Review of Reviews,  2 (1890), 546–60.

Character Sketch. Dr. Robert Koch

Anon / A Conan Doyle / Dr Koch


Regular Feature—Editorial, News-Commentary, Introduction / Biography / Essay, Extract / Afterword

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [2], photo. [9]


Disease, Medical Treatment, Medical Practitioners, Quackery, Professionalization, Heterodoxy, Boundary Formation, Bacteriology, Microscopy, Discovery, Hospitals

People mentioned:

Louis Pasteur , Ernst von Bergmann

    The introduction begins by reflecting on 'the flood' of 'consumptive patients' from all over Europe who have descended upon Berlin in the 'hope that at last the wizards of science had discovered a formula by which to conjure away the malady which has eaten into their lungs' (547). However, the elaborate secrecy which surrounds H H Robert Koch's experimental remedy leads to a consideration of Cesare Mattei's alleged cure for cancer. Although 'Koch is fashionable, and Mattei is heterodox', it is hoped that there 'will be much more readiness to subject the Mattei remedies to a scientific examination and to experiment after the Koch boom than before'. The author nevertheless complains of 'the curious inconsistency which prevails in the profession' of medicine, and states that while 'the British Medical Journal has itself taken an honourable part in enlightening the English public as to the remedy' advanced by Koch, 'when confronted by another secret remedy its acting Editor will not listen to any suggestions of examining Count Mattei's remedies'. (548) In a brief afterword, the author remarks, that, as with Mattei's cure, 'there is absolutely no proof as yet that the Koch inoculations have cured a single case of consumption' (560). In his character sketch, Doyle relates how he 'had the good fortune to be the first English physician to arrive in Berlin after the announcement of Koch's discovery' (555). He reflects that the 'unruly tribes of deadly micro-organisms' now brought 'under subjection' by Koch are 'the last creatures in the organic world to submit to the sway of man'. These ostensibly 'insignificant creatures', who 'in one year [...] would claim more victims from the human race than all the tigers who have ever trod a jungle', have made a 'satire [...] upon the majesty of man'. (552) The article also includes Koch's own account of his remedy, translated from the Deutsche Medizinsche Wohenschrift.

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