John Moore (d. 1737)



  • Apothecary
  • Author

Biographical details

Pat Rogers, University of South Florida
October 2022

Nobody knows where John Moore came from, and he ended up without achieving enough distinction to earn a place in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. But during the second, third and further decades of the eighteenth century, the “Worm Doctor” would have been familiar to all literate Londoners, thanks to his practice at the heart of the City and his incessant advertising campaign in the press. A quack of a sort he certainly was, but one successful enough to attract a large body of notice among contemporaries. For a time he became a favourite target of the satirists, most regularly Alexander Pope and John Arbuthnot. As late as 1743, six years after his death, his name was invoked in the title of a topical ballad by George Bubb Dodington.

At first he worked from Abchurch Lane, a narrow passage running south from Lombard Steet to Cannon Street. In 1692 Edward Lloyd had established his coffee house at the head of the lane, a site for the development of insurance among other branches of the intelligence industry. Nearby stood Pontack’s restaurant, frequented by Jonathan Swift, Christopher Wren and other luminaries. A hundred yards away to the east, Alexander Pope had spent his early years in Plough Court, where his father was a merchant. In 1724 Moore shifted the site of his shop to Laurence Pountney Lane, on the other side of Cannon Street, where he stayed for the remainder of his career.

The heart of his business was to supply a powder for those suffering from intestinal worms (people, not animals). As early as 1709, he started to bombard readers of the Tatler and other papers with his advertisements, and he did not let up in the years to come. Of course, there were other medicinal props in his tool kit: an early ad promises much more than vermifuges: “At the Pestle and Mortar in Abchurch-lane in Lombard-street, London, you may have the following Medicines: The most infallible Medicine yet known in England for the Cure of all Fevers in general, without Blistering or Bleeding, it is rarely known to fail once in a Hundred Instances,” with a good deal else. His first publication did not suffer from undue modesty, either: Arcana Mooreana; or, a Succinct and Lucid Discourse, of the Origine, Essence, Scituation, Symptoms, Causes and Cure of the Cholick, In All its Various Denominations, Different Kinds, Degrees, and Complications (1713), a handy promotional vehicle.

This was followed near the end of the author’s life by something completely different. Columbarium: or, The Pigeon-House. Being an Introduction to a Natural History of Tame Pigeons. Giving an Account of the several Species known in England, with the Method of Breeding them, their Distempers and Cures (1735) was the first treatise on domestic pigeons in English. Always a fussy self-aggrandizer, Moore gave a lesson in how to insult readers at the end of the preface: “Being well assur’d that this Book will fall into the Hands of many of the illiterate Part of Mankind, who are altogether gnorant [sic] in the Terms of Art, and even in the meaning of many Words of more frequent Use among the politer Part; I have for the sake of such added an Alphabetical Explanation of the less common Words made Use of in this Treatise.” Naturally he took the opportunity to fill the last thirty pages of this volume with “An Account of some Medicines, prepar’d by JOHN MOORE Apothecarry, at the Pestle and Mortar in Lawrence Pountney’s Lane, the first great Gates on the left Hand, from Canon Street; who formerly lived at the Pestle and Mortar, in Abchurch-Lane, London, with a faithful Narrative of some Cures effected by them.” In the midst of several other nostrums, Moore reverts to his specialty: “My Powders for the Cure of Worms are known and us’d in all Parts of Europe and America, have not one Grain of Mercury in them, and are proper to be taken by Children, tho’ they have no Worms, for they strengthen the Stomach, and help the Digestion. They have been so long known, and so well approv’d both at home and abroad that they need no further Encomiums.” None the less, the testimonies of satisfied users adequately serve as encomia.

Pope gave the apothecary his most lasting share of notoriety with a short ballad entitled To the Ingenious Mr. Moore, Author of the Celebrated Worm Powder, but generally known simply as The Worms. It was published by Edmund Curll on 1 May 1716, probably with the author’s connivance. This was maybe the most popular poem in his own day that Pope wrote, appearing almost forty times by 1750 in collections, pamphlets and newspapers. Such currency is not hard to explain, as it is a virtuoso exercise in wordplay, misapplied Biblical references, proverbial lore and ingenious rhymes (belly/vermeicelli is one). It begins with a generalised thought, “All Humankind are Worms.” Successive verses amplify this idea with reference to particular groups. Statesmen, misers and the learned are just a few of those whose attributes define them as insect-like, with fops cast as painted butterflies, flatterers as earwigs, and physicians as death-watch beetles. The last two stanzas concern Moore himself, “O learned Friend of Abchurch-Lane, / Who sett’st our Entrails free,” as he too will succumb after death, along with the wits of Button’s coffee house. Soon after came another ballad, Moore’[s] Worms for the Learned Mr. Curll, Bookseller, which may well have proceeded from the Pope camp also. It starts, “O learned Curll, thy Skill excels / Ev’n Moore’s of Abchurch-Lane --- / He only Genuine Worms expells, / To crawl in Print for Gain.” The story alleges that Curll gave Pope worm powders in retaliation for the dose of adulterated wine that the poet had recently administered to his enemy, and this caused the appearance of Moore’s Worms as a kind of bodily evacuation.

Moore cropped up the next year in a poem called “The Monster of Ragusa” that formed part of a collection published by Bernard Lintot. The author has never been identified with certainty, but all the signs point to Pope. Worked into the main plot, which concerns a sea monster that came ashore at modern Dubrovnik, is a separate episode based on a facetious notice in the press, sent out from Button’s. This mentioned a rumour that one of Joseph Addison’s circle had been “delivered of” a worm forty yards long by Moore, but the individual in question had claim to have only “a small, lively, trifling Red-Headed Worm of Seven Inches,” which he would show to the curious at his house on Sundays. It is true that Moore did advertise that worms he had extracted from his patients would be on display at his premises—sometimes claiming that they measured as much as 27 feet in length. But the cheerful obscenity of the newspaper story is what feeds into the conclusion of “The Monster of Ragusa,” where the monster finally returns to his native element: “And of his tail cocks up the tip / Long as the worm at Button’s.” He voids a large dragon, which makes the London case not worth mentioning: “O Button do not advertize / Nor thy huge worm so brag on.” The monster is able to raise tempests, as his belly gives out a great roar, even though “’Tis said he never knew John More, / Nor swallow’d his worm-powder.” Among other things, this ending ridicules the manner in which Moore claimed his powders had an international reputation.

This was not the last time that satirists fixed their aim on the worm doctor. A pamphlet from 1722, Annus Mirabilis, generally attributed to Arbuthnot, describes a universal sex change undergone by the inhabitants of London, caused by a malign conjunction of the planets. The first of some mock advertisements at the end reads, “Planetary Powders, as necessary for the new Births of Sexes, as Sperma Ceti for Puerperous Women: Prepar’d and Sold by John Moore, Apothecary at the Pestle and Mortar in Abchurch-Lane.” As usual, the parody follows the style in which Moore promoted his services. Then, in 1730, an issue of the pro-Pope organ The Grub-street Journal contained a letter purporting to involve Moore and his alleged “nephew,” a writer named James Moore Smythe who had become a figure of fun among the Scriblerus group. This item takes the form of a badly spelt missive directed to Moore Smythe, in which “Dr Moore” berates his alleged nephew with numerous offences against the honour of the family. The writer admits that “your Uncle is no Gradual [sic] Physitian”: still it was wrong of “Jemmy” to write in a poem of “a Quack, as a terme of reproach.” Unlike the younger man, he is able to boast of his worldly success: “Every morning I rise, I rise worth ten thousand pounds, Cosen.” But Dr. Arbuthnot, with all his medical background, will not be able to get to the bottom of Jemmy’s troubles: “The Cause is Worms. Let ’em not deceive you, Cosen, it is a Worm, a large Worm, nay, perhaps, many Worms in your head.” Moore goes on to display his deep knowledge in the physiology of the brain, inevitably getting things wrong. Finally he reverts to the story of the worm at Button’s, now thirteen years old. The letter was briefly incorporated into one edition of The Dunciad (1742) in an appendix, but as quickly dropped. Perhaps the worm doctor had now lost his satiric edge for Pope, the only remaining Scriblerian.

Moore died at Hampstead on 12 April 1737. In a very short will, he left all his property to his daughters Mary and Rachel. His collection of tame pigeons was put up for sale. Mary carried on the business for over a year before she died on 7 August 1738, “greatly esteemed by all who knew her, for her good Sense and agreeable Behaviour,” and was succeeded by her sister Rachel. Their father was unlucky in running into critics committed to the side of the physicians against the apothecaries, as part of a long-running dispute, but his fondness for self-advertisement and overweening claims made him a natural object of derision.

There is no full study of Moore. For the medical and professional context in which he worked, see Roy Porter, Health for Sale: Quackery in England 1660–1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), esp. Chapter 7.