Hard to stomach

In 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 … Continue reading Hard to stomach

Nutmegs is the best spice for students

In 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 … Continue reading Nutmegs is the best spice for students

Poisoning pooches in the park

[with apologies to Tom Lehrer] 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, … Continue reading Poisoning pooches in the park

Chess and phrenology

In 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 … Continue reading Chess and phrenology

The guillotine – life after death?

In 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 … Continue reading The guillotine – life after death?

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:  Within less than twenty years a new disease has been developed in this country, which is almost exclusively confined to parish ministers. … Continue reading Smoking’s good for you – as long as you’re a priest

A dissertation on pus

In 1785 the great English surgeon John Hunter and his Scottish colleague George Fordyce set up a medical society, the Lyceum Medicum Londinense.  Its members met every fortnight in Hunter’s anatomical theatre, and the rules were fearsome: attendance was compulsory, every member present was obliged to present a paper, and there were fines for arriving … Continue reading A dissertation on pus