Friday, October 12, 2018


Vitalogy is the title of one of Pearl Jam's best selling CD's. Eddie Vedder, singer in the Seattle based grunge band, read the encyclopaedia of health and home and was so impressed with its philosophical approach he convinced the mates to pay tribute to its author, Dr. E.H.Ruddock. They took the front cover of the book and several medical illustrations and incorporated them into a colourful CD package.

What was so important about Vitalogy the book?

Vitalogy or the study of life was the first in 1899 and was a serious attempt in the 19th century to demystify "medicine". Author, Ruddock recognised the need to empower ordinary people to take responsibility for their own health. That is, not to make health and illness the domain of the medical professions, and therefore become dependent upon them, but rather to become informed and discerning consumers of the medical professions. This approach to health and illness has subsequently become the focus for health educators, ever since.

The declared objectives for the text were to not use "high sounding phrases", or "euphonious but incomprehensible technicalities" but instead to explain "in the least ambitious terms" matters of health which would allow the reader to understand "as effectually as the most accomplished scholar." Pretty revolutionary stuff then especially when we know the book was written in the US, at a time when medical shamanism was at its height and the medicine show phenomenon still very much part of the US culture. With the benefit of hindsight, we can always scoff at the more peculiar chapters contained within but overall Vitalogy is an impressive read.

One section, entitled Hair Indicative of Character, deals entirely with matching hair colouring to the psychological makeup of the owner. Black hair indicates physical strength and when you have fine silky hair which is pliable and easily dressed, and then you have delicacy, sensibility and goodness. There is no mention of baldness however, other than some unusual cures. Treatment for corns and warts are also included and I should say at this point, I am not endorsing any of the following remedies nor am I suggesting for one moment you should try them at home but it is interesting to read what was considered normal health care in the "good old days".

Regular application of fresh lemon slices held next to the skin for several days was considered beneficial as a prelude to physically removing dead skin. Alternatively, coal-oil or turpentine soaks were used to soften hard skin. I can attest both would achieve part of the objective but awkward and particularly smelly. In the case of flammable materials incredibly dangerous. A daily application of lemon rind soaked in vinegar for 24 hours was recommended for warts. Greatest efficacy was reported when the solution was painted on the skin using a camel hair brush. Why is not made clear. Other wart treatments included regular applications of marigold juice, or the sap of the common annual spurge-plant. One particular favourite was the ash of willow bark soaked in vinegar.

Warts are caused by a viral infection in the second bottom layer of the epidermis (there are five layers). Part of the function of skin is to prevent absorption so it is unlikely external applications would penetrate the skin to attack the virus but certainly solutions would help hydrate the keratin cells causing the epidermis to separate from the lower dermis. This would assist shedding of infected cells. Since the publication of Vitalogy and the discovery of synthetic pharmaceuticals many of the traditional cures have been overtaken but still prevail in certain quarters. Greater recognition of both homeopathic and herbal treatments remains and the knowledge of which help us understand the benefits of some of yester-years’ medicated behaviour.

(Video Courtesy: PearlJamPTFan Published by Youtube Channel)

Ruddock E.H. 1899 Vitalogy Applewood Books, 1995

Reviewed 12/10/2018

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