A 1711 treatise on venereal disease (Part I: Vocabulary)

by Mike

The public domain offerings at Google Books are not limited to the 20th and 19th centuries. You can find all manner of things, of all degrees of oldness.

Dr. John Marten’s 1711 Treatise of the Venereal Disease is divided into three sections: One about reproductive anatomy and sexual habits, one about venereal disease, and one about the use of mercury in medicine. I guess he couldn’t make that third one into its own book, so it was incorporated here.


There’s no way to start summarizing this, it’s so full of archaic terminology and quaint turns of phrase. So I decided the best approach was also the easiest approach: the listicle.

But first, a vocabulary lesson.

Learn these words, and check back over the next two weeks for three installments of Dr. Marten’s best passages, on the subjects of human behavior; general anatomy and medicine; and of course, the Venereal Diſeaſe.

A great Dictionary of British Eighteenth-Century Chemical Terms can be found in Jon Eklund’s 1975 monograph The Incompleat Chymist (available from the Smithsonian Institution in pdf form).

  • Animalcule – microscopic animal or protozoan
  • Bubo – swollen lymph node
  • Calomelanos – a laxative electuary containing tamarinds, rhubarb, cassia, and many other ingredients
  • Cataplasmpoultice
  • China – a root
  • Clap – gonorrhæa. Can also be a verb, e.g. “John clapt Mary”
  • Confectio Hamech – a laxative electuary containing colocynth and many other ingredients
  • Conversation – intercourse
  • Courtezan – high-class prostitute
  • Cod – scrotum
  • Cubeb – a type of peppercorn
  • depurated – purified, distilled
  • divers – various
  • Effluvia – pollution, runoff
  • Electuary – a medicinal paste given orally, consisting of powdered plant ingredients and sweeteners
  • Emollient – nowadays this means “moisturizing”, but Marten seems to mean something that makes the joints more flexible.
  • Emplastick – something applied very tightly to the skin, with the intention of preventing fluid from leaving the pores
  • Empyrick – This means a doctor or scientist whose theories are based purely on observation rather than theory. I’m not sure why Marten uses it as an insult. An Empyrick would probably insult him as a “Dogmatick”.
  • Epotation – drinking
  • Erysipelatose – afflicted by a red skin condition, now known to be caused by Streptococcus
  • Euphorbium – resin made from the dried sap (latex) of Euphorbia desert plant species.
  • Falling-sickness – epilepsy
  • Fancies – fantasies, unrealistic ideas
  • Fire-ship – a ship deliberately set on fire and set on a course that will wreak havoc for the enemy. Here it seems to be used similarly to “Trojan horse”, i.e. something seemingly inoffensive which is secretly very destructive.
  • Flux – means menstruation in this context (“monthly Flux”). later would be a euphemism for diarrhea
  • Gleet – genital discharge, especially in men, especially from gonorrhæa
  • Humour – any bodily fluid
  • Hydrocele – accumulation of fluid in the scrotum; may be painless
  • incrassated – thickened, swollen
  • Jilt – fickle, flirtatious young woman (short for “jillet”)
  • Lentour – viscosity, thickness of a liquid
  • Liquor – any liquid, I think
  • Lixivium – solution of alkali salts obtained by leaching wood ash with water
  • Malepert – impudent, disrespectful
  • Mercurius Dulcis – Mg2Cl2, also called calomel or mild mercury
  • Nitre – potassium nitrate, also called saltpeter
  • Oxycrate – a mixture of water and vinegar
  • Oxycroceum – some sort of plaster or bandage. Descriptions vary from “wax, resin, pitch, turpentine, saffron, and several gums” to “bees wax, black pitch, myrrh and olibanum” to “yellow Wax, common Pitch, Galbanum, Myrrh, Olibanum, Venice-Turpentine, and Saffron“.
  • Ozæna – old word for chronic atrophic rhinitis, or degenerative nasal inflammation, often caused by bacteria
  • Physick – medicine
  • Plaister – plaster or bandage or poultice
  • Polypus – the Latin word for octopus
  • Pox – syphilis. Can also be a verb, e.g. “Mary poxt John”
  • Praxis – procedure
  • Preparation – treatment with a mercury concoction, intended to cause vomiting, thus cleansing and preparing the body for some other medical treatment
  • Pyrethrum – chrysanthemum extract
  • Quack-salver – quack, charlatan, mountebank
  • Restringent – something applied to the skin to stop bleeding or dry up pus
  • Runnagate – traitor, disloyal person, deserter
  • Running – genital discharge
  • Running of the Reins – genital discharge; “Reins” means kidneys, so this may mean a discharge that resembles urine?
  • Sarsa – a root
  • Scorbutick – suffering from scurvy or similar disease
  • Seed – genetic material, present in male and possibly female secretions
  • Semina morbi – seeds of disease; a precursor to modern germ theory
  • Sill – threshold of a door-frame
  • Stillicidium seminis – “Stillicidium” means the dripping of rain-water; this seems to be a poetic way of saying “nocturnal emissions”
  • Stones – testes
  • Sublimate – the substance deposited when a mineral is heated and oxidized. For a “Mercurial Lotion” this would be mercuric chloride.
  • Tumor – swelling
  • Unction – Just as in religious usage, this means “anointing”, or applying a salve or unguent or liniment or ointment to the skin
  • The Whites – a female discharge, which we now call leucorrhea. May also mean yeast infection, I can’t quite tell.
  • Yard – penis

And people mentioned in the excerpts:

  • AbstemiusLaurentius Abstemius, 15th-century writer, librarian to the Dukes of Urbino, and fable enthusiast
  • Acco – In the proverbs of Zenobius, this is an old woman who fails to recognize herself in the mirror and is shocked by her own “deformity”. In the proverbs of Laërtius Diogenes, she fails to recognize herself in the mirror, but it’s just because she doesn’t recognize the outfit she’s wearing, and she is not horrified.
  • Athanasius Kircher (c. 1602 – 1680) – German Jesuit scholar of languages, Eastern culture, geology, medicine, and other subjects.
  • BauhinusGaspard Bauhin (1560-1624), Swiss botanist, physician and anatomist.
  • Cowper William Cowper (c. 1666 – 1709), English anatomist
  • Eustachius Rudius (1551- 1611) – 16th-century Padovan physician, professor and expert on mental deficiency.
  • HarveyWilliam Harvey (1578 – 1657) – English anatomist, doctor to King James I, author of “On the Motion of the Heart and Blood”
  • Hippocratesancient Greek physician, “founder of western medicine”
  • Petrus ApponensisPietro d’Abano (c.1257 – 1316), Padovan physician, astrologer and philosopher
  • RondeletiusGuillaume Rondelet (1507 – 1566), French anatomist, professor, and expert on sea creatures
  • Thomas Fuller (1654 – 1734), English physician and adage fan
  • WierusJohann Weyer (1515-1588), Dutch physician, witch skeptic, and court doctor to Wilhelm the Rich, Duke of Cleves