Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 4/Quackery in 1551

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3058182Once a Week, Series 1, Volume IV — Quackery in 1551
1860-1861Louis John Jennings


The quack medicines which have brought large fortunes to the lucky inventors in our own day are often exposed and denounced; but there is little doubt that, even in empiricism, we have improved greatly since the days when the intestines of animals and a few herbs were considered to form a sovereign balm for every disorder. Most of the great electuaries now advertised are said to possess the negative virtue of doing no harm; the pills may be taken, and the other preparations freely used, without further mischief than may be caused to the patient by the absence of proper medical treatment. Our ill-fated ancestors were not always so well off when they resigned themselves to the care of quack doctors. The remedies prescribed for them were often cruel, and nearly always disagreeable. In a certain “Pore Man’s Tresure,” published in London, in the year 1551, many extraordinary specifics are given, some of which must have been more painful in their effects than the disorders they were designed to remove. Even after the lapse of more than 300 years one must pity the poor man who put his trust in this black-letter guide-book to health.

Suppose, for instance, that he had the misfortune to receive a severe wound, whereby much loss of blood ensued, this would be the course for him to pursue in order to check the hemorrhage: “Take salte befe, ye fat and the lene togyther, as ye thinkest will go in the wound, and lay it on the hot coles, and let it rost there tyll it be thorowe hote, and all hote put it in the wonde and binde faste, and it shall staunch anone.” This approaches in barbarity the old plan of thrusting the stumps of amputated limbs in hot pitch in order to stop the blood. The heat would have the desired effect, and even in the present day lint “scorching hot” is sometimes applied to the wound; but conceive the agony that must have been caused by the exploded system.

Should the “poor man” survive this process he would probably be troubled at some period of his existence with pains in the head—happy man indeed, thrice happy, if he escaped them altogether. If the pains were grievous, it would only be necessary for him to take “the gall of a hare and temper it with honey evenly,” and anoint therewith his temples. If this did not suffice, he was to use the sap of an ash and rhubarb, mixed with wine and “grece of a freshe ele.” Or he might take grease of the hart blended with barley-meal, for “thys bathe bene proved a ryght good medecyne.” If his pains were neuralgic, it is not unlikely that he would be afflicted with ear-ache also. A reference to his “Tresure” would afford him the means of casting out this fiend. He would find it requisite to take a few herbs, and the grease of an eel as before-the last having, no doubt, a potent influence. And if, following up these complaints, his old wound should reopen and bleed, there are several effectual modes of stopping the effusion. He may “take burnt worms and powder them,” and drop the powder in the wound, or use “salt” in the same way, or “scrapings of a brass pot”! The last remedy might, at least, produce gangrene, even if the two March 16, 1SC1.)


first failed to dispose of the patient and all his ' woes.

For the toothache the poor man was recom mended to " take the shavynge of the harte's horne, and sette it long in water, and leye it into the sore tothe." Or he was to lay some pepper in k tvine, hold the mixture in his mouth, " and thus," said his guide, ' ' thou shalt be delyvered of all anguyshe." Here is another receipt "for the tootheachc and the gomes do swell." Take the juice of the red nettle, the white of an egg, and some white meal—make into a paste and apply to the tooth. In letting blood, it is necessary to be very care ful in the choice of a day for the operation, for the last day of April, the first Monday in August, and the last Monday in December, are " perilous " I days. " If a man or a womaue be lette blode in these daycs they shall dye within 1 5 dayes—dye I hastelye." A dreadful warning, surely. On the other hand, "who that letteth the bloude on the 18th daye of Marche in the ryght arme, and on the 1 1th daye of Apryll in the lyfte arme, they shall never be blinde, for this hath bene proved .'" Pity that the guide did not give the rationale of this proof. In the event of the poor man meeting with a severe fall, he need be under no apprehension for any length of time lest he should have fractured his skull. Here are directions for him to pursue : I "If the flesh be hole above, take and shave the

I head

spreadwhere on itthe thesore white is, and of andouble egg, aand linnen bindcloth, it on


I i i1 | I I



is not powerful enough, "take y* mylke of a kowe that is of one coloure " with herbs ! This is an easy mode of setting broken limbs hitherto untried by the profession. Lastly, the poor man would possibly grow old, and find his strength fail him. In that strait he is told to prepare a decoction of parsley, sage, mace, ginger, and other spices, and drink thereof. Its virtues were marvellous. " It is good for the palsie, for quakynge of a man's lymmes, and for serchynge of a man's senewes. Also it maketh an old manne to seme yonge. Also it destroyeth the canker." Truly an inestimable discovery this ! Scarcely less so is the following for disordered eyes : " Gather red snails, boil them in water, and gather of the grese, and do it in a vyall, and anoynt therewith thine eyes erely in the morning and late in the evenynge." And, finally, we have one comprehensive receipt good "for all manner of aches." Take "sage, rewe, wormewoode, lorel leaves, horhunde, red nettelles, and stampe them all together, and myngle them with Maybutter, and let it stand for x days—and ofte frye them and strayne them clene, and then melte therewith encens, and this serveth for all maner of aches." These are examples of the many prescriptions contained in the now very rare " Tresure of Medecynes." Probably the reader would not be willing to abandon his family doctor, and place his wife and children (for bachelor readers are of so little importance that it is of no sort of consequence what course they take) under the guidance of the the head all night." In the morning, "if the author of our resuscitated vade mecum. clothe be moiste the brayne-panne is broken." In L. J. Jbnnings. this case the " place " is to be anointed with ointment, "and thus shalt thou save him, or els AN OLD MAN'S MUSINGS. he is but dead." A receipt more primitive and Hr dwelt in solitude ; his brain grew rife quaint than this it would be well-nigh impossible With thoughts of ancient years, which came to him to disinter from the records of bygone quackery. Old, old traditions, cobweb'd, faint and dim, The author of the ' ' Tresure " was prepared for slight as well as great exigencies. For bleeding As from another life. at the nose, " take shelles that chekins were What is the past but a tradition, —far, hatched in," and make powder of them, and put Far and half hidden in deep memory's cell ? the powder in the nose, ' ' and it shall staunche What are the thoughts which used to rise and swell. hym." The poor man, to prevent himself falling But banners stained in war 1 asleep, must take decoction of garlic—an effecin the many conflicts from their birth, tual plan, one would suppose, for banishing the Stained Losing their lustre in the course of time ; slumbers of the partner of his bosom. Should he deemed in youth they'd rise to heights sublime, lose his speech, what can be more simple than to WeWe see them fall to earth. recover it by the following remedy ? Take juice of sage or primrose, " and put it in the mouth of Oh, racking thought, the highest genins lent But makes the man to suffering more prone, the pacyent, and he shall speake." For a cold That which he deems his greatest good, alone " take the sede of the nettell and sethe it in oyle, and anoynte thy fete therewith and thy handes, Brings its own punishment. and it wyll do awaye with the colde." Or what For knowledge yearns for knowledge, till desire do young ladies think of this receipt for a cough ? Becomes a passion, but the straining mind ' ' Take sage, rue, and pepper, with honey, and ete Within its body prison all confined, thereof a spoon full fyrst and last [i.e., morning Finds it can rise no higher. and night), till ye be delyvered of the sayd dysease. " For a swelling under the chin, "the Is this what I have lived for, but to know My past a night Jilted full of idle dreams, blood of a horse " is an excellent remedy. For a Vague visions, fancy Sittings, paltry schemes, fever take a handful of parsley, a pound of cummin seed, five quarts of wine (a generous allow The sum of all below ? ance), and boil them together. "Gyve hym to Thus mused an old man till the morning light drynke that is sycke, at morne colde, and at Banished the darkness :—with the rising sun evening note, and it wyl hele him." For broken There came a voice, " Thy life is but begun bones use a plaster of various herbs ! Or, if this If thou wilt act aright.