The Doctor's Robe

Early in the 1600s, doctors began wearing a robe of toile-cirée,  linen coated with a wax paste. The idea was that the plague came from "venemous atoms" which infected salubrious air making it "miasmatic". These atoms were "sticky", clinging to things the way smoke or perfume clings to things. The waxed robe presumably provided no surface to cling to. The breathing tube beak was filled with materials imbued with perfume. A priest in Italy complained that the robe was useless against plague, saying it "is good only to protect one from the fleas which cannot nest in it". The friar (who came close to guessing the cause of the plague without knowing it) complained of being "devoured by fleas, armies of which nest in my gown."

source: C.M. Cipolla, Fighting the Plague in Seventeenth Century Italy (Wisconsin, 1981), p 10

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