Your RDA of Irony

On This Day in 1796…

How should we celebrate the anniversary of Edward Jenner’s introduction of vaccinating against small pox?  A cake covered with buttercream pustules?  (You know me: any excuse for frosting.)   

It is a tribute to English tolerance that Edward Jenner was merely vilified for his dangerous notion about vaccination…and not hanged or exiled to Australia.  The English were not just intimidated by medical innovation; they had developed a sentimental attachment to small pox.  The disease had proved extremely helpful in clearing North America of its natives.  (The Spanish were just as grateful for the same reason.)

However, the French–ever the contrary–did not seem to like small pox.  Of course, they would prefer the great pox–and even earned the honor of having syphilis renamed the French Disease.  And small pox did not behave itself in France. 

It is the reason that Louis XIV was succeeded by his great-grandson.  So, what happened to Louis XIV’s dauphin and grand-dauphin? In 1711-1712, there was an outbreak of smallpox at Versailles. The mortality among the Bourbons would have made a Jacobin jealous. The future Louis XV was the third son of the Duc of Burgundy. By the time the epidemic had ended, he had lost both his parents, his two older brothers and his grandfather. The two-year-old had been fifth in line to the throne; he now was the heir.

Indeed his survival was due to the diligence of his nurse; she quarantined herself and the child–isolating themselves from any other contact. But for her zeal, the succession might have passed to the Orleanist branch of the royal family; and who would want intelligent, progressive kings of France?

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