Maxims for Good Health in the 1800s

Reader Contribution by Sam Moore
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Photo courtesy  Sergey Galushko/

This poem appeared in an 1860 ad for the Redding & Bayless drug store in Clarksville, Texas.

Here are Medicines good for all human ills–
Blisters and Plasters, and Powders and Pills,
Tinctures, all made from the purest of Drugs,
And poisons for rats, dogs, roaches and bugs. 

Here are fine fancy Soaps of every grade,
Tooth-Powders and Paste, Ox-Marrow Pomade,
With fifty fine Oils, all good for the hair,
And the genuine Grease of the Bear. 

And as for Perfumes, why, the Ladies all own,
That Redding & Bayless keep the best of Cologne,
The whitest of Powder, that don’t hurt the face,
With a little fine Rouge, all right in its place. 

For pimples, and wrinkles, and freckles, and tan,
Nothing has ever been discovered by man
Like that wonderful product of tropical bowers,
The popular ‘Balm of a Thousand Flowers.’ 

They have all sorts of Cholagogues, good for the shakes,
And their Ague Tonics most every one takes;
No poisonous medicines in them are found,
Yet they cure a man quick, and leave him quite sound.

Why should a man tremble and shiver and shake,
And rattle his bones till they are ready to break,
Then burn with the fever, and sweat like a stew,
When he knows what a bottle of medicine will do?

(Author’s note: A cholagogue, pronounced koh-luh-gawg, is a medicine that promotes the discharge of bile from the liver, and these potions were apparently quite popular back in the day, especially since they were most likely laced with a liberal portion of alcohol)

I found the following “Maxims from Dr. Hall’s Fun Better than Physic,” in a little “Collection of Valuable Information” that was put out by Furst and Bradley in 1878. (Furst and Bradley was the forerunner of the David Bradley Company of Sears, Roebuck & Co. fame.)

  • More persons are destroyed by eating too much than by drinking too much. Gluttony kills more than drunkenness in civilized societies.
  • The sleep of the overworked, like that of those who do not work at all, is unsatisfying and un-refreshing, and both alike wake up in weariness, sadness and langour, with an inevitable result – both dying prematurely.
  • Many men live long in spite of some pernicious habit, but without it they would have lived even longer.
  • Those who know the least are the most positive.
  • Disease will as certainly be engendered by too much food as by too little.
  • Dyspeptic persons had a thousand times better “top off” with a few teaspoonfuls of strong vinegar than with a plum pudding or mince pie, or a glass of wine or brandy.
  • The more sick people can sleep, the sooner they will get well.
  • The three great essentials to human health are: keep the feet always dry and warm, have one regular action of the bowels every day, and cool off very slowly after all forms of exercise.
  • The use of oils, or pomatums, or grease of bears, pigs, geese, or anything else, is ruinous to the hair of man or women. It is a filthy practice for it gathers dust and dirt and soils whatever it touches. Nothing but pure soft water should ever be allowed on the heads of our children.
  • As a universal rule in health, and with very rare exceptions in case of disease, it is best to eat that which the appetite craves or the taste relishes.
  • Farming, or any other active out-door life, tends to perfect digestion.

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