Richard Hall, writing on 27th May 1773, makes reference to what appears to have been an Influenza epidemic which hit London that year: “The present a remarkable time for the Lord’s visiting more or less most familys in London with Coughs and Colds, with which many are confined – may the hand that afflicts be observ’d and the Inhabitants of our land learn Righteousness..’
And to illustrate the entry what better than a Thomas Rowlandson etching from 1785, shown courtesy of the British Museum and entitled “Ague and Fever”. The B.M. site describes it as:
” The patient sits in profile to the left with chattering teeth, holding his hands to a blazing fire on the extreme left. Ague, a snaky monster, coils itself round him, its coils ending in claws like the legs of a monstrous spider. Behind the patient’s back, in the middle of the room, Fever, a furry monster with burning eyes, resembling an ape, stands full-face with outstretched arms. On the right the doctor sits in profile to the right at a small table, writing a prescription, holding up a medicine-bottle in his left hand. The room is well furnished and suggests wealth: a carved four-post bed is elaborately draped. On the high chimney-piece are ‘chinoiseries’ and medicine-bottles. Above it is an elaborately framed landscape…”
No doubt Richard would have looked out his book of remedies at the first sign of a sore throat. There he noted “Sal prunella – an excellent thing for a Sore throat – take Night and Morning (very disagreeable).” Well it would certainly have had a salty tang to it – heat saltpetre and it converts to potassium nitrite, in small balls, and this was called sal prunella. It is still used for preserving meats, giving the distinctive pink colouring found in some sausages. But as a cure for coughs and colds brought on by Divine displeasure – absolutely useless!