THE GREAT BENEFACTOR
Edward Jenner was, until recent years, badly served by his biographers. The first choice, although to all appearances well equipped for the task, 'entered upon it' as he confessed, 'with a degree of anxiety in which I can scarcely expect any to sympathise', and predictably made rather a hash of it. John Baron, a qualified physician and surgeon, first met Jenner in 1808 when he was fifty-nine and Baron twenty-three. They became and remained close friends and Baron was possibly the last person to see Jenner alive before his death in 1823. In view of their long and intimate acquaintance there was presumably some expectation or at least hope that Baron might play Boswell to Jenner's Johnson, but nothing could have been less likely.
A practical obstacle was the amount of time and labour involved:
The papers […] were extremely voluminous and in the greatest
disorder […] I anxiously wished and indeed had determined to
relinquish my task altogether: in addition therefore to the exertion
demanded by the subject itself I may be permitted to state that my
professional avocations necessarily prevented me from giving that
unbroken and undivided attention indispensable to the rapid
progress of a work of this nature.
A more deep-seated reason for the failure of the book lay in the relationship between the two men which, because of the age difference and Baron's deference in the face of Jenner's achievement and reputation, was more like that of father and son than of professional equals, even when later in life Baron himself had arrived at considerable eminence. There was, if Baron is to be believed, no awkwardness or keeping of distance; on the contrary, recalling their first meeting Baron commented, 'I little thought that it would so speedily lead to an intimacy and ultimately to a friendship which terminated only at his