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On the use of spirituous and fermented liquors.—Spices.—Man by nature not
a drinking animal. _. • - •.. • . - • -. - . - - «n - • - 131-140
offensive withheld. This, however, was no more than what I expected. Such is the natural homage of littleness, egotism, and malevolence to a zeal for truth, and the best interests of mankind. The man must know little of the workings of the human mind, who concludes that, because a proposal is ridiculed, it is therefore ridiculous. Men often laugh, not because there is a good joke, but to conceal some other secret, and not very agreeable, feeling. I doubt not, that the slave merchant laughed heartily at the first proposal to abolish the diabolical traffic in human flesh; the sot laughs, who is advised to relinquish drinking; and we are informed by Captain Cook that, when several of his people expressed to the inhabitants of New Zealand their abhorrence of the custom of eating human flesh, "the savages only laughed at them." I feel confident, therefore, that men of candor will not be too prompt to decide whether, in the present case, these merry gentlemen laughed at my expense or at their own.*
It falls not within the scope of my immediate purpose to examine into the present condition of the medical art. There can be no doubt of its general utility, and in some degree of its absolute necessity in the present state and form of society. I can have no wish, therefore, to sink it in the estimation of mankind. But having made this, avowal, it is equally obvious that on no subject whatever has there existed greater fallacies and delusions, than in the estimates that have been formed of the efficacy of medicines, and the other practices, which form the established routine of the art. It would be a matter of little difficulty to trace to the fountain-head the source of these erroneous opinions. But I shall content myself with the irrefragable proof of the fact.
This proof may be readily drawn from the ever-varying fashions which predominate in the administration of drugs. It is an observation of Lord Bacon, that "medicine is a science more professed than labored, and yet more labored than advanced; the labor having been, in my judgment, rather in circle than in progression: for I find much iteration, but small addition." Though this remark is as well founded at the present day as
* So in this country, at the present day, we are often told that people have been made insane by the use of vegetable food, and a hundred other silly things too trifling to mention; as if a man could famish on brown bread, potatoes, fruits, and milk, or even on brown bread and pure water alone. These nonsensical notions, put forth not unfrequently by men who, assuming to be learned, men even of the medical profession, are destined soon, among the thinking class, to be reckoned as belonging only to the delusions of the past.—S.
when it was made, it may be suspected to be occasioned by the limits of the science, and not by any deficiency in its professors of activity or the spirit of research. Twenty years never elapsed without some new medicine or mode of treatment being proposed for some intractable complaint: great cures are published; great expectations raised; the new methods are universally tried; hope is followed by disappointment; and, in the course of a very few years, they are abandoned and forgotten. In my own days, there have been the pneumatic gases; muriate of barytes and muriate of lime in scrofula; nitrous acid in syphilis; digitalis and tobacco in dropsy; digitalis in pulmonary consumption. It were easy to enlarge the catalogue. I know not whether the use of iron in cancer, and of the alkalis and absorbents in scrofula, be as yet extinct; but it is easy to anticipate their fate.*
I consider it not as a reproach, either to the proposers or to the profession at large, to have adopted, for a time, methods of treatment which have proved useless. But it is a pretty sure index of the general feeling with regard to the present state of medical practice. This eager research after new medicines is an acknowledgment that something more, if more be possible, ought to be done for the relief of the diseased; it betrays a restlessness and uneasiness; a consciousness, that much of the established practice is either useless or impotent; that our instruments are not what we wish them to be, and what we are taught in our schools to expect them; and it evinces a secret wish—a very laudable and benevolent wish—that new and more successful methods should be introduced, or great improvements should be made upon the old. And such, I am persuaded, is the feeling of those who have devoted themselves to the service of the sick with the hope to be of real use to them, with the view to exercise their profession with honor to themselves, and with benefit to the community.
It is evident from the history of medicine, that it has, at no time, been established upon fixed and acknowledged principles; such as, being founded on just experiments, or a copious induction of facts, command the assent of all correct reasoners. This is the reason that its doctrines have ever been a subject of con
* Who does not know that medicine as much as dress has its fashions. Thus, for example, within a few years, for the treatment of consumption iodine has had its run; afterward wood-naptha, and last of all cod liver ail (tho expressed juice of rotten cod livers), as vile a substance as can be well conceived of. So, too, I might mention the rage for chloroform, which is already fast passing away.—S.