by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2018
The Quack Doctor by Charles Green
Dr. Harrington has begun to realize that by bringing Western medicine to the Far East, he also has an opportunity to learn how the Far East has been keeping people alive and healthy for several thousand years.
At this time in Victorian England, some impressive strides were being made regarding the causes of cholera epidemics and tuberculosis. However, general medical care had yet to fully embrace Pasteur’s discoveries regarding germs and the spread of disease. The wealthy could afford what passed for good health care. The poor, living in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation, had little if any recourse to serious medical care.
Enter the quack, who promised this or that powder, pill, or colored syrup would bring the miracle cure everyone needed.
From The Online Etymology Dictionary:
“medical charlatan,” 1630s, short for quacksalver (1570s), from obsolete Dutch quacksalver (modern kwakzalver), literally “hawker of salve,” from Middle Dutch quacken “to brag, boast,” literally “to croak” (see quack (v.)) + salf “salve,” salven “to rub with ointment” (see salve (v.)). As an adjective from 1650s. The oldest attested form of the word in this sense in English is as a verb, “to play the quack” (1620s). The Dutch word also is the source of German Quacksalber, Danish kvaksalver, Swedish kvacksalvare.
Were there quacks in Kyoto? Probably. The world was changing very quickly. Japanese people were eager to try the wonders from the West. Some of those wonders could be truly mind-boggling in their defiance of all reason and sense.
Anatomical head. Edo period. Wax. 19thc-artworldwide.org
If you’d like to know more about medical quackery in this time period, I recommend The Quack Doctor, a site created by Caroline Rance. There you will find much that will both shock and amuse you.
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