‘Off Dropped the Sympathetic Snout’: Shame, Sympathy, and Plastic Surgery at the Beginning of the Long Eighteenth Century

  • Emily Cock
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


This paper explores the intersection of two facets of sympathy in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The first is the concept of medical sympathy that posited a system of physical communication between like matter, which rose to prominence in the seventeenth century. As this idea of medical sympathy waned, the discourse of sympathy as an authentic moral sentiment was on the rise. I examine the interplay of these two discourses within medical and literary treatments of rhinoplasty, a treatment popularly associated with repairing damage to the nose caused by syphilis and its customary mercury treatment. This brought the procedure under fire for enabling the syphilitic patient to pass as healthy, thus avoiding the shame that onlookers considered rightly due to the sexual transgressor. The satirising of rhinoplasty through the story of the ‘sympathetic snout’ formed a means of shaming the procedure, the doctors, and the patients, and uniting the reading public into a community separate from those under attack. The association of the procedure with medical sympathy arose through the misapprehension that skin or flesh for the reconstructed nose would be taken from a different person; it was believed that unable to supersede the more authentic attachment to its original body, the graft would fail to adhere to the new one. This was the effect of medical sympathy which, as I shall discuss in relation to the poetic account given by Lady Hester Pulter, could be directly antithetical to any sympathetic feelings and desires of the doctor or the graft’s donor.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Venereal Disease Original Emphasis Congenital Syphilis 
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© Emily Cock 2016

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  • Emily Cock

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