Monday, 8 August 2016

Dr Jenner, the Speckled Monster, Colonel Berkeley, Tom Till and the Berkeley Poachers

Born in 1749, Edward Jenner lived

In that time of calendrical change:
A Julian age of Pope and happenstance
(Where African slaves were mocked
For their
Creole medicine and smallpox cures),
And a Gregorian world of
Science, Revolution, Reason and Experimentation
(Of Tyburn Tree skullduggery, 

Where even necrophiliac surgeons

Would baulk at payment for smallpox victims),
And walking the enclosed hedgerows, he would

Have heard the shouts and cries:
Pockmarked mechanics and labourers,
Whose right to roam was balked by the new hedges and fences,
Together with the retort of property’s muskets:
Indigent Berkeley labourers,
Forced to poach, where spring guns lay ready
To kill Tom Till, and leave a wife and two children
In a parish of poverty and sorrow:
Even the castle chaplain thought
'Colonel Berkeley had run the matter of game so hard'.

So it was, that some twenty Berkeley Vale men
Swore revenge, taking a solemn oath
'Not to peach on each other, so help me God'.
A bloody battle ensued, with death and wounding,
But the cudgel-wielding colonel exacted feudal revenge,
For the jury's tearful 'Guilty' verdict meant transportation,
And execution for two poachers:
 'Launched into the presence of that
Being whose laws they had so impiously outraged',
As the Gloucester Mercury put it;
Doctor Jenner saw it quite differently:
'My intention is to quit this place, rendered dreary by the scene ...
About to be acted on the horrid platform tomorrow.
They certainly did not go out with the intention to commit murder.'
Colonel Berkeley was reviled, but obdurate to the end,
He hung a painting of the battle in his breakfast room.
But, a careful student of farm and field,
Doctor Edward Jenner saw how the smallpox

Killed one in ten in town and village,
And saw how it disfigured survivors 

With blindness and itinerant beggary,
And he studied the epidemic  
Of King George’s first strange madness year,
And he listened to the farmyard yarns

Of the protective power of cow-pox, and these

Rustic milkmaid tales convinced this thinker,
That vaccination, as he would call it,  

Could save the nation’s health; and in the years 

When the “Rights of Man” spread its virus

Through the common swinish multitude
(To the alarm of Pitt’s body politic),
Edward Jenner listened to Sarah Nelmes:
‘My cow Blossom has recently had the cowpox, sir,’
Examined the rash on her hand,
Took cowpox from the dairy,
And gave it to the 8 year old James Phipps, 

Who gained, as this iconoclast forecast,
Resistance to the ubiquitous smallpox;
Now, two centuries after such success:
"It now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy, that the annihilation of the Small Pox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice."
[Edward Jenner, 1801, on Vaccination (with cowpox)]
Smallpox is secreted in arsenals,
A scientific threat of germ warfare; 

How this country doctor and poet, 

How this coiner of neologisms,
Would have despised a term like germ warfare:
He called it the Speckled Monster.

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