Some of the most famous patent medicine brands of the late Victorian era found their way into this humorous song by John Johnston, MD, in 1892. Originally from Dumfriesshire, Johnston settled in Bolton in the 1870s and worked as a general practitioner, also devoting time to literary pursuits. During the 1880s he became a regular correspondent of the American poet Walt Whitman and visited him in Camden, NJ, in 1890.
‘A Patent-Medicine Song’, performed at the Bolton and District Medical Society’s annual dinner on 13 October 1892, appears in Johnston’s book Musa Medica: A Sheaf of Song and Verse, 1897. See the gallery below for pictures of the products mentioned.
A Patent-Medicine Song
Come, friends and members of our Medical Society
Assembled round the festive board, and listen unto me,
While I sing about the marv’llous notions, lotions, draughts, and pills,
That are guaranteed to cure the human race of all its ills.
Of weakness of the muscles or the nerves, wherever felt,
You’ll speedily be cured by wearing an ‘Electric Belt’;
What matter if it’s only made of little bits of tin?
It’s called Electric, and the metal’s nicely quilted in.
For heat spots, pimples, boils, and all ‘disorders of the blood,’
Clarke’s mixture, with its Pot: Iod: can’t fail to do you good;
While Mother Siegel’s Syrup, with its treacle and its aloes,
Is a priceless remedy for all, from slum to Royal palace.
And should your stomach be upset, or your liver be at fault,
The thing that’s sure to put you right is a dose of Eno’s Salt.
‘Tis true a Seidlitz Powder would have much the same effect,
But, as it bears no patent stamp, what good can you expect?
For rheumatism nothing can excel St. Jacob’s Oil,
With its camphor and its turpentine, pure products of the soil;
For sciatica that’s chronic, or lumbago in the back,
Get Sequah’s Indian chiefs to rub you till you’re blue and black.
That women folks are fond of pills old Holloway could teach ’em,
But nowadays they’re more inclined to pin their faith in Beecham,
Whose pills they take by handfuls with a confidence nothing shocks;
For don’t they know that ‘Beecham’s Pills are worth a guinea a box’?
For crying babes and children we have nostrums by the score,
There are ‘teething powders,’ ‘soothing syrups,’ and ‘mother’s friends’ galore;
And while it’s true that all such owe their power to ‘sleeping stuff,’
They soothe the restless little dears—and isn’t that enough?
And should your hair evince a strong desire from you to part,
At once apply the lotion made by Mrs. Allen’s art,
And on each bald and barren spot ’twill soon sprout up anew,
While silvery locks will speedily regain their youthful hue.
But time would fail to speak of all the wondrous things we hear,
And we marvel at the statements that in circulars appear—
How ‘Warner’s Cure,’ for instance, can cure anything at all,
If it’s true that it contains a large amount of alcohol.
In fact, unless you want to die, there seems no room for doubt,
That you must swallow every patent medicine that comes out;
And should you find by doing so you’ve quite destroyed your health,
You’ll know at least that you’ve increased the medicines vendor’s wealth.
Numerous practitioners offered electric belts supposed to give 'nerve force' and vitality to the wearer. The image shows part of an 1864 design by Charles D Hammond - this circular chain of metal beads went round the 'generative organs' and was held up by a suspensory bandage.