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E  D  I  T  O  R ’  S    N  O  T  E

   I know nothing of the author or his father other than the biographical information given in Kay’s letter of 1702, addressed to the Royal Society’s first secretary, editor & publisher of the Philosophical Transactions at that time, Hans Sloane, who notes in his titling for the epistle that Jonathan Kay (fl. 1702) was then a surgeon (chyrurgeon or chirurgeon, in archaic diction) active in Newport, Shropshire, a county in the West Midlands of England.
   The fact that Hans Sloane sought out and published Kay’s observations concerning the evolution of his father’s cancer is testament to the junior Kay’s medical skills & judgment. As a successful research physician and administrator of the Royal Society — who played a key role in revitalizing both the Society and its journal — Sloane “was cautiously progressive and contributed to the establishment of scientific diagnosis and prescription, based on accurate observation rather than hypothesis.” (Arthur MacGregor, “Sloane, Sir Hans, baronet [1660–1753], physician and collector,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., 2004, n. pag.) Unfortunately, I know nothing of how or why Kay came to Sloane’s attention, or when Kay became part of Sloane’s circle of correspondents. Nothing more from Jonathan Kay was ever published in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions, as far as I know.
   Kay’s father (d. in or about 1682) was possibly a medical practitioner as well, judging from his son’s letter to Sloane. It’s hard to imagine someone with no medical training performing on himself the sort of surgical procedures recounted by the son, as his father’s cancer, which began with a small bruise to the cheekbone, metastasized to the brain.

as first published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
for January–February 1702 N.S., Vol. 23, No. 277, pp. 1069–1070

A Letter from Mr Jonathan Kay, Chyrurgeon in Newport, Shropshire, concerning a strange Cancer, of which his Father dyed.

by  Jonathan Kay

(edited by Hans Sloane, M.D.)

March the 4th, 1701/2.          

In your last you desired an account of my Father’s Cancer, which I here send you, as near as I can remember, it being 20 years since he dyed, and I being then but young, could not make those remarks upon it, as another might have done, and it’s possible might forget something material too. It took its rise from a small bruise on the Os Jugale, and in process of time spread itself over the whole Cheek; and notwithstanding the endeavours of the most eminent Surgeons in those parts where he lived, viz. Morrey of Chester, Clarke of Bridgnorth, and Cotton of Burton upon Trent, it ulcerated his Eye round, which I saw him take out with his own Hand; and afterwards extended itself to his Ear, and through his Cheek into his Mouth, and across the upper part of his Nose and perforated the Bone there: It likewise overran that side of his Forehead, fouling the Os Frontis, which came away in pieces, leaving the Dura Mater bare as broad as a Half-Crown; which rising through the perforation of the Cranium, in a few days putrified and exposed the Brain it self, and several portions of it came away fresh and untainted; and that which is most strange, he perfectly retained his senses, and rose every day to dress the Ulcer himself, till a considerable quantity of the Brain was come away; and when he was confined to his Bed, his Speech first failed, and he dyed about 4 days after, his Brain being totally consumed, and nothing remaining in the Cranium but a small quantity of black putrid Matter. This to the best of my remembrance is the summ of all. He had neither Spasmus nor Convulsions of any part all the time of his illness.

ornament (hand, writing with quill)

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facsimile of early-18th-century title-page

^  Facsimile of title-page for No. 277 (dated January–February 1702) of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, the oldest continuous scientific journal.
     The Transactions was not the first scientific journal (the first number of the Journal des Sçavans, from the Académie Royale des Sciences at Paris, appeared on 5 January 1665, two months before the first number of the London Society’s Transactions), but it was the first scientific journal in English, and the first to publish original (for the most part, signed) scientific papers describing some discovery or observation, rather than limiting its content to review articles and/or descriptions of the collaborative work of an anonymous collective.
     In contrast, the Journal des Sçavans, “while much concerned with scientific matters, including scientific books, dealt with the world of learning in general, including literary, legal and theological matters. Its pronouncements often led to stormy controversy, it had a troubled history and finally ceased to appear in 1790. The Transactions, except for a short break when it was replaced by [Robert] Hooke’s Philosophical Collections, and for an interruption of three years that followed the landing of William of Orange and the flight of James II, has been published continuously from the issue of the first number dated 6 March 1664/5.” (E. N. da C. Andrade, “The Birth and Early Days of the Philosophical Transactions,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 20.1 [1965]: 9)
     Issue No. 277 of the Philosophical Transactions was edited and published by Hans Sloane, who served as first secretary of the Royal Society from 1695. “The appointment placed Sloane at the hub of the learned world. It is hard to conceive that a more appropriate person could have been found to occupy this position, for Sloane’s wide circle of acquaintances, his assiduousness as a correspondent, and his easy relations with foreign scholars at a period when the continent was repeatedly riven by warfare helped maintain the Royal Society in a key strategic position within the European scholarly community. His extensive correspondence with the Abbé Bignon, master of the king’s library in Paris and editor of the Journal des Sçavans, may be singled out as a particularly fruitful conduit through which the latest scientific ideas (and gossip) were transmitted across the channel. The fact that so many of the communications printed in the Philosophical Transactions at this time were in the nature of extended letters to the editor underlines the important role played by the editor as correspondent.” (Arthur MacGregor, “Sloane, Sir Hans, baronet [1660–1753], physician and collector,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., 2004, n. pag.)

     ornament (quill, at rest in inkpot)

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March the 4th, 1701/2 — I.e., 4 March 1702 N.S.
  Until 1752, the British calendar year legally began on March 25, rather than January 1. The period between December 31 and March 25 is thus styled 1701–2 or 1701/2 in some early-modern MSS. and publications. Alternately, the abbreviation N.S. is used to indicate “new style” calendar dating, and O.S., to indicate “old style” calendar dating. ::