Casanova's Guide to Medicine (Kindle)
18th Century Medical Practice
As featured in The Times: 'Memoirs show Casanova, the medicine man, wasn't all cad'
Forget the stereotype!
Giacomo Casanova's (1725-1798) reputation as libertine has sadly eclipsed his talents as scholar, linguist, prolific writer and manqué doctor. Fortunately for us, he wrote his memoirs at the end of his life on the advice of his doctor to control his propensity to depression. Although these often have been harvested for information on political, cultural and social aspects of his time, the insights they give about medical practice and the lived experiences of illness have been largely neglected.
This book addresses this deficiency through exploring in detail what Casanova wrote on a variety of conditions that include venereal disease and female complaints, duelling injuries, suicide, skin complaints and stroke and even piles. These descriptions provide alternately grim and amusing insights about public health measures, the doctor-patient relationship, medical etiquette and the dominant medical theories of the era. To help the reader understand the historical significance of the medical subjects covered, the author integrates throughout the book an extensive historical context drawn from contemporary sources of information and current history of medicine literature
Historians have usually shied away from using Casanova’s lengthy memoirs as a source. At worst, they have been dismissed as a tissue of lies; at best they have been assumed to contain little but a tedious farrago of amorous encounters. Lisetta Lovett is to be congratulated on demonstrating that the memoirs should be read by every social and cultural historian of the eighteenth century for the information they reveal about polite society, popular mores and the limitations of contemporary scientific and medical knowledge.Professor Laurence Brockliss (emeritus fellow in history, Magdalen College, Oxford)
Lovett is specifically interested in what the memoirs can tell us about the theory and practice of medicine. The contours of the history of medicine in the eighteenth century are now well-drawn, thanks in particular to the work of the late Roy Porter. Even though this is seen as a period of patient power when the sick and self-diagnosed gadded from doctor to doctor in search of a palatable cure, we still have a primarily top-down picture of medical practice in the eighteenth century. Sources, such as Casanova’s memoirs, which record in detail and over time the ailments and treatment of a lay individual and his friends, are relatively rare and under-exploited. Lovett’s book therefore is a useful addition to the existing literature. The fact, too, that the author is a retired medical consultant greatly helps the reader understand how deeply rooted in his own age Casanova’s medical opinions and experiences were.
Casanova’s commitment to the Enlightenment shows through in his support for free love, his dislike of homosexuality, judged unnatural by the philosophes, and his interest in contraception. He was also a great believer in patient power. Very few medical practitioners met with his approval, and he was happy on many occasions to ignore their advice, notably when he rightly refused to have his lower arm amputated when wounded in a duel. But at the same time, he was a medical conservative. His own understanding of pathology and therapeutics was based on the humoral theories of Hippocrates and Galen: he read the works of Boerhaave, the leading iatromechanist of the first part of the eighteenth century, but his accounts of disease do not suggest he had imbibed the latest mechanical or chemical explanations to any degree. In this respect he was no different from most lay patients of the period whose medical philosophy was out of date, though no more mistaken than the views that replaced them.
Sadly, Casanova’s memoirs finish in 1774. He died before he had time to write up the events of the last part of his life. We have no account therefore how Casanova dealt with his own physical decline and the remedies he took to slow it down or make his final hours more comfortable. This, though, does not detract from the value of this bottom-up study of one of the most infamous, mobile and learned (he translated the Iliad into Italian) figures of the Age of Enlightenment. It will be enjoyed by all historians of early-modern medicine.
This book details the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798). He is principally remembered and renowned as a promiscuous libertine, with an insatiable sexual appetite, but he was also a talented scholar, writer and philanthropist.Alison Wall, Local History Group
The author manages to aptly describe the context of the day, in the height of the Enlightenment. This provides the reader with a greater understanding of the current social and political mores.
The author details a comprehensive list of ailments and the remedies adopted. Chapter 12 includes an excellent summary of the development of medical and philosophical thought from the days of Aristotle and Hippocrates.
The book can be used as a reference to learn about specific illnesses or surgical procedures, without reading the whole text, from cover to cover.
I was fascinated with the section on the oculist’s box and cataract removals in chapter 9. A fellow Italian, Tadini, claims to be able to replace the work of the eye lens using minute round crystals. He is a charlatan, which was quite a common phenomenon of the time. However an English oculist John Taylor successfully inserts an artificial porcelain eye for a young girl who had lost an eye from smallpox.
It is a very enjoyable and easy to read book. The author shows a real depth of medical knowledge. I would recommend it to all those interested in the history of medical practice, particularly 18th Century medical practice.
My views have been broadened as a result of this book. Nonfiction and History fans really should read this fascinating and informative book... the information contained is absolutely amazing.NetGalley, Brenda Carleton
Memoirs show Casanova, the medicine man, wasn’t all cadThe Times 05/04/21