**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

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!

Medical Music
by [?]

In the Philosophical Magazine for May, 1806, we find that “several of the medical literati on the continent are at present engaged in making inquiries and experiments upon the influence of music in the cure of diseases.” The learned Dusaux is said to lead the band of this new tribe of amateurs and cognoscenti.

The subject excited my curiosity, though I since have found that it is no new discovery.

There is a curious article in Dr. Burney’s History of Music, “On the Medicinal Powers attributed to Music by the Ancients,” which he derived from the learned labours of a modern physician, M. Burette, who doubtless could play a tune to, as well as prescribe one to, his patient. He conceives that music can relieve the pains of the sciatica; and that, independent of the greater or less skill of the musician, by flattering the ear, and diverting the attention, and occasioning certain vibrations of the nerves, it can remove those obstructions which occasion this disorder. M. Burette, and many modern physicians and philosophers, have believed that music has the power of affecting the mind, and the whole nervous system, so as to give a temporary relief in certain diseases, and even a radical cure. De Mairan, Bianchini, and other respectable names, have pursued the same career. But the ancients recorded miracles!

The Rev. Dr. Mitchell, of Brighthelmstone, wrote a dissertation, “De Arte Medendi apud Priscos, Musices ope atque Carminum,” printed for J. Nichols, 1783. He writes under the assumed name of Michael Gaspar; but whether this learned dissertator be grave or jocular, more than one critic has not been able to resolve me. I suspect it to be a satire on the parade of Germanic erudition, by which they often prove a point by the weakest analogies and most fanciful conceits.

Amongst half-civilized nations, diseases have been generally attributed to the influence of evil spirits. The depression of mind which is generally attendant on sickness, and the delirium accompanying certain stages of disease, seem to have been considered as especially denoting the immediate influence of a demon. The effect of music in raising the energies of the mind, or what we commonly call animal spirits, was obvious to early observation. Its power of attracting strong attention may in some cases have appeared to affect even those who laboured under a considerable degree of mental disorder. The accompanying depression of mind was considered as a part of the disease, perhaps rightly enough, and music was prescribed as a remedy to remove the symptom, when experience had not ascertained the probable cause. Homer, whose heroes exhibit high passions, but not refined manners, represents the Grecian army as employing music to stay the raging of the plague. The Jewish nation, in the time of King David, appear not to have been much further advanced in civilization; accordingly we find David employed in his youth to remove the mental derangement of Saul by his harp. The method of cure was suggested as a common one in those days, by Saul’s servants; and the success is not mentioned as a miracle. Pindar, with poetic licence, speaks of AEsculapius healing acute disorders with soothing songs; but AEsculapius, whether man or deity, or between both, is a physician of the days of barbarism and fable. Pliny scouts the idea that music could affect real bodily injury, but quotes Homer on the subject; mentions Theophrastus as suggesting a tune for the cure of the hip gout, and Cato as entertaining a fancy that it had a good effect when limbs were out of joint, and likewise that Varro thought it good for the gout. Aulus Gellius cites a work of Theophrastus, which recommends music as a specific for the bite of a viper. Boyle and Shakspeare mention the effects of music super vesicam. Kircher’s “Musurgia,” and Swinburne’s Travels, relate the effects of music on those who are bitten by the tarantula. Sir W. Temple seems to have given credit to the stories of the power of music over diseases.