Into the Aether: An Early Medical Book on Pain Relief

The medical section of our Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books auctions always provides an interesting peek into the progression of human understanding of the body, its ailments and possible methods of cure and relief. One example can be found in the form of a scarce first edition of 18th-century Liverpool surgeon Matthew Turner’s brief pamphlet, An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether, 1761. 

In the catalogue, Specialist Tobias Abeloff describes Turner as “a surgeon, chemist, and freethinker…[who]…advocated the use of vitriolic ether, taken orally or inhaled through the nose, for the relief of a variety of complaints, including headache and other pain.”

Researchers have noted that Turner’s recommendation of utilizing ether as a method of treating pain gives him “a place in the pre-history of anesthesia” (Norman). We’ve included some photos and excerpts of the text below.

 

Matthew Turner, An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether

Lot 161: Matthew Turner, An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether, [Liverpool], 1761. Estimate $5,000 to $7,000.

“The Publisher of the following short Account of the AETHER having prepared, and successfully made Use of it in his private Practice, for several Years, has at length determin’d to endeavour to extend it’s Utility, by thus making it public; as he knows of no one who has ever published it’s medicinal virtues; or offered it to Sale in it’s Perfection; or given the Criteria by which they who are unacquainted with it might distinguish the Genuine from the Spurious: And he doubts not but every candid Person who examines it, will agree with him, That it carries with it the strongest Marks of a valuable Addition to the Materia Medica, and therefore ought to lie no longer in Obscurity.”

 

Lot 161: Matthew Turner, An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether, [London], 1761. Estimate $5,000 to $7,000.

Lot 161: Matthew Turner, An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether, [Liverpool], 1761. Estimate $5,000 to $7,000.

“This truly extraordinary Chemical Preparation is not a new Discovery, having been known and esteemed, as a valuable Curiosity, by many of the greatest Chemists and Philosophers, both Ancient and Modern; particularly by Sir Isaac Newton, and the Honourable Mr. Boyle, who both mention it in their Works, tho’ not by this Name: And therefore before any Thing is said of it’s Virtues as a Medicine, it may not be improper to explain the Nature of it, and enumerate a few of it’s remarkable Properties, considered as a Curiosity in Chemistry, in which Light chiefly it has hitherto been view’d by those who have been acquainted with it.”

 

Matthew Turner, An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether, [Liverpool], 1761

Lot 161: Matthew Turner, An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether, [Liverpool], 1761. Estimate $5,000 to $7,000.

“In the HEAD-ACH.

A fit of the Head-ach is almost instantly removed by applying the AETHER externally to the Forehead, by means of a bit of Linen Rag, in the Manner hereafter directed for it’s external Application. Or it may be applied to any other Part of the Head where the Pain lies, being first shaved, if necessary. If the Pain is violent, a Dose of it should be also taken inwardly. In stubborn Cases it will likewise be serviceable to snuff a little of the AETHER up the Nostrils, either alone or mixed with equal Parts of Lavender Water, Hungary Water, or Brandy; or it may be more convenient to apply a bit of Linen Rag, wetted with AETHER, up the Nostrils. Any of these Means, or all of them, must be repeated if the Pain is so urgent as to require it. To cure this Disorder radically, when it is of long standing, and to prevent it’s Return, the Medicine must be taken inwardly for a considerable Time every Night at Bed-time, or in violent Cases, every Night and Morning in a small Draught of cold Water, according to the General Direction for taking it inwardly, given p. 11. In some particular Cases, Vomits are very serviceable.”

 

Take a look at the complete catalogue for more fascinating medical books.