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A Treatise on the Plague and Pestilential Fevers, with some Useful Hints, for the Better Prevention and Cure

A Treatise on the plague and pestilential fevers, with some useful hints, for the better prevention and cure : together with some observations, on the pestilential fever now raging among the horned cattle : and the reasons for the necessity of rectifying the present ill state of physic, in this nation, by unknown (1751).

A Treatise on the Plague and Pestilential Fevers is a relatively short volume by an unknown author. The work focuses on rinderpest, a serious epizootic affecting cattle in continental Europe in the 18th century. Rinderpest has quite a deeper history, but it became particularly problematic in Europe in this period and a number of works were published on the disease, a few of which are contained in the Cherry Collection.

The following piece was written by University of Guelph experiential learning student Emma Scott about A Treatise on the Plague and Pestilential Fevers:

A treatise on the plague and pestilential fevers, with Some Useful Hints, for the better Prevention and Cure was published in London, England in 1751. The book focuses on the causes, symptoms, effects, and responses to previous plagues and afflictions that have affected humans. The author also briefly discusses pestilential fever in horned cattle. It is important to note that this author of this text is unknown, leaving many unanswered questions regarding the individual’s life and medical credentials.

While this text is housed in the Ontario Veterinary College’s original collection of veterinary texts, A treatise on the plague and pestilential fevers surrounds plagues and diseases in humans. The unknown author focuses on plagues and diseases that have affected human populations, then briefly relates them to rinderpest, an infectious disease that was newly introduced and running rampant in English cattle during the 1740s and 50s.[1] This new disease spread through the air and eroded the gastrointestinal tract of those infected, resulting in a high mortality rate.[2] In fact, rinderpest killed nearly half a million cattle in Britain in the first ten years following its introduction.[3] Seeing as this text was published in 1751, it can be concluded that the author was attempting to understand rinderpest by relating it to human plagues and medicine. This was a fairly common practice during the eighteenth-century as veterinary medicine was a newly established field.[4] 

Another large influence on medicine was religious beliefs. During the eighteenth-century, religion was a large part of many peoples’ lives and defined how many individuals perceived the world. Protestants, the prominent religious group in England, believed that God was the creator of both life and the physical world.[5] The belief that God was the creator of all life coincided with the thought that God had a plan, and was in control of this plan, for all of his creations.[6] This is seen as the author states that plagues are sent from God to punish sinful nations.[7] The belief that God inflicts plagues on nations reveals how individuals’—even medical professionals’—view of the world was influenced by religion in the mid eighteenth-century. After noting that God creates plagues to punish sinful nations, the author instructs readers to participate in “constant fervent Prayers of the Righteous, or a sincere national Repentance and Amendment of Life” to stop God’s anger and bring an end to the plague.[8] The author’s belief that the British population needed to repent to end the plague can also be a sign of Evangelicalism, the Protestant movement that encouraged the both practice and internalization of religious doctrines.[9] By positioning religion as both the cause and the solution to plagues, the influence of religious belief on everyday life and early modern medicine is revealed.

[1] C. A. Spinage, Cattle Plague: A History (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2003), 3.

[2] C. A. Spinage, Cattle Plague: A History, 5.

[3] C. A. Spinage, Cattle Plague: A History, 3.

[4] Robert H. Dunlop and David J. Williams, Veterinary Medicine: An Illustrated History (St. Louis: Mosby-Year Book Inc., 1996), 349.

[5] Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory In Early Modern Britain and Ireland. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 327,

[6] Ibid.

[7] A treatise on the plague and pestilential fevers, with Some Useful Hints, for the better Prevention and Cure. Together with Some Observations, on the Pestilential Fever now raging among the Horned Cattle; and The Reasons for the Necessity of rectifying the present ill State of Physic, in this Nation (London: 1751), 37,

[8] Ibid.

[9] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain : A History From the 1730s to the 1980s. (London: Routledge, 1993), 368-369,

Explore a full-text 1751 edition of this work here.