Don’t Mess with Eighteenth-Century Doctors!

Le_Duel_Marion,_Eugène_de_BeaumontHere’s a delightful story from The Norfolk Chronicle of 26th March, 1796, concerning a quarrel between a doctor and an army officer over the officer’s demand that the doctor should play his flute when he didn’t want to. Since it’s rather a lengthy story, I’ll summarise most of it.

The doctor concerned, one Dr Young, was said by the paper to be “remarkable for the urbanity of his manners and the cheerfulness of his temper”. Perhaps not on this occasion, when he was “on a party of pleasure with a few ladies” going up the Thames to Vauxhall Gardens and entertaining the party by playing his flute.

It seems the doctor stopped playing when a rowing boat, containing several army officers, came up alongside. One of the officers at once demanded to know why he had put his flute away. The doctor replied, “For the same reason that I took it out; to please myself.” This seemed to infuriate the officer, who demanded that he continue playing or he would throw him into the river. At the time, the doctor — the writer claimed it was to prevent further upset to the ladies in the party — did as the officer demanded. However, when he saw the same man later in the evening on his own, the doctor went up to him and challenged him to a duel to take place the following morning. The officer accepted and they chose swords as the weapons.

From this point onwards, I’ll let the paper tell the story in its own words.

The duellists met the next morning at the hour and place appointed; but the moment the officer took his ground, the Doctor presented to his head a large horse pistol. “What! (said the officer) do you intend to assassinate me?” — “No, (said the doctor) but you shall instantly put up your sword and dance a minuet, otherwise you are a dead man.” Some short altercation ensued, but the Doctor appeared so serious and determined, that the officer could not help complying. “Now, Sir, (said the Doctor) you forced me to play yesterday against my will, and I have obliged you to dance this day against yours; we are again on an equal footing, and whatever other satisfaction you demand, I am ready.” – The officer forthwith embraced the Doctor, acknowledged his impertinence, and begged that for the future they might live on terms of the sincerest friendship, which they ever did after.

There you have it; and if the story wasn’t true, it ought to have been. I wonder whether Dr Adam Bascom would have behaved in the same way?

About William Savage

Author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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2 Responses to Don’t Mess with Eighteenth-Century Doctors!

  1. SONYA ARD-KELLY says:

    This is wonderful! Just love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kathysharp2013 says:

    What a charming tale! I do hope it’s true…

    Liked by 1 person

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