chapter  2
32 Pages

‘But Sad Resources’: Treating Cancer in the Eighteenth Century

As the eighteenth century drew to a close, cancer had to be declared ‘absolutely incurable’.1 e number of hopefuls and optimists who believed there were e ectual remedies for cancer was always relatively low, and there is reason to suggest that towards the end of the century, following a period of great enthusiasm for substances such as hemlock, there were many who su ered from an intellectual hangover. e number of those who believed in the greater e ectiveness of the knife seems to have been somewhat higher. Regardless of this slight disillusionment with progress, however, early modern people were and remained resourceful. In every generation, many physicians and surgeons were desperate to nd ways to help their patients. It was one’s duty to make an e ort to hinder the development of the disease, according to one’s profession, whether by extirpation or amputation or by mitigating the symptoms with a multitude of drugs available in the apothecary’s shop, even if one admitted that these methods were ‘but sad resources’.2 It is striking how passionately eighteenth-century authors wrote about cancer and the lack of means to help their su ering patients.