Sunday 15 December 2013

Georgian Beauty Remedies

by Marie-Louise Jensen

I'm not adverse to a few moisturisers and beauty treatments from time to time, but I can be quite lazy about anything that takes much effort.
I was looking through my copy of Eliza Smith's The Compleat Housewife (first published in 1758 and invaluable for describing food in Georgian books) the other day and came across the various beauty remedies towards the back of the volume. I fear if I'd lived in Georgian times, I'd have lacked the motivation to try for any semblance of beauty at all.
A Remedy for Pimples runs thus:
"Take a quarter of a pound of bitter almonds, blanch, stamp them, and put them into half a pint of spring water; stir it together, strain it out; then put it to half a pint of the best brandy, and a pennorth of the flour of brimstone; shake it well when you use it, which must be often; dab it on with a fine rag."
Honestly, I'd rather be spotty. And who could afford those ingredients?
To Whiten and Clean the Hands, Smith suggests the following recipe:
"Boil a quart of new milk, and turn it with a pint of aqua-vitae; and take off the curd; then put into the posset a pint of rhenish wine, and that will raise another curd, which take off; then put in the whites of six eggs well beaten, and that will raise another curd, which you must take off, and mix the three curds together very well, and put them into a gallipot and put the posset in a bottle; scour your hands with the curd, and wash them with the posset."
Next time I read in an old book that a character brews a posset, I will have a lot more respect for the time it would take! I definitely would have been spotty AND lacking white hands!
And I think, looking at Smith's remedy for scurvy of the gums, her readers would have done better to have ignored the long, time-consuming recipe for a gargle and just eaten the six oranges she recommended putting in it.
The cure for breast cancer could come in handy one day though; apparently if you collect the warts from a stone horse and powder them, you can also brew something as a cure with them. Hmm. I suspect you'd be more likely to be trampled to death by the stallion if you tried scraping his warts off than cured of cancer.


Petrea Burchard said...

Amazing stuff! I guess women had more time in those days.

I'd like to know what a stone horse is, too.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I do know in fact - can't believe I forgot it. It's a stallion. Will edit the post!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Well, considering how much trouble it was just to make a cup of chocolate, I'm not surprised!

Joan Lennon said...

And I think it's a faff just to floss! Thank you for reminding me why I only like reading about history!

Ann Turnbull said...

Only women with servants would have read these books or used the remedies. I can't help wondering whether the servants might have cut corners a bit? (especially when it came to the stallion's warts).

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

Yes, indeed, Anne! The poor servants. I must run off and google making hot chocolate...

Sue Bursztynski said...

There's a detailed description somewhere on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, another blog I follow. Check it out. And yes, you did need servants or no chocolate drinks!