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Monday, November 2, 2009

Indian Compound - the Great Connubial Commandment

Well, without doing so on purpose, it seems I have strung together something of a story line by which to share some of the quackery going on in the 19th century. It started with my hypothetical story of a young man who used phrenology as a means to find the perfect woman. His phrenologist was able to find the perfect match, then the young man bought his soul mate a love token in the form of Galvanic Generator pendant and wondered if the matchmaking phrenologist got his analysis right.

We then saw the lovely young woman, restored from dyspepsia and nerves, looking lovely in her wedding trousseau, ready to get married. That brings us up to the day before Halloween, when I shared an image of the groom, proving conclusively that love is blind.

Today it seems fitting to transport you to the first scene of our newly married couple's domestic bliss. The wife has set the tone for their marriage by rewriting the Ten Commandments. In that this great trade card (or possibly a small blotter) has survived almost infers that someone appreciated its wit (or its wisdom) enough to preserve it; I choose to imagine that person was our bride.

I love the fact that the "Wife's Commandments" required fifteen immutable laws when God only required ten. The ground rules have been laid and our groom has his work cut out for him! It is also interesting to consider the issues of nineteenth century married life that underlie these commandments. The first, for example, makes it clear that the husband is not to entertain any notions of becoming polygamous, which was being actively practiced by the Mormons, and roundly excoriated by their critics, in the 1870s and 1880s (the time period during which this when this advertising piece was made). The second rule is another sexual taboo for the groom that infidelity will not be tolerated with household servants or nursemaids - another common concern and suspicion among the middle and upper class matrons who so frequently had female (and often foreign) servants living in the home with them and their husbands.

Commandments 8 (chewing tobacco), 10 (alcohol drinking and tavern visiting), and 11 (billiard halls and gambling) were all designed to have the husband continue walking a straight moral path, bringing honor to the family and ensuring that he stayed employed and also did not squander his earnings. Number 14 most likely repeated the commandment about avoiding liquor (the red spot on the middle of his face referring to the red nose of a drunkard), but for the life of me, I have no idea who "B. and W." is or are (if you have any idea, please let me know!) The other commandments would require the man to be a dutifully respectful and attentive husband, father, and son-in-law.

Then we have Commandment No. 15 - the Great Commandment, I would suspect we are to believe. By this point in the list, the browbeaten husband has been pummeled into submission and would presumably acquiesce to this commandment as a final act of submission. I sure hope this humbled husband knew where to buy Dr. Miller's Indian Compound; I have tons of reference books and lists, but have been unable to find any quack medicine by that name in the nineteenth century. And for his sake, it better not contain alcohol, or he's never going to hear the end of it from his new wife!

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