Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Medicine And Morals
by [?]

A stroke of personal ridicule is levelled at Dryden, when Bayes informs us of his preparations for a course of study by a course of medicine! “When I have a grand design,” says he, “I ever take physic and let blood; for when you would have pure swiftness of thought, and fiery flights of fancy, you must have a care of the pensive part; in fine, you must purge the belly!” Such was really the practice of the poet, as Le Motte, who was a physician, informs us, and in his medical character did not perceive that ridicule in the subject which the wits and most readers unquestionably have enjoyed. The wits here were as cruel against truth as against Dryden; for we must still consider this practice, to use their own words, as “an excellent recipe for writing.” Among other philosophers, one of the most famous disputants of antiquity, Carneades, was accustomed to take copious doses of white hellebore, a great aperient, as a preparation to refute the dogmas of the stoics. “The thing that gives me the highest spirits (it seems absurd, but true) is a dose of salts; but one can’t take them like champagne,” said Lord Byron. Dryden’s practice was neither whimsical nor peculiar to the poet; he was of a full habit, and, no doubt, had often found by experience the beneficial effects without being aware of the cause, which is nothing less than the reciprocal influence of mind and body.

This simple fact is, indeed, connected with one of the most important inquiries in the history of man–the laws which regulate the invisible union of the soul with the body: in a word, the inscrutable mystery of our being!–a secret, but an undoubted intercourse, which probably must ever elude our perceptions. The combination of metaphysics with physics has only been productive of the wildest fairy tales among philosophers: with one party the soul seems to pass away in its last puff of air, while man seems to perish in “dust to dust;” the other as successfully gets rid of our bodies altogether, by denying the existence of matter. We are not certain that mind and matter are distinct existences, since the one may be only a modification of the other; however this great mystery be imagined, we shall find with Dr. Gregory, in his lectures “on the duties and qualifications of a physician,” that it forms an equally necessary inquiry in the sciences of morals and of medicine.

Whether we consider the vulgar distinction of mind and body as an union, or as a modified existence, no philosopher denies that a reciprocal action takes place between our moral and physical condition. Of these sympathies, like many other mysteries of nature, the cause remains occult, while the effects are obvious. This close, yet inscrutable association, this concealed correspondence of parts seemingly unconnected, in a word, this reciprocal influence of the mind and the body, has long fixed the attention of medical and metaphysical inquirers; the one having the care of our exterior organization, the other that of the interior. Can we conceive the mysterious inhabitant as forming a part of its own habitation? The tenant and the house are so inseparable, that in striking at any part of the dwelling, you inevitably reach the dweller. If the mind be disordered, we may often look for its seat in some corporeal derangement. Often are our thoughts disturbed by a strange irritability, which we do not even pretend to account for. This state of the body, called the fidgets, is a disorder to which the ladies are particularly liable. A physician of my acquaintance was earnestly entreated by a female patient to give a name to her unknown complaints; this he found no difficulty to do, as he is a sturdy asserter of the materiality of our nature; he declared that her disorder was atmospherical. It was the disorder of her frame under damp weather, which was reacting on her mind; and physical means, by operating on her body, might be applied to restore her to her half-lost senses. Our imagination is higher when our stomach is not overloaded; in spring than in winter; in solitude than amidst company; and in an obscured light than in the blaze and heat of the noon. In all these cases the body is evidently acted on, and re-acts on the mind. Sometimes our dreams present us with images of our restlessness, till we recollect that the seat of our brain may perhaps lie in our stomach, rather than on the pineal gland of Descartes; and that the most artificial logic to make us somewhat reasonable, may be swallowed with “the blue pill.” Our domestic happiness often depends on the state of our biliary and digestive organs, and the little disturbances of conjugal life may be more efficaciously cured by the physician than by the moralist; for a sermon misapplied will never act so directly as a sharp medicine. The learned Gaubius, an eminent professor of medicine at Leyden, who called himself “professor of the passions,” gives the case of a lady of too inflammable a constitution, whom her husband, unknown to herself, had gradually reduced to a model of decorum, by phlebotomy. Her complexion, indeed, lost the roses, which some, perhaps, had too wantonly admired for the repose of her conjugal physician.