Hysteria and Medicinal Masturbation: The 19th Century Origins of the Vibrator

M0017861 Vaginal examination , from Maygrier, Nouvelles...1825Yes. You did just read the words ‘medicinal masturbation’ although it certainly was never called that in the 19th century! But more of that later. To start this little article, I need to talk to you about first about ‘hysteria’, a medical condition which was recognised and widely believed for two thousand years. The condition was blamed for causing all manner of maladies in women from nervousness and stomach pain to lunacy.

It was probably the Egyptians who first believed it was a medical problem, but we have to blame the Ancient Greeks for all of the nonsense which came later. The term comes from hystera, the Greek word for uterus, and eminent Greek physicians who followed the teachings of Hippocrates had some funny ideas about this particular female organ.

Aretaeus of Cappodocia describes it thus:

“In the middle of the flanks of women lies the womb, a female viscous, closely resembling an animal; for it moves itself hither and thither in the flanks… it is altogether erratic. It delights, also, in fragrant smells, and advances towards them; and it had an aversion to fetid smells and flees from them; and, on the whole the womb is like an animal within an animal.”

Scary indeed.

tumblr_kpz8iinokh1qztiu5o1_500Hysteria, or wandering womb, was caused when this fidgeting strange little animal was not sufficiently ‘irrigated with male seed.’ Left to wander too far, it could interfere with the delicate female brain. Hippocrates believed hysteria needed to be treated with smells, foul ones at the nose and perfumed ones around the nether regions, to coax the nomadic beastie back into the pelvis, and recommended regular coupling with a vigorous man. Male seed, after all, would prevent it wandering in the first place.

This ridiculous theory persisted through time. By medieval times they had mixed the flawed science with religion as they did with so many things. Hysteria was the Devil’s work and needed to be treated with prayer or penance. Persistent hysterics might even have to be executed for their lustful, unruly, wayward wombs.

By the 17th century as science began to usurp the power the church had over medicine, treating hysteria rather than punishing it became the norm. But with physicians estimating at least three quarters of the female population suffered sporadically from the malady, treating it became a daily part of every doctor’s life.

It was, in many ways, like lancing a boil. Every physician worth his salt knew that if the poison could be drawn from a festering carbuncle, within a few days the surrounding skin would be back to normal. Hysteria simply needed expunging. If smelling salts or a brisk gallop across the fields on the back of a horse did not work, the most effective way to do that was ‘pelvic massage’- a very scientific term for masturbation. The subsequent ‘Hysterical Paroxysm’ would quickly relieve all of the patient’s symptoms. Thanks to the medieval church, masturbation was still considered a sin in the 19th century and one which would very likely send you blind, but if it was a bonafide medical procedure, there was nothing wrong with it. In fact, it was positively encouraged! As a result, doctors earned a fortune doing it for the masses who required it.

This practice was not only widely accepted by the prim and proper 19th century society, it was lauded for its health-giving benefits and the most skilled physicians were inundated with repeat business. Unfortunately, it was time consuming and hard work. Physicians from the time complained about the toll it was taking on their poor wrists and arms. Some women, they lamented, took almost an hour to achieve the necessary hysterical paroxysm, and with so many patients in dire need of their services, the poor fellows were physically exhausted. Some even complained of such persistent symptoms, which today would be called repetitive strain injury, they were unable to work. It went without saying that if a hysteria doctor was not in any shape to be working then he could not reap the bountiful financial benefits from the huge proportion of women suffering from wandering wombs! Something had to be done.

This led to a variety of labour-saving devices being created with the express
purpose of mechanically ‘alleviating’ hysteria while saving the doctors’ joints in the process. And they invented some corkers.

horse-machineGeorge Taylor’s steam powered manipulator involved a coal fired engine in one room connected to a peculiar table-like contraption in another. In the middle of the table was a convenient hole which the hysterical woman sat astride, while the steam made a metal ball vibrate in the cavity. As beneficial as many patients found it, the doctors complained about the amount of coal they had to shovel in the engine, so it’s time was scandalously cut short. There were several hand-wound devices but as they also required the physician’s energy to vibrate, the hunt was on for something easier.

Vigor & Co’s Horse-Action Saddle could be used in the privacy of one’s own home. As could the hilariously named ‘Chattanooga’. I could not for the life of me find a picture of that one, but learned it was almost five feet tall and so cumbersome they mounted it on wheels.

Finally, in 1869, Dr Joseph Mortimer Granville, a man horrified at the idea of using his hands to perform pelvic massage, patented the first electromagnetic vibrator, The Percussor (a term used now for the sort of tools doctors use to test reflexes). The Precussor was the modern precursor to today’s buzzing buddies and was known affectionately–and to its inventors mortification–as ‘Granville’s Hammer’ because it was exactly the right tool for the job!

sears_vibratorsBy the late 19th century and in the early part of the 20th century, a huge variety of vibrating personal massagers came on the market to treat women and they were even widely advertised in newspapers and periodicals, claiming all manner of health benefits and directly aimed at women. They didn’t hide from what it did either. One advertisement in the Sears catalogue of 1903 called a vibrating massager “a delightful companion… that will throb within you”!

Since then, even though the theory of hysteria has been debunked and forgotten, the world continues to feel the good vibrations of Granville’s invention. I just wish I could find a way to put all of this into one of my books!

Virginia Heath writes witty, fast-paced Regency romantic comedies with a modern twist for Harlequin Historical. The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide is out now.

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Take Them to the Tower! Adventures in Regency Tourism

monkeys

The Monkey Room. Thomas Rowlandson, 1810.

I am lucky enough to live just 30 minutes from the city of London by train and the station I go into is Tower Hill. To all non-Londoners that probably means very little, but to those in the know, that is the best London station that there is because once you climb up those steps out of the ground the first thing that you see is the Tower of London. And the Tower of London just so happens to be my absolute favourite building in the whole world. Period.

I have lost count of how many times I have been there, both with my family and on school trips (yes, I used to be a history teacher before I wrote for Harlequin Mills and Boon) and every single time I visit I learn something new about the place. However, this post is not going to be a long diatribe about all of the things I know about the Tower (which is a lot, trust me). It is plea to all of my fellow writers of historical fiction set in the Regency or Victorian period, a call to arms if you like, to get the place mentioned in your books more often.

Frankly, I am a little tired of seeing the same old places in Regency stories–Rotten Row, Gunter’s Tea shop, the British Museum (usually to look at Mr Elgin’s magnificent marbles), and Vauxhall Gardens, yet nobody takes their characters to the Tower. Not only was it still a prison and the main military garrison for London during this period, it also housed the Royal Mint. Every gold sovereign and silver guinea you read about in those torrid pages was made at the Tower. It was the only place secure enough for the government of the day to send their gold to. Despite all of that, that wonderful Norman castle was almost as big of a tourist attraction then as it is now.

washing the lions

Two, please! A ticket to the washing of the lions.

For a start, it was the home of the world famous Royal Menagerie, the only place for the well-heeled to see ferocious beasts from around the globe. Over its 600 year stay in William the Conqueror’s home, the Menagerie housed everything from monkeys and polar bears to elephants and lions. The cartoon above by Thomas Rowlandson is entitled The Monkey Room from the year 1810 and it clearly shows good ton of the Regency visiting the exhibit. Once a year, the truly daring could watch the ‘Annual Ceremony of Washing the Lions’. Tickets like this one were exceptionally hard to come by and highly sought after. What better outing could a courting hero take his heroine? Although it was definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Wild animals aside, after Napoleon and the prolonged Peninsular Wars, the British were very keen on displaying their might. To that end, a massive exhibition of military weapons, cannons and anything else that showed the unbeatable power of the country, was put on proud display in the Tower. Several incarnations of the Tower of London Guidebook were published as swarms and swarms of visitors came to see exactly what made Britain Great.

To have great power also meant having visible wealth and the wealth of the nation, in the form of the crown jewels, were a regular crowd pleaser. Beefeaters guarded all of the precious crowns from King Charles II onward and visitors were charged a few pennies to gawp at them through iron bars.

mint

The Jewel Room of 1868. Old and New London, Cassell, Petter & Galpin (1878)

Lovers of this period of British history will know that the Regent, later King George IV, was not the most popular of monarchs. One of the main reasons for this was his penchant for spending the money that came from everyone else’s hard-earned taxes on himself. One of the most interesting things I have seen at the Tower was his coronation crown. George being George, he wanted a new crown, more opulent and encrusted with more jewels than any other- so he went ahead and had it made without the permission of Parliament. He assumed, quite wrongly as it turned out, that once they saw it in all of its magnificence they would relent and cough up the dosh. They didn’t. After the coronation, it was unceremoniously stripped of all of its borrowed diamonds and now looks very sad indeed up against all of the other crowns on display.

crown

The coronation crown of George IV

Lovers of this period of British history will know that the Regent, later King George IV, was not the most popular of monarchs. One of the main reasons for this was his penchant for spending the money that came from everyone else’s hard-earned taxes on himself. One of the most interesting things I have seen at the Tower was his coronation crown. George being George, he wanted a new crown, more opulent and encrusted with more jewels than any other- so he went ahead and had it made without the permission of Parliament. He assumed, quite wrongly as it turned out, that once they saw it in all of its magnificence they would relent and cough up the dosh. They didn’t. After the coronation, it was unceremoniously stripped of all of its borrowed diamonds and now looks very sad indeed up against all of the other crowns on display.

If I have still not convinced you that the wonderful Tower of London does not belong in your next Regency romance, then perhaps this fact will: One of the Constables of the Tower was none other than the Duke of Wellington himself! Yes indeed, after Waterloo and a stint running the country, everybody’s favourite Regency Duke looked after the day to day running of the world’s best castle. Not only that, but he was sort of responsible for that fabulous and moving installation of poppies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. How? I hear you ask.

poppyWell seeing as you’ve asked nicely, I shall tell you. For hundreds of years the Tower was surrounded by a moat that drew all of its water from the River Thames. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Thames stank to high heaven because it had been used as a sewer for over a thousand years. Fearing it might cause yet another deadly outbreak of cholera or typhoid, the Duke of Wellington had the fetid moat filled in and grassed over. Had he not done that, then the poppies would not have happened and I would not have this–my prized poppy from the 2014 ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ exhibition (left).

I was one of the 888,246 people lucky enough to get one of the actual poppies that graced the moat and if you look closely you can still see the hallowed mud from the Tower encrusted in the centre. It is just too special to wash off. Not only does it symbolise the tragic carnage and futility of all wars but it is a little piece of sacred ground–a part of the Tower’s epic heritage.

So don’t forget the magnificent Tower of London when you write your next book. Lock someone in it, station them there or simply write a scene in which they visit it–much like thousands of Regency dwellers actually did at the time. Send them to the Tower! I know I will…

Virginia Heath writes witty, raunchy Regency romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. That Despicable Rogue is available now and her second novel, Her Enemy at the Altar, comes out in July 2016.

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Regency Reformers, Radicals, and Revolutionaries

VH Reformers

Aris ye masses: The Reformers’ attack an Old Rotten Tree, 1831

As a lover and writer of Regency romances, it is easy to get swept away with Jane Austen’s view of that world, where ladies and gentlemen lived in grand houses, attended balls and the most challenging thing that they encountered in their day to day lives was how to behave politely to one another. Unfortunately, for the majority of British people in the early 19th century, daily life was a constant struggle and they were becoming increasingly upset about their lot in life. Governing these people became extremely difficult, which meant that successive British governments genuinely did fear revolution. And they were right to.

The beginnings of the Radical movement happened at the end of the 18th century. Encouraged by the American and French revolutions, as well as influential writers like Thomas Paine, the working classes began to challenge the old order. After all, Britain was becoming ‘Great’ on the backs of their work. The Industrial Revolution meant that the ruling class were quite dependent on these underlings to provide the labour in the factories and mines that sprang up all over the country. However, they were paid a pittance to do it, worked ridiculously long hours and lived in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. While they were suffering, the rich got richer and wielded all of the power.

Only men with a significant amount of land could vote. As a result, until 1832, less than 5% of the total population could vote and most of the new industrial towns and cities, such as Manchester, did not even have an MP to represent the tens of thousands who lived there. Worse still, the landed classes used foul means to ensure that their voice was heard above all others by manipulating the electoral system. So called ‘Rotten Boroughs’, like Dunwich in Suffolk, sent two MPs to Parliament when their total population, including horses and livestock, would probably not fill all the pews in their local church. In fact, more often than not, even having an MP was not particularly beneficial. They were nearly always the puppet of the wealthy landowners who had voted for them and even if they did step out of line, the unelected House of Lords could overrule any law passed in the House of Commons.

VH portraitIn The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine put forward a revolutionary idea that many found shocking–that the aristocracy did not have any ‘hereditary wisdom’, as had always been believed, and therefore did not have the automatic right to govern everyone else. Paine went further by suggesting that democracy was the way forward, that all men should have the vote, taxation should be lower for the poor than it was for the rich, and even more terrifying, the poor should be educated. It might not have caused a revolution in Britain, but it was certainly responsible for more than a few riots.

Paine’s ideas spread like smallpox. The London Corresponding Society, a group made up of craftsmen and workers, began politely demanding for universal male suffrage. Such radical insubordination was unacceptable to the government, so from 1794 all political leaders of any political group could be arrested without trial and then they tinkered with the treason laws to effectively prevent public demonstrations. Despite this, support for reform grew.

VH RewardBy 1811, a group calling themselves the Luddites began smashing the machines that kept them in poverty in the hope that they would be paid properly for their skills. True to form, the government responded with more repression. In February 1812 they passed the Frame Breaking Act, which resulted in the death penalty for anyone sabotaging the machinery. This harsh punishment might have stopped the destruction, but it bred resentment. More and more political reform groups began to form in secret and spread seditious ideas. Their effort became more organised, and as far as the government was concerned, worryingly so.

The wars with France had made the economic situation in Britain difficult. By 1815, there was a great disparity between wages and the price of food. Starvation has a way of motivating people, so civil unrest became commonplace. The Spenceans, a radical group that grew out of the London Corresponding Society, organised a mass meeting at Spa Fields in London in 1816 to protest about that hardship that many were suffering from and to campaign for male suffrage. Their great orator Henry Hunt, might have suggested, in a roundabout fashion, that if the government refused to listen to reason, then other methods of persuasion might need to be adopted.

VH Cavalry

A cartoon showing the Cavalry as axe wielding murderers, callously killing poor women and children.

The large gathering soon descended into violence. When the mob began to march towards the Tower of London, they were met by government troops who used unnecessary force to stop them. A similar meeting led by Hunt, in St Peters field in Manchester, in 1819 became infamous. When approximately 70,000 people came to protest about their lack of representation in the government, those in power panicked and sent in the cavalry to charge at the unarmed crowd. In the resulting carnage, the over-zealous troops killed at least 11 people and injured another 600 men and women. The event was later nicknamed the Peterloo Massacre by the poor, because like Napoleon’s men at Waterloo they had been shown no mercy from the British army.

VH Cato StreetThe following year, the government claimed to have irrefutable proof that the Spenceans were now trying to over-throw the government and kill Lord Liverpool and his cabinet. Police spies infiltrated the poorly-organised group and what became known as the Cato Street Conspiracy was stopped before it had even started. That did not stop the government rounding up the radicals and metering severe punishment. Five were publicly hanged and the remainder were transported to Australia in a blaze of publicity.

While the government continued to treat any attempts at protest as a sign that revolution was imminent, the working classes became more organised. The roots of trade unionism were forming and the masses became more politicised. Cheaply printed political pamphlets and clandestine taproom meetings made radical ideas more accessible. In parliament, the Whigs argued that some reform was now necessary to protect all that England held dear.

MPs and Lords were not convinced and refused to heed the warnings. Things became so grave by 1830, that even the Duke of Wellington himself lost the support of the government. He was ousted as Prime Minster when he refused to entertain the idea of reform, claiming that the majority of the people were happy to leave things exactly as they were. A general election had to be called when the Whigs proposed a drastic set of reforms and politicians traded insults across the floor of the house to such an extent that many parliamentary proceedings descended into chaos. Now, not only were the lower classes revolting, it seemed parliament was, too. For many, it appeared that the country now hovered on the very brink of inevitable revolution, and perhaps, at that moment, it was.

Finally, in 1832, the Whigs were able to push The Grand Reform Bill through both houses. The Rotten Boroughs were removed and the country was divided up into constituencies that were created in line with the size of the populations, and each constituency could only send one MP to parliament.

Better still, the vote was granted to any man over the age of twenty-one who was in possession of land worth ten pounds or more. This increased the number of people who could vote from 435,000 to 652,000, although this figure was still a drop in the ocean compared to the overall British population of twelve million and rising. But it was just enough to stop the revolution in the short term.

Nowadays, the changes they made might seem insignificant, but they opened the door to change. Once that door was open it proved impossible for parliament to close it again. The working class voice was getting louder, and as the 19th century progressed, they showed no signs of shutting up. They wanted all that Thomas Paine had promised, and by the end of the century, they would have it.

Virginia Heath writes witty, raunchy Regency romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. That Despicable Rogue is available now and her second novel, Her Enemy at the Altar, comes out in July 2016.

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How Smuggling Helped Shape the English Language

A_painting_of_18th_Century_ships_on_the_River_Torridge

For most of us, our knowledge of smugglers in the 18th and 19th centuries comes from the stereotype we have seen on films and television. We picture the salty, pirate-looking smugglers sneaking into moonlit coves, muskets in their hands and ready to do battle with anybody who gets in their way. Of course, in some cases this was the case. However, my research has led me to understand that, in the main, it really was not as covert or as threatening as all of that. Smuggling at this time is also responsible for many of the phrases that we all blithely use every day without understanding the significance of the words or their original meanings.

In order to raise money for numerous wars, against the French or rebellious American colonies to name but two, the British government levied taxes on all manner of household goods from windows to salt. In an economy where wages were painfully low, and a great majority of the population struggled to pay for food to put on the table, smuggled goods became a necessary evil and were largely untraceable once they entered the country. Shopkeepers and merchants happily sold smuggled goods and their customers were none the wiser. In fact, it is estimated that over three quarters of all of the tea drunk in England and Scotland at the end of the 18th century came into the country illegally on smuggling vessels from the continent.

That meant that smuggling was a well-oiled operation, run by intelligent and savvy businessmen rather than coarse sailors and shady criminals we associate with it. The biggest challenge was evading the King’s Men–the nickname for the Customs and Excise officials–who could seize cargoes, impound boats, and transport those guilty of smuggling to Australia or hang them and display the bodies in gibbets as a warning to others.

drunken_sailors_5912In reality, the chance of capture was minimal. The King’s Men were a ramshackle bunch who were largely based on land. As most smugglers entered our shores on manoeuvrable boats, it gave them a distinct advantage over the hapless excise men and their horses. This was a time when drunks and n’er-do-wells were still PRESS-GANGED into the king’s navy after inadvertently drinking a mug of ale with a shilling hidden at the bottom. Once they had ‘accepted’ the king’s shilling they were forced to go to sea, so had precious little expertise of sailing, or more specifically, sailing in difficult conditions. They were no match for the smugglers.

Smuggling vessels usually landed by night and preferred to operate during bad weather when there was even less chance of being caught. They were often painted black, with black sails, so that they were almost impossible to see in the dark. They did not have a specific landing place worked out in advance, merely a rough area of coast to head towards, and relied on conspirators on shore to guide them to a safe place. This was usually done by shining a light at the boat for it to follow.

You need to bear in mind that street lighting was a newfangled, modern and expensive invention at this time. Very few places were lit after dark and those that were tended to be only the wealthier parts of cities or large towns. The villages that peppered the coast would have been plunged into complete darkness the moment the sun went down. One solitary lantern would stick out like a sore thumb in this gloomy landscape and would easily be enough to guide the ships safely to the shore on the spot where the waiting carts would carry the cargo away to safety.

f147b2_d1c678e930ef4dc5a234733fbe96c792Unfortunately, one lantern on a pitch black stretch of beach would also alert the excise men as well. Therefore, the smugglers and those that helped them had to be resourceful. Instead of a constant light, the smugglers resorted to using a flash to let the boats know that the COAST WAS CLEAR.

This could be achieved by striking a match or creating a spark from a tinderbox. A brighter signal could be achieved by using an old flintlock pistol. Those old guns relied on a gunpowder to fire the bullet. The powder would be placed in the pan and lit. The clever smugglers modified some of their pistols, removing the top chamber of the gun, so that when the powder was lit the subsequent explosion burned brightly for a split second–like a firework. This FLASH IN THE PAN would be over almost as soon as it started but would be bright enough for the boats looking for it to see clearly from many miles away.

f147b2_157130680ada426ba1a24ca7cab57b1eOnce the boats came in to the shore, teams of people would be needed to quickly transport the illegal cargoes inland to be hidden, and later distributed. That meant that contraband, like gin or brandy, had to be packed into containers that were easy enough for one person to carry. Specially adapted barrels (or tubs), called ankers were made expressly for this purpose so that a tubsman–the name given to the men to hauled the cargo up the beaches or cliffs to safety–could carry two barrels easily by draping the rope over his shoulders and hanging the pair of ankers on either side of his body.

As one anker held just over 8 gallons of liquid, each tubsman had to carry an enormous weight, over a large distance very quickly. Sometimes these men even had to scramble over rocks or climb cliffs with such a heavy burden. One can only imagine how this weight slowed them down once they had PUT THE ANKERS ON.

Virginia Heath writes witty, raunchy Regency romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. That Despicable Rogue is available now and her second novel, Her Enemy at the Altar, comes out in July 2016.

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