A night with Venus could result in a lifetime with mercury

So, you’ve found yourself a suitable young lady to spend some ‘quality’ time with, courtesy of Harris’s List (the annual directory of prostitutes working in London).

You’ve forgotten to call at Mrs Philips, at the Green Canister on Half-moon Street in the Strand for some cumdums (condoms, as we know them to be today) and you didn’t use the ‘totally effective Paris wash ball’ or Powell and Co’s medicated soap before calling on the young lady.

Courier and Evening Gazette Thursday, July 9, 1795
Courier and Evening Gazette Thursday, July 9, 1795

 

Telegraph, Tuesday, October 25, 1796

Oh, well never mind you’ll take a chance, everything should be just fine.

But of course, more often than not it simply wasn’t ‘just fine’ and needless to say the result was that you become ‘frenchified’, in other words you acquired a venereal disease – the pox, Covent Garden/Drury Lane Ague, Clap or, Token (the latter originates from the phrase ‘she tipped him the token’ i.e. she was infected and passed it on to him).

So what was the treatment?

Well, you could pay a visit to the ‘Nimgimmer’, a physician or surgeon who claimed to be able to provide you with a cure for the condition, such as Dr John Leake, of Parliament Street, London, who advertised prolifically in the newspapers throughout the mid to late 1700s that he had developed a ‘cure all’ pill and also the ‘Lisbon Diet Drink’.

Dr Leaks pills

 

Daily Gazetteer, Thursday, June 21, 1744

This ‘cure’ which was more than likely some form of medication containing mercury became extremely popular, to the extent that it was carried on board ships for the sailors to take after a night out! Syphilis was incurable and the best treatment was calomel aka mercury chloride, which had its own problems when used over a long term.

L0057163 Drug jar for mercury pills, Italy, 1731-1770 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The mercury pills that were once in this jar are quite likely to have been made to a recipe developed by Augustin Belloste (1654-1730), which was famous throughout Europe. Mercury was the traditional remedy for syphilis and the demand for Belloste’s recipe made his pills very successful. The family became rich from the profits. The recipe remained a secret and was still available in the early twentieth century. The pills were also used to treat gout, and kidney and bladder stones. Unfortunately, the mercury in the pills slowly poisoned the patients. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Faenza, Ravenna province, Emilia-Romagna, Italy made: 1731-1770 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
L0057163 Drug jar for mercury pills, Italy, 1731-1770
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
The mercury pills that were once in this jar are quite likely to have been made to a recipe developed by Augustin Belloste (1654-1730), which was famous throughout Europe. Mercury was the traditional remedy for syphilis and the demand for Belloste’s recipe made his pills very successful. The family became rich from the profits. The recipe remained a secret and was still available in the early twentieth century. The pills were also used to treat gout, and kidney and bladder stones. Unfortunately, the mercury in the pills slowly poisoned the patients.

So, those Georgians believed you simply took a pill and the condition was cured – really? Alternately you could try the Cornelian Tub, which was a sweating tub designed to remove the impurities – surely, that would do the trick or Sir Peter Lalonette’s Fumigation machine (to find out more about option click on the highlighted link).

It wasn’t until the mid-1830s that the medical profession finally agreed that syphilis and gonorrhoea were actually two different conditions, so consequently, until that time there was just one general term for the condition i.e. venereal disease. No matter which condition you had acquired there was no cure for your night for passion!

Courtesy of the British Museum

 

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Sir Peter Lalonette and His Fumigation Machine

We would like welcome our latest guest writer  the lovely Geri Walton author of the blog 18th and 19th Centuries  who has very kindly written a fascinating article for us about an eighteenth century cure for venereal disease.

newmethodofcurin00lalo_0158

Ancient people believed in the idea that cures could be achieved by providing nourishment through the skin and often used perfume in the form of vapors, known as fumigation. When the bubonic plague ravished Europe, fumigation seemed to be effective in curing it. The idea of fumigation interested Georgian physicians who believed fumigation could be an effective medicinal remedy.

Among those who believed fumigation was a viable medicinal cure was Sir Peter Lalonette (sometimes referred to as Lalouette). Lalonette was, by the late 1700’s, a distinguished doctor and regent of the faculty of Physics at the University of Paris. He also believed the best way to cure venereal disease was by using mercury vapors along with fumigation.

To prove his theories and accomplish his cures, he created a fumigation machine, as shown above. He described the machine as “an oblong square box, in which the patient is shut up.” The patient also sat on a seat that could be raised or lowered to accommodate his or her height. At the bottom of the box a square hole admitted the furnace and a sliding door allowed the mercury powder to be thrown onto the fire to create the vapors. At the top of the box another sliding door accommodated the patient’s head and neck, and, to ensure the vapors were retained in the box, the sliding door was closed around the patient’s neck and a piece of fabric tucked securely around any open spots.

The mercury vapors used were created from one of three unique powders that Lalonette prepared using the purest quality mercury. Lalonette also used a variety of techniques and certain corrosive sublimates to create three powders he called a simple mercurial powder, a martial mercurial powder, and an argillaceous mercurial powder. These three powders supposedly offered different degrees of activity when used in his fumigation machine.

newmethodofcurin00lalo_0164

The amount of mercury powder used was proportional “to the violence of the systems, the strength and temperament of the patient, &c.” As a general rule, somewhere between four and six ounces of mercury were considered adequate. Depending on the results, it sometimes required as many as thirty or forty treatments, and treatments needed to be continued until all the disease symptoms disappeared. However, Lalonette also said it was prudent to continue treatments for a short time afterwards “for the sake of greater security.”

Geri blog

Fumigation was normally applied every other day, although it could also be applied up to four days in a row. Fumigation with mercury vapors were given in twelve to fifteen minute doses to nude patients who had fasted. The object of the fumigation was to have the mercury vapors surround the whole body. In addition, patients were also to adhere to a simple regimen that consisted of “mild food, little wine, [and] no spirituous liquors,” along with exercise.

Lalonette’s patients ranged in age from 19 to 42, and suffered a wide variety of venereal disease symptoms. Common symptoms included such things as urethral discharges, buboes (swollen, inflamed lymph nodes), blotchy skin, pustules, or chancres (cankerous sores or ulcerations). Sometimes sufferers experienced violent aches and pains in the stomach, such as twenty-five year old Luke B., who also experienced nausea and violent vomiting. In fact, Luke B. had so many problems, Lalonette refused to allow him to continue with his fumigation cure.

newmethodofcurin00lalo_0170

Some of Lalonette’s other cases were more successful. Louis D. age 23 years, began fumigation on September 4, 1772, having been ill five months. He showed a bubo in the groin area, but was cured by October 21, 1772. A second Louis, Louis B., age twenty-one, suffered from gonorrhea for nine months before he began having a discharge. He then developed blotches on different parts of his body and began Lalonette’s treatments in August 11, 1772. While Louis B was undergoing treatment, a third Louis, Louis M., began treatment in October of the same year. He had suffered for five months with “phymosis, and indurations within the prepuce.” His groin was also swollen and he had an infinite number of blotches on his face and body. In December of 1772, however, Lalonette pronounced both Louis B. and Louis M. cured.

Two other cases also involved gonorrhea. The first case involved a forty-year-old man named Joseph. Four years earlier Joseph had suffered from gonorrhea but thought himself cured. Then he began experiencing pain in his leg, limbs, and finally swelling in his ear and gums. When Lalonette saw him he showed signs of “chancres and a bubo.” After about three months of treatment, Lalonette pronounced him cured. John G, age 26, admitted in August 11, 1772, had two obvious “buboes,” which degenerated into ulcers. He also had a discharge from his urethra and pain in his limbs that increased during the night and prevented him from sleeping. However, by October 21, 1772, he also cured due to fumigation.

Hogarth-Harlot-5

There was, however, one case that Lalonette cautiously reported on involving a twenty-year-old man. His name was Peter D. He had developed gonorrhea two years earlier and not only suffered a urethral discharge but also various “chancres” that appeared all over his body, along with severe pain in his limbs, and “nocturnal pains of the head.” His disposition was noted by Lalonette to be somewhat relieved, but he also added “there are some doubts of his being perfectly cured.”

For the most part, however, Lalonette claimed that after applying his fumigation technique some 400 times, he had achieve miraculous results and wrote a book detailing his successes. It was titled, A New Method of Curing the Venereal Disease by Fumigation. In it he claimed, “I have as yet seen no disagreeable accident from this mode of treatment, and I have constantly observed, that so far from being rendered weaker by it they [the sufferers]…apparently gathered strength during the use of the remedy, and the symptoms have insensibly diminished, till at length they have entirely disappeared.

 

References:

Clarke, Sir Arthur, An Essay on Warm, Cold, and Vapour Bathing, 1820, on Google Books

Lalouette, Sir Peter, A New Method of Curing the Venereal Disease by Fumigation, 1777, on Internet Archive

The Monthly Review; Or, Literary Journal, Vol. LVIII, 1778, on Google Books