A Crust of Bread.


Original title page

If Asses’ Milk doesn’t sort you out, then maybe this is the book for you. This time it is a crust of bread, all chewed up with saliva (or “fasting spittle”) which cures all. This chewed-up bread can be either swallowed, so as to do its work internally, as it were, or it can be taken out of the mouth and applied externally, as a poultice, to any afflicted part of the body. Not a pretty sight, to be sure, but our Physician assures us that it does work:

“For it is a truth, established by constant Observation and Experience that divers persons, by eating a Crust of Bread in a Morning early, and fasting two or three hours after it, have received great Relief in the Gravel; others have declared, that under the Stone their severest Symptoms have been mightily mitigated; and some again, under the most painful Symptoms of the Gout and Rheumatism, have found their pains greatly relieved by adhering to this Remedy, and applying chewed Bread, well moistened with the fasting Saliva, warm to the gouty Parts: And I do not speak these Things of two or three People only, that have accidentally been thus relieved, but of Hundreds, nay, I may say Thousands that, within my own Knowledge, have received great Benefit from this invaluable and salutary Medicine.”

But is it the bread that effects the cure? Bread is bread, whether eaten in the morning or evening, our author argues, and yet only bread eaten in the morning is efficacious in the cure and relief of these diseases. Therefore the cure “must be the Result of somewhat that accompanies the Bread, and that we can conceive to be nothing but the fasting Saliva.”

What is saliva, then? Our author tells us:

“Upon Examination, it appears to be a Composition of Salt, Oil, and Sulphur, dissolved in a pretty large Quantity of a fine, thin, attenuated Phlegm, very nearly resembling the Consistence of Soap Water, to which it is very nearly related by the Virtues of its Qualities.”

Not many people know it, but saliva:

“…in its Nature is mightily penetrant and abstersive, and therefore will destroy even the Sphericity of the mercurial Globules themselves, whose round Figures are so difficult to destroy, unless you apply Salts, Fire, Sulphure, or Ingredients of an unctuous, adhesive Nature.”

Next, our author launches into some case histories. Take, for instance, the case of “A Person of some Distinction” who “had a Corn on the off Side of his Foot, that so shackled his Limbs, as almost to reduce him to the state of a Cripple.”

He had tried the Corn Cutter. He had tried “Plaisters, Balsams, Ointments, Lotions, and all manner of Applications”, but all to no effect. Then a friend told him:

“…every Night to soak his Feet in warm Water and Bran, and the next Morning to apply chew’d Bread, well moistened with the Fasting Spittle, by way of Pultice, which, in a little Time, perfectly relieved him; for the Corn, in less than a Week, tumbled out by the Roots, and he has heard no more of it since.”


“The like happened to a Gentleman that was advised to apply the chewed Bread, mixed with the Fasting Spittle, to a gouty Node, which mightily relieved him, and has kept his Feet easy ever since.”

Our author goes on to give a salival cure for warts, and an account of the wonderful cure performed by Bridget Bostock of Nantwich, Cheshire, using the external application of Fasting Spittle. He is here quoting from a letter “from a Person of undoubted character.”

“She cures the Blind, the Deaf and the Lame of all Sorts: Numbers of People have received great Benefit, in the Rheumatism, King’s Evil, Histeric Fits, Falling Sickness, and Shortness of Breath: She also mightily relieves the Dropsy, Palsy, Leprosy, Cancers, and, in short, almost every Disease Mankind is subject to, except the French Pox, which she will not be prevailed, by any means, to meddle with.”

However, our author disagrees with Bridget Bostock as regards the French Pox. He says that:

“There is not a surer Remedy, than every Morning to touch the Part with the Fasting Saliva of a Man or Woman, turn’d of Seventy or Eighty Years of Age: And if you extinguish a little crude Mercury in the Saliva, the Efficacy will be so much more considerable and certain.”

But why the Bread? It seems merely to be the ideal vehicle for conveying the Fasting Spittle to the innards – it sets the salivation process in action and soaks up the spittle produced. Bread is ideal, but Captains Biscuits will do almost as well.

Our author next follows the chewed-up bread on its journey to the interior, and here things get a bit messy. For the bread and the spittle combine with “the lubricating Lymph of the Gula, the stomachic juices, and the chylous Fluid”, then all these “unite with the biliose and pancreatic Juices…and by their Tumults, Conflicts, and Conquassations, render it the most penetrant, abstersive, and dissolving Medicine we know of in Nature.”

So there you have it. If you want to know more – about the picturesque functions of the Bile, say, and the effects of too much of it (“yellow, green and black Stools”), then you will have to search out the book for yourself. Personally I’d rather stop here. Curiously, though, our Physician echoes modern doctors on many points: plenty of fresh air and exercise; sensible diet; and not too much salt!