Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/515

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
511
RESEARCH IN MEDICINE

sented a peculiar malignancy, and, like small-pox, attacked high and low alike. The causes and origin of these plagues are not difficult to find. Except for the Cloaca Maxima at Rome not a sewer of any consequence existed in Europe; drainage was inadequate, the streets were unpaved, and public baths or other facilities for bathing were unknown. Of sanitation no knowledge was at hand. The dead, including the victims of various plagues, were buried hastily—instead of being burned—and usually in shallow ditches, thus allowing presumably an easy pollution of water supplies. As to this, under ordinary circumstances no precautions were taken to keep the water supplies free from fecal and other contaminations. Doubtless, taxes on bread and window panes were responsible in no small part for that diminished resistance which invites infection. Against the spread of plagues the physicians were helpless. The College of Physicians at Paris in the fifteenth century at the time of the "sweating plague," were, after mature consideration, "of the opinion, that the constellations, with the aid of nature, strive, by virtue of their divine might, to protect and heal the human race." This state of mind does not seem so surprising when we recall that Roger Bacon, "the truest philosopher of the Middle Ages," still sought, in the thirteenth century, the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life. "The Royal Touch" was still a favorite cure for scrofula ("The Kings of Evil") and various other ills, and indeed persisted into the time of Queen Elizabeth. From "The Anatomy of Melancholy" (1621) we have it that "there be many mountebanks, quacksalves and empiricks, in every street almost, and in every village."

Shall we, then, wonder that, in the famine of 1030, human flesh was cooked and sold; or that, in that of 1258, fifteen thousand persons died of hunger in London? Shall we wonder that, in some of the invasions of the plague, the deaths were so frightfully numerous that the living could hardly bury the dead? By that of 1348, which came from the east along the lines of commercial travel and spread all over Europe, one third of the population of France was destroyed. (Draper.)

Also, the condition of the insane was pitiable; until well into the eighteenth century they were imprisoned, chained and treated as wild beasts.

Rational therapy did not exist, though it is interesting to note that several important empiric specifics came gradually into general use, as mercury and sulphur introduced in 1510 by Paracelsus, sometimes termed "charlatan and bombast"; after Harvey's time, Dover's powder (Pulvis Ipecacuanæ Comp.) through Captain Dover, physician and buccaneer; and Cinchona (quinine) through the Countess of Cinchon, wife of the Viceroy of Peru, who brought it to the attention (1638) of the Jesuit priests, hence the name, Jesuit's bark. Truly, empirical therapy made progress by curious routes.

Civil surgery was in a chaotic state, the barber surgeon contended