Origin of the Apothecary


The origin of the apothecary in England dates much further back than one would suppose from what your correspondent, “A Barrister-at-Law,” says about it. It is true he speaks only of apothecaries as a distinct branch of the medical profession, but long before Henry VIII’s time they were recognized as a distinct branch, though the distinction may not have been a legal one.

The earliest mention I remember to have seen in English of an apothecary is one I have cited before in these notes, from Bardsley’s “English Surnames.” In 1273, says Bardsley, “the Mayor of York was one John Le Espicer, aut Apotecarius.” Here “spicer” and “apothecary”‘ appear to be convertible terms, but it is clear, from the passage in Chaucer alone. “Ful redy hadde he hise apothecaries,” that these were a distinct class, and Caxton distinguishes the “physician, spicer, apotiquare” from one another.

In England as in France, “Qui est espicier n’est pas apothicaire, et qui est apothicaire est espicier,” and as time went on the difference between them grew, the apothecaries confining themselves particularly to drugs. Your correspondent is rather unfair to the apothecarics when he says, speaking of them as a separate class, that they began as quacks. They began as assistants to the physicians. Earle, in describing the physician of his day, speaks repeatedly of “his” apothecary’s shop. They were subject to the supervision of the physicians, and stood to them in much the relation enjoined by the law of the Emperor Frederick II. regulating medical practice in the Sicilies.—Chem. & Drug., Sept. 1921

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Six hours sleep for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool.

— Napoleon