15 November 2013

Pitt's facial cyst

When I went to The National Archives today one of the things I intended to do was to follow-up on a reference to a return of Pitt’s facial cyst in 1788. The reference was in Ehrman’s The Younger Pitt: The years of acclaim (1969: 594, footnote 6). I managed to have a look at one of the letters Ehrman cites, which was from James Harris (Lord Malmesbury) to Pitt dated 28 August 1788 (PRO 30/8/155).

Malmesbury begins by lamenting that “a return of the pain in your [Pitt’s] face has prevented your coming to Town yesterday.” Whether this indicates that the pain was caused by a return of Pitt’s recurring facial cyst, or another ailment (perhaps Pitt had a bad toothache?) is impossible to glean from that particular letter, and that’s the end we hear of this pain. It may be of interest to mention that Pitt did suffer from “toothaches and swelled faces” as he says this himself in a letter to Wilberforce dated August 30, 1783 (Wilberforce, p. 2). I’d like to relay this particular passage of Pitt’s letter to Wilberforce as it illustrates Pitt’s playful sense of humour despite what must have been a painful experience.

Pitt writes in relation to their upcoming trip, with their mutual friend Edward James Eliot, to France: “…I hope to find it [the air of Rheims] equally sovereign for toothaches and swelled faces, which have persecuted me ever since I have been here [at Pitt’s mother’s house, Burton Pynsent, in Somerset], as if it was the middle of a session. We shall agree excellently as invalids, and particularly in making the robust Eliot fag for us, ride bodkin, and letting him enjoy all the other privileges of health” (Wilberforce, p. 2). From this passage to Wilberforce from the early 1780s, to Malmesbury’s reference to a “return of the pain in your face” in 1788, it’s difficult to tell whether the pain might have been caused by the cyst or a tooth infection. I’m not a doctor, but facial swelling can be caused by a variety of reasons, and an infection is one possibility. On the subject of Pitt’s health, at some point I need to get a hold of another useful article Ehrman had access to which may be enlightening. This is the source: R. Guest Gornall MRCP (1957) ‘The Prime Minister’s Health, William Pitt the Younger,’ If someone can get access to that in its entirety, they instantly become my best friend.

References: 

Ehrman, J. (1969) The younger Pitt: The years of acclaim. London: Constable, p. 594, footnote 6.

The UK National Archives. Chatham Papers, PRO 30/8/155.

Wilberforce, W. (ed. by Robert Issac & Samuel Wilberforce) The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, Volume 1. London: John Murray, p. 2.

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