What Was Perfume in the Eighteenth Century?

By Kirsten James

Le Parfumeur Royal
Simon Barbe, Le Parfumeur Royal, Paris, 1699. Image Credit: BIU Santé, http://www2.biusante.
parisdescartes.fr/livanc/index.las?tout=barbe+simon&op=OU&tout2=&statut=charge

Perfume as we know it is a sweet smelling liquid made from natural and synthetic aromatic ingredients. Yet, far from being a mere scent, perfume is also a fashion accessory, tool of self-definition, and convenient gift. Perfumes are now branded so successfully that names and bottles are often more recognizable than actual smells.

It is easy to imagine that perfume in the past was much the same. For instance, conventional histories of perfume remind us that in the eighteenth century, perfume was luxurious and worn by female courtiers, amongst others, to demonstrate their social status. This was undoubtedly the case. But a variety of evidence reveals that, during this period, perfume had multiple uses and meanings that are readily overlooked if we simply seek out the familiar present in the past.

One kind of evidence comes from perfumers’ business records. Stock inventories, account books, and sale receipts allow us to form a more nuanced impression of what perfumers sold, how much their products cost, and how they changed over time. In the late 1700s, the best-selling products available from perfumers in major European cities such as London and Paris included (as one might imagine) scented waters. However, they also included items that one would not associate with perfumers today: soap for the body, powders and pomades for the hair, alongside an assortment of tongue scrapers, tooth brushes, and toothpaste that reflected the new obsession with oral hygiene – the latter trend explored by Colin Jones in The Smile Revolution.

Advertisements, including trade-cards and broadsides, represent another set of evidence betraying the range of products sold by perfumers. In many cases, these advertisements contained a simple picture, the name and address of the shop, and a list of available products. One such broadside was displayed by Arthur Rothwell; it announced that he sold from “The Civet-Cat and Rose” on London’s New Bond Street not only perfumes and “quintessences” but also snuffs, wash-balls, hair combs and powders, skin products, and several medicines including “Daffy’s Elixir.”

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Pierre Lalouette, A New Method of Curing Venereal Disease by Fumigation. London, 1777. Image Credit: Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/newmethodofcurin00lalo

A third kind of evidence consists of medical treatises. These show that some circles considered perfumes effective medicines. As in previous centuries, perfume reputedly prevented and cured plague. But, in the 1700s, when outbreaks of bubonic plague ceased in Western Europe, perfume was set to work strengthening body and mind, preventing spasms, and curing lethargy. In the 1770s, for example, physician Pierre Lalouette invented a fumigation machine that used perfumes to treat venereal disease. Several ingredients burnt in his machine could be purchased from the perfumer’s boutique; these included frankincense, nutmeg, myrrh, and juniper. Others, such as mercury and sulphur, remained exclusive to druggists and apothecaries because they were considered dangerous.

A final kind of evidence is arguably even more useful for showing the different uses and meanings of perfume. Other contributions to this blog demonstrate how recipes can reveal much about the past. Printed and manuscript recipes for perfumes are no exception. Recipes in pharmacopoeias confirm that physicians believed in the medicinal properties of perfumes. Pharmacopoia Bateana (1706) claimed that the “Royal Essence” (consisting of musk, civet, balsam of Peru, clove oil, rhodium oil, tartar salt and cinnamon) could form an “odoriferous water” that prevented “fainting fits.”  Various manuscript collections (such as those in the Wellcome Collection) include recipes for masking stenches, purifying the air, preventing aging, and enhancing beauty.

Such books indicate how the use of perfume changed. In the early 1700s, the emphasis was still on scenting waters, gloves, linens, and homes. By the second half of the 1700s, however, the emphasis switched from perfuming things and places to perfuming the body. For instance, The Toilet of Flora (1784) recommended that “Hungary-Water” (made from rosemary, pennyroyal and marjoram flowers mixed with conic brandy) be used “to bathe the face and limbs, or any part affected with pains” in order to cleanse and strengthen the body.

As these different sets of evidence suggest, perfume in the eighteenth century was multifarious, and the history of the word “perfume” is consistent with these multiple uses and meanings. The word derives from the Latin per fumum (“through smoke”), and throughout the seventeenth century perfume usually referred to substances that released odour when heated. However, by the mid-eighteenth century the “agreeable odour” of perfume was as likely to feature in dictionary definitions as its medical uses. By the early nineteenth century, some dictionaries referred to the purported medicinal uses of perfumes as an anachronism, while adding that perfumes were increasingly sought after for their refined and luxurious scents. It would not be until the nineteenth century, then, that the meaning and uses of perfume – though not its marketing – took on a character that looks decidedly familiar to us.


Kirsten James is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation is provisionally titled ‘The Science of Scent and Business of Perfume in Paris and London in the Eighteenth Century.”

Newspaper Remedies and Commercial Medicine in Eighteenth-Century Recipe Books

By Katherine Allen

This post examines medical recipes and commercial medicine published in newspapers that were incorporated into recipe books. In a previous post, I discussed newspapers as sources of medical advice concerning cough and cold remedies. The print marketplace was thriving in eighteenth-century England and the proliferation of periodicals gave recipe collectors the opportunity to engage with published advice by pasting newsprint into their manuscripts. Some individuals alternatively copied out advice into their collections. Certainly, not every eighteenth-century recipe book includes medical information from newspapers. But, collections that do have newsprint show willingness on the compiler’s part to engage with a popular form of media and embrace, or at least consider, innovations in commercial medicine as part of domestic healthcare and the tradition of collecting recipes.

Newspaper recipes pasted into a manuscript recipe book.  Wellcome, WMS 7366, p. 78. [Credit: Wellcome Library]
Newspaper recipes pasted into a manuscript recipe book.
Wellcome, WMS 7366, p. 78. [Credit: Wellcome Library]
My first example is a remedy for consumption recorded in a recipe book from the Derby Mercury on 11 May 1786. The treatment involved breathing in vapours of white pitch and bees wax dissolved over a fire in a closed room. It was trialled by a military officer who ‘found the complaint of his breast greatly reliev’d’.[1] In this case, the recipe book compiler chose to include print advice in his/her collection and also selected a respiratory-based cure, not a standard domestic treatment for consumption at this time. This suggests that the compiler found the remedy intriguing and potentially useful, and therefore took the time and effort to copy it. New medical treatments were hence entering the world of domestic medicine through newsprint, and yet also remained part of the manuscript tradition.

Taken from The Economist, an undated article on using green walnuts in family medicine is an example of a newspaper clipping pasted into a manuscript. The article begins by declaring ‘every body eats walnuts; every body knows how to make a pickle of walnuts; few, however, know the medicinal virtue of walnuts’.[2] The purgative of green walnuts boiled in sugar was deemed a palatable treat for children, unlike ‘salts, jalap, and other doctor’s stuff’, and was claimed to save families from expensive doctor’s bills. Significantly, this newspaper advice recommended the use of homemade medicine over professional care. Syrup of green walnuts was a common recipe found in early modern recipe books. I suspect that this print advice was referencing green walnut remedies found in manuscript collections and printed domestic manuals and re-sharing the information, thus illustrating the three-way relationship of print, newsprint, and manuscript with regards to communicating domestic advice.

An article advertising Magnesia Lozenges for heart burn exemplifies commercial (including patent) medicines included in manuscripts used for domestic healthcare.[3] Found in Jane Frere’s recipe book, this advertisement is for the eighteenth-century version of TUMS. It was standard in medical advertisements to include a description of where the remedy could be purchased, in this instance by W. Box the apothecary, a chemist, a perfumer, and stationers across London. Clippings such as these were likely saved as reminders of commercial treatments to try, and where they could be purchased.

Magnesia Lozenges. Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715x9, p. 149 [Credit: Norfolk County Record Office]
Magnesia Lozenges. Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715×9, p. 149 [Credit: Norfolk County Record Office]
In a final case, a recipe book belonging to the Dolben family from Finedon, Northamptonshire included several newspaper clippings, one being ‘Directions for Using Mr. Mudge’s Inhaler’.[4] John Mudge is credited with inventing the inhaler in 1778 and publishing his work A Radical and Expeditious Cure for a Recent Catarrhous Cough. The inhaler was used in conjunction with an opiate-based elixir, and the user was to lay in bed with the inhaler three quarters filled with water. This example is again illustrative of a multi-textual exchange of medical knowledge. The inclusion of an advertisement for a physician’s new commercial cure in a recipe book demonstrates that collectors were aware of the diverse and innovative treatments available in the marketplace, and sought out these commodities as part of their healthcare.

Woodcut of John Mudge’s Inhaler [Credit: Hardluckasthma]
Woodcut of John Mudge’s Inhaler
[Credit: Hardluckasthma]
The addition of newsprint into manuscripts signifies an evolving material history of recipe books in eighteenth-century England. Fragments of newsprint and copied advice blur the lines between public and private, and between purchased cures and medicine prepared domestically. As these examples show, the medical and print marketplaces shared a close relationship with respect to conveying advice and advertising medical commodities through newsprint. This wider medical marketplace influenced changes in domestic medical practices, including they ways in which health advice was preserved in recipe books, creating a distinct material history of eighteenth-century manuscripts.


[1] Derbyshire CRO, D5430/50/5, f. 25r.

[2] Bodleian Library, MS Eng Misc es49 [no page number].

[3] Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715×9, p. 148.

[4] Wellcome, WMS 2201, f. 3r.

Curing Coughs and the Common Cold in Eighteenth-Century England

By Katherine Allen

It happens at every university, every year, and is often known as ‘fresher’s flu’. This cocktail of viruses arrives at the start of term, along with students and their unprepared immune systems. After countless hours spent in the germ-infested libraries, we are now experiencing a full blown assault of sniffles and coughs, all the while chanting ‘I don’t have time to get sick!’.

During a recent pharmacy visit to stock up on Lemsip, my mind wandered to recipe books and eighteenth-century strategies for battling the common cold. How did the eighteenth-century upper sorts deal with scratchy throats, and the dreaded ‘man cold’?

In the eighteenth century catching cold was linked to climate. In his popular work Domestic Medicine (1772 edition) William Buchan explained that catching cold was a result of ‘obstructed perspiration’ and that the secret to not getting sick was avoiding extremes in temperature.[1] Buchan observed that, ‘the inhabitants of every climate are liable to catch cold, nor can even the greatest circumspection defend them against its attacks’.[2] For treatment Buchan advised rest, fluids, light foods, and an infusion of balm and citrus. He also cautioned that ‘Many attempt to cure a cold, by getting drunk. But this, to say no worse of it, is a very hazardous and fool-hardy experiment.’[3]

William Buchan (1729-1805) [Wikipedia]
William Buchan (1729-1805) [Wikipedia- Credit: US National Library of Medicine]
Coughs were ubiquitous in the eighteenth century, but it would be misleading to say that this symptom (as we know it) was only associated with non-life threatening conditions. Sometimes recipes in domestic collections grouped coughs with colds, while others treated coughs associated with more serious ailments (see The Sloane Letters Blog).[4]

John Wesley divided coughs into several categories in Primitive Physick (1792 edition) including: asthmatic, consumptive, and tickling. For ‘Violent Coughing from a sharp and thin Rheum’ Wesley suggested a bolus of conserve of rose with powdered frankincense.[5] Or, one could try the milk of sow thistle which ‘has the anodyne and antispasmodic properties of opium, without its narcotic effects.’[6]

Newspapers were an excellent source for cough and cold remedies; the Weekly Amusement (February 4, 1764), for instance, had a remedy ‘A Plaister for a Sore Throat’. Made from melted mutton suet, rosin, and beeswax, this paste was spread on a cloth and pinned on from ear to ear.[7] Newspaper clippings were also pasted into manuscripts. Dr James Malone’s ‘Recipe for a Cold’, shown below, is a balsam-style remedy that boasted to be ‘almost an infallible remedy’ and was inserted into Mrs Myddleton’s book.[8]

'Recipe for a Cold' Wellcome, WMS 3656, f. 21r.
‘Recipe for a Cold’ Wellcome, WMS 3656, f. 21r. [Credit: Wellcome Library, London]
Letters indicate the regularity of which remedies were exchanged, and document how individual’s expressed their cold symptoms.  Mrs Gell thanked her sisters for ‘ye receipt which I believe very good in [this] time of yeare’ adding ‘thanke God & ye Drs skill & care & friends nursing am very well againe my cough is gon[e] & I am about house’.[9] In another case, Judith Madan wrote to her daughter giving details of an illness and declared ‘My Cough is less violent and comes seldemer. As for the Phlegm which has been my torme[n]t, it must have time to subside.’[10]

A variety of cough and cold remedies were featured in recipe books. Alongside restorative broths (like modern chicken soup), artificial asses’ milk, and milk-based diets in general, were associated with treating coughs (discussed by Sally Osborn). Topical therapies were also used, such as Emily Jane Sneyd eighteenth-century version of VapoRub; a mixture of sweet almond oil and syrup of violets along with a plaster of candle wax, saffron, and nutmeg applied to the stomach.[11] 

Syrups and electuaries were popular remedies. One seventeenth-century recipe, ‘a most excellent electuary given to Lady Lisle by Dr Lower’, was a mixture including conserve of red roses, balsam of sulphur, oil of vitriol, and syrup of coltsfoot.[12] Opiates were common in cough remedies, for sedation. Mrs Cotton suggested a mixture of liquorice, vinegar, salad oil, treacle, and tincture of opium when ‘the cough is troublesome’.[13]

Finally, lozenges were used to alleviate sore throats. Elizabeth Jenner’s recipe book (1706) includes her own method of making lozenges ‘very good for Coughs Comeing by takeing Cold’. Jenner’s method involved creating a stiff paste of sugar, herbal oils and powders, and rose water, rolling out the paste, punching out rounds with a thimble, and then drying them in the oven.[14]

'To make Lozenges for a Cough my way' Wellcome, WMS 3029, f. 30.
‘To make Lozenges for a Cough my way’ Wellcome, WMS 3029, f. 30. [Credit: Wellcome Library, London]
These treatment examples reflect the variety of sources available for medical advice. As the case of the common cold demonstrates, individuals were opportunistic by collecting and trialling new remedies, while also relying on standby cures. Kith and kin were proactive in exchanging remedies and were not shy about discussing their conditions, including ‘tormenting phlegm’.

But, despite an arsenal of remedies, advice for the common cold in eighteenth-century England appears strikingly similar to our current approach: stay home, rest, forego partying for a few days, and perhaps try some cough syrup. Feel free to post a comment on your own ‘go to’ remedies for coughs and colds, be it contemporary or historical!

 


[1] William Buchan, Domestic Medicine: or, a treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases by regimen and simple medicines [second edition] (London: 1772), 192-3.

[2] Buchan., 193.

[3] Ibid., 194.

[4] Serious coughs could be symptomatic of, for example, croup, whooping cough, consumption, or internal bleeding.

[5] John Wesley, Primitive Physick: or, an easy and natural method of curing most diseases [twenty-fourth edition] (London: 1792), 62.

[6] Wesley., 63.

[7] Weekly Amusement (February 4, 1764), Burney Collection

[8] Wellcome, WMS 3656, f. 21r.

[9] Derbyshire CRO D258/38/11/48, loose sheet.

[10] Bodleian Library Special Collections, MS Eng Misc d. 637-8, f. 39.

[11] Wellcome, WMS, 3029, f. 38.

[12] Wellcome, WMS 3295, f. 28.

[13] Bodleian Library Special Collections, MS Eng Misc es 49. f. 6r.

[14] Wellcome, WMS 3029, f. 30.

Recipes for the Dogs in the Eighteenth Century

By Lisa Smith

John Glaisyer a Quaker anointing a dog with burning vitriol. By Charles Williams, 1806. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
John Glaisyer a Quaker anointing a dog with burning vitriol. By Charles Williams, 1806. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Dog-owners: ever wonder about the care of your faithful companions in times past? You’ll be glad to know that animal health recipes regularly appeared in early modern recipe books. Animal husbandry books, such as Henry Bracken’s Farriery Improved (reprinted several times from 1737 to 1792), are another useful source, as I recently discovered while on a dog blogging kick at Wonders and Marvels.* Animal health was considered to be very similar to human health: a matter of imbalanced humours, but in a coarser body. Remedies for dogs hint at the early modern understanding of dog physiology, as well as the canine ‘lived experience’ of common ailments and treatments.

Dogs were considered to have a naturally hot temperament. In the first volume of the 1789 edition, Bracken noted that dogs lack porous skins and the ability to sweat. If the weather was hot or the dog had much exercise, their “circulating fluids” would be heated by the bodily motions and come out of their mouths instead of through their skin. This had dramatic consequences, “insomuch that their very Breath appears like thick smoke”. I can’t help but wonder what manner of dogs Bracken had seen!

The canine hot temperament predisposed dogs to hot diseases. Bracken reported that dogs often contracted venereal disease through over-heating themselves carnally. Fortunately, the canine body was self-cleansing and would purge the problem through frequent urination (1789). A dog’s most useful trick…

The 1790 edition had several remedies for rabies—something seen as a form of poisoning, like venereal disease or snake-bite. Although rabies was a major concern for humans and livestock, dogs were seen as the primary source. Bracken cautioned that not all madness in dogs was caused by rabies, but might be from a worm that came out in hot weather. The white worm, found underneath the tongue, could be easily removed with a large needle.

Bracken provided remedies for other common canine complaints: mange, soft feet, bleeding, convulsions, poison, megrim [migraine], filmy eyes, ticks, lice and fleas, and sore ears (pp. 128-133). Such ailments reflect the daily life of hunting dogs. They pursued their prey through bushes, where dangers such as snakes and ticks lurked. Cuts, bleeding and wounds were common in dogs, caused when they“stake themselves by brushing through the hedges”. Greyhounds, setters and pointers tended to have paws too soft to scrabble over long distances. A simple treatment to toughen the paws entailed washing them in alum water, then an hour later, in warm beer and butter. These were working dogs; however well-treated, they had occupational hazards.

A barber-surgeon for dogs in Paris. Drawing by L. Choquet.19th century. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A barber-surgeon for dogs in Paris. Drawing by L. Choquet.19th century. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Not all ailments came from work, such as convulsions, megrims or cloudy eyes. The presence of remedies for these problems suggests the emotional and financial value of dogs. Inconvenient chronic problems were tolerated and treated. During a convulsion, the intervention was a matter of common-sense: cool off the dog by dipping its snout into cold water, then give it lots to drink. Other remedies were similar to human ones. For example, the solution for megrims (identifiable by the dog staggering) was to bleed the dog at the base of the tail. In humans, bleeding at the foot would serve to draw the blood away from the head. The eye remedy revealed the care that might be taken with elderly animals. Five or six times, the carer was to dip a fine linen cloth into vitriol and spring water, squeeze it, and “gently” wash the dog’s eyes. This should be done twice a day.

The recipes suggest some of the physical effects of the treatments. The remedy for mange included washing the dog in a liquour of boiled urine and tobacco stalks, followed by a daily breakfast of fresh butter and flour of brimstone. Bracken stressed that the dog would die if it licked itself. A treatment for “deep holes” reveals how carers kept dogs from worrying at wounds before the invention of the head cone. First, the wound needed to be tented with linen dipped in fresh, warmed butter. This should be changed daily and washed with milk. In between changes, it was important to tightly bandage the tent over the wound to keep the dog from pulling it off.

Other remedies were just painful. For bruised joints, the dog needed to be muzzled, presumably to prevent biting, during the application of oil of spike and oil of swallows. When putting oil of turpentine on a fresh wound, the dog’s mouth should be secured as the oil would give a “violent smart” for a moment. Treatments for humans were also often painful, but those patients were less likely to bite.

Small wonder modern dogs dread going to the vet. They’ve probably evolved to avoid our medical care.

* For my other posts on the history of dogs, science and medicine, please see: The Art of Beagling in the Eighteenth Century , Buffon and the Beagle and The Sex Life of Dogs in the Eighteenth Century.