Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jenner, Edward (1749-1823)
JENNER, EDWARD, M.D. (1749–1823), discoverer of vaccination, was born on 17 May 1749 at Berkeley, Gloucestershire, of which place his father, Stephen Jenner, was vicar. His mother's maiden name was Head, and her father had also been vicar of Berkeley. He had two brothers, both older than himself, and three sisters. His father died when he was five, and his education was directed by his eldest brother, Stephen. He was sent when eight years old to the school of a clergyman named Clissold at Wotton-under-Edge, and afterwards to that of Dr. Washbourn at Cirencester. Fossils are abundant in the neighbourhood, and he collected them as well as other objects of natural history. He was next apprenticed to Daniel Ludlow of Sodbury, a surgeon, and in 1770 went to London as a pupil resident in the house of John Hunter [q. v.] Here he received his most important education, and during the two years of his stay became imbued with the spirit of scientific investigation which animated his illustrious master. Their natural tastes were similar, they became friends for life, and constantly corresponded. On Hunter's recommendation Jenner was employed by Sir Joseph Banks to prepare some of the specimens brought home in 1771 from Cook's voyage. His professional studies were pursued at St. George's Hospital. In 1773 he returned to practise in Berkeley, living with his eldest brother, and was soon successful. He used to ride to see his patients wearing a blue coat and top-boots with silver spurs, and was careful of his personal appearance (Gardner's description to Dr. Baron). In the intervals of practice he made botanical and ornithological observations, collected fossils, played on the flute and the violin, and wrote occasional poems, of which the best is an ‘Address to a Robin.’
Hunter continually stimulated Jenner to make observations on the temperature of animals, on eels and many other subjects, and asked him to forward salmon-spawn, porpoises, cuckoos, and fossils (letters Hunter to Jenner). He assisted in forming a medical society which met at the Fleece Inn, Rodborough, read papers on medical subjects, and dined afterwards. At these meetings he read memoirs on angina pectoris, ophthalmia, and valvular disease of the heart, and sometimes made remarks on cow-pox, which already occupied his attention. He also belonged to another society of the same kind which met at the Ship Inn at Alveston, near Bristol. In 1787 he wrote a paper on the ‘Natural History of the Cuckoo,’ published in 1788 in the ‘Philosophical Transactions.’ The peculiarities of the cuckoo's habits are ably discussed, but the account of the cuckoo removing the young hedge-sparrows is clearly not the result of Jenner's own observation, and Waterton (Essay on the Jay) has demonstrated its absurdity. The explanation appears to be that Jenner employed a boy, his nephew Henry, to make these observations, who, too indolent to watch, gave an imaginary report. In the following year (1788) he was elected F.R.S. On 6 March 1788 he was married to Catharine Kingscote, and on 24 Jan. 1789 his eldest son, Edward, was born, to whom John Hunter was godfather.
Jenner's general practice soon became so large that he decided to give up midwifery and surgery, and in 1792 obtained the degree of M.D. from the university of St. Andrews. In 1793 he published ‘A Process for Preparing Pure Emetic Tartar by Recrystallisation’ in the ‘Transactions’ of a ‘Society for the Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge.’ In 1794 he had typhus fever severely.
After his recovery he continued those investigations as to the protective power of cow-pox against small-pox which he had begun in earlier years. There was a local belief, of which he had known in boyhood, that dairymaids who had had cow-pox did not take small-pox, then almost the commonest epidemic disorder in all ranks of society. He had mentioned this to Hunter, and always kept the subject in mind, observing and often talking to others of his observations. He came to the conclusion, since shown to be erroneous, that grease, a disease of the feet in horses, and cow-pox were the same disease, and to the now well-established conclusion that cow-pox is protective against small-pox. On 14 May 1796 he vaccinated in the arms James Phipps, a boy of eight, with lymph taken from vesicles of cow-pox on the hand of Sarah Nelmes. The boy had cow-pox. On 1 July the same boy was inoculated from a case of small-pox. This was not an unjustifiable experiment, as inoculation of children when well was then thought a safe way of getting them through the almost inevitable epidemic disease. The boy did not have small-pox. This completed Jenner's argument. The first summary of his observations exists in a holograph manuscript at the Royal College of Surgeons, and is endorsed in his own hand ‘On the Cow-pox, the original paper.’ That it was his intention to send it to some society, possibly the Royal Society, as the first account of inoculation had been read there in 1714, is indicated by the fact that on fol. 35 the words ‘on the minds of this society’ are altered to ‘on the minds of my readers.’ No evidence exists to show that it was ever sent to any society. It ends with the words: ‘I shall endeavour still further to prosecute this inquiry, an inquiry I trust not merely speculative, but of sufficient moment to inspire the pleasing hope of its becoming essentially beneficial to mankind.’ The paper was never printed. In June 1798 he published in London a fuller account of his observations and conclusions in a short treatise, which will always be respected as one of the classics among medical books, ‘An Inquiry into the Cause and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ, a Disease discovered in some of the Western Counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the Cow-pox.’ The book is a quarto of seventy-five pages, and is dedicated to Dr. C. H. Parry of Bath. There are some coloured plates, of which one is of the hand of Sarah Nelmes showing the vaccine pustules upon it. Twenty-three cases are described, and the most important conclusion is ‘that the cow-pox protects the human constitution from the infection of small-pox.’ The experience of nearly a hundred years has led to the acceptance of this conclusion throughout the civilised world; and by the whole body of the medical profession, and of the very few men who have declined to regard it as an invaluable addition to the practice of medicine, a majority do so on grounds which have no relation to scientific observation. A minor conclusion, that the disorder began in the horse and must pass through the cow to man in order to be protective, was erroneous, but in no way affects the main thesis.
Jenner stayed in London from 27 April to 14 July 1798 making known his discovery to the medical world. He was much disappointed because he could get no one to allow himself to be vaccinated in London. About a month later Mr. Cline, surgeon to St. Thomas's Hospital, vaccinated some patients with lymph given him by Jenner. Cline advised Jenner to come to London, and assured him of a large income in practice, but the discoverer wrote in answer that he had enough and was content.
Dr. Ingenhousz was staying with Lord Lansdowne in 1798, and wrote a courteous letter of dissent from the conclusions of the ‘Inquiry’ (Crookshank, History and Pathology of Vaccination, i. 143), mentioning observations of his own which were opposed to them. Jenner replied frankly that his own observations had been few, and no doubt needed the confirmation of other observers. Further opposition soon arose, and on 5 April 1799 Jenner published ‘Further Observations on the Variolæ Vaccinæ or Cow-pox,’ which is chiefly a reply to objectors. He continued to work at his subject at Berkeley and at Cheltenham, and in 1800 published ‘A Continuation of Facts and Observations relative to the Variolæ Vaccinæ or Cow-pox,’ and ‘A Complete Statement of Facts and Observations relative to the Cow-pock.’ He added two continuations of the same subject: (1) ‘On the Origin of Vaccine Inoculation,’ 1801, and (2) ‘On the Varieties of the Vaccine Pustule occasioned by an herpetic state of the Skin.’ He returned to London on 21 March 1799, and the practice of vaccination slowly gained ground. Many vaccinations were careless, and more than once small-pox pustules were ignorantly used, but he investigated these errors as far as possible, and discussed every difficulty that arose. A great part of his time was spent in obtaining and sending out good lymph throughout England and abroad. On 31 Jan. 1800 he came again to London, staying at Adam Street, Adelphi, and conferred with Lord Egremont as to the formation of a vaccine institution, to be supported by voluntary contributions, and from which lymph should be distributed to all who needed it. He went to stay at Petworth, Lord Egremont's seat in Sussex, in February 1800, and there vaccinated nearly two hundred people with success. At the end of the month the Duke of York discussed the vaccine institution with him, and on 7 March he was presented by Lord Berkeley to the king, who accepted the dedication of the second edition of his ‘Inquiry,’ and on 27 March the queen received him and talked to him of cow-pox. On 15 April the commander-in-chief asked him to vaccinate the 85th regiment. The whole regiment, with the men's wives and children, proved to have itch; this had to be cured, and other difficulties arose to mar the success of this extensive experiment. After several months in London, spent in consultations and correspondence on vaccination, he visited Oxford in June on his way home, and the vice-chancellor, with the chief professors of the faculty of medicine, congratulated him on the value of his discovery. He was next occupied in sending lymph to America. Dr. Waterhouse, professor of physic at Cambridge, Massachusetts, had described the discovery in the ‘Columbian Sentinel’ of 12 March 1799, in an article with the vernacular title ‘Something Curious in the Medical Line.’ As had previously occurred at home, small-pox pustules were used in some cases in America by mistake, thus spreading instead of checking the disease, and Jenner was involved in endless letter-writing to Dr. Waterhouse and others. France was next reached, then Spain and Portugal and the Mediterranean. Lord Elgin introduced the practice into Turkey and into Greece. The sailors of the British fleet were vaccinated, and the medical officers in 1801 presented a gold medal to Jenner. On it Apollo presents a vaccinated sailor to Britannia, who holds a civic crown inscribed ‘Jenner,’ and the reverse bears an anchor with the names of the king and of Earl Spencer, first lord of the admiralty. Jenner made experiments as to the transmission of lymph, and finally decided that ivory points were the best vehicles. Numerous congratulatory addresses and medals, a ring from the empress of Russia, and a service of plate from the gentry of Gloucestershire, with many other honours, came to him unsought during 1801. His friends wished him to apply to parliament for a grant acknowledging the benefits he had conferred on the nation, and on 17 March 1802 he petitioned parliament (Petition at length in Baron, Life, i. 490), stating that he had had to give so much time to his discovery as to abridge his pecuniary professional income, and asking the house to ‘grant him such remuneration as to their wisdom shall seem meet.’ Addington [q. v.], then prime minister, stated that the king recommended the petition, and it was referred to a committee which was to report on the usefulness of the discovery, Jenner's right to be considered the discoverer, and the advantage he had derived from it. The committee took much evidence, the most important, after that of Jenner himself, being that of Dr. Matthew Baillie [q. v.], who, after expressing his opinion as to the efficacy of vaccination, said: ‘If Dr. Jenner had not chosen openly and honourably to explain to the public all he knew upon the subject, he might have acquired a considerable fortune. In my opinion it is the most important discovery ever made in medicine.’ Dr. Pearson endeavoured to show that the discovery was not Jenner's but merely a part of common knowledge, but altogether failed, and after the committee reported on 2 June 1802 it was proposed that 10,000l. be granted. An amendment proposing 20,000l. was supported by Grey and Wilberforce, but the original motion was carried.
Jenner returned to Berkeley and stayed there till February 1803, when he again visited London and was busied in the affairs of the Jennerian Institution, a society for the promotion of vaccination ‘for the extermination of the small-pox,’ which was replaced with government aid in 1808 by the National Vaccine Establishment. He took a house in Hertford Street, Mayfair, in order to obtain practice as a physician, but he had small success, and returned to Berkeley. His labours in promoting vaccination were so great, and his professional practice so impeded by them, that he again applied to parliament for aid in 1806. On 2 July 1806, on the motion of Lord Henry Petty, the College of Physicians was asked to inquire into the whole subject of Jenner's discovery and its results. William Smith, and his colleague Mr. Windham, with Wilberforce and others, supported the proposal. The college reported strongly on the advantages of vaccination and the merits of Jenner, and the House of Commons voted 20,000l. to Jenner.
Jenner became a member of the Medical and Chirurgical Society when it was founded, and on 21 March 1809 read a paper on ‘Distemper in Dogs’ (‘Med.-Chir. Transactions,’ i. 263), and in the same year another paper on ‘Two cases of Small-pox Infection communicated to the Fœtus in Utero, under peculiar circumstances.’ In 1811 Jenner had a serious illness, after which he again came to London. Numerous cases of small-pox after vaccination which were reported caused him to seek for an explanation, and he at length observed that in these the severity of the disease was diminished by the previous vaccination. In 1813 the university of Oxford conferred on him the degree of M.D. In April 1814 he came to London for the last time and stayed for three months. He had interviews, on the visit of the allied sovereigns to England, with the czar and with his sister the Duchess of Oldenburg, and with the king of Prussia.
He returned to Cheltenham, where his wife died 14 Sept. 1815. He then went to Berkeley and resided there for the rest of his life. In 1822 he published ‘A Letter to C. H. Parry, M.D., on the Influence of Artificial Eruptions in certain Diseases incidental to the Human Body,’ and in 1823, ‘Observations on the Migration of Birds,’ which was read before the Royal Society on 23 Nov. He had had an attack of apoplexy on 6 Aug. 1820, but recovered completely. On 26 Jan. 1823 he died in another fit, and was buried 3 Feb. in the chancel of the parish church of Berkeley. His house was called ‘The Chantry,’ and adjoined the churchyard.
There are several portraits of Jenner extant; one is by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and another is by James Northcote. The latter is in the National Portrait Gallery, and was engraved in stipple by Ridley for the ‘European Magazine’ in 1804. There is a marble statue of him at the west end of the nave of Gloucester Cathedral. A bronze statue, erected in Trafalgar Square in September 1858, was in 1862 transferred to Kensington Gardens (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 229). On the continent of Europe there are statues to him at Boulogne-sur-Mer and at Brünn in Moravia.
Jenner's friendships with John Hunter, Matthew Baillie, and many lesser men, were firm and unbroken throughout life. Dibdin, in his ‘Reminiscences,’ says: ‘I never knew a man of a simpler mind or of a warmer heart than Dr. Jenner.’ His kindness to the poor was invariable. He sought the just public reward of his services, but showed complete freedom from any wish to enrich himself unworthily when riches were in his power. His discovery has in the past hundred years saved innumerable lives throughout the world, and entitles him to a place in the first rank of those who have improved the art of medicine. In 1840 an act of the English parliament provided for the payment of vaccination fees out of the rates. Vaccination was first made compulsory in the United Kingdom in 1853, and supplementary legislation followed in 1867, 1871, and again in 1898. Vaccination was made compulsory in Bavaria as early as 1807, in Denmark in 1810, in Sweden in 1814, in Würtemberg in 1818, in Prussia in 1835, in Roumania in 1874, in Hungary in 1876, and in Servia in 1881. Government provides facilities for vaccination, although there are no compulsory laws, in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Norway, Austria, and Turkey. In Switzerland vaccination is only compulsory in some of the cantons.
[John Baron's Life of Edward Jenner, 1838, 2 vols. This life is based on personal knowledge and on the papers placed in the author's hands by Jenner's executors. Works; manuscript in Jenner's hand endorsed ‘On the Cow-pox, the original paper,’ bought by Sir James Paget, with a letter from Jenner to his son Robert, and letters of Hunter to Jenner, from Mrs. Austin, niece of Jenner, to whom they were left by Colonel Jenner, his son; letter from Sir James Paget, 4 June 1879; letter from Dr. Baron to Mr. Clift, dated 15 Jan. 1823, as to Jenner's correspondence with Hunter; all these at the Royal College of Surgeons, London. T. J. Pettigrew's Biographical Memoirs, vol. i.; British Physicians, 1830; B. W. Richardson, The Asclepiad, vol. vi. No. 23; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. iv. 534, &c.; Waterton's Essays on Natural History: The Jay, and Letters to George Ord, 4 March 1836; Hilton Fagge's Principles and Practice of Medicine; Reports of the College of Physicians and Parliamentary Reports. Recent attacks on Jenner's character and scientific procedure are to be found in Dr. Charles Creighton's Jenner and Vaccination, an expansion of the article on Vaccination in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edit., and Crookshank's Pathology and History of Vaccination, 1889, 2 vols. The latter also contains reprints of Jenner's Inquiry, 1798, Further Observations, 1799, and Continuation, 1801, and of some of the early controversial writings on vaccination.]