At the Medical Edge or, The Beddoes Effect
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When Thomas Beddoes explored new developments in pneumatic chemistry in the late eighteenth century, he was far from alone. Following upon widespread interest in newly-identified gasses, Beddoes and James Watt developed a campaign to promote the application of breathing new airs to attack medical ailments like consumption. But there were many others throughout the English Midlands, in London’s metropolis, in spa towns as well as on the Continent. Many medics, like Robert Thornton, James Percival, Erasmus Darwin, and John Barr among others, were convinced of the efficacy of airs. Such were the innovators who took advantage of new chemical discoveries. It was Beddoes’ unrelenting promotion of chemical innovation that attracted much attention. Likewise, Beddoes became an enthusiastic proponent of the uses of galvanic electricity in a sweeping range of ailments especially as pneumatic medicine proved not as promising as the first enthusiasm had suggested. Here too Beddoes reflected on the power of electrical discoveries, promoted likewise by Tiberius Cavallo who sought advantage in the market for electrical apparatus and by Michael La Beaume in London who developed a socially-respectable reputation as medical galvanist. By the late eighteenth century innovation in chemistry and electricity was often innovation in medicine, and Beddoes was its public champion.