In the Georgian era, if you weren’t afflicted by gout you were as good as a nobody, it was very much a statement of wealth and class, almost something to aspire to suffer from. 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.
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 in 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.
Interesting to note that almost half the advertisement seemed to focus on the appearance of the container rather than its contents. 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.
Courtesy of Welcome Collection