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HUNTER, John

A treatise on the venereal disease.   London: [for the author], 1786.

4to. [xii], 398, [12] pp. With 7 engraved plates, each with leaf of explanation. Contemporary full calf, rebacked; some spotting throughout, but generally a good copy. $1,500.00

First edition of this classic, and the first book issued from Hunter's private press, which he established at his house in order to prevent unauthorized foreign editions of his works. One thousand copies of this first edition were printed.

Considered the authority on venereal diseases, Hunter hypothesized that two diseases could not exist simultaneously in the same organ. Syphilis and gonorrhea were thus believed to be different symptoms of the same sexual illness. According to some historians, Hunter performed his most famous (if not infamous) experiments on himself. In 1767, he used a lancet to make a puncture on his glands and prepuce, having dipped the lancet in a lesion from a prostitute. Unfortunately for Hunter, the patient from whom he had obtained the specimen had both syphilis and gonorrhea, and this led him and others to believe that they were one and the same disease.

Contrary to legend, however, there is no proof that Hunter actually inoculated himself with venereal disease. According to other historians, he inoculated an individual with gonorrheal pus, not knowing that the pus also harbored syphilis. When the latter disease developed, Hunter believed that his ideas were correct. He here traces the course of the disease and its treatment with mercury and cauterization.

Hunter (1728-1793) was the pupil of his brilliant brother William, whom he later assisted and soon surpassed as a surgeon. He was probably one of the greatest scientist of his time in medicine and related subjects. The Royal College of Surgeons sponsors an annual lecture in Hunter's memory.


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