Friday, July 23, 2010

Dr. Johnson and Scrofula

I spent the day yesterday comparing the latin text of Pliny's Natural History and an English text to see what is being translated as 'scrofula'. In every case, scrofula came from a form of 'struma' however, doing another word search, I found there were 67 instances of 'struma' in the text but only 19 were translated as scrofula. Now that could also be because the English word search doesn't give you the adjective when you are searching for the noun, but I am too lazy to look for every one of the 67 occurrences of the word. You will have to forgive me.
There is an interesting entry in the Cambridge History of Human Diseases on scrofula but there is no electronic version, that I can access remotely, so any discussion of that text will have to wait until I can get to a university library and have a look.
For the time being then, I will leave the discussion of scrofula with a comment on the fact that Samuel Johnson, he who wrote the dictionary, had scrofula as a child. At the age of two, he was taken to see Queen Anne who was the last English monarch to attempt the healing touch. It was abandoned shortly after as being too Catholic a practice. Queen Anne did give him a gold coin which he wore around his neck until he died in his old age.
It is assumed that he got scrofula from drinking infected cows' milk since that is how people commonly got it. It is something that people who think that 'raw milk' is superior to pasteurized milk want to consider. The gold coin that Queen Anne gave to Dr. Johnson has been preserved and is on display at the British Museum and you can see it online here.


Anachronist said...

Poor man! Any mention of him being actually cured by his fair queen's touch? BTW I drink raw milk - should I start to worry?

I remain your humble servant

Tracy said...

I've drank raw milk on the Scilly Isles in Cornwall, because they don't pasteurise it (although the one time I was on holiday there when I was pregnant I had to boil the milk first, for safety) but it's not a product I would normally buy. Raw milk is also a source of listeria, and a friend of mine who ate a brie made from unpasteurised milk ended up in hospital with E. coli 0157 last year.

Since the NFU is so keen on the idea of slaughtering the badger population, can only conclude that TB is a big problem in dairy herds over here, in some parts of the country, anyway.

The Red Witch said...

Johnson was not cured by the touch but it didn't prevent him from keeping the coin as a memento. Should you be worried about raw milk? I don't know. Scrofula tends to affect people with compromised immune systems and seems to have made a slight comeback among AIDS patients but I don't really know.
I have heard of the risk in Brie but it is sooo yummy. Would pasteurizing the milk make it not Brie?

Tracy said...

I love brie too! You can buy brie made from pasteurised milk - we do, and my previous workplace we used to buy 1kg rounds of brie, made from pasteurised milk. (but it's made locally, not in France)

Anachronist said...

I love brie and practically any kind of cheese, even the foulest-smelling kind. They sell it only made from pasteurised milk here.

a friend of mine who ate a brie made from unpasteurised milk ended up in hospital with E. coli 0157 last year.

Oh dear...I think I'm going to boil it more often now. I buy raw mild from a local farmer - his products are quite popular and nobody has had any health problems because of them so far but I don't want to be the first!

Tracy said...

If you've been buying raw milk from a good local supplier, you're probably OK, anachronist.
As with anything, it's unknown ones who cut corners on hygiene you have to worry about.