One of the miseries of life – Gout

In the Georgian era, if you weren’t afflicted by gout you were nobody, it was very much a statement of wealth and class, something to aspire to have. Most sufferers of this complaint ate too much rich food and drank even more – port being regarded as one of the most common causes.

Gout was described in ‘A Treatise on the Nature and Cure of Gout’ by Charles Scudamore, written in 1816, as

a constitutional disease, producing an external inflammation of a specific kind; the susceptibility to it often depending on hereditary conformation and constitution, but more frequently wholly acquired; not occurring before the age of puberty, seldom under the age of five and twenty; and most frequently between the ages of twenty-five an thirty-five; affecting chiefly the male sex; and particularly persons of capacious chest and plethoric habit; in the first attack invading usually one foot only and most frequently at the first joint of the great toe; but in its return affecting both feet, the hands, knees and elbows, often accompanied by a fever.

Today, of course, medical knowledge has moved on and we now know that gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid which the body cannot break down and presents as a swelling in a joint, usually the big toe with red skin around the affected joint, as can be seen in this caricature by James Gillray. This being only one of countless caricatures of the day, mocking sufferers.

Nobody laughs at a touch of the gout.
Courtesy of Wellcome Collection

Where there was illness there were plenty of so-called doctors ready to offer you a quick fix. So much so that they proudly advertised the efficacy of their product in the newspapers, with claims that they could not just ease the condition, but totally cure it. So confident were they with their products that they provided testimonies apparently from people they had treated such as this one for ‘Mr Gardner’s Pills and Plaisters’.

Wright Esq. No. 40 Duke Street, Manchester Square, was many years afflicted with the gout, is cured by Gardener’s Pills and will with pleasure satisfy the afflicted.

Mr. Watson, Merchant and Underwriter, No. 25 Mincing Lane, seven years afflicted.

Mr. Purser, Talbot Innkeeper, Whitechapel, twenty years afflicted.

If that didn’t take you fancy, then no problem, why not try a more palatable cure?

Spilsbury’s Antiscorbutic Drops. This medicine had undergone a series of trials and held a variety of certificated of efficacy and could cure scurvy, gout, leprosy, rheumatism etc. The drops themselves were reputed to be pleasant to take, required no confinement. They were supplied in moulded bottles, with fluted corners and the words Francis Spilsbury, chemist, his Antiscorbutic Drops, by the King’s Patent, indented on each 5-shilling bottle and were supplied with directions to usage.

The Gout.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection

Interesting to note that almost half the advertisement seemed to focus on the appearance of the container rather than the product it contained. Whilst it seems feasible that these drops could help to prevent or cure scurvy, as they were predominantly a form of vitamin C tablets, there seems little evidence that they could have any effect on gout.

So, who amongst the great and the good of the day suffered from gout – well naturally the Prince Regent with his excessive lifestyle was a prime candidate and the newspapers reported instances of him having suffered ‘a slight attack of gout in his knee’.  Sir Joseph Banks whose gout became so debilitating that he had to resort to using a wheelchair. Both William Pitt, the elder and the younger were both troubled by the complaint. Pitt, the younger being advised to avoid port and to drink wine instead. If you read the letters of Horace Walpole, you will find countless references on the subject of gout!

Lord Byron, noted in 1814 that King Louis XVIII of France was another sufferer of gout and nicknamed him ‘Louis the Gouty’.

We will finish with an extract from the work of Rev. Jonathan Swift

As, if the gout should seize the head,
Doctors pronounce the patient dead;
But, if they can, by all their arts,
Eject it to th’extremest parts,
They give the sick man joy, and praise
The gout that will prolong his days.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of Welcome Collection

18th Century Advertising Standards – or lack of

When you read through 18th century newspapers it’s quite astonishing the number of adverts there were for health and well-being with many so-called doctors offering cures for every conceivable medical complaint. Today, Advertising Standards, not to mention the police would have a field day with some of the claims made in these! Some of these are truly shocking, so we warn you in advance.

Netscher, Caspar; A Visit from the Doctor; Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-visit-from-the-doctor-54443
Netscher, Caspar; A Visit from the Doctor; Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum

We begin with an advert in E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor of Sunday, December 18, 1803. Ladies – do you suffer from monthly period pains? Are you pregnant? Or are you going through the menopause? – worry no more – Dr. Fothergill’s has the cure!  There is absolutely no indication as to what this medicine actually contained, but it worked – really it did – a lady of quality confirmed this!

Dr. Fothergill offers a remedy with his Female Specific Pills, at the low price of 3 shillings and 6 pence! Of the efficacy of these pills too much cannot be aid as the use of them has been the means to restoring thousands to the state of perfect health, when innumerable other medicines have failed. They are particularly beneficial to single young ladies in the prime of their life when any irregularity prevails. They are also of great service to married ladies during the course of pregnancy. They are likewise of high importance to women in the latter period of life, specially about the age of 45 and upwards; as by their use the complaints which frequently prevail at that period will be obviate.

The history of these pills is rather singular and may serve as a recommendation to its more general use: – A lady of Quality was for many years afflicted with dreadful pain in her head and stomach, with various hysterical complaints:  Her case was given for consideration to various eminent persons of the faculty, without obtaining any relief. One of these gentlemen, however, advised her to consult the late learned Dr. Fothergill, who was particularly celebrated for his skill in relieving these complaints. Dr. Fothergill gave her a prescription which was prepared by her family apothecary, who charged her five shillings for it. By the use of this medicine for a few days she experienced great relief and before she had finished the box was entirely well. During her life she distributed this medicine to many of her friends and poor neighbours.   At length when very old age prevailed (attained perhaps only by the use of this medicine) she gave the recipe to her physician.

British (English) School; An Itinerant Quack-Doctor; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/an-itinerant-quack-doctor-125776
British (English) School; An Itinerant Quack-Doctor; Wellcome Library

It was commonplace to see anecdotes for people ‘cured’ by taking certain medications such as this one in Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 8, 1800. Did they work? We have no idea, but naturally people would put their trust in products that seemingly had some medical backing.

cordial-of-gilead

With this next one from Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 8, 1800, the mind boggles – Dr. Harvey’s Anti-Venereal Pills and Grand Restorative Drops.

venereal

Thomas, Gerard; A Physician-Virtuoso in His Cabinet, Examining a Flask of Urine Brought by a Lady; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-physician-virtuoso-in-his-cabinet-examining-a-flask-of-urine-brought-by-a-lady-126396
Thomas, Gerard; A Physician-Virtuoso in His Cabinet, Examining a Flask of Urine Brought by a Lady; Wellcome Library

We move on to a couple of truly worrying adverts, when you read the first of these it can surely only be interpreted in one way, this was a service being offered for abortion. Women finding themselves in such dire straits as needing to use this service could do so for around one guinea (around £40 in today’s money).

Morning Post and Gazetteer, Tuesday, November 18, 1800:

PREGNANT LADIES

Whose situation requires temporary Retirement

Mr. Watson, Surgeon and Man-Midwife, offer to accommodate Ladies in an airy and retired situation, with apartments to live in, on terms suited to their circumstances and situation in life; their infants put out to nurse, and humanely taken care of; and as humanity induces him to offer his assistance to alleviate the horrors of concealed pregnancy, he flatters himself Ladies will find, on application to him, the great attention and most profound secrecy. Letters (postpaid) to Mr. Watson, Surgeon and Man-Midwife, No. 19 Charlotte Street, Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge, will meet the most pointed attention.

Where may be had The PILL-BENEDICTA,  at £1, 1 shilling per box, a certain and effectual remedy to remove all obstructions and irregularities, and an excellent medicine after had Lyings-in.

Our last one comes to us courtesy of Courier and Evening Gazette, Wednesday, April 24, 1799. How many people would have bought into this one, we wonder, not many, we hope!

Cancerous Complaints

A medical gentleman, of regular education and established credit in London, who, on account of his rank in the profession, has found out an effectual remedy for the above-mentioned destructive disease. Such persons as wish to consult him, are requested to send a particular history of their complaint, mentioning age, sex etc. of the patient and an immediate answer will be returned stating every circumstance relative to the treatment and cure of the disease. Letters of consultation, inclosing a pound note, directed to Mr. T, No. 11 Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, will be duly attended to.

Featured image

An Episode from ‘The Mock Doctor’ or ‘Dumb Lady Cured’ (from Henry Fielding’s adaptation of ‘Le médécin malgré lui’ by Molière, 1732) by Francis Hayman (1708–1776), National Trust, Sizergh Castle.