PlagueDoctor (3)If you spend enough time in Cambridge you will, like it or not, end up spending a little time in Addenbrooke’s hospital.

Addenbrooke’s is not just a hospital: it is a teaching hospital, a faculty of the university, rooted in the freethinking (not to say laissez-faire) world of a seventeenth and eighteenth century Cambridge medical education.

Addenbrooke’s was founded from a bequest by a Cambridge physician, Dr. John Addenbrooke of St. Catherine’s College. Nothing is known of Addenbrooke’s medical practice, but he did publish ‘A Short Essay on Freethinking’ in 1714, in which he argued that an individual holding a belief was as capable of freethinking as one who entertained no such belief.

He was perhaps encouraged in his appetite for freethinking by his medical training, which at the time was not well developed as a discipline in Cambridge. According to the University Calendar for 1702 “A student of medicine in this University is not required to attend any lectures but is left to acquire his knowledge from such sources as his discretion may point out.”

This is not so much freethinking, of course, as an excuse for non-thinking. But non-thinking, the self-permission to switch off from time to time and allow the mind to wander, is perhaps a precondition of free-thinking. It is certainly how I spent my university days, and I am very untroubled by belief of any stamp, so far as I can make out.