Originally a mad doctor

Horace Walpole’s opinion of Anthony Addington was not what you’d call, high. This opinion was somewhat influenced by the fact that William Pitt (the elder) was very ill and it appeared that Addington couldn’t cure him. The general consensus was that Pitt must be insane. Both literally and figuratively.

Walpole’s opinion seems a bit harsh to me (part of it is the title for this post, by the way). Whatever was wrong with Pitt, Addington sorted it out and, while he was at it, he also managed to cure William Pitt (the younger) with a generous course of port wine.

Pitt (the elder) was so utterly convinced in Addington’s prowess that he even ignored King George III when he suggested another physician. When all was said and done (and Pitt regained his health), Addington had cured him with all care and attention.

Addington had been a doctor for a while when he sorted out Pitt. Born in 1713, he moved from Reading to London in 1754 and continued to practice in the capital for 20 years. He seems to have drifted into an early form of psychiatry, almost by accident. He studied medicine at Trinity College, Oxford and, one day, just decided he’d rather deal with the mad. He had a room built on the side of his house in Reading in order to receive his mad patients. I’m sure his wife Mary wasn’t bothered, one little bit.

In return for the return of his mind, Pitt (the elder) decided that Dr Addington would be an excellent gossip. This was very handy in the days before Twitter, if you wanted to get your point out into the world anonymously and without fear of retribution. And, of course, just like Twitter, the blame would fall directly on the messenger.

So, anyway, what Pitt (the elder) would do was tell the good doctor what he thought of, say, the war with America and then tell him to only repeat it word for word. Clearly his opinion had been really well prepared in advance. Where this plan came a-cropper was that other people saw the advantage of having a social media-like delivery system and would tell Addington their gossip as well. The trouble was that Addington just spread the word out and the wrong people heard the wrong things and the whole system just broke down.

There was something of an all mighty ruckus in Parliament with people accusing everyone of saying things they didn’t actually say…and vice versa. Then Pitt (the elder) died and they all moved on.

Dr Addington retired to a country estate in Devon, a happy and, I assume, wealthy man. To be fair, he did help the poor of Reading for nothing, whenever he felt he could.

I bet he thought he had it made and was busy with rod and hook on some river somewhere when a call from the palace sent him searching for his medical bag. The prince of Wales wanted Dr A to examine his dad, the king. When a committee especially formed to discuss the king’s mental imbalance asked Addington what his diagnosis was, he loudly proclaimed that the king would be fine in a year. The reason was, he said, because he’d never seen a case of madness, followed by a period of melancholia that didn’t wind up completely fine and dandy in just 12 months.

That was in 1788 and Dr A died two years later. And, of course, poor King George became increasingly mad. Oops.

And here is the amazing Dr Addington as chipped by Thomas Banks in 1790. He might look very alive but the model for the bust was the good doctor’s death mask.

Dr A at the V&A

Dr A at the V&A

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2 Responses to Originally a mad doctor

  1. Mirinda says:

    The first thing I thought on seeing this pik was that he looked like a cadaver – and he was. What a very peculiar story.

  2. flip100 says:

    I didn’t think you could cure madness.
    love mum and dad xx

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