Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/420

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can quell undue pain. But we can not continue to supply medicines that will take the place of proper living. The man who neglects his own health, and expects the medical profession to make up for his negligence, is somewhat like a person careless of fire in his own house because there happens to he an efficient fire department in town. The flames sometimes get extinguished if the alarm is sounded in time. We can assist Nature in her endeavor to cast out morbid products by various therapeutical expedients. We can remove some of the exciting causes of disease, or else take the patient beyond their reach. We can place him under the most favorable circumstances for Nature to do her work, and at critical moments stimulate the flagging powers and thus bridge over a yawning gulf. We can palliate many of the distressing symptoms of disease, but we can not atone for all the outrageous infringements of Nature's inexorable laws by dosing with drugs, and, moreover, it is not likely that we shall ever be able to do so.

It is possible that we are upon the threshold of a new era in the treatment of infectious and miasmatic diseases, in which new reasons will be found for the survival of old remedies, and many useful additions will be made to our pharmacopoeia. The wonderful discoveries of Pasteur in France and of Koch in Germany, and the splendid achievements of the former in his applications of them, seem very fruitful of promise. But, notwithstanding all this, it is much safer to be cautious about mad dogs than to run any undue risks because Pasteur has evolved a means of lessening the terrors of rabies.

And now, in conclusion, I would venture to claim that the answer to my three questions at the beginning of this paper is found in the fact that there is a natural cycle to many diseases wherein there is a tendency toward recovery that, to be sure, is favored or retarded by a multitude of circumstances, but which often takes place irrespective of medication. And this fact is the substratum of all those differences of opinion that are continually arising among superficial observers; is a reason for the survival of many absurd therapeutical theories; is the explanation of the existence of the vagaries of faith and of mind-cures; and, what is perhaps the most lamentable of all, makes it possible for the designing to trade upon the credulity of the public with their ofttimes harmful nostrums.


Descartes supposed, in 1668, that the displacement of the rocks and the elevations of the surface might be caused by the earth's contraction. Newton expressed a similar thought in 1681, in a letter respecting Dr. Burnet's "Sacred Theory of the Earth," but was careful to add to his hypothesis, "I have not set down anything I have well considered, or will undertake to defend."