Alexander pope

The poetry behind ‘leather and prunella’

‘Oh, yes,’ said my husband, enthusiastically, ‘a loathsome disease. The tongue goes black and dry.’ He was referring to an historical grouping of symptoms given the name prunella. If you are thinking it is therefore an unkind name to give a girl, that is because the name also applies to a pretty wild flower related to mint, commonly known as self-heal. Some say it was so called because it cured the disease, but the plant name is older than the disease name. There is a third meaning of prunella, in the phrase leather and prunella. This phrase used to be deployable to any middle-class readership. George Eliot and Anthony Trollope

The jab that saved countless lives 300 years ago

This timely book celebrates one of the most remarkable women of the 18th century. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was so impressed by the Turkish technique of ‘engraftment’ to prevent smallpox that in 1721, exactly 300 years ago, she arranged for the first such inoculation in England — and, even more controversially, had it carried out on her own three-year-old daughter. Smallpox pus from a sufferer was carried in a walnut shell and applied to a cut made in her daughter’s arm. She discovered the technique too late to use it on herself. As a young woman and court beauty, she had contracted smallpox during one of the frequent epidemics that