Dr Ricord’s Essence of Life, 1851

“Dr Ricord’s Essence of Life” – there’s a product that promises a lot. Even going by the standard Victorian pharmaceutical predilection to claim that their medicine will cure half of the ailments in a medical dictionary.

Oxford University Herald, 21st September 1851

Oxford University Herald, 21st September 1851

It promises “The vigour of youth restored in four weeks” but what does that mean?

“This wonderful agent will restore manhood to the most shattered constitution, whether arising from self-pollution, excesses, nocturnal emissions, the effects of climate, or natural causes.”

OK, so it’s Victorian Viagra for those who’ve broken themselves with too much “self-pollution”?

“The time required to cure the most inveterate case is four weeks; and, if used according to the printed instructions (which are very simple), failure is impossible.” Of course, one thing that all Victorian pharmaceuticals seem to have in common is that they all “never fail”. Or, as this advert puts it, “Success in every case is as certain as that water quenches thirst.”

But hang on! What does it actually do? Because – “This life-restoring remedy should be taken by all about to marry, as its effects are permanent.” What “effects” are these? Is this why Prince Albert got a prince albert?

“It is acknowledged by the medical press to be the greatest discovery ever made.” Strangely, I can’t find any evidence of this.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any analysis of what was in this remedy – the British Medical Association’s Secret Remedies book doesn’t investigate that particular product, but maybe when that book was published, in 1909, it wasn’t available anymore.

Looking at other Dr Ricord’s adverts, which were widely placed in local newspapers over the 1850s and 1860s, they don’t often seem to mention the “self-pollution” and “nocturnal emissions” bits although the wording is otherwise the same. But then, this advert was in a university newspaper, so maybe this was a special student version.

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