Sidebar Header Graphic
Sea Surgeon EnvironmentSurgeon ProceduresSurgeon as PhysicianOther Pirate TopicsAbout the Author

PSJ Title Main

Happy VD!

I had heard the best way to generate traffic to your website or blog or whatever was to tie yourself in with whatever random holiday happened to be going on. So, with the holiday afoot (or aheart - ahem), I thought it would be wise to give you all a taste of VD, Gray's Anatomy Heart
A Somewhat Less than Romantic Heart, from Gray's Anatomy
period-medicine style. Medicine has little to say about romance, but it has much to say about VD.

So, without further ado, here is an important message about letting Nature have her way with Venereal Disease from esteemed author Matthias Gottfried Purrman's Golden Age of Piracy era book: Chirurgia Curiousa. (And what could be more curiousa than a web page like this being shot into the world's consciousness on February 14th?) As usual, I have inserted paragraph breaks to make it more readable. I know you'll want it to be more readable. (Well, those of you who get past the first few sentences will want it to be more readable...)

Nature and the Pox

"Now if we consider the wonderful Attempts and various Endeavours of Nature, in Excussing the Putredinous Ferments, of that notorious Distemper called the French Pox, it must certainly seem very strange to those that are Ignorant of the internal Conservative Motions, that at its first Entrance, Nature is ready to Extrude it presently, the same way it came, and in order to that end, an Inflammation is immediately raised, then an Eruption in the Vesicæ seminales [seminal vesicles], from whence it forced forwards with its Spermatick vehicle.

Now, let those that pretend to a safe and speedy Cure of Claps, resolve me, whether it would not be the safer and more expeditious Method, to help and assist Nature in her Excussions [this appears to mean nature's efforts to force the disease out], and especially in the same way she has prudently chosen, than to restrain and oppose her.

And yet the Generality of Practitioners, are still employing their Swinging [?!? "...this word. I do not think it means what you think it means."] Doses of purging Medicines, to keep the Body cool and Feeble, and so cross the designs of Nature in throwing off the Putredinous Venereal Matter, till at length it is forced to Stop of itself, and then it gradually infects the whole Body, which is certainly a Strange way of Curing, and never like to have a tolerable issue, when Nature works one way and the Physician another, but on the contrary, it generally happens, that Patients are notoriously Pox'd, by those that pretended to Cure them of a Clap.

I will not oppose their Purging [purging is either performed using emetics or our friend the clyster syringe] if the Inflammation is very violent, but to think to Cure the Patients meerly by Purging without Poxing them is absolutely impossible. Others more Indiscreet and unreasonable than the former, perhaps that they might receive their Money sooner, or because they know no better, purge their Patients once or twice [presumably through emetics in this case], and then send them to the Wells to drink cold Water, or give them presently Astringent Pills, and thus violently stop the Running, which by gentle Diureticks, Nitrous Medicines and especially such as resist Putrefaction, should have been moderately carried off, but the Patient thinks himself Cured if his Gonorrhæa or running is but stop'd, when in truth a little time discovers that he is Poxed with a Vengence." [Poxed with a Vengeance would be a great title for an action movie. Or maybe not.] (Purmann, p. 340)

He is basically saying here that using heroic surgical measures to stop the 'running' of the gentleman's, er, member stops nature from ejecting all the bad substances (usually humors) from the body. There was a belief at this time that all venereal diseases were part of a progression which, if it wasn't cured in time, ended in a full or 'confirmed' pox, aka. syphilis. Gonorrhea was just one step in this process. For more on period cures for syphilis, see this page.

How Nature Operates

A Harlot's Progress, Hogarth
A Harlot's Progress 1, William Hogarth, 1732
"Now, how well these Practitioners understand Nature, is sufficiently understood without a further Explication. But for us to look a little further, and see how Nature operates in Excussing this Matter; if it is untimely stopped, then this Putredinous venereal Matter, is successively forced and congested in the Groins as the nearer Emunctories [organs carrying waste from the body], where an Inflammation is raised again, to digest the Putridinous Matter, that if it may be thrown off again in a Pus-like Substance and the Flesh part becomes more and more putrid to give way to the Congested Matter, and then is called a Bubo [an inflamed, tender swelling], and an admirable Excussion it is, if but rightly managed, but if repelled by the Applications of contrary Medicines, as Mercurials, or great Coolers, and Astringents, or is Scarified or Opened before it comes to Maturity, then no thing can be expected but a confirmed Pox, because the Venereal matter is driven back again.

Then Nature perhaps makes another attempt, and causes a Bubo in the other side, and tries, if impossible, to excuss it that way, for since one side fails the other may succeed. But the rash and Inconsiderate Coxcombs, that resist her in one Attempt, will do it in another, till the Putredinous Matter has gradually infected the whole Mass of Humours, and is become so violent, that it, Ascends and Disorders the more Noble Parts of the Body.

Nature being thus unhappily disappointed by her Ignorant Servant, she attempts another Method, that is to throw it off by Blotches, Spots, Beules [lumps or welts], Tumors, and Inflammations.  This she attempts in the Head by Tumours, in the Nose, Throat and Ears by Inflammations and running Sores: In the Shoulders and Breast by Impostumes [abscess], Ulcers, Coughing, &c. in the Back and Belly by Ulcerations, Impostumations [abscesses], Fistula's [abnormal connections between organs], &c. And in the Legs by Nodes, Tumors and Ulcers. Thus is the Body Putrified alive, and to such a degree, that at last Nature or Art can contribute nothing to its Relief, for tho' Nature strives with all her Might, yet the Noxious Matter has so far infected all the Humours, that nothing sound is left for her Assistance." (Purmann, p. 340-1)

Interesting to note that he appears to go against the widely held belief that mercury was the only cure for a pox. However, this treatise is really just calling for the surgeon to avoid treating a patient who does not have a 'confirmed Pox" with mercury and let nature take its course. He does discuss Mercurial treatment of a confirmed pox/syphilis in the main text of his book Chiurgia Curiosa.

Hope for the Pox'd

"However, it is not asserted that a Pox does always gradually proceed from a Clap, No Marooned by Howard Pyle
Marooned, by Howard Pyle, 1887
for sometimes the Venemous matter is so subtil and agile, that it insinuates itself into the Blood, without causing a Clap, but in time may be Extimulated by some great Commotion, and then spews it putredinous quality; which, as I have often observed, happens most in Heavy, Dull, Melancholy Constitutions, where the Natural Vigour is slowly put into Motion; but such as are of a Sanguine Complexion, Brisk, Airy, and of an active Body, they will soon after such an Impure Venereal rencounter, soon find themselves diverted by a Gonorrhæa. [Rencounter means 'a hostile encounter.' I thought it was a typo at first just like you probably did. It shows you what we know. Still, you have learned a new and interesting word. Be sure to use that in a sentence today to impress your sweetheart.]

So that the best way for a Physician or Chirurgeon in such cases is to proceed Moderately, and not attempt any thing rashly and indiscreetly, lest he should hinder Nature in so useful an Act as Inflammation is. There are also several Dangers that attend the Opening of Inflammations, before they come to Maturity, but being all well known to every ingenious Practitioner, and sufficiently demonstrated in our Chirurgia Curiosa, I shall not rehearse them." (Purmann, p. 341)

Syphilitic Syringe
For the treatment of the indiscreet gentleman...
So there you are! Happy VD to one and all! Let nature reign and you will avoid coming down with a confirmed pox!

If you don't you are subject to a visit by the ship's surgeon, who will be bringing his mercury and the little syphilitic syringe (seen at left) which is used to inject said substance into the infected orifice.