I was told by a professor at my University that we have the world's largest collection of early documentation on syphilis. It was very, "You want to come see our syphilis collection?"
And I was all, "If you're not hitting on me right now in the worst possible way, which I very much doubt, then YES. This would most definitely interest me." Because of course I go to that University. The one that specializes in syphilis and lord knows what else.
Apparently our collection here got started by Dr. John Hunter, who donated some of his research on venereal disease. He would pretty much do anything for medicine. He was the 18th-century equivalent of Rachel Weisz in the new Bourne film who couldn't say a single line without following it up with "I DID IT FOR THE SCIENCE!"
Here are four stories about him:
1.) He decided to research gonorrhea by inoculating himself with it. In 1767, there was no cure for either gonorrhea or syphilis, so you can imagine his outrage (or maybe delight? I really don't know with this guy) when he discovered the needle he had used wasn't just infected with gonorrhea, but also with syphilis. I am so far not impressed with his lab safety procedures. He lived with both diseases for the next 26 years of his life, dying rather luckily of a heart attack.
2.) He also got a big house in London where he used to boil zebras and mountain goats. Seriously. He is cited as probably being the inspiration for Doctor Dolittle because he imported (dead) exotic animals, boiled them down to their bones to study their anatomy, and then arranged said bones in his house as a big display/collection/pet cemetery horror show. His neighbors were probably like, "Honey, what's that smell?" "Oh, it's just crazy Hunter, boiling hyenas again."
3.) Then, of course, there was the thing with Irish giant Charles Byrne.
HUNTER: Hey, Byrne, when you die, can I have your bones?
BYRNE: No. I want to be buried at sea.
BYRNE: Bitch, what did I say?
HUNTER: Hey, guys at the funeral. 1.) Your buddy was a giant, which means he was probably a minority and had no rights in Georgian England, so who cares about his death wishes? 2.) Here's some money. So . . . I'll just be taking this corpse, 'kay?
GUYS: A DOLLA MAKE ME HOLLA! WOOOOOOO!
HUNTER: Bwahaha, in you go to my zebra-boilin' pot, Byrne!
GUYS: Byrne would have wanted it that way. God rest ye, faire giante!
4.) Finally, Joseph Haydn, the famous Austrian composer, came to London to perform in 1791. Haydn had a notoriously troublesome nasal polyp and Hunter wanted to be the guy to help him out. His polyp was extremely painful and had disfigured his nose, but it was also very dangerous to remove. It would certainly be a feather in Hunter's cap if he could get Hadyn through the procedure safely. Unfortunately, Haydn got the hots for Hunter's wife. As one source says, "Haydn had designs on Mrs Hunter. Her husband … had designs on Haydn’s famous nasal polyp. Both were refused." Now, I say it was damned unsporting of him to deny Mrs. Hunter a good tumble with a famous person. I mean, the man infected himself with SYPHILIS before he even married her and then went on to have several children with her. Maybe he was just trying to protect her honor, or keep their shared syphilis from spreading, but if my husband gives himself an incurable venereal disease on purpose, I'm taking it as given that I get a freebee.