If you read novels from the 18th and 19th century you may notice that characters suffer from odd diseases, like the marthambles, catarrh, chilblains, and my favorite, brain fever. What are these mysterious medical conditions?

A quote from Patrick O'Brian:

"Marthambles is a very fine word that I found in a quack's pamphlet of the late [17th century|17th or early 18th century advising a nostrum that would cure not only "the strong fires" and a whole variety of more obvious diseases but the marthambles too. I have never seen it anywhere else and it has escaped the OED.

Personally I have seen the word in many girls' books of the Victorian era and afterwards. It seems like a condition that Aunt Clara from Rose in Bloom or Mrs. Lynde from Anne of Green Gables might have; Aunt Alvirah from the Ruth Fielding books also suffered from it.

But what it is, I still don't know.

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