Caricatures from the late 18th- early 19th century always pique my interest. In this instance, Rowlandson’s apothecary (1801) is praying deeply. But what for? Skills to heal more efficiently and better, or for a slew of customers whose illnesses will help fill his coffers with lucre?
Knowing Rowlandson’s outrageous penchant for irony, I am willing to bet it is the latter. So I entered a few phrases into my trusty Google search bar and found this cached explanation of the prayer:
A prayer with a mischievous aim: This example is a sarcastic Apothecary’s Prayer, which was accompanied by a Thomas Rowlandson caricature. 12
“Oh mighty Esculapius! Hear a poor little man overwhelm’d with misfortunes, grant I beseech thee to send a few smart Fevers and some obstinate Catarrhs amongst us or thy humble supplicant must shut up shop…”
“and if it would please thee to throw in a few Cramps and Agues, it would greatly help thy miserable servant, for on the word of an apothecary, I have scarcely heard the music of Mortar these two month…”
“Physic those, I beseech thee, that will not encourage our profession, and blister their evil intentions, viz, such as their cursed new-invented waterproof…”
This was a weatherproof material which was expected to keep the wearer dry and hence free from colds and coughs and other diseases. - Wright, David. Some Prayers and Oaths from the History of Medicine, cached page.
The entire prayer:
O mighty Esculapius! hear a poor little man overwhelm’d with misfortunes, grant I beseech thee to send a few smart Fevers and some obstinate Catarrhs amongst us, or thy humble supplicant must shut up shop–and if it should please thee to throw in a few Cramps and Agues it would greatly help thy miserable servant, for on the word of an Apothecary I have scarcely heard the music of Mortar these two months.
Take notice also, I beseech thee, of the mournful situation of my neighbour, Crape the Undertaker, who suffers considerably by my want of practice, and loses many a job of my cutting out; enable him to bear his misfortunes with philosophy, and to look forward with new hope for the tolling of the bell.
Physic those, I beseech thee, that will not encourage our protection, and Blister their evil intentions, viz. such as their cursed new-invented waterproof; and may all the coats be eaten by the rats that are so made: But pour down the Balm of Gilead on the Overseers of the village, and all the Friends of Galen.
May it please thee to look over my book of bad debts with an eye of compassion, and increase my neighbours’ infirmities; give additional twinges to the Rector’s Gout, and our worthy Curate’s Rheumatism; but above all, I beseech thee to take under thy special the Lady of Squire Handy, for should the child prove an heir, and thy humble servant so fortunate as to bring the young gentleman handsomely into the world, it may be the means of raising me to the highest pinnacle of fortune.
I looked up the word Galen. He was the physician who succeeded Hippocrates and who described cancer as an excessive black bile. Until the 17th century it was believe that the bile coursed throughout the entire body. Even if a tumor was removed, the black bile remained to create more tumors. Not a nice prayer, n’est-ce pas?
More on the topic:
- Jane Bennet’s Apothecary in Pride and Prejudice
- The Physician in the 19th Century
- Doctors and Medical Care in the Regency Era
- A Male Doctor Examines a Woman, Circa 1800
Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London
An apothecary praying for a host of illnesses to descend on his customers so that he can make more money. Coloured etching by T. Rowlandson, 1801, after G.M. Woodward.
Coloured etching and text 1801 By: George Moutard Woodward after: Thomas Rowlandson
Published: R. Ackermann,[London] (101 Strand) : 30 July 1801
Printed: [E.] Spragg)(London :
Size: border 18.7 x 23 cm.
Collection: Iconographic Collections
Library reference no.: ICV No 11040
Full Bibliographic Record Link to Wellcome Library Catalogue
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK: England & Wales, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html
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