1747: Speed up childbirth by drinking hubby’s urine


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:

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James’ Fever Powders, circa 1878

“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:

“…a draught of the husband’s urine”.

Source: Robert James, Pharmacopoeia Universalis, 1747. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1791: Naked earth bathing cures all, says doc


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An artist’s depiction of Dr Graham’s earth-bathing establishment

James Graham (1745-94) was a Scottish-born quack physician, notorious for his alternative treatments and bizarre theories. Graham started a medical degree in his native Edinburgh but quickly dropped out of college. He lived in Yorkshire for a time, then spent several years traveling and working in North America and Europe before settling in London. Tall, handsome and eccentric, Graham became a popular figure in London society. As a physician he specialised in sexual problems, though his ‘treatments’ were highly unorthodox. Childless couples were told to make love on a mattress filled with stallion hair; barren women were advised to wash their genitals in champagne. In 1781 Graham both scandalised and fascinated London by unveiling his new premises, the ‘Temple of Hymen’ in Pall Mall. The showpiece of this temple was Graham’s ‘Celestial Bed’, a gaudily decorated vibrating bed that promised great improvements in love-making and conception. Later in the 1780s Graham promoted his theory of ‘earth bathing’, where patients were stripped naked and buried up to their necks in fertile soil:

earth bathing

According to Graham these long stints in the “all-fostering bosom of our original mother” opened the pores and leached toxins from the body. ‘Earth-bathing’ was considered good for many ailments but was particularly effective for curing venereal disease, gout, scurvy, rheumatism, leprosy, cancer, insanity and numerous types of infection. ‘Earth-bathing’ also suppressed the appetite, claimed Graham, so the obese were urged to bury themselves up to the lips, for up to six hours on end. Graham himself ‘earth-bathed’ hundreds of times, usually as a public spectacle. Scores of Londoners handed over a shilling to watch Graham and an equally-naked female companion being interred in a garden bed. Graham’s ‘earth-bathing’ fad lasted until the early 1790s, by which time he had started to show signs of insanity, possibly the result of opium addiction. He returned to Scotland, where he died in 1794.


Source: The Times, October 14th 1791. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1720: Tobacco and urine enema brings relief


The medicinal value of tobacco was a hot topic among 18th physicians, qualified and otherwise. Many hailed tobacco as a wonder drug, capable of treating everything from epilepsy to dropsy. Others were more sceptical. In 1720 a 32-page pamphlet, published anonymously in London, condemned the social and psychological effects of tobacco – yet hailed it as a treatment for some minor illnesses and afflictions. Tobacco could be effective as a laxative, claimed the author. Those who smoke or chew it, then swallow either “a little of the smoke” or “their spittle impregnated with its juice”, would soon “obtain two or three stools”. Tobacco was also an effective treatment for abdominal pain, gripe and bowel obstructions. The 1720 pamphlet cites the case of a patient suffering “violent iliac passion” or “twisting of the guts”. He was cured of his sufferings after being given tobacco in an unusual fashion:

“[The patient was given] a decoction of it in urine, for a clyster (enema)… After having, with much difficulty, injected the clyster, the patient was constantly rolled upon the floor for some considerable time, till he felt a strong motion for a stool, at which time there was a copious discharge of hard excrements and wind, to the sudden relief of the tormented patient and the joy of his despairing friends.”

Later in the 1700s William Buchan endorsed the use of tobacco as a laxative, though he preferred to apply it as smoke, blown into the bowels with a pressure enema. Where medical help or specialist equipment was not available, Buchan advised readers that “the business may be done with a common tobacco pipe” – presumably one no longer used for smoking:

“The bowl of the pipe must be filled with tobacco, well kindled, and after the small tube has been introduced into the fundament, the smoke may be forced up by blowing through a piece of paper full of holes, wrapped around the mouth of the pipe…”


Source: Anonymous, A Dissertation on the Use and Abuse of Tobacco, in relation to Smoaking, Chewing and Taking of Snuff, &c., London, 1720; William Buchan, Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases, London, 1791. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1917: Mr Jones’ anti-masturbation overalls


1917: Mr Jones of Des Moines has patented his anti-masturbation overalls – they “curtail self abuse in both sexes”.

masturbation

Source: United States Patent US1215028, February 6th 1917. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1666: Snow-packed codpiece saves post boy’s life


Philip Skippon (1641-91) was an English naturalist, traveller and parliamentarian. Skippon was born in Norfolk, the son of a respected Cromwellian general who had retained his position during the Interregnum. Skippon the Younger studied botany at Cambridge and, after graduation, became a member of the Royal Society. In 1663 Skippon embarked on a three year tour of the continent, accompanied by a group of fellow naturalists including John Ray, Martin Lister and Nathaniel Bacon (later the leader of Bacon’s Rebellion in colonial Virginia). Skippon kept a journal of their travels, which took in the Low Countries, Malta, the Mediterranean coast, Italy, Switzerland, France and the German states. This journal was eventually published by London printer John Churchill in 1732, four decades after Skippon’s death.

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An early modern codpiece (insert snow here)

Much of Skippon’s journal is taken up with observations about the natural environment, agriculture, human industry and activity. But there are also frequent anecdotes and the occasional xenophobic judgement. Skippon wrote that the average Frenchman is fond of “shirking”, “stingy with his purse” and “strangely impatient at all games, especially at cards, which transports those that lose into a rage”. French women are “generally bad housewives”, prone to loose morals and “spotting and painting their faces”. One unusual anecdote recalls the exploits of a Dr Moulins, a Scottish physician resident in Nimes. At a time of considerable political and religious tension in France, Moulins volunteered to travel to London as an envoy. On the way he struck foul weather – and utilised his medical ‘skills’ on a travelling companion:

“Dr Moulins immediately and privately rode away for Lyons in bitter snowy weather, and in eight days arrived in England… On this journey Dr Moulins rode post with a Frenchman. Seeing the boy fall down dead with the extremity of cold, [Moulins] opened his codpiece and rubbed his member virile with snow, till he recovered, which he did in a little time, and the boy was able again to ride post.”

Skippon left Paris in 1666 and continued his travels on the British isles. In 1679 he entered parliament, representing the Suffolk constituency of Dunwich. Skippon was later knighted by James I. He died of fever in Hackney.


Source: Philip Skippon Esq., “An Account of a Journey made thro part of the Low Countries, Germany, Italy and France” in John Churchill (ed.), Collection of Voyages and Travels, 1732. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.