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“Those incomparable, lovely, delicate, gentle, tender, considerate, generous, fine, disinterested, excellent, dear, elegant, knowing, graceful, active, lovely, animated, beautiful leeches have done me a world of good.”

That’s what Nathaniel Hawthorne’s future wife, Sophia Peabody, said of leeches when she was a teenager. I don’t think I’d ever be able to speak of a leech with such exuberance, but… I’m happy for Sophia that they gave her such delightful relief, or that she at least thought they did.

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809–1871)

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne

Sophia was an invalid of sorts, starting in her youth. Headaches plagued her. Loud noises set her head throbbing, and she was the sort to languish about with the typical 19th-century melodrama of her suffering. She tried numerous treatments — leeches among them. Pursuing art brought relief as well, and I personally believe it was this distraction from her malady that did her more good than any bucket of leeches.

I recently laid eyes upon my first live medicinal leeches at a local science museum. Knowing their significance in medical history, I was excited to see those two serpentine, blobby beasts clinging to the side of their little watery aquarium. Certain Youtube videos of the Mütter Museum’s director and his pet leeches came to mind (I admit they make me cringe to watch and make me feel somewhat faint, but I do think it’s cute that their names are Harvey and Hunter). And as I watched those real-life leeches, I was so thankful that I’m not living in the heyday of blood-letting via leeches (not that I’d want to endure any sort of blood-letting for that matter). Of course, you cannot forget mechanical leeches, either!

Leeches: Interesting enough to look at from a safe distance. But I’d rather not have them clinging to me. And no, I would not like to have one for a pet.

As for Sophia… she ought to curb her enthusiasm, or all the leeches will be after her.

Hirudo medicinalis. Leeches for bloodletting

Medicinal Leech: “I’ll alleviate your ills and you’ll give me dinner in payment. What’s not to like?”