He cures fits!

U 15.3256-7: Rubber goods. Neverrip brand as supplied to the aristocracy. Corsets for men. I cure fits or money refunded.

In a passage which includes several advertising references, Joyce alludes in passing to one of the longest-running, eye-catching small ads of the period: Dr Henry Root’s ‘I CURE FITS!:

Salt Lake Herald (Utah) (1887), 28 May, p. 2

(Chronicling America database)

Henry Root’s ad could be found all around the world – in his home America, in Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc. – from the late 1860s until the early years of the twentieth century. (Empty) bottles of his celebrated cure for epilepsy (‘Elepizone’) are still regularly available on Internet auction sites.

‘Dr.’ Henry Root apparently came from Ohio. The 1870 United States census shows a Henry Root, ‘Vendor of Patent Medicine’, living with his family in Sycamore, Hamilton. But it would seem that he sold the business to the highest bidder, and returned to his profession of pump-maker.

His medicine was apparently benign – much the same as any doctor might prescribe. When it was mentioned once in the London Times (30 May, 1899), during an inquest, the coroner thought it was a waste of money (medicine sold at 7 shillings a bottle, but costing 2 pence to concoct), but not a danger to life.

The advertisements for H. G. Root’s marvellous potion invited the gullible to contact him at any of a number of addresses. The advertisement above asked for letters to be sent to 183 Pearl Street, New York. As it happens, another quack, T. A. Slocum (who sold his cure for consumption, amongst other things) shared this correspondence address with Root, and also shared with him other addresses elsewhere in New York as well as in Toronto and London. Their fashionable London address (28 Endsleigh Gardens, off the Euston Road) was the real-life home of another chemist, Thomas Francis Elton, who advertised his ‘Soft Corn Specific’ and presumably acted as local agent for both Root’s and Slocum’s medicines.

The whole operation was in fact run as an extensive and presumably profitable business at the expense of the gullible public. Root and Slocum were probably no longer in the picture by the 1880s, and T. A. Slocum’s chemical company in Toronto was in the hands of entrepreneurs who managed a chain of accommodation addresses and agents across various countries selling ‘Slocum’s system’ for consumption, Root’s cure for fits, and other profitable products. Both Root and Slocum had become ‘brands’.

In 1905/6 Slocum was one of a number of scammers exposed by Samuel Hopkins Adams in a series of articles in Collier’s Magazine (‘The Great American Fraud’) (see book version). The net was closing in on the unlicensed pharmacists and in 1906 the United States Federal Government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act which, among other things, made the manufacture or sale of poisonous nostrums illegal. It became safer not to sell them, just in case something went wrong.

This is not the place to delve any deeper into these particular businesses, but their shady operations remind us of other quacks to whom Joyce alludes – in this case perhaps most closely of ‘Dr. Henry Franks’ (John Farlow: U 8.97-8, 15.2633)1 and Alfred Henry Hunter.

Farlow was a chemist in Dublin who had his own patent nostrums, and advertised them in much the same way at Root and Slocum, but less successfully:

Nervousness, Physical and Muscular Weakness, Indigestion, Skin and Blood Diseases cured by Dr. Henry Franks; particulars free; enclose stamped directed envelope. Address Medical Hall, Berkeley road, Dublin. Thousands cured.

Irish Times (1890) 23 May, p. 2

Hunter was an inventor and advertising agent whom Joyce intended as a model for the hero of a story to be called 'Ulysses' as early as 1906. In 1890 Hunter took out a patent for an invention of “An improvement for facilitating the lacing and unlacing of boots and shoes and corsets, and such like articles of wearing apparel”.2 As time passed, he became involved in other schemes, including a cure for epilepsy (at 7 shillings and sixpence, post free):

A new remedy for epilepsy and kindred fits has just been discovered, and is being put on the market under the name of ‘Epsykure’. It is a perfectly safe and reliable remedy, and has the great advantage of being devoid of bromide – the essential and somewhat dangerous ingredient of the older remedies. Particulars of this splendid new remedy may be obtained from Mr Alfred H. Hunter (formerly partner Trench’s Remedy), Dept. B., 12 D’Olier Street, Dublin.

Anglo-Celt (1913) 21 June, p. 11

The mail-order culture represented by these advertisements was a pervasive part of the Dublin life which Joyce played with whilst exposing it in Ulysses.

John Simpson


1 John Simpson, ‘Will the Real Dr Hy Franks Please Stand Up?’, in Dublin James Joyce Journal (2010), vol. 3, pp. 114-19.

2 Irish Times (1890), 15 November.

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