100 Years Ago Today: An Ode to Allergies…or Depression

Craig Empire, Number 31, August 27, 1919

Glancing past the title of this poem, which gives away the malady, you could read this as a description of depression or anxiety, which would certainly be rare in the early 20th century local newspapers. However, there are plenty of ads and articles for physical illness remedies, just not for mental illnesses. That said, it’s interesting that the language in this poem is sympathetic to the mental suffering of the hay fever patient.

Perhaps this recognition of the multiple layers of suffering was the result of so many people experiencing symptoms over a long period of time, since 1919 marked the 100 year anniversary of the first inquiries into seasonal allergies, aka hay fever.

In 1819, John Bostock, an English medical enthusiast, presented Case of a Periodical Affection of the Eyes and Chest to the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, in which he describes his hay fever as a disease likely caused by the heat of the summer. He also laid out some of the cures he tried, which mostly involved attempts to rid his body of various fluids.

John Bostock

The actual cause of hay fever was not pinned down until 1859 by another British scientist, Charles Blackley, who attributed it to grass pollen.

On a colloquial note, regarding the poem’s phrase “like hell beating tanbark,” according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, the phrase was popular from the mid-19th century into the 1900s as a “general intensifier, usually meaning very fast…such as quicker than hell beating tanbark.”

The phrase may have originated during the American Civil War.

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