Robert James (1703-1776) was a London physician and author. James was born in Staffordshire and educated at both Oxford and Cambridge. By the mid 1740s James owned a busy medical practice in London. He also established friendships with the literary elite, including John Newbery and Samuel Johnson. During his career James developed and patented several medicines. His most popular concoction was ‘Fever Powder’, a dangerous mix of antimony and calcium phosphate that was still being sold into the early 20th century. James also penned numerous medical guides, including his three-volume Medical Dictionary and a 1747 guide to medicines called Pharmacopoeia Universalis. The latter contains a section on the medicinal value of human by-products. One of the most versatile of these, writes James, is dried menstrual blood. Provided it is taken from the first flow of the cycle, menstrual blood can be of great benefit:
“Taken inwardly it is commended for the stone[s] and epilepsy… Externally used it eases the pains of gout… It is also said to be of service for the pestilence, abscesses and carbuncle… [It also] cleans the face from pustules.”
Women enduring a difficult childbirth, writes James, can “facilitate the delivery” by sipping:
In 1724 the Royal Society tabled a report written by Swedish physician, Doctor John Lindelstolpe. Titled “Intestinum Parturiens”, it involved the macabre story of a 41-year-old Swedish woman who suffered two stillborn pregnancies in 18 months – however the first of these pregnancies produced no baby, living or dead:
“[The patient] became pregnant in July 1720 and continued enlarging for seven months… but after the seventh month the enlargement disappeared, a weight only remaining in the right side. She became pregnant again and in December 1721 was delivered of a dead child.”
The mystery of the first pregnancy was not solved until May 1722, when the patient:
“…Went to stool [and] felt so great a pain in the anus that she thought the intestinum rectum had entirely fallen out. On applying her fingers to relieve herself, she brought away part of a cranium, and afterward found in the close stool two ribs. In the course of the fortnight there came away, by the same exit, the remainder of the bones.”
Dr Lindelstolpe’s theory was that the first pregnancy was ectopic: it had taken root and grown in the Fallopian tube before bursting the tube and descending, “by the formation of an abscess, into the rectum”. Pleasingly, the woman recovered from her horrible experiences in mid 1722. She had since regained her health and carried a pregnancy to term, delivering a surviving child.