A 1711 treatise on venereal disease (Part IV: Venereal Disease and Treatment)

by Mike

Finally, in the fourth part of our five-part series on Dr. John Marten’s Treatise of the Venereal Disease, it’s time to mention venereal disease itself. But still not really, since there really aren’t many passages about venereal disease that go beyond mere recitations of horrors. Today we’ll sample those recitations of horrors, along with discussion of how best to relieve the miseries of the Poxt and Clapt. And the even greater horrors of practicing medicine in styles other than John Marten’s.

For help with the old-timey words and names (Plaister of Oxycroceum, eh?), check out March 3’s post on vocabulary.

For Dr. Marten’s passages about pregnancy tests, delayed puberty, the eggs in women’s testicles, plastic surgery, parasites, the special properties of Brazilians and Americans, and more, check out March 7’s post on human anatomy.

And to hear about human folly, irony, the virtues of moderation, the doting of old fools, and Womb-fury, see last Wednesday’s post on human behavior.


  • On syphilis complications:
  • And indeed this Distemper, if People value their Lives, admits of no neglect; for against such a cruel Enemy, there should be employ’d all the Force and Artillery of Physick Art can procure, to profligate, ferret out, and extinguish all the Venom in the Vessels, Viscera, and solid Parts, where it has taken up its Abode, that the Parts hurt or corrupted by it, may be purifed and restored, and those that are weakned may be strengthned. And by this means only, that is, by proper Remedies and skilful and timely Management, you’ll be saved from the amazing Variety of Ignominious Deformities; such as the Lame swinging between two Crutches, the faultring snuffling Speech, the Mattery blear Eyes, the down-fallen Nose, the rotten Palate, incurable Deafness, scabby Face, stinking Breath, bloated and unwholesome Look, &c. the bare Thoughts of which is enough to make the stoutest Man (that has the Disease) to tremble, or even as that Old Woman Acco did, who seeing her own Deformity in a Glass, run distracted. (p. 480)
  • On the treatment of testicular cysts:
  • [W]ith repeated Bleedings, the Application of Cataplasms made of Barley-meal and Oxycrate (the Parts affected being likewise kept up by Truss, to prevent the Flux of Humours into the Place), frequent Purgings, with Calomelanos & Confectio Hamech, and also drinking plentifully of Emulsions of the greater Cold Seeds made with Barley-water, and a Decoction of Sarsa and China ordered for his Common-drink, the painful Inflammation plainly vanished, but the Swelling still continued; though without any Pain, and the Bigness was uncertain, being sometimes greater, sometimes less, and easily yielding to the pressure of ones Fingers, so that at length the Judgment of two very skilful Surgeons being taken, and that Swelling being supposed a Hydrocele, or watery Rupture, it was thought fit to open it; but when it was solemnly opened with an Incision-Knife, there came out scarce any Water, and no Matter; also the whole Substance of the Testicle seem’d to have been eaten away, and perished for some time, but the investing Coats were hard and incrassated; so that the Testicle being once opened, look’d like an empty Egg-shell, or rather a Pomegranate-shell, when the Meat or that which was contained in it, was taken out. (p. 555)
  • On acido-corrosive ferment:
  • An acido-corrosive Ferment lying hid in the Genital Parts of the Whore, being more than usually agitated in Coition, passed through the Yard of this Young Man into the Pores of the Prostrates and Seminal Vessels, (by Coition more than usually open’d) and so by its sharpness infected both the Seed and Nutritious Humours, and excited small Humours in those parts. (p. 404)
  • On bacteria:
  • When we come to inspect more narrowly the Matter it self, for tho’ many Authors have writ about it, have been very diffusive and exact, as to its Nature, Signs and Properties, yet few (if any) have given us a safe, secure Praxis as may be relied on for Cure, but whether their Methods may be drawn from the Positions they lay down, as to its Nature, &c. of the Semina morbi, I shall not here stand to enquire, only this, that some will have the Venereal Disease to be nothing else than a certain multitude of Animalcule or inconspicuous little Worms, which yet by the help of a Microscope, may be plainly discovered, as Athanasius Kircher, the Jesuit, is reported to have pronounced concerning the Pestilence. (p. 474)
  • On the variability of symptoms:
  • Eustachius Rudius writes that he has observed a thousand times, that many young Men have on the same Day Copulated with one and the same Whore, and yet not all of them Infected, and those that were Infected not Infected alike; It appearing in one with a Running of the Reins, in another with a Bubo, in a 3rd with Rottenness, in a 4th with Pain in the Head, in a 5th with Falling off of the Hair, and in others with other different preternatural Effects, which doubtless, says he, happens by reason of the various Dispositions of the Bodies, Weakness of the Parts, and varieties of the Humours, for weak Parts do more easily receive Humours than the strong, and strong Bodies often resist them when the weak ones can’t. (p. 314)
  • On ineffective emplasticks and restringents:
  • The same Physician tells us of a Cook by Trade, Aged about forty, Robust, and of a Complexion Melancholly, who two or three Years before, received a Prejudice from a hired Woman, which shew’d itself in a fœtid Gonorrhæa, and was untimely stopt by Emplasticks and Restringents; this Malignant Enemy would ever after, sally out in a green or yellow issue, which having continued about eight or ten Days more or less, would of its own accord withdraw it self again, within its own Bounds, and so cease running until it was provok’d again by Riding, Drinking, or other intemperance in Diet; applying himself to me, says he, I purg’d him smartly three times, and gave him a detergent Extract for ten Days, which cured him. (p. 450)
  • On support garments:
  • The keeping up the Cod with a Bag-truss is admirable, and applying Plaisters that are Comfortable and Strengthening; such as the Plaister ad Herniam malax’d with Oil of Bricks, or a Plaister of Oxycroceum with Oil of Ants, giving Strengthning, Restorative Medicines at the same time inwardly, by which diligent Prosecution a Cure may be accomplish’d. (p. 826)
  • On the pungitive figure of the salts:
  • [It] happens in Gonorrhæa’s, where the said Glandules receiving a Malign Impression and Inflammation from the Virulent Steems, do either transmit but little or no Mucus, or at least what is very crude, thin and acrimonious, whence the Urine, as it passes, must necessarily occasion heat, smarting, and pricking Pains, like Pins and Needles through the Pungitive Figure of the Salts, wherewith the Urine is more than ordinarily loaded. (p. 789)
  • On French quacks:
  • A French Surgeon, who I was once desir’d by an Apothecary to consult with, told me, that in France he had divers time cured very violent Gonorrhæa’s, with only the hard Roes of two red Herrings beat up with Wine, without the assistance or use of any other Remedy; and that it carried off both the Virulency and Running at once; but at his relating it, I could not but smile at the Confidence and Ignorance of the Man, especially when I ask’d him wherein the Effect lay, and what reason he could give, that it should do such Feats, which he could not answer, nor I believe any Body else, because there is nothing at all in it for the purposes he gave it. (p. 408)
  • On the Foreign Quack at the Hand and Urinal:
  • But the other Day comes a young Fellow to me with a Clap, for Cure of which, he said, he applied to the Foreign Quack at the Hand and Urinal in Holborn, who after managing him according to his Skill, and before the Malignity was expell’d, gave him a Pint-Bottle of Turpentine-Drink, and a Powder, for which he took Ten Shillings, and by which, he told him, his Running would be stopt, which indeed was so to a tittle, for it was immediately dislodg’d and thrown upon one of his Testicles, to the creating a very big inflam’d and painful, humoral Tumor; which if it had not been forthwith Remedied, or had been under his Outlandish Direction, would have prov’d sufficently Mischievous and Dangerous. (p. 20)
  • On quacks in general:
  • And as a Learned Physician says, so we find, that most of the Errors that are rife among the People at this Day, are upheld by the Runnagate, Male-pert, Bragging Quack-salvers and Empyricks, with which this Nation abounds, who not having Patience to keep to their honest Trades at Home, do wander Abroad with foolish Receipts, claiming Kindred or some other Relations to some eminent Physician, thereby Cheating the over credulous People both of their Money and Health. (p. 611)
  • On non-physician practitioners:
  • I know at this time a Cobler, who marrying a poor Sea Surgeon’s Widow, has laid down his Last, and turn’d Doctor, by vertue of a Book of Receipts she had that was her Husbands, and much values; this Woman being an inspir’d Doctress, by her two Years Bedding with her Husband, tho he was half that time at Sea, has so sufficiently qualify’d her, and she her new Husband, that they propose to do great feats, I mean at killing, for I am sure they cannot at Curing. (p. 723)
  • On ads for quacks:
  • Others there are, that stand to watch People’s Waters, and only Adorn Pissing Places (to make them think of the Business in Hand), Posts and Doors, corner Houses, Thorow fairs, &c. with their deluding Quack Impertinencies, one of which presents you with a fallible Story of three Infallible Cures in Fenchurchstreet. (p. 730)
  • On failure to adhere to a treatment regimen:
  • A Man came to me sometime since to be cured of a Clap, and told me, that he had also given it his Wife, desiring my Assistance for her too; He got well pretty quickly, but she slowly, by reason of other Indispositions. After he was well, he could not keep from his Wife, and so got it again; after that she began to mend and got well; no sooner was it so but her Husband gave it her again, and she him again, so that they Clapt one another imprudently three or four times over; at length they both found, as I had often told them, there would be no end of it at that rate, and resolv’d to be separated for a while; she went into the Country, and he having continual Business in Town, so that he could not go to her, staid here, by which means, with proper Medicines, they at last were both happily cured, and remain so, tho’ a good while since perform’d. (p. 459)

L0005395 Punch, 1866: "At the Turkish Bath"