Middlemarch, who have been charging for drugs for years, and the town’s non-medical residents. Mrs Mawmsey, the grocer’s wife, expresses the views of the latter: ‘Does this Mr Lydgate mean to say there is no use in taking medicine? ... Does he suppose that people will pay him only to come and sit with them and go away again?’ (ch. 45).
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- The novel 1832–1880, Power and politics
Middlemarch is set in the period leading up to the 1832 Reform Act. Professor John Mullan explores how George Eliot uses the novel to examine different kinds of reform and progress: political, scientific and social.