I have previously shown this lovely Rowlandson sketch of the good doctor undergoing a course of cupping, apparently to alleviate the symptoms of bruising. I assume the doctor in question was Dr Syntax and that he had a bruised backside from spending too long in the saddle. Numb bum time! I love the indignity of the naked old man being subjected to pain while being administered to by half a dozen onlookers, most of them female!
It reminded me to look out a blog I did a couple of years ago when I used Posterous (thank you WordPress, all is forgiven!)
Cupping, as shown on Gwyneth Paltrow´s back when she attended a New York film premiere in 2004, has been around for many hundreds of years. While the treatment may cause unpleasant looking blisters and skin discolouration these effects are short lived. It is thought that the cupping procedure helps reduce stress and pain. The person doing the cupping places small heated glass bowls – in this case across the back – and the heat causes a vacuum leading to the skin swelling. It apparently leads to increased blood flow and all sorts of beneficial results.The picture appeared on the BBC website using an image supplied by LFI (sorry, I cannot identify where credit is due any more than that).
While modern sceptics may dismiss it as an alternative medicine without proven results the fact remains that it has been popular for centuries, way before Richard notes it in his diary for 7th December 1768 where he records:
“Cupped at the Bagnio, Newgate Street, 3/6d”
Richard would needed to have known which bagnios were respectable. In theory they were simply hot-water baths open to the public but in practice the term was often a euphemism for a brothel! Choose the wrong bagnio and you might catch something rather worse than blisters!
18th Century medicine seems to have relished causing blisters, and then piercing them “to remove toxins”. On one occasion Richard had toothache and the doctor inserted a small dried pea behind his ear (as one does). After a day or two the side of Richard´s head would no doubt have swollen with the irritation; the pea was removed; the fluid drained and hey presto the toothache was expected to have disappeared!
In practice I suspect that Richard felt such a huge relief at no longer having the irritant behind his ear that he completely forgot about his other aches and pains…
If you are interested in other quack remedies and treatments do have a look at the Journal of a Georgian Gentleman – there are a number of cures and recipes dotted around in the book and in particular in the appendices. Meanwhile I am busy researching bagnios as part of the background to “Sex Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians” – since much of the action seems to have been based there!
To end with, a drawing of ladies drumming up business outside the Turks Head Bagnio, shown courtesy of the Library of Congress. I love the detail in the drawing, with the fire plate for the Union Fire Office, and the cat symbolically sitting on the upstairs window ledge…