Saturday, 27 February 2016

Extract of Sunbeam and Beetle Wing, the Medical Miracles of Lionel Lockyer (1599?-1672), Southwark Cathedral



“In the north transept of Southwark Cathedral, close to the Harvard Chapel, are the monument and grave of Lionel Lockyer, a seventeenth century quack. The monument is perhaps the most prominent object in the transept, and includes as its principal feature a large semi-recumbent figure of the doctor. The face wears an expression of unctuous self-satisfaction, quite in keeping with what we know of Lockyer himself.”   
Hector A. Colwell M.B. Lond.

What little we can learn of the life of Lionel Lockyer we have to learn from his detractors, in particular to his principal rival in the field of patent medicine, the American alchemist George Starkey (or Eireneaus Philalethes as he was known in alchemistical circles). In 1664, goaded by Lockyers overwrought claims for his famous pills, Starkey wrote “A smart Scourge for a silly, sawcy Fool, an answer to letter at the end of a pamphlet of Lionell Lockyer.” Starkey clearly hoped his tract would demolish Lockyer’s reputation and fatally undermine his business but he was to be disappointed.  Not even death managed to do that; in 1824, 150 years after his death, James Granger reports that Lockyer’s Pills were still being sold by Newbury the bookseller in St Paul’s Churchyard.
 
A contemporary portrait
From Starkey we learn that before he took up medicine Lionel Lockyer had been a tailor and a butcher and that he had learned his medicine from a certain Molton of Hogg Lane. The first version of his pills, “a very common and churlish medicine” had been simply produced by dyeing some pills produced from a solution of the salt of antimony bright red with cochineal and vending them as ‘mercurialis vitae’. A more refined product, Pilulae Radiis Solis Extractae, one of the key ingredients of which was supposedly sun beams, made Lockyer a fortune. The vulgar had trouble with the Latin name so Lockyer, citing a biblical precedence simply named them after himself;  "Absolom because he had no son to succeed him, he erected a Pillar and called it after his own name (2 Sam. xviii, 18). And I have had sons, but They are not, and so I shall call the pill after my own name, Lockier's Pill."' The unsympathetic Starkey never mentions Lockyer’s loss of his children; at the time it was not perhaps a noteworthy event.

Lockyer had a genius for marketing. He supposedly printed upwards of 200,000 copies of his famous handbill advertising the miraculous qualities of his pilulae which were a medicine “of a solar nature, dispelling of those causes in our Bodies, which continued, would not only darken the Lustre, but extinguish the Light of Our Microcosmical Sun.” The price of this sovereign remedy was 4 shillings a box, the box stamped with the makers coat of arms and only available from some forty authorised dealers in town and country and which included “Mrs. Harfords at the Bible in Heart in Little Britain, Mr. Russel’s in Mugwel Street near Cripple Gate, Mr. Randal’s at the Three Pigeons, beyond St. Clements Church, in the Strand, Thomas Virgoes, cutler, upper end of New Fish Street and Mr. Brugis, printer, next door to Red Lyon Inn, in Newstreet near Fetter Lane.” As was generally the case this was another pill to cure all ills and even to be taken by those in full heath as a “preservative against all accidents as contagious aires, for which it stands Centinel in the body and not permitting any enemy of nature to enter.” Lockyer’s broadsheet also included case studies demonstrating the efficacy of his remedy "Mrs. Dixon suffered for two years at least with a griping, gnawing pain in the belly, and by the use of my Pills, and God's blessing upon it, was cured; For before she had taken of my Pills six times she had a live worm come from her by Siege, four yards long; the woman lives in Dead-man's Place in Southwark, near unto the Colledge Gate. Her age is about thirty-two years, the worm came from her the latter end of May, 1662. If any desire to see the worm I have it by me." He also relates the heart warming story of a young man who “told a friend of mine, that he had the POX, who gave him two boxes of pills, and in three weeks time he was perfectly cured, although he scarce went to bed sober all that time, and within three weeks time he married a wife, and both of them very well to this day."


Lockyer later added an appendix to his advertisement, a letter supposedly from a “Person of Quality” which discloses that on June 13, 1664 Lockyer calcined the powder for his pill before King Charles and the Court at Southampton House. It was this letter that drew the ire of George Starkey and drove him to compose the “smart Scourge” in which he poured scorn on Lockyer’s, or his correspondent’s, Latin “I will take notice first of your false Latine....for which I should take you to task as a rigid Paedogogue, and nake you untruss for the first fault, your Breech would be bloudy and too sore to sit on, if for all the lapses committed in that very short epistle you had (as you deserve) a several lash.”

Locker died in 1672 leaving a small fortune of £1900 in ready, the leases on four houses and a quarter share in a ship. As well as a lavish funeral and his ostentatious monument he left a sizeable amount towards charity. Even in death he could not resist one last chance to sell his pilulae and his epitaph is little more than an advertising opportunity;
     
Here Lockyer: lies interr'd enough: his name
Speakes one hath few competitors in fame:
A name soe Great, soe Generall't may scorne
Inscriptions whch doe vulgar tombs adorne.
A diminution 'tis to write in verse
His eulogies whch most mens mouths rehearse.
His virtues & his PILLS are soe well known
That envy can't confine them vnder stone.
But they'll surviue his dust and not expire
Till all things else at th'universall fire.
This verse is lost, his PILL Embalmes him safe

To future times without an Epitaph