“People fall into the Doctor’s hand, and so consequently into the Lord’s…Ten Tyburns cannot turn men over the perch so fast as one of these brewers of purgations…an Art to make poor souls kick up their heels. Insomuch that even their sick grunting patients stand in more danger of M. Doctor and his drugs than of all the Cannon shots which the desperate disease itself can discharge against them.”
Thomas Dekker, The Gull’s Hornbook 1609
“A Good Physitian comes to thee in the shape of an Angell, and therefore let him boldly take thee by the hand, for he has been in Gods garden, gathering herbes: and soveraine rootes to cure thee.”
Thomas Dekker, The Plague Pamphlets 1603
These two powerful statements about physicians were written during the same decade by the same author, yet they present the image of the physician in contradictory ways. The effort to convince the public that they resembled the latter depiction proved a pivotal one for seventeenth-century physicians. Their ability to maximize the positive associations of the physician as God’s ordained healer helped them combat their medieval reputation as atheistic, greedy, and counter-productive at a pivotal juncture in their quest for professionalism. Their claims resonated with a lay population for which ideas about the morality of medicine were common cultural currency. Far from being at odds with religion, physicians argued that their occupation placed them in a unique position to appreciate the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual health. Physicians, therefore, capitalized on the moral dimensions of illness present in early modern society by setting themselves up as moral authorities, capable of caring for the health of a body that was so intimately connected with the soul.
|Keywords:||Medicine - History, Physician, Religion, Morality, Early Modern England|
Adjunct Assistant Professor, History, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA