Like many of his contemporaries, John Pringle (1707-1782), the author of a pioneering book on military medicine, physician to Queen Charlotte and King George III, president of the Royal Society, and friend of many notables in London (Benjamin Franklin was his frequent traveling companion), took his correspondences seriously. Without doubt his most important, spanning the years 1760-77, was with Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) - poet, physician, and celebrated professor of anatomy, surgery, and botany at the University of Göttingen before returning in 1753 to his native Switzerland, where he held governmental posts, published a monumental physiology textbook and a multivolume medical bibliography, among many other works, and kept up a vast correspondence. Pringle emerged as his chief epistolary link to Britain.
The eighty-four surviving letters by Pringle, only snippets of which have ever been published, are here presented in full. Although the originals of Haller’s letters were destroyed, paraphrases of surviving excerpts from fifty-one of them fill some of the gaps.
The correspondence yields a wealth of information about Pringle, who still awaits a full biography, and it adds nuances to our more detailed knowledge of Haller as well. It makes clear, for example, Pringle’s vital role in Haller’s becoming dependent on opium in his final years.
Beyond the personal realm, the letters are especially valuable for their wide-ranging, often detailed discussions of medical theory and practice, but they also reflect and illuminate other aspects of the intellectual, cultural, and social life of the time. Since this was a great age of global exploration, marked by a new scientific interest and climaxed by James Cook’s famous voyages to the South Pacific, it is fitting that Pringle’s letters, drawing on conversations with Cook, Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander, and other voyagers, devote much space to these expeditions, documenting Europeans’ fascination with exotic regions and peoples.