Following the death of Dr. John Snow on June 16, 1858, two letters appeared in The Lancet, offering testimonial to Snow's special qualities and achievements

The Lancet, July 17, 1858


To the Editor of THE LANCET.

Sir, --- I trust that the profession will evince some public testimony towards the late Dr. John Snow. Who does not remember his frankness, his cordiality, his honesty, the absence of all disguise or affectation under an apparent off-hand manner. Her majesty the Queen has been deprived of the future valuable services of a trustworthy, well-deserving, much-esteemed subject, by his sudden death. The poor have lost in him a real friend in the hour of need.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Bognor, Sussex, July, 1858. W. Hooper ATTREE,
Formerly House-Surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital, &c.

The Lancet, July 24, 1858


To the Editor of THE LANCET.

Sir, --- Your correspondent, Mr. Attree, suggests a tribute to the memory of Dr. Snow for his amiable qualities; and well do I remember the happy and truthful expression contained in a testimonial to his merit, written by an eminent member of our profession, "that he possessed a temper which nothing could provoke."  These qualities, no doubt, rendered him dear to all who had the happiness of knowing him; but it is due to him that both the profession and the public should be made aware of his great labors in the cause of sanitary science. I believe that since the days of Jenner no physician has rendered more important service to mankind than Dr. Snow. 

When his doctrine respecting the mode in which cholera is communicated becomes comprehended by secretaries-of-state and generals commanding-in-chief, as is the household word "vaccination," then "outbreaks" of cholera -- that is, large numbers of persons attacked at once in a district (a phenomenon well known in the history of the disease) will become rare events.

If Dr. Snow ever inferred too much from the facts which he so laboriously collected, at least he perceived the fallacies of theory, propounded by Mr. Chadwick [Edwin Chadwick], which referred to fetid odors as the dwelling-place of cholera (an approximation, indeed, to the truth): he confidently asserted that stench is not pestiferous, as declared by Act of Parliament -- an opinion which is confirmed by the able paper of Dr. Barnes in your journal last week [Barnes R. The Lancet 2, 73, July 17, 1858]. Surely stinks are nuisances so intolerable that they require no argument or pseudo-theory for their suppression. Let them be remedied on their own very obvious grounds, and at any cost.

Now, although the important views embraced by Dr. Snow are very difficult to study properly, although an ardent mind may have led him to the adoption of some inferences not quite warranted by the facts, which will retard their progress; and although ephemeral criticism has been uniformly against him, yet I venture confidently to predict, that the facts which have been brought to light by his indefatigable industry will prove to posterity that he was by far the most important investigator of the subject of cholera who has yet appeared. His premature death may possibly accelerate the study of the views which he has so ingeniously advanced.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Great Marlborough-street, July, 1858. J. G. FRENCH, F. R. C. S. [Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons]


John George French (1804-1887) qualified as a doctor in 1826 and served as the medical officer of the Poland Street Workhouse from 1830 until 1872.  He was granted  Fellowship in the Royal College of Surgeons -- the highest qualification -- in 1852.  French was a bachelor like Snow and had great affection for the people of the Soho district, tending to the poor with little financial reward.  He and John Snow first worked together in 1849 when they tended to an abnormal labor in the Poland Street Workhouse.  At that time, French disagreed with Snow's theory that cholera was a waterborne disease.  Later, however, after the 1854 cholera outbreak decimated Soho, French changed his mind and joined John Snow in his views.    


Years later, a detailed summary and analysis of John Snow's  life was published by his friend and professional colleague, Sir  Benjamin Richardson.  To read, click here.  


Attree WH. The Lancet 2, 76, 1858.
Ellis RE. The Case Books of Dr. John Snow, 1994.
French JG.The Lancet 2, 103, 1858.

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