There is that old gentleman’s manner and attitude that occasionally reappears in a physician’s a practice. This occurs when even though you’re a physician you reach the point where you have to ask your patient to do something or answer a question that you both know is going to be embarrassing to the two of you. When it comes to treating a women for specific medical conditions, this weakness on behalf of both sides becomes a part of the clinical experience. Simply the fact that your weakness is due to your inability to control the passions within you, is enough to cause this type of medical problem.
To a colonial women like Jane Austen, this weakness with your passion reveals more about you inner feelings than any formal or informal meeting or date you might have with a physician of any professional background and training. With Dr. Osborn, he reveals a little of this same weakness within himself, in accordance with the traditions for the times. He accomplishes this in his discussion of his uncertainty for the cause of a young women’s problem common to life during the colonial years – a stoppage of the terms.
To both the woman and the doctor, a stoppage of the terms could simply be a menstrual period that is late. Many a patient of Osborn’s probably hoped this stoppage was not a sign of some other reason for the delay—the planting of a seed as Austenites might put it. So, in an attempt to clarify why the terms are late, a woman may go to see a physician, or if the opportunity is there a midwife, who usually has better knowledge and therefore better tricks up her sleeve. To the Christian community it is hard to determine just how the strongest of the churchgoers might react to learning that a close friend of theirs went to a lady herbalist, and midwife, to take some tonic for some ailing condition she had. Some would most likely suspect that this could mean the women thinks she is bearing, and would like to stop this new life from coming into the world, in the most proper and delicate of ways. So, the herbalist might prescribe a concoction meant to stimulate the blockage of some inner most energies, causing the most private parts inside to again be vital and capable, all the time knowing probably on both side that this effective purging of the womb was nothing more than an unfashionable means for preventing two people’s carriage. From reaching its destiny .
Osborn, fortunately for himself, is not a midwife. He is a doctor. So his take on the stoppage of the terms is not going to have that delicate, sensitive way of putting the woman back on her natural course, and the horse back in the stable so to speak. Osborn refers to this type of case in such a way that he tells us even more about his philosophy about life, sex, lust, passion, and oh yeah, the planting of a seed and reproduction. Osborn has his own way to delicately talk about such a thing—that is why he likes to use the term ens veneris. Whereas its inventor Starkey coined this phrase in order to invent his own name and version of the philosopher’s stone, Dr. Osborn has instead taken this mythical form of being and converted to someone to use with dealing with the passions, when nothing else will work.
The signs of the passions in Osborn’s mind are as follows. The women first probably feels a tightness in her stomach, which with time and increased excitation becomes a pain in the stomach or perhaps some form of tightness, something akin to a period waiting to happen, but not exactly the same. Next she begins to feel light-headed perhaps, and her heart, the seat of passions and fire, get the best of it. It becomes more nervous and so begins to palpitate. Next, fearing this is a weakness coming on, or actually bearing some sort of faintness due to these discomforts, her face becomes pale, and her ability to move about comes to a sudden standstill. She then either collapses to the ground, and in the worst of cases, arches herself backward on the ground as if having a convulsion. Delusional but calmed from such an event, she can slowly try to recover, get her thoughts back in place, realize once again what her problem is, and finally begin to do whatever is possible to come to full terms so to speak.
Osborn’s first treatment for this is simple. It is not the herbal decoction that the midwife may have proposed. Instead, he assumed not that she may be carrying, and may not even be willing to ask her the necessary questions for determining this, so he treats her by removing some blood. The good thing for any moral doctor to do, no matter where the passions truly lie. Next he realizes he has begun a series of treatments design to test her strengths and return her to some normal sense of being and vitality. So what does he do next? Her gives her Chalybeates, an iron based tonic or beverage meant to replenish the blood, since it has been so thoughtfully removed in order to allow for new blood to be formed.
But if neither of these things will work, Osborn still has his third avenue for curing, as any Paracelsian or Boehmite would understand, he has taken from her some of her humours, replenished her with some earth-enriched beverage, no all he has to do is warm and activate her innermost spirit, or as Paracelsus would call it, her Mercurial content. Both Paracelsus and Bohme would agree that the chalybeates and the bleeding represent some form of treatment involving the earth and sulphur (for true Bohmites perhaps the “Phur” more than the “Sul”). Now its times for the third element in this Paracelsian sense of trines, the Mercury. And so Osborn prepares and gives to his patient a concoction rich in that which makes up her inner most being, her entia as a woman, her ens veneris, venereal essence or essence of venus.
To make this essence, Osborn has to do something that up until now he has often been trying to remove or extract from an ailing body—its fire. He does this in a unique alchemical way—he dips an iron rod into a flaming fire, which enables the iron to capture the heat or pyrrol as Boyle might call this energy or essence. He has to quenc h an iron rod made red by the fire by dipping it into a container of water. Assuming that iron rod was prepared correctly, it will release some of its rust into the water and turn that water red like blood. Now we know that his concoction of sal ammoniac and heated iron rust has the essence that this woman truly needs in order to properly replenish her blood, and her spirit.
But this is not the only avenue Osborn may take as a doctor. He also has that fifth element Paracelsians liked to think about—the essence (essential oil) of something. For this type of medicine, Osborn offers that herb most often closely linked to the passions—Lavendar. He suggests you add oil of Lavendar to the above Chalybeates and ens veneris mix should it not work. In particular he recommends it for calming her passions, which in some cases can erupt so much and so quickly that she begins to display hysteria, or “high stericks” to Dr Osborn.
If lavender does not work, he recommends trying the amber. As early as Greek culture, it was known that amber was unusual for a substance. It was somewhere between being mineral and resin, or some sort of plant matter apparently turned to stone. This new fossilized stone was unique because if you rubbed it, it could store up some energy, which is released when it makes contact once again with the right objects. The Greeks referred to this force as electra (electric). Its cause was unknown, by the Greeks, and a couple of millenia later by Osborn and his associates (it was still a few years away from Ben Franklin’s discovery). Perhaps it was this energy or entia that Osborn was referring to with his choice of the ol succin (oil of amber). Maybe he felt the woman’s hysteria was due to something between sulphur and mercury; the oil of amber would meet both of these requirements for a cure.
Should this fifth recipe (the ol succin) fail, he always has one more trick up his sleeve due to his 1720s, somewhat antiquated, apothecarian-like training. Osborn’s 6th remedy for the faint, pallor, and whatever other passions the woman experienced, was simply Hooper’s Pills, a patent medicine.
So far Dr. Osborn has treated the passions or melancholy, delved into the alchemy of this problem, paid heed to its historical astrological makings (the Iron of Mars versus the Ens of Venus, which is a copper planet), paid heed to electra via its static electricity, reminded us of one of Shaekspear’s favorite herbs, Lavendar, now all he has to to do is ground all of this into something a little more earthy in nature. Thus his eight remedy—an herbal concoction consisting of Spirit Salarmo or Spirit of sal ammoniac, ammonia at its best, wite hemp (not cannabis), stink cedar growing by the river side, and sow’s thistle—except for the sal ammoniac once again, this is something very much akin to a local midwife’s folk medicine formula. Next he offers her a stinking pill—pill fett or pilule foetidus, something only an apothecary like him could make and know about—this we assume outshines or out-performs the smells of the weaker stink cedar recipe.
Finally, like only a true midwife would do, but first, Osborn finally succumbs to the honorable treatment other non-physicians might treat a woman with a failing menses with—the highly toxic hellebore. He writes “ but care must be taken with this poscript or Rx.” With this formula, the woman overly afflicted with weakness and passions, can now go home, knowing her menses will arrive predictably the next day. So now she can confess all of what has been afflicting her these past few days to her worried lover. It is not at all what he said it could have been.