I have been reading extracts from Robert Hookes diary located here between the dates 1672-1680, on at least eight occasions he describes taking vomit and sometimes even using a feather to induce vomiting.

The specific dates:

  • 22nd April 1674
  • 24th May 1674
  • 30th May 1674
  • 31st May 1674
  • 18th August 1675
  • 19 August 1675
  • 2nd September 1675
  • 16th December 1675

If you visit the site, you can just search for the word "vomit" and the entries under the dates will be listed in that order.

I can only presume that this is a treatment for something sold by the quacks of the time. I would like to know if it would really have been someone else's vomit (yuk) and for what purposes they would have prescribed it? Was this a common thing to do back then?

  • OOC, have you read the Baroque Cycle? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baroque_Cycle It's fiction, but Hooke is a minor running character, and he's always doing weird stuff like this. He was very interested in what we'd today call Biology.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 6, 2012 at 14:37
  • I have not read the Baroque Cycle. Thanks for the link. The more I read about Robert Hooke the more interested I become.
    – Shambhala
    Aug 6, 2012 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


"Taking a vomit" may have meant more generally taking something to cause vomiting, what we would call an emetic. See eg. http://thequackdoctor.com/index.php/tag/17th-century/

If you are ill it's because something is out of balance. It's a lot easier to get stuff out of a patient to adjust the balance - so the popularity of purges, emetics, bloodletting etc. The 17th century is at the end of medicine based on the four humors, but it's still reasonably common.

It's also a good way as a doctor of demonstrating you are actually doing something. The patient is certainly going to feel the effects of one of these treatments and will probably feel better after it's done than while they are undergoing it - so it must have done some good!

  • Inducing vomiting I believe was part of "heroic medicine" until the mid 19th century as was mercury and bleeding. The number of effective or even ineffective or dangerous medicines was very limited; there was no table of the elements until mid 1800s and the understanding of what various compounds were was extremely limited and the limitations of chemistry affected pharmacology. Before penicillin, arsenic compounds were still being used for treating syphilis. And here's another thing: How often in the days before refrigeration was vomiting actually a pretty good idea because of food poisoning?
    – Jeff
    Jul 30, 2017 at 18:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.