Impeccable Science: Flannel Frippery and Blasting the Blooming Complexion

Today’s impeccable science is drawn from the 1851 Buchan’s Domestic Medicine: or The Family Physician, a book that is a fantastic mix of sound advice, terrifying recommendations, gruesome descriptions of 19th century afflictions, and fanciful language.

The book’s segment on sleep and clothing appears near the beginning of the book, as proper attention to both (alongside aliment, air, and exercise) is a crucial element of good health. Buchan begins by counseling readers that “too little sleep weakens the nerves, exhausts the spirits, and occasions diseases; and too much renders the mind dull, the body gross, and disposes it to apoplexies, lethargies, and such like.”

Who wants weak nerves and a gross body? Not me! Probably not you! Thus, take note: “For adults six or seven hours is certainly sufficient,” counsels Buchan, “and no one ought to exceed eight.” And if one does sleep more than eight hours? “The indolent custom of lolling abed for nine or ten hours not only makes the sleep less refreshing, but relaxes the nerves, and greatly weakens the constitution.”

Ok, so less sleep is better, as long as it’s not too little sleep. But when should we sleep?

Nature points out night as the proper season for sleep. Nothing more certainly destroys the constitution than night-watching. It is great pity that a practice so destructive to health should be so much in fashion. How quickly the want of rest in due season will blast the most blooming complexion, or ruin the best constitution, is evident from the ghastly countenances of those who, as the phrase is, turn day into night, and night into day.

Oof, who wants a ghastly countenance? Definitely not me! I should sleep at night! And I should arise early in the morning, at least according to Buchan, for “surely the fore-part of the day is fitter both for business and amusement. I hardly ever knew an early riser who did not enjoy a good state of health.”

These recommendations, mind you, sound solid to me, so I’m inclined to heed Buchan’s following suggestions on clothing. He derides the corset, disparages the too-tight shoe, and scorns young men who wear flannel.

Flannel indeed is now worn by almost every young fellow. This custom is extremely preposterous. It not only makes them weak and effeminate, but renders flannel less useful at a time of life when it becomes more necessary. No young person ought to wear flannel, unless… some… disease renders it necessary.

Well! Avoid flannel! And while you’re at it, remember these wise words: “Finery is only the affectation of dress, and very often covers a great deal of dirt.”

My Medicinal Valentine

In our great enthusiasm for all things Valentine’s Day, we’d like to offer you this sensible yet romantic 19th century medical meditation on the nature of love.

It’s drawn from an 1851 edition of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine: Or the Family Physician. (I’m pleased that this volume contains an entire section on “The Passions”.)

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Love is perhaps the strongest of all the passions: at least, when it becomes violent, it is less subject to the control either of the understanding or will than any of the rest. Fear, anger, and several other passions, are necessary for the preservation of the individual, but love is necessary for the continuation of the species itself. It was therefore proper that this passion should be deeply rooted in the human breast.

Though love be a strong passion, it is seldom so rapid in its progress as several of the others. Few persons fall desperately in love all at once. We would therefore advise every one, before he tampers with this passion, to consider well the probability of his being able to obtain the object of his love. When that is not likely, he should avoid every occasion of increasing it. He ought immediately to fly the company of the beloved object; to apply his mind attentively to business or study; to take every kind of amusement; and, above all, to endeavor, if possible, to find another object which may engage his affections, and which it may be in his power to obtain.

When love becomes a disease, it is not easily cured. Its consequences, in this case, are often so violent, that even the possession of the beloved object will not always remove them. It is therefore of the greatest importance early to guard against its influence; but when the passion has already taken too deep hold of the mind to admit of being eradicated, the beloved object ought if possible to be obtained; nor should this be deferred for every trifling cause. Those who have the disposal of young persons in marriage are too ready to trifle with the passion of love; such, for the most sordid considerations, frequently sacrifice the future health, peace or happiness of those committed to their care.