It's always fun to include the odd real character in a piece of
historical fiction. Done well, it adds to the sense of reality; whether
this has been achieved in The Bodysnatcher's Apprentice I will
leave to you to decide!
The obvious real person is Jeremy Bentham, (1748 - 1832) a man
with extraordinarily modern views for the time. He was the founder of
Utilitarianism: ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the
only right and proper end of government’. He was a believer in
universal rights, equality of men and women, and Sanitary reform. He did
travel to Paris in 1825, mainly to seek help for a skin condition, but
also to lecture and study medical practice there.
At the end of his life he was indeed able to keep an eye on William: his
mummified body was preserved by Southwood Smith (see below) and
later put on display at University College London.
He is not the only real character in the story; Sarah Savery was matron
of St Thomas' Hospital from 1816 until 1840.
Mr North is based on a number of contemporary characters, such as Thomas
Southwood Smith (1788 - 1861), a physician and friend of Bentham.
In 1827 he published The Use of the Dead to the Living, a
pamphlet which argued that the current system of burial was a wasteful
use of bodies that could otherwise be used for dissection by the medical
profession. There is also something of the surgeon, Astley Cooper,
(1768 - 1841) about Mr North; he lectured at St Thomas's to, amongst others,
Pole and Thornton's Bank, (full name Pole, Thornton, Free, Down &
Scott) mentioned at the end of chapter 21, failed in December of 1825.
Marianne Thornton: A domestic
biography, 1797–1887, by E. M. Forster, we read that Pole, Thornton’s managing partner
“had been inexcusably imprudent in not keeping more cash in the House,
but relying on (the bank’s) credit…which would enable them to borrow
whenever they pleased.”
So, nothing changes. (Pole and Thornton's is mentioned on
the archive website of the Royal Bank of Scotland as an 'associated
bank'. No comment . . .)