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Medicine And Morals
by [?]

It is not wonderful that some have attributed such virtues to their system of diet, if it has been found productive of certain effects on the human body. Cornaro perhaps imagined more than he experienced; but Apollonius Tyaneus, when he had the credit of holding an intercourse with the devil, by his presumed gift of prophecy, defended himself from the accusation by attributing his clear and prescient views of things to the light aliments he lived on, never indulging in a variety of food. “This mode of life has produced such a perspicuity in my ideas, that I see as in a glass things past and future.” We may, therefore, agree with Bayes, that “for a sonnet to Amanda, and the like, stewed prunes only” might be sufficient; but for “a grand design,” nothing less than a more formal and formidable dose.

Camus, a French physician, who combined literature with science, the author of “Abdeker, or the Art of Cosmetics,” which he discovered in exercise and temperance, produced another fanciful work, written in 1753, “La Medecine de l’Esprit.” His conjectural cases are at least as numerous as his more positive facts; for he is not wanting in imagination. He assures us, that having reflected on the physical causes, which, by differently modifying the body, varied also the dispositions of the mind, he was convinced that by employing these different causes, or by imitating their powers by art, we might, by means purely mechanical, affect the human mind, and correct the infirmities of the understanding and the will. He considered this principle only as the aurora of a brighter day. The great difficulty to overcome was to find out a method to root out the defects, or the diseases of the soul, in the same manner as physicians cure a fluxion from the lungs, a dysentery, a dropsy, and all other infirmities, which seem only to attack the body. This indeed, he says, is enlarging the domain of medicine, by showing how the functions of intellect and the springs of volition are mechanical. The movements and passions of the soul, formerly restricted to abstract reasonings, are by this system reduced to simple ideas. Insisting that material causes force the soul and body to act together, the defects of the intellectual operations depend on those of the organisation, which may be altered or destroyed by physical causes; and he properly adds, that we are to consider that the soul is material, while existing in matter, because it is operated on by matter. Such is the theory of “La Medecine de l’Esprit,” which, though physicians will never quote, may perhaps contain some facts worth their attention.

Camus’s two little volumes seem to have been preceded by a medical discourse delivered in the academy of Dijon in 1748, where the moralist compares the infirmities and vices of the mind to parallel diseases of the body. We may safely consider some infirmities and passions of the mind as diseases, and could they be treated as we do the bodily ones, to which they bear an affinity, this would be the great triumph of “morals and medicine.” The passion of avarice resembles the thirst of dropsical patients; that of envy is a slow wasting fever; love is often frenzy, and capricious and sudden restlessness, epileptic fits. There are moral disorders which at times spread like epidemical maladies through towns, and countries, and even nations. There are hereditary vices and infirmities transmitted from the parent’s mind, as there are unquestionably such diseases of the body: the son of a father of a hot and irritable temperament inherits the same quickness and warmth; a daughter is often the counterpart of her mother. Morality, could it be treated medicinally, would require its prescriptions, as all diseases have their specific remedies; the great secret is perhaps discovered by Camus–that of operating on the mind by means of the body.

A recent writer seems to have been struck by these curious analogies. Mr. Haslam, in his work on “Sound Mind,” says p. 90, “There seems to be a considerable similarity between the morbid state of the instruments of voluntary motion (that is, the body), and certain affections of the mental powers (that is, the mind). Thus, paralysis has its counterpart in the defects of recollection, where the utmost endeavour to remember is ineffectually exerted. Tremor may be compared with incapability of fixing the attention, and this involuntary state of muscles ordinarily subjected to the will, also finds a parallel where the mind loses its influence in the train of thought, and becomes subject to spontaneous intrusions; as may be exemplified in reveries, dreaming, and some species of madness.”