Gout-a painful yet fashionable disease in the Regency

Gout is, and was, horrible. It causes sudden, severe and unpredictable pain. It is most famous for attacking the joints- usually the big toe, or fingers, wrists, elbows or knee. But gout is much, much more than that. It was not just an aching big toe, or gouty foot, although Georgian cartoonists used that image as visual shorthand. Other symptoms included;

Chilliness, yawning, stuverings, anxiety, nausea, sickness at stomach, debility, drowsiness, stupor confused head, and these are often followed by full quick hard pulse and burning heat with thirst and aversion to food (1)

Gout could kill, as Lieutenant General Floyd knew; his would have died in agony with his atonic gout affecting the stomach. His last hours would have been acute stomach spasms and uncontrollable diarrhoea. This did not stop the newspaper making a little joke in the announcement above (1818);

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One of the many regency poems about gout makes that clear- here, mercifully, is just two lines of forty (1816) ;

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Gout was so bad that the Georgians wrote doggerel poetry and sent it to the newspapers, who published it. Here is another poem, advertising, Warren’s Jet Blacking for boots:

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It was a favourite of the quack medicine cure-alls, always near the top of a long list of illnesses and conditions that it would cure. It was usually linked with rheumatism, which was correct. Many medicines did not claim to cure it, unlike other conditions; this was because it was clearly a disease that re-occurred. So, whether it was Dr Wilsons’s Gout Tincture, Okey’s Concentrated Essence of Jamaican Ginger or Fenn’s Embrocation, the relief was temporary. One ‘permanent’ cure was -apparently – Bullman’s Imperial Pills, but it would only cure you in Kent where it was sold only in local shops. A cynic would say that it would have gone national if it worked.

Respectable doctors in the Regency knew that lifestyle changes were the key. They had also worked out that it was hereditary, and that could sometimes be initiated by a trauma or break to the limbs. ‘The most undeviating moderation and temperance’ is necessary, according to Dr. Gibbes of Bath in 1812. (2) Yet limiting or avoiding alcohol and rich foods was not a Regency habit .

People moaned about gout, but it was an acceptable ailment in Regency Britain. When the newspapers reported a celebrity absence from an event, they were generically ill or ‘indisposed’, but gout was gout. It was a reason that could be referenced. The best people had it.

The King, through his insanity between 1811-1820, was reported to have gout; when it reappeared it stopped his therapeutic walks at Windsor; the Prince Regent had gout often, firstly in 1811 after an accident to his leg, and later in Brighton in 1816, which kept him indoors, and his friends had to come to him at the Pavilion to grovel and toady. They would have remembered not to notice that his knees were swelled and huge. William Pitt, another six bottle a day man- had the same problem, as did the Prince Regent’s brother and future king, William IV. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon had gout which kept him away from his duties in the 1810s. The King of France had it- ‘Louis the Gouty’, as Byron called him.

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Notice the gouty knees.

Why was gout acceptable? It was regarded as the ailment of the well healed – especially those who had had easy, comfortable lives with lots of expensive spirits and wines, and who did not exercise like younger people would. This was not a new idea. Over two thousand years early, the Greek doctor Hippocrates. He called gout “the unwalkable disease” and “the arthritis of the rich”, and blamed it on too much food, wine and sex, showing that the 18th century stereotype had ancient origins. Poor people could get gout if they could steal high quality alcohol. Medical experts suggested that gout in the poor was restricted to brewer’s assistants, cellermen and bottlers who had access to drink that they could not afford to buy.

For the rich, a little gout was expected in later life. These are from the Annals of Bath (1830) describing the situation a few decades earlier:

A bon vivant of about half a century old who has never yet experienced a determined fit of the gout fancies he has a little of what he calls the flying gout about him and takes it into his head to visit Bath with a full intention to eat his three meals a day and drink his bottle of port in the evening

He then reports top his friends that he does have a touch of ‘flying gout’, in the same way that the 80s executive had to have ‘stress’ to be doing his job. He seems to have taken the waters to cure it and drink a bottle of port to encourage it in order to prove that, by having gout, he had reached a high social level.

References

(1)The Gout Alleviated: Proved by Cases of the Most Painful Fits Being Removed By William Rowley
(2) https://brendascox.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/gout-and-the-waters-of-bath-part-1/

Also – https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/one-of-the-miseries-of-life-gout/

Please consider my two books on the Regency and Victorian period.

The Dark Days of Georgian Britain– a social history of the Regency. More details about my book on the Regency here. Introduction to the contents by chapter here .

Passengers- a history social history of Britain 1780 to 1840 through a focus on transport and hospitality. More details here

The Reverend Isaac Williamson – did Jane Austen know him?

The Reverend Isaac Williamson died on November 15th 1816, and a lot of jobs became available, because he had more than one. It was no scandal; it was money and connections that decided whether you made it in the Regency world of the Church of England. Some qualified people never gained a parish; others had more than one. It was just tough.

Isaac was not a historically important figure. This blog may be the first time his name is mentioned in a hundred years , but how his life developed tells us a great deal about a world we have mostly lost. He may have had some lasting literary influence, however!

He was the rector of Estrop, near Basingstoke   in Hampshire and Master of the Free School there. In an age of absentee and plural tenancies, he was also a   Chaplain, licensed for the instruction of men and boys at the Chapel of the Holy Ghost in Basingstoke.  He had other jobs. They are all listed in the C of E clergy database. He   was curate at Winslade, Tadley and Pamber in Hampshire .His salary as curate of Winslade was £25 a year and more than £ 40 from Estrop.  He received £35 for not being present at Pamber, due to the “shortage of accommodation” at Pamber. He was also “unable to find anywhere” to live in Tadley, but was able to pick up the stipend of £50 per year “plus Easter offerings”   Records seem to suggest that he did not provide a curate as a substitute for the places he could not be. Even for an age of pluralist and absentee clergy, this was “pushing it”.

How had Isaac become a Church of England   cleric?  He did a degree in Theology and either Cambridge or Oxford University; this is not stated anywhere; it was simply impossible to do so without this qualification.

 He had been educating young men for most of his career. This comes from 1795.image002

Lots of Church of England clerics had a private school as part of their income- Jane Austen’s father   George Austen had a school at Steventon. From 1773 until 1796, he supplemented this income by teaching three or four boys at a time, who boarded at his home. Isaac may have done the same.

He died of a “severe affliction” in November and in March all of his possessions were sold over two days by Tolfree and Sons   the Auctioneers. The list tells us so much about the life of the gentlemen-farmer –vicar.

 His Alderney cow was auctioned; it was five and was having a calf in April; his other horse, his donkey, his other cow, his heifer   and his donkey cart. He had a carriage for sale, hopefully to get to all the places where he was in charge of people’s spiritual welfare. His brewing equipment, storage for beer and his drinking vessels; all   open to offers. His three beds and seven sets of bed sheets were up for sale ( It was common for the very wealthy to have many spare set of sheets so they could all be washed together and stored for future use). He had goose and down bed linen, so he had feathered his nest in the literal sense of the word. Isaac had dining and gaming tables, expensive carpets and   had just bought an eight day clock in a wainscot oak case produced by the desirable James Staples of Odiham. The whole inventory took half a column of the Hampshire Chronicle.   

Isaac had a wife and children but his belongings were sold from under them. The details are hard to fathom, but it is clear that Isaac was bankrupt and all of his money went to pay his debts. It could have been his severe affliction that caused the bankruptcy; the number of respectable people who helped the family suggests it was not a moral weakness. I have not been able to find out.

 Mrs Williamson was incurably   blind and had been so for several years. Now she was a pauper; and the Church of England did absolutely nothing officially to help. It was all left to charity.

On the 17th July 1817, as Jane Austen was having her last day on earth   , this advertisement appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle. Despite the apparent ” J Williamson”, it is our Isaac.

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The clergy of Hampshire rallied around, including the Reverend James Austen, Jane’s older brother. If James   knew Isaac, then it is very likely that Jane had met him as well. Williamson had been a Hampshire cleric in the same decade as Jane was at Steventon, and it was a small world.

All three of her main fictional clergy- Elton, Grant and Collins- had strengths and weaknesses, but did Isaac have any influence on her characterisations? It would help if we knew more; we know that Williamson was rich; liked nice things and had a blind wife who he seemed to have made no consideration for. Is it   possible that Isaac Williamson is Mr Collins, interested in money more than anything? Or were there just so many clergy like this in   late Georgian era. We do not know what severe affliction killed the Reverend Williamson-perhaps it was similar to the digestive complaints that kept the Rev James from attending his own sister’s funeral- but the misery for the widow continued.

Mrs Williamson was now poor and blind. She became a widow of Morley’s College, Winchester, which despite its name was an alms house for ten widows of Church of England whose husbands died in post working for the Winchester diocese.  By 1818 £430 had been raised, of which £161 had been paid out to pay for “ H Williamson” to be apprenticed to a surgeon in Winchester-presumably a son. This was a prestigious appointment; Williamson was a great man; we just don’t know whether he was a good man or if he has appeared in any Regency novels…

Life didn’t improve for Mrs Williamson. In 1819 further advertisement in the paper raised a subscription for her to be lodged in a “ cheap lunatic asylum” That was another £138. Life was all about the money, even more than now, perhaps

My book-The Dark Days of Georgian Britain.

                                         A chapter-by-chapter guide here