The following letter to the Editor appeared in the December, 1823, issue of The Christian Journal and Literary Register (Volume VII, No. 12, pages 367-370). It was reprinted there from the Portsmouth Journal.
Mr. EDITOR I am told it is the boast of the common law, that there is no wrong without a remedy. As you are supposed to have some knowledge of the laws under which we live, I take the liberty of laying before you the following case, to which I crave your immediate attention. The grievance, of which I complain, is the unrelenting persecution of my good-natured friends, in the way of medical advice. It has already reduced me to a skeleton, and if I have no relief, it will, in three weeks more, bring me to the grave.
I am or rather a month ago I was a young man in good health and cheerful spirits. It is true, I was never robust and athletic; but on the other hand, I have seldom been visited with sickness. I am engaged in a business which gives me a comfortable support, and leaves me some leisure for the cultivation of letters, and the enjoyment of society. I passed my days in a state of enviable happiness, till one fatal morning some of my kind friends fancied that I looked sick. From that hour my days were numbered. I am even now hastening to the tomb.
On one of the bright mornings which we had in June, and after a warm night, I rose from bed somewhat languid, and a little paler than usual. After sipping a cup of tea for breakfast, I was walking slowly through Market-Street, with my hands behind me, enjoying the pure breeze which was beginning to blow from the northwest; when I was met by two friends, who stopped and exchanged with me the compliments of the day. Methinks you look a little pale, said one; you had better try a cold bath. Nothing invigorates the frame like a salt-water bath.
Provided it be a shower bath, interrupted the other. But in my opinion nothing is so fatal to health as plunging the whole body into cold water. It checks perspiration – impairs digestion – produces cramp – and-
Good morning, I exclaimed, rather abruptly; I believe I shall try neither at present.
Continuing my walk for a few minutes longer, I called at the house of a friend, with whom I was in habits of familiar intercourse. I found him at breakfast with his family. His wife, a fine motherly looking woman, with a large shawl thrown over her shoulders to protect her from the morning air, was pouring out the coffee; while the eldest daughter was watching a little urchin, whose ruddy cheeks and laughing blue eyes showed how much comfort he derived from the huge bowl of bread and milk he was in the very act of devouring. In the simplicity of my heart, I related the conversation I just had in the street.
My friend shook his head slowly, and fixing his eyes upon me with a very solemn expression: “There is something in it. You are sick, my dear fellow. You must ride on horseback.”
You must drink pearl ash and cider in the morning to give you an appetite, added his wife.
You should drink milk, exclaimed the daughter, looking significantly at the chubby cheeks of her little brother.
Tansy and wormwood pounded together, is a thousand times better, said a maiden aunt at the same time laying down her knitting. Take a little tansy.
Spearmint is better, interrupted the mother anxiously.
A little tansy, I say, and fresh rue, resumed the aunt Yes, and catnip, said the daughter; aunt Dorothy always uses catnip.
My dear ladies, I exclaimed, spare me. I am not sick,-and-
Come, said my dear friend, who had now finished his breakfast, and perceiving that I had with difficulty kept my countenance during these various prescriptions I will walk with you: and taking me by the arm, we set forth together.
“How are you, my good fellow?” was the rough salutation of the first man we met. It was Captain X. My friend replied to his greeting very cordially: but shook his head as he looked at me.
Aye – I see how it is, said Capt. X Poor fellow consumptive. But never mind, take a voyage and all will be well.
I thanked him for his kindness, and passed on: and for the first time in my life began to fancy that I felt something that was a little like a pain in my side – but I was not certain.
A few steps onward we met Mr. Q. long, lank, and lean, the very image of famine. He accosted us with a languid bow, and glancing his eyes at me, “A very fine morning this, sir, especially for those who, like you and I, are dying of dyspepsia.”
Dyspepsia! sir I never had it in my life.
Ah, I understand. You are a bon vivant, and you cannot bear to be deprived of the pleasures of the table. But you must come to it. You must take prepared chalk and rhubarb every morning for breakfast, and drink liquid magnesia instead of coffee. At dinner, you must eat only an ounce of beef and half a cracker; but at supper you may indulge freely in lime water. Lewis Cornaro, sir Was a model beyond my imitation, I exclaimed somewhat pettishly and passed on.
I was by this time near the door of Mr. B. and seeing the bright eyes of Mary at the parlour window, I ventured, though it was early, to make a call upon her. As I turned to the door, a chaise that was passing raised a cloud of dust, that filled for a moment my eyes and throat. I entered the room with a slight cough.
Ah, that cough of your’s, said Mary’s mother -it will bring you to the grave.
Nothing but the dust, said I.
This answer seemed to awaken all her sympathy. She said something about the flattering nature of certain disorders, and proceeded at once to get me a dose of Balsam Tolu. Her kindness was so importunate, that resistance was vain; I took the glass, and was in the very act of raising it to my lips, when the door opened and three ladies entered, two of them with black hoods, and the third with spectacles.
I am a lost man! I muttered to myself. But Mary was near, and I thought I read in her eyes some hope of life.
One of the black hooded ladies immediately addressed me. You do well to take care of yourself, sir. You look as if your lungs be affected. Have you ever tried onion tea?
Never, madam; I am not sick, and I detest onions. Ah, you must not be too squeamish, where health is at stake. Three tumblers of onion tea taken hot, every forenoon, at 11 o’clock, would soon relieve you. There is no trouble in it.
-Take only a peck of onions-
And make them into a good poultice, interrupted the other black hood, and wear them upon your breast all the time, and you will soon be well. Nothing opens the pores, and relieves a cough, like an onion poultice.
I turned a despairing eye upon Mary. An onion poultice, and a morning call! Shades of AEsculapius! –
If you talk of poultices, said she with the spectacles, my prescription is buttercups and vinegar. Take a handful of buttercups And drink rosemary and honey, said the first black hood.
That is good, said the second, but butter and molasses is better. Or flaxseed tea, said Mary’s mother.
Or wheat-bran, said Mary, with boiling water poured over it, and sweetened with loaf-sugar. You love wheat-bran, I know.
There was a little archness in her manner that led me to suspect she was not above half serious. I made her a lowly bow in token of acknowledgement.
As I slowly raised my head, I perceived that the lady with spectacles was regarding me very earnestly.
Poor young man! how feeble! You must wear a plaster upon your back a little burgundy pitch Or a backboard, said Mary; laughing.
Don’t sport with human life, said the second black hood, gravely. Your friend here must be careful, or he is not long for this world. But if he follow my prescription If he will follow mine, interrupted Spectacles Take a wine glass of Cayenne pepper and a pint of alcohol.
And by all means bottles of boiling water at your feet when you go to bed, said Mary’s mother And a flannel night-cap, said Mary. Double flannel, said the first black hood; or a petticoat would be better still.
And a pair of stockings around your neck, said the second hood.
Woolen stockings, added Mary.
And drink during the night about two gallons of boiling cider, said Spectacles, solemnly.
And a spoonful of tobacco tea every ten minutes, said Mary.
Child, child! said Spectacles sharply, you talk foolishly.
A poultice of burdock leaves for the feet
No rye meal and cider, interrupted the second hood.
No, no mustard seed and vinegar, said the third, eagerly. I remember that –
Human patience could endure no more. I started from my seat, made a hurried bow, and left the house with so much precipitation, that as I passed over the steps I stumbled and nearly fell.
Have you sprained yourself? said a gentleman who was passing. If you have, take a little opodeldoc-
Chemical embrocation, said she with the spectacles, running to the door.
Rub it with flannel, said the first black hood, pressing behind her.
Take a pailful of wheat bran, said the second, coming out on the steps; mix it with boiling water, stir it well with a mould candle, and Take a walk with me to Newcastle this afternoon, said Mary.
This, Mr. Editor, is but one forenoon of my miserable life. Go where I will, I hear nothing but potions and plasters, flannel gowns, burdock, and mullen. My very night dreams are disturbed. It was only last night I thought our majestic river was converted into a stream of catnip tea, while the blessed stars above us were suddenly changed into calomel pills.
If there be a remedy alas, I sicken at the word let it be administered speedily.
Yours in extremis,