Aphrodisiacs, Elixirs, and Dr. Brodum’s Restorative Nervous Cordial

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.(Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust)
Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

During the 18th and 19th century, patent medicines were everywhere.  These various powders, potions, elixirs, and cordials were primarily peddled by quacks, some of whom purported to be doctors from respected universities like St. Andrews in Scotland.  The claims they made on behalf of their products were extraordinary.  According to advertisements of the era, a restorative cordial or tonic could do practically anything, from curing dropsy in children to curing impotence in men and hysteria in women.  Some even proclaimed that they could cure a fellow of the desire to engage in that “solitary, melancholy practice” so common to the male sex (i.e. Masturbation).[…]Continue Reading

The Care and Kenneling of 19th Century Foxhounds and Sporting Dogs

“If the stable and stable management are important considerations to the turf man, the kennel and the general treatment of dogs must be equally so to the field man.”
(An Encyclopedia of Rural Sports, 1870.)

Foxhunting: Encouraging Hounds by John Frederick Herring, 1839.
Foxhunting: Encouraging Hounds by John Frederick Herring, 1839.

Outdoor sports like foxhunting, coursing, and shooting were popular pastimes of the 19th century country gentleman.  As such, the care and maintenance of one’s hunting dogs was always a subject ripe for debate and discussion.  What was the best feed to give a foxhound?  How did one treat an outbreak of worms?  And, most importantly, what was the ideal design and construction of a kennel?  Sporting books and articles of the era give varying answers to these questions.  Some of them fall in line with our knowledge of dogs today.  Some of them are outright medieval.  Either way, a bit of research reveals that, though his quarters may at times have been magnificent, the 19th century sporting dog was no pampered pet.[…]Continue Reading

The Beauty Rituals of 19th Century Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.

Born in Munich on December 24, 1837, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie became Empress of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of sixteen.  Though now widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women of 19th century Europe, Sisi, as she was known to her intimates, was not considered a great beauty in her youth.  Some biographers have even referred to her as sturdy and boyish with a “round peasant face.”  Highly sensitive to any perceived deficiencies in her appearance, Sisi embarked on a lifetime of starvation diets and extreme beauty rituals which have since become the stuff of legend. […]Continue Reading

The Scottie's Petticoat and Other 19th Century Dog Tales

Come Over Here! by Lilian Cheviot, 1915.
Come Over Here! by Lilian Cheviot, 1915.

On this week’s edition of Animals in Literature and History, I bring you three separate, but equally intriguing, dog anecdotes from the 19th century.  The first involves a Scottish Terrier and a lady’s white petticoat.  The second involves a Bulldog and a surgeon.  And the third and final tale gives us a little insight into the professional and working class souls of 19th century canines.[…]Continue Reading

Saved by Her Stays: The 19th Century Barnsley Murders

Portrait of Mademoiselle de Lancey by Carolus-Duran, 1876.
Portrait of Mademoiselle de Lancey by Carolus-Duran, 1876.
(The late 19th century, heavily corseted, silhouette.)

Considering how often corsets, crinolines, and towering headpieces were responsible for some hapless female’s untimely demise, it seems only fair that occasionally fashion should be credited with saving a historical lady’s life instead of putting an end to it.  For an example of this, we need look no further than author and historian Margaret Drinkall’s newly published book The 19th Century Barnsley Murders.  A collection of seventeen carefully detailed and impeccably sourced incidents of true crime that took place in the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley between the years 1829 and 1899, Drinkall’s book details a range of criminal conduct, from everyday instances of brutal and senseless violence to tales of bodysnatching, poisoning, and even a vicious knife attack that was thwarted by a lady’s corset.  It is the latter crime to which I draw your attention today.[…]Continue Reading

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