What was the medicine?

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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What was the medicine?

Postby Raphael » Fri Dec 18, 2009 3:07 pm

In a letter to Fanny Brawne he wrote that he would like her to excuse his mood which he attributed to the medicine he was taking "which is of a nerve shattering nature. I shall impute any depression I may experience to this cause."
Does anyone know what the medicine was? It wasn't Mercury again was it?
Last edited by Raphael on Thu Dec 24, 2009 4:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What was the medicine?

Postby Malia » Fri Dec 18, 2009 3:59 pm

Good question! I'm not sure, off the top of my head--but it may well have been mercury, which would have the effect Keats describes, if given in a large enough dose. Although, TB itself was known to cause "nervous" symptoms, so who knows?
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Re: What was the medicine?

Postby Raphael » Tue Dec 22, 2009 5:22 pm

Malia wrote:Good question! I'm not sure, off the top of my head--but it may well have been mercury, which would have the effect Keats describes, if given in a large enough dose. Although, TB itself was known to cause "nervous" symptoms, so who knows?


I was thinking Mercury again too..I find it incredible that they ddin't know how poisonous it is. I have been reading up on what it does to the body and I think some of John's health problems and his nervousness was either caused by or made worse by the Mercury.They used to take it for all sorts of illnesses back then. It must have tasted vile as well.. :?

What is so sad is that there are many herbs that he could have taken for his sore throats that would have really helped such as Cleavers, Garlic, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow, Sage, Cinnamon, Cloves, Goldenseal, and of course honey. They would have helped kill the bacteria and re balance his immune system. Garlic raw is very effective I read, but of course he wouldn't have got his thousand kisses from Fanny.. :wink:

Interestingly Cayenne pepper is also mentioned in herbal books so perhaps the rumour John put it on his tongue before drinking claret is true!

It seems that the doctors of his day didn't know much about herbs and recommended Mercury.
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Re: What was the medicine?

Postby keatsclose » Wed Dec 23, 2009 3:35 pm

On the same subject, the paperback copy of Gittings's biography I'd ordered (from an Amazon Marketplace seller) came today, and I turned to the Index - only find there wasn't
one. The last 30 pages - from p.648 on - had been carefully removed. The remainder of Appendix 3, Keats and Venereal Disease, and Appendix 4, Keats's Use of Bawdy, had been excised.

When I studied Keats for A level at my Hampshire convent school around the time Gittings's book first appeared, nothing like this was ever mentioned.
I can just see that school librarian busy with her scissors on a similar copy of the 1971 Penguin...

Had the subject ever been raised in class it might have awoken us from our slumbers. Thank heavens our French teacher didn't bowdlerise Baudelaire.
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Re: What was the medicine?

Postby Raphael » Wed Dec 23, 2009 4:05 pm

keatsclose wrote:On the same subject, the paperback copy of Gittings's biography I'd ordered (from an Amazon Marketplace seller) came today, and I turned to the Index - only find there wasn't
one. The last 30 pages - from p.648 on - had been carefully removed. The remainder of Appendix 3, Keats and Venereal Disease, and Appendix 4, Keats's Use of Bawdy, had been excised.

When I studied Keats for A level at my Hampshire convent school around the time Gittings's book first appeared, nothing like this was ever mentioned.
I can just see that school librarian busy with her scissors on a similar copy of the 1971 Penguin...

Had the subject ever been raised in class it might have awoken us from our slumbers. Thank heavens our French teacher didn't bowdlerise Baudelaire.


I haven't got Gittings yet- is it worth gettiing? I'm keeping an open verdict on the subject of John's Mercury taking in 1818 and the syphilis rumour- Dr Sawrey is often cited as proof yet John consulted Sawrey first for Tom's illness when they suspected it was consumption but hoped it was not. And I doubt Mercury would get rid of syphilis- only antibiotics can ( look at Henry VIII....). Mercury would probably make it worse! Before antibiotics once you had it (syphilis) you had it for life and the complications could kill you. Syphilis causes rashes and sores of which there is no mention- his friends would have noticed this. Perhaps John thought he had it though.Some other possible symptoms resemble those early stages of consumption. It was difficult back then for doctors to diagnose- we are lucky with our microscopes, blood testing and knowledge of bacteria and viruses. I reckon whatever the doctors were giving poor John it was making him worse.Though of course they meant well.

Interestingly I found an Ayuervedic page in which Mercury is still being used!

The librarian must have worried about children reading about passion and sex lol
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Re: What was the medicine?

Postby keatsclose » Wed Dec 23, 2009 6:30 pm

Yes, and mercury - merc. sol., I seem to remember - is the homoeopathic remedy for a sore throat, from which we know JK suffered (too much claret!).

Gittings's biog not yet read, but his The Living Year is worth a look.
Googling 'Keats + Isabella Jones' I found an essay entitled 'Tabloid Keats...My Night with', in the European Romantic Review published by Taylor & Francis, vol. 6 I think, pp.1-12, special Keats issue (I think, need to check). Intriguing evidence of a confession from the Dark Lady herself - or most likely just someone else taking up Gittings's view of a woman of the world's relationship with our hero.

Merry Christmas!
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Re: What was the medicine?

Postby Raphael » Thu Dec 24, 2009 4:34 pm

Yes, and mercury - merc. sol., I seem to remember - is the homoeopathic remedy for a sore throat, from which we know JK suffered (too much claret!).


I will have to try that next time I get one (which is hardly ever despite my tobacco habit! )! I think his sore throats were recurring tonsilitis myself.Or maybe even glandular fever. Perhaps being around Tom so much had weakened his immune system. He was strong and healthy before then tho. He seemed to eat well and loved fruit, but riding outside coaches in the cold and wet didn't help him.



Gittings's biog not yet read, but his The Living Year is worth a look.
Googling 'Keats + Isabella Jones' I found an essay entitled 'Tabloid Keats...My Night with', in the European Romantic Review published by Taylor & Francis, vol. 6 I think, pp.1-12, special Keats issue (I think, need to check). Intriguing evidence of a confession from the Dark Lady herself - or most likely just someone else taking up Gittings's view of a woman of the world's relationship with our hero.



That sounds intriguing...

Merry Christmas!


Cheers same to you! Don't forget a toast to Junekts on Xmas day!
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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