Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/485

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AVOIDING all discussion of the merits or demerits of the so-called bichloride-of-gold cure, now so prominent in the public mind, we propose to show that the use of gold as a medicine is not so novel as commonly thought; and by extracts from early writers on chemistry and medicine to indicate the opinions held with respect to alleged "tinctures of gold" at different periods during several centuries.

The precious metal has been employed both externally and internally, in the metallic state, in solution, and by sympathy, for a great variety of the ills that flesh is heir to, for over two thousand years. The train of thought which led the ancients to employ this highly prized material can be well told in the quaint language of the distinguished Dutch physician and chemist, Hermann Boerhaave; writing about 1725, he says: "The alchemists will have this metal contain I know not what radical balm of life capable of restoring health and continuing it to the longest period. What led the early physicians to imagine such wonderful virtue in gold was that they perceived certain qualities therein which they fancied must be conveyed thereby into the body; gold, for instance, is not capable of being destroyed, hence they concluded it must be very proper to preserve animal substances and save them from putrefaction; which is a method of reasoning very much like that of some fanciful physicians who sought for an assuaging remedy in the blood of an ass's ear by reason the ass is a very calm beast!" (Shaw's translation, Boerhaave's Chemistry, London, 1727.)

Something of this sympathetical and mental effect was evidently sought to be attained in the very first instance of the administration of gold recorded in history. "And Moses took the (golden) calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it." (Exodus, xxxii, 20.)

Pliny, in his marvelous compilation, "Natural History," written about 70 a. d., has a paragraph on the "medicinable virtues of gold" which in "divers waies is effectual in the cure of many diseases. For first of all sovereign it is for green wounds, if it be outwardly applied." Pliny describes a form of liniment of gold "torrefied with salt and schistis" which "healeth the foule tettar that appeareth in the face," fistulas, etc. And he alludes to a preparation of gold in honey which "doth gently loose the belly if

  1. Read, in part, to the New York Academy of Sciences, June 6, 1892.