On Pretended and Itinerant Aurists

As focused as I’ve been on John Harrison Curtis, my current research focus has branched out, exploring a seeming network of aurists that also practiced in London during Curtis’ time.

William Wright (1773-1860), as I’ve mentioned previously, was one of Curtis’ contemporaries, and perhaps his most fierce and prominent competitor. Wright had a very long career–nearly 50 years–and published as many treatises on deafness and ear diseases as Curtis did. While his early work concentrated on warning the public against the dangers of using mercury as a treatment for deafness, much of his later work commented on various types of treatments described by other aurists at his time.

In fact, Wright’s writing actually serves as a commentary on the state of aural surgery during the early 19th century: his early publications remarks on the lack of expertise in the field, then he writes about the various treatments offered by aurists of his day, and during the latter part of his career, he scorns the level of quackery in the field and commends the newer generation of anatomists (like Joseph Toynbee) for taking a more “scientific” interest in the field. Pretty much every aurist during the period is mentioned in one or more of Wright’s publications!

I’ll write a longer essay in the near future examining the evolution or transformation of Wright’s perceptions of aural surgery. In the meantime, here’s one of Wright’s comments on “pretended and itinerant aurists”:

It is high time that some legislative enactment should put a stop to these nefarious practices, and to the evils which these impostors inflict through want of skill, upon many families among the poor. But it is almost hopeless to expect any change, whilst government receive so much from the advertisements issued by these empirics, and whilst the country newspapers are so materially benefited from the same source. Even Royalty itself has been imposed upon more than once, and made a medium for promulgating the names of some of the most notorious quacks to the world; which circumstances must be fresh in the recollection of the public.

Wright, Plain Advice for all classes of Deaf Persons, the Deaf and Dumb, and those having Diseases of the Ears (London, 1826)

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