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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quackery in 1861

In his 1861 A Book About Doctors, J. Gordy Jeaffreson also described all types of doctors; some he liked, but most he didn't, and he opined that quackery was practiced both by the healers who really believed they were doing good works and those obsequious sycophants who knew full well they were selling worthless medicines or spurious services solely to bilk money from a trusting, gullible customer:
The history of quackery, if it were written on a scale that should include the entire number of those frauds which may be generally classed under the head of humbug, would be the history of the human race in all ages and climes. Neither the benefactors nor the enemies of mankind would escape mention ...
He took his reader down memory lane, back to "the old days," an ancient, forgotten time that they had only heard about in books like his. He painted a pathetic picture of the hopeless, helpless person, suffering great pain or sickness, desperate for a cure, even if it cost every last penny (and it probably would):
... the multitudes who, worn with bodily malady and spiritual dejection, ignorant of the source of their sufferings, but thirsting for relief from them, have gone from charlatan to charlatan, giving hoarded money in exchange for charms, cramp-rings, warming-stones, elixirs, and trochees, warranted to cure every ill that flesh is heir to.
Then Jeaffreson adds to this painting of words the sinister swindler - the traveling quack (boo! hiss!), standing on his makeshift stage in front of his peddler's wagon (more boos and catcalls). A small crowd of hapless locals, suffering from all kinds of aches, pains, and yucky feelings inside them, have gathered in front of the stage, watching and listening with awe and hope that this stranger's cure might just do the trick. They are caught in the spell of the spell-binding quack, who carefully reads their faces for the next startling fact he should tell, the next promise he should make:
The scene, from another point of view, is more droll, but scarcely less mournful. Look away from the throng of miserable objects, for a few seconds, who press around the empiric's stage; wipe out for a brief while the memory of their woes, and regard the style and arts of the practitioner who, with a trunk full of nostrums, bids disease to vanish, and death to retire from the scenes of his triumph. There he stands - a lean fantastic man, voluble of tongue, empty-headed, full of loud words and menaces, prating about kings and princes who have taken him by the hand and kissed him in gratitude for his benefits showered upon them - dauntless, greedy, and so steeped in falsehood that his crazy-tained brain half believes the lies that flow from his glib tongue.
Finally, author Jeaffreson tells his audience, that in fact, nothing has really changed; history was repeating itself, right there in America at the dawn of the Civil War; the only difference being that the wealthy were being sucked in, too:
Are there no such men amongst us now - not standing on carts at the street-corners, and selling their wares to a dingy rabble, but having their seats of exchange in honored places, and vending their prescriptions to crowds of wealthy clients?
Isn't it great that we can be sitting here in 2009 and looking back at the silly people who willingly gave their money to money-grubbing quacks and kooks? Good thing we are finally such an advanced civilization - nothing like that could ever happen to us now ....

1 comment:

  1. Vince from ShamWow....Billy Mays....Anthony Sullivan.....Oh, wait. You were being sarcastic there at the end =P


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