From bog to jug
A risky remedy?
in Murky waters
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‘From bog to jug: a risky remedy?’ explores the multiple representations of the dangers of the water cure. It challenges the idea that mineral waters were yet another cure-all in the quack pharmacopoeia of the eighteenth-century commercialised and competitive medical world. Relying on recent scholarship in the history of medicine, I contextualise the contemporary accusations against water doctors in eighteenth-century medicine, and I address the question of spa promotion, rooted in the relationship between commerce and medicine at the heart of the development of spa towns. In a second section, ‘waters as pharmakon’, I turn to the descriptions of water treatment as a corrosive and potentially dangerous remedy. Waters, doctors argued, were not to be taken lightly, and could have dramatic consequences on the patient’s life if their intake was not properly monitored by medical prescription. This discourse aimed at fighting the practices of self-prescription, especially the habits of the local people of drinking purging waters at smaller wells. The last section, ‘Brine, mud and dung’, focuses on the waters themselves and their literal murkiness: some drinking wells produced cloudy waters with stinking smells, and their origins could be traced in the muddy ponds of nearby swamps. Contemporary descriptions of baths and bathing facilities could be revolting. Many a watering place was satirised as a house of office, and the results of constant purging were exposed to the reader in rich scatological imagery.

Murky waters

British spas in eighteenth-century medicine and literature

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