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Medicine And Morals
by [?]

The art of curing moral disorders by corporeal means has not yet been brought into general practice, although it is probable that some quiet sages of medicine have made use of it on some occasions. The Leyden professor we have just alluded to, delivered at the university a discourse “on the management and cure of the disorders of the mind by application to the body.” Descartes conjectured, that as the mind seems so dependent on the disposition of the bodily organs, if any means can be found to render men wiser and more ingenious than they have been hitherto, such a method might be sought from the assistance of medicine. The sciences of Morals and of Medicine will therefore be found to have a more intimate connexion than has been suspected. Plato thought that a man must have natural dispositions towards virtue to become virtuous; that it cannot be educated–you cannot make a bad man a good man; which he ascribes to the evil dispositions of the body, as well as to a bad education.

There are, unquestionably, constitutional moral disorders; some good-tempered but passionate persons have acknowledged, that they cannot avoid those temporary fits to which they are liable, and which, they say, they always suffered “from a child.” If they arise from too great a fulness of blood, is it not cruel to upbraid rather than to cure them, which might easily be done by taking away their redundant humours, and thus quieting the most passionate man alive? A moral patient, who allows his brain to be disordered by the fumes of liquor, instead of being suffered to be a ridiculous being, might have opiates prescribed; for in laying him asleep as soon as possible, you remove the cause of his sudden madness. There are crimes for which men are hanged, but of which they might easily have been cured by physical means. Persons out of their senses with love, by throwing themselves into a river, and being dragged out nearly lifeless, have recovered their senses, and lost their bewildering passion. Submersion is discovered to be a cure for some mental disorders, by altering the state of the body, as Van Helmont notices, “was happily practised in England.” With the circumstance to which this sage of chemistry alludes, I am unacquainted; but this extraordinary practice was certainly known to the Italians; for in one of the tales of the Poggio we find a mad doctor of Milan, who was celebrated for curing lunatics and demoniacs in a certain time. His practice consisted in placing them in a great high-walled court-yard, in the midst of which there was a deep well full of water, cold as ice. When a demoniac was brought to this physician, he had the patient bound to a pillar in the well, till the water ascended to the knees, or higher, and even to the neck, as he deemed their malady required. In their bodily pain they appear to have forgot their melancholy; thus by the terrors of the repetition of cold water, a man appears to have been frightened into his senses! A physician has informed me of a remarkable case; a lady with a disordered mind, resolved on death, and swallowed much more than half a pint of laudanum; she closed her curtains in the evening, took a farewell of her attendants, and flattered herself she should never awaken from her sleep. In the morning, however, notwithstanding this incredible dose, she awoke in the agonies of death. By the usual means she was enabled to get rid of the poison she had so largely taken, and not only recovered her life, but, what is more extraordinary, her perfect senses! The physician conjectures that it was the influence of her disordered mind over her body which prevented this vast quantity of laudanum from its usual action by terminating in death.[1]

Moral vices or infirmities, which originate in the state of the body, may be cured by topical applications. Precepts and ethics in such cases, if they seem to produce a momentary cure, have only moved the weeds, whose roots lie in the soil. It is only by changing the soil itself that we can eradicate these evils. The senses are five porches for the physician to enter into the mind, to keep it in repair. By altering the state of the body, we are changing that of the mind, whenever the defects of the mind depend on those of the organization. The mind, or soul, however distinct its being from the body, is disturbed or excited, independent of its volition, by the mechanical impulses of the body. A man becomes stupified when the circulation of the blood is impeded in the viscera; he acts more from instinct than reflection; the nervous fibres are too relaxed or too tense, and he finds a difficulty in moving them; if you heighten his sensations, you awaken new ideas in this stupid being; and as we cure the stupid by increasing his sensibility, we may believe that a more vivacious fancy may be promised to those who possess one, when the mind and the body play together in one harmonious accord. Prescribe the bath, frictions, and fomentations, and though it seems a round-about way, you get at the brains by his feet. A literary man, from long sedentary habits, could not overcome his fits of melancholy, till his physician doubled his daily quantity of wine; and the learned Henry Stephens, after a severe ague, had such a disgust of books, the most beloved objects of his whole life, that the very thought of them excited terror for a considerable time. It is evident that the state of the body often indicates that of the mind. Insanity itself often results from some disorder in the human machine. “What is this MIND, of which men appear so vain?” exclaims Flechier. “If considered according to its nature it is a fire which sickness and an accident most sensibly puts out; it is a delicate temperament, which soon grows disordered; a happy conformation of organs, which wear out; a combination and a certain motion of the spirits, which exhaust themselves; it is the most lively and the most subtile part of the soul, which seems to grow old with the BODY.”