Which Broussais?

One of the books I catalogued in Charles Knowlton’s estate inventory is a volume listed simply as “Brousair” or “Brousais.”  Looking at the medical texts available at the time, I supposed this might refer to François-Joseph-Victor Broussais (1772-1838), who wrote several books on inflammation between 1808 and 1828.  But I noted in my inventory, it might also be a work on family planning by an unrelated (as far as I know) Alphonse Broussais, published in the late 1830s or early 1840s.

I’m finally getting back to writing my Knowlton biography, after my move and starting the farm, so today I was looking at a book called
An Introduction to the History of Medicine, by Fielding Hudson Garrison (1917).  Garrison doesn’t mention Alphonse, but he has some pointed things to say about François.  He begins by charging that Broussais “did away with metaphysical conceptions of disease only to substitute something worse.” (426)

According to Garrison, Broussais was the son of a French physician who joined the republican army in 1792 and later served as a surgeon in Napoleon’s campaigns.  As a result, Garrison says, “his methods were Napoleonic and his therapeutics sanguinary.”  The underpinning of Broussais’s regime was a belief that life depends on irritation (friction, heat), and that gastro-enteritis was the basis of all disease.  In this belief, he was a step ahead of the older generation and their “fevers,” says Garrison.  But only a small step.  Ironically, this emphasis on heat and digestion is not all that unlike the focus of Samuel Thomson’s herbalist alternative medicine, which was widely regarded by professional physicians as quackery.

Broussais’s treatment program called on the doctor to “deprive the patient of his proper food and leech him all over his body.  As many as 10 to 50 leeches were applied at once.”  As a result, Garrison says “in the year 1833 alone 41,500,000 leeches were imported into France…Yet in 1824-25 two or three million were sufficient to supply all demands.”  Witnessing these “torrents of blood, students began gradually to edge away from him, until his theories were finally exploded by…good sense and temperate judgment” (427). This doesn’t seem like the sort of physician or regime that would appeal to Charles Knowlton, especially in light of the difficulties he had as a young man searching for a cure for his own maladies.

Luckily, searching the web today, I was able to find out a little more about the other Broussais.  Alphonse apparently published a sex manual which was translated and published in New York in 1843 as Self-Preservation: or Sexual Physiology Revealed.  The editor was “A Physician of Philadelphia,” and the book was “Sold by all periodical agents.” I got this not from standard historical sources, but from an auction advertisement for a copy of the old book.

This book seems a much more likely fit for Charles Knowlton, whose own sex manual,
The Fruits of Philosophy, was being illicitly reprinted in Philadelphia at about the same time.  I’d love to get my hands on a copy of Self-Preservation, to see if any of the text or ideas are lifted from Knowlton or from his friend, Robert Dale Owen, rather than coming from this untraceable Frenchman, Alphonse Broussais. Also, the value listed in the inventory for this volume was $ .12, which seems more appropriate for a 128-page sex manual you could carry in your pocket than for a medical treatise, even an out-of-date, discredited one. 

Of course, there’s no definitive proof that Self-Preservation was the book in Charles Knowlton’s library.  Just a preponderance of circumstantial evidence and educated guesswork.  But how much of history, I wonder, is just that in the end? 

Things we might want to know about...

The good people at Onlinecolleges.net have compiled a list of 25 interesting facts about higher education. Reading through them, I found that many of them had to do with the history of different types of educational institutions, teaching practices, and what types of people got to go to college (and why). Some of them were no surprise to me: for example, I went to a Land Grant University and took classes in Morrill Hall, so I was aware of how the Morrill Act created the State University system we now have. But people who didn’t go to UMass, Texas A&M or Cornell (and there’s probably an interesting story behind how Ezra Cornell got New York’s land grant money) probably don’t know about that. And there were several points that surprised me, including the one about Colonial America having more colleges than England (although perhaps not more than Great Britain).

An interesting theme that runs through many of the facts has to do with demographics and participation. Who got to go and why they went is an interesting question -- and history might tell us something about how to move forward. Everyone has an idea about what higher ed should look like in the 21st century; how many of those ideas have any foundation in higher ed’s history?

The economic hardships faced by institutions, the explosions of participation surrounding the Morrill Act and the GI Bill (both wartime measures, interestingly), even the transition from being training facilities for professionals (ministers, lawyers, and slightly later, physicians) to being about more general “liberal education” for the masses -- these are all issues where a little look at history might inform the current debate. In any case, the list is interesting and thought-provoking. Well done,


We got our first load of hay today. Managed to put 32 bales on the back of the pickup, in spite of the fact it’s a short bed. We’ll be getting 100 more, but pulling the hayrack home with that, in a couple of days. Hay takes up a fairly big space in the barn, but more about that later. And it’s heavy. A barn you could drive through would be really convenient at this point. I don’t think I can back a hayrack up into our barn, especially since there’s a slight hill in front of the door, and I won’t be able to see the back of the rack. So we’ll probably be parking beside the barn and carrying that 100 bales in through the backdoor. At 50# each, that’ll be a good workout!

Back to the Farm

I went away for a few days. Drove 2,300 miles, taking our daughter to college. While I was gone, the chicks grew up a bit. They’re definitely starting to look like the chickens they’re going to be. So when I got home I hurried up and made some last minute adjustments to the henhouse, and moved them in. They spent an afternoon on the grass, catching grasshoppers. Then they moved into their new home. So far, so good.

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Electric Fence & Escapees

There’s so much pasture the animals haven’t been on yet! In order to get them out there, though, I need to make sure they’ll be staying where I put them, and not wandering into the next field (or the neighbors’ garden, or down the road…). I got a fence-charger and a long spool of electric twine (it has six stainless steel wires woven in), and some plastic insulating posts. There was an old charger mounted on the barn wall, which apparently powered a strand of the barbed wire that goes all the way around the farm, but I thought it would be better to start with no surprises. And I thought the three or four horses the previous people had were probably more likely to respect the barbed wire and stay where they were put. And too big to try to squeeze through between the wires.

Like many things on the farm, working with electric fencing is completely new to me (barbed wire isn’t, actually: I repaired pasture fencing while working for my adviser when I was an undergrad). But like many things on the farm, it just makes sense. The systems are pretty self-explanatory, and it seems once you get into the right frame of mind, things fit together the way they’re supposed to.

I set the posts eight small paces apart, going up the hill toward the big pasture. This will be a small paddock, and it is surrounded by our other fenced fields, in case something goes wrong. I pulled the twine through the top set of loops, and realized that the yellow poly was a great way to see if the fence-line was straight. So I corrected my post placement a little, as I strung the top strand. Looped the twine a couple of times to tighten it, and then started back down the hill. Each side of the fence is anchored to keep it tight: the near side to the barn wall and the far side to a post on the barbed wire fence (carefully, so as not to ground the twine).

There are five strands in all, and I used up about ¾ of the spool, which surprised me. The cool thing about electric fencing is that you don’t have to close the circuit. You can just end anywhere. The ANIMAL closes the circuit, by connecting the fence to the ground. This is what produces the shock – and it’s why it’s so important to drive ground stakes as the instructions specify. I didn’t, actually – I’m using the ground stakes from the previous installation. But if I don’t end up with the power I need on the fence, those old ground stakes are the most likely culprit. It’s on my longer-term to-do list…

The fence fired up when I plugged in the charger, with the classic tick-tick-tick. I tested the fence with a loop of grass, and it was working. But I thought I’d be on the safe side, so I mowed beneath the fence to minimize the grass-grounding along the way.

The fence was running when I brought the sheep back to the barn, and Bob made contact and yelped. Then he ran through it a few minutes later, in a bid to avoid going inside for the evening. But I think it would deter animals that aren’t in actual flight mode. We’ll see, I guess.

This morning I let the sheep saunter out the back door of the barn into their new paddock. They browsed calmly and I congratulated myself and went off to do some other chores. When I checked on them a while later, Bob and Bella had made their way into the back pasture (not Elsie, of course. She was right by my side all morning), where I didn’t really want them to be. Someday, but that field goes over the hill and continues an eight of a mile to the road. We want to walk before we run.

The sheep squeezed between a couple of strands of barbed wire, at the back of the paddock. I found the spot easily, from the tufts of black and brown wool the two sheep left on the barbs of the fence. There’s a lot of good eating in the paddock I made for them, and cool shade under the evergreens, so I had hoped they’d stay there. But for whatever perverse reason, they disappeared. I don’t know whether they went into the woods or crossed the fields and took off through the neighbors’ yards for greener pastures. But they were gone.

I spent a fair amount of time today walking the property – part of the time with puppies and goat in tow, then they got tired and opted to stay on the porch. It’s possible the sheep are still closeby, even on the property. If they went into the woods and decided to hide, I’d have a hard time finding them with all the underbrush. Likewise in the stands of trees that separate the fields. The nursery rhyme phrase “leave them alone and they’ll come home” came to mind. But I was not holding my breath.

I think it’s interesting that the sheep escaped through barbed wire and not through the electric fence. But if we keep sheep at all (and I was leaning against it most of the afternoon), we’ll treat them as maximum security convicts. There’s a certain look Bob gave us that I won’t mistake again. It was a “you’re the predator and I’m the prey, and I know it” look. He was right of course. In the long run, he was destined for the stew-pot or sausage mill. But that would have been in a couple of years. As it is, he may be wolf-food within the next couple of days.

Update: in the early evening, one of our neighbors from the development behind the farm came over to tell me she had a couple of sheep in her backyard and supposed they were ours. I was surprised and pleased – I guess there’s some truth to nursery rhymes. It took a little bit of creative herding to get the sheep back on our land and then out of the open fields and ultimately into the barn. The trick was, I herded them into the garage and then closed the door. The sheep, not knowing there was a backdoor, just stood there looking at me like, “Oh, shit.” While they were confused, I was able to grab Bob and guide him out the backdoor and over to the barn. Once in the barn they headed straight for their stall, and I rewarded them with some sweet feed. This procedure would not have worked on Elsie, of course, because she knows where all the doors are. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be needed for Elsie – which is something to think about when we’re planning for how many goats vs. sheep we want to keep…


It’s midmorning and I’m sitting on the deck, catching up on getting my impressions down before I forget. A lot has happened in the last few days.

First, we got a couple of sheep and a goat. The sheep (a ram and a ewe) are a mixture of Border Leicester, Karakul, and (I think) Shetland. They have nice open faces, and no personalities at all; but Steph says the fleeces will be good for felting, rugs, and heavy sweaters. Their names are Bob (Baahb) and Bella.

The goat is named Elsie Hatfield, and she has decided to be my constant companion. She’s a
Kinder, which is half Nubian, half Pygmy. Elsie was an orphan, so she was bottle-raised and got a LOT of attention as a baby. She is currently standing next to me, chewing cud. Sometimes she nibbles a bit at the flap of my pocket as if she’s trying to rob me or leans her head against me. Often, she’ll lay down at my feet, if I’m sitting in one place long enough. If I disappear she’ll call for me. When I’m in the house she stands patiently by the screen and waits. This is an improvement over the first day, when she’d bellow at the top of her lungs until Steph or I returned.

Steph bought the animals from a local woman who singlehandedly runs a farm of two hundred fowl, a hundred sheep and goats, and I don’t know how many cattle (maybe a dozen). We’ll be getting a couple more goats and another ewe in September. Steph picked them up using the dog crate, and we originally put them in the old garden, which is overgrown with grass, weeds, raspberry canes and little birch trees after a couple summers of disuse. The idea was that the sheep would eat the grass and the goat would take down some of the weeds and saplings, to make it easier for me to till. And they’d leave behind a bit of fertilizer.

The plan worked well with the sheep, who contentedly work away at eating until it gets warm – then they lay down until it gets cool again (Very smart). But the goat managed to squeeze herself through the six inch openings in the garden fence, and escape. Luckily, she didn’t want to go far. She wanted to find us. Same thing happened when we put her in her pen in the barn, so we doubled the security and plugged the holes.

Henhouse roof

With some much-appreciated help from Sofie (who’s going away to college in less than a week), I got the Suntuf roofing material installed on top of the henhouse. This is an experiment – I don’t know how this stuff will perform in a northern winter. But if it works it will provide lots of light and turn the henhouse into a much brighter and warmer place. I might even put some plants in there (above the nesting-boxes or on the rafters, where the birds won’t get them) until I have a greenhouse.

The Suntuf panels are eight foot by 26 inches, to allow for a two inch overlap. They are supposed to be mounted on special
plastic pieces that are molded to the correct shape, but the Home Depot had never heard of these. The “Pro” desk people checked one of their books and told me I could order them, but only by the case (of 100). so I opted for pine 1x2s instead. The panels themselves are fairly easy to install, except for the ridgecap, which in my opinion is the weak link of the system. It is not a trivial task, getting the top on evenly. I didn’t actually manage it, so there’s a little bit of waviness to the top of the building. But the roof is sealed, and that’s the main thing.

Standing on the top rungs of a twelve foot stepladder took me some time to get used to. Toward the end of the day, I had stopped thinking about the height (except when I dropped a screw and watched it fall), which was good, because several times I had to get up over the panels and use two hands to steady the ridgecap so I could screw it down correctly. That meant releasing my death-grip on whatever joist was available. Sofie said afterward she couldn’t believe I didn’t fall, but I never felt like I was going to.

This henhouse was a learning experience for me. I’ve never built anything on that scale before, so about half the time I was just guessing. It looks like I guessed right, but time will tell. The chickens are growing fast – later this week I’ll probably start bringing them out to visit their new home, a couple of dozen at a time.

There are a few little details to finish yet. Cosmetic things like trim on the corners, and functional things like windows. But the building itself is pretty much complete. It even has a door that locks!

Been Busy! More Details Soon...

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Well, if it’s really a farm when you have animals you’re planning on eating, then we started farm life today. The first batch of chicks arrived today! I got a call from the Post Office midmorning, and drove down to the loading dock in the back where they were waiting in their box, peeping up a storm.

We got four varieties: Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, Jersey Giant, and Buff Orpington. I can’t tell the Jerseys from the Rocks — they both look like little penguins to me. They’re in a brooder I built in the garage, where the kids can go out and see them whenever they want. The kittens (who are living in the garage too until they’re a little older and the barn is ready) haven’t noticed them yet, despite a day of peeping. But just in case, there’s a wire lid on the breeder to keep the little guys safe. We lost a few in transit, but they’re guaranteed, so I imagine we’ll get credit for them. After some water and starter (which they really preferred to gro-gel) and a nap under the heat lamps, they’re looking bright-eyed and happy. A couple of the Reds have even caught flies already!

More details soon: in the meantime, here are a couple more photos:

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Barn Security

Today we worked on basic barn security. I drove some stakes into the ground and Steph made an enclosure for sheep and goats with found materials. The gate panel in the photo was conveniently attached to the wall, so we used it as one side and used some heavy, quarter-inch wire panels for the front. I trenched out below the outside walls and put down some half-inch hardware wire to discourage rats and other pests. There was a doorway that was basically boarded up, that I thought might be useful for getting animals to the side pasture, so I made a bottom sill, and then attached the hardware cloth to it. I used stakes to keep most of the hardware wire down, and a little quikrete in holes and corners where the old wood was damaged. I suppose that’s cheating, but anything that helps keep out unwanted night visitors is good at this point.

In the afternoon, I went back to the henhouse. I finished the back and started the front, with the help of a rented 12-foot stepladder. Since that’s rented, I’m going to try to get a lot of use out of it tomorrow too. We also rented an industrial strength bolt cutter, to deal with the quarter inch wire panels we’re using in the barn. It’s nice to have a well-stocked rental place nearby, since we’re new to the area and don’t know anyone we could borrow a ladder or a bolt-cutter from. And it’s great that there’s a lot of material left around from the previous owners’ projects, for us to scavenge and use. There’s a lot here to work with, which gives us a bit of a head-start. It’s not the coziest, most rustic looking barn, but it’ll do for now -- and Steph and the kids have spruced it up nicely so it looks much more inviting than it did. In any case, it needs to be ready. Animals are coming later this week!

Rest and Food Prep

So it’s Sunday morning again. Got up late (after the sunrise) and drank a couple of cups of coffee while playing with the kittens and puppies on the back porch. Then Steph and I came inside and did our Sunday morning chore, preparing a week’s worth of food for the two pups and three kittens (the old indoor cats prefer their dry cat food and an occasional can of tuna).

The process is becoming a little more streamlined, now that we’ve done it a few times. The kitchen counter is a disassembly line. Whole chickens enter on one end and packaged meals exit the other. On the left, two two-packs of whole chicken, which we picked up again for 95 cents a pound at Walmart. I cut the birds on the board (with knives I’ve remembered to sharpen!), and Steph runs them through the machine. Along the way, there’s a loop, as the meat first gets cut into pieces that can be sent through the grinder, and then it all goes through twice. Then on the other end, they go into reusable plastic food storage containers.

The rough grind takes less time than it takes me to cut up the four chickens. After two birds, Steph cleans out the auger of all the cartilage that piles up there, so I have a chance to catch up. Bone goes through just fine, but the cartilage gets hung up there and after a while sounds like knuckle-bones popping as the grinder turns. So we clear that out, and it doesn’t end up in the final mix of food (which is probably just as well, since I don’t think it adds a lot to the nutritional value of the food). We get two big bowls from four chickens, and next time we’ll clean the auger between each of those bowls as we’re feeding it through again, too. By the end of the second run-through, the grinder was slowing down a bit.

Working together, we managed to make the process fairly efficient. Steph was even able to catch about half the meat as it came out of the second grind, which decreased the amount that had to be packed from the bowl at the end, and also eliminated the need to reuse the bowls from the first grind. After about an hour and ten minutes, we had 29 meals for the freezer, and a little pile of fresh meat for today. Then came the deep-cleaning of the kitchen (because, after all, we’re talking about raw chicken bought at Walmart), complete with bleach on the countertops and floor. The meat goes into the chest freezer, and we’re good for another week!

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History Work, too

Spent two hours this morning on skype with one of my dissertation buddies. I have a couple of people I keep in touch with, talking about our projects from time to time. This one is writing an article that basically sets the scene for his dissertation. Nineteenth century America, so it’s a period I’m interested in, even though political history isn’t my main focus. He’s working on a new interpretation of Reconstruction, that focuses on continuity in politics from the period before the Civil War to the period after. In a sense, he’s suggesting that the sectional battle over slavery was not the whole story, and that the other things going on may be equally interesting and important. I’m looking forward to reading more as he continues developing this idea. For our next skype session in two weeks, we’ll be talking about my work, so I have a deadline to get some material written and sent off to him!

After lunch, I painted up another set of panels for the walls of the henhouse. Then I finished cutting and mounting the side walls. Painting them first is a chore, but I think it speeds up the process in the long run.