- Essays on Some Maladies of Angola by José Pinto de Azeredo
Early modern physicians loved lists: lists of authorities consulted, patrons and prescriptions, miraculous cures, and contented patients. Yet the most telling list to appear in this new translation ofJosé Pinto de Azeredo's 1799 treatise on tropical medicine is not any of these things. Azeredo frames it merely as a description of "other accidental causes that compete with the impurity of the atmosphere" in causing illness in Angola. What follows is a catalog of horrors. Among other causes of disease in the Portuguese colonial capital of Luanda, Azeredo notes, are "the huge number of cadavers that lay poorly buried in ground incapable of consuming them," "the immense number of slaves, which commerce brings from all parts of the wilderness to the center of Luanda, and even into the homes of businessmen," and the gutted fish left to rot on the city's beaches, "always covered in flying insects," not to mention the "noxious gases" released by rotting and abandoned huts (p. 87).
Azeredo, who served for nine years as the chief medical officer of Portugal's colony in Angola, seems to be reassuring himself as the much as the reader when he reaches the end of grim catalog and concludes that even theses "causes … [are] not impossible to remove. Diligence will always prevail when set against difficult obstacles" (p. 87). This is the closest Azeredo gets to directly acknowledging the human toll of the Atlantic slave trade in which he participated. His years of work attempting to heal the bodies of slaves and slavers alike are vividly documented in this well-executed translation. As introductions by Timothy Walker and Adelono Cardoso both argue, Azeredo was very much a physician of the Enlightenment, resolute in his determination to push the medical sciences out of what he regarded as centuries of ignorance. (Unlike many of his Atlantic World contemporaries, [End Page 449] such as Philadelphia's Benjamin Rush, he was particularly skeptical about the value of bleeding.) Yet despite his prestigious education in Edinburgh and Leiden, Azeredo's posting in Luanda put him on the geographic fringes of the Western medical cultures of his time, and the details of his life remain largely obscure.
As Walker and Cardoso quite correctly point out, however, Azeredo's work in the colonial outpost of a declining empire did not at all preclude him from participating in an international community of avowedly "modern" practitioners. Azeredo's fervent sense of his own originality is clear here, and his intellectual trajectory and lineage is ably drawn out in the erudite initial essay by Timothy Walker. On the other hand, some historians of science and medicine might take issue with the laudatory framing in the second introductory essay, by Cardoso, of Azeredo as a participant in "the advance of science and its struggle against obscurantism" who "resisted the temptation of dogma" (p. 22) and "sought to contribute toward Angola's public health" (p. 27). To be sure, it's clear that Azeredo saw himself in this heroic, Enlightenment mode, but it's less clear to this reviewer whether contemporary historians should.
This work is of significant value even if we don't necessarily seek to force it into a triumphalist narrative, offering material of particular interest to scholars of colonial science and medicine, Enlightenment intellectual networks, and the role of surgeons and physicians in the Atlantic slave trade. The introductory essays and running footnotes also have the benefit of not only framing Azeredo's life but offering a concise history of the role of the commerce in medicines in the eighteenth century Portuguese empire, complete with extensive references to primary sources in Goa.