fearlessness or folly?

John Hunter (February 1728 – October 1793) was a Scottish surgeon regarded as one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day. He was right about a good many things but sadly mistaken when it came to STDs

Hunterian Museum found here

He thought that gonorrhea and syphilis were caused by a single pathogen. Living in an age when physicians frequently experimented on themselves, he inoculated himself with gonorrhea into incisions he had made in his own penis, using a needle that was unknowingly contaminated with syphilis. When he contracted both syphilis and gonorrhea, he claimed it proved his erroneous theory that there was only one venereal disease. The characteristic nodule of the pox which appeared on his penis was later designated the “Hunterian chancre”.

image found here

To cure his pox Hunter repeatedly swilled his mouth with corrosive sublimate and toxic mercury. These substances give mouth ulcers, loosen the teeth and produce pints of black saliva. Some hospitals had “salivating wards” where one could dribble in private

He included his findings in an illustrated Treatise on the Venereal Disease which was so graphic it even put James Boswell off sex for a week. Because of Hunter’s reputation, knowledge concerning the true nature of gonorrhea and syphilis was retarded, and it was not until 51 years later that his theory was proved to be wrong.

James Boswell found here

In 1791, when Joseph Haydn was visiting London for a series of concerts, Hunter offered to perform an operation for the removal of a large nasal polyp which was troubling the great Austrian composer. According to one account, “Haydn, on his visit to London in 1791, wrote folksong arrangements, including The Ash Grove, set to words by Mrs Hunter. Haydn had designs on Mrs Hunter. Her husband … had designs on Haydn’s famous nasal polyp. Both were refused.”

Haydn found here