Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Cholera in couplets

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 01 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e698
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

Sanitation and sanitary precautions might not seem a very promising subject for poetry, but in 1871 a sanitary worker called Alfred Power published a small pamphlet of verses called Sanitary Rhymes, containing Personal Precautions against Cholera and All Kinds of Fever. It cost sixpence and was not to be sold in quantities of fewer than five because it was intended for the use of the masses. It was dedicated to Edwin Chadwick, “the founder of sanitary legislation.”

As perhaps is only to be expected, it is not great poetry—in fact it is doggerel, but it contains lines that are, in their own way, memorable.

The first verse is devoted to the skin: “The outside …

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