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Guest Post: Little Ilford School ‘Science Club’

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By | The Researcher’s View

In the second post from our Year 9 friends at Little Ilford School, here are Edward and Farzana reflecting on their visit and the four humours. 

During the 17th century medicine was still handicapped by wrong ideas about the human body. Most doctors thought that there were four fluids or ‘humours’ in the body, blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile, which had to stay in balance for a person to stay healthy or become healed from their illness. 

These four humours all had a different meaning that relates to illness.  For example, blood was created in the liver, and was warm and moist, but black bile (from the gall bladder) was cold and dry. Blood could be extracted to try to balance the four fluids.

Each humour was also like a different emotion: sanguine (blood) means pleasure-seeking, sociable, amorous; choleric (yellow bile) means ambitious, leader-like, bad-tempered; melancholic (black bile) means introverted, thoughtful, sleepless; and lastly phlegmatic (phlegm) means relaxed, quiet, unemotional.

Our reaction to learning about the four humours was shock – since technology and our knowledge of the human body has developed over the centuries, we have learnt about how illnesses are caused.  We found it shocking but fascinating because we didn’t think that in the olden times people thought illnesses were caused by their bodies’ fluids not being in balance.  We thought that people in the past thought God was punishing them for their sins and evil they had committed.

We also learnt about how the Wellcome Trust was founded and how it came to be. There was a man called Henry Wellcome who loved to collect artefacts, so he went around the world to find as many artefacts as he could and he ended finding so many and building massive collections.  He then set up a museum for his artefacts.

But not only was it a museum, it also funded people to learn about the body, and people who were funded by the Wellcome Trust made massive breakthroughs in research on the human body.  It has helped people around the world.

Posted on behalf of Edward and Farzana
Images: Drawing of Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome by F. Reynolds, 1901 (Wellcome Library no. 95891)
An ill man being bled by his doctor, 1804 (Wellcome Library no. 12046i)

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