Views & Reviews Between the Lines

The physician’s progress

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 13 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4422
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

There was a time when medical history was written as the story of the gradual ascent of knowledge to our glorious present; this was known as the Whig interpretation of history. Obviously it had its limitations (it was mainly written by retired doctors), but it turns out that all other interpretations have their limitations too.

In his amusing book Quacks: Fakers and Charlatans in English Medicine, the non-medical medical historian Roy Porter consistently minimises the difference between what in the 18th century was called “the faculty” (that is to say the regular practitioners armed with a bona fide medical degree) and the irregulars: the mountebanks and the charlatans. After all, says Porter, is there evidence that the treatment of the faculty was more …

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