Not such a charitable surgeon

Newspaper advertisements for pills and potions were commonplace by the eighteenth century, promising wonder cures and infallible remedies for almost any ailment, particularly those that people didn’t want to talk about. Been diverting yourself with the lower sort? Never fear, buy this book and find a cure for whatever embarrassing condition you now find yourself saddled with:

The Charitable Surgeon: Or, The best Remedies for the worst Maladies reveal’d. Being a New and True Way of Curing (without Mercury) the several Degrees of the Venereal Distemper in both Sexes, whereby all Persons, even the meanest Capacities, may, for an inconsiderable Charge, without Confinement of Knowledge of the nearest Relation, Cure themselves easily, speedily and safely, by the Methods prescrib’d, without the help of any Physician, Surgeon or Apothecary, or being expos’d to the hazardous Attempts of Quacks and Pretenders. To which is subjoin’d, A new Discovery of the true Seat of Claps in Men and Women, different from the commonly receiv’d Opinion of Authors. As also, A Peculiar Method of curing their Glects and Weaknesses, whether Venereal, Seminal, or otherwise; with some pertinent Observations relating thereto, never before taken notice of. Likewise, The certain, easie Way to escape Infection, tho’ never so often accompanying with the most polluted Companion. By T. C. Surgeon. Printed for, and sold by Edmund Curle, at the Peacock without Temple-Bar, 1708. Price stitch’d 1 s.

English Post with News Foreign and Domestick, Wednesday, November 24, 1708.

The originator of this book of wonders was Edmund Curle or Curll, a notorious London publisher and bookseller who produced cheap and cheerful books on a vast range of subjects, from phoney medical treatises to erotic literature, from religious tracts to pirated versions of works by Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. His main concern was making money by any means possible, famously saying in his Compleat Key to The Dunciad: ‘There are but Two Things to be consider’d in every HEROIC Poem; First, how to write it, Secondly, how to make it sell.’ His trial for publishing the sexually explicit and delightfully titled Venus in the Cloister: or, The Nun in Her Smock formed the foundation of English law for obscene libel until the 1950s.

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2 thoughts on “Not such a charitable surgeon

  1. And what was the secret of effective non-mercurial treatment for the Claps? I imagine that both book and treatment would have sold extremely well.

    I once did a project on treatments for syphilis. The mercury treatment comprised enveloping the patient, who would have had open syphilitic skin sores, in a tent from the neck down, putting a brazier filled with red hot coals in the tent and throwing mercuric chloride on the brazier. The mercury released would be absorbed through the ulcerated skin, giving the patient mercury poisoning. By which time their ulcers would have healed and they would have stopped complaining about their syphilis.

    In the early twentieth century, malaria was advocated as a cure for syphilis. Indeed, there was a brisk trade in malarial mosquitoes which were used to infect the hapless patients with malaria. The treatment was so highly regarded that its originator won the Nobel prize for medicine.

    Talk about treatment being worse than the disease. We should all be thankful for newfangled concepts such as evidence based treatment and randomised double blind trials.

  2. The non-mercurial treatment set out in ‘The Charitable Surgeon’ involved a long and complicated process that got the patient mixing up no fewer than 6 recipes. You had to start with the Purging Electuary, then the Diuretic Powder, the Strengthening Electuary, the Anodyne Injection, the Anodyne Fotus, and the Anodyne Powder.

    These mostly contained herbs and pigments – the first one, for example, comprised confection of hamech, jalap, gamboge, colloquintida and syrup of buckthorn.

    Sneakily included amongst the herbs in the other 5 recipes, however, were powders that had to be obtained from the author of the book – a different one for each recipe, which would put the sufferer to considerable expense. With names like the Corroborating Powder and the Chymical Majisty, these were rather mysterious and I wouldn’t be surprised if they contained mercury.

    For the Anodyne Injection, the patient was also advised to buy a special syringe from the author. Called the ‘Yard Syringe’ for men or ‘Womb Syringe’ for women, this was used for squirting the mixture directly into the affected parts!

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