Cover image for Patient's progress : doctors and doctoring in eighteenth- century England
Patient's progress : doctors and doctoring in eighteenth- century England
Porter, Dorothy, 1953-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press, 1989.
Physical Description:
viii, 305 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
R487 .P67 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Premodern society in England was overshadowed by illness and the threat of death. Disease descended suddenly, selecting individual victims or attacking entire households and the community at large. What did people do when they fell sick? The authors investigate the well-established tradition of self-diagnosis and medication, called 'family medicine' or 'kitchen physic'; the use of traditional healers, such as midwives, itinerants, and 'wise women'; and the flourishing world of quacks whose nostrums promised to restore one's youth or to cure cancer. Doctors and the medical profession were not held in especially high regard ('If the world knew the villainy and knavery - besides ignorance - of the physicians and apothecaries, the people would throw stones at 'em as they walked in the streets'). The authors examine the problems and opportunities of practitioners in terms of treatments, renumeration, and social status and describe how practitioners tried to achieve ascendancy over their often suspicious patients. What did doctors have to offer the sick in the centuries before Victorian professionalization and the birth of scientific medicine?

Author Notes

Roy Sydney Porter was born December 31, 1946. He grew up in a south London working class home. He attended Wilson's Grammar School, Camberwell, and won an unheard of scholarship to Cambridge.

His starred double first in history at Cambridge University (1968) led to a junior research fellowship at his college, Christ's, followed by a teaching post at Churchill College, Cambridge. His Ph.D. thesis, published as The Making Of Geology (1977), became the first of more than 100 books that he wrote or edited.

Porter was a Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Churchill College, Cambridge from 1972 to 1979; Dean from 1977 to 1979; Assistant Lecturer in European History at Cambridge University from 1974 to 1977, Lecturer from 1977 to 1979. He joined the Wellcome Institute fot the History of Medicine in 1979 where he was a Senior Lecturer from 1979 to 1991, a Reader from 1991 to 1993, and finally a Professor in the Social History of Medicine from 1993 to 2001.

Porter was Elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1994, and he was also made an honorary fellow by both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Roy Porter died March 4, 2002, at the age of 55.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The subtitle notwithstanding, this book focuses on doctoring rather than doctors and covers the period from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century (rather than the 18th), which is just prior to the advent of scientific laboratory-based medicine. The authors explore how the ill perceived sickness, attempted self-medication, sought help from the pooled medical knowledge of family groups, and ultimately entered into a relation with those who provided care. At a time when the marketplace for health delivery was free and the monopolistic professional control of medicine had not attained statutory authority, doctoring was done by physicians, apothecaries, midwives, traditional healers, and itinerant quacks. The authors' focus is the relation between patients and providers of health care, chiefly from the patients' point of view. Of the 12 chapters, 4 are dedicated to the medical profession; they examine the patient-physician relation from the perspective of the physician and the problems and opportunities of practitioners. The information presented is based on autobiographies, diaries, journals, and letters of the sick. The authors acknowledge that by so doing, they cover a selected segment of the sick--primarily the literate, rich, and learned, and of physicians--the relatively well known and prominent. They consider this collective experience representative of society as a whole--clearly an arguable point. Nevertheless, this scholarly work addresses an issue about which the available history of medicine is silent. Extensively annotated and referenced; thoroughly indexed. Academic and public library collections. -G. Eknoyan, Baylor College of Medicine