18th Century Medicine
Bill Long 10/6/05
Being a Digression from Marsden
I confess that I like to read footnotes sometimes, although the modern conventions of publishing make it a little inconvenient to do so. Why are "footnotes," which really are germane to a point that is being made in the text, relegated to "endnotes" in almost all works now? Are they just padding? Stuck in for scholars? Done for economic reasons? What is the function of a footnote today? These essays arise thanks to a footnote in Marsden's 2003 biography of Jonathan Edwards.* Desiring at first to decline the offer to become
[*More precisely, it is fn. 40 of ch. 25 on p. 589.]
President of Princeton late in 1757 upon the premature death of Aaron Burr Sr. at age 39, Edwards wrote to the Trustees:
"I have a constitution in many respects peculiar unhappy, attended with flaccid solids, vapid, sizy and scarce fluids, and a low tide of spirits; often occasioning a kind of childish weakness."
I realized, when I read this passage that I didn't know what "sizy" meant. This and the next essay are the result of the road less traveled to understand that and allied medical meanings.
Sizing up Sizy
The OED defines "sizy" as follows: "Resembling size; having the consistency of size; thick and viscous; glutinous." And then it says it was "very common in the 18th cent., esp. of blood." The word is apparently derived from one meaning of "size," which appeared as early as 1530 to denote "a semi-solid glutinous substance..." Thus, sizy could denote either the relative bulk or viscous consistency of something. Its first attestation in English was in 1687: "The Interstices of the Muscles..where the Blood is very sizy." Or, an example from the 18th century: "The most flowery parts of it [boiling malt] run whitish, glewy and sizie, like Sadler's Paste." But then, from the 1827 Lancet, a medical journal founded in 1823 with the interesting double-entendre title--of the knife which might be used in bloodletting as well as a narrow window through which light enters--we have: "The blood drawn yesterday is slightly buffed [yellowish] and sizy."
So, Edwards' comments in his letter to the Princeton Board of Trustees, to the effect that his blood was "sizy," meant that it was "thick" or "glutinous." Normally when we speak today of our medical condition to possible future employers, we don't mention the condition of our blood; I wonder if this would have been the equivalent of saying that he lacked energy? In any case, I used Edwards' words as a window (lancet?) into some nostrums and medical advice given by 18th century practitioners, and I wanted to bring you into the world I found.
Getting our Full of Fuller
When doing a broader search for "sizy," then, I came across a web page describing Dr. Thomas Fuller's (1654-1734) julep remedies. I was fascinated by the concept and the language he used. A julep, in case you didn't know, is a drink going back to around 1400 (at least this is the first attestation of the word) and refers to a sweet drink prepared in different ways but often simply a liquid sweetened with syrup and sugar. When it is a medicated drink, it is "used as a demulcent, 'comforting', or gently stimulating mixture." In a point that is neither here nor there, I didn't know that julep could also be used to refer to something that cools or assuages the heat of passion. In a 1624 play by Philip Massinger we have: "she is no fit electuary for a doctor: A coarser julap may well cool his worship." By the way, an "electuary" is a "medicinal conserve or paste..." Thus, Massinger was saying that a coarser julep will chill the passions. This seems also to be the sense in a 1652 quotation: "These pages do dispense a Julep, which so charms the Itch of sense..."**
[**Care should be taken to distinguish julep from jalap, also an 18th century medical term. Jalap is "a purgative drug obtained from the tuberous roots of Exogonium Purga and some other convolvulaceous plants. From 1675: "Jalap hath a special property of irritating the Glandulous Parts of the Mouth, and Throat." Thus, make sure the next time you reach for a medical remedy with the consonants J-L-P that you pay attention to the vowels.]
Back to Fuller. In his remedies for various medical problems, he lists a number of juleps. Let's run down the list: (1) epileptic; (2) golden; (3) julep with houseleek; (4) hysteric; (5) musk; (6) musk julep for children; (7) pearl; (8) pearl antiphthisic julep; (9) temperate pearl cordial; (10) warm pearl cordial; (11) pearl hysteric; (12) pleuritic; (13) julep of propriety; (14) with raspberries; (15) a refrigerating julep; (16) scorbutic; (17) splanchnic; (18) stomachic; (19) styptic; and (20) a julep for child-bed women. Each has its own ingredients and what it is supposed to correct.
Let's look first at the remedy which includes the word "sizy" in it and then wander through some of the maze of interesting words.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long