At the Pharmacy Blanc: 1875

V0011779 Voyage to eternity; pharmacy scene with Death at work. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images By: Jean-Ignace-Isidore GérardPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

V0011779 Voyage to eternity; pharmacy scene with Death at work.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
By: Jean-Ignace-Isidore GérardPublished: –
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Most people know from experience how long it takes to get a prescription put up at an apothecary’s shop when the occasion is pressing, but deliberate as are the clerks of pharmacists on this side of the water, they must yield the palm to their French brethren. The following translation of a little sketch by M. Charles Monselet illustrates our remark: The Pharmacy Blanc is one of the handsomest in Paris. In the first place, it is situated in a central quarter, that is to say, in proximity to the greater part of the accidents. The shop is large and airy, its windows are adorned with curiously shaped bottles filled with variously colored spirits; the interior is decorated with undoubted good taste; there were urns wherein serpents are coiled, dark green busts of Aesculapius and Galen, and copper sphinxes support the counters. I can never explain it to myself, but pharmacies have always a fascination for me, possessing. as they do, a methodical aspect and an exceptional atmosphere. From the powders, minerals, roots, plants, herbs, dried flowers, the unguents, patés, elixirs, there exhales an odor singularly pleasing to me, and amidst which I fancy I should like to live.

All at once, while I was examining all those jars, so alike in appearance and so diverse in contents, a woman pushed open the door of the shop violently, and entered. She had hardly strength enough left to speak; her countenance was convulsed; she could only hand to the pharmacien a prescription which she held clutched in her trembling fingers.

Her husband has just received a fearful wound in the head; he is now lying on his bed unconscious. The doctor, called in haste, has written rapidly a few lines upon the paper she has brought. It is these few lines that she has passed to the pharmacien, who is calmly and gravely unfolding them, for a pharmacien should never cease to be grave. He is slowly deciphering the writing, for a pharmacien should, before all, make himself well acquainted with the details of a prescription. When he has finished reading it, he says to the woman, “Be good enough to take a seat. Sit down! sit down!”

“But, sir,” she cries, “do you not understand that my husband is in the greatest danger? Give me quickly what is required!”

“It will only take an instant ; please to sit down.”

The poor woman sinks into a chair, her arms hanging listlessly on each side, and her face expressionless from anxiety and fatigue.

During this time the pharmacien sets to work. He takes a small vial, places it in the beautiful scales before him. He goes to a row of the jars arranged like books in a library. He pours from one a few drops into the small vial. He then weighs it, and adds more from another jar. All this with the care and system recommended by the “Codex.”

From time to time the woman jumps from her seat suddenly. Her husband, pale and covered with blood, haunts her, and she turns to the pharmacien and joining her hands in supplication, she says,—

“Oh! sir! sir!”


“My poor husband!”

“It will soon be ready, madame.”

Saying this, the pharmacien corks hermetically the little vial, which is at last full; he takes from a drawer a piece of green paper, with which he covers the cork, arranging its folds with a tedious neatness and regularity; he ties it with a bit of red twine, and trims the paper with a pair of scissors; then he plunges a stick of sealing-wax in the gas jet, and deposits upon the summit a lighted drop, in which he affixes the ends of the twine.

“Oh! Sir! Sir!”

Our pharmacien has not yet finished; he has now to find a label and paste it upon the bottle, then to write in a plain hand the number of the prescription, the name of the mixture, and whether for internal or external use, not forgetting the hackneyed phrase, “shake before using.”

“Sir! Sir!”

“It is finished, madame.”

In point of fact, after having accomplished all these indispensable formalities, the pharmacien rolls up the vial in an elegant quality of paper, and presents it to the woman.

“How much? how much? ” stammers she, feeling for the money in the pocket of her dress.

“Pay at the desk.”

At the desk sits enthroned the proprietor of the pharmacy, with a majestic air, dreamily perusing the latest livraison of pharmaceutical literature; he detains the poor woman several minutes more, and at last she receives her change; then she precipitates herself towards the door, when she encounters again the clerk, who politely opens it for her, in the midst of a deafening rattling of the bell attached thereto. Such is the scene, dear neighbor, which I accidentally witnessed the other day. May Heaven preserve you from ever going to procure anything else in the Pharmacy Blanc than an agreeable sirup or some perfumed pastilles.

The Opelousas [LA] Journal 2 July 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A very trenchant “slice-of-Parisian-life” anecdote. Mrs Daffodil knows that she will shock her readers by acknowledging that such delays may also happen in England, particularly if the unhappy widow-in-waiting has the misfortune to be behind a pretty nurse-girl ordering a soothing syrup for her charges from the elegant young pharmacy clerk. If such is the case, she might as well abandon the notion of curative potions and go straight to Black Peter Robinson’s.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


3 thoughts on “At the Pharmacy Blanc: 1875

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Mrs Daffodil, who has seen a good deal too much of the Evil of the world, wonders how often the incompetent chemist split the insurance or burial club money with the survivors….



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