If anyone living in London around 1800 did not know Martin van Butchell by sight, Butchell himself was not to blame, for he used the most elaborate means to make himself conspicuous. At a time when almost no one but Jews wore beards, Butchell wore a long one - 'full eight inches long' - and insisted that women thought clean-shaven men were 'incomplete'. He was in the habit of carrying a large white bone - it was, he claimed, a Tahitian club, invaluable for beating off anyone who sought to molest him. He rode round town on a white pony, painted sometimes with purple and black spots, sometimes purple all over. Butchell was an empiric who specialised in curing anal fistulae without surgery or the use of caustics or poultices; he also claimed to be able to cure impotence in men and barren ness in women. He displayed the embalmed body of his first wife in the parlour of his house in Mount Street. Every so often he look an entire column of the Morning Post to puff his practice, and his advertisements, written in an asthmatic, staccato prose with almost as many dashes as words, were an extraordinary and entertaining mixture of shameless boasting, radical politics, and testimonials from grateful patients whose every spelling mistake was faithfully preserved.
LRB 22 April 1993 | PDF Download