From Reynolds Weekly¹, 22nd July 1894, courtesy of Wellcome Library
It is one of the proud glories of our civilisation that it is perpetually breeding new diseases, the very names of which, invented by our fashionable physicians, would have made our good old great grandfathers stare and gasp. And as soon as these diseases have, so to speak, got into working order, and are doing their deadly execution, with a vigour worthy of a better cause, some new remedy is suggested to our civilised victims, which soon becomes all the rage. One of the best known of these recent remedies is called massage, and it is supposed to be of use in rheumatic, nervous, and other affections.
Massage, in plainer language, is rubbing, only rubbing done in a thoroughly scientific way, by people with very strong wrists. Those who do this rubbing are especially trained for the work and are of both sexes, the man rubber being a masseur, and the feminine a masseuse, both French words, and intended to make an impression on people who would think nothing of a mere rubbing, but who are immensely taken by massage. During the last dozen years such a demand has arisen for scientific rubbing that great numbers of persons earn a fairly good living by meeting the demand and becoming professional rubbers.
If we are not mistaken the general public first heard of massage through an article written by a duchess² in a review, and as anything that a duchess advocates instantly commends itself to large armies of English snobs of both sexes, massage became celebrated and masseurs and masseuses established themselves all over the land. But, above all, rich and titled people seemed to have a special craving for massage—a fact which might have led kindly people to deeply sympathise with these unhappy mortals who seems to be afflicted in a greater degree than their humbler fellow, and who appeared to illustrate the good old doctrine that all of us have our troubles, and that a duchess may be really less an object of envy than an East-end Seamstress.
But in this irreverent age all phenomena are liable to investigation, and the fashionable devotees of massage have not escaped the scrutinising gaze of an eagle-eyed Press (sic). The afflicted aristocrats did not, after all, seem quite so ill as they pretended, and their visits to these scientific rubbers were more frequent than are the visit of other persons to their medical advisers. The singular fact also came out that the “gentlemen of England” preferred treatment at the hand of the masseuse, while the ‘ladies of England” resorted to the apartments of the masseur. Upon mature reflection and after some very interesting inquiries had been made, it seemed quite plain that this was not due to mere chance, nor was it connected with any special medical advantages. The reason was, indeed, a physiological one, but of a different kind.
¹ Reynolds Weekly was a large circulation newspaper, founded in 1850, which was ‘devoted to the cause of freedom and in the interests of the enslaved masses’ (Source)
² The duchess referred to here is Lady Manners wrote an article titled ‘Lady Manners on Massage’ in the magazine Nineteenth Century in 1886 (Vol 20, December). This article has been accredited as starting a craze for massage in well-to-do English society in the latter part of the 19th century.