During this same era, “gout…functioned as more than a malady; it was also part of a social code embedding class, rank, affiliation, standing and political position.” The distinguished Scottish physician James Makittrick Adair complained in Essays on Fashionable Diseases (1790) drily that:
“Upwards of thirty years ago, a treatise on nervous diseases was published…. Before the publication of this book, people of fashion had not the least idea that they had nerves….
“Some years after this, Dr. Coe wrote a treatise on biliary concretions, which turned the tide of fashion: nerves and nervous diseases were kicked out of doors, and bilious became the fashionable term. How long it will stand its ground cannot be determined.”
Should Adair strike you as a paragon of stringent common sense, a man out of time, involuntarily confined among quacks, do note that—one thinks of Damien the leper priest—Adair reportedly ended his days…a hypochondriac.
Perhaps because our own age prizes naked candor, at least some of today’s poseurs straight out admit to their doctors that, for instance, they “want to be bipolar,” like all those celebrity “awareness-raisers.” (I’m reminded of the old joke about the little girl who asked her mother to buy her tampons so that she too could “go swimming and horseback riding”…)