Monday, May 3, 2010

Kill You or Cure You

When folks find out that I write and have several Regencies and Regency romantic mysteries published, they often ask, “Why historical?”

Lots of reasons, really, including falling in love with Georgette Heyer at an early age. And the fact that gentlemen and women detectives were just as likely to solve a crime as anyone else in that period. (And you didn't need multiple, advanced degrees in forensic-related sciences to do it, either, LOL.) There was Bow Street in London, but even there, and certainly elsewhere, the local constable was generally only part time and a “real” police force didn’t come into official being in London until around 1833.

But really, if you love romances and like to write mysteries, the Regency is simply a terrific period because there’s just so much darn…scope. There are so many colorful ways to kill your unfortunate victim if you set your stories pre-WWI. In fact, it sometimes amazes me that people survived.

For example, during the Regency, you were luckier if you were poor and couldn’t afford medical treatment. The herbs your mum might be able to scrounge for you would definitely be better than any “medicine” a “medical professional” would prescribe.  If you were wealthy, you should have been scared--very scared--to request a doctor.

In fact, until about the last 100 years, most medicine was simply, well, poison. And if you managed to survive the treatment (as well as whatever was ailing you), it was frankly a miracle. It’s a wonder to me that anyone survived long enough to have children before some kind-hearted physician killed them.

So, when I agreed to write this blog, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun for my first entry to give a couple of examples of medicine you’ll be glad your doctor never prescribed?

Here goes.

These are taken, verbatim, from several medical books printed in the early years of the 19th century.

601. Infallible Remedy for stopping Bleeding of the Nose.
One ounce of sugar of lead, and half an ounce of green vitriol, to be triturated in a glass mortar; add to these half a pint of spirits of wine. Of this composition, young people, from ten to twelve years of age, are to take ten or twelve drops; patients under twenty years, fourteen or fifteen drops, and grown persons twenty drops, four times each, in a spoonful of wine or brandy. Some very interesting trials, in the most obstinate cases have been made with this mixture with the greatest success.

My comment: Yeah. I’ll bet that lead poisoning is a terrific cure for nose bleeds.
And for ague…

To cure agues: as drinking great quantities of strong liquors, jumping into a river, &c. These may sometimes have the desired effect, but must always be attended with danger. Arsenic in small doses is a useful remedy… The only patient whom I remember to have lost in an intermittent fever, evidently killed himself by drinking strong liquor, which some person persuaded him would prove an infallible remedy.

My comment: Oh, yes. I would say arsenic is definitely better to cure agues than strong liquor or a brisk swim. LOL
Considering remedies such as these, the wonder is that there aren’t more mysteries set in historical times. People were just as likely to die under a physician’s care as they were from any powder released from the ring of a Borgia. I imagine there might have been quite a few downtrodden wives who were immeasurably relieved when the doctor took care of their troublesome husband for them. All quite proper and legitimate.

Which reminds me, I have another mystery I should be working on…


Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Amazing! I've always loved time travel novels and have fantasized about traveling back in time. After reading your post, maybe I'm glad I live in the time I do. :) I can keep the time traveling to the pages of my stories without having to worry about a well-meaning doctor killing me.

Mona Risk said...

Amy, thanks for a fantastic post. I love Regency romances, Johanna Lindsay, Stephanie Laurens,.. I never stopped to think about medicines in the old time. When I traveled to Russian on business trip, they wanted to cure my stomach ache with 5 shot glass of vodka. I was tipsy after 2 and refused to take more. Strange enough my stomach improved. I am saving your post as I write medical Romances, with better remedies. LOL

jilljames said...

Amy, thanks for a great laugh for my morning. I've always imagined that doctors killed more people with leeches and bloodletting than whatever ailed them in the first place.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Awesome post - I have to go along with the blood letting to be the worst thing I can imagine. I wonder whoever came up with that one? I have my hero in 1853 giving his heroine a hot toddy which only tended to leave her with a hangover and then she didn't care if she had a cough or not... Maybe we aren't as bad off as we thought with our modern medicine. I wonder what will be said about it in another 100 years?

Joanne said...

I love historicals and it is the only genre I write. I looked up so many ways to poison someone in Tudor England that I feared I would be banned from AOL! Thanks for an interesting and fun post.

Amy said...

Wow, thanks for all the great comments, and Joanne, I can only *imagine* the ways someone could be poisoned in Tudor England.

Much I love the "elegant ages past," I wouldn't want to live there--at least not if I fell ill. LOL

I actually wanted to add one more "cure" to the list, but I couldn't find my original reference for it. Seems that if you had inflammation of the eye, one of the more popular cures was to dry out and grind up doogie-doo and sprinkle it into your eyes.

You really, really have to wonder who thought that up, and why they thought it was a good idea.

So I have to agree with everyone's comments...The Regency sounds nice, but I wouldn't want to live there...

Pleasant dreams!