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medicine. Wherever we turn our eyes-whatever part of the field we may contemplate, there rises before us a thick cloud of false facts. There is no department of our art so overrun with the fruits of false experience, as the materia medica. The best and most approved authorities of that branch of medicine have made this statement.
Whence originates this lamentable state of things? Why is it that this valuable department of our science should abound in such uncertainties? The Eeau medicenale d'Husson, not many years since, was implicitly relied on for the cure of gout, and the case of Sir Joseph Banks was quoted in its favor. What now is the just opinion attached to that nostrum, by the most learned men of our profession? The doctrines of signatures in the choice of remedies, sprung from the same source, -an excessive credulity. Fox's lungs were given to cure the asthma, because the animal was capable of running long before ho became exhausted. Turmerick, from its yellow color, was administered as a sure cure for jaundice.
Credulity delights in going in constant search of anomalics and novelties. When a new remedy is suggested for some incurable malady, such as Prussic acid for tubercular consumptions, or scrutillaria for hydrophobia, the credulous minded physician does neither hesitate nor suspend his judgement, but rushes to a precipitate conclusion, and, upon some very inaccurately observed, isolated case, proclaims his unlimited confidence in the article.
It is in the rank soil of credulity that quackery flourishes and sends forth its luxuriant branches.
It were a task of immense labor to advert, by special enumeration, to all the numerous cases of such fallacy, arising from extravagant views of the medical properties of the various agents, which, from ago to age, and from year to year, have received the unspairing and undistinguishing eulogies of physicians. And not contented to expatiate on the virtues of medicines which tho ingenuous dealer in drugs kept appropriately labelled in his shop, the most accomplished physicians have, at times, departed from the employment of the remedies known to the profession or recommended by men of scientific candor, and too enthusiastically attached themselves to the use, and too eagerly recommended remedial agents, whose composition was a secret, and the authors and venders of which knew nothing of the just principles of medical science.
The splendor which, at one time, surrounded the reputation of Swaim's Panacea, was derived from the dazzling brilliancy of that light which several of the luminaries of our American medicine threw around it.
With precipitate and onward haste, some of our most enlightened physicians were found swelling the loud chorus of praise, which was sounding forth the many virtues and transcendent excellencies of this nostrum. Certificates, signed by several of the most eminent medical men of the country, quickly found their way into the newspapers, B
and were by them rapidly disseminated through the Union.
A regular graduate of our oldest medical school, became agent for Swaim, and went on a mission to England, to vend the nostrum to our transatlantic brethren. But John Bull was not quite so gullible as brother Jonathan in this matter, and the mission proved abortive.
Prof. Chapman acknowledges having overrated the value of Swaim's Panacea. Prof. Gibson says it did not answer his purpose in scrophula. Prof. Dewees does not state the evidence on which he gave his certificate to Swaim, but it is believed that not even half of the few favorable results had then come under his own personal observation.
Remarks of the Reviewer, in the American Journal of Medical Science, August, 1837, on Prof. Dunglison's work, General Therapeutics, or Principles of Medical Practice.*
The successful compilation of an elementary work, on an extensive and constantly progressive science, is always a very difficult task. There are some reasons why a correct and comprehensive elementary treatise on the materia medica and therapeutics, should be more difficult of execution than a similar work on most of the other branches of medicine. The improvement of the materia medica, and of therapeutics, has not kept pace with that
*Robely Dunglison, M. D., Professor of therapeutics, materia medica, hygiene, and medical jurisprudence, in the University of Maryland.
of the other branches. They have been comparatively neglected. There has been less of rigorous, systematic observation devoted to them, than to other portions of our science. The leading minds in our profession, during the present century, have been directed more particularly to pathology, physiology, etc., and to certain limited portions of therapeutics and materia medica, connected with certain symptoms of pathology and practice.
It is vastly more difficult than has generally been supposed, or than most of us are even now willing to admit or believe, to ascertain the actual and precise value of any given article, or course of treatment, even in any one given disease; and the evidence upon which this value rests, is, in very many important instances, exceedingly slight and doubtful. There is less positive knowledge on this subject, than on most others in medicine, for these reasons, and for others which might easily be given. We repeat, that a satisfactory execution of a work such as we are now speaking of, must be a very difficult matter. That a work of this character was much needed amongst us before the publication of the book the title of which stands at the head of this article, we are well aware. We think it as much needed at present as it
It is difficult to say whether medicine has suffered most from a partial and one-sided observation, or from premature and hypothetical generalizing-from false facts, or from false reasoning. The latter is the legitimate off
spring of the former; and although each may very well exist without the aid and presence of the other, they are very commonly found together. We deceive ourselves when we boast, as we are so much in the habit of doing, of our discipleship to the Baconian philosophy-of our faithfulness to tho rules of cautious, impartial observation, and to the strict principles of an upright, a rigorous, and a single-hearted logic. Before our science can take its proper place by the side of the other sciences, and confer that benefit on humanity which it was intended, and which it is able to confer, it must endeavor to become, in truth, what it has, indeed, long possessed and claimed to be, a demonstrative science. Its cultivators must begin to practice what they have so long been preaching. The standard writers of the present day, on materia medica and therapeutics, are constantly indulging in what they may deem very philosophical, but in what seems to us very fanciful explanations, of the intimate and peculiar actions of medicines on the living tissues with which they come in contact, or which they may effect more remotely. More pages are often taken up with elaborate disquisitions on the hidden, mysterious, and utterly unascertainable method of operation of a remedy, or a class of remcdies, than are given to the therapeutical properties and uses themselves, of the article or the class. Dr. Dunglison's book, like nearly all others upon the same subject, is overburdened with those attempts to explain this precise and intimate method of operation of medicine. The