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The New Zealand Evangelist

The Gold Fever

page 4

The Gold Fever

Within the last few weeks there have appeared in this settlement some slightly alarming symptoms of a new disease, or rather some new modifications of an old disease of a very obstinate as well as dangerous character. As this malady has made fearful ravages in some other places, and as prevention is better than cure, we have been at considerable pains to trace out its history, its nature, its symptoms, and the modes of treatment that have proved most successful in arresting its progress. Not contented with our own medical knowledge, carefully revised and improved—with all that is to be found on the subject in the popular and useful, though somewhat antiquated Treatises of Buchan and Reece, and the more recent and valuable volumes of Graham and Macauley,—we have read every communication worth reading on the subject, that has appeared in either the Lancet, the Medical Times, or the Cyclopædia of Medicine, and compared notes with an eminent and experienced medical friend who has oftener than once or twice circumnavigated the globe, and has made experiments on health and disease, in almost every latitude from the Arctic to the Antarctic Circle. The result of our investigations has been somewhat startling even to ourselves.

Name.—As to the name of the disease, in such books as Cullen's Nosology, and Hooper's Physician's Vademecum, it would be classed under the head of fevers, and designated febris auri. It was known to Hippocrates, Galen, Celsus, and the ancient physicians by the name of Philochrysia hagia or Auri sacra fames, and it is vulgarly, though not improperly called the Gold Fever.

Causes.—It is uncertain whether the disease is endemic, that is, peculiar to particular classes or countries; or whether it is epidemic, common to all page 5 classes and countries, but appearing only at certain seasons, and arising from contagion or a malignant state of the atmosphere. The more general opinion is that it is epidemic, common to all, and that it will be caught either by infection,—by the healthy coming in contact with the diseased, or by those whose constitutions are predisposed inhaling the subtle poison that at certain times is floating in the atmosphere. In the present instance it is said that the disease has been brought hither by two vessels, the one from Auckland, the other from Adelaide, with several cases of the fever on board; although some say that several mild cases had appeared before these vessels arrived; but possibly originating from similar causes. It is said the Colonial Surgeon, trusting to the salubrity of the climate, is not sufficiently strict in enforcing the quarantine regulations in the case of vessels suspected of having this disease on board. It has hitherto been confined chiefly to males from the ages of twenty to forty five. It has prevailed chiefly, though not solely, among the idle, the lazy, the dissipated, the discontented, and the reckless; or persons of shattered constitutions, and broken fortunes. Poverty, debt, inattention to cleanliness and business, are said to bring it on; but even Plethora is no guarantee against an attack of it.

Symptoms,—The symptoms of this fever are, at first a peculiar sensation about the heart, sometimes a slight headache, great restlessness during the day, and an inability to prosecute the ordinary business of life; a great disinclination to the reading of the Bible, to secret and family prayer, and even to public worship; and at night the sleep is much broken by incoherent dreams. In a few days a slight delirium comes on; fairy landscapes and enchanted castles rise up in bright and endless perspective before the mind, and like the first stages of delirium in other fevers, it is a highly pleasurable state of existence; the patient fancies that the golden age is returned, that he himself is another Midas, that he has discovered the philosopher's stone, and by its subtle alchy-page 6my he can turn every thing it touches into gold. If the disease increases, and the fever runs its course, the patient becomes quite unmanageable and raves continually about El Dorado and California, and unless he is restrained by main force, will throw away his property for half its value, abandon his business, his prospects, his friends, his religion, and risk health, life and heaven;—will brave seas, storms, pirates, famine, banditti, murderers, and all the dangers of a foreign, uncultivated land, destitute alike of law and gospel, for the doubtful chance of a few ingots of gold.

History.—The history of the disease is singular and interesting. We have traced it back to a very remote period. Taking up the sacred historians and aided by such helps as Mead's Medica Sacra, and Dr. Good's Study of Medicine, we find there can be little doubt that it was this disease with which Achan was affected when at the capture of Jericho he saw the golden wedge and the goodly Babylonish garment, and that it was from the fearfully malignant and dangerous nature of this disease, so like most others in the first stages of its history, that according to the terribly severe, but necessary, and really enlightened and humane practice of that early age, to preserve the entire people from contagion, Achan and his family were completely destroyed. We find also that the highest Sacro-Medical authorities are of opinion that the cases of Gehazi, the young man that came to Christ, Judas, Ananias and Sapphira, and other similar instances were all well marked cases of febris auri. It is also admitted by Mason, Philips, Cheever, and the other commentators on John Bunyan, that it was through the delirium of this disease that Demas forsook the other pilgrims at the hill of Lucre, entered the silver mine, and lost his life by inhaling its noxious vapours. This disease was not confined to Judea. Croesus among the Greeks, and Crassus among the Romans, were notable examples of this same malady. The Ancients fought often with poisoned arrows, but Philip, king of Macedon, page 7 father of Alexander the Great, with singular ingenuity made this disease subservient to his conquests. It is well known that hydrophobia will lie dormant if the patient does not see water, but that as soon as he sees water the paroxysm will commence. Philip knew that this disease is often dormant, and can then be easily excited by the sight of gold; and so, when about to besiege any city, he ascertained by his medical spies if any symptoms of the disease could be discovered; and if they could, he immediately loaded an ass with gold, and caused it to be driven up to the gates of the city. The sight of the gold acted like water in hydrophobia; the weapons fell from the hands of the defenders; the gates were opened, and the city was his without a blow. Some three hundred years ago, it ravaged Spain most fearfully, occasioned, it is said, by the discovery of the gold mines in Mexico and Peru. Cortez, Pizzarro and their followers are proverbial to this day. At a later period it made very considerable havoc among the enterprising youth of Britain, both in the East and West Indies, but of late years it has been greatly mitigated. It was indeed thought by many that owing to the improved state of medical science; the diffusion of sound knowledge through the community; the enlightened views entertained on physiology, the laws of health and the constitution of man; that this with many of the worst forms of disease had been numbered with the things that were; but alas! Leviathan is not so easily tamed. It has of late broken out with fearful violence, and spread with great rapidity through Great Britain, America, Australia, and even New Zealand; though here happily in a mitigated form. The history of the present epidemic is rather curious, and not uninstructive. In the Western Coast of the North American Continent there lies a country hitherto little known. Let the young reader who has not an Atlas beside him, form an equal-sided triangle, the base half the length of each of the sides. Let the base be to the top and the apex to the bottom, and he has page 8 nearly the form and position of California. Let him suppose each of the sides of the triangle to measure 1600 miles, and the base 800, and he will have its extent. The West side, or that to his left hand, is bounded by the Pacific Ocean, the other side, for a third part from the apex, is bounded by the Gulf of California, and the remaining 800 miles, by the river Colorado, which extends to the Rocky Mountains.—Let him divide the line on the left hand side into four parts, from the first fourth part next the top let him draw a kind of serpentine line to the opposite angle, and it will represent the river Buenaventura, which falls into the Pacific Ocean at Port San Francisco. San Francisco is the principal settlement.—The country is divided into Upper and Lower California. A range of mountains runs parallel with the West coast through its entire length from North to South. In Upper California, to the East of the mountain range, there is a large sand plain, without water, 700 miles long, 200 miles broad at its northen extremity, and 100 miles at its southern. A few years ago the white population was from six to ten thousand, and the Aborigines were diminishing. California extends from about 23°to 43° North Latitude. If the young reader has followed our instructions he will have the leading outlines of this famous country in his mind. A short time ago gold in immense quantities was found here loose in the soil, and the inhabitants with few exceptions left their usual employments and began to dig for it. As has invariably happened in such cases, a subtle malaria was disengaged from the metal and was suddenly wafted by the trade winds to immense distances; the disease broke out immediately, and with great violence in almost every part of the world, and multitudes in the very delirium of the fever set off for the enchanted ground; reasoning and remonstrance were in vain, and the nearer they approached its shores, the delirium increased the more. The phrensy is described as being fearful; the country is like a monster fever hospital, or Bedlam on a gigantic scale, page 9 with the outskirts of Pandemonium looming in the distance. Vessels in dozens are lying rotting in the harbour, not a sailor can be found to man them, all are gold-sick. A body of soldiers, sent to preserve order, were seized with the fever to a man; provisions are selling at the most exorbitant prices, bands of robbers will plunder on land, and crowds of pirates will wait their opportunity by sea. In the opinion of some the country will soon be like the land of the Upas Tree, and nothing will be seen in all directions but the bleached and whitened bones of those who have sunk beneath the weight of the deadly metal. It is fully ascertained that the effluvia from the gold-impregnated soil, completely destroys all the more delicate and valuable productions of the human heart. The strong animal propensities will grow and even luxuriate in the open air; but the tree of knowledge, if planted there, produces only a sickly, yellow foliage, never increases in size, and yields no fruit; even plants of formal religion will grow only in hot-houses, and under the most favorable circumstances; and as for the flowers of vital piety, the moment they touch the soil they wither and decay; a single indigenous flower could not be procured for any money. The sequelæ of the fever is frightful spiritual emaciation, and hence a universal condition there is leanness of soul. While gazing on the melancholy scene, a benevolent mind could scarcely help exclaiming,

“O cursed lust of gold! how oft for thee
The fool throws up his interest in both worlds,
First starved in this, then damned in that to come!”

Remedies.—We have endeavoured to select from the accumulated mass of medical wisdom, from the wise saws, sovereign antidotes and infallible recipes of ancient and modern times, a few of the most approved remedies for this disease. Be it observed, however, in the first place, that like rheumatism and some other obstinate complaints, there is no specific for it,—no one remedy that will cure all cases—that what cures one will not always cure another,—and page 10 that twenty remedies will fail, and the twenty-first prove effectual. In the next place, it must be remembered that it is only in mild cases, or in the first stage of the disease that there is much hope of arresting it. If the delirium is fairly commenced, it is ten to one but the fever will run its course.—As however, in this settlement, the fever has appeared only in a mild and modified form, (and the cases are comparatively few) we are not without hope that the following recipes will be of some benefit. For babes in knowledge and children in understanding, the following simple maxims are offered.—“It is not all gold that glitters.”—“Gold may be bought too dear.”—“Far off fowls have fair feathers.”—“A bird in the hand is worth ten flying.”—“Certainty is better than hope.”—“Let well alone.”—“I was well, I would be better, and here I am,” said the Italian, by the epitaph on his grave.* For those who are men in knowledge, mature in wisdom, and vigorous in understanding and reflection, the following unguents have been strongly recommended, to be applied daily to the heart.—“He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver.”—“Riches make to themselves wings and fly away.”—“Beware of covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”—“Godliness with contentment is great gain.”—“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and trouble therewith.”—“How much better is it to get wisdom than gold?”—“Wisdom cannot be gotten for gold. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it, and the exchange of page 11 it shall not be for jewels of fine gold.”—“Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven.”—“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”—“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich”—“Faith, much more precious than gold that perisheth”—“The unsearchable riches of Christ.”

* A sage father was lecturing his daughter on the subject of matrimony, and confirmed his arguments by misquoting and misapplying the words of the Apostle, in a way that is often done. “She that marryeth doeth well, but she that marryeth not doeth better.” “Very well, father,” said the witty and spirited daughter, “I shall do well, let those who like do better.” By those who feel the first symptoms of restlessness, the substance of this resolution might be advantageously taken every morning, in the following form,—“I shall remain in New Zealand and do well, let those who like go to California and do better.