I have no background to the following newspaper story – I don’t know who the tailor was or even whether he really existed. The newspaper’s purpose in printing the tale is clearly to amuse readers and allow them to congratulate themselves that they aren’t among the supposed gullible masses who would consult quacks. The implicit criticism is not just of the healer, but of his victim for enabling the fraud to continue.

The way this story is pitched also reveals the expected default position of many 19th-century newspaper readers – one of scepticism about miracle cures. I often get asked whether people are just as gullible today as they were in the past, but that question assumes people in the past were generally gullible, which I don’t believe was the case. There would have been plenty of people chuckling over the wacky product names and strange stories like this one from the Morning Post, 8 September 1824.

There is a tailor going about the country parts of England, his plan is to cure by incantation, prayer, &c. The fellow is eternally drunk, but never staggers, and is possessed of one of those phlegmatic brandy faces which only grows more solemn in its appearances as his intellects become fuddled. A woman applied to him lately to request him to come to see her sick husband; she found him in the back parlour of an inn, booted, spurred, and (although she could not perceive it) drunk. He was walking to and fro, with his hands behind his back, when the poor woman entered the apartment. “Please your Honour. I come to beg you to see my husband, who is lying very ill.” No answer, but still pacing up and down. “He is very ill, I assure your Worship. I hope you will come, Sir.”—Not a word! After a long silence— “I hope, Sir, you’ll be so kind as to come and see my poor husband; I will pay you any thing you demand.” Still not a word; but a few mutterings, and a turn up of the drunken eye-balls, and still pacing about. The woman approached the doctor, pulled him by the coat, and in the most strenuous terms renewed her entreaties, but still he continued walking up and down, and muttering some nonsense to himself. At last she pulled him violently by the coat, when he turned round, and, in a gruff tone, cried— “Hould your tongue d—m you!— I’m busy curing a man in America: I’ll be ready for you by and bye.” and then began pacing and muttering again. This pacified the poor woman, who waited patiently until the American was cured.

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