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Method in the Madness

John Hall: The Medicine

 “Qui sine via et methodo medicinam facit, is sine clavo et remis navigat”

(“Whoever practices medicine without direction and method, sails without rudder or oars”)

John Hall

John Hall set up practice as a physician in Stratford-upon-Avon. The majority of his patients lived within a 15 mile radius of the town but he was known to travel long distances for a small minority. These individuals were often very wealthy, such as the Bishop of Ludlow whose treatment required Hall to journey to Worcester. For the most part, Hall visited his patients in their own homes.

John Hall’s system of medicine conformed to the humoral theory of illness. He does not appear to have differentiated greatly in his treatment of mental and physical illness and was prepared to offer prescriptions without actually seeing the patient themselves, basing his diagnosis on an examination of their urine.

John Hall favoured purgative medicines to remove excess or tainted humours, varying from mild to violent laxatives. His remedies included herbs and plants, animal matter and even some chemicals. In one instance he treated a case of quinsy (an abscess in the throat following tonsillitis) by suggesting that his patient eat two swallows’ nests, complete with feathers and droppings. He considered himself advanced in his ability to diagnose scurvy, which he treated with watercress and scurvy grass. Both are rich in vitamin C and therefore a powerful cure of the disease.

Medicine Chest

oak and holly, c.1550-1625

A medicine chest made during the later 1500s or early 1600s, probably by a German immigrant in Southwark, London. It was designed for use by an apothecary or physician. Inside the box are fifteen compartments of various sizes.