During the reign of King George I, in 1726, the country village of Goldaming in the county of Surrey had a bizarre incident that was challenging the modern science of obstetrics. John Howard had been practicing midwifery for thirty years. By the standards of the day, he was considered a competent obstetrician. However, conventional wisdom and science was tossed aside when Mary Toft came to him with her peculiar problem.
Poor Mary Toft in ignorance was bred,
And ne’er once betray’d a deep designing head
Ne’er seem’d cut out for plots: Yet did wife
Like her impose so grossly on Man Midwife.
Who scorning Reason, Common Sense, and Nature
Plac’d all their faith in such a Stupid Creature
Mary was twenty-five and married to Joshua. She was an illiterate woman, described as stout with coarse features and of a stupid and sullen temperament. She had given birth to three living children, but had recently miscarried. During her last pregnancy, she had seen a rabbit jump out in front of her and given chase. Understandably, the rabbit evaded capture, but not without leaving Mrs. Toft with a burning hunger for rabbit stew or jugged rabbit. Perhaps because of poverty and a lack of suitable sustenance Mary was craving rabbit meat continuously.
In these early days, it was assumed your thoughts and experiences might influence an unborn child.
It was four months after her encounter with the rabbit, when Mary had the miscarriage, during which she suffered colicky pains and “a large lump of flesh” was released. In three weeks, she suffered a similar incident, but the symptoms of pregnancy continued. Eventually, she became extremely ill and her mother-in-law, a practicing midwife was called on September 27. This time she voided what appeared to be the lights (archaic word for lungs) and guts of a pig.
They decided to call in a more seasoned specialist and John Howard was summoned. With shock and horror, John Howard delivered several more parts of a pig. After the pig parts were delivered, Mary was “churched” to help cure the bizarre problem. However, in early October, she gave birth to a rabbit with a cat’s paws and head. Soon she was birthing rabbits on a regular basis. The animals were always dead and usually cut into two or three parts.
Howard wrote of the miraculous births to distinguished medical professionals, describing in detail the unusual births and the strange pulsations of Mary’s abdomen. A phenomenon he described as the rabbits jumping in the fallopian tubes and uterus as they make their bid for freedom.
The Prince of Wales was astounded by these findings and sent the court anatomist, Nathaniel St. Andre and the king’s personal secretary Samuel Molyneux, to ascertain whether the claims were true.
St. Andre was a unique individual. He was born in Switzerland in 1680 and came to Britain as a foot page for a Jewish family. In time, he earned a miserly income as a teacher of the French and German languages. He also taught dance. Later on, he taught fencing, but received a serious wound from a student and required the services of a surgeon. The wealth of the surgeon convinced him of the wisdom of becoming a surgeon and he apprenticed to a surgeon in London upon his recovery. After serving his apprenticeship, Andre built a successful practice while serving as the surgeon for the Westminster Hospital Dispensary. This was during the reign of the first Hanoverian king, George I, whose court was dominated by his own German speakers. Since St. Andre spoke German, he was given favor in the court and had a meteoric rise in the London medical world and became the court anatomist for the king in 1723. Three years later, he cured the king of an ailment that has been lost in time and reached the pinnacle of his career, after being rewarded with the king’s own sword.
Success is often accompanied with envy and his colleagues in the medical profession wrote that he was ignorant, foul mouthed, and lecherous. Although, whether these charges have merit is doubtful, but after he reported his abduction and poisoning, he was also accused of being a vainglorious attention hog; however, no perpetrators were found and the story of his escape lacked credulity. George I, sent St. Andre and a man who had built a telescope and was considered a man of science, Mr. Molyneux, to examine the woman who was birthing rabbits at an unprecedented rate.
Upon the arrival of St. Andre and Molyneux, John Howard rushed outside to tell them that young Mary was just going into labor to deliver the 15th rabbit. The men rushed inside and the anatomist delivered the trunk of a skinned four-month-old rabbit with heart, lungs, and diaphragm. Upon scientific examination, the lungs were found to float on water, leading the men to surmise the rabbit had breathed air before death. These men of science were fascinated by their findings and they sought to analyze and record the findings that defied and contradicted the accepted laws of physiology.
After the birth, Mary seemed content and sat in a chair by the fire and John Howard took the men for a tour of his anatomical museum, containing the remains of the previous fourteen births, preserved in jars of alcohol. The first one was born with three cat paws, but the rest seemed like normal rabbits that had been born in pieces. Mr. Howard used his experience as a midwife to explain that Mary’s contractions were too powerful for the baby rabbits and tore the rabbits asunder, before they could be born. Two hours later, Mary fell into labor again, and the midwife delivered the lower body of a male rabbit without the skin; surprisingly, this half matched the first rabbit delivered earlier.
Later on during the course of the evening, Mary started violent contractions and it took five men to keep her in the birthing chair. This time she delivered the rabbit hide that was rolled into a ball, followed by the head with the hair still attached. The men of science were overwhelmed and after observing the violent contractions, concluded that the rabbits were torn to pieces after being formed in the ovaries and while they were jumping in the Fallopian tubes.
St. Andre took several of the cadavers with him back to the Prince of Wales and immediately wrote a treatise titled, A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets. Molyneux signed a carefully worded postscript stating that he had not observed evidence of fraud.
St. Andre presented his findings along with the cadavers to the king and George I insisted that Mary be brought to London for observation.
A German surgeon was sent by the king to observe Mary and he noticed that Mary was able to stop her violent and painful contractions to laugh heartily at ribald jokes told by these men of science during the most critical moments and Mary tended to keep her knees together rather than apart during contractions, but the midwife explained these contradictory facts by pointing out Mary’s strong constitution.
The German midwife wanted to stay and deliver more rabbits and observe more miracles, but the midwife insisted that he leave, since he was not a trained obstetrician and his crude hands had hurt Mary during the delivery. Before leaving, the German surgeon gave Mary a sum of money and promised a pension if she would come to London. Howard asserted his right to a royal pension for being the nation’s foremost midwife for delivering rabbits.
St. Andre’s pamphlet became an instant best seller and all of London was divided on the veracity of the story of Mary Toft and the birthing of rabbits. People of sound judgment believed the story, until her husband was observed buying young rabbits in London and the jig was up.
Today, a doctor, a presidential candidate, and the media expect us to believe a diagnosis of bacterial non-communicable pneumonia. Now in these two stories there are several constants: a gullible public that wants desperately to believe, unscrupulous or incompetent medical professionals, and an evil conniving woman who is out to deceive the public about her true medical condition. Giving birth to dissected rabbits requires a stretch of the imagination, but no more so than non-communicable bacterial pneumonia that is cured within an hour and a half with antibiotics.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs through a viral, bacterial, or fungi vector. It is a communicable disease that can be treated with antibiotics, and become non-comunicable within 24 to 48 hours after treatment.
People are funny and we are quick to laugh at the silliness of the 18th Century physicians and the gullibility of the public, but rest assured, future generations will be laughing at the audacity of Hillary’s physician and the gullibility of the public. Notice the cuff on Hillary’s oversized slacks.
Notice the cuff on Hillary’s oversize slacks.