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If this were Regency times, I wouldn’t be putting my thoughts into writing today. Given the medical misfortunes I’ve suffered recently, I would be dead. Sobering, right? Let me tell you, right now my appreciation for a certain Regency doctor and his contributions to modern medicine is boundless. I’ll get to the part where Princess Charlotte fits in shortly. Bear with me!

Diane’s March 5th post about the Brontes and the ways disease decimated their family was a vivid reminder of how far modern medicine has come in the understanding, prevention and treatment of diseases. I am thanking God and the stars right now for the similar advancement in medical tools and techniques, and understanding of the human body. In particular (and also most appropriately in this year of 2018), I am grateful for Dr. James Blundell, who was so horrified by the frequent deaths of women from bleeding after childbirth that he managed to re-open the medical world to studying the possibilities of blood transfusions.

To really understand what he accomplished we need to briefly look back further. You see, medical researchers in the mid-1600’s had tried to investigate and study the idea of transferring blood to help save lives. Unfortunately, most of their results had been pretty disastrous. This led authorities in France (the Chamber of Deputies), England (the Royal Society of London), and even the Pope (Papal Edict of 1678) to formally prohibit any further experimentation or study on the transfusion of blood.

Fast forward 150 years, and enter our hero, Dr Blundell. Born in 1790, he became a prominent London obstetrician, studying under Sir Astley Cooper, known for his achievements in vascular surgery, and also under his uncle, Dr. John Haighton, focusing on midwifery and physiology. He attended the University of Edinburgh, obtaining his medical degree in 1813. He returned to London to begin his medical practice and was recognized as a lecturer with his uncle on the topics of physiology (1816) and midwifery (1817) at the combined schools of St. Thomas’ and Guy’s Hospital in London.

Post-partum hemorrhage was a common cause of death for women after childbirth and the lack of remedy for it horrified the young obstetrician, sources say. I believe it is no coincidence that Dr Blundell was moved to break the 150-year-old taboo on studying blood transfusion after such a much-loved and very public figure as Princess Charlotte died from post-partum hemorrhaging in November of 1817 while her physicians stood by helplessly.

With his star on the rise, at the age of 27, Blundell had perhaps both more to lose and more potential for success than more established physicians of the period. All in the following year, he performed the first known successful blood transfusion, using a husband as donor for his wife, published an important paper titled “Experiments on the Transfusion of Blood by the Syringe” and was named a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians.

Blundell modestly claimed he investigated the transfusion of blood “with a view of keeping this valuable option before the profession in the hope of adding something to the body of facts.” He performed 10 blood transfusions between 1825 and 1830, with a 50% success rate.

Throughout the Regency period and beyond, Dr Blundell continued to have a major impact on the field of medicine, and not just in the area of blood transfusions. Frustrated by the limited tools he had to work with, he devised new tools and methods, and his research also opened up new areas of study, particularly that of abdominal surgery. He became the sole lecturer on his topics at St. Thomas’ and Guy’s upon his uncle’s death in 1823. His lectures were collected and published in several versions during the 1830’s, culminating with “The Principles and Practices of Obstetricy as at Present Taught by Dr. James Blundell” (1834).

Two years later, however, the doctor had an “irreconcilable” dispute with the administration at Guy’s Hospital and retired from teaching at the age of 46. He did continue his private practice, and was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1838.

The biography of Blundell by Stacy L. Adams at the website has this to say about Blundell’s later life: “Often referred to as eccentric, in his later years Blundell had both interesting and unusual sleeping patterns. He rose midday and saw patients in his home in the afternoon hours. After dining he began a round of house calls as late as 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. He carried many books with him, which he read between calls by the interior light affixed to his carriage. Blundell retired in 1847 and moved to a large house in Piccadilly, London, where he lived in relative anonymity. He died on Jan. 15, 1878.”

Would Dr. James Blundell have been inspired and horrified enough to pursue his “forbidden” research in 1818 without the public tragedy of Princess Charlotte’s death? Who can say? I am eternally grateful that he did. When a “simple” surgical procedure I had at the beginning of March went horribly awry, I was able to have five blood transfusions over about as many days until my doctors were finally able to stop my internal bleeding. Without Blundell’s discoveries about many aspects of transfusion (which I’ve not gone into here), doctors who came after him would not have made the discoveries they did, including the typing of blood (c. 1900) or the importance of matching donor/patient blood types, or even the development of blood banks. Do you think Dr. Blundell could ever have imagined his work leading to anything like those?

I do want to give a shout out to all the people who donate blood to blood banks around the country. Are you a blood donor? What do you think about that? You never know when the life you save could be that of someone you know. Someone’s gift of blood saved me –along with all these other historical matters! If you are healthy and able to give blood, I hope each of you reading this post will consider donating the next time a blood drive happens in your area. Think of poor tragic Princess Charlotte and heroic Dr. James Blundell, forging ahead where no one dared to go for 150 years before him. Thank you!

We’re at Part 4 in this series –thanks for still reading!! I’m squeezing three different bits of this topic into today’s post. Each one could be a post and covered in so much more detail, but they sort of go together. Bear with me?


The best perfumes are achieved by combining scents. But how do you know which goes well with which? This is where real artistry, a sensitive nose, and the value of treasured recipes come into the process. Part of the challenge of mixing scents is the very subjective nature of how different people perceive them and the difficulty in categorizing them, something still being studied.

Michael Edwards’s fragrance wheel from 1983 (public domain:

The “fragrance wheel” (aka aroma, perfume or smell wheel or fragrance circle) was invented by an Austrian perfumer and published in 1949 to show the families of smells and their relationship to each other. The concept has undergone multiple revisions since then as science and perfumers have added to our knowledge. But combinations of scents must account not only for the blend of odors, but also how and when the scents in the mix reveal themselves.

Among the many terms in perfumery are the concepts of “top/head”, “middle/heart” and “bottom/base” notes, which refer to the differences. Top notes are lighter and usually are the first impression, which may evaporate in as little as 15 minutes. Middle notes can take some time to develop, but then usually last for a while, giving the perfume its primary identification. Base notes are the longest lasting, often acting as a fixative to prolong the overall effect of the other scents.

See source

The “fragrance pyramid” tries to capture these qualities. Some fragrance wheels try to incorporate these characteristics along with the descriptive categories and can become very complex. You can find many different ones online. I particularly like the one here. But these are modern measures. In the Regency, making perfumes was still more art than science.

Keeping track of combinations that worked well was important. Perfumery as an art goes back at least 5,000 years to the ancient Egyptians, but the first-known written record dates to 1200 BCE in Mesopotamia. Indians, Persians, Arabs and Romans all left written records about making perfumes. The first “modern” perfume, meaning essential oils dissolved in alcohol, was developed in 1370 for the Queen of Hungary. So-called Hungary Water became known across Europe but supposedly the recipe was lost (although the 1784 Toilet of Flora mentions it as a remedy to both cleanse and strengthen the body, made from rosemary, pennyroyal and marjoram flowers mixed with conic brandy.

Remember Floris, where this series began? Nearly three centuries of custom-blended formulas are recorded in ledgers stored carefully and still kept strictly secret. Our heroine’s family recipe for the scent she is making in her stillroom (be it personal perfume, smelling salts, or scent for soap) might have been handed down through many generations and could be a family secret. I mentioned Princess Esterhazy’s perfume in Part 3, after discovering this entry in E. Rimmel’s 1867 book on perfumery which calls “Bouquet d’Esterhazy” “an old renowned perfume, a rival of Cologne water; the name derived from a noble Hungarian family.” Two quite different formulas, one French and one German, are given for it.

Household recipe books in the Regency might include perfumes as medicinal remedies, beauty aids or grooming products. Despite the Toilet of Flora’s claim to be “for the ladies”, the separation of particular perfumes into distinct categories as well as the idea of identifying them as male or female was only just beginning in the first quarter of the 19th century.

(applying hair powder –illust from E. Rimmel’s book)


In Part 3 I mentioned Napoleon’s bathing in Eau de Cologne by the gallon. (Apparently he also drank it.) Wikipedia says that he used “Two quarts of violet cologne…each week, and…sixty bottles of double extract of jasmine every month.” You might think that his use of what some consider “feminine” fragrances was eccentric (or simply French), but you would be wrong. During the Regency, barbers might just as easily have used a rose pomade on a man’s hair or a jasmine scented shaving lotion as one with a more “masculine” woody or spice scent.

Interestingly, Napoleon’s wife Josephine was said to have favored musk, a very strong scent, one used often as a base note and fixative in modern men’s scents. The same Wikipedia article says “she used so much that sixty years after her death the scent still lingered in her boudoir.” Other sources say she also liked to use vanilla, woody scents, and imported patchouli and tonka bean (fragrances not now considered as feminine as floral scents would be.) Patchouli (a woody herb in the mint family that smells “musky-sweet”) was also used by the Indian exporters of fine cashmere shawls to scent their products. I read an account of a French maker of imitation shawls who went to great lengths to obtain the scent to make his shawls seem more authentic. (Muslins, too, were scented with a special characteristic sachet powders).

Commemorative medal of Empress Josephine

As with so many other things in the transitional 19th century, assigning gender identity to different scents really sharpened when the large scale commercial production of perfumes and the discovery of synthetics increased the availability of perfumes and inspired marketers to promote the concept. It’s “modern” and also mostly just in Western culture. The fact that our Regency characters could wear any scent they liked free of gender associations presents one of those conundrums we writers run into from time to time—the conflict between what is accurate to the period and what is acceptable to our readers.

If we present our manly romance hero smelling like jasmine or violets, what does that do to his masculine image for the uninitiated reader? Certainly we can solve it by swathing him in the scents of cedar wood and cloves on the basis of his personal preference, but I do wonder if the lack of any specifically “men’s” scents in the Regency period might have led to the controversial use of Bay Rum by heroes in some of our books?

I have a theory, and won’t mind at all if I am proven wrong, but I just wonder if the idea of Bay Rum for Regency heroes might have started with Georgette Heyer. Does anyone know? I think I used it in one of my early books, and know I’ve read it in others. It sounds rather manly, doesn’t it? It did become popular in the 19th century and was still very popular for men when GH was writing, so the theory doesn’t seem crazy.

bay tree oil and leaves


The truth about Bay Rum is more complicated than you might think. The reason is simple: bay tree (aka bay berry tree) leaves were used for a variety of purposes for centuries by native West Indies people without any particular written record. (note this is not the same leaf or plant as the bay leaves used in European cooking). Islanders used the leaves as an aromatic, fumigant, and insect repellent, hanging branches in their homes or burning the leaves to drive away mosquitoes. They used it as an emollient sponged on the skin to fight fevers or pain, but also to heal cuts or bruises, as the oil has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties besides being soothing and refreshing. They believed it could stimulate hair growth and fight dandruff. Slaves and pirates rubbed the leaves on their skin to heal sunburn and in close living quarters to fight body odors from long hours of hard work under a hot sun.

Bay rum smells so good it has been touted as an anti-depressant, creating a sense of well-being and confidence. Scents commonly identified with it include cinnamon, clove, allspice, oak, sweet vanilla, eucalyptus, musk, and other spices.

No one knows for certain when or by whom the leaves were first soaked in rum to extract and liquefy the oils and prolong the scent, but production of “Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil” in the West Indies dates to the early 17th century. Was it rum-swilling pirates as some theorize? Native islanders? Or slaves whose labor produced the rum? At any rate, it seems likely that a basic form of bay rum was known and in use in the islands soon after. No one knows when other ingredients such as lime or spices were first added, either. Certainly, the British were intimately involved with slavery and trade in the West Indies, so the local cure-all must have been known to them.

antique print -St John (public domain)

Does this mean your Regency hero can wear Bay Rum? Probably not (unless he’s a pirate, or…). Given the mindset of most 19th century British men, the fact that the local people or the slaves used it might automatically taint it as unfit/unfashionable for their own use. I suspect supply was also an issue, as it was most likely only produced within households for the locals’ own use. It was not available commercially.

That only changed sometime after 1838, when a Danish chemist (Albert Heinrich Riise) in the islands began exploring the distillation process and refined the technique and recipe for producing bay rum as a standardized, diluted commercial product. (On this basis some sources claim he “invented” it.) He started selling it under the name A.H. Riise Apothecary, primarily as a cologne/after-shave and manufactured in large quantities. How long this took is not clear, but by 1861 bay rum was well-known in the U.S. but still little-known in Europe, according to an article about it in the American Journal of Pharmacy. That Riise won awards for it (the Centennial Medal in 1876, plus awards in New Orleans and Chicago) can’t be disputed. Nor can the fact that it gained a foothold in Britain at about that time, and became a standard offered in barbershops in the late Victorian era and into the early 20th century. As mentioned, very popular at the time Georgette Heyer was writing. It is still sold today by quite a few companies.

We’ve one more important aspect about this topic I didn’t want to skip—the amazing bottles used to hold and store the perfumes. I’ll be posting about that in Part 5 on June 14. I’ll include a list of more sources, too, but here are a few I recommend:

An excellent and comprehensive source for more information about scent and perfumes is:

For more about essential oils and aromatherapy (also a great fragrance wheel), try:

For more about the classification of different scents and their qualities, try:

Or this site, which has posts about individual scent ingredients as well as interesting history notes by each century.

Note: all images without attribution in this post are sourced from public domain through Wikimedia Commons.

Did you learn something you didn’t already know in today’s post? Have any answers to my questions? I invite you to leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

So, tomorrow I have to go in for a small surgery (luckily outpatient, and I am stocked up on pudding cups and Jane Austen movies for recovery…), but it made me think again how grateful I am for modern surgery!  Especially anasthetics and painkillers.  And when I looked around for something to talk about on the blog today, I found out that ether was first used in March for surgical purposes (though I couldn’t find an exact date!).  Also nitrous oxide played a very important role on last weekend’s episode of Call the Midwife

So here is a very short look at the history of some surgical painkillers….

LaughingGasNitrous oxide (laughing gas) was first synthesized by English  and chemist Joseph Priestly in 1772.  He called it phlogisticated nitrous air and published his discovery in the book Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1775), where he described how to produce the preparation of “nitrous air diminished”, by heating iron filings dampened with nitric acid.  The first important use of nitrous oxide was by Thomas Beddoes and James Watt, who discussed it in their book Considerations on the Medical Use and on the Production of Factitious Airs (1794). James Watt also invented a new machine to produce “Factitious Airs” (i.e. nitrous oxide) and a novel “breathing apparatus” to inhale the gas.

The machine to produce “Factitious Airs” had three parts: A furnace to burn the needed material, a vessel with water where the produced gas passed through in a spiral pipe (for impurities to be “washed off”), and finally the gas cylinder with a gasometer where the gas produced, ‘air,’ could be tapped into portable air bags (made of airtight oily silk). The breathing apparatus consisted of one of the portable air bags connected with a tube to a mouthpiece. In the town of Hotwells in 1798,  Thomas Beddoes opened the “Pneumatic Institute for Relieving Diseases by Medical Airs”. In the basement of the building, a large-scale machine was producing the gases under the supervision of a young Humphry Davy, who was encouraged to experiment with new gases for patients to inhale. In 1800, Davy published his  Researches, Chemical and Philosophical where he notes the analgesic effect of nitrous oxide and its potential to be used for surgical operations. (But another 44 years went by before doctors attempted to use it for surgery. The use of nitrous oxide as a recreational drug at “laughing gas parties” became a trend beginning in 1799. While the effects of the gas generally make the user appear “stuporous, dreamy and sedated,” some people also “get the giggles” and probably say some pretty embarrassing stuff….

The first time nitrous oxide was used as a surgery anasthetic was when Connecticut dentist Horace Wells demonstrated on a dental extraction on Dec. 11, 1844.  But this new method didn’t come into general use until 1863, when Dr. Gardener Colton successfully started to use it in all his “Colton Dental Association” clinics in NYC.  Over the next three years, Colton  successfully administered nitrous oxide to more than 25,000 patients.

Today nitrous is most often used in conjunction with local anesthetic in dental surgery. Nitrous oxide was not found to be strong enough for use alone in major surgery in hospital settings.  Sulfuric ether came into use in October 1846, along with chloroform in 1847.  (Queen Victoria was a great advocate for the use of chloroform in childbirth).  When Joseph Clover invented the “gas-ether inhaler” in 1876, it became a common practice at hospitals to initiate all anesthetic treatments with a mild flow of nitrous oxide, and then gradually increase the dose with the stronger ether/chloroform. Clover’s gas-ether inhaler was designed to supply the patient with nitrous oxide and ether at the same time, with the exact mixture being controlled by the operator of the device. It remained in use by many hospitals until the 1930s.   (Modern machines still use the same principle launched with Clover’s gas-ether inhaler, to initiate the anesthesia with nitrous oxide, before the administration of a more powerful anesthetic.)

What medical advances are you grateful for today??  And what movie would you recommend I watch to make me feel better?

“But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud”

Every year, around this time, I get the winter blahs. I can’t stand the cold and gray skies, and it’s hard to concentrate on reading/writing/doing chores (not really much different from any other time when it comes to those chores, I guess!). I just like to crawl under the electric blanket and watch movies. Preferably costume epics and adaptations, like the ones Megan wrote about a few days ago. But this general mopiness made me curious about people in the Regency. Did they ever get tired of the gray skies, the drizzle? Ever think the sun will never come out again?

So, I came across a couple of articles online dealing with “melancholy” in the eighteenth century. It seems there were two types of melancholy–“natural” and “unnatural” (no mention of SAD!). “Natural” was considered to be brought on primarily by a black bile that could be dried up over time. This could be the result of certain foods, such as strong wines (and here I thought wine was the remedy!), and were accompanied by lifestyles that could nourish the condition, such as frequent intoxication and over-indulgence. One treatment, which sounds pretty nice and kind of spa-like to me, was a routine to bring balance between sleep, play, exercise, company, sex, and intellectual pursuits, as well as an attendant to keep the patient from being sad. It was then thought that the black bile could then dissipate, and the patient would return to normal.

The “unnatural” kind, though, was tougher. Maybe even the result of corruption from demons and spirits! (Though this is probably earlier than Regency–I read a great deal about it in Samule Johnson’s work). In this case, the sadness could descend toward manic episodes, fits of rage, and “eventual absolute madness.” So–demons, or maybe living somewhere like Alaska.

Johnson defined hypochndria as a condition that produces melancholy, or an intense fear that led to symptoms of melancholy. One case he documented was a women who thought she had a snake living in her intestines. The doctors showed her a snake they claimed came from said intestines, and she was cured. This sounds more like general craziness than melancholy, though!

All this made me try to remember a romance where characters suffered from depression, or melancholy, or any kind of persistent sadness, and I came up mostly blank. Most romance characters are a pretty perky lot, in general. Has anyone here read a book like that? Any thoughts on what such a story could be like?

And now that I’ve brought everyone down, I’ll sign off! I’m sure I have some movies waiting to be viewed….

p.s. Another very interesting book on this subject is Duncan Salkeld’s “Madness and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare”

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

I’m so annoyed. The kids have just gone back to school and this was supposed to be my chance to reconnect with my writing. Instead, I’m battling a stuffy nose, the plugged ears, chest congestion, cough and interrupted sleep. Despite the vaporizer fogging our upstairs with eucalyptus steam and a full complement of medicines, traditional and herbal, I am just barely functional when I wanted to be blazing into the new story. It’s so not fair!

Anyway, I thought I’d check out one of my period sources on medicine. It’s DOMESTIC MEDICINE, by William Buchan, first published in 1769 with 18 subsequent editions. (Click here to access the etext for the 1785 edition.) 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…”

Please, Dr. Buchan, tell that to my kids!

“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????

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, nominee, RT Best Regency of 2005

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