I have been reading today about medical recipes for rabies, which reminded me of an incident in the Madan letters (see previous posts). Judith wrote to her husband Martin (away fighting the War of Austrian Succession) about a dog owned by their son, also called Martin:
I had wrote to you last week but was a good deal alarm’d by an accident, which yet I thank God has had no ill consequences & all my fears are now entirely over, nor should I mention it, but as things never loose in the carrying I was afraid you might hear it with adititions from another hand which is truly this – Martins dog Silver show’d one day at dinner signs of madness – not raveing, but melancholy, which is as bad in its consequences; refus’d meat & shun’d water which confirm’d us he was far gone, on which he was ty’d up in the kennel, & continuing in the same way we thought it safest to have him shot which was accordingly done. After this Pen recollected the morning of the day we observ’d his disorder that he had jump’d up & lick’d her lips & also her head, this frighted us extreamly as not knowing how soon infection might be taken, & some days before he had bit the housemaids hand. So on the whole we thought it most prudent to be most secure, & I made the medicine & Pen & the maid took it the proper time, only I gave Pen in proportion to her age 2 spoonfulls less. It was terrible to take but she had resolution to go thro’ it the full time & is perfectly well, & now I am easy in that respect. Martin says if the dog had been mad there could have been no infection where he did not bite & Dr Lane is of the same opinion but I hope you’l think, as I did, the utmost caution not too much in a case of such infinite importance to so dear a child.
Martin replied, rather severely it might be thought:
you acquaint me with Silver’s madness and his having lick’d Pensy, I yet tremble to think of her danger & the fatal consequences that might have attended a favourite dog’s madness, I have very sincerely return’d God thanks for all your preservation, it was like putting poison in a cup of which you were all to drink had not the Hand of Providence directed you to destroy it. I ever had an aversion to the admission of favourite Dogs into the House, many bad accidents have happen’d from it, & your late escape I hope will be sufficient to present your running any future risks of that sort.
Rabies is still almost invariably fatal, so the hysteria over a lick, let alone a bite is understandable. What is more curious perhaps is that fact that a very large number of manuscript recipe books of the period contain a remedy for it, even though these cannot have worked. ‘Remedy for the bite of a mad dog’ is also a frequently occurring artefact among the papers of the clergy – either they were often bitten when visiting their parishioners, or they thought they were likely to be contacted for medical as well as spiritual succour by the afflicted.
The Madan letters, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. lett. c.285: 140, 4th August 1744; 122, August 1744