The case of the luminous patients

On the evolution of light in the human subjectIn June 1842 the Provincial Medical Journal devoted no less than ten pages to a long essay by the physician Sir Henry Marsh – an eminent namesake of the contemporary neurosurgeon, who was a leading light in Irish medicine and became physician to Queen Victoria.  What subject could be so important that a leading journal would make it the main … Read more

Hard to stomach

Hospital reportsIn 1823 The Lancet’s regular summary of goings-on at the London hospitals contained this interesting report of an early public demonstration of the stomach pump.  The experiment documented here took place at Guy’s Hospital:

Friday, Nov. 21. At half past one o’clock the operating theatre was crowded to excess, in consequence of its having been stated on the preceding Read more

Nutmegs is the best spice for students

HavenIn 1584 the Tudor physician Thomas Cogan published The Haven of Health, a guide to maintaining health primarily aimed at the student.  The bulk of the book concerns food and the diet, working its way systematically through different types of meat, vegetable, fruit, herbs and spices – and paying attention to their medicinal properties as well as their nutritional … Read more

Poisoning pooches in the park

[with apologies to Tom Lehrer]

observations of the actions of poisons

Articles in early scientific journals are often little more than a series of anecdotes, without experimental controls or any attempt to reach sound conclusions through quantitative means.  This flaw is particularly apparent in articles on medical subjects, where a successful ‘cure’ of a patient is often accepted at face value, without any attempt to establish … Read more

Chess and phrenology

chess and phrenologyIn 1841 The Dublin Journal of Medical Science printed a short report of a meeting which had taken place earlier that year in London.  It begins with a sarcastic little disclaimer:

We are not quite satisfied that the subjoined paragraph, taken from a weekly London paper, contains a correct account of Dr. Elliotson’s Phrenological Lecture on the cranium of De Read more

The guillotine – life after death?

On the probable sensations of the head after being severed from the bodyIn 1799, as the French Revolution entered its final phase and Napoleon prepared to seize power, European medics engaged in a pertinent debate.  The Medical and Physical Journal reports:

Among other singular questions lately agitated in France and Germany, the following is not the least curious: Whether the separated head of a person suffering on the scaffold be still, for Read more

Smoking’s good for you – as long as you’re a priest

The editor of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal surely had no idea of the furore that he was provoking in March 1839 when he published an inoffensive little article about parish priests: 

Impaired voice in clergymen

Within less than twenty years a new disease has been developed in this country, which is almost exclusively confined to parish ministers. It is a loss of Read more