Oh so sleepy

In addition to suffering from gout, Sir Edward Filmer was prone to excessive sleepiness. His brother Beversham Filmer wrote to him on March 30, 1754:

I shall be heartily glad to have an account of your perfect recovery & particularly if the Docter could any way take off your sleepiness which you have been subject to some years.

An ardent keeper of lists, Sir Edward noted down in his medicinal notebook ‘Mr Dorringtons Rules to Prevent Sleepyness’:

  1. Never to eat to the utmost extention of your stomach [or, as we used to call it as kids, tummy touching table]
  2. Divert yourself as much as you can
  3. Bleed often & always keep your body open
  4. Eat no suppers
  5. Use a sharp stimulating snuff
  6. To ride, or walk, as much as you can
  7. When sleep is the effect of exercise it is natural
  8. Don’t indulge it after dinner [in the eighteenth century this was a late lunch], tho you may possibly fall into it a little without much hurt in very hot weather

So there you are – you can sleep in the middle of the day when you’ve been out exercising, but woe betide those who indulge in a little post-prandial somnolence!



The oh-so-common cold

Since everyone seems to have a cold at the moment, I thought I’d delve into the archives for some remedies. Imagine the misery of snuffles and sneezes without our modern pain relief and decongestants. Colds were much more debilitating in the past and remedy books are full of suggestions for alleviating them.

The first is a staple of folk wisdom and comes from the eighteenth-century recipe book of Caroline Powys1:

For a bad cold, Mrs Saunders – a large spoonful of Honey to a pint of water a little lemon juice (& a little rum if liked) well boild & scum’d till clear, a spoonful now & then or a Bason full as a sweat.

From the same source is one that’s not quite so pleasant:

For a cold or hoarseness, Mrs Floyd – two oz of Kidney suet of a weather Sheep shred very fine, put it into a pint of Cold Milk, let it boil a good while, then strain it thr’o a Lawn Sieve, take a few large spoonfulls now & then stirring it, always take some going to Bed.

A more complicated variation is given in ‘A Booke of Physicke & Chyrurgerie’ from the end of the seventeenth century2:

An Excellent Posset for a Cold

Take a quart of new milke Set it on a fire in a Skillet, & when it boiles turn it with 3 pints of the best Aile or Beer, then take it off the fire & let it stand till the curd be lavined, when the curd is taken off set the posset drink over the fire againe & put in these ingredients following.

Sweet fennell seeds anniseeds of each one ounce bruised in a morter 10 figgs & 6 Dates sliced, 2 ounces of English Licquorish well washed wiped dry & then sliced, 20 reasons [raisins] of the sunn stoned, boile all these togather about half an howre when the time is almost expired put in a sprig or 2 of Rosamary, then it from the fire & straine it through a fine sive then sweeten it with Sugar or Sugar Candy take a pritty quantity of this in the morning fasting the like at night going to bed after a light super or rather noe super.

I think ‘lavined’ here means leavened, the yeast in the beer causing it to ferment, but if anyone knows different please let me know.

The Revd Mr Weems makes this suggestion3:

Take lemon juice oil sweet almonds Virgins honey of each one ounce let them be well mixed in a marble Morter with one syrup of squills this Quantity may be taken in the course of the Day

Virgin honey is that taken from a single comb that has only been used once for honey, so is purer. Syrup of squills is an expectorant made from the bulbs of the sea squill flower or Urginea maritima; it is still used in cough syrups today, such as Buttercup, and it makes a twenty-fourth century appearance poured on breakfast cereal in Star Trek!

And if you have a sore throat as well, you may want to try this charming little number4:

Take 4 ounces of the fat of mutton Put it into a stone or silver saucepan melt it over a slow fire, then strain & return it into the saucepan again, & put to it three ounces fresh butter (before salted) When that is melted put in three ounces of yellow rosin, & when that is disolved add to it one ounce and half common yellow bees-wax melted, put it into a gilly pot stir it the whole time it is making tye it down when cold in the pots, when applied let it be spread on a linen rag the width of the throat, reach from ear to ear & changed every 12 hours covered

It will keep for years, an excelent & invaluable receipt

A ‘gilly pot’ or gallipot was a glazed earthenware jar used by apothecaries. I wouldn’t have thought anyone trying that approach would have wanted to leave the house!

  1. British Library, BL 42173.
  2. British Library, BL 69970.
  3. British Library, BL 49373.
  4. Staffordshire Record Office, D641/3/H/3/3.

Recipe for eternal youth

From an anonymous early 18th-century collection of remedies, the following recipe is for a Pomatum, a perfumed ointment that was normally employed as a kind of hair gel, but in this case was claimed to preserve the user’s looks as they were when they first started to apply it! I’ve modernised the spelling and punctuation – and there’s no guarantee as to its efficacy…

Take the kidney of a very fat sheep, lay it eight days in spring water and be sure to turn it once a day. Pick the fat clean from the skins and beat it very well in a stone mortar, having dried it very well first with a clean cloth. Then put your suet into a pipkin [earthenware cooking pot] and melt it with a gentle fire, stirring it often with a spoon. When ’tis melted put in a good big white lilly-root, cleaned, washed and dried and bruised a little, a quarter of an ounce of benjamin and as much storax [these are a shrub and a tree, so probably the bark], both bruised, with 2 grams of musk. Then boil all together softly for a quarter of an hour, then strain it into a basin and beat it a little and put it into flat pots. When ’tis cold tie papers upon them and keep them in a cool place.

Then to make it fit for your use, take half a pound of the suet and put it into a can and let it stand in a skillet of boiling water till it be melted. Then put to that quantity 4 ounces of sweet almonds, finely beaten. Pour it into a silver or white basin and put to it 3 spoonfuls of rose water, stir it very well with your hand one way till it be quite cold.

Wash your face with it on a cloth every night, but do not wipe it off. You shall never look worse if you continue this than when you began to use it.

Mind you, I’m not sure any sleeping partner would welcome a face covered in suet, so your efforts may be in vain!