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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

My History Valentine: John Hunter (1728-1793), surgeon, anatomist,badass

Dearest John,

It is difficult for me to write down these words, even though I know the fact you have been dead since 1793 will impede your ability to read them. At this time of the year when we celebrate love, I find myself sadly underwhelmed by the modern men around me. I know romance probably wasn’t your forte in life, but maybe in death you will be more sympathetic to my love.

Just look at him thinking about how many bodies he could
have cut up in the time it took to sit for his portrait.
I only wish I could have met you. I know you probably never thought yourself much of a romantic with your difficulty speaking to others, your crazy eyebrows, your short neck, or the fact that you probably have syphilis, but I still feel drawn to you. In fact if we ever had met, maybe in the dissecting room... well you probably would have just shouted at me to get out because I am a woman and also because you are famously very rude. But it is that fervor and your unwavering honesty that make you so special to me.

In a world where most men I know spend hours playing video games, you were up by five am in the dissecting room, working through the day teaching or with patients. You questioned where others accepted. Your innovations in dentistry, transplantation and the treatment of gunshot wounds are legendary. In fact, I think we can safely argue you, my love, one handedly revolutionised surgery and undoubtably have saved millions of lives, even if you didn’t quite get that whole antiseptic thing. The fact that even modern surgeons don’t know who you are makes me weep. Ignorant sots.

When I think back on your life, there are so many things I love about you. Say it’s right or wrong, but I found your whole grave robbing phase so sexy. Your habit of riding asian buffalos into town is nothing short of pimpin’. And I’ll never forget your testimony at the murder trial of John Donellan. When lesser men were quick to accuse him of poison just because they needed someone to blame, you never backed down from your faultless examination of the forensic evidence. Sure they may have condemned him for the murder of his brother in law, but your badass-ness cannot be denied.

My darling you remain one of histories great enigmas: brilliant surgeon, body snatcher, naturalist, military man, Scot, industrious anatomist, really crappy teacher, and fairly unethical experimenter on non-consenting patients. I forgive you your faults because your brilliant mind makes me hot. Although we can never meet, at least I can still be amongst your collection at the Hunterian Museum in London (not that one in Glasgow, you are way cooler than your brother).

Let’s maybe let this love between us stay an intellectual one, that whole you giving yourself syphilis thing is still a bit of a deal breaker.

With all my love for Valentine’s day,


If you also want to fall in love with John Hunter, I’d recommend reading Wendy Moore’s 'The Knife Man: Blood, Body-Snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery'

Or to learn more about poisoning and early forensic science, you could try Elizabeth Cooke’s ‘The Damnation of John Donellan: A mysterious case of death and scandal in Georgian England’

1 comment:

  1. That's my grandfather, many generations past.