A Quiz About Doctors, Apothecaries, and Physicians

I love Regency fiction, but lately I’ve developed a little pet peeve about it. This is that I hardly ever read about an apothecary or a surgeon, only doctors. It’s not enough to keep me from reading my beloved Regency fiction. It has, however, impelled me to study the topic for myself.

As a result, I’ve created a little quiz about how Jane Austen’s characters used doctors, apothecaries, and surgeons.

  1. What kind of expert did Mr. Bingley call on when Jane became ill at Netherfield?
    1. A doctor
    2. An apothecary
    3. A surgeon
  2. Who assisted the Musgroves when their little boy injured his collarbone?
    1. A doctor
    2. An apothecary
    3. A surgeon
  3. Who attended Marianne after she fell ill at the Palmers’ home?
    1. A doctor
    2. An apothecary
    3. A surgeon
  4. When Jane Austen uses the word “to doctor”, who is usually doing the doctoring:
    1. A woman
    2. An apothecary
    3. A doctor
  5. Who examined Louisa Musgrove after she fell from the stairs at Lyme Regis?
    1. A doctor
    2. An apothecary
    3. A surgeon
  6. In Mansfield Park, Dr. Grant is:
    1. A trained physician
    2. A surgeon
    3. A clergyman
  7. Mr. Woodhouse calls on Mr. Perry for medical advice. What is Mr. Perry’s profession?
    1. A doctor
    2. An apothecary
    3. A clergyman
  8. Before 1745, surgeons were also known as:
    1. Barbers
    2. Dentists
    3. Physicians
  9. Doctors or physicians were considered gentlemen because:
    1. They did not expect pay for their services
    2. They did not perform manual labor
    3. Both a and b
  10. Which of the following would an apothecary generally do?
    1. Make drugs
    2. Perform bloodletting
    3. Both a and b

Answers:

Questions 1-3: The answers are all (b), an apothecary. There are a couple of reasons why Jane Austen may have favored apothecaries over doctors. First, many people distrusted doctors because they tended to use risky procedures like blood-letting. Second, there weren’t as many doctors as apothecaries in the country. Jane herself used an apothecary, William Curtis, and referred to him in her letters as her Alton apothy.

Question 4: (a) When Jane Austen spoke of someone doctoring another, it was usually a woman who was doing the doctoring. For example, Mrs. Norris speaks of “doctoring” her old coachman for his rheumatism.

Question 5: (c) A surgeon examined Louisa after she fell from the stairs at Lyme Regis. During Jane Austen’s day, surgeons were considered manual laborers and were thus among the lower class of society. Surgery was painful and risky. However, I believe Anne decided to call on a surgeon in this instance because Lyme Regis was a port, and surgeons were often found among the crew of a ship. Thus, a surgeon would be easy to find in that particular place and would probably have had experience treating head injuries.

Question 6: (c) Dr. Grant in Mansfield Park is a well-educated clergyman.

Question 7: (b) Mr. Perry was an apothecary.

Question 8: (a) Before 1745, barbers in England were trained in surgery. A barber could therefore perform bloodletting, pull teeth, or amputate limbs. In 1745, the surgeons split ways with the barbers, creating the Company of Surgeons.

Question 9: (c) Doctors were considered gentlemen because they did not expect pay for their services (customers had to pay discretely) and they did not perform manual labor. Though they did perform procedures like bloodletting, they never practiced the procedure until after their schooling.

Question 10: (a) The primary role of an apothecary was to make and dispense drugs. Common drugs of the day were digitalis, calamine, and quinine. It was a tricky job to get the dosage right since most drugs were also poisons when administered in too large of a dose.

Please let me know what you thought of the quiz. Did anything surprise you? Also, do you have a pet peeve concerning JAFF or Regency-era fiction?

21 Responses to A Quiz About Doctors, Apothecaries, and Physicians

  1. That was fun… although I failed it miserably. I only got about half of them right… however, it was fun to participate and see what I remembered. It is interesting that this was a common thread throughout Austen’s work. I hadn’t really thought about how many times an apothecary was mentioned or a surgeon. Perhaps, because she herself needed medical attention, that it was a constant reminder of the frailty of the human condition and she wrote about what she knew. Health was precarious at best during that time. So many women died in childbirth and many children didn’t live long. Thanks for this post… I enjoyed it.

  2. Thanks for the fun post! I knew most of the answers and already understood the differences between the professions, but it’s always fun to know someone else finds the confusion as irritating as I do! My biggest pet peeves are probably incorrect homophones and confusions between singular/plural and plural/possessive. Thanks!

  3. Great post. Helped me sort out the different people. Blood letting!! Yeuch! Who ever thought THAT was a good idea. Surely it would have weakened the patient.

    • I heard a speech about blood-letting once. The one benefit is that it lowers a fever. Of course, fevers can also be beneficial in killing viruses etc. I’m just glad we have different methods now. My eight year old had the flu this week and had a 102 degree fever for four days. I can just imagine what would have happened 200 years ago. They probably would have bled him to death trying to lower the fever.

    • There is actually still one disease (hemochromatosis (sp?)) that is still treated by bloodletting. I’ve also heard it can be helpful in laminitis in animals. Odd how they might get it right once in a while, even if it was probably only one in a thousand (or less).

  4. I’ve read about the differences between physicians, surgeons,and apothecaries before, but this post was really helpful in sorting them out. Honestly, it’s amazing to me that anyone survived an illness or injury during the Regency, when I think of who people had to rely on for care. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • My son has had the flu this week. He had a high fever for four days. The doctors haven’t done much more than they would have in the Regency times. It’s mostly rest, drink, and eat. We have tylenol and advil now, though. I suppose he could have been subject to all sorts of potential poisons in Regency times. Plus, a doctor might have tried to bleed him, which actually did reduce a fever.

  5. Thanks for the quiz. Despite having heard some of these things before, I had not given it much thought in reading jaff. I will have to pay closer attention in the future. My biggest pet peeve is misspellings and the use of the wrong homophones.

    • It’s hard to write a book without any editing errors, but too many of them can be annoying. Homophones are tricky. In my last book, I spelled chicken coop as coup, which isn’t exactly a homophone. I’d made the change after the edits, but luckily, someone caught it before I published it.

  6. I knew the answers to 1, 4, 8, 9, & 10 and guessed the others as I’m not as knowledgeable about the other Austen books.
    I got 2, 3 & 7 right by guessing but failed miserably with 5 & 6!
    Thanks for this bit of fun.
    I have read some JAFF which have been full of Americanisms and wrong spellings especially reigns instead of reins.
    However I now tend to only buy books by authors I know or that have been recommended. I also must say that unless there are many errors I barely notice and they don’t affect my enjoyment.

    • You did really well, Glynis. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done that well if I hadn’t written the quiz. I’m glad the errors in JAFF don’t affect your enjoyment. I’m the same way.

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