John Thelwall at 250: Medicine, Literature, and Reform in London, ca. 1764-1834

The inaugural John Thelwall Society conference

July 25-27, 2014
University of Notre Dame London Centre
1 Suffolk Street, London, England

To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth in London of the reformer and polymath John Thelwall (1764-1832), we invite papers and panel proposals on any aspect of his diverse career, or on the medical, literary, or political life of London in his time. We are particularly interested in generating further attention to the ways in which medical science informed and was informed by literary and political culture, a nexus to which Thelwall greatly contributed. An outspoken advocate of democratic reform and prolific poet, novelist, dramatist, journalist, and elocutionist, Thelwall was also an amateur natural philosopher who, a generation before John Keats, attended medical lectures and operations at the London hospitals, developed close ties with leading surgeons and anatomists, and presented controversial papers on vitality and cognition.

The conference will also celebrate the formation of the John Thelwall Society and the acquisition by the University of Notre Dame of eight rediscovered letters from Thelwall to fellow reformer Thomas Hardy.

Contributions are welcome from all disciplines and need not focus expressly on Thelwall. Topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • London culture, from the theatres to the debating societies to the taverns
  • Radicalism and/or Westminster politics
  • Medical culture, including the medico-political circles of Guy’s and St. Thomas’s hospitals, and the Royal Humane Society
  • Debates over quackery, the health of the poor, the politics of scientific “performance,” and the dissection of criminal corpses
  • Theories of life; the “vitality debates” of the 1790s and 1810s; emergent sciences of the mind and brain
  • Thelwall’s early London connections and activities (in the law, theatre, debating, journalism, medicine, poetry, politics)
  • Thelwall’s life and career in London (including his political activism, imprisonment and treason trial, literature, journalism, elocutionary theory and practice)

Keynote speakers: Sharon Ruston (Professor of English, Lancaster University), Penelope J. Corfield (Emeritus Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London), and Sir Geoffrey Bindman, QC.


Other conference highlights will include:

  • A visit to the Old Operating Theatre at Guy’s Hospital, with reception
  • A visit to the site of Thelwall’s elocutionary Institute in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, now the home of Garden Court Chambers, a legal firm specializing in social justice and human rights – and the site proposed for an English Heritage “Blue Plaque” in Thelwall’s honour
  • An excursion in the footsteps of Thelwall’s Peripatetic, led by Judith Thompson (Professor of English, Dalhousie University, Canada) and featuring readings at key sites
    Please submit titles and abstracts of 250-300 words to [email protected] by February 1, 2014. Panel proposals are also welcome.


Questions may be directed to the organizers, Gordon Bottomley (Lancaster University) at [email protected] and Yasmin Solomonescu (University of Notre Dame) at [email protected].