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Tag Archives: Medicine


Origin of the Gout (artist Henry Bunbury 1750-1811), English, 1815 The perceived origins of gout may be tied more to the liquor on the table than to the more localized work of the devil.

I’m excited to share my new discovery of a great research source! (I hope I’m not the last to find out.) The U.S. National Library of Medicine has a truly awesome website offering a ton of databases and a massive library network. Its offerings on the History of Medicine include a collection of 71,000 downloadable images, and through the Medical Heritage Library, maybe one of the best collections of digitized period books on medicine –more than 9,000 books!

Does one of your characters have a medical issue? Or the need to know how to deal with someone else’s medical needs? We all know about laudanum, but how much more do we know about medicine in the Regency? I wish this goldmine had been available when I was researching my early books. Just thinking quickly through my first four stories I recall that my characters had to deal with hypoglycemia, infected wounds, psychological trauma and epilepsy –all (at one level or another) medical issues.

Battle of the Nile 1817a021102

The Cockpit, Battle of the Nile. London: Edward Orme, June, 1817. A view of sailors receiving medical treatment below decks.

Oh, doesn’t that make you want to run right out and read those? LOL!! Obviously, these aren’t the main focus of any of the stories –they are love stories, after all. But health and medical needs are part of everyday life, so if we want a realistic world for our characters to live in, I think we shouldn’t ignore these. Do you agree? Or do you think it ruins the fantasy?

As with any great resource, you have to be careful not to get sidetracked (or you can give in and have fun roaming)…I followed a link to the Medical Heritage Library ( ) and discovered they had some fascinating coloring pages to offer, and a “medical pop-up book” from the 17th century…with a video about how they handled digitizing this! So many treasures, so little time… The MHL, “a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries, promotes free and open access to quality historical resources in medicine” and as said above, has an amazing collection of fully accessible digitized material.

culpeper_british_herbal2-188x300 botanical_letters-180x300

The databases you can find at the NLM site include Toxnet, which can help you find info on poisons, among other useful things, and MeSH (which stands for Medical Subject Headings) where you can learn about medical terminology. And another thing they have is a worldwide map directory of where to find History of Medicine collections. Each spot on the map links to specific libraries and includes a description of their holdings. Is there one near you?

Just to give you a glimpse of the NLM site:

Digital Collections is a free online archive of selected book, serial, and film resources. All the content in Digital Collections is in the public domain and freely available worldwide.

Rare Books & Journals: Books Published before 1914: The historical book collection includes related areas of social, economic, and intellectual history. It includes over 580 incunabula (books printed before 1501), some 57,000 16th-18th century books, and 95,000 items published between 1801 and 1913, from all over the world, in many languages. Among works of popular and ephemeral interest are home health guides, pharmaceutical almanacs, patent medicine catalogs, medical equipment catalogs, personal narratives, first-hand accounts, broadsides, pharmacopoeias, illustrated herbals, and botanical name indexes (materia medica). Medical history landmarks in the collection include Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1543), William Harvey’s Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis (1628), William Withering’s An Account of the Foxglove (1785), and Edward Jenner’s An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae (1798), as well as comprehensive holdings of the works of major medical figures such as Hippocrates, Galen, Paracelsus, Boerhaave, and Osler.

Archives & Manuscripts: Searchable database of material, most dating from the 17th century to the present (which they call “modern”).

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM): A searchable database of images from IHM including fine art, photographs, engravings, and posters that “illustrate the social and historical aspects of medicine dating from the 15th to 21st century.” (granted many of them are portraits, but I’ve included with this post a couple of the Regency images I found)


The Physicians Friend [Charles Williams, 1797-1830, artist] England, c. 1815. In a kitchen, a fat physician grasps the hand of the cook and compliments him on his culinary abilities, which increase the frequency of the physician’s visits.

Of course, if the material you want hasn’t been digitized, you still have three recourses: 1) go to Washington DC and visit the NLM in person, or 2) see if the material is available via inter-library loan, or 3) check if the material is available at one of the History of Medicine collection locations near you (see above). The Library does not lend historical material in its original format; however, they do lend copies of journal articles, copies of selected manuscripts, books on microfilm (when available), and copies of films and videos. The Library’s interlibrary loan services are available only to libraries, not to individuals. Individuals who want to borrow NLM material should make a request through a local library.

So, what do you think? Should medical issues be part of the Regency world we recreate? How much research would you do to make sure you had an accurate portrayal of the way such things would be handled? Did you already know about the NLM?

I have a cold and so this post is about …. Regency Remedies from my 1815 New Family Receipt Book.

General Rules for The Preservation of Health

1. Avoid, as much as possible, living near Church Yards.


2. Valuable concise Rules for preserving health in Winter.

a. Keep the feet from wet.


b. avoid too plentiful meals.

uh oh…

c. drink moderately warm and generous, but not inflaming liquors.

OK, this confuses me a little but I’m going to assume that my morning coffee overdose fits the bill.

d. Go not abroad without breakfast.

Hmm. I have my cereal when I get to work…

e. Shun the night air as you would the Plague.

I am indoors right now!

f. Let your house be kept from damps by warm fires.

I’m counting the AC. Is a fire ever anything but warm? I guess he means a fire big enough to warm the room.

Preventive of autumnal Rheumatisms

For the sake of bright and polished stoves, do not, when the weather is cold, refrain from making fires. There is not a more useful document for health to the inhabitants of this climate, than “Follow your feelings.”

I was baffled by this for some time. I finally realized this means, don’t avoid making fires because you want to keep your stove bright and polished.

I always follow my feelings, so SCORE!

Does anyone one else think the author worked on this and finally said, What the hell else can I say about not getting antumnal rheumatisms? oh fuck it. Follow your feelings!

My feelings right now are, how soon before the cold meds kick in?

V0001016 Joseph Constantine Carpue. Stipple engraving. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Joseph Constantine Carpue. Stipple engraving. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Those were the words, spoken in deep awe, by surgeon Joseph Carpue when viewing the results of his first nose reconstruction, performed on this day in 1814. Plastic surgery was born.

Warning, heavy ick factor lies ahead.

His surgery is thought to be the first plastic surgery in the west but it was based on a procedure for nose reconstruction in India published in a book twenty years before. Nose reconstructions had been performed in India since 1500 BC. Carpue published an account of his procedures in a book snappily entitled An Account of Two Successful Operations for Restoring a Lost Nose from the Integument of the Forehead.

Why nose reconstruction? Accidents could happen. The sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe lost part of his nose in a duel and wore a brass facsimile and he also had gold and silver models for special occasions. But generally, people lost their noses through syphilis (well, I did warn you…) , or to be more specific, from the mercury that was the only treatment for the disease at this time. So you might have to wear something like this number from the mid-nineteenth century:

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

This is a silver nose painted to match the owner’s skin color. Astonishingly, the owner of this fake nose remarried and sold the device back to her physician for three pounds, claiming her new husband preferred her without it. Hmm. True love.

And apparently there were a lot of people around without noses (and with syphilis), so much so that later in the century No Nose Clubs were formed.

The Star reported in a February 1874 article entitled “The Origins of the No Nose Club”:

Miss Sanborn tells us that an eccentric gentleman, having taken a fancy to seeing a large party of noseless persons, invited every one thus afflicted, whom he met in the streets, to dine on a certain day at a tavern, where he formed them into a brotherhood … This club met every month for a whole joyous year, when its founder died, and the flat-faced community were unhappily dissolved.

I think the only question I can have after this, is what is the strangest club you have ever belonged to and what were its activities?

Posted in Research | Tagged , | 6 Replies

My daughters and I have been passing around some sort of cold/flu/plague thing. It’s been so bad I even forgot this was my day to post! That NEVER happens. Anyway, here are some Regency cold remedies I posted a while ago.

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“People do not die of little trifling colds.”

But what Mrs. Bennett didn’t say is sometimes it feels like you could.

What would Regency folk have done when they felt like I do?

One of my favorite period sources on medicine is DOMESTIC MEDICINE, by William Buchan, first published in 1769 with 18 subsequent editions. Buchan was pretty forward-thinking about general health and prevention and many of his suggestions are far less kooky than those of his counterparts (though that’s not saying much!) I think of it as the sort of book my heroines might have owned and used to help keep their families healthy during the happily-ever-after.

Anyway, here are some suggestions:

“THE patient ought to lie longer than usual a-bed…”

Amen to that one.

“A SYRUP made of equal parts of lemon-juice, honey, and sugar-candy, is likewise very proper in this kind of cough. A table-spoonful of it may be taken at pleasure.”

This sounds very nice.

“If the pulse therefore be hard and frequent, the skin hot and dry, and the patient complains of his head or breast, it will be necessary to bleed, and to give the cooling powders recommended in the scarlet fever, every three or four hours, till they give a stool.”

I checked some of the recommended medications, and they include “Peruvian bark” and “snake root”. Googling these exotic terms, I learned that Peruvian Bark is also called cinchona bark, and can still be used to treat fevers. Seneca Snake Root has expectorant properties. OK, so far, Dr. Buchan is not so dumb.

However, I don’t think my medicine cabinet contains any Peruvian Bark or Snake Root…

And the bleeding I could definitely do without!

Here’s another tidbit.

“MANY attempt to cure a cold by getting drunk. But this, to say no worse of it, is a very hazardous experiment.”

Aw, I’m willing to try it at this point. It couldn’t make me feel any worse, could it????

I hope everyone is feeling better than I am. If not, what do you rely on?


Posted in Research | Tagged , | 5 Replies

Susanna here!

A week or two ago, I decided to count my to-be-read pile and discovered that between my Kindle and my bookshelves, I own over 300 unread books! Which is just crazy. I buy books faster than I read them, especially since I’m also getting books from the library that take precedence over the ones I own because I have to take them back in three weeks.

To lessen the madness a bit, I’ve decided that every third book I select to read has to come from the TBR. I don’t have to finish each book. I believe life is too short to waste time on books I don’t enjoy, so if I discover one of my impulse buys is poorly written, boring, annoying, or whatever and set it aside a chapter or two in, that still counts as clearing it.

research shelf

Almost a third of Mount TBR is composed of research books. I can’t walk through a used bookstore without checking out its history section and coming home with any likely-looking tomes on Wellington, Napoleon, the lives of women in the 18th and 19th centuries, and so on. And then there are all the times I’ve had an idea for a story, invested in some relevant research books, and for whatever reason either abandoned the idea or simply haven’t gotten around to writing it yet. So now I have all these books on Peninsular War battles like Salamanca and Busaco, on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and on Scottish Highland Travellers, just to name a few topics. Sometimes I swear those books are giving me reproachful looks for abandoning them to gather dust on my shelves.

So I decided that at least one and preferably two of my TBR books each month have to come from the research shelf. I just finished the first such book, The Regency Underworld, by Donald Low. It’s an overview of crime, police work, and punishment during the Regency, all the way up until London’s first modern police force was created in 1829. If you’re interested in those topics, it’s a quick, worthwhile read.

Burke and Hare

Most of the book focuses on London, but one incident in Edinburgh caught my eye–the Burke and Hare Murders of 1828. Burke and Hare became serial killers after hitting upon a gruesomely lucrative moneymaking scheme. A tenant in their lodging house died of natural causes while owing Hare and his wife rent money, so they decided to sell his corpse to the anatomists at Edinburgh University rather than turning it over for proper burial. You see, back then the only legitimate source for medical cadavers was executed criminals…but by the early 19th century the number of executions was declining while medical school enrollment was growing. This led to a literally underground business for “resurrection men” who’d sneak into graveyards at night, dig up fresh corpses, and sell them to anatomists (who turned carefully blind eyes to where their cadavers were coming from).

Once our villains saw that the medical school would pay good money and not ask many questions, it quickly occurred to them to make their own corpses…and in the year or so it took them to get caught, they claimed sixteen victims, largely by targeting those who weren’t likely to be missed. The public horror once the crimes were revealed was instrumental in the development and passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which was designed to expand the legitimate supply of medical cadavers.

This is all fascinating enough on its own account…AND it’s given me the early germ of an idea for a story. In my January release, Freedom to Love, my heroine has a 13-year-old half-sister who learned healing at her mother’s knee and wishes she could study medicine. By the time of the Burke and Hare Murders, she’d be 26. Who’s to say she wouldn’t be living in Edinburgh at that point, perhaps as the young widow of a doctor or apothecary? If she was, she’d spend as much time as a woman could around the medical community, and who knows what she might suspect or witness? I can’t guarantee this story will happen–see above about abandoned ideas!–but it’s certainly fun to play with.

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