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The History And Heroes Of Medicine
by [?]

It was in this spirit of devotion to his kind that he said, “Therefore here is the deficience which I find, that physicians have not … set down and delivered over certain experimental medicines for the cure of particular diseases.”

Dr. Russell’s true insight into the relation of Lord Bacon to the medical as well as to all science, has suggested the above remarks. What our author chiefly desires is, that the same principles which made medicine what it is, should be allowed to carry it yet further, and make it what it ought to be, and must become. As he goes on to show, through succeeding lives and theories, that just in proportion as these principles have been followed–the principles of careful observation, hypothesis, and experiment–have men made discoveries that have been helpful to their fellow-men; while, on the other hand, the most elaborate theories of the most popular physicians, which have owed their birth to premature generalization and invention, have passed away, like the crackling of thorns under a pot. Belonging to the latter class of men, we have Stahl, Hoffman, Boerhaave, Cullen, and Brown; while to the former belong Harvey, Sydenham, Jenner, and Hahnemann.

After the last name, there is no need to say that our author is a homoeopath. Whatever may be our private opinion of the system, justice requires that we should say at least that books such as these are quite as open to refutation as to ridicule; for it is only a good argument that is worth refuting by a better. But we fear there are few books on this subject that treat of it with the calmness and fairness which would incline an honest homoeopath to put them into the hands of one of the opposite party as an exposition of his opinions. There is no excitement in these pages. They are the work of a man of liberal education, of refinement, and of truthfulness, with power to understand, and facility to express; one of whose main objects is to vindicate for homoeopathy, on the most rightful of all grounds–those on which alone science can stand–on the ground, that is, of laws discovered by observation and experiment–the place not only of a fact in the history of medicine, but the right to be considered as one of the greatest advances towards the establishment of a science of curing. Certainly if he and the rest of its advocates should fail utterly in this, the heresy will yet have established for itself a memorial in history, as one of the most powerful illusions that have ever deceived both priests and people. But the chief advantage which the system will derive from Dr. Russell’s book will spring, it seems to us, from his attempt–a successful one it must be confessed–to prove that homoeopathy is a development, and not a mere reaction; that it has its roots far down in the history of science. The first mention of it in the book, however, is made for the purpose of disavowing the claim, advanced by many homoeopathists, to Hippocrates as one of their order. Not to mention the curious story about Galen and the patient ill from an overdose of theriacum, who was cured by another dose of the same substance, nor the ridicule of the doctrine of contraries by Paracelsus and Van Helmont, nor the fact that the contraries of Boerhaave, by his own explanation, merely signify whatever substances prove their contrariety to the disease by curing it–to pass by these, we find one of the main objects of homoeopathy, the discovery of specifics, insisted upon by Lord Bacon in his words already quoted. Not that homoeopaths, while they depend upon specifics, believe that there is any such thing as a specific for a disease–a disease being as various as the individuality of the human beings whom it may attack; but that an approximate specific may be found for every well-defined stage in every individual disease; a disease having its process of change, development, and decline, like a vegetable or animal life. Besides an equally strong desire for specifics, and a determined opposition to compound medicines, Boyle, who was born the year of Bacon’s death, and inherited the mantle of the great philosopher, manifests a strong belief in the power of the infinitesimal dose. Neither Bacon nor Boyle, however, were medical men by profession. But Sydenham followed them, according to Dr. Russell, in their tendency towards specifics. It is almost needless to mention Jenner’s victory over the small-pox as, in the eyes of the homoeopaths, a grand step in the development of their system. It gives Dr. Russell an opportunity of showing in a strong instance that the best discoveries for delivering mankind from those ills even of which they are most sensible have been received with derision, with more than bare unbelief. This is one of his objects in the book, and while it is no proof whatever of the truth of homoepathy, it shows at least that the opposition manifested to it is no proof of its falsehood. This is enough; for it seeks to be tried on its own merits; and its foes are bound to accord it this when it is advocated in such an honest and dignified manner as in the book before us.

The need of man, in physics as well as in higher things, is the guide to truth. With evils of any sort we need no further acquaintance than may be gained in the endeavour to combat them. The discovery of what will cure diseases seems the only natural mode of rising by generalization to the discovery of the laws of cure and the nature of disease.

Those portions of the volume which discuss the influence of Christianity on the healing art, likewise those relating to the different feelings with which at different times in different countries physicians have been regarded, are especially interesting.

The only portion of the book we should be inclined to find fault with, as to the quality of the thought expended upon it, is the dissertation in the second chapter on the [Greek: psuchae] and [Greek: pneuma]. We doubt likewise whether the author gives the Archaeus of Van Helmont quite fair play; but these are questions so purely theoretical that they scarcely admit of discussion here. We rise from the perusal of the book, whatever may be our feelings with regard to the truth or falsehood of the system it advocates, with increased respect for the profession of medicine, with enlarged hope for its future, and with a strong feeling of the nobility conferred by the art upon every one of its practitioners who is aware of the dignity of his calling.