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The Scrivener: Eye Snuff And Artificial Legs

So how long is it since anyone bought Irish moss, manna or Turkey rhubarb?

Brian Barratt delves in a directory which brings glimpses of life as it was lived a century-and-a-half ago.

Eye snuff, soda water, anti-bilious pills, patent groats, furnishing ironmongery, Scotch snuff boxes, and odiferous herbaceous compound were all provided by Royal Appointment and used by Their Majesties in times past. Delightfully verbose advertisements for these wondrous products appear in Pigot & Co's Directory of London 1839.

Not quite royal, but with a well deserved title, The Marquess of Anglesey patronised a company that made Potts's artificial limbs with William Gray's improvements. The were also patronised by 'The first Nobility and Gentry, and the most Eminent Surgeons throughout Europe, and allowed by all to be the most perfect description of Artificial Legs yet produced'. That company competed with J.Robinson's who described themselves as 'The only real makers of patent artificial legs & hands'.

One Henry Paget was appointed by the Duke of Wellington to lead a cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Towards the end of the day, a French cannon ball hit his leg and shattered it. An amputation was immediately performed — without either antiseptic or anaesthesia, of course. A few days later, he was appointed Marquess of Anglesey. A huge monument to his heroism was erected on Anglesey. And a monument to his leg was erected at Waterloo. The leg, or its bones, were later reburied elsewhere.

His artificial leg was indeed made by Potts's. It would have been made of wood, steel, and catgut tendons for control of the foot.

Grimstone's Eye Snuff is historically perhaps somewhat more obscure but certainly less steeped in blood. We read in the 1839 advertisement that it's manufacturer was Patronised by His late Majesty. That would have been King William IV.

The snuff was not a tobacco product but was an 'odiferous herbaceous compound' concocted from 'highly Aromatic Herbs indigenous to the Country'. It was so well known that 'any comment of eulogy in its praise would be superfluous'. It could be used at any time but morning and evening applications were important, given that in the morning one would need to bathe one's eyes with warm water or milk and water 'to remove whatever secretion may have been produced during the night.'

An advertisement for Family Drugs lists a remarkable range of items including:
— Laudanum for four shillings. Imbibing a solution of opium could have been pretty useful for a few months after your leg had been amputated, of course.
— Irish Moss for tenpence. This is a type of seaweed with various medicinal uses which might be categorised nowadays as 'alternative'. It also played a significant role as food during the dreadful times of potato famine in Ireland.
— Congreves and Lucifers, sixpence per dozen. A congreve was a type of friction match invented by Sir William Congreve, who invented a military rocket. A lucifer as also a friction match. Safety matches were not invented until a few years later.
— Manna, seven shillings. No. this was not the magical manna we read about in the Bible. It was a juice extracted from the bark of particular trees and used for laxative purposes.
— Turkey rhubarb, one shilling an ounce. Yet another herbal remedy for constipation.
— Leeches, two shillings a dozen. Once an essential tool, albeit alive and wriggling, in medicine.

The purple grandeur of Victorian hyperbole comes into its own in advertisements for holiday resorts and hotels. Here is a fine example to inspire you after reading about less happy events and remedies:
'The limits of a mere advertisement are too circumscribed to admit of the natural beauties of this select watering place being fully expiated upon—those only who have visited it can duly appreciate its excellencies, arising from its proximity to the sea and the perfection of its agriculture, which renders it a perfect epitome of the country at large.'
In other words, 'Have a nice day!'
© Copyright Brian Barratt 2011

Pigot & Co Directory of London 1839, Archive CD Books Project 2003




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