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FO O D


Most quacks lacked medical qualifications and built up sales of their secret-formula nostrums by virtue of published testimonials. Commonly depicted as rogues, some did, however, have formal medical training and many sold remedies lifted from well- established guides to medicinal plants. Some were also careful not to make any personal claims for their products, leaving the marketing-speak to their satis- fied customers. At the same time, members of the established


medical profession also engaged in activities that, for some, might be described as ‘quackery’. Hans Sloan promoted medicinal chocolate and vaccination pioneer Edward Jenners’s method for purifying emetic tartar was used to treat a variety of complaints.


There is scarcely a man of any


medical eminence whose name has not, by direct assertion or


by implication, been connected with some kill-or-cure specific… But what is the culpability of him who vends his pleasant but noxious beverage under its true character, compared with his who takes advantage of his


character as a guardian of the public health, to palm off Godfrey’s Cordial and other poisons on the credulous and unwary?


‘Quack Medicines’ in the Spectator, 1845 Charlatans


Like quacks, seventeenth-century charlatans were itinerant sellers of remedies. Deriving from the Italian verb ciarlare, the word refers to their babbling sales style.


Tono-Bungay


When the conflicted protagonist of H G Wells’s (1866–1946) novel Tono-Bungay needs to secure a healthy salary in order to woo his beloved, he joins forces with his uncle, a pharmacist selling what they both know to be a useless patent remedy. Despite bringing him wealth, influence and respect, the ‘hero’ of the book ultimately considers the Tono-Bungay business to be ‘One vast dismal spectacle of witless waste!’. Depicting the demise of rigidly hierarchical Victorian society, the book also explores tensions between the search for scientific truth and the need for human fulfilment.


‘A Quack in the Right Place’ Wood engraving From Punch, December 1864 C J b1312142x Wellcome Library


We set upon this bright enterprise


of selling slightly injurious rubbish at one-and-three-halfpence… That alluring, button-holeing,


let-me-just-tell-you-something-you- ought-to-know style of newspaper


advertisement, with every now and then a convulsive jump of some


attractive phrase into capitals… ‘HILARITY – TONO-BUNGAY. Like Mountain Air in the Veins’. The penetrating trio of questions:


‘Are you bored with your Business? Are you bored with your Dinner? Are you bored with your Wife?’


From H G Wells’s Tono-Bungay, 1909


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