When Casanova was only 12 his childhood sweetheart, Bettina, contracted smallpox, the river' that all must cross’. According to two eighteenth century early statisticians, James Jurin in London and Daniel Bernoulli of Basel, the chance of contracting smallpox during one’s lifetime was one in three and of then dying, one in five. Smallpox was responsible for 200,000 deaths per year in Europe in the early 1800s, of which the vast majority were children. There was no effective treatment not least because the cause of the disease was completely misunderstood.
If you survived you were probably disfigured partly because of all the scratching . Casanova dissuaded Bettina from scratching with the following remark:
“Remember, Bettina that you are going to get well; but if you dare scratch yourself, you will be so ugly that no one will ever love you again.”
REMOVING A CATARACT
In 1764 whilst in Warsaw Casanova met a fellow Italian, Tadini, who boasted that he had developed an artificial lens to correct the problems that arise from cataract removal.He wanted Casanova to persude a patient to let him to do the corrrective operation. Cataract operations were then becoming common. Jaques Daviel (1696-1762) performed the first extra- capsular cataract extraction in 1747 and within five years had performed 206 operations.
When Tadini showed Casanova a small box filled with minute round crystals, of which he wanted to insert one under the cornea to replace the lens, his idea was met with incredulity and derision. Although he did not get the chance to try this out, in 1795 an oculist from Dresden, Casaamata, attempted to correct the problems arising by lens removal with an intra ocular lens. Unfortunately the glass lens substitute used sank under its own weight.
‘ THE ITCH'
'There are many towns in Italy where one can enjoy all the pleasures obtainable at Bologna; but nowhere so cheaply, so easily, or with so much freedom. The living is excellent, and there are arcades where one can walk in the shade in learned and witty company. It is a great pity that either from the air, the water, or the wine –for men of science have not made up their mind on the subject, persons who live at Bologna are subject to a slight itch. The Bolognese, however, far from finding this unpleasant, seem to think it an advantage; it gives them the pleasure of scratching themselves. In springtime the ladies distinguish themselves by the grace with which they use their fingers.’
The cause was probably the scabies mite which was particularly active in the warmer months .
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BSc.DHMSA.MBBS. FRCPsych .
Honorary Senior Lecturer in Humanities, Keele University
Retired Consultant Psychiatrist/ Senior Lecturer in Medical Education