Thelwall's vitalism letter to Henry Cline

Letter from John Thelwall to Henry Cline-written as an introduction to Thelwall's published version of his talk: An essay towards a definition of animal vitality; read at the theatre, Guy's Hospital, January 26, 1793; in which several of the opinions of the celebrated John Hunter are examined and controverted. London: T. Rickaby.

To Henry Cline, Esq.

Lecturer on anatomy and surgery, and surgeon to St. Thomas's Hospital


It is with no small degree of diffidence that I presume to dedicate this first effort at scientific investigation to you; nor could I ever so far have prevailed upon myself, had not my desire to testify the gratitude I feel for the many obligations I owe to yourself and family, been considerable stronger than my hopes, that any thing contained in this essay could be worthy of your attention. I do not, Sir, approach you with the venal breath of panegyric; nor can I have the presumption to hope, that any laurels can be added to your reputation by one who has yet all his own to gather; but as I am now hastening, in a new character, to the bar of the public, I am actuated by a feeling natural enough to manking-the desire of appealing first to that decision which is likely to have the strongest bias towards lenity and indulgence. You, Sir, need not be told the disadvantages under which I have attempted to form an opinion upon an abstruse physiological question, which has always, even to the most learned professors, appeared to be involved in so much obscurity and doubt; and you will, perhaps be kind enough (if my definition should ever engage so much attention, as to be the object of conversation in those respectable medical circles you frequent) to apologize for the imperfections of a young theorist, whose information upon the subject has almost entirely been derived (in a few hours he could steal from other studies and pursuits) from the lectures to hich yourself, Mr. Haighton, and Mr. Ashley Cooper, have been so kind as to invite me. I am aware, Sir, that to this the ill-natured critic might reply; but why, then, intrude his puerile speculations on the world? To this I must reply, for myself, that the reception of this little essay in the society, where it had the honour to be read, was by fir too flattering for a young man like myself to be insensible to, and the solicitations of some of the most respected and intelligent members appeared a sufficient justification, in the eye of prudence, for hazarding its publication. I have, therefore, committed it to the press, in the assurance, that, if these gentlemen have leaned too far on the side of partiality, I shall not fail to be set right again by the kind of severity of some, who will incline, with sufficient force, the other way. Among these, however, will not, I am sure, be enumerated the gentleman, whose, with the utmost gratitude and esteem, I have the honour to remain,

John Thelwall

Maze Pond, Southwark