Comic Annual, 2nd ser. 1 (1842), 131–236.

The Friend in Need. An Extravaganza, after Sterne

[Thomas Hood]


Short Fiction, Drollery; Afterword, Drollery

Relevant illustrations:

wdct. [4]


J LeechT H, pseud.  [Thomas Hood]


Zoology, Medical Practitioners, Disease, Religion, Morality, Instruments, Truth, Error, Cultural Geography, Natural History, Palaeontology, Discovery, Societies, Geology, Fieldwork, Physiognomy, Phrenology, Psychology, Crime, Pharmaceuticals, Medical Treatment, Controversy, Metaphysics, Status, Periodicals, Vaccination, Authorship, Expertise, Race, Quackery, Mesmerism, Miracle, Speculation, Experiment, Homeopathy, Hydropathy, Popularization, Encyclopaedias, Periodicals, Feeling

People mentioned:

Galen , Aristotle , Aulus C Celsus , Hippocrates of Cos , Robert James , Erik Pontoppidan , Prince Rupert of Bohemia , Mathias de L'Obel , Lambert A J Quetelet , James Morison , Claude A Seurat , John Elliotson

Publications cited:

Millingen 1837 , Bright 1827–31 Lancet , Wilson 1799–1804 , Percival 1819 , Macculloch 1828 , Pym 1815 , Dickinson 1819 , Lavater 1775–78 , Le Brun 1698 , Armstrong 1818 , Cooke 1831 , Buchan 1769 , Arnott 1827–29 , Brome 1640

    The narrator is addressed by an ignorant sailor: 'Verily, the marine zoology already possessed a sea-urchin, a sea-cow, a sea-bear, a sea-dog, a sea-horse, and now there is a sea-ass!' (137). The narrator professes that since he is writing on a Quaker subject, he cannot be provoked: 'I am no longer one of those who wear a nose like the nob of a surgeon's night-bell, and must rouse up whenever it is pulled' (138).

    The story concerns a Quaker, Jaspar Duffle, who has scarlet fever. A long digression details the interjection of a 'medical student from Lant Street', who argues that all medical authority and reason is against the idea of a Quaker having a fever. He claims: 'They've no nervous irritability—no peccant humours—no nothing to ferment with—all cold and phlegmatic' (141). To the student's suggestion that Quakers have a low pulse-rate, the narrator replies that they would be interesting to sound 'with a moral stethoscope'. The medical student considers morals 'all twaddle'; he has sounded a Quaker with 'the real instrument—a capital tool, made by John Weiss himself'. The student gravely invokes lists of medical authorities, often mixing the names of real experts with comic and sometimes fabricated names. He refers to a medical case being possibly in 'Boerhaave's Dogmas' (the reference is probably to his Aphorisms), but continues: 'or Reed's, or Murray's', naming religious leaders currently prominent for their dogmatic views. (142) He insists: 'Ask Bell if he's Handy, or go to the surgeons, Seddon [a leading cabinet-maker], or Cubitt [a leading master-carpenter], or Carpenter, any of our top-sawyers' (143).

    In another digression the narrator details the interjections of 'Prudence' concerning the difficulty of identifying 'Truth': 'the terrestrial truth, at least, is as subject to modification as our mortal selves;—for instance, / GEOGRAPHICALLY / AND / CHRONOLOGICALLY' (144). Prudence gives as an example of the first, the 'Great American Sea Serpent', which while a real truth in New York, would shrink away to nothing as it crossed the Atlantic, so that off Greenwich it 'would have no longitude at all' (145). Prudence gives examples of the second proposition, that 'Truth is affected Chronologically'. A century ago, even 'Credulity' would have 'scouted' the Megatherium or Mastodon, but 'now we have Mantell-pieces of their bones'. (146) According to Prudence, there are 'more such prodigies to come true'. A field trip of the 'Royal Geologists—with Von Hammer at their head'—is imagined taking place in Tilgate Forest in the year 2000. They are represented at work like labourers and artisans, turning up fossilized objects of the nineteenth century: 'a petrified bachelor's-button', 'a stone tom-tit', 'a marble gooseberry-bush', and so on. (147) In search of larger finds, they exhume 'another and a greater Bony Part' (148). The process is described in detail: it is the 'first Lord-knows-what that has been discovered in the world!' They decide that it is a dragon and speculate that all the legends of St George are true; however 'a stony-hearted Professor of Fossil Osteology' announces that all the teeth are molar, and that it lived on 'undressed salads'. (149) Prudence provides a tale of preposterous Chinese whispers to explain how Izaak Walton came to tell his disciples that 'Barnacles produce Geese!' (152).

    The narrator gives an account of Duffle's delerium, sometimes in spoof medical phraseology ('De Beurre's theory of Mental Deliquescence' (152)), with physiognomical and phrenological observations. Duffle exemplifies the 'psychological fact, well known to physicians, that a man or woman in a delerium will prove to be acquainted with matters whereof they were supposed to be [...] ignorant' (178). A long digression on the evils of curiosity involves a phrenological description of a murderer. The illustration captioned 'The Very Head and Front of my Offending / Hath This Extent, No More' (186) depicts a criminal in chains being phrenologically examined while a studiously attentive group stands around.

    Duffle's health not improving, his wife sends for the principal apothecary at Tottenham, Jonathan Brumby. An account is given of his humorous dealings, as 'what is called a Parish Doctor', with 'some sort of Nurse in the parochial Infirmary, [who] was waiting for the poor people's medicaments' (188). He has a reputation as a very clever man, partly because of a punning misunderstanding of his interest in 'Metaphysics' (192). He bleeds for everything: 'his Lancet beat Wakley's hollow—as to the numbers who took it in' (193). Enraged by reading a pamphlet against bleeding (Wiesécké 1837), he bleeds Duffle to a very great extent. The bandage comes off in the night, and Duffle looses further blood, dreaming that he has been vaccinated again by Edward Jenner, and that it is 'warm milk from the cow' that is flowing from his arm (196).

    A digression follows in which the narrator discusses with Prudence the dangers of writing a narrative on a medical subject without appropriate expertise. Prudence asks: 'Are you sure that you are qualified to practise even at Hottentottenham, and to treat a Black Fever, let alone a Scarlet?' (197), and queries: 'you never, by Magnetic Clairvoyance, looked through and through your sick neighbours, till, like Dr. Hornbook, you could name and prescribe for every disease in the parish?' (198–99). Duffle's recovery is dependent on the narrator's skill, who through ignorance might at last be obliged to 'make him survive by a miracle' (199). Prudence observes that a new version of Robinson Crusoe has been rendered necessary as a result of its medical errors, which must have resulted in the death of the hero. In another digression, Prudence makes the claim that even 'professional men' sometimes make errors 'which end often in Tragedy, and sometimes in Comedy, or Farce'. The story is told of 'Doctor Seaward, who conceived the notion [...] that all complaints of the head [...] were to be cured by Sea-Sickness' and decided (unsuccessfully) to prove it experimentally. (202) A report to the same effect by 'French Physicians' is quoted (207). The illustration captioned 'A Pleasure-Boat' (207) depicts a portly man inspecting a small sailing boat named 'The Stomach Pump'. The narrator considers the cures that different kinds of therapists would have recommended for Duffle's desperate condition, including a 'Counter-Irritator' and 'Dr. ***** [who] would have supplied him with a tube, and advised a good blow-out' (209).

    A 'regular Physician' is sent for; he is found inveighing against the use of brandy and salt as a cure, which he considers 'one of the signs of the times' (211). He contrasts the period when doctors wore their own peculiar costume and made a mystery of their art with the present period, in which the inception of 'cheap Encyclopedias and Penny Magazines' has resulted in patients insisting on 'analysing' their physic because it shows they are 'scientific!' (213). The illustration 'So much for Brandy and Salt!' (212) depicts a dishevelled and drunken-looking young man in seventeenth-century dress, leaning against a tree stump with a broken bottle in one hand and a salt-box in the other; the word 'Montem' inscribed on the tree stump indicates that he has taken part in a festival of that name, held by the scholars of Eton College, in which they processed in fancy dress to Salt Hill, near Slough.

    The physician reports that a blood transfusion is Duffle's only hope. His wife is most alarmed at this new idea and the mental images that it brings to mind, but the physician describes the nature of the procedure. A fine athletic man is found for the operation, which is described despite the imagined protestations of readers: 'Faugh! What an age it is for Cant and Pseudo Humanity! And yet who leaves off animal food?' (223). The doctor tells the blood donor that the lawyers will have to settle the question of their consanguinity and the question of whether the donor has any claim on Duffle's 'heritable property' (225). The illustration captioned 'That is my Blood You are Putting into You!' depicts a man with a kerchief tied around his neck eating black-pudding, as an apparition of a pig addresses him. Duffle recovers, and claims the transfusion made him 'more alive than before' (231). He witnesses a fist fight, against his wishes, only to discover that one competitor is his own blood donor, whom he has wished to thank. When the donor is knocked out, Duffle enters the ring and avenges him with a single massive blow.

    An afterword notes that the idea of transfusion is two centuries old, probably being consequent on Harvey's 'great discovery' of the circulation of the blood. He quotes as evidence a comic play of Richard Brome, where blood transfusion is mooted with the object of improving social standing, a purpose 'very different' from that actuating transfusion 'as now practised by 'Dr. Blundell' (236).

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