Time capsule

Just found in a cabinet in an uninhabited house in the central Pyrenees: a concealed drawer that doesn’t appear to have been touched since the 1960s. Contents: a will from 1818; pages dealing with testaments torn a reprint of a revised (1930s?) version of the Spanish 1888-9 Civil Code, including annotations detailing regional variations (in Aragon, in the absence of adult lay persons, a priest and two seven-year-old boys were sufficient witness); birth certificates issued in 1964 for a man and woman from neighbouring villages, born in the 1880s; a postcard (from (grand)children?) looking forward to showing them Valencia’s thatched cottages, Northern Station, bullring, cathedral, and Plaza del Caudillo; pots of black Waterman’s ink, imported by a Barcelona German; simple pens; a cutthroat razor and clippers; several pairs of horn-rimmed spectacles; a scattering of hand- and factory-made nails; a voting envelope for the election of local officials in 1967; and a (coverless and thus anonymous and dateless) Spanish translation of William Buchan’s Domestic medicine, or Medicina doméstica o tratado completo del método de precaver y curar las enfermedades con el regimen y medecinas simples, y un apendice que contiene la farmacopea necesaria para el uso de un particular.

Buchan’s work, a classic of observation-based popular medicine, compiled with the aid and encouragement of the naturalist William Smellie, was first published in English in 1771. Many of his general observations, particularly those dealing with mothers and children, continue to make excellent sense, and his other writings–including On the medical properties of fleecy hosiery–sound like a good read. My guess is that the version found today is based on an early nineteenth century edition. The appendices detail various preventative and curative potions, some more medieval than others, and have been stripped to mark pages dealing with various ailments. The birth certificates hold open the section on bloody fluxes, and it is conceivable that someone read his death sentence 40 years ago in this tiny mountain hamlet in the words of an eighteenth century Edinburgh doctor:

When the dysentery attacks the old, the delicate, or such as have been wasted by the gout, the scurvy, or other lingering diseases, it generally proves fatal. Vomiting and hiccuping are bad signs, as they shew an inflammation of the stomach. When the stools are green, black, or have an exceeding disagreeable cadaverous smell, the danger is very great, as it shews the disease to be of the putrid kind. It is an unfavourable symptom when clysters are immediately returned; but still more so when the passage is so obstinately shut, that they cannot be injected. A feeble pulse, coldness of the extremities, with difficulty of swallowing, and convulsions, are signs of approaching death.

Buchan’s remedy is a gelatinous broth made of a sheep’s head and feet with the skin on them, the wool burned off with a hot iron. The room contains an iron and a sheepskin, but no human cadaver. I have drunk of the water, and presently plan to drink of the beer to kill off any lingering traces.

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