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Mrs Beeton’s remedies

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Just two years after Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of species’, another of the world’s most influential works was published: Isabella Beeton’s ‘Book of household management’.

Although it appeared in book form in October 1861, Mrs Beeton’s collection of articles has remained constantly in print over the subsequent century-and-a-half, albeit that modern editions are much altered from the original, having been mucked about by a succession of editors.  

Best known for its culinary advice, Mrs Beeton’s tome also includes substantial guidance on other domestic issues, including healthcare. The work’s main content of interest to pharmacists is a long chapter entitled  “The doctor”. It begins with “a list of drugs, &c, and a few prescriptions necessary to carry out all the instructions given in this series of articles”. The drugs are antimonial wine, antimonial powder, blister compound, blue pill, calomel, carbonate of potash, compound iron pills, compound extract of colocynth, compound tincture of camphor, Epsom salts, Goulard’s extract, powdered jalap, linseed oil, myrrh and aloes pills, nitre, oil of turpentine, powdered opium and laudanum, sal ammoniac, senna leaves, soap liniment (opodeldoc), sweet spirits of Nitre and Turner’s cerate.

This list is followed by formulae for a number of medicines. For example, black draught, a laxative, was made from 10 parts each of infusion of senna and Epsom salts and one part each of tincture of senna, compound tincture of cardamom and compound spirit of lavender.

Although the popular image of Isabella Beeton is that of a stately matron, she was in fact a young journalist and her book was published when she was only 25. Unfortunately, no remedies of the time could save her when, just three years later, she contracted puerperal fever after giving birth to her fourth child.

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