Joseph Warren Defines Youngism: Self-conceit, Vainboasting, Impudence, Quackery, Boorishness, and Impertinent Loquacity

Ridicule, 1996 film directed by Patrice Leconte

in by Warren

Date: July 6, 1767

To Dr. Young:  Sir,

I perceive, without emotion, your unavailing rage; and look without concern, upon that malice, which, tho’ aimed at another, recoils with redoubled weight upon your own head.

Your challenge to meet you, and demonstrate your ignorance of the Medical science, is intirely sup[e]rseded by your own publications: And as no honor can be obtain’d from proving that which all the judicious are convinced of, I might justly be excused taking any notice, either of you or your ridiculous vauntings – But as vanity and folly (notwithstanding the strongest proofs to the contrary) may look upon a total neglect as a design to conceal truth from the public eye, I now inform you, that if you are stupidly desirous of having your conduct more critically examined in the affair of Mrs. Davis, I here give you free liberty to chuse your own judges; and if you will let me know the time and place of their being convened (which you may do by a letter lodged at the printing-office) I will readily send in a state of the case, and inform them where they may find the evidences; which will be quite sufficient, without my appearing at the trial; as no arguments will be needed in so clear a case.  Any three physicians that you like, will be agreeable to me: for if they are fools, and void of reputation, their approbation will do you very little service; if they are wise and respectable, they will blush to think of degrading their characters, by patronizing criminal ignorance.

The Certificate of your success published last week, tho’ it has lessened the honor of the publisher, has added nothing to your’s.

Nor can I think it was generous in you to instigate an old gentleman to an action which makes him the object of derision.  It is true, that he has been several times duped by straggling pretenders; some have wrapped him in sheep skins to remedy his costiveness: and others have pretended to take out his old gall-bladder, and give him a new one: He has complaisantly believed that each has completely cured him – but his foibles would never have been so generally known, if you had not unkindly brought him into public view; a place for which nature never seems to have designed him.

Suffer me, Sir, before I take my leave, to mention one thing more, in which I must think you a little culpable. – You are very sensible, that in order to prevent confusion, it is necessary that different things should be expressed by different sounds – but of late a new-coin’d word is come so greatly into vogue, and is used to express such a variety of things, which are in their nature totally distinct, that in truth conversation will be rendered almost unintelligible; if a speedy stop is not put to this injurious innovation.  You are undoubtedly convinced that the word I mean is Youngism.  If in the public papers, inaccuracy, malevolence, bad grammar and nonsense, are found, they are immediately pronounced Youngisms. – Self-conceit, vainboasting, and invincible impudence, are frequently expressed by the word Youngism.  The ideas of quackery, ignorance, detraction, i[nt]rusion boorishness and impertinent loquacity, with many others, all belonging to the black catalogue, are thought to be very fully conveyed by the word Youngism – Now as I cannot, without uneasiness, see my native language despoiled of its greatest ornament, perspicuity – I must beg, that for your own sake, if for nothing else, you would desist from encouraging this growing evil. – I am, Sir, with sincere wishes for your amendment, your humble servant,

Philo Physic.”

Source: Boston Gazette, July 6, 1767, issue 640, p. 2. Image is a poster for the 1996 French film Ridicule, directed by Patrice Leconte.

Commentary: The malpractice dispute, being played out publicly between Drs. Miles Whitworth and Thomas Young, gains further input from Joseph Warren’s Philo Physic. Warren asserted himself anonymously as the disinterested voice of optimal medical care. He sides with Dr. Whitworth in excoriating Thomas Young as an unqualified itinerant quack.

The dispute rapidly strayed from the facts of the case and interpretations of medical citations. Doubtless to the mischievous delight of newspaper readers of the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post, the epistolary salvos degenerated into ad hominem attacks and off-topic satire. In this piece Joseph Warren defines Youngism with gleeful malevolence.

The illustration is a movie poster for Ridicule, a 1996 film about the 1780s court of Louis XVI at Versailles. The tagline “wit is the ultimate weapon” captures the malicious eloquence displayed here by Philo Physic.

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