Slower social networking

Welcome to all my new readers, thanks to the unexpected success of my previous post! Thank you for your comments and I hope you enjoy what you find here.

There were obviously no blogs in the eighteenth century, but there were still ways of obtaining information. Take the following two letters, found in the miscellaneous papers of Sir John Evelyn of Wotton, a British politician and grandson of the famous diarist:

Moorgate Street, Sept 17 1747


Upon reading your advertisements of to day I

there in found an advertisement for a receipt for one

who hav lost their speech by a cold in which case

I was in my self not long ago and after trying a

great many things the following was the only restoring

medicine that I met with and now I can speake as well

as ever I could in my life. Take two or three handfulls

of bran put it into 3 pints of spring water let it

boil gently till there is near a pint consumed then

strain it of and add some figge sliced with a penny

worth of stick liquorish sliced or minced then boil it

up together strain it off making it a constant drink

till it performe the cure which if its taker affects

will be after drinking about two quarts. So wishing

the person may find the same benefit as did your

and the Publicke Friend

and servant

Another letter in a different hand:

Sept the 15th 1747


Observing in the daily advertisements

of this day, an advertisement, desiring

that if any person, who had lost their

voice by cold, so as to be reduced to

whisper, had found relief by any method

or medicine, they were desired to send

the prescription to you.

A person who had lost their voice

for 4 months, so as to whisper only,

was cured by the following remedy.

Barbados tar, dropped into powder of

liquorice, begun with five drops, &

increased it, by one at a time to ten,

and took that quantity twice a day,

morning & night, washing it down, some

times with a little hysop, & sometimes

with penyroyal water, sweetened with

syrrop of capilare, if it should heat

to much, as in some constitutions it may

it must be left of, it is a slow remedy

but if any can be cal’d sure it may

the person cur’d, had more properly an

extinction of voice then hoarseness, for

they could not form a sound higher

then the softest whisper, & after about

three months use of the above medicine

had the voice perfectly restored, of a

sudden, & tho subject to illness of the

lungs never lost it afterwards.

Upon the truth of this you may depend.


These letters were with a collection of other remedies and physician’s prescriptions, and it can be assumed that Sir John or one of his family had lost his own voice and had advertised in a newspaper or pamphlet to see if anyone could recommend a cure. It’s interesting that they both contain liquorice, which is still used today in commercial cough syrups.

Source: British Library 78529. Evelyn Papers. Vol. CCCLXII.


How to find time to blog

This was my talk at the launch of the History Blogging Project – if you’d like to leave any comments please do so on the project’s website.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that actually, I don’t always find the time! I’ve been blogging in various guises for about 5 years now, so these are the best ways I’ve found to avoid a blog being just a flash-in-the-pan activity.

Be realistic

As a busy PhD student, you’re not going to be able to write a post a day, nor in most cases would you want to. Set yourself a target you think you can keep to, say a post a week – but then don’t feel guilty if you miss a week or two. A blog is supposed to be fun and useful, not a chore or something to beat yourself up over.

Collect ideas for future posts

If you sit down in front of the computer and think ‘I’ve got to write a blog post’, most of the time it’s not going to work. You’ll find that ideas come at the strangest times, so write them down, keep a list of things you want to write about so that you’re not starting from scratch every time.

Take time to think

Similarly, as with any piece of writing, a blog post won’t normally spring to your fingers fully formed. When you’ve decided on the topic for your next post, think about it when you’re on the bus or in the bath and you’ll find the right shape and tone will often come to you, so when you do start to write you’ll be more prepared.

Create a routine

What works for me is to write first thing in the morning, which is my most productive time. I check my emails and my Google Reader, then look at the blog stats and comments just in case a particular post seems to have sparked a great deal of interest – and then open a new post and start writing, based on the draft I already have in my head.

Write fast then edit

Again, you probably already work like this, but I find it’s best just to write and worry about the finer points later. Get the whole post down on screen, then go back through and check that it flows properly and for the obvious things like grammar and spelling. Reading it out loud will give you a different perspective on what you’ve written that can be helpful. Add images or tables at the end as well, otherwise that activity can get in the way of your writing.

Don’t get distracted or procrastinate

Avoid other sources of distraction as well – ignore emails, Twitter, Facebook messages and everything else until you’ve finished. If you don’t, your blog post will just take twice as long. If you find yourself procrastinating in other ways – making yet another cup of coffee, even doing the washing up – then either stop or accept that you’re not in the mood and leave the post for another time.

Don’t feel you have to write everything

It’s a blog post, not a journal article or a chapter from your PhD. You’re not writing ‘Everything I know about X’, more often than not you’re aiming for a taster on a particular topic, a provocative piece to get reaction or comments, or a hopefully amusing anecdote on something you’ve found in your research. Your readers are just as busy as you and they don’t want to read screeds of text – so keep it short and sweet and save the agonising for work that does require you to be comprehensive.

So a blog doesn’t have to take over your life, it’s perfectly possible to fit it in to the horrendous schedules we all have. It takes a bit of self-discipline and some prior planning, but after that it should become a pleasure – and hopefully the feedback you get will make it all worthwhile!

Do you have any strategies for making time to write your own blog? How about ways of avoiding distractions? I’d love to hear any of your suggestions, so do get in touch.

Chicken soup for…

Chicken soup is one of our modern panaceas for all ills, but it was also used as medicine in the eighteenth century. However, while nowadays it is associated with treating colds and flu (and has actually been proved to have anti-inflammatory properties¹), then it appears to have been considered as a stomach remedy. Take this rather graphic recipe from a collection of recipes by an unknown hand²:

An exelent chicken broath, from Mrs Finch

Take a lean chicken, skin it & draw it put one ounce of fine

manna in the body of it, & secure it at both ends to keep the

manna in, put it in one quart of water & let it boyl gently

till it comes to one pint, then strain it off, & drink a coffe

cup full at a time till it hath answered the purpose of giving

a stool.

Tis so very innocent a woman in child bed may take it

at any time or an infant. It is perticularly good to procure

a stool in the piles, or for any great heat in the body or

complaint in the stomach when such a medison is proper

as it also comforts the stomach & bowels at the same time it

works off & often proves effectual when all medisons have failed.

The manna in question wasn’t the wonder food of the Israelites, but the dried sap of the ash tree, which has laxative properties.

Mind you, I think I might prefer an alternative (and not so innocent) remedy for the ‘looseness’ or diarrhoea, from another anonymous collection³ – although it does sound more like a hangover cure:

Take 6 spoonfulls of the best brandy & beat the yolk of an egge very

well & mix with it & grate in a whole nuttmegg & put in a little sugar

& brew it well together & drink it next your heart in a morning.


² British Library, Add 29,435.

³ Wellcome Library, MS.1321.

Suffer the little children?

If your little (or not so little) darlings have been driving you mad over the holidays, you may want to reflect on how they would have been treated in the eighteenth century. Here are some recommendations from MS1320 in the Wellcome Library, “A Book of phisick. Made June 1710”:

Let them eat water pap for a fortnight [after they are born] then put a little milk in it not all milk till 6 weeks old.

Let not their beere be stale, boyle in it a few marigold flowers, sweet marjoram & aniseeds. Strain it and sweeten it.

If they snufle lay a peice of double Tifany [cheesecloth] to the mould of the head, & put up the bignesse of a pea of fresh buter up the nostrils.

If they are much stuffed with Ph[l]egm, given them 2 spoonfulls of oxmill squils* to vomit them gently or 2 spoonfulls of syrrup of rhubarb & succory to purge them.

If they have a fever… plaisters to the feet of garlick & hon[e]y beat together put upon rags spread & aplyed to the soles of the feet, sowed on & not taken off till they recover.

A little pop[p]y water at night is good to make them rest, a spoonfull.

Beer and opium – I’m sure they’d have been very happy!

*Oxymel is a solution of vinegar and honey; the squill or sea onion is a plant from the lily family which is used as an expectorant (and as rat poison!).

PS I’m taking part in the WordPress Post a Week challenge.