It might be thought that such examples of persecution were of course rather frequent in the distant centuries, and must not be taken too seriously, since they come in times before men had learned to respect one another’s opinions and to realize that the assertions of an authority in science are only to be considered as worth the reasons he advances for them. Most people will be quite ready to congratulate themselves on the fact that our modern time has outlived this unfortunate state of mind, which served to hamper scientific investigation. They will probably even be quite self-complacent over the supposed fact that, ever since the study of natural science was taken up seriously at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, this unfortunate temper has disappeared.

Those who think so, however, know nothing of the history of nineteenth century science, and especially not of nineteenth century medicine. Jenner’s great discovery of the value of vaccination against small-pox came just before the nineteenth century opened. It met with the bitterest kind of opposition. This was especially the case in England. There is a doubt whether Germany did not eventually do more to bring about the recognition of the immense value of Jenner’s discovery than his native England. Anyone who has read Jenner’s life knows how much he was made to suffer from the bitterness of opponents’ expressions with regard to him. It is true that he was eventually rewarded quite liberally, and that honors were showered upon him, but only after a preliminary series of trials that must have made him regret, if possible, that he had ever devoted himself to the propaganda of a great truth. Nor did the dawn of the vaunted nineteenth century bring in a better state of affairs in this regard.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)


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