Victorian London - Disease - Spermatorrhoea

    The observations I made in 1857 on the extortion of quacks [apply] equally to the subject in 1869, and I allow the case which appeared in my last edition to remain as a beacon to warn the unwary. A gentleman who believed himself to be suffering from spermatorrhoea went to a noted quack and paid his usual fee. A specimen of his urine was immediately demanded, and on examination under a microscope, pronounced to be full of spermatozoa. The patient showed unmistakable signs of alarm, and the quack, finding he had the proper sort of customer, boldly predicted speedy death, to be averted only by the purchase of a cure for fifty pounds. The first call of nine pounds on account of this sum was paid on the spot, and the remainder within a few days. The patient was then, I am assured, presented with a large box of medicines, ready packed, and desired to keep in a room at the same temperature for twenty-eight weeks, or thereabouts, and not attempt to breathe the outer air. After some weeks of unrewarded perseverance in this régime, the unhappy patient again sought the presence of the wizard, and complained that he felt no better. He was asked, How could he expect it? Had he not disobeyed? His presence there was proof enough of that!' He pleaded in vain, that to keep his room for twenty-eight weeks, if not impossible, would be his ruin, and was told that, having by his own act removed the responsibility from the learned doctor's shoulders, their contract was at an end, and he must now put up with the possible ill consequences, and the certain loss of his money. It was under these circumstances that he came to me, in a highly nervous state, and of course much annoyed at being bereft of fifty pounds by this microscope dodge'. In three weeks he recovered, and would not have rushed, as he did, into the courts of law but for the impudent plea set up for not returning the money after failure of the consideration. The recipient of the fifty pounds actually stated that the deluded one had been guilty of masturbation, and therefore could not show his face in court. The challenge was accepted, and the infamous imputation of course faded away. I cannot show the sequel better than by quoting the following passage from the judgment of the court:

   
I have not the slightest doubt upon this case - that it is a case for damages, and that the plaintiff is entitled to recover the whole of the sum claimed. I think it is highly creditable to the plaintiff that he had the moral courage to come into court and expose this transaction; and as to the agency, the assistant, whoever he may be, has certainly committed a gross fraud, and one cannot help feeling warmly that this fraud was practised. At the same time one cannot help seeing as to not having been present at the interviews, that this is a mere stratagem to secure himself against the consequences of being brought into a court of justice; and the whole of the case, I think, is very discreditable to the defendant, and the plaintiff is entitled to the judgment of the court for the whole of the amount sued for. One cannot help  saying that the whole case is most discreditable and disgusting, and I shall allow the highest expenses to the witnesses.

   
The editor of the Lancet observed, in conclusion of his remarks upon this case:    

   
How long is this system to continue? It is a disgrace to the laws, which falsely pretend to regulate practitioners of medicine and to protect the public, that such things are allowed. The case in question is simply an illustration of a system so ruinous, so devastating, so fatal to its victims, that it calls loudly for legislative interference. Laws, however framed, will probably be inadequate altogether to suppress these outrages upon humanity; but legislation may do something to mitigate and arrest them. If we are to have laws for the protection of women, and the suppression of obscene publications, why should we not have an Act of Parliament to suppress a traffic which in its consequences is equally detrimental to the health and happiness of a large portion of the public? * (*Lancet, 1857, II. 146.)

William Acton, Prostitution, considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects 2nd edition 1870