chapter  III
3 Pages

III.6 Medical sources

ByROBERT L . WESTON

The emotional consequence of illness is a familiar idea to all of us, as has always historically been the case; however, how emotions were expressed and responded to, have varied over time. The manner in which medicine was practiced and the theories which underlay them were quite different in the early modern Europe to those of today, nor were emotions conceived in the same way. To examine these issues, one has to analyse the records of how illness and wellness were understood, and how patients and practitioners reacted to them. The emotions aroused by ill health encompassed anger, fear and shame while the recovery of wellness could be expected to give rise to hope, relief, even joy. Expressions of emotions associated with illness are found in a variety of sources, diaries, personal correspondence, wills, requests for medical advice and the responses to them, and academic texts. These varied sources inevitably result in correspondingly varied rhetoric, depending on the author, the intended readership and their relationship. Treatises were written by physicians and surgeons on the cause and treatments that covered the gamut of disorders from which the population suffered. Many were written for fellow practitioners, others were produced for a wider audience, the medically untrained but literate section of the

community. This broader readership represented a significant market, particularly when desperation and fear arose. The value of these works lies in the explanations they offer on the relationship between disease and emotions and contemporary medical theories. Over the period from 1500 to 1800, physicians shifted their thinking on emotions from being a purely physiological phenomenon to one with parallel psychological elements.