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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 13


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Since the foregoing pages were printed, evidence as to the uncertainty of Drug Medication has accumulated from important sources. Sir Thomas Watson, Bart., M.D., the Nestor of English physicians, has given utterance to the following remarkable words at the opening meeting of the Clinical Society of London, as reported in the Lancet of January 18, 1868. Speaking of the present state of therapeutics, and comparing that branch with other departments of medical inquiry, he says:—" Certainly the greatest gap in the science of medicine is to be found in its final and supreme stage—the stage of therapeutics. We want to learn distinctly what is the action of drugs, and of other outward influences, upon the bodily organs and functions—for every one now-a-days, I suppose, acknowledges that it is only by controlling or directing the natural forces of the body that we can reasonably hope to govern or guide its diseased action. To me it has been a life-long wonder how vaguely, how ignorantly, how rashly, drugs are often prescribed. We try this, and, not succeeding, we try that, and, baffled again, we try something else; and it is fortunate if we do no harm in these our tryings. Now, this random and haphazard practice, whenever and by whomsoever adopted, is both dangerous in itself, and discreditable to medicine as a science. Our profession is continually floating on a sea of doubts about questions of the gravest importance. Of this the evidence is plentiful and constant. Let me substantiate what I am now saying by one or two glaring instances. The old, and, as might have been hoped, obsolete controversy between the Cullenian and the Brunonian schools has been revived in all its former extravagance within our own time. Many of us can recollect the period when blood-letting was reckoned the Summum Remedium against, at least, all forms of inflammatory disorder—which were to be starved out also by the strict enforcement of what was called the Antiphlogistic Regimen. Now, there are, I believe, many who yet hold that to deprive a patient of an ounce of his blood is to sap his strength, and to aggravate his danger, and that for all ailments brandy is the grand and easy panacea. One generation extols mercury as the sole and unfailing remedy for syphilis; the next attributes all the worst evils that follow in the train of that hateful disorder to the very mineral which had been administered for its cure. Even now, at this present time, a hot contention, of most weighty import, fills the air around us upon the question whether, when cholera is present in the community, we should treat the page break diarrhoea, presumed to be the prelude or the commencement of cholera, by opium or astringents to check the discharge from the bowels, or by castor oil to promote them. I say this uncertainty, this unseemly variation and instability of opinions, is a standing reproach to the calling we profess. It has shaken the faith of many men, of men both able and thoughtful, and driven them to ask themselves whether any kind of medication, other than the vis medicatrix naturœ, is of any real efficacy or value. It is most desirable, when it can be done without harm or known hazard to the sick, to learn respecting all distinct and recognised forms of disease what would be their course, what their tendencies, what their results, if left to themselves and subjected to no kind of remedial treatment whatever. Truly, there are diseases in which it seems to be our main business to stand by and look on—to see that nature has fair-play—that the patient has the requisite advantage of rest, and warmth, and pure air, and appropriate food, and no more: to watch his recovery, not to attempt his cure. ... Of therapeutics as a trustworthy science, it is certain that we have as yet only the expectation."

Thus we see Sir Thomas Watson, one of the most prominent leaders of the orthodox medical profession, is following close upon the heels of the Hygienic system, which has for its materia medica heat, water, air, rest, exercise, food, and those natural agencies which are the sine qua non of health. As to the "action of drugs," that has been exploded in the preceding pages, and in other works on this subject; also, the points in dispute referred to above, the settlement is very simple—patients should neither be bled nor brandied for inflammation, nor mercurialised for syphilis, nor should the diarrhœa of cholera* be checked by astringents on the one hand, nor promoted by purgatives on the other. Nature should be aided, not interfered with. These diseased conditions are quite easily controlled by those who have studied the action of nature instead of the "action of drugs," as is amply proved by the practice and matured experience of physicians of the Hygienic School.

An autobiography of the veteran Temperance Reformer, Joseph Livesey, Esq., of Preston, appears monthly in the Staunch Teetotaler, of which periodical he is editor. The narrative of Mr Livesey's struggles and triumphs is one of the most eventful of "self-made men's "lives, and contains a very interesting account of the movement in connection with which he has achieved a world-wide reputation. Monthly, price 1d. Sold by W. Tweedie, 337 Strand, London, W.C.

* See Dr Barter's pamphlet on "The Treatment of Cholera on Rational Principles." Second Edition, 6d. London: J. Burns.