Sunday, 1 April 2012

Physician, Heal Thyself

       Thinking about the medicinal bits and bobs, I scanned some pages from various books I've collected along the years. Remember, before the NHS was founded in 1948, the British had to pay for professional medical care (with a few exceptions), so all these date from before then, when self-treatment was often the order of the day.

The oldest is The Medical Guide by Richard Reece, and it is dated March 1817. George III was on the throne then, and it was the year that Jane Austen died. The Battle of Waterloo had been fought two years before. The book is divided into two sections, the first is a Domestic Dispensary, describing an assortment of drugs and chemicals, what they are used for and how to prepare them. This scan is the entry for laudanum, or tincture of opium. Laudanum was available for sale over the counter in the 19th Century, in spite of being a deadly poison - two or three teaspoons are enough to kill an adult. It was a frequent method of suicide in Victorian times.

This second scan shows A Moral and Physical Thermometer, listing alcoholic drinks and the effects of them, the illnesses they cause, and the punishments they bring. Starting with water, which gives health and wealth, it works downwards, through Small Beer (Happiness), Wine (Strength), to Toddy and crank (Quarreling - Black eyes), Flip and Shrub (Obscenity - Poor House), and eventually to Usquebaugh, Hysteric water, Gin, Anniseed (sic.) Brandy, Rum and Whiskey, which, if taken in the morning lead to Perjury, Buglary and Murder, punished by Whipping, The Hulks and Botany Bay. The same taken during the day and night lead to Suicide and Death, punishment - The Gallows. The Hulks, incidentally, were prison ships, moored in rivers and harbours. They were, even by the standards of the day, much worse than terrestrial prisons. Botany Bay was where the ships landed in Australia, laden with deported prisoners.

I swapped a magic trick for this book with a boy in my class at school, over forty years ago.

The next book is Robinson's New Family Herbal. I can't find a date, but an advertisement at the back for works by Bulwer-Lytton has no book published after 1838, so the herbal probably dates from around that time. Herbals have a long history, and if you could not afford to buy medicines, drugs or chemicals, you went out in the fields and picked the herbs for free.

There are a number of disadvantages - the plant needs to be growing at the same time of year as when you happen to have the particular illness, you can't guarantee the exact dosage so under- or over-dosing is a danger, and you have to be sure you are picking the correct plant for your needs. This scan shows the illustrations in the book. You'd need to be a brave man to trust these as a definitive guide to identification.

Here is the entry for Deadly Nightshade. It is not the only poisonous plant in the book.

I was given this book by a friend who knew I was interested in such things.

The third of my books is Air Raid First Aid, a pamphlet sold during the Second World War. It has various tables and illustration for the action to be taken for likely injuries sustained during an air raid, including burns, bleeding and gassing.

Here is the page for bombs. Remember, the NHS was not founded until after Corporal Hitler's Unpleasantness was over, so some people would have been treating themselves even then.

The booklet belonged to my mother, it came to me after she died.

And, as I mentioned yesterday, if you click on the pictures, then right click and choose 'View Image', you should be able to read the text.

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