Smallpox at the Foundling Hospital

From the moment when the first thirty babies were admitted to the Foundling Hospital on 25 March 1741, the Governors of the Hospital were determined to do as much as possible to protect foundlings from ‘the speckled monster’.

Admission of the Children to the Hospital by Ballot © Coram, in the care of The Foundling Museum

Admission of the Children to the Hospital by Ballot © Coram, in the care of The Foundling Museum

At this point inoculation for smallpox was available to the wealthy but it was not yet common practice. However, with committee members such as Dr Richard Mead, the Foundling Hospital developed a progressive health policy.

All staff at the Hospital had to have survived smallpox and all the children that had not had smallpox ‘in the natural way’ were to be inoculated at the age of three before they entered the hospital.

When babies were admitted they were immediately sent to wet nurses outside the city. These women were paid to look after the children for the first few years of their lives, after which they returned to the hospital between the ages of three and five. It was only then that the foundlings were inoculated.

The period when the infants were being looked after outside the hospital was by no means safe. Of the 1,328 children sent to nurse between 1741 and 1756, over 40% died before they could return to London. This is certainly high, but child mortality was often this high in the period, even among wealthy families – the second Duke and Duchess of Richmond had twelve children, only seven of whom lived to adulthood.

The most common causes of death recorded for foundlings when out to nurse in the country were ‘convulsions’, ‘consumption’ and ‘whooping cough’. Surprisingly, the Foundling Hospital’s inspectors only reported seven deaths from smallpox.

Thomas Coram with an infant in a basket in front of the Foundling Hospital. Line engraving by J. Brooke, 1751, after B. Nebot, 1741 © Wellcome Library, London

Thomas Coram with an infant in a basket in front of the Foundling Hospital. Line engraving by J. Brooke, 1751, after B. Nebot, 1741 © Wellcome Library, London

Inoculation upon the children’s return to the city was done in off-site infirmaries so that the children would not infect others at the Hospital while still contagious. By the end of April 1756, two hundred and forty-seven children had been inoculated and only one child had died as a result. The General Committee was so proud of this record that it ordered that details should be sent to newspapers for publication.

Between 1756 and 1773 there were thirty-six deaths from smallpox – 27% of all of the deaths in the hospital. There may have been more than this, as the cause of death was not always recorded, but Governors and medical staff knew how serious smallpox could be so would have been anxious to make sure that every death from smallpox was noted.

This number of deaths must have surprised the Governors – their system of inoculation was not working as well as it should have done. There were possibly some cases where nurses thought their charges had had smallpox when this was in fact not the case. There may also have been some cases where inoculation had not ‘taken’ for some uknown reason.

The Foundling Hospital by John Haygarth. Line engraving by W. Cooke, 1827, after J. H.

The Foundling Hospital, Holborn, London: a bird’s-eye view of the courtyard. Coloured engraving by T. Bowles after L. P. Boitard, 1753. © Wellcome Library, London

Compared to their peers, even the wealthy, the foundlings were well protected from ‘the speckled monster’. Although the death figures seem high, the Foundling Hospital’s health policy did much to prevent serious outbreaks of smallpox, long before inoculation was introduced by other similar institutions.

 

Minute books recording Mead’s involvement in the establishment of the Foundling Hospital, and its attempts to provide state-of-the-art medical care to the children, are on display in the exhibition The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead, alongside various other items exploring Mead’s role at the Hospital and his position as an eminent physician, collector and patron of Georgian London.

 

My next post will explore the experiments of Sir William Watson, a Foundling Hospital physician, into different methods of inoculation carried out at the Foundling Hospital’s infirmaries.

A Duel over Smallpox

On 10 June 1719 Dr Richard Mead and Dr John Woodward allegedly came to blows outside Gresham College in central London. This was the, perhaps rather surprising, culmination of a pamphlet war over Mead’s advocacy of the use of purgatives in the treatment of smallpox.

I met with Dr Mead to discuss this extraordinary incident and the events leading up to it.

First of all, what exactly was your suggested treatment for smallpox?

Well, having been several Years one of the Physicians to St. Thomas’s Hospital, in the year of our Lord 1708 I observed that some of my Patients recovered from a very malignant sort of Small Pox, even beyond Expectation, by a Looseness seizing them on the ninth or tenth Day of the Disease.

Hence, I took the Hint to try what Good might be done by opening the Body with a gentle Purge on the Decline of the Distemper. The Success was in a great Measure answerable to my Wishes: for by this Method I recovered many who were in the most imminent Danger.

John Friend (1675–1728), Oil on canvas, studio of Michael Dahl, c. 1725, © Royal College of Physicians

John Freind (1675–1728), Oil on canvas, studio of Michael Dahl, c. 1725, © Royal College of Physicians

Did you then publicise these findings?

I communicated this Method of Practice to various of my Peers, including Dr John Freind. He and several Physicians likewise, both in Town and Country, were in Agreement about its salutary Effects, and he included a Letter I had written about it in his 1717 Commentary on Fevers, Commentarium novem de febribus.

How was your letter received?

There never are wanting Men of so invidious a turn of Mind that their principal Pleasure consists in blackening the Reputation and decrying the Productions of others; as if what they strip their Neighbours of was to be added to their own Characters. Thus, Dr Freind’s Book had no sooner appeared in Public, but some of this Ilk flew to arms, as if to save the Common-wealth, attacking my Mode of Treatment.

Was there a ring-leader for this disagreeable faction?

ohn Woodward, by and published by; after William Humphrey; Unknown artist, mezzotint, published 1774, © National Portrait Gallery, London

John Woodward, by and published by; after William Humphrey; Unknown artist, mezzotint, published 1774, © National Portrait Gallery, London

In front of this Band stood forth Dr John Woodward, physic Professor at Gresham College, a Man equally ill-bred, vain, and ill-natured, who, after being for some time Apprentice to a Linen-Draper, took it into his Head to make a Collection of Shells and Fossils, in order to pass upon the World for a Philosopher. Thence having got Admission into a Physician’s Family, at length by dint of Interest obtained a Doctor’s Degree.

This man publish’d a Book entitled, The State of Physic and Diseases, wherein he took great Liberties with Dr Freind, and those in the same Sentiment with him, but pointed his Arrows most particularly at me. These were neither Arguments nor Experiments, of which he had none, but bare-faced Calumny and Raillery, which he poured forth in Abundance.

I understand that this war of words eventually led to what has been called a duel. I have here Woodward’s own account of the fight in a statement he sent to the Weekly Journal for 20 January 1719:

“I had by this time drove Mead from the street quite through the gateway, almost to the middle of the College yard; when making another pass, my right foot was stopped by some accident, so that I fell down on my breast.  In an instant I felt Dr Mead’s whole weight upon me…. after that [he] gave me very abusive language, and bid me ask for my life.”

Is this a fair description of what happened?

The Arrogance and Vanity of the Man is beyond Belief. I am aware of this libellous Account and can utterly refute it. I was passing by Gresham College in my Carriage and paused momentarily in order to water my Horses. I stepped out of the Carriage for a Breath of fresh Air and was suddenly confronted by Dr Woodward who drew his Sword and forced me to respond to his Assault. Naturally I swiftly gained the upper Hand and demanded an Apology. His preposterous Account is merely an Attempt to safeguard his Reputation, what there is of it.

How do you look back on this altercation?

‘Tis much against my will that I revive the Remembrance of that Libel, which already is well-nigh sunk into Oblivion. However, I hope I have demonstrated how little Foundation Dr Woodward had for his personal Reflections and Brawling.

 

The alleged duel is commemorated in a plate of a book by John Ward (c.1679 – 1758), The lives of the professors of Gresham College (1740), in which two small figures battle it out in the bottom right-hand corner of a depiction of the College building. The book, and many other artefacts and works relating to Mead’s battle against smallpox, can be seen in The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead, at the Foundling Museum until 4 January 2015.

 

The next post will look into smallpox at the Foundling Hospital and how the Governors were pioneers in their introduction of the practice of inoculation.

 

This ‘interview’ draws on Mead’s writings to answer a series of questions posed in an imaginary conversation.

Inoculating ‘The Speckled Monster’

Textured watercolour illustration from a Japanese work on smallpox entitled Toshin seiyo [The essentials of smallpox], ca. 1720 © Wellcome Library, London

Textured watercolour illustration from a Japanese work on smallpox entitled Toshin seiyo [The essentials of smallpox], ca. 1720 © Wellcome Library, London

The practice of inoculation had been common in China, India, and Turkey for hundreds of years but did not spread to Europe until the eighteenth century. In the case of smallpox, it involves infecting a patient with a tiny amount of fluid from a pustule by placing it in a small incision or puncture wound, usually on the upper arm. This then hopefully produces a mild case of the disease, providing immunity from further infection. However, the inoculated persons would be as contagious as if they had caught it naturally, so this danger was not reduced. In the case of smallpox, inoculation can also be called variolation after the Latin for pustule: variola.

The first written account of variolation describes a Buddhist nun practicing between 1022 and 1063 AD. She would grind up scabs taken from a smallpox-sufferer into a powder, and then blow it into the nostrils of someone not yet immune. By the 1700s, this method of variolation was common practice in China, India, and Turkey. It was not risk-free: up to 2% of people died after variolation. However, compared with the danger of contracting the disease naturally, inoculation was well worth it, decreasing the total number of smallpox fatalities ten-fold.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants, attributed to Jean Baptiste Vanmour, oil on canvas, circa 1717 © National Portrait Gallery, London

ady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants, attributed to Jean Baptiste Vanmour, oil on canvas, circa 1717
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British Ambassador in Constantinople, came across the practice in 1717 when she witnessed local women performing inoculations at seasonal ‘smallpox parties’ by spreading matter from smallpox scabs into a scratch in the skin. Lady Mary had caught smallpox herself at 26 and was left with many pitted scars on her face and no eyelashes. She wore veils and heavy make-up to cover the scars. Her only brother had also caught it but did not survive.

She was determined that her own children should be safe. She had her son inoculated while still in Turkey, and during a smallpox epidemic in London in 1721 had her three-year old daughter inoculated by Charles Maitland, a physician who had been at the embassy in Turkey. The event was highly publicised in order to spread the word about the practice, and was attended by other medical men as well as various ‘persons of distinction’. At this point inoculation was still controversial, but it was gradually becoming an accepted form of preventive medicine.

Caroline Wilhelmina of Brandenburg-Ansbach by Jacopo Amigoni, oil on canvas, 1735 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Caroline Wilhelmina of Brandenburg-Ansbach by Jacopo Amigoni, oil on canvas, 1735
© National Portrait Gallery, London

One prominent supporter was Caroline of Ansbach, the Princess of Wales. She had caught smallpox shortly after her marriage to the future George II and was keen to protect her children, though she had reservations. To put her mind at rest she requested a monitored trial.

Dr Mead was a keen supporter of the method, and along with Maitland and Sir Hans Sloane conducted a trial in Newgate Prison.

Six convicted criminals were told that they would be released without charge if they underwent the trial. Five developed symptoms and then recovered; the sixth had lied about never having had smallpox and so was already immune. Mead tested the Chinese method of inhaling smallpox matter on another prisoner which, understandably, ‘gave great uneasiness to the poor woman’. All the prisoners were then released. To make sure that it had worked they sent one of the prisoners to Hertford where there was a particularly deadly outbreak of the disease. The, now ex-prisoner, nursed an infected patient and even shared a bed with them but did not suffer a relapse.

Newgate Prison, Inner Court, 18th century, from a contemporary print © Wellcome Library, London

Newgate Prison, Inner Court, 18th century, from a contemporary print © Wellcome Library, London

The Newgate trial had been a success but the Princess promoted another trial before she was ready to have her own children inoculated. Six ‘charity-children’ from St. James’s Parish were inoculated. Five came down with symptoms and then recovered. Again, the sixth had in fact had it before. Caroline was then happy for the ‘royal inoculations’ to go ahead.

Some aristocratic families followed suit, despite some highly publicised cases of inoculation being fatal, and the practice became more generally accepted. However, this was still a method of personal prevention rather than a public health strategy, and the end of smallpox was still a long way off.

 

Find out more about Mead’s role in inoculating against smallpox in eighteenth-century London by visiting The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead, which runs at the Founding Museum until 4 January 2015.

 

My next post will be an interview with Dr Mead himself, where I ask him about the circumstances of the alleged duel he fought over smallpox.

The Speckled Monster: Smallpox

Smallpox used to be one of the most devastating diseases in existence, killing at least a third of those it infected.

The head of Ramesses V, showing lesions caused by smallpox. Click on the image for a close-up view

The head of Ramesses V, showing lesions caused by smallpox. Click for a close-up

The origin of the disease is uncertain, but it is believed to have originated thousands of years ago in Africa, then spreading to India and China. The earliest physical evidence of smallpox is the pustular rash on the mummified body of Pharaoh Ramesses V of Egypt, who died in 1157 BC.

Called ‘smallpox’ by the English to distinguish it from the ‘Great Pox’, syphilis, it was also known as the ‘speckled monster’ because of the painful rash that spread over the skin of sufferers.

The first symptoms of the disease appear two weeks after infection. During this incubation period, sufferers look and feel healthy and are not contagious. Then follows a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms including fever, headaches, back pain and sometimes vomiting, diarrhoea or both. A few days later, flat, red spots appear on the skin. Within a day or two, many of these lesions turn into small blisters filled with clear fluid, which then turn into pus. Scabs begin to form eight to nine days later and eventually fall off, leaving deep, pitted scars.

A maid shows an old man his smallpocked face in a hand mirror. Coloured lithograph by Langlumé, 1823 © Wellcome Library, London

A maid shows an old man his smallpocked face in a hand mirror. Coloured lithograph by Langlumé, 1823 © Wellcome Library, London

Those that survive carry the legacy of smallpox for life. It can leave the sufferer blind and almost all are disfigured by scars. The ravaged, pock-marked faces of survivors would have been a familiar sight for Dr Richard Mead.

Due to the growing use of dissection as part of medical training, most doctors in eighteenth-century Britain had some practical knowledge of the human body. However, successfully treating disease was rather more hit and miss. Smallpox was easily identifiable by the distinctive rash it produced, but once it was diagnosed there was little that could be done.

A maid shows an old man his smallpocked face in a hand mirror. Coloured lithograph by Langlumé, 1823 © Wellcome Library, London

A maid shows an old man his smallpocked face in a hand mirror. Coloured lithograph by Langlumé, 1823 © Wellcome Library, London

Doctors and apothecaries would prescribe an array of potions, powders and elixirs. These could include what was referred to as animal materia medica. Sir Hans Sloane, a contemporary physician and friend of Mead, regularly prescribed woodlice, crabs’ eyes and oil of scorpion. This was not uncommon at the time, and such treatments were not excluded from the Royal College of Physician’s Pharmacopoeia until 1788.

Many treatments, such as bleeding or purging, or the use of laxatives or medicines to provoke vomiting, in fact tended to make patients worse.

The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead includes a number of objects which shed light on Mead’s battles with smallpox, from his A discourse on the small pox and measles of 1748 to a portrait of Mead’s fierce rival the Gresham Professor of Physic, John Woodward.

My next post will look at inoculation, and the active role that Dr Mead played in it becoming an accepted and beneficial practice in England.

Inside Mead’s Library

The nucleus of Mead’s library was formed during his grand tour of Italy in 1695. The small number of books that he brought back with him eventually grew to an extensive library of great renown.

49 Great Ormond Street

49 Great Ormond Street

Having moved to 49 Great Ormond Street after the death of the renowned physician Sir John Radcliffe, its previous occupant, Mead decided to build a library in the garden to house his growing book collection, to which was added Radcliffe’s collection of over two hundred volumes.

Mead employed for this the architect James Gibbs, who also designed the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford and Trafalgar Square’s St. Martin in the Fields. His library was built between 1732 and 1734 and became a prime destination for scholars, as well as for visitors just wanting to see the building and Mead’s collection of curiosities.

William Macmichael (1783-1839), one of Mead’s biographers, wrote

“Mead threw open his library and art gallery to the humble student, the unrecommended foreigner, and the poor enquirer, who derived as much pleasure from them as their owner did.”

Aesculapius holding a staff encircled by a snake. Drawing by G.B. Cipriani © Wellcome Library, London

Aesculapius holding a staff encircled by a snake. Drawing by G.B. Cipriani © Wellcome Library, London

Above the grand fireplace at the far end of the library hung Giovanni Paolo Panini’s Prayer to Aesculapius on the Isola Tiberina; a painting that Mead commissioned especially for his library. The painting depicts a prayer at the shrine to Aesculapius, the ancient Greek god of healing, in the city of Rome during a deadly plague epidemic. Mead also had a statue of the god to the right of the fireplace. This centrepiece recalled Mead’s work on contagion and prevention of the plague, as well as setting the tone for Mead’s erudite collection. He also had busts of Pope, Shakespeare and Milton on display.

Mead was not only a scholar; over his career he became a powerful patron in his own right. At least thirty-five books were dedicated to him, all of course displayed in his own library. He had a fine collection of medical books, but it was nothing compared to his collection of literature and the classics. Mead had one hundred and forty-six incunabula (books, pamphlets, or broadsides printed in Europe before 1501) including the works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Terence, Horace, Livy, Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny.

Front cover of the Shakespeare Folio, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Front cover of the Shakespeare Folio, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

One notable book in Mead’s collection was a second folio of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies published in 1632, which had belonged to King Charles I. He supposedly read this folio while imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight before his trial and eventual execution. On the fly-leaf he wrote ‘Dum Spiro Spero’ (While I Breathe, I Hope). Mead bought the folio from the Herbert family, descendants of Sir Thomas Herbert, the Master of the King’s Bedchamber, to whom Charles presented it before his death. The book is now in the Queen’s library at Windsor.

Charles's inscription

Charles’s inscription

The only novel in the library was Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones – the full title being The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. The book was first published in 1749 and perhaps reflects Mead’s commitment to the Foundling Hospital.

His library grew to over 10,000 books and, along with his collection of paintings, sculpture and other artworks, took 56 days to auction at his death.

49 Great Ormond Street, as well as its library, were transformed in 1852 into a new children’s hospital, now the Great Ormond Street Hospital. At first the original buildings were preserved, and what had been Mead’s library became the first hospital ward.

An engraving showing the ward in all its glory, retaining the highly decorated ceiling and panelling from its days as a library. At the front of the picture to the left are Dr Jenner and Dr West tending to patients.

An engraving showing the ward in all its glory, retaining the highly decorated ceiling and panelling from its days as a library. At the front of the picture to the left are Dr Jenner and Dr West tending to patients.

By 1870 the hospital buildings had become cramped and over-crowded, and so in 1871 they were demolished to make way for a new and purpose-built hospital. So it is no longer possible to visit Mead’s house and library. However, I’m sure he would have approved of the organisation that now occupies the site.

 

Key items from Mead’s life and collection have been reunited for the exhibition, The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead, including a number of Mead’s own publications and works from his renowned art collection. The importance of Aesculapius to Mead, as a symbol of learning and medicine, is present in Ramsay’s magnificent portrait, in the form of a statue of Aesculapius’ daughter Hygieia, a goddess of health.

 

My next post will explore the scourge of smallpox in the eighteenth century and Mead’s role in its treatment.

Georgian Quacks: Doctors or Charlatans?

Ben Jonson in his play Volpone describes the Quack as a ‘turdy-facy, nasty-paty, lousy fartical rogue’.

This gives a pretty good idea of the popular opinion of quacks. However, the boundary between respected physicians and quack doctors is more blurred than you might believe. The term ‘quack’ is in fact a shortened version of early modern Dutch quacksalver; someone who cures with home remedies (1543; Dutch kwakzalver).

Doctor Humbug, an itinerant medicine vendor selling his wares from a stage with the aid of an assistant. Coloured etching, 1799 © Wellcome Library, London

Doctor Humbug, an itinerant medicine vendor selling his wares from a stage with the aid of an assistant. Coloured etching, 1799 © Wellcome Library, London

This said, a ‘quack’ is a far more insulting term than this suggests; indeed, it was more a term of abuse than anything else. It generally indicates a certain genre of medical operator; someone who claims to have miraculous cures and promotes them as ostentatiously as possible. ‘Cure-all’ medicines were frequently advertised in markets, with the quack-creator crying out their virtues from a stage.

A tooth-drawer holding up a tooth he has just extracted on stage to try and sell his skills. Etching after J. Steen © Wellcome Library, London

A tooth-drawer holding up a tooth he has just extracted on stage to try and sell his skills. Etching after J. Steen © Wellcome Library, London

Many of these people had no qualifications and would entirely fabricate their expertise. In his treatise on poisons Mead wrote that “mathematical learning will be the distinguishing mark of a physician from a quack”. However, this was not always the case.  Many so-called quacks did in fact have some kind of formal medical qualification. Academic honours could legitimately be bought from universities. Mead himself was awarded his medical degree from Padua after only a few months of being there. He then proceeded to set up his practice in his father’s house in Stepney without a licence. This is rather ironic seeing as he later became one of the members of the Royal College of Physicians tasked with checking that all physicians in London had the proper licences.

Much is made of the disgusting or even dangerous ingredients in the wonder-cures peddled by quacks. This was often the case, but quack remedies frequently had much in common with medicines given by respected physicians. Mercury was often prescribed for venereal diseases or skin problems, and all sorts of animal powders were mixed up into medicines. Mead contributed a recipe for snail water to the Pharmacopoeia Pauperum in 1718. The recipe:

Take Garden-Snails cleansed and bruised 6 gallons, Earthworms washed and bruised, 3 Gallons Of common Wormwood, Ground-Ivy, and Carduus, each one Pound and half, Penniroyal, Juniper-berries, Fennelseeds, Aniseeds, each half a Pound, Cloves and Cubebs bruised, each 3 Ounces, Spirit of Wine and Spring-water, of each 8 Gallons. Digest them together for the space of 24 Hours, and then draw it off in a common Alembick.L0030155 R. Bradley, A philosophical account of the works of nature...

This concoction was intended to cure venereal disease. Many leading physicians attached their names to cures. Even if they didn’t profit from the sales, it meant that they became household names. Mead also had his name attached to a rabies powder, his ‘Pulvis Antylisus’[1], and his friend Dr Hans Sloane promoted medicinal chocolate.

There were also plenty of quack, or simply incompetent, surgeons who would carry out questionable procedures and then leave town before people had the chance to take their bandages off. Handel lived with declining vision for the last decade of his life following failed cataract surgery by an oculist called the ‘Chevalier’ John Taylor. He underwent a procedure known as ‘couching’, in which a needle was poked into the eye and the cataract-clouded lens was pushed into the rear, out of the field of vision. The lyrics to the aria ‘Total eclipse’ from Samson where Samson laments his lost eyesight[2], were written as Handel began to go blind.  Today, operations in which cataracts are removed and the lens replaced are among ophthalmology’s most successful procedures.

An operator treating the carbuncled nose of an obese patient with “Perkins’s tractors”. Coloured aquatint after J. Gillray, 1801 © Wellcome Library, London

An operator treating the carbuncled nose of an obese patient with “Perkins’s tractors”. Coloured aquatint after J. Gillray, 1801
© Wellcome Library, London

Regular doctors tended to treat patients face-to-face with lots of contact time whereas quacks sought custom from the anonymous consumer through advertising and sales of ready-made medicines. Mead dedicated a lot of his time to seeing his wealthy patients. However, he also used to spend afternoons in coffee-houses where he would write prescriptions for apothecaries who would come to him for advice on their patients.

Many people thought that all medical men were as bad as each other. This correspondent in the Tory Tatler of Friday 8 December 1710 certainly did:

Death as an apothecary’s assistant making up medicines in a jar. Watercolour by T. Rowlandson or one of his followers © Wellcome Library, London

Death as an apothecary’s assistant making up medicines in a jar. Watercolour by T. Rowlandson or one of his followers
© Wellcome Library, London

Poor Health must needs be in a fine Condition, when so many Physicians, Quacks, Surgeons, and Apothecaries are her sworn Enemies, and whole Magazines of Pills and Drugs lie in wait for her Destructions. It is indeed often ask’d, what Disease a Man died of, Fever, Pleurisie, or the like; but properly speaking, the Question should be, not what Distemper, but what Doctor did he die of: Distempers seize Men, but the Physicians execute ‘em… For my part, I never hear an Apothecary’s Mortar ringing, but I think the Bell’s a tolling; nor read a Doctor’s Prescription, but I take it for a Passport into the next World.

While this might be a slight exaggeration, before the advent of modern medicine and diagnostic technology it must be said that medical practitioners were only sporadically effective in curing their patients.

 

I will be giving a short talk on entitled Quacks: medical charlatans of eighteenth-century London at the Foundling Museum Sunday 2 November, followed by a concert performance by flautist Michael Liu and harpist Rebecca Royce.

My next blog post will expore the contents of Mead’s impressive library and the beautiful building which housed it.

 

 


[1] Recipe: Let the patient be blooded at the arm nine or ten ounces. Take of the herb, called in Latin Lichen cinereus terrestris, in English, Ash-coloured ground liverwort, cleaned, dried, and powdered, half an ounce. Of black pepper powdered, two drachms. Mix these well together, and divide the powder into four doses, one of which must be taken every morning, fasting, for four mornings successively, in half a pint of cow’s milk warm. After these four doses are taken, the patient must go into the cold bath, or a cold spring or river, every morning fasting, for a month: he must be dipt all over, but not stay in (with his head above water) longer than half a minute, if the water be very cold. After this he must go in three times a week or a fortnight longer.

[2] Total eclipse! No sun, no moon! All dark amidst the blaze of noon! Oh, glorious light! No cheering ray To glad my eyes with welcome day! Why thus depriv’d Thy prime decree? Sun, moon, and stars are dark to me!