[William Heberden, Physician-in-Ordinary to George III.] Autograph Letter Signed ('W. Heberden') on putting 'Dr Halloran's proposal' on administering arsenic to the king to the mad-doctors Robert Darling Willis, Thomas Monro and Samuel Foart Simmons.

William Heberden the younger (1767-1845) [the madness of King George III; Robert Darling Willis; Thomas Monro; Samuel Foart Simmons; William Saunders Hallaran]
Publication details: 
Pall Mall [London]. 7 November [no year, but between 1810 and 1820].
SKU: 21492

The present item dates from the final period of the king's mental instability, 1810-1820. Heberden – the son of the 'father of rheumatology' William Heberden the elder (1710-1801) – had been appointed Physician-Extraordinary to the queen in 1795, and by 1809 was Physician-in-Ordinary to both queen and king. His entry in the Oxford DNB describes how, when 'the symptoms of the king's mental instability recurred early in 1804 the royal physicians were ordered by the queen's council to leave the daily management to a ‘specialist’ mad-doctor with experience in treating mental disorders […] The regime was repressive and coercive, but despite this harsh treatment the king's recovery in 1804 was complete by the end of the year. For the next five years Heberden pursued his London practice, but in 1810 the king's illness reappeared and the repressive regime was renewed—a form of treatment that Heberden considered to be futile and inhumane. […] Heberden's protests were brushed aside and he and the other physicians found themselves virtually excluded from the sickroom. He was able to see his patient from time to time, but always in the presence of the Willises or one of their associates.' The reference in the present letter to 'Dr Robt Willis, Dr Monro, & Dr Simmons', is to the three 'mad-doctors' Robert Darling Willis (1760-1821); Thomas Monro (1759-1833) of Bethlem Hospital; and Samuel Foart Simmons (1750-1813). The 'Dr Halloran' of the letter is William Saunders Hallaran [sic] (c.1765-1825) of Cork, specialist in the treatment of insanity, for whom see B. D. Kelly, 'Dr William Saunders Hallaran and psychiatric practice in nineteenth-century Ireland' (Irish Journal of Medical Science, April 2008). Hallaran's 'proposal' may have been published in his influential work 'Enquiry into the Causes producing the Extraordinary Addition to the Number of Insane, together with Observations on the Cure of Insanity' (1810). For more information see Andrews and Scull, 'Undertaker of the Mind: John Monro and Mad-Doctoring in Eighteenth-Century England' (2001). The letter is 2pp, 12mo. Bifolium on watermarked laid paper. In good condition, lightly aged. Eighteen lines of text, neatly written, with light tick through the lower lines of the first page. The recipient is not named. The letter reads: 'My dear Sir, | My own experience in cases of deranged intellect has been so limited, that it is not surprizing if I am unacquainted with the virtues of the remedy proposed. So far I may say; that in the present instance it has not been tried, and moreover that its general tendency is of a kind not altogether unsuitable. On the other hand I should administer arsenic to a King with some hesitation. When I return to Windsor on Friday I will lay Dr Halloran's proposal before Dr Robt Willis, Dr Monro, & Dr Simmons, to whose judgment I should naturally defer in such a matter. | I am, My Dr Sr | Yours very truly | W. Heberden'. From the distinguished autograph collection of the psychiatrist Richard Alfred Hunter (1923-1981), whose collection of 7000 works relating to psychiatry is now in Cambridge University Library. Hunter and his mother Ida Macalpine had a particular interest in the illness of King George III, and their book 'George III and the Mad Business' (1969) suggested the diagnosis of porphyria popularised by Alan Bennett in his play 'The Madness of George III'.