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|Letter 20: Electrifiying Edward
Written by JulieW
(11/28/2006 7:32 a.m.)
What must I tell you of Edward? Truth or falsehood. I will try the former, and you may choose for yourself another time. He was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before -- about as well as while he was at Steventon. He drinks at the Hetling Pump, is to bathe to-morrow, and try electricity on Tuesday. He proposed the latter himself to Dr. Fellowes, who made no objection to it, but I fancy we are all unanimous in expecting no advantage from it. At present I have no great notion of our staying here beyond the month
Electricity was used as a " treatment" by doctors or sometimes as novelty at home throughout the 18th century.
Interest in scientific experiments with electricity date from the time of Queen Elizabeth I's physician-in-ordinary William Gilbert, who conducted various experiements.
Robert Boyle in the late 17th century conducted experiemetns on electrifiying false hair, and in 1730 Stephen Gray electrififed a boy by suspending him on thread made of hair and bringing a charged object near his feet. The result was that the electrical current was seen being carried along rods which the boy held in his hands.
Dr Jospeh Priestly of the famed Lunar Society also made experiments with electricity.
Gordon Mingay in his notes toMrs Hurst Dancing states:
Subsequent investigators suceeded in drawing firey sparks from the human body, and by the middle of the 18th century a friction machine was used for generating electric shocks to amuse spectators at public exhibitions.
So ...what sort of "treatment" could poor old Edward have expected to recieve in Bath?
Iin 1797 William Jones of Nayland published a series of letters which described the medical electrical treatment available at that time:
There are five different modes of applying it.
The first is a communication of it ot the whole frame ( of the body-JW) at once; which is what we understand when we say a person is " electrifed".
The second is under the from of a spark; which may be stronger or weaker,according to the power of the apparatus or the intention of the operator.
The third is the friction or flesh brush; of which method there is a good figure prefixed as a frontispiece to Mr Adam's " essay on electiricy" designed by an eminet artist.
The fourth is that of a topical brush from a pointed wire; or a point of wood, which renders the brush more soft and gentle.
The last is the electric shock from the circuit of the Leyden bottle.
The spark is the form I commonly prefer. If strong, it may be received at any point of the body, and discharged from any othrre point.
The electric friction, or flesh brush, is an excellent form for rheumatic pains or paralytic affections; and it occasions a thrilling sensation, by which the spirits are remarkably rasied,as if by a cordial.
But in cases where the shock is proper, it is the sheet-anchor.It competley restored the use of limbs the first time I had the opportunity of trying it on a hemiplegia; but the party was young and of a strong frame,and the disorder arose from an accidental cold.
Agues after resisiting the bark, have frequently been cured by it. Medicines are remarkably forward in their operation by the use of Electricity...it is now so far adopted by medical gentlemen that an electriity machine is reckoned a necessary part of the apparatus in hospitals; and many surgeons are furnished with one in the country; the ordinary use of which is in paralytic cases
Extracts from Letter V, ofSix Letters on Electricity
I tihnk I might perfer to take a drop of cordial....
Here is a picture by Diana Spurling of her family having fun being electrified.
No wonder the sceptical JA expected " no advantage from it."
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