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Rick Talbot <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 26 May 2010 21:37:00 -0500
text/plain (176 lines)
Wonderful! When this brew-ha-ha started up over vibrators, Victorians and
visionary authors I waited patiently for Dr. Ober to buzz in with the
historical perspective that he alone could provide. Read his book: Mark
Twain and Medicine: "Any Mummery Will Cure." by K. Patrick Ober, (MD),
University of Missouri Press, 2003.

Main Entry: Trombleyism 
Pronunciation: Just like it sounds
Function: noun
Etymology: Modern English, from visionary 21st-Century author Laura
1: to state as fact that which is only true for the person speaking.

Main Entry: Trombleyate 
Pronunciation: Just like it sounds
Function: verb
1: to be shaken violently or vibrated into a state of utter satisfaction
with one's self.

Richard Talbot

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Twain Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of K. Patrick
Sent: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 8:39 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Mark Twain and sex toys

I can't add much to the wisdom of Bob Hirst and Ben Griffin and Shelley
Fisher Fishkin.=20

But let me chip in on this anyway.=20

Medical history can be confusing enough already, even without efforts to
sensationalize it and ignore context.

In the late 19th century, the idea of depleted nerve force was widely
accepted as a cause of disease, supported by new discoveries in the
young field of neurology. In summer of 1899, the Clemens family
discovered Henrik Kellgren and his Swedish Movement Cure, a type of
osteopathic manipulation aimed at restoring vital energy. Clemens
pursued Kellgren in London and in Sweden. Kellgren's treatments seemed
useful in improving the family's health, and Clemens liked it because it
was vigorous exercise, "and other people do it for you." Sam and Livy
Clemens both noted improvement of various symptoms.  It seemed to get
Jean's seizures under control. The enthusiasm continued into the new
century, and in 1901 Clara was under treatment of an American osteopath,
"getting the bronchitis pulled and hauled out of her." Clemens was
convinced that Kellgren could cure about anything, and would have been
able to cure Susy's meningitis had he been given a chance. Clemens
openly supported the legalization of osteopathy in New York, and was a
strong believer in the methods of osteopathic medicine.=20

Electrotherapy (also pursued by Clemens) was an offshoot of this
thinking, based on direct stimulation of nerves to restore the nerve

Osteopathic therapy was just another route to the same end - stimulation
of nerve by motion.

Kellgren considered vibration to be an important type of motion to
energize nerves and muscles.

And none of that has sexual connotations.=20

Considerable insight into the medical thinking of the times can be found
in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal [predecessor of the New
England Journal of Medicine] of Oct 10, 1907, (vol. 157, pp. 490-494),
where Dr. Edgar Cyriax published an article on "Henrik Kellgren and His
Methods of Medical Manipulation." I will include some long quotes below,
to provide a bit of perspective on the thinking of the era. ("Medical
gymnastics" can be translated as the osteopathic manipulations of
muscles and nerves.)

According to Cyriax, Kellgren's contribution was that he "perceived how
much good could be effected through direct stimulation of the nerves;
consequently, he gradually developed a nerve treatment, consisting
chiefly of frictions and vibrations, which he used in combination with
improved active and passive (inclusive of duplicate) movements; and by
these means he has treated with unexampled success a number of chronic
cases of which some had been previously regarded as incurable..."

"Thousands of people owe their health to Kellgren, and some still live,
who, at one time of their life, were regarded as utterly incurable. To
how great an extent his successes have contributed to make medical
gymnastics known and valued throughout the world is incalculable..."

"The great merit of Kellgren has been his correct development of the
processes referred to; in particular, he discovered that the main point
of importance was not the pressure, but the mechanical movement set up
in shaking the nerves through friction and vibration. And it was he who
introduced manipulations following the course of the nerves, which
manipulations are called "running nerve frictions and vibrations."

"When we consider how everything in the human body is under the
influence of the nerves and how many illnesses have their origin, not in
the muscles, but in the nerves, it will easily be understood that
nothing can be of so great service in these cases as movements of
stimulative or sedative effect..."

"It was Kellgren who succeeded in working out - one might almost say who
discovered--this new and splendid method of combating pain and disease.
He also discovered the method of executing the vibrations in a manner
involving the minimum of fatigue to the operator, so that they could be
maintained for much longer periods and, at the same time with greater

Cyriax mentioned  the use of mechanical vibrators as well, even though
he personally preferred the hands-on approach of a therapist: "During
the last twelve or fifteen years, mechanical vibrators have come largely
into favor. The advocates of these "vibrators," "concussors," etc.,
maintain that the movements are rendered easier of administration, as
they obviate exertion on the part of the gymnast [therapist], that they
may be administered with perfect regularity as long as necessary, and
finally that they may also be administered more rapidly. Some
"vibrators" execute up to 200 vibrations per second."

"That a greater rate than twelve per second should be of any advantage
seems to me very doubtful. It must, of course, be conceded that a
"vibrator" makes less demand on the manipulator, and its use is
comprehensible when we consider that in general the vibrations as
administered at present involve strong contraction of the arm and
shoulder muscles, demanding great physical exertion, and are
consequently only to be maintained for short periods at a sacrifice of
sureness and delicacy of touch."

So, osteopathic medicine used a hands-on approach.=20

Some therapists had devices to assist them.=20

And, of course, there were all sorts of devices available for home use.=20

Considering Clemens's positive experiences with Kellgren and osteopathy,
we shouldn't be surprised that he tried the home remedy version. Clemens
observed in 1908 that the Arnold electric vibrating machine helped
Lyon's headaches and "cures and limbers lame and stiff backs for me." It
was a home version of osteopathy that did not require a trained
therapist. As quoted previously by Bob Hirst, Clemens's interpretation
was that it "stirs up the circulation" and "tones up the nerves," which
he believed to be "the essential function of osteopathy."=20

Clemens is pretty much talking like Kellgren there.

Oh, by the way, in 2010, we use ultrasound to treat musculoskeletal
injury. It's supposed to help sprains and fractures heal faster.
Ultrasound uses sound waves, made by a machine, and applied through a
skin probe. The sound waves are of a frequency that that humans cannot
hear. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But I don't think it is
erotic either, and I hope no one suggests next century that it was.

Let's not confuse things by taking things out of the context of the
medical beliefs of the time.=20

Let's respect the history.=20

And let's respect the people and their motivations.

There are no sex toys here.

There are only human beings with human fears and human pains and human
illnesses, employing the best technology they have, to the extent they
understand it, in the hope of trying to get a little bit healthier.=20

Not too different from you and me, probably.

Pat Ober