Does the medical device described in Guliver's Travels, published in 1726, resemble anything that actually existed, or has there ever been a medical need to pump air into the anus?

I was complaining of a small Fit of the Cholick, upon which my Conductor led me into a Room, where a great Physician resided, who was famous for curing that Disease by contrary Operations from the same Instrument. He had a large pair of Bellows with a long slender Muzzle of Ivory. This he conveyed eight Inches up the Anus, and drawing in the Wind, he affirmed he could make the Guts as lank as a dried Bladder. But when the Disease was more stubborn and violent, he let in the Muzzle while the Bellows were full of Wind, which he discharged into the Body of the Patient, then withdrew the Instrument to replenish it, clapping his Thumb strongly against the Orifice of the Fundament; and this being repeated three or four times, the adventitious Wind would rush out, bringing the noxious along with it (like Water put into a Pump) and the Patient recover. I saw him try both Experiments upon a Dog, but could not discern any Effect from the former. After the latter, the Animal was ready to burst, and made so violent a Discharge, as was very offensive to me and my Companions. The Dog died on the Spot, and we left the Doctor endeavouring to recover him by the same Operation.


2 Answers 2


Unfortunately, yes. Probably the device being referred to here is a tobacco smoke enema. According to Wikipedia. (The page provides a picture of the device.)

The tobacco smoke enema, an insufflation of tobacco smoke into the rectum by enema, was a medical treatment employed by European physicians for a range of ailments.

The procedure was used to treat gut pain, and attempts were often made to resuscitate victims of near drowning. Liquid tobacco enemas were often given to ease the symptoms of a hernia.

They were doing this since they believed inflating the bowels would also inflate the lungs and they believed tobacco would treat a wide range of ailments by "warming" the body. "Cholick" appears to roughly translate to peptic ulcer disease or some sort of generalized digestive ailment.

This treatment was also sometimes used on animals. It gained a very poor reputation and is often cited as the origin of the phrase, "blowing smoke up my..." So, the passage humorously condemning the practice is logical.

  • Nice find, but the timing does not seem to work out. GT was written in 1726-1735, but tobacco enemas don't seem to predate 1745 according to the Wikipedia article. According to another article I found, it looks like it post-dates 1774 (bcmj.org/newsnotes/special-feature-tobacco-smoke-enemas). At least, these dates represent its use in Western medicine. However, it supposedly originated with Native Americans and MAYBE Swift had heard of their use. If there were any evidence that Swift could have been aware by 1726, this would be a great answer.
    – adam.r
    Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 0:57
  • @adam.r Yes, you're right... I think its general idea though. It seems there were also wood smoke, coal smoke and hemp smoke enemas. So I guess it must be a wood smoke enema.
    – Razie Mah
    Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 3:15


During colonoscopy, air is placed in the colon to help visualize the walls of the colon.

To elaborate, the patient needs to clear their intestines by 1) Not eating 2) Taking MgCl 3) Using an enema.

Afterwards, the doctor inserts the colonoscope, and needs to inflate the intestine so that he can see the intestinal walls.

It's a very awkward feeling.

  • -1 This is contemporary medicine, "Gulliver's Travels" was published in 1726.
    – rjzii
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 4:34
  • 5
    @rob: He took your overall question literally and concisely. You asked if such a device existed, not if such a device existed in the 1700s, in your overall question.
    – Velda
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 6:20
  • @Velda I didn't ask the question, Celertas did.
    – rjzii
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 6:51
  • @rob: Oh, sorry... I misread.
    – Velda
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 7:17
  • 6
    There was a narrow question embedded in a broad question. I answered the broad question: "has there ever been a medical need to pump air into the anus?" I don't expect it to get a check-mark as the best possible answer, but it address the motivation for the question as I read it.
    – adam.r
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 16:26

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