Friday, April 1, 2016

A Painful Cure

cover of Hervey's cureWhile researching early pharmaceuticals and medicines for a class, we came across a pamphlet bound in creased yellow wallpaper. Inside, it details a "Cure for Venereal Disease."

The cure includes syringing the penis with a mixture of flax seed, tea, and milk, before progressing to a mixture of "white vitriol" and "rain water." It sounds like a painful cure to a painful disease ....

There are also various warnings about food and drink. In the first week, you can drink a "very moderate quantity" of gin, but cannot drink rum -- "Drink no rum" -- or eat "very little salt pork."
open spread of Hervey's cure
During the class, we discussed how the lack of context changes our evaluations of the item. One student said that if it were made in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, it would seem more medically valid, whereas if it were from the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, he would view it as folkloric or somehow medically dubious.

Hervey Fisher was a Dartmouth Medical School graduate of the class of 1818. He became a practicing physician and died in 1847. This pamphlet isn't dated, and I'm curious whether it was produced while he was a student or a practicing doctor. Is a prescription for a patient? Notes from a lecture? The wear on the front cover seems to imply that it was used or carried, making me lean towards the former. If you have any theories, let us know!

To see the "Cure," ask for MS 002124. We also have a booklet of Hervey's lecture notes on surgery, chemistry, theory and practice of medicine, and "natural philosophy" from his time at Dartmouth (MS 002364).

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