Snake poo salesman

In 1862 an Edinburgh-trained physician, Dr James Hastings, published a slim volume about the treatment of tuberculosis and other diseases of the lung. It advocates the use of substances which much of the profession would regard as unorthodox, as he acknowledges in his preface:

It has been suggested that the peculiar character of these agents may possibly prove a bar Read more

The glow-in-the-dark Easter feast

LecturesAn essay by Dr Robert Graves of Dublin, published in The London Medical and Surgical Journal in 1835, contains this seasonal gem:

When three Roman youths, residing at Padua, had bought a lamb, and had eaten part of it on Easter day, 1562, several pieces of the remainder kept till the day following, shone like so many candles, when they Read more

Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)

Irritable patientsHave you ever wondered how patients in the era before anaesthetics were persuaded to undergo excruciatingly painful operations? The answer – fairly obviously – is ‘with great difficulty’. Some brave souls were able to grit their teeth and bear it, and others made things simpler for the surgeon (and themselves) by simply passing out from the pain.

Most difficult to … Read more

Don’t mess with an electric eel

gymnotus electricusFew creatures have provided such enduring fascination to the medical profession as the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus), a creature capable of delivering an electric shock of up to 850 volts (and 1 amp) on demand.  Though remarkable, they are not unique: several other species of electric fish are known, including the electric catfish found in the Nile (… Read more

Is that it?

The anatomy of sleIn 1842 a Scottish doctor, Edward Binns, published a fat volume under the snappy title The Anatomy of Sleep; or, the Art of Procuring Sound and Refreshing Slumber at Will.  It’s a big book, with big ambitions: Dr Binns claims to be able to teach his readers a universally successful method which will reliably put even the confirmed insomniac … Read more

Saliva and crow’s vomit

Discourse on the mode of acting on the human bodyThe University of Pavia in northern Italy is one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1361.  It has a distinguished history of experimental scientific research: Alessandro Volta, the pioneer of electrochemistry, was professor there for forty years beginning in 1779.

While Volta was working on his voltaic pile – the first electric battery – his colleagues in the … Read more

Lettuce, a Class A drug

Lettuce drugsA post last week referred to Andrew Duncan, founder of the Medical and Philosophical Commentaries, the first regular medical journal published in the United Kingdom.  In 1810 he wrote a paper for a publication slightly less well known for its original medical research, the Memoirs of the Caledonian Horticultural Society.  His subject?  Lettuce. 

Opium, or the inspissated [congealed] … Read more