Rhyming Rowland’s Macassar

Byron includes once piece of “prod­uct place­ment” in Can­to 1 of Don Juan; a mock­ing encomi­um to Row­land’s “Incom­pa­ra­ble” Macas­sar oil whose supe­ri­or qual­i­ties alone could match those of Don­na Inez.

In virtues noth­ing earth­ly could sur­pass her,
Save thine ‘incom­pa­ra­ble oil’, Macassar.”

Thomas Rowlindson's 1814 cartoon satrising the fashionable use of Rowlands' Macassar oil a a treatment for baldness
Row­lands Macas­sar Oil- An Oily Puff For Soft Heads

The joke worked so well because the Alexan­der Row­lands, father and son, were inces­sant puff-mer­chants for their own prod­ucts — which includ­ed Essence of Tyre (for dye­ing grey or red hair a dark auburn col­or) and Alsana Extract (for “erad­i­cat­ing dis­or­ders of the teeth”) — fre­quent­ly the form of verse adver­tise­ments in the Gazettes. The fol­low­ing indica­tive extract is tak­en from Row­lands Jnr.‘s A Prac­ti­cal and Philo­soph­i­cal Trea­tise on the Human Hair, pub­lished in 1814

In antient times a flow of Hair,
Reclin­ing on the shoul­ders bare,
Was view’d a mark of beau­ty’s pride,
A fact which n’er can be deny’d

Proof that “adver­tis­ing works” may, in fact, be the last­ing lega­cy of The Incom­pa­ra­ble Macas­sar Oil, for it became a wild­ly fasion­able treat­ment for bald­ness — or maybe wig-hair — among the triv­ial, new­ly-wealthy, fasion­able (mid­dle) class­es of Regency Eng­land, as John Rowlind­son’s car­toon suggests.

Title page of Alex. Rowlands Jnr's 1814 "Practical and Philosophical Treatise on Human Hair"
Alex. Row­lands Jnr., “A Prac­ti­cal and Philo­soph­i­cal Trea­tise on Human Hair”, 1814

Curi­ous­ly, Byron’s back­hand­ed “com­pli­ment” to the prod­uct was not the end of the joke. The Row­lands returned the “com­pli­ment” in an adver­tise­ment among the back-papers of the Tenth (month­ly) install­ment of Charles Dick­ens’ The Pick­wick Papers pub­lished on a freez­ing, snow­bound last-day of Decem­ber of 1836 (Lon­don roads were impass­able, snow lay at a depth of 5–15 feet in places with drifts up to 20ft).

The full-page adver­tise­ment, repro­duced below, pur­port­ed to be “miss­ing vers­es” from Don Juan, fur­ther detail­ing Inez’ use of Row­lands’ prod­ucts for the hair and teeth in a hack­er’s ver­sion of otta­va rima but, nat­u­ral­ly, with­out the satire that enlivened Byron’s ref­er­ence to the products.

An image of an advertisement in the tenth instalment of the Pickwick Papers (Dec 31, 1836) purporting to show "missing verses" from Byron's Don Juan
“Miss­ing vers­es” from Don Juan

You can find a full account of the influ­ence the adver­tise­ment may have had on an episode in the twelfth instal­ment of The Pick­wick Papers here

Byron fan (not fanatic); poetry lover (not tragic); doctor of melancholia (not gloom).

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