Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/716

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Messrs. Editors:

IN the realm of popular science a clear, piquant style is good, to unfold and adhere strictly to truth is better; but a union of these is the best of all. No one who has read Dr. Oswald's series of papers on health and disease in this "Monthly" can deny him the first attribute; but he must be superficial, indeed, who will allow him the second. I do not mean to say that all or even the larger part of his inculcations are false, but only that some of them are so glaringly contrary to fact that the special and cultivated observer can only tolerate the reading of them by the vigorous excellence of their surroundings.

It is not my intention to point out all the errors that have appeared in his long series of papers. I shall only refer to a few in his last article (July), entitled "The Remedies of Nature" for dyspepsia—a misnomer, by-the-way, as the remedies recommended are not Nature's, but Dr. Oswald's; as, for instance, "sleeping in a cross-draught" whatever this may mean, as a bulwark against dyspepsia.

On page 307 the doctor asserts that dyspepsia is not an hereditary complaint. If it is not, then there is no such thing. When consumption, cancer, and insanity, are spoken of as hereditary, the meaning is not that either of these diseases exists per se from the moment of conception, only that the tendency to them does. But the tendency to dyspepsia in some families is even more literally hereditary than the diseases named, for every careful and wide-observing physician knows that the offspring of some parents, almost from the moment of birth, manifests a facility for indigestion from the most trifling indiscretions. Observant mothers know that their own or neighbors' children, all of like habits and conditions of life, are strikingly unequal in digestive strength. Some of them can not eat this or that without severe suffering, others can eat of every unwholesome viand, and laugh at warnings; and this, not only in child-hood, but more or less all through life. The difference is wholly inexplicable, except on the principle of heredity.

Our bright and spicy writer tells the dyspeptic "under no circumstances to resort to drug-exorcism." Only a person of superficial knowledge, of strong physique, and bigoted withal, who judges all others by his own personal equation, could discourse thus. Men and women will eat and drink, either with or without knowledge, what they ought not; as a consequence, the stomach rebels, and intense suffering ensues. Only a short time since I saw a woman who had been writhing every few minutes with terrible gastric cramps for ten hours. Clearly it was an attack of acute dyspepsia. To the suggestion of an emetic she answered that a vomit nearly killed her, and, besides, nothing could be on her stomach, as nothing had been eaten all day. But another paroxysm of cramp led her to exclaim, "Well, anything for relief!" In a few minutes she threw up nearly a gallon of fermenting food, that filled her chamber with the fumes of a fetid sourness worse than that of an August swill-tub. Half an hour after, she fell into a calm sleep. If humans will eat and drink what they ought not—eating, not for need but for pleasure, not as a means but as an end—the physician's duty is clearly to relieve suffering by the removal of its immediate cause, as by an emetic or cathartic. Of course, the homœopathic dogma (all dogmas in science are heretical) is to do nothing of the kind; to wait on Nature, and she will remove all the impurities of the alimentary canal her-self. It is a source of surprise that these idealists, if they wish to be thought consistent, should ever use any soap and water to remove the impurities from their skins; they should wait on Nature, and she will scale the dirt off herself. Certes, skin-foulness is as nothing compared to bowel-filth, and a cathartic soap often lifts, as no skin-cleaning does, an oppressive incubus from the presence of organic decomposing matter in the intestines, which is death itself when a little of it finds its way into the blood. A grain of aloin thrown into the blood-current hypodermically will simply act as a purge; a grain of decaying animal matter similarly used will kill just as surely as a bullet through the lungs. Homœopaths magnify drug-poisoning five hundred diameters; but when they look for the poisons of diseases they reverse the microscope, seeing nothing at all.

Our lively doctor argues for fewer meals per day—even for the single-meal system—as the remedy for dyspepsia (page 312). Vaporific theorizing, without a scintilla of verification, is scarcely worthy of notice. After thirty years' reading and close practical observations, I have yet to learn of a man, not a sensational crank, who seriously proposed, much less gave instances in which it had been successfully employed, as a remedy for dyspepsia. Tens of thousands of practical scientists have tried and found