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Seward "kept playing with a lancet in a way that made me nearly scream".

Why does Dr. Seward have a lancet with him on a social visit? In the 18th century, bloodletting (aka phlebotomy, venesection) was commonplace for all conditions, and a doctor would probably have a lancet on him at all times because it was such a frequent procedure. By the late 19th century, bleeding patients was on the decline, but it was not as rare as it is today. In 1854, a medical textbook was published specifically on venesection for mental disorders. As late as 1916, it was still recommended by some authors for “acute delirium” (and dozens of other illnesses). Lancets were also used for vaccination, but I doubt that was why Seward had one with him.

Lancets were of four main types (Wilbur, 1st ed, 115-116): scalpel lancets, which are rather pen-like, with a small spade-shaped blade; fleams, which have a sharp triangular"spur" projecting at right angles to the shaft; thumb lancets, which have a lance-like blade encased in two swivelling horn or tortoiseshell handles; and finally the spring lancet, which is a fleam with a spring mechanism to drive the blade forward in a controlled fashion, which was thought to require less skill. The latter two lend very themselves well to mindless fidgeting, since you can spin the three parts of a thumb lancet round the rivet that binds them together; or you can cock and release the spring on a spring lancet repeatedly, which would be not unlike many modern fidget toys. But really, any kind of fiddling with a naked blade (however small) would make me want to scream too.

Antique bloodletting and leeching instruments: http://www.medicalantiques.com/medical/Scarifications_and_Bleeder_Medical_Antiques.htm

Bryan Alexander

Excellent background, Most.

Most Significant


Most Significant

Thank you for this blog! I've come across it in prior years, and I'm very happy to be able to follow along with this year's postings at long last.

Bryan Alexander

Delighted to read along with you, Most.

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