John Hunter

1728 (East Kilbride, Scotland) – 1793 (London)

Hunter transformed the art of surgery, giving it a firm scientific basis, and anticipated the scientific understanding of fossils and geological time. Pott and Cheselden taught him, while he taught Jenner, who became a friend for life, and Carlisle. He chaired the scientific group meeting at Slaughter’s Coffee House (Banks, Maskelyne, Solander, Cook, Smeaton, et al.), sent Boulton a figure of Death, and treated his neighbour Reynolds (and Gainsborough) gratis. He assisted his brother William, dined with Smollett, sent Banks his paper about fish’s ears, and was friends with Hume, Franklin and Haydn (offering to operate on Haydn, Haydn declined).

William Cheselden

1688 (Somerby, England) – 1752 (Bath)

Cheselden did much to raise surgery to a profession, and published an influential anatomy of the human body (written in English instead of the usual Latin, and with each bone in the adult skeleton reproduced life-size). Sloane and Pope were good friends, and Haller met him when he visited London. He studied under Cowper, gave surgical training to Hunter, and helped look after Newton during his final illness, advising against invasive surgery.

William Cheselden knew…

François Quesnay

1694 (Merey, France) – 1774 (Versailles)

Quesnay was among the first to apply analytic principles to economic thought, and was an important precursor to the subsequent generation of classical economists. His role as surgeon to the king’s mistress (in a generally despotic court) gave him a privileged position, his rooms a sanctuary for the circle of free-thinkers he gathered around him. These included Diderot and d’Alembert (a real friend — Quesnay was also a very competent mathematician), Buffon, Helvétius, Marmontel and Quesnay’s student Turgot. Hume visited him, as did Smith, who got to know him well (and credited him in ‘The Wealth of Nations’).

Joseph Lister

1827 (Upton, England) – 1912 (Walmer)

Pasteur and Lister became great friends (Lister’s familiarity with the spoiling of wine — his father J. J. Lister was a wine-merchant by day — helped him see how Pasteur’s biochemical theories could be applied to sepsis in wounds). He did his best at a London congress to promote a civilised meeting between Pasteur and Koch (the three of them leading the way in the bacteriological understanding of infection and immunity). He was also strongly supportive of Mechnikov, whose ideas had been under fire, and became a friend. Cohn introduced Koch to him, while Babbage and Roux were among his correspondents.

Joseph Lister knew…

Anthony Carlisle

1768 (Stillington, England) – 1840 (London)

Carlisle deserves to be better-known. Nicholson and he discovered electrolysis after Banks had shown him Volta’s important letter. His recognition of echo-location by bats was a century ahead of its time, he was an early experimenter with winged aviation and involved (with Davy) in Wedgwood’s pioneering photographic experiments, and he helped get child labour legislated against. He studied with Hunter, was doctor to Coleridge, Nollekens and Turner, advised Southey about body-snatching, and as a close friend of Godwin’s attended the dying Wollstonecraft while also very likely being the model for Shelley’s Frankenstein.