This is an interesting advert because there is nothing blatant about it. It doesn’t appear to be selling anything and it’s difficult to see what Mr. F. Russell has to gain. To the average reader, this could simply be a kind-hearted gentleman so excited about having lost weight that he wants to share the secret with everyone.
So why did he go to the trouble and expense of placing advertisements in regional papers all over the UK and Ireland?
Image: Dr. E. Brown, the Largest Man in America by J. R. Dix. 19th century, date unknown. Courtesy of the US National Library of Medicine.
TO FAT PERSONS.—A Gentleman who can personally
vouch for the efficacy of a REMEDY (doctor’s prescrip-
tion) which will effectually and rapidly REDUCE CORPU-
LENCY in either sex without semi-starvation dietary, exer-
cise, &c., quite harmless, will send Recipe on receipt of
stamped address.—Mr. F. Russell, 15, Gower-street, Lon-
Source: The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 16th February 1884
In the 1890s, some of Mr Russell’s adverts took on a more “advertorial” look, purporting to be news items about an effective cure for corpulency. This cure happened to be detailed in his book, Corpulency and the Cure. 256 pages, and an incredible bargain at 5d.
The pressure on women to be thin might often be condemned as a malaise of modern society, but here is an excerpt from one of Mr Russell’s advertisements of November 1894:
The “poetry in motion,” which is the acme of every woman’s desire, is incompatible with anything approaching obesity, yet how many pretty girls develop into stout and dowdy matrons. You fall in love with a sylph, and find yourself a happy possessor of a wife whose elephantine proportions are a burden to herself and those around her; for a young woman who has “fallen into flesh” loses her activity, her beauty, and, as a natural consequence, her smartness in dress. What is the remedy?
The remedy was a simple vegetable beverage taken at your meals – wholesome, tasteless, even palatable … What more can those who sigh for their ‘too, too solid flesh’ to melt desire?