Masturbation Among Victorian Youth in Boarding Schools

Masturbation Among Victorian Youth in Boarding Schools: The Secret Companion
“The Secret Companion” by R J Brodie, 1845, Courtesy of Wellcome Images.

The term masturbation was first introduced in the 18th century. At the time, however, the terms onanism or self-pollution were more frequently used. Victorians later used those same terms to refer to masturbation. Additionally, in the 19th century, masturbation was more politely referred to as self-abuse or sometimes manualization, as it was done by hand. 

One article published in 1870 noted that the practice of masturbation among Victorian youth in boarding schools was “much more frequent than … generally imagined.” According to the article there was nothing more “detestable or ruinous.” Masturbation was also called a “baneful habit,” and it was noted that such a pernicious habit could easily spread from one student to another until the whole boarding school was affected. Moreover, the effects of it could supposedly result in the following:

“Health, intellect, morals — all purity, dignity, and self-respect — sink beneath it in promiscuous and hopeless ruin. When carried to excess it produces idiotism in the most deplorable and disgusting form, accompanied by impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, and other distressing infirmities, and terminates in death.”

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Regency Poisons

regency poisonsPoisons were an important topic in the 1900s. Because of the interest in poisons a lengthy article was published in 1828 that provide all sorts of information about Regency poisons, including class III poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons.” All of these poisons could be ingested or applied to the body and were reported to cause “drowsiness, stupor, paralysis or apoplexy, convulsions, and death when the dose [was] sufficiently large.”

Among this list of Regency poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons” were nine items from the vegetable kingdom — camphor, hemlock, henbane, laurel water, opium, prussic acid, stramonium, strong scented lettuce, and tobacco — and one mineral sedative and narcotic poison known as carbonic acid gas. To understand these poisons and counter their deadly consequences, a list was provided. Here it is almost verbatim: Continue reading

Death By Peas and Other Foods

Death by Peas: ice cream
Ice Cream, Courtesy of desktopdress.com

Food was not always safe in the 1800s, and all sorts of foods could cause death. For example, a 22-year-old woman decided to eat raw rice mixed with milk, and afterwards drank her hot tea. A few hours later she fell ill and complained of severe stomach pain, which was caused from the rice swelling. “Emetics were given with great relief,  a large quantity of rice being expelled from the stomach.” Yet, the emetics did not completely solve the problem.

The following morning, the young lady’s pain increased. Then she suddenly showed other symptoms. She had “cold extremities, a small feeble pulse, and great abdominal tenderness.” She died about twenty-four later from having eaten the raw rice. Although eating raw rice may have not been the smartest thing to do, other foods in the 1800s sometimes caused death. Among the foods from which people died were ice cream, chocolate creams, orange peels, watermelon seeds, and peas. Continue reading

Georgian Rules to Promote Long Life

Georgian Sir John Sinclair, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Sir John Sinclair, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet, was a Scottish writer who primarily wrote about finance and agriculture but is perhaps best known for writing the 21-volume, Statistical Account of Scotland. Sinclair, like other people of Georgian times, was also interested in how to achieve a long life. This resulted in him writing a brief article in which he listed seven rules that he believed would help Georgian people achieve a long life. He classified these rules under the following headings: diet, clothing, habitation, exercise and labor, habits and customs, medicine, and disposition of mind.

Here are his seven rules in their entirety and almost verbatim:

  • Diet. The importance of wholesome food, for the preservation of health and long life, and the avoiding of excess, whether in eating or drinking, need not be dwelt upon. Some instances, indeed, are mentioned of persons who have continued to commit excesses, and, have lived long; but these are to be considered in no other light than as exceptions from a general rule; and it may reasonably be contended, that if such persons lived to a great age, notwithstanding their intemperance, they would have lived much longer had they followed a different course. Continue reading

Curing Headaches in Georgian Times

The Headache by George Cruikshank, Headaches
The Headache by George Cruikshank, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Georgian physicians claimed there were all sorts of causes for headaches. Some of the stranger causes included atmospheric changes, bile in the blood, too much iron, bowel issues, thunderstorms, and indigestion. Just as Georgian physicians believed there were many causes for headaches, physicians also offered a wide variety of solutions to headache sufferers. Some of the more popular recommendations are listed below:

ANIMAL MAGNETISM. This was an invisible force within animals based on a mysterious magnetic fluid that produced physical healing. It was discovered by a German doctor named Franz Mesmer. Mesmer provided treatments for individual patients as well as groups of patients at the same time. Single patient treatments included the patient facing him, touching knee-to-knee, while Mesmer made “passes” with his hands down the length of the patient’s body. Sometimes, he would press a patient’s hypochondrium region (just below the diaphragm) to effect a cure and his pressing could last for hours. Mesmer’s techniques came under scrutiny in 1784 when King Louis XVI established a commission to examine his work. The commission agreed Mesmer had cured patients, but they also determined there was no such thing as magnetic fluid. Because of their findings, they attributed the cures to either charlatanry or patient imagination, thereby debunking Mesmer. Continue reading

Georgian Rules for the Preservation of Sight

Georgian rules for the preservation of sight
Man Wearing Spectacles, Courtesy of Walpole Library

Before spectacles appeared in the late 1200s, eye problems had been around for a long time. Besides improved eyesight, one reason for wearing spectacles, according to Georgian doctors, was to avoid further eye problems. This was supposedly achieved by wearing long focus glasses at the “first approaches of long-sightedness [as it was said it would bring back people’s] natural sight, and [result in people laying] aside their spectacles for years.”

But what happened if a Georgian person didn’t need glasses or what if a person wanted to avoid spectacles all together? Here was the advice given by one magazine of the 1700s: Continue reading

Types of Medicinal Cures in Georgian and Regency Eras

medicinal cures in the Georgian and Regency eras
“A Going! A Going! by Thomas Rowlandson, Courtesy U.S. National Library of Medicine

Various medicinal cures existed in the Georgian and Regency eras. For instance, leeches were used to bleed patients suffering from specks in their cornea. Leeches were also applied on a patient’s arms when irritation was apparent and to the temples if no irritation existed. For patients who suffered from syphilis, psora, or certain types of herpes, medical soaps might be recommended, and, if you had a goiter, the cure was to drink white wine and wear a bag of ammonia around your neck.

Although the above treatments may seem unusual, these type of treatments were considered common in the Georgian or Regency eras. Other common treatments included baths, blistering, boluses or pills, cataplasms, collyria, enemata, fomentations, fumigations, gargles, injections, juleps, liniments, ointments, potions or draughts, powders, and tisanes (also sometimes spelled ptisans). A brief description of each treatment follows: Continue reading

Hysteria in the Georgian Era

The Effects of Melodrama - by Louis-Léopold Boilly, hysteria
The Effects of Melodrama, by Louis-Léopold Boilly, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Hysteria was a catch-all term given to sufferers who were readily excited, highly nervous, or emotionally distressed. Georgian doctors claimed hysteria was brought on because of surprise created by joy, grief, fear, etc., and doctors also asserted it affected people early in life — primarily between the age of puberty and thirty-five.

Eighteenth century doctors also declared that hysteria could affect both sexes, male or females. Male hysteria, called masculina, was said to be caused by a man retaining semen and the surest cure was “excretion.” Female hysteria, called foeminina, was considered to be much more common than male hysteria. It occurred in all women but was said to occur more frequently in “women of a delicate habit.” Continue reading

Medical Blistering in the Georgian Era

Thomas Rowlandson's Death and THe Apothecary or the Quack Doctor, Medical Blistering
Thomas Rowlandson’s Death and THe Apothecary or the Quack Doctor, Courtesy of Wellcome Images

Medical blistering, also sometimes known as vesiculation, raised a blister on the skin, and was thought by Georgian doctors to be an effective tool to deal with certain medical issues. Among the issues and problems blistering was thought to correct or aid was hysteria, hypochonriasis, gout, certain types of simple inflammation, and fevers, as well as cases of insanity.

Blistering was achieved with applications of a fine powder usually composed of cantharides (a powerful-blistering substance often obtained from blister beetles, sometimes called Spanish Fly). Sometimes other stimulant ingredients, such as “pepper, mustard-seed, and verdigris,” were also added. The fine powder and stimulants were then mixed with plasters or other compositions of the same consistency and spread on the skin’s surface to produce a blister. This concoction was left on the skin from a few hours to many hours, depending on the extent of blistering required. Continue reading

Gout and Its Famous Georgian Era Sufferers

Gout in Its Podagra Form by James Gillray, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Gout in Its Podagra Form by James Gillray, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Gout is a form of acute inflammatory arthritis that is recurrent and most frequently affects the big toe, which is then known as podagra. Originally thought to be a disease “caused by a humor that flowed drop by drop, guttatim, into the joints,” gout is now known to be caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood that crystallize in the joints, tendons, or surrounding tissues, resulting in severe pain. Historically, gout was called “the disease of kings” or “rich man’s disease” as it tended to be more common among the elite and well-to-do. Continue reading