Letters concerning the English Nation

By Voltaire; Nicholas Cronk | Go to book overview

LETTER XI. On Inoculation.

IT is inadvertently affirm'd in the Christian Countries of Europe, that the English are Fools and Madmen. Fools, because they give their Children the Small-Pox to prevent their catching it; and Mad-men, because they wantonly communicate a certain and dreadful Distemper to their Children, merely to prevent an uncertain Evil. The English, on the other Side, call the rest of the Europeans cowardly and unnatural. Cowardly, because they are afraid of putting their Children to a little Pain; unnatural, because they expose them to die one Time or other of the Small-Pox. But that the Reader may be able to judge, whether the English or those who differ from them in opinion, are in the right, here follows the History of the fam'd Inoculation, which is mention'd with so much Dread in France.

The Circassian Women have, from Time immemorial, communicated the Small-Pox to their Children when not above six Months old, by making an Incision in the arm, and by putting into this Incision a Pustle, taken carefully from the Body of another Child. This Pustle produces the same Effect in the arm it is laid in, as Yest* in a Piece of Dough: It ferments, and diffuses through the whole Mass of Blood, the Qualities with which it is impregnated. The Pustles of the Child, in whom the artificial Small-Pox has been thus inoculated, are employ'd to communicate the same Distemper to others. There is an almost perpetual Circulation of it in Circassia; and when unhappily the Small-Pox has quite left the Country, the Inhabitants of it are in as great Trouble and Perplexity, as other Nations when their Harvest has fallen short.

The Circumstance that introduc'd a Custom in Circassia, which appears so singular to others, is nevertheless a Cause common to all Nations, I mean maternal Tenderness and Interest.

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