A regimen for gout

Sir Edward Filmer, whom we met in the previous post, suffered badly from gout, as did many in the eighteenth century. Gout is an inflammatory form of arthritis that causes intense pain and swelling in the joints, and frequently the big toe. It is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the bloodstream, produced by the breakdown of food in the body. Nowadays it is treated by anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid injections and by attention to diet, particularly eating fewer foods rich in purine, such as offal and oily fish, and drinking less alcohol and more water.

Here is the regimen followed by Sir Edward in 1751, as he records in his medicinal notebook:

  1. Eat several slices of brown bread & butter cut very thin & 2 or 3 dishes of coffee and milk sweeten’d with brown sugar about 9 o’clock in a morning – for change 2 dishes of green tea.
  2. About 12 o’clock took 20 of Turlingtons Drops which he calls his Balsam of Life, on a lump of lofe suger. Sometimes for a change a glass of tar water.
  3. About noon (or a little before) took the air in a one horse chaise with a top to it, to defend him against wind & weather, to get him a stomach.
  4. Went to dinner about 2 o’clock eat what ever was most agreeable to his appetite; & as soon as he had eat moderately drank a large glass of cold spring water after it, & soon after that a wine glass of good strong sweet mountain [fortified Malaga wine] to keep the water from pauling the stomach, and after that, 4 or 5 glasses of good strong red port wine.
  5. About 7 o’clock drank 2 dishes of light quick green tea blood warm & a 3d with 1 tea spoonfull of tincture of cardamoms to correct the windiness of the tea. Went to bed on or before 11 o’clock, in a bed warm’d only knee high & but little clothes, turn’d down upon the shoulders. He rose at 7 & wou’d not suffer him self to lie long a bed after he had slept a reasonable time & was distinctly awake. But rose quick out of his warm bed, in the open air by way of a cold bath which Dr Cheyne says in his Essay of Health p.84 makes a free & brisk & more compleat circulation, & braces up the solids, which lying a bed long, lolling & soaking in sheets, dissolves in moisture. The erect posture & the activity of watching make the perspiration more plentiful & the gross evacuations more readily thrown off.
  6. He did not wear flanel next him as he had don in former winters, thinking it relax’d the fibres & glands too much & made him faint & weak…
  7. He dri’d up an issue which he had had in his left thigh for 17 years on account of its being very troublesome to keep a bandage on the part, & by the taring & dividing the meetings of several tendons was very painful & created a lameness; & being inclin’d to heal, & being hinderd from it by steptics & escharoticks, a spunky flesh grew up about the edges of the orifice, & the sore bleeding often, it was thought best to dry it up.
  8. At bed time he constantly took 3 gulps or swallows of Dr Cheyne’s a tincture of Rhubarb & 4 or 5 godowns or swallows of cold water after it, in order to give him a stool the next morning & keep his body open.

We can see here the contemporary preoccupation with purging and evacuation, as well as the perceived importance of fresh air and cold baths, and the use of ready-made medicines such as Turlington’s drops (compound tincture of benzoin) and tar water (pine tar or resin steeped in water). However, one can’t help wondering whether the five or six glasses of alcohol at lunchtime might actually have been causing the problem…

Source: U120/F28, Filmer Manuscripts, Kent History Centre.

4 thoughts on “A regimen for gout

  1. Pingback: Oh so sleepy « Travels and travails in 18th-century England

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