Letter from Erasmus Darwin to James Watt, 1794/01/01

1 January 1974

Darwin’s recommendations for the treatment of Watt’s daughter, Jessy, who was suffering from tuberculosis.


Dear Sir,

I think it is always useful to cool those parts of the body, which are too hot; and to warm those parts at the same time, which are too cold. Hence in eruptive fevers I have often with apparent advantage exposed the bosom and face to cold air, and wrap’d the cold feet in flannel. This may be done by sponging those parts with cold water, which are too hot, or by exposing them to the air, or under a sheet only, taking care to stop before any chilness in induced.

1. Ulcers spread from the saline acrimony of the fluids secreted into them, as is seen in herpes, and some flabby scrophulous ulcers. 2. the saline acrimony is owing to deficient absorption in the ulcer, for in all secretions even of mucus, and urine, the saline aqueous acrimonious part is naturally immediately resorbed. 3. absorption in ulcers is most of all produced by salt of lead, as white lead, secondly by dry application of powder’d bark. Absorption from the lungs is increased miraculously by foxglove, next by other emetic, and particularly by swinging circularly, so as to be in part intoxicated and sickish, as in a ship.

Common air and fix’d air mix’d may be of service both on the theory of Dr Beddoes, and on the antiseptic theory.

I should recommend zi of tincture of foxglove twice a day to be increased gradually to two drams.

And to swing horizontally for ½ an hour or longer 4 or 6 times a day till she becomes vertiginous and sickish.

Internally opium much contributes to thicken matter, that is to produce the absorption of its saline aqueous part, and should be given from 5 to 10 drops at certain regular hours twice a day, and occasionally besides if the hysteric symptoms recur. Tincture or decoction of bark may also be serviceable.

Yeast is believed to be antiseptic, and is said to have been used in putrid fever with advantage.

Pray make our best wishes to Mrs and Miss Watt, and pray tell Dr Beddoes I have directed a book to be sent to him at Bristol as soon as possible. Adieu from dear Sir

your affect. friend

E Darwin

Pray tell me hear how you go on, and with what advantage.

Derby Jan 1-94