Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Whales, Tuberculosis, Monarchs, etc.

This is also from the 1886 Goldsmith book, this time the outside back cover.
The text reads : Woodhouse's Balsam of Spermaceti or Pectoral Cough Drops for Consumptive or Other Coughs, also for Colds, Shortness of Breath, Asthma, Wheezing and other Afflictions of the Chest.

Spermaceti is produced by whales, you can read about it here. If swallowing bits of whale for the sake of your chest sounds silly, the discovery of streptomycin (the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis) had to wait until 1944. If you'd like to read about the history of tuberculosis and its treatments, the Wikipedia article is interesting.

In former times, the touch of your King or Queen was thought to be efficacious:

"Persons of royal blood were thought to have the 'God given' power of healing by this condition by touch, and sovereigns of England and France practiced this power to cure sufferers of scrofula, a form of tuberculosis of the bones and lymph nodes, commonly known as the "King's or Queen's Evil" or "Morbus Regius". In France it was called the "Mal De Roi". Curiously William the Lion, King of Scotland is recorded in 1206 as curing a case of Scrofula by his touching and blessing a child who had the ailment. Charles I touched around 100 people shortly after his coronation at Holyrood in 1630. It was only rarely fatal and was naturally given to spontaneous cure and lengthy periods of remission. Many miraculous cures were recorded and failures were put down to a lack of faith in the sufferer. The original Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church contained this ceremony."
"The custom lasted from the time of Edward the Confessor to the reign of Queen Anne, although her predecessor, William III refused to believe in the tradition and did not carry out the ceremony."

"Queen Anne, amongst many others, touched the 2 year old infant Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1712 to no effect, for although he eventually recovered he was left badly scarred and blind in one eye. He wore the medal around his neck all of his life and it is now preserved in the British Museum. It was believed that if the touch piece was not worn then the condition would return. Queen Anne last performed the ceremony on 30 March 1712. George I put an end to the practice as being "too Catholic."'
"The monarch himself / herself hung these touch piece amulets around the necks of sufferers. In later years Charles II only touched the medalet as he unsurprisingly disliked touching diseased people directly. He 'touched' 92,107 people in the 21 years from 1661 to 1682, performing the function 8,500 times in 1682 alone." [Wikipedia]

So now you know. The whole bizarre Wikipedia article on "touch pieces" (=healing talismans) is here.


Anonymous said...

I was just harping on at someone about the remarkable pervasiveness of spermaceti, pre-oil. I read 'Leviathan' by Philip Hoare a couple of months ago and was absolutely blown away by it. Also saw him at a literary festival where he lit up the stage with his passion and knowledge on all things Whale. It's an intriguing book - history (natural and regular), literary criticism (what else but Moby Dick), autobiography and a decent amount of pure science. It was cool. Just thought I'd say.

Grace Dalley said...

Limonello, hello! So you're still alive, then? Written any blog posts lately?

Thanks for the book recommendation. :-)

Pam Morrison said...


Paul said...

Please, nobody tell the Japanese.