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Smallpox andLiterature in Eighteenth-Century Spain JOHN DOWLING In the 1960s smallpox still was responsible in one year for two mil­ lion deaths in the world. A decade later, in 1977, following an inten­ sive campaign, the World Health Organization was able to declare that the disease was eradicated when a very few remaining cases were confined to East Africa. In Western Europe the struggle first to con­ trol and then to prevent smallpox began in the early years of the eighteenth century, and it is especially associated with the Enlighten­ ment.1 In Spain—in the effort to encourage the practice of inocula­ tion and later of vaccination—essay, drama, and poetry functioned as propaganda. Smallpox is defined for the layman as a highly contagious viral di­ sease characterized by fever and by skin eruption with pustules, sloughing, and scar formation. It may result in disfiguring scars, blindness, and death. Apparently unknown in ancient Greece and Rome, the malady appeared in the West after the rapid spread of Mu­ hammadanism. From the seventh century to the eighteenth, the scourge afflicted Western Europe in periodic and devastating epidem­ ics, wiping out whole families, noble as well as plebeian. One such epidemic struck Europe in 1723, and the disease was still 59 60 / JOHN DOWLING widespread the next year. There is a legend that a brash young Span* iard, Diego de Torres Villarroel, in one of his first almanacs, pre* dieted that the death of a royal personage would be deeply felt by the people of a kingdom. Torres did not specify person, country, title, or sex. In February, 1724, Philip V—grandson of Louis XIV and the first Bourbon monarch of Spain—abdicated in favor of his sixteen*year* old son Luis. The youth reigned less than seven months. On August 31, he succumbed to smallpox. His death fulfilled Torres VillarroeVs supposed prophecy, and the author enjoyed a comfortable income the rest of his life from the annual sale of each new edition of his al* manac.2 In that same decade the practice of inoculation was becoming known in Western Europe, introduced, like the disease, from the Near East.3 Inoculation meant the insertion ofpus from a pustule of a person who had smallpox into a healthy person, who would then suf* fer a mild case ofthe disease and achieve immunity. Not until the end of the century did Edward Jenner develop the safer procedure of vac* cination, that is, the insertion of the cowpox vaccine. In the adoption of inoculation, England was in the forefront; from there information about the practice spread to other countries. In the issue of June, 1724, the Journal de Trevoux reviewed4 a new book by Jean Delacoste, Lettre sur Vinoculation de la petite-verole comme elle se pratique en Tur~ quie et en Angleterre. . . .5 Delacoste relates how the surgeon to the Brit* ish ambassador in Constantinople observed the practice of inocula* tion there and became convinced of its efficacy. The ambassador’s wife, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, likewise convinced, had her six* year*old son inoculated, and later, on the family’s return to England, she submitted her second child to the procedure.6 That avid Spanish reader of the Journal de Trevoux Benito Jeronimo Feijoo took note of the review of Delacoste’s book. Nine years after the account had appeared, he devoted part of an essay to the subject. His comments on inoculation appear as seven paragraphs in an essay in his Teatro Critico universal, the fifth volume ofwhich was published in 1733.7 In “El gran magisterio de la experiencia” Feijoo explains the procedure in one paragraph (60) and in the next (61) recounts the experience of the Montagu family. He uses the following paragraphs Smallpox and Literature in Spain / 61 (62-66) to support the thesis of his essay, that is, the significance of knowledge based on experience and experimentation rather than on speculation. Because the volumes of Teatro critico universal were pub­ lished in large editions and were reprinted, eighteenth-century Span­ iards possessed a widely available account of inoculation that was brief, rational, and impartial, albeit derivative. In the future Spanish inoculators could cite the favorable...

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