163 years after his death, Honoré de Balzac remains an extremely modern-sounding wag.
Were he alive today, he’d no doubt be pounding out his provocative observations in a coffice, a café whose free wifi, lenient staff, and abundant electrical outlets make it a magnet for writers.
One has a hunch Starbucks would not suffice…
Judging by his humorous essay, “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” Balzac would seek out a place that stays open past midnight, and the strongest, most arcane brewing methods.
The Bucket of Black Snakes was his Green Fairy. He was that most cunning of addicts, sometimes imbibing up to 50 cups of coffee a day, carefully husbanding his binges, knowing just when to pull back from the edge in order to prolong his vice.
Coffee — he called it a “great power in [his] life” — made possible a grueling writing schedule that had him going to bed at six, rising at 1am to work until eight in the morning, then grabbing forty winks before putting in another seven hours.
It takes more than a couple of cappuccinos to maintain that kind of pace.
Whenever a reasonable human dose failed to stimulate, Balzac would begin eating coffee powder on an empty stomach, a “horrible, rather brutal method” that he recommended “only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins.”
Apparently it got the job done. He cranked out eighty-five novels in twenty years and died at 51.
The cause? Too much work and caffeine, they like to say.
Other speculated causes of death include hypertension, atherosclerosis, and even syphilis.
Observing the interactions between deep sea marine life is a visual feast.
So many activities unfold in front of your eyes like this moray eel having its dental hygiene looked after by a cleaner shrimp.
Image Credit: Photograph by Lilian Koh, Singapore.
Member since 2018.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed well over 50 million people around the world.
The image above shows people playing baseball while wearing masks.
The crowd wear masks as well. And that reflects the most terrifying and devastating aspect of the 1918 pandemic in a way the other pictures don’t:
It killed anyone. Young, healthy adults—of the sort that play baseball—normally rarely care about the flu, but the 1918 outbreak was different. It killed anyone, and we still don’t really know why.
The photo also represents a sad futility when you learn that the masks didn’t protect people.
While cotton gauze may stop bacteria, viruses are much smaller. Yet pictures record large groups wearing them, from police in Seattle, to paperboys in Canada, to soldiers in France, right down to the general public.
Not one of them was protected in any way from one of the deadliest events in human history.
A selection of images from High Frequency Electric Currents in Medicine and Dentistry (1910) by champion of electro-therapeutics Samuel Howard Monell, a physician who the American X-Ray Journal cite, rather wonderfully, as having “done more for static electricity than any other living man”.
Although the use of electricity to treat physical ailments could be seen to stretch back to the when the ancient Greeks first used live electric fish to numb the body in pain, it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries – through the work of Luigi Galvani and Guillaume Duchenne – that the idea really took hold.
Monell claims that his high frequency currents of electricity could treat a variety of ailments, including acne, lesions, insomnia, abnormal blood pressure, depression, and hysteria.
Although not explicitly delved into in this volume, the treatment of this latter condition in women was frequently achieved at this time through the use of an early form of the vibrator (to save the physician from the manual effort), through bringing the patient to “hysterical paroxysm” (in other words, an orgasm).
These days electrotherapy has been widely accepted in the field of physical rehabilitation, and also made the news recently in its use to keep soldiers awake (the treatment of fatigue also being one of Monell’s applications).
Please go to the Website to fully appreciate the other Images via High Frequency Electric Currents in Medicine and Dentistry (1910) | The Public Domain Review.
It was not until 1890 that the status of lunatics was changed, in Britain by Parliamentary legislation, from prisoners to patients.
Asylums were prisons disguised as hospitals, where the poor and incurable could be swept out of sight,
It was a far cry from the charitable intentions of Simon FitzMary, who founded Bethlem in Bishopsgate in 1370 as a priory offering asylum to London’s mad paupers.
During the Crusades, he had been led to safety by the star over Bethlehem: the motif appears on the hospital’s crest to this day.
Traditionally, the medieval Church equated health and madness with good and evil.
The mad were possessed by evil spirits, which could be driven out by beating, immersion in freezing water and periods in isolation.
Sir Thomas More was as much in favour of thrashing the insane to bring them to their senses as he was of flogging heretics.
Bedlam was racked by scandals. One inmate died after his intestines burst, having been chained in a confined space for years.
Others slept naked on straw in the cold, tormented by sadistic keepers.
There was money to be made out of the misery, hence the rise of the private madhouse.
As the materialistic Victorian era gathered pace, Bedlam pushed its pauper inmates into new county asylums, making room for a burgeoning market of shabby, genteel inmates, driven to insanity by the pressures of middle-class life.
Private madhouses were convenient dumping grounds for unwanted wives. Defoe noted that if they were not mad when they arrived, they certainly ended up so.
By ancient tradition, the possession of a womb predisposed a person to insanity. Virgins and menopausal women were particularly vulnerable.
One Victorian doctor advocated applying leeches to the labia, while another maintained that removing the clitoris saved a woman from insanity.
It was no wonder, then, that the medics were perplexed when 80,000 ostensibly fit and active men suffered mental breakdown during World War I. They were not women, so why the hysteria?
It was a further blow to conventional belief that most of the victims were officers, the elite drawn from the public schools.
Accused of malingering, they were subjected to a new, barbarous electric shock treatment, before a more enlightened approach emerged.