All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ quoted the preface to the 1886 book Lays of the Colleges, being a Collection of Songs and Verses by members of the Æsculapian, Medico-Chirurgical, and Other Professional Clubs in Edinburgh. The book collected together humorous song lyrics sung in these medical clubs as part of ‘the relaxation and emancipation for a few hours, at stated periods, of their members from the strain and care and anxiety of professional life.’

Among the most prolific writers was John Smith MD, LLD, FRCS and FRS Edin., who contributed 25 songs to the book. My favourite of his titles is ‘There’s Nae Germs Aboot The Hoose,’ but to remain on the topic of this blog, I here present his song on quackery, which names several famous patent medicines of the late Victorian period. Should anyone wish to have a go at singing it, the tune is ‘Jim the Carter Lad.’

Dingbat from The Lays of the Colleges


THIS song refers to Quackery; a thing that’s not so bad,
Since nowhere else so many perfect cures are to be had,
Each one from every malady will make you quite secure,
And should it fail, another’s quite prepared to work the cure.
For nervousness, or listlessness, or bloodlessness, combined
With any other somethingness, a remedy you’ll find.
Which cures your gout, removes your corns, your whiskers helps to grow
Sets up your liver, oils your joints, and makes your juices flow.
Quack! quack! keep it up, there’s no disease so bad,
But fifty perfect cures for it can any day be had.

For such as have hysteria and flatulently belch,
What pill is there that can compare with those of Widow Welch;
Or should your skins be pimply or your stomachs be at fault.
There’s Mr Eno tells you that the remedy’s Fruit Salt.
If suffering from headaches or from pains about your spine.
Against such dispensations now you need not long repine,
Sensations of such nasty kind will never more be felt
If you will only wear a proper sized Magnetic Belt.
Quack! quack! keep it up, &c.

From warts, vertigo, sneezing, hiccup, trembling of the nerves,
A Pulvermacher chain, you’ll find, effectually preserves;
While if into your head you feel your blood inclined to roam.
It’s checked at once by using an Electric Small-tooth Comb.
Suppose that from your cranium the hairs begin to drop,
Or that your locks get snowy in a way you’d like to stop.
Macassar Oil, or Mrs Allan, famous o’er the world,
Will clothe your scalp with auburn crops, got up and nicely curled.
Quack! quack! keep it up, &c.

Specific balsams for bronchitis or a common cold
Are found in Powell’s Aniseed and Horehound, we are told ;
While, should your dental apparatus be on the decline,
No end of grinders you may save by using Floriline.
Should corpulence your figure jeopardise, no matter what
Your size may be, a remedy you’ll find in Anti-fat ;
While there’s old Jacob Townsend, ready from your blood to prove
That his Sarsaparilla every poison will remove.
Quack! quack! keep it up, &c.

Perhaps you are afflicted with dyspepsia or bile,
Then what you need is plainly Norton’s Pills of Camomile ;
While, if you wish to take a ride to Khiva, you will find
A box of Cockle’s keep you clear in body and in mind.
And lastly, should tuberculosis of you get a hold.
You know that by the highest testimonials we are told
How any one, at any time, its ravages may foil.
While in the liver of the cod we find De Jongh’s Brown Oil.
Quack! quack! keep it up, &c.

You’ve Holloway with pills and ointment, Lamplough with saline ;
You’ve Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, and all kinds of chlorodyne;
You’ve antiseptic soap; in fact, there’s not the slightest doubt
The way to live’s to swallow every new cure that comes out.
The doctors think for sep’rate ills a sep’rate cure’s required,
But they’d soon change their mind were they by quackery inspired ;
For here, though cures be many, yet the system that’s disclosed
Is, each one singly cures all ills however much opposed.
Quack! quack! keep it up, &c.



  1. “There’s Mr Eno tells you that the remedy’s Fruit Salt” – A very good song, but can we simply assume that the Mr Eno mentioned here is all-round musical legend and former Roxy Music knob twiddler, Brian Eno? The truth, I feel, must out.

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