William Godwin's Diary


Rhubarb, Rhubarbé, Rhubarb Rhubarb has been used medically from ancient times, and the roots are known to function as a laxitive: see also OED: The medicinal rootstock (purgative and subsequently astringent) of one or more species of Rheum was grown in China and Tibet and for a long period imported into Europe through Russia and the Levant, but since 1860 direct from China; usually (e.g. in pharmaceutical and domestic use) called Turkey or Russian rhubarb, but now known commercially as East Indian or Chinese rhubarb. An advertisement for ‘Bacon’s Cordial Essence of Russia Rhubarb, enriched with The Most Grateful Aromatics’ in Diary or Woodfall’s Register, 8 June 1792, describes the product as a valuable ‘Remedy in Disorders of the Stomach and Bowels.’ It is ‘not only a very mild and innocent purgative, but also possesses very important virtues as a Corroborant and Tonic, in weakness of the digestive organs and intestines.’ It is recommended for ‘Cholics, Diarrheas, Fluxes, Dysenteries, Dry Gripes, Bilious Cases’ and all diseases affecting the stomach and bowels: ‘there cannot be a finer Medicine for windy sensations before or after meals.’

Godwin kept fastidious diary records of his personal health problems, concerns, and moments of wellbeing. He maintained discretion when recording some of the more sensitive aspects of his health, generally referring to these issues in Latin or French. Godwin has been diagnosed, at various times, as suffering from haemorrhoids and constipation, and might have also had a form of rectal cancer (see St Clair). Another frequent issue is his ‘delerium’ or ‘deliquium’, which has been described by St Clair as fits sometimes accompanied by vomiting. Latin and French words have been translated, and we have attempted to indicate using context or various sources what Godwin might have meant by some of the health phrases he utilised. Self-explanatory health issues such as ‘fever’ or ‘constipation’ have not been annotated, nor have conjectures been made about ambiguous or uncertain symptoms or treatments such as ‘syringe’ - noted on the ninth and tenth of November, 1792 - to cite one such example. NOTE: When searching for health complaints, keep in mind that Godwin often used his own sui generis methods of spelling – for example, ‘headache’ is sometimes noted as ‘head ach’ or ‘head-ach’ and sometimes ailments have been abbreviated (such as ‘constip’ for constipation’).