Midland Medical Miscellany (1881-95)


One of the pleasures of working with a physical collection of journals is serendipity. Scholars of periodical literature frequently cite chance encounters with interesting material as the chief advantage of engaging with original, hard-copy sources. My PhD research drew extensively on a collection of journals in the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s library. It was while I was wandering around their underground stacks that I came across the Midland Medical Miscellany. I was initially attracted by its playfully alliterative title and its beautiful frontispiece. However, I soon became absorbed by its insight into provincial medical identities and its in-depth discussions of ‘problem’ patients. This was not an irreverent ‘light entertainment’ magazine but a serious periodical catering for beleaguered practitioners outside the metropolis.

Medical Miscellany

A periodical for the provinces

The Miscellany was a general medical monthly which launched in 1881 as a Leicester-based publication. It was originally edited by Kenneth W. Millican, a general practitioner in the village of Kineton (Warwickshire) and later a specialist in throat diseases in London. In a future blog post I’ll be profiling Millican, showing how he presented himself as a spokesperson for provincial practitioners but ended up leading a relatively cosmopolitan career. In 1885, editorship passed to Thomas Michael Dolan, a doctor based in Halifax. The periodical was renamed the Provincial Medical Journal, a title it retained until it folded in 1895.

The inaugural issue of the Miscellany featured a long opening address, which set out the journal’s intended readership. While noting that its ‘careful selection of information’ would not ‘be uninteresting to those in what are commonly considered to be the higher ranks of the profession’, it asserted that it was designed to be of ‘especial value to the hardworking and leisureless General Practitioner’. In particular, it felt that its condensed reports of new research would be ideally suited to the ‘overworked’ medical man.[1] This editorial engaged with common tropes about the toils of provincial and country general practice.

As its later title implies, the journal proudly asserted its provincial character, while criticising the metropolitan elite. In 1882, the Miscellany reprinted comments made by its future editor. Dolan had characterised England’s major medical journals – the Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) – as essentially ‘London publication[s]’. He suggested that:

the literary activities of the provincial general practitioners were increasing each year – the London Practitioner alone could produce enough material to fill the Lancet and Medical Journal – therefore, if they desired not to be beaten out of the field, they must look for a new vehicle for the conveyance of their thoughts.

The Miscellany styled itself as this ‘new vehicle’. It modestly suggested that it did not lay claim to be ‘at present in a position adequately to represent the General Medical Practitioners of the Country’, but emphasised that it was ‘compiled in [their] interests’.[2]  The journal suggested that there was an opening in the market for a new type of publication, implying that provincial GPs felt underrepresented by mainstream metropolitan journals. It positioned itself as better suited to these readers’ interests and lifestyle.

By insinuating that the BMJ privileged metropolitan practitioners, Dolan implied that it had alienated its traditional readership. The BMJ began life in 1840 as the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal (PMSJ), the defacto periodical of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association. Both were rebranded in the 1850s, becoming the BMJ and British Medical Association respectively. These changes were controversial; some Association members expressed fears that the interests of the metropolis were being prioritised over those of the provinces.[3]

Under Dolan’s editorship, the Miscellany was later renamed the Provincial Medical Journal. This was presumably a marketing tactic designed to increase the journal’s appeal outside the Midlands; by this time, it was also published in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Further, by framing itself as a journal for provincial medical practitioners, it effectively positioned itself in the space once occupied by the PMSJ. Perhaps this was a bid to claim the BMJ’s disaffected readers, though it came several decades after the controversy surrounding that journal. Scholars have discussed the diminishing popularity of the ‘provincial’ as a template for national identity.[4] However, the journal’s use of the term as late as the 1880s and 90s indicates a desire to reclaim provincialism and assert it as a broader identity. The journal addressed itself to all those who practised outside of the metropolis.


Engaging with ‘problem’ patients

Upon its launch, the Miscellany asserted that among its chief interests were ‘Ethics and Etiquette, the relations of members of the profession with the public’.[5] The journal did not adopt a romanticised perspective of the doctor-patient relationship, but rather discussed what it saw as the challenges of general practice.

In 1882, it featured a lengthy article on ‘The Question of Patients’, which focused on the difficulties encountered in ‘diagnostic interrogation’. The article demonstrated remarkable snobbery towards ‘the badly educated classes’, remarking on the ‘sheer inability […] of persons who have led unintelligent lives, to grasp the meaning and importance of questions that are put to them’.[6] The writer implied that patients were to blame for unsatisfactory medical interactions.

Two months later, the journal published a feature on ‘A Practitioner’s Grievances’, many of which related specifically to country practice, particularly the demands made on ‘the Doctor’s time’. It complained that, ‘in country districts, especially, it is almost impossible to induce patients to send their messages to the doctor in decent time’. It described the practitioner arriving home after a long day, ‘weary and hungry’, only to ‘find a message awaiting him’ to return to a village he had visited earlier that day. This frustration is compounded by the fact he ‘finds that the patient has been ill for a week, and that to-morrow morning would have done just as well’.[7] Complaints about patients requesting attendance at inconvenient times were not unusual, though together these articles seem particularly critical of patients.

The journal was also concerned about medical men’s interactions with women. In these instances it was the practitioner (rather than the patient) who was supposed to alter his behaviour. An article on ‘The Relation of Medical Men to their Patients’ (1885) counselled ‘[y]oung medical practitioners [to] bear in mind a few general truths in their dealings especially with female patients’. It recommended that ‘[c]onfidential relations with ladies of a household’ were to be ‘absolutely declined’ and that ‘examinations of female patients should always be made in presence of a third person’.[8] Such warnings were common in medical writing. Jukes de Styrap’s The Young Practitioner (1890) – an advice guide for aspiring medical men – counselled its readers to be ‘extremely cautious […] in having married women or young females to consult you secretly’.[9] Practitioners were taught that their encounters with female patients should be conducted with propriety.

Medical men in rural or small-town practices were thought to be particularly susceptible to rumour, innuendo and scandal. In 1883, the Miscellany reprinted a poem entitled ‘The Doctor’s Dream’, which originally appeared in Punch.[10] The poem’s speaker is a village practitioner, who reminisces about his life and career. One of the challenges he recalls is having ‘[t]o face and brave the gossip and stuff that travels about through a country town;/ To be thrown in the way of hysterical girls, and live all terrible scandal down’. Though humorous in tone, the Miscellany suggested that the poem was ‘worthy of preservation in medical literature’ and likely to ‘strike a chord in every medical man’s heart’.[11]  The Miscellany’s later incarnation, the PMJ, featured an article on ‘Doctors and Lady Patients’ (1887) which warned of the dangers surrounding long visits to women. It noted that, ‘[i]n London possibly they might escape, for a time, from the eye of Mrs Grundy […] In provincial towns medical men who are too attentive, very soon fall under her ken and then – Nemesis!’[12] These pieces show how communities might police the practitioner’s professional conduct.

The Miscellany/PMJ framed itself as a riposte to the dominance of the London periodical press and capitalised on the provincial medical man’s perceived resentment towards his metropolitan counterparts. It grappled with the supposed challenges of general practice and proudly asserted its provincialism. While it enjoyed almost fifteen years in circulation, the fact it eventually folded perhaps indicates that its approach was not particular popular with medical readers. The journals that it attacked – the Lancet and BMJ –  remained the most widley read titles.

[1] ‘Introduction’, Midland Medical Miscellany, January 1881, pp. 1-2 (p. 1).

[2] ‘A Journal for the General Practitioner’, Midland Medical Miscellany, April 1882, p. 55.

[3] For an overview, see Peter W.J. Bartrip, Mirror of Medicine: The BMJ, 1840-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)

[4] Robin Gilmour, ‘Regional and Provincial in Victorian Literature’, in The Literature of Region and Nation, ed. by R.P. Draper (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 51-60 (p. 52).

[5] ‘Introduction’, pp. 1-2.

[6] ‘The Question of Patients’, Midland Medical Miscellany, February 1882, pp. 21-4 (p. 22).

[7] ‘A Practitioner’s Grievances’, Midland Medical Miscellany, April 1882, pp. 51-2 (p. 51).

[8] ‘The Relation of Medical Men to their Patients’, Midland Medical Miscellany, 1 January 1885, p. 23.

[9] Jukes de Styrap, The Young Practitioner (London: H.K. Lewis, 1890), p. 110. This book was based on Daniel Webster Cathell’s popular US manual, Book on the Physician Himself (1881), which exercised similar caution.

[10] ‘The Doctor’s Dream’, Punch, 20 January 1883, p. 35.

[11] ‘The Doctor’s Dream’, Midland Medical Miscellany, February 1883, pp. 63-4 (p. 63).

[12] ‘Annotations: Doctors and Lady Patients’, Provincial Medical Journal, 1 January 1887, p. 35.


S. J. Mackie and the Geologist

The life of a periodical editor in the nineteenth century was not an occupation for the easily discouraged. Financial precarity and the worry of finding sufficient material for each issue were constant struggles for many, particularly as the print market became increasingly crowded. Periodicals were often short-lived, lucky to exist for more than a few years before collapsing under the strain. The career of Samuel Joseph Mackie (1823-1902), editor of the Geologist (1858-1864), is a particularly remarkable example of such a career.

There is a great deal we do not know about the life of S. J. Mackie. No known image of him exists, and we must surmise much from the scattered traces of his chequered path through the world of scientific publishing. Born in Folkestone, Mackie’s interest in geology began from an early age. By his late twenties, he was employed as a customs officer, but had also been elected as a Fellow of the Geological Society on the strength of his scientific work. However, a financial scandal involving his father cast a shadow over his early career, leaving Mackie bankrupt and forcing him to relocate to London. It is not clear how he earned a living at this stage, but Mackie next emerges as editor of a new periodical, the Geologist, in 1858. The preface asks for correspondents to ‘join in aiding me in my earnest desire to popularize and to extend the noble science of geology without sacrificing, in any way, its proper dignity’. Mackie was prone to grandiloquence, clearly believing his role as editor was one weighted with great responsibility. ‘Nothing once printed is innocuous or inert’, he stated, pointing to the importance of periodicals to the advancement of science, as the ‘magazine is bound into a volume, and may be read again months or years afterwards, and become, as it often does, the first course of instruction to younger minds’.


Title page of the Geologist‘s second volume

The Geologist was a self-described ‘popular illustrated monthly magazine’. It shared the ideology common to many other natural history periodicals of this period – such as the Zoologist, for example – in inviting contributions from anyone who had something of interest to share. ‘In every corner of the country where a labourer in the Geological field is to be found, there exists a man who has it in his power to uphold the Geologist, and by upholding it, to foster Science’. Geology was a particularly popular and fashionable subject, as Mackie himself observed: ‘it is wondered at, and enquired about’ by a large section of the public ‘who cannot help noticing as they walk about the country, the earth is deposited in layers or strata; who see fossils dug out of railway cuttings, or who stop to gaze in astonishment, blended with incredulity, at the restorations of uncouth antediluvian creatures in the gardens of the Crystal Palace’. Despite this apparent appetite, the Geologist struggled financially for most of its existence. It came to an unexpected close in 1864, when its publishers sold the periodical for a measly £25. The new owners, Longman, Green, & Co., begun their own periodical, the Geological Magazine (1864-). Mackie admitted defeat, deciding to ‘retire from the field rather than take part in a contest that might prove injurious to both’.

Mackie’s enthusiasm for periodicals was clearly not overly dampened by the ignoble end of the Geologist, and in 1865 he commenced another publication along similar lines. This journal was comprehensively entitled the Geological and Natural History Reportory. Just in case the scope of the periodical was in doubt, Mackie appended an extended subtitle, describing it as an ‘Illustrated Popular Weekly Magazine of Geology, Palaeontology, Mineralogy, Natural History, Terrestrial and Cosmical Physics, and Journal of Pre-Historic Archaeology and Ethnology’. The expanded remit of this new publication is most likely an attempt to maximise subscribers by appealing to as broad an audience as possible. Mackie noted that ‘no special-class scientific periodical has ever yet attained a higher circulation than from 800 to 1000’, yet ‘it is certain that the quantity of matter now given could not be continued unless a very much more extensive patronage be accorded to the present effort’. Mackie was publishing at his own expense, and therefore some caution was necessary. Despite the promise of ‘weekly’ issues, it began at a monthly rate ‘until sufficient promise of support has been received to ensure him [Mackie] against serious pecuniary loss’. However, it would appear that the required number of readers was not forthcoming, and the Reportory was therefore hampered from the beginning. The erratic publication schedule continued, barely reaching a single volume’s length in over two years. The final issue ends mid-sentence in 1869.

After the failure of the Reportory, Mackie gave up on editorship and took up employment as a civil engineer. Furthermore, he turned his hand to inventing, filing patents for various contraptions of dubious ingenuity, including a design for a cross-channel ferry intended to alleviate sea sickness. None of these patents ever went beyond the drawing board, and Mackie lived out the rest of his years in relative obscurity.


Margaret Todd (1859-1918): Medical woman and author

Margaret Todd

Margaret Todd (Wikipedia/ Public Domain)

In 1893, the popular periodical The Nineteenth Century featured an article on ‘Medical Women in Fiction’, written by Sophia Jex-Blake, who was well-known as a pioneer in the movement for women in medicine. Her article reviewed a selection of British and American novels published between the 1870s and early 1890s, all of which represented aspiring female practitioners. Jex-Blake examined the way in which they approached what she termed ‘a great social question’. She conceded that portraits of medical women need not be ‘drawn by friendly hands’ but maintained they ‘should be in some sense taken from life’.[1]

She singled out for mention the three-volume novel Mona Maclean, Medical Student (1892), which she considered to be ‘manifestly written from the inside’.[2] The story depicts the medical and romantic adventures of its eponymous young heroine, a student at the London School of Medicine for Women. After she fails her Intermediate Examinations, Mona takes an extended break from her studies, visiting rural Scotland to stay with a distant cousin, who requests that she conceal her identity as a medical student. This ruse proves difficult to sustain when Mona falls for an aspiring medical man, Ralph Dudley. The novel is a female Bildungsroman which sees its heroine undergo various trials before she passes her exams and settles in practice with her new husband, Dudley.[3] In praising the novel, Jex-Blake suggested that its protagonist resembled a ‘genuine medical woman’.[4]

The authenticity was unsurprising. For while the novel was published under the pseudonym Graham Travers, it was written by a female medical student, Margaret Todd. Born in Fife in 1859 to James Cameron Todd (a canon and schoolmaster) and his wife Jeannie McBain, Todd briefly worked as a schoolteacher. She then became one of the first pupils at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, which Jex-Blake founded in 1886. Although Jex-Blake claimed to be ignorant about the authorship of Mona Maclean – she suggested she did not know whether it was written by a man or a woman – this was disingenuous. By the time the novel was published, the pair had been living together for four years. Jex-Blake is widely considered to have inspired the book, particularly the characterisation of the formidable Dr Alice Bateson. Further, she helped to secure the novel’s publication with Blackwood’s.[5]

Mona Maclean was immensely popular upon its release, reaching 15 editions by 1900. It received largely positive reviews. The Academy endorsed it as ‘one of the freshest and brightest novels of the time’,[6] while The Speaker praised the heroine as a ‘natural lady’ and the book as ‘good and artistic work’.[7] The Athenaeum’s reviewer dwelled on the novel’s ‘obvious blemishes.’ Like other critics, he recognised it as the product of first-time authorship. He also bemoaned that it was ‘a novel with a purpose, and suffers from the drawbacks inherent in works of the proselytizing stamp’. Despite this, he suggested that it showed ‘decided promise, and was in parts exceedingly enjoyable’.[8]


Mona Maclean

Todd’s novel was also well-received by the medical press. This is surprising, given that many journals had been highly critical of the medical-woman movement, as I explore in this blog post. Upon its publication, the Lancet judged it ‘a capital book’ and a ‘well-written, and effectively-told tale’,[9] while the Edinburgh Medical Journal designated it ‘eminently readable’.[10] The Medical Press and Circular was slightly less enthusiastic, suggesting that the plot was rather ‘feeble,’ but it conceded that the book held a certain ‘charm’.[11] The journals commended the book to their readers, the vast majority of whom would have been medical men. None of them suggested it would make a suitable gift for a wife or daughter, though the fact it was reviewed around Christmas may have suggested this to some readers. When the Lancet reviewed the book’s fifteenth edition in 1900, it praised the publishers for bringing out a ‘cheap edition’, thus putting the story ‘within the reach of everyone’.[12]

Long overlooked by literary scholars, Mona Maclean has attracted critical interest in recent decades. Critics working on New Woman or New Girl fiction have considered its treatment of female education, friendship, and sexuality,[13] while those interested in the Victorian medical-woman movement have examined its depiction of medical education and practice.[14] Thus far, scholars have not interrogated its reception by the medical press, as I consider in my thesis.

Following the publication of Mona Maclean, medical journals continued to associate Todd with her debut novel. In 1894, the British Medical Journal reported that three women – including the ‘authoress of Mona Maclean’ – had passed the Conjoint examinations in Scotland.[15] In 1895, the journal summarised Todd’s response to controversial correspondence from Arabella Kenealy (another early medical woman and a eugenicist) about whether doctors should intervene to prevent miscarriages of syphilitic children. It referred to Todd as ‘[t]he Author of Mona Maclean’.[16]

It is fitting that her authorial and medical identities were entwined, for she maintained her interests in both literature and medicine. After taking her MD in Brussels in 1894, she worked as Assistant Medical Officer at the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women and Children, and also penned further novels and short stories. She has also gained recognition among the scientific community for having proposed the word ‘isotope’ to the chemist Frederick Soddy, a family friend (though sources also suggest earlier antecedents). A correspondent from the Royal Institute of Chemistry related the incident to the Lancet in 1957, referring to Todd as ‘a medical woman’ and ‘a novelist’, again asserting her dual identities.[17]

Following Jex-Blake’s retirement at the century’s close, she and Todd moved to a small farm, Windydene, in Rotherfield, where the older woman died in 1912. Six years later, Todd published a biography of her, The Life of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake (1918). It is a painstakingly detailed and hagiographic account of the subject’s life as a pioneer for women’s medical education and practice.[18] The Lancet described the biography as ‘admirable’ and ‘as absorbing as a good novel’ in its review,[19] while the BMJ suggested it was a ‘well-written memorial’ but noted the author had ‘suppress[ed] […] any reference to her share in Miss Jex-Blake’s life, on which it would have been interesting to have some light’.[20]

Three months after the biography appeared, Todd herself died. Newspapers reported that she passed away at a nursing home in London, though some have inferred that she committed suicide.[21] When the Lancet and the BMJ announced her decease, they noted her medical career, but both suggested that she was better known as an author.[22] Following her death, the London School of Medicine for Women created a scholarship in her name, thus ensuring her legacy among future generations of medical women.

[1] Sophia Jex-Blake, ‘Medical Women in Fiction’, The Nineteenth Century, 33 (February 1893), 261–72 (pp. 261-2).

[2] Jex-Blake, p. 268.

[3] Margaret Georgina Todd, Mona Maclean, Medical Student, 3 vols (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1892)

[4] Jex-Blake, p. 278.

[5] Kristine Swenson, Medical Women and Victorian Fiction (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005), p. 131.

[6] William Wallace, ‘New Novels’, Academy, 3 December 1892, pp. 504-5 (p. 504).

[7] ‘Fiction’, Speaker, 12 November 1892, pp. 598-9 (p. 599).

[8] ‘Novels of the Week’, Athenaeum, 3 December 1892, pp. 773-5 (p. 774).

[9] ‘Reviews and Notices of Books: Other Seasonable Productions’, Lancet, 17 December 1892, p. 1394.

[10] ‘Review: Mona Maclean’, EMJ, December 1892, pp. 569-70 (p. 570).

[11] ‘Literature: Mona Maclean, Medical Student’, MPC, 19 April 1893, p. 424.

[12] ‘Library Table: Mona Maclean’, Lancet, 9 June 1900, p. 1663.

[13] Ann Heilmann, New Woman Fiction: Women Writing First-Wave Feminism (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000), p. 29. Charles Ferrall and Anna Jackson, Juvenile Literature and British Society: The Age of Adolescence (New York: Routledge, 2010), pp. 72-6.

[14] Rachel Carr, ‘The “Girton Girl” and the “Lady Doctor”: Women, Higher Education and Medicine in Popular Victorian Fiction by Women’ (unpublished doctoral thesis: King’s College London, 1998). Swenson, Medical Women and Victorian Fiction.

[15] ‘Medical News’, BMJ, 11 August 1894, p. 346.

[16] ‘Correspondence: A Question of Conscience’, BMJ, 5 October 1895, pp. 870-1.

[17] Hugh Nicol, ‘The Word “Isotope”’, Lancet, 29 June 1957, pp. 1358-9.

[18] Todd, The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake (London: Macmillan, 1918).

[19] ‘Reviews and Notices of Books: The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake’, Lancet, 10 August 1918, p. 174.

[20] ‘Reviews: Life of Miss Sophia Jex-Blake’, BMJ, 10 August 1918, pp. 133-4 (p. 133).

[21] Elizabeth L. Ewan and others (eds.), The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), p. 184.

[22] [Untitled], Lancet, 7 September 1918, p. 333. ‘The Late Dr Margaret Todd’, BMJ¸ 14 September 1918, p. 299.

The Zoologist (1843-1916)

The nineteenth century saw a proliferation of periodicals dedicated to natural history in its various forms, ranging from more general publications with titles such as the Zoologist or Naturalist, to those with a more specific focus, such as the Entomologist or Phytologist. These periodicals catered to a widespread taste for natural history, with men and women of all classes and levels of expertise taking an active part in the production of scientific knowledge. Writing in 1873, Charles Kingsley remarked that natural history ‘has become a popular and common pursuit’, no longer ‘confined mainly to several scientific men, or mere collectors of shells, insects, and dried plants’. He also noted that ‘we have, in addition to amusing books on special subjects, serials on Natural History more or less profound, and suited to every kind of student and every grade of knowledge’. In the first of a series of blog posts looking at these periodicals, profound or otherwise, the Zoologist is taken as an excellent example of this new kind of publication.

Edward Newman 300dpi

‘Edward Newman. Photograph by Maull & Polyblank.’ . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Beginning in 1843, the Zoologist was the project of the entrepreneurial scientific printer and publisher Edward Newman. Born into a Quaker family in 1801, Newman originally entered the rope-making business, but an early interest in natural history (and entomology in particular) led him to become a partner in the printing firm of George Luxford (1807-1854), of which he very soon became the sole owner. Residing in London, Newman was embedded within the networks of leading naturalists, and was a founding member of the Entomological Society of London in 1833. He published widely on a surprising range of topics, with his most respected work regarding butterflies and moths. However, Newman also turned his hand to other topics with varying degrees of success, notably an article (published in the Zoologist) in which he argued pterodactyls to be marsupial bats.


Illustration accompanying Newman’s article on pterodactyls

The Zoologist was described as ‘a popular miscellany of natural history’. Rather than commission articles written by experts, the periodical relied entirely upon its readers to furnish it with material. The aim was explicitly to attract as wide a range of contributors as possible, which made sound commercial sense, but was also underpinned by Newman’s own belief in a more inclusive scientific community. This ideology is reflected in Newman’s vision for the new periodical, and his attempts to render it accessible to those without specialist knowledge. In the preface to the first volume, Newman stated ‘the attempt to combine scientific truths with readable English has been considered by my friends as one of surpassing rashness’, and he remarked that many had asked him to ‘introduce a few Latin descriptions, just to give the work a scientific character’. Newman counters this with the example of Gilbert White’s classic work of nature writing, the Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), a touchstone for almost every nineteenth-century naturalist. White had written in ‘pure, plain, intelligible English’, and thereby ‘found ample favour in the eyes of the public’. Newman looked to the ‘multitude of observers’ who had arisen since the time of White, and hoped that this army of scientific workers could make the Zoologist a success, providing contributions spanning a far wider field than that of an eighteenth-century clergyman. ‘I wish that every district should have a chronicler of its natural history, and that the Zoologist should be a receptacle for all’.


Title page for first volume of the Zoologist

Whether Newman’s ideals translated into practice is another matter, but nevertheless, the Zoologist is one of many publications that offered a chance for naturalists to see their name in print, regardless of their social or scientific status. Newman proclaimed, ‘every one who subscribes a single fact is welcome – nay, more than that – has a direct claim to be admitted as a contributor’. The lists of contributors at the beginning of each yearly volume show many leading naturalists alongside others of whom we know very little. The subject matter is equally eclectic, ranging from ‘manners of the water rat’, ‘anecdote of a robin’, and the intriguingly titled ‘electric centipede’. The latter was written by Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888), yet to gain his renown as a naturalist, detailing his discovery of a luminescent centipede in his garden in Hackney. Conversational in style and free of scientific terminology, it can be easily read and understood by anyone.

The Zoologist was by far the most successful of Newman’s many publishing ventures, and one the most long-lived of all the nineteenth-century popular natural history periodicals. It continued after Newmans’ death in 1876, surviving into the twentieth century and finally ceasing in 1916, presumably as many of its contributors were otherwise occupied at this time with more pressing matters than natural history.

Victorian Scientists and Periodicals

In a new series of blog posts, ConSciCom researchers will share the little-known periodicals and personalities they’ve uncovered in the course of their research.

Medical Mirror (1864-70)

Alison Moulds

Medical Mirror 1

An advertisement for the Medical Mirror, which appeared in the BMJ (1866).

The Medical Mirror was a general medical monthly, published in London. It was originally edited by metropolitan physician William Abbotts Smith. In July 1866, editorship passed to his colleague Alexander Thorburn Macgowan, who had served as Staff-Surgeon in the 52nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry. Three years later, Macgowan retired and sold the copyright of the journal.[1] The Mirror’s last editor – who oversaw production between September 1869 and December 1870 – was anonymous and has not been identified.

In his 1864 opening address, Abbotts Smith announced that his aim was ‘the production of a cheap and useful serial’. He suggested that, while the Mirror would be ‘essentially a Review’, it would also contain ‘information on current topics of professional interest’. Essentially, he pitched it as occupying an ‘intermediate position’ between news-oriented medical weeklies such as the Lancet and the British Medical Journal and the more voluminous quarterly reviews.[2]

Medical Mirror 2

The journal’s opening address following its 1869 rebranding.

In May 1869, the Mirror rebranded itself, moving to a format which more closely resembled that of a magazine. Macgowan suggested that he had been advised to bring out the periodical ‘in a form more consistent with the progressive times we live in, and at a price more consistent with the modest earnings of the general practitioner’.[3] The cover price dropped to 4s per annum (it was previously priced at 12s).

Throughout its run, the journal proudly proclaimed its independence and commitment to representing the interests of rank-and-file medical practitioners. Its first address emphasised that it was ‘unfettered by the influence of any clique or individuals’ and ‘blinded by no feelings of animosity towards any other Medical Journal’. It affirmed: ‘we start upon neutral, and […] thoroughly independent grounds’.[4] It sought to differentiate itself from journals known for their bitter rivalries, such as the radical Lancet and conservative London Medical Gazette. In 1869, the rebranded Mirror reassured its readers that it remained progressive in outlook, that it had ‘always adopted a cosmopolitan platform – free from bigotry, cliquism, and intolerance’ and that it ‘advocated the rights of the many, and the principles of free-trade’. However, it acknowledged that its calls for medical reform had now become widely accepted among the profession and the public. The journal represented itself as an ‘organ of independent thought and progress, bound only by the happy rules of unsectarian Christianity’.[5]

The Mirror printed a range of articles relevant to the experiences of general practitioners. It enthusiastically promoted the cottage hospital movement, which it saw as a means of elevating the status of country doctors. In 1859, surgeon Albert Napper converted a cottage into a hospital in Surrey. This spearheaded a movement, which saw houses adapted into small, rural hospitals and dispensaries altered to include inpatient facilities. These cottage hospitals were modelled on provincial general hospitals but staffed by general practitioners.[6] The Mirror featured various articles on the movement, including a report by Napper which emphasised that the hospitals played a crucial role in ‘the alleviation of the sufferings of the poor’ and in raising the profile of the country practitioner. Recognising that a hospital appointment was ‘always considered a sufficient guarantee of high professional attainments’ among affluent private patients, Napper suggested that ‘in the absence of any such means of affording proof of his ability, the country surgeon is too frequently regarded with distrust’.[7] The Mirror valorised the role of rural and provincial general practitioners. In one article on ‘The Country Doctor and His Work’, it affirmed that, ‘[t]here should be no better friend to the public than the man who, at all times, in all seasons, is ready to risk his own life in trying to save theirs’.[8]

Significantly, the journal also became interested in women’s rights under the auspices of its final editor, whose identity unfortunately remains unknown. When Macgowan was at the helm, the Mirror had commented on women’s education in the US. It expressed concern that in Boston, where ‘the rights of women have been for some time fully recognised’, the birth rate was steadily diminishing. It cautioned that women should not ‘neglect a department of usefulness for which Nature has peculiarly fitted them’, a reference to childrearing.[9] Under the next editor, the journal adopted a more liberal agenda and became an early supporter of the medical woman movement in Britain. An editorial on ‘Female Physicians’ maintained that ‘women have a perfect right to every facility for the study of medicine now enjoyed by men’. This article positioned the Mirror as more progressive than its contemporaries. It derided the BMJ for its ‘medieval notions concerning women’ and the Medical Times and Gazette for its ‘pseudo-scientific dogmas’ about women’s ‘physical and mental capacity’.[10]

This interjection was part of a broader sympathy for women’s rights which emerged in the journal. Another piece scathingly suggested that a BMJ journalist read ‘J.S. Mill’s judicious, enlightened, and enlightening work on the “The Subjection of Women”’, and the journal stridently opposed the ‘degrading and demoralizing influence’ of the Contagious Diseases Acts.[11] Since the Mirror ceased publication in 1870, we cannot know whether this positive coverage of the woman question would have been sustained. Perhaps the journal’s increasingly bold and liberal stance rendered it unpopular with medical readers and ultimately contributed to its demise.

[1] [Untitled], Medical Mirror, 1 September 1869, p. 113.

[2] ‘Address’, Medical Mirror, January 1864, pp. 1-3.

[3] ‘Address to the Readers of the Medical Mirror’, Medical Mirror, 1 May 1869, p. 3.

[4] ‘Address’, p. 3.

[5] ‘Address to the Readers’, p. 3.

[6] For a history of the cottage hospital movement see Steven Cherry, ‘Change and Continuity in the Cottage Hospitals c. 1859-1948: The Experience in East Anglia’, Medical History, 36 (July 1992), 271-89.

[7] Albert Napper, ‘On the Advantages Desirable to the Medical Profession and to the Public from the Establishment of Village Hospitals’, Medical Mirror, January 1864, pp. 20-4 (p. 22).

[8] ‘The Country Doctor and his Work’, Medical Mirror, 1 November 1870, p. 195.

[9] ‘The Rights of Women’, Medical Mirror, August 1866, p. 506.

[10] ‘Notes and Comments: Female Physicians’, Medical Mirror, 1 December 1869, p. 173.

[11] ‘Notes and Comments: Syphilography for Ladies’, Medical Mirror, 1 November 1869, p. 154. ‘Prostitution: The Contagious Diseases Acts’, Medical Mirror, 1 November 1869, pp.  155-7 (p. 157).