Diane Purkiss writes: 

"In the C19th, TB was always associated with the menace of the

This is not the impression given by the 1885 Encyclopaedia Britannica,
where it is seen as primarily hereditary, the long article stating: "No
disease runs more in families than tubercule. While there are all these
evidences of a widespread constitutional liability to tubercle, it is at
the same time clear that the victims of the hereditary taint are only
here and there,--perhaps one out of large family, or one member of a
family in childhood and another in the second half of life, according as
they had been exposed to sufficient exciting causes. In the most extreme
cases of hereditary, which are not so rare but that one or more are
familiar to every circle, the members of a family fall into consumption
one after another as they grow up, as if by an inevitable fate."  The
article does note that TB is rampant in "prisons, barracks and
workhouses" but the implication seems to be that these provide the
"sufficient exciting causes" in abundance, not that they are a source of
infection for the wider population. 

Any reader of Charlotte Yonge will recognise that her depiction of the
disease in her novels is an almost exact mirror of this view.  She
certainly didn't see it is a characterisitic of the "underclass",
endowing two quite separate aristocratic families with the "hereditary

I have a mild personal interest in TB which makes me wonder if what is
hereditary is the ability to resist. When TB immunisation first appeared
in the 1950s both my sister and I turned out to have an immunity
already, but no damage to our lungs. We also had a grandmother and aunt
who had been nurses and never suffered from it, though it was apparently
a widespread occupational hazard at the time. 

A further by-the-way. I now have a wonderful 35-volume 1880s
Britannica, so if anyone wants to know what was the official line on a
particular subject at that period, I'd be happy to look it up for you.

Ellen Jordan
University of Newcastle
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