Mr Holloway’s marvellous medicines

In the BMJ (subscription required) Dalrymple discusses those ubiquitous Victorian medical ads:
He who expects honesty in advertising expects palm trees in Antarctica and penguins in the Congo: in other words, marvels never to be found. Though many know this, however, many are influenced by advertising, and the two groups probably overlap. People are inclined to believe that because there is no smoke without fire, no encomium can be entirely without foundation.
This is particularly true of advertising of patent medicines. I happened recently, for research purposes, to be leafing through a provincial newspaper of the 1840s, much of the advertising space of which was occupied by encomiums to patent medicines. The advertisement for Lord Eldon’s aperient pills, for example, starts with a quotation from John Abernethy, late surgeon to St Bartholomew’s: “Habitual costiveness, I have no hesitation in saying, is the foundation or forerunner of every disease to which the human frame is subject.”

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