Dr Gibson, the wry Scottish hero of this best of Gaskell novels, suffers a series of underwhelming apprentices, often to give them a start in life at the request of their parents. Here we have a father about to hand over his son to Dr Gibson’s care, and concerned that the poor boy may have to do something like work. A none too taxing task for these young men was to put various medical pastes into wooden moulds turning them into long tubes, which could then be sliced into pills. This gentle mockery is woven throughout the novel, giving it a distinctly Austen air.
‘Must my boy make pills himself, then?’ asked the major ruefully.
‘To be sure. The youngest apprentice always does. It’s not hard work. He’ll have the comfort of thinking he won’t have to swallow them himself.’
Source: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters (London: Penguin Classics, 1986 (1866)), p. 78