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Of the Nature and Properties of a Consumption

Joseph Du Chesne, Quercetanus redivivus (Frankfurt, 1648), detail from title page.

‘The Disease that in English we call a Consumption, is in the Latin Tongue called Tabes, and in the Greek, Pthisis, whence the Term Pthisick and Pthisical have their Rise; though alienated from the Signification of the Original, it now expresses an Asthma, or difficult and laborious Breathing, and that chiefly from congested Humours, that obstruct the Lungs, and oppress the Spirits in their Office of dilating and contracting the Chest.

The essential and distinguishing Character of a confirm’d Consumption is, A Wasting of the Body, by Reason of an ulcerated State of the Lungs, attended with a Cough, a Discharge of purulent Matter, and a Hecktick Fever. These are the necessary and inseparable Symptoms that belong to this Distemper, at the first Formation of an Ulcer there, though many others arise in this Progress; which in their Order shall be enumerated and accounted for.’

This quotation, from Edward Worth’s copy of Sir Richard Blackmore’s A Treatise of Consumptions and other Distempers belonging to the Breast and Lungs (London, 1724), focuses on tuberculosis of the lungs as the principal if not the only type of tuberculosis in early modern England. Worth’s small collection of works specifically on tuberculosis, five books in all, contain not only three works which concentrate on the main form of tuberculosis familiar to us today, but also two works which highlight the prevailing early modern fascination with the King’s Evil, scrofula, a form of tuberculosis of the lymph nodes. While Blackmore’s Treatise, Christopher Bennet’s Tabidorum theatrum (Leiden, 1714) and Richard Morton’s Phthisiologia seu Exercitationes de phthisi tribus libris comprehensae (London, 1689) focus on the various causes, symptoms and treatment of all forms of tuberculosis, with particular attention to that of the lungs, John Browne’s Adenochoiradelogia (London, 1684) and André Du Laurens, De mirabili strumas sanandi vi solis Galliae regibus Christianissimis diuinitus concessa liber unus (Paris, 1609) provide vital insights not only into the condition of scrofula but also the political implications of its cure.

Books specifically on Tuberculosis in the Worth Library
Bennet, Christopher (1714) Tabidorum theatrum; sive, Phtisios, atrophiae et hecticae xenodochium. Item Vestibulum tabidorum … (Leiden). 8o.
Blackmore, Richard, Sir (1724) A treatise of consumptions and other distempers belonging to the breast and lungs (London). 8o.
Browne, John (1684) Adenochoiradelogia (London).
Du Laurens, André (1609) De mirabili strumas sanandi vi solis Galliae regibus Christianissimis diuinitus concessa liber unus : Et de strumarum natura, differentijs, causis, curatione quae fit arte & industria medica. Liber alter. authore Andrea Laurentio (Paris). 8o.
Morton, Richard (1689) Phthisiologia seu Exercitationes de phthisi tribus libris comprehensae (London, 1689). 8o.
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