FOR MORE POSTS ON LINLEY SAMBOURNE -
THE VIRTUAL VICTORIAN: MR LINLEY SAMBOURNE'S PHOTOGRAPHIC PASSIONS
THE VIRTUAL VICTORIAN: WELCOME TO LINLEY SAMBOURNE'S VIRTUAL VICTORIAN HOUSE
Over a hundred years ago a journalist by the name of Rachel Beer controlled two influential newspapers. She entertained the great and the good, from Gladstone to the Prince of Wales – and all this twenty years before any women had the right to vote.
Moving on from Doctor Merryweather's unique use of the creatures as a means of 'prognosticating a tempest', during the Victorian era leeches were somewhat more popular for their general use in medicine, being prescribed for most any ailment, ranging from headaches to hemorrhoids, from nervous fatigue to nymphomania – though sadly, they often succeeded in weakening the health of the patient yet more.
Nevertheless Sir William Harvey wrote that '...daily experience satisfies us that bloodletting has a most salutary effect in many diseases, and is indeed the foremost among all general remedial means...' Indeed, the employment of leeches became so common that their use very often out-stripped supply.
The animals were found in fresh water, mostly by women who paddled in rivers, allowing leeches to adhere to their feet before plucking them off to store in small cages or boxes, then sold on to doctors or pharmacists who kept them in jars - often very ornate - although in Bedale in Yorkshire there is a castellated 'leech house' constructed by the local apothecary.
The creatures could survive unfed for anything up to a year. When then applied to the vein of a host, the starving leech, which may be up to three or four inches long, clung on by the use of the teeth in its anterior suckers from which it released anti-coagulating enzymes that not only numbed any swelling and pain but also prevented the sucked blood from clotting – until the leech became so swollen that it simply released its grip and ‘dropped’ off.
Today, leeches are still employed in surgical cases where skin grafts are used and there is a need for restoring the flow of blood. However, the following scenes, discovered on a clip of 1950's film from the excellent Quack Doctor site are, thankfully, only fictional!
others it contains this poem inspired by, and dedicated to, the work of Mary Kingsley –
ADDENDUM: The Tempest Prognosticator or Leech barometer was 'invented' by George Merryweather in 1851. It was a contraption in which leeches were kept in small bottles. When a storm was approaching the leeches would become agitated, attempting to escape from the glass containers and setting off little bells - the greater the tinkling sounds, the greater the risk of a storm.
For a related post: THE ENDURING INFLUENCE OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Today, along with her agent and publisher, the VV went to Bonhams auction house in London's New Bond Street to view the Millais painting that inspired her novel's title. While there she was able to learn more about this wonderful work of art which was completed in 1871 when the artist was 41 years old.
Apart from the usual allusions to Wilkie Collins' novel The Woman in White, and the opera by Bellini which is called La Sonnambula, it seems that the painting was also inspired by Millais' admiration for Symphony in White No 1: The White Girl by J. A. M. Whistler.
The model who posed as 'the white girl' once wrote of the work in a letter - 'Some stupid artists don't understand it at all while Millais for instance thinks it splendid more like Titian and those old swells than anything he has seen.'
In 1868 Millais responded with his first interpretation of a female in white when he painted the portrait shown above, which is of Nina Lehmann. But the magnificent, brooding A Somnambulist is something a great deal more powerful, and despite there being some prurient indignation regarding the fact that the woman was in her nightgown and may well be encouraging sexual advances, there were many favourable reviews when the painting was shown at the Royal Academy.
The Times said - 'The realism of the nightdress and the candlestick affords an easy theme for carping...it is impossible to contest the grace of the figure or the power with which the painter has given the effect of eyes still wide open, though not seeing, and the affect of moonlight and scattered coast lights.'
When viewed in 'the flesh' the eyes of this painting really are amazing. The VV is so glad that she went to look, and is also somewhat surprised that the painting only reached just above its lower guide price - auctioned for £74,400, inclusive of the buyer's premium.
However, the Bolton Museum which was selling the painting today must have been pleased with the profit made - having purchased A Somnambulist in the late sixties, for the price of £400.
The VV wonders who owns it now...
Oscar did not visit his dying wife.