In 1794 Robert Watt, an Edinburgh wine merchant, together with a few associates, was arrested for allegedly framing a plot to seize the Edinburgh post office, the banks and the castle, and to issue a demand that George III dismiss the government of William Pitt and make peace with the French Republic. Just before the arrests, an English medical student studying in Edinburgh, John Edmonds Stock, had been sent down to London by Watt with a letter to the London Corresponding Society inviting them to mount a similar insurrection. Hearing just in time that he was a wanted man, he disappeared, to resurface later in Philadelphia, where he continued his medical studies. When he thought it safe Stock returned to Britain, probably about 1803, and was taken on by the radical Dr Thomas Beddoes as an assistant at his Medical Institution for the Benefit of the Sick and Drooping Poor at the Hotwells, Bristol; and when Beddoes died a few years later, his widow, Anna, commissioned Stock to write up his life and works. He responded by producing what is probably the most boring biography ever written, and I should know, because I am probably the only person ever to have read it twice - once because I wanted to know about Stock, and once in preparation for writing this review.
LRB 19 November 2009 | PDF Download