Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/157

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

JUNE, 1883.


 

MEDICAL QUACKS AND QUACKERIES.
By FRANCIS J. SHEPHERD, M. D.

JOHNSON defines a quack as "a boastful pretender to an art he does not understand," and perhaps the term is more often applied to boastful pretenders of the art of medicine than of any other.[1] Probably, ever since man acquired the faculty of articulate language, quacks and quackeries have flourished. In the ruder ages, man attributed all disease to the influence of evil spirits, and sought by various means to ward off or lessen their injurious and malevolent actions. Now, as an eminent physiologist has lately said, the controlling of unknown powers has always been a matter of some difficulty, and one which ordinary mortals with average ability could not successfully attempt; hence arose a class of specialists—men who, by their greater knowledge and cleverness, made others believe that they were able to cope with the unseen. These were the priests, and, without doubt, the first quacks. They supplied charms and potions, and made use of incantations, not only to cure, but to prevent disease. These services obtained for them great power and influence and increased wealth. The ancient Egyptians attributed all diseases to the anger of the gods. They worshiped Serapis as a medical divinity, and the cure of disease could only be accomplished through the intercession of this deity's priests. Thus the priests had the monopoly of medical practice, and their medical knowledge was jealously concealed from the vulgar; it was only divulged to those who with extravagant ceremonies, wonderful mummeries, and terrible vows of secrecy, were initiated into the Egyptian mysteries. It was thus that Pythagoras is supposed to have obtained the foundation of his medical knowledge and philosophy. Among the Israelites

  1. "'Quack' is said to be an abbreviated form of 'quacksalver,' which is derived from the Dutch Kwabzalver—from Kwab, a wen, and Zalver, an ointment."—Notes and Queries.