This year I'm looking at some of the entries in the "The Diary of a Country Parson". This was a diary kept by an English clergyman, James Woodforde (1740-1803). Woodforde lived in Somerset and Norfolk, and kept a diary for 45 years recording all kind of ordinary incidents which paint a picture of the routines and concerns of what Ian Hislop terms "the middling folk" of 18th century rural England.
April is a month in which Easter often falls. Woodforde takes his Easter duties seriously, although he gives no indication of what he really believes. That does come though, however, very strongly when he baptises a sick infant, and is overjoyed when it appears to make a recovery. Young children dying before they were a few months old was commonplace, and even surviving an illness could have permanent consequences, for example, scarlet fever left many children blind and deaf.
It is from the Church records that we actually glean most of the statistics about mortality:
One measurement of health in early modern England is revealed in the statistics of the number of deaths kept by church parishes. From these records historians have gleaned that infant mortality (death during the first year of life) was approximately 140 out of 1000 live births. The average mother had 7-8 live births over 15 years. Unidentifiable fevers, and the following list of diseases, killed perhaps 30% of England's children before the age of 15 - the bloody flux (dysentery), scarlatina (scarlet fever), whooping cough, influenza, smallpox, and pneumonia. (1)
Terms used may seem strange today. One man Woodford describes of as dying of consumption. We know that this would probably be turberculosis. The symptoms were the flushed cheeks, the bright eyes, fever, loss of appetite, and most of all, the cough.
Some other medical terms of the time were (2):
Bloody flux: Dysentery. 'Flux' referred to any 'flowing' of fluids (in modern medical jargon, the suffix -rrhoea or -rrhea, as in amenorrhea or diarrhea, and you'll find it in logorrhea: enough words, already!). It usually referred to diarrhea. With dysentery the stool contained blood. The combination of loss of water and blood could rapidly cause dehydration and death.
Chin Cough: Whooping cough (Pertussis). Highly contagious.
Chrisom: An infant who died before or shortly after baptism. They can often be seen recorded as such in Parish Registers (they died before they received a name).
Cramp Colic: Appendicitis, which was untreatable. It often proceeded to a ruptured appendix, which led to enteritis and death.
Evil: The King's Evil, or Scrofula. It was called the king's Evil, because it could reputedly be cured by the touch of the sovereign. That might have been moot, because one could hardly imagine a King desiring to touch the scrofulous. Tuberculosis of lymph glands, notably in the neck.
French pox: Also called Great Pox, to distinguish it from Smallpox (which is entirely different). Venereal disease consisted of gonorrhea and syphilis - the two were not distinguished from each another at this time. Cures were drastic, often using mercury. A common belief at the time was that you could rid yourself of the disease by having sex with an uninfected person.
Goiter (Goitre): (Struma). Characterized by a swelling in the front of the neck (sometimes involving the whole neck) as the thyroid gland enlarged to counteract the deficiency of iodine in the diet. Common in hard water areas of the country, where the calcium in the water makes iodine absorption by the body difficult. Often accompanied by exophthalmos, or bulging eyes.
Lung Fever: Pneumonia.
Rickets: A deficiency of vitamin D or calcium in the diet. Caused weakening of the bones, and was particularly noticeable in the bones of the legs, which distorted under the weight of the body, causing bow-leggedness. Eliminated in the 20th century by free school milk programs and better dietetics.
Scurvy. A vitamin C deficiency, which could be cured by better diet, which included fresh greens or fruit. A common urban complaint, as well as the scourge of seafarers. Scurvy was eliminated on board ships after it was discovered that the juice of citrus fruits could eliminate the complaint. Since lemons or limes were carries aboard Royal Navy vessels, the sailors (then all the British) became known as 'limeys'. Recognizable by a pale, bloated face, bleeding gums with loose teeth.
April - The Diary of a Country Parson
APRIL 14. . . . Went to Parson Gapper's this afternoon at East Charlton, about one mile from Babcary, to desire him to administer the Sacrament for me next Friday being Good Friday, which he promised me he would. I am to serve Keenton for him, about a mile. I spent a good part of the afternoon with him and his wife and children, and one Miss Curtiss of Shepton Mallett their relation, a fine Lady.
APRIL 16. . . . I brewed a quarter barrel of ale to-day. . . . I gave Mary Creech [the old woman who looked after him at Babcary Parsonage] and her daughter a pair of garters each which I bought of an Irish Traveller that came to the door and for them I paid 0. 0. 6.
APRIL 30. . . . I got up this morning at two o'clock to get or make a sermon for Farmer Bertelet's funeral this afternoon, and by twelve o'clock I had finished almost all of it. . . . I buried Farmer John Bertelet this evening at six O'clock and preached a Funeral Sermon, the Church was exceedingly thronged with people. . . .
He receives 10s. 6d. for this sermon on May 6th from Mrs. Bertelet, the widow.
APRIL 4. . . . Gave Betty Crich my old woman's daughter 0. 0. 6 to get her spinning work done in proper time, as I had hindered her.
APRIL 7. . . . My Clarke Sam. Hutchins sat up all last night drinking therefore he did not attend at the Holy Sacrament [it was Easter Day] -- for which I gave him a severe lecture, and he promised me never to be guilty of the same again, which I hope he will not. I had a piece of roast beef for dinner to-day, and I had my Clarke Sam. Hutchins, and his cousin Thomas Hutchins my gardener to dine here to-day. . . .
APRIL 18. . . . Mr. Penny is presented to the Living of Evercreech, to hold it for a minor ( Justice Robbard's son of 12 years old), and is therefore going to quit my Father's curacy at C. Cary, which I am to undertake for him, and Babcary too, but I cannot serve Babcary but once a Sunday.
APRIL 9. Mrs. Grant of Hambridge came early this morning on horse back to the Lower House and gave it to Jack for breaking of the Love Affair with her daughter. Mrs. Grant is too selfish.
APRIL 10. . . . Jack did not please at Parsonage this evening being very much disguised in Beer, but it is but seldom and I hope will be more seldom, the more so the better.
APRIL 14. I read prayers this morning again at C. Cary Church. I prayed for poor James Burge this morning, out of my own head, hearing he was just gone off almost in a consumption. It occasioned a great tremulation in my voice at the time. I went after prayers and saw him, and he was but just alive. He was a very good sort of a young man and much respected. It was the evil which was stopped and then fell upon his lungs. Grant O Almighty God that he may be eternally happy hereafter. .
APRIL 5. . . . My tenants from Sandford Orcas came to me this morning and paid me their rents in all 4. 17. 0. . . . I gave them all a dinner; a loin of veal roasted and a good plumb pudding for their prompt pay.
APRIL 6. My new Boy . . . [ George Hutchins] came home this morning. . . . I settled as underneath with his Father for wages. -- To give him per annum 2. 2. 0. To let him have (that is, only to lend it him during the time he lives with me) a coat, a waistcoat and hat etc. He is to find himself in shoes, breeches and shirts and if I buy them for him to deduct it out of his wages. He is a likely boy and bears a good character.
APRIL 14. I made a visit this morning to old Mr. Creed in South Cary. I made two dinners this day, one at the Lower House by myself to teach my new Boy to wait at table and another at Parsonage. . . .
I went over to C. Cary this night after eleven o'clock and privately baptised a child born this day and very dangerously ill in convulsions, by name George, of Perry's a Mason and a poor man in South Cary.
Mem: Never did I any ecclesiastical duty with more pleasure as it gave such great satisfaction to its Parents, and that they were so good and charitably disposed to have it done. The poor innocent Babe was taken with a violent fit, immediately after I had named it, and I really thought was dead, but it pleased God to restore it again, which was undoubtedly a blessing from Heaven for their goodness. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are thy ways! Great is Thy Mercy O Lord God of Hosts!
APRIL 15. . . . The poor little Infant which I privately baptized last night departed this world this afternoon.
APRIL 17, . . . After Cary Service I buried that little Infant which I privately named two days ago, -- 2 days old, a very happy turn for the dear Innocent.
APRIL 19. . . . We had some Country Dancing and Minuets at Lower House [where he was giving a party]. I danced Country dances with Mrs. Farr and Miss Payne. I danced one Minuet with Mrs. Farr at last. I gave Stephen Bennett the Fidler 0. 2. 6. We were very merry and no breaking up till 2 in morning. I gave Mrs. Farr a roasted Shoulder of Mutton and a plum Pudding for dinner -- Veal Cutlets, Frill'd Potatoes, cold Tongue, Ham and cold roast Beef, and eggs in their shells. Punch, Wine, Beer and Cyder for drinking
APRIL 18. . . . I dined at old Mr. Willm Burge's being the day of Mr. Wilkes's enlargement, and spent the afternoon and former part of this evening there with old Mr. Willm Burge etc., etc. . . . Cary bells ring all day upon the occasion. Two British Flaggs also displayed, one at Cary Cross and another on Cary Tower. A hogshead of Cyder given to the Populace at the Cross. Many loyal toasts and worthy men drank upon the occasion, and Mr. Burge's house handsomely illuminated in the evening. The Flagg on the Tower had on it Liberty and Property, the small one had on it Mr. Wilkes's Head and Liberty. Everything was conducted with great decorum and broke up in good time. We had for dinner [apparently for 15 people] a boiled Rump Beef 45 pd. weight, a Ham and half a dozen Fowls, a roasted Saddle of Mutton, two very rich puddings, and a good Sallet with a fine cucumber. . .
André Maurois knew the problem - Maurois was a quotable French author of the early 20th century. One quote of his that came very much to mind on a couple of occassions last week is (in...
2 days ago