Doctor Alexander Wilford Hall (1819 – 1902)
If nothing else, practitioners of the art of quackery sell hope. Their target audience were those who had lost faith in the powers of the medical community to cure them or who had a complaint which contemporary medicine seemed powerless to address. Often, as we have seen, the quack produced some, often harmful, occasionally harmless, potions, which the accompanying marketing puff claimed, like Lily the Pink’s medicinal compound, to be efficacious in every case. However, Wilford Hall, the latest practitioner to come under our microscope was different in that all he had to sell was a secret. And, boy, did he sell it!
Most of us would like to find the secret to good health and longevity. Writing in his own magazine, Microcosm, Hall, who, inevitably, was a Doctor of Philosophy rather than a sawbones – still, the title of Doctor came in handy – announced his discovery of a “treatment for the cure of almost every known form of disease”. Who could resist? But the Doctor’s methods were decidedly unusual.
In order to get your hands on this life-enhancing panacea, you were invited to send $4, a significant amount of money in those days, in return for which you would receive a pamphlet. Within the pamphlet all would be revealed.
Of course, there was one major problem with this method of dissemination of information and that was protecting his copyright. What was to stop some unscrupulous person from pirating his treatment and either benefiting from his genius or, at least, making significant inroads into his sales? Wilford Hall’s solution may seem strange to us these days but, perhaps, it was symptomatic of a more innocent age – he introduced a pledge of honour.
The applicant for the pamphlet which revealed his hygienic discovery and treatment for health and longevity swore “by their word and honour not to show the pamphlet nor to reveal its contents to anyone, nor allow it to be seen by any person, nor will I use the treatment with any others except the members of my own family..” This honour system seemed to work because he sold around half a million copies in the United States, England and Australia. A veritable gold mine.
And what was this mind-blowing treatment? Well, there was certainly a lot of blowing because it was little more than what we would now know as colonic irrigation or an enema. The pamphlet explained that disease was consequent upon the absorption of poisonous materials from the rectum and colon. So the treatment was to “wash this out thoroughly with hot water once or twice a day and disease is robbed of its power and – rather poetic this passage – death of its terror and the doctor of his occupation”. The patient was encouraged to use one or two gallons and retain it for as long as possible, expelling what wasn’t absorbed. Along with it, so the Doctor said, went the disease and noxious substances.
One doctor reported that a female patient who was a notoriously poor breakfaster for years took the treatment and “the discharges from her bowels were simply enormous”!
Harmless? Probably. Effective? Doubtful. But lucrative? Certainly.