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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33



It would be easy, Reverend Sir, to multiply examples without end.

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Though using the sulphur fumes before, it is only but very recently since either the Spray-producer or Sulphurous Acid came into my possession. And when I tell you that the half of the cases are not detailed, that never a day passes without my requiring to use the one or the other, generally with advantage, never with hurt (except in the one case of asthma), I am sure you will agree with me that these agents are destined yet to play an important part in medical science. I decline to give any decided opinion on the merits of the 'Great Sulphur Cure.' I only state facts, and allow people to judge for themselves. But without anticipating the magnificent results expected by its proposer, I can cautiously and thoughtfully state the following as the result of some experience and observation not here noted down :—

1. In a great many external maladies, hacks, chilblains, running cars, excoriated nipples, open sores of every kind, it is invaluable; as a hair-wash for scurf, it is admirable;1 as a wash for ulcers, its healing powers are great; as a dressing for recent flesh wounds, it is perfectly wonderful altogether. Indeed, I suspect that pyæmic fever itself, that fatal plague of hospitals, may be as easily managed as 'snifters' in babes, that plague of mothers. Between sulphurous acid and pus there seems as great antagonism as between fire and vapour. The acid simply dries it up and annihilates it. Ergo, By all the rules of logic, what can pyæmic fever do but die of starvation, from want of the pus on which it feeds?

2. In a recent case of slight sore throat (where the inflammation covered all the uvula and tonsils), one injection of the spray cured it so quickly, that I just thought, Well now, had that been incipient diphtheria, would the spray have killed the young tender fungi quite as rapidly? Perhaps it would. And could that infectious disease, by being nipped in the bud, be thus prevented from extending in families? In Kirkcaldy, at any rate, this destroying angel, as a spreading epidemic, seems to be shorn of half its terrors.

3. Since it seems to be an established fact that, in seasons of rinderpest and pleuro-pneumonia, no such plagues come nigh any byres where systematic fumigation is carefully practised, why, in seasons of diphtheria or other epidemics, should not all houses in the neighbourhood be statedly and carefully fumigated too? Would the village of Elsrickle, where the houses are generally small and confined, have suffered so much from diphtheria six years ago had this precaution been adopted? I think very decidedly not. Fumigation is harmless.

4. In coughs, colds, windpipe and chest affections, we may congratulate ourselves on acquiring a weapon to fight them on something like the same terms as we fight an ulcer in the leg; an agent to ferret out the enemy and attack him in his secret hiding-places instead of chiefly dealing with him by external applications. We can smook the bees instead of blistering the 'skep' where they are buzzing! The smooking will not always kill them, indeed. Neither will an ulcer of the leg always heal. But it is certainly a comfort that some healing remedy is applied directly on the sore in either case.

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5. What about consumption? We will be wise not to expect anything great. But since vegetable fungi have been detected both in the expectorated matter of consumptive patients, and in lung cavities after death, who can calculate how much these fungi may promote the disease, and how much their destruction may help to cure it? Besides, is it not something encouraging that even the physician of Chalmers' Hospital, while in regard to other diseases 'anticipating good results,' hesitates in regard to consumption before he can give a 'decided' answer? Verily, Rev. Sir, if these anticipations be realized; if sulphur be the means; 'itch' the instructor; a country doctor's byre the academy; the owner of that byre the great schoolmaster sent by Providence to elucidate and disseminate the truth among us all; it surpasses in importance the lessons learned in other byres by the immortal Jenner; and preaches aloud to all mankind, 'God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are.' How foolish of any to ask, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth,' or Kirkcaldy?

6. I have private sources of knowing (though I dare not mention names) that one of the most sagacious of our Edinburgh professors 'augurs great results from the extended adoption of the Sulphur Cure.' What these 'great results' may be, it is impossible to say. But though not accustomed to interpret Scripture much, my experience in interpreting the short, pithy, and enigmatical utterances of that cautious man suggests, that more is always meant than appears on the surface. Without supposing them to mean a revolution in medicine, or the regeneration of the world, would it be an abuse of private judgment to suppose that the 'great results' may comprehend, firstly, very shortly a conflagration of our quack pills, pulmonic wafers, and pectoral candies; and secondly, The conversion of our drug shops into manufactories of sulphur? Further, who knows but that some pugnacious medical cobbler, at a pro re nata meeting of the United Colleges held on the occasion, might propose as a legitimate subject of dispute, 'What influence would it have on the happiness of the world, to substitute for our recently issued British Pharmacopœia an improved edition of Meg Dods' Cookery?'

7. May we not anticipate a great mitigation of fevers generally, cutting others short, etc., from sulphur fumigation? Dr. Alex. Fiddes seems to prove this. What is the mitigation of yellow fever by sulphites, but (according to his own theory) sulphurous acid in the blood producing its natural effects? and what a more natural or easier mode of getting it there, than by absorption directly through the lungs? Does not inhaled vapour of alcohol make people drunk, and breathed oil of turpentine show itself in the urine? Thus fumigation seems better in some respects than ventilation itself. Ventilation only pitches the enemy out of the window, and prevents imbibing additional doses of the fever poison, the same poison that laid the patient low. But while fumigation can do as much as this, if it really be absorbed, it attacks the enemy also in the blood itself. This is dealing with fever poison and the blood as any rational man would deal with arsenic and page 34 the stomach, supposing that stomach was always taking in some additional arsenic at every meal. 1st. Purify the food. 2d. Pour antidotes into the stomach itself.

8. Equally good results, one would expect, must accrue to attendants. Besides, as a slight sulphurous smell adheres to clothes after fumigation for a considerable time, may ministers of the gospel, city missionaries, etc., not almost take for granted that a slight fumigation of themselves, shortly before visiting a sick-room, will secure them against either catching infection themselves, or carrying it to their families?

9. In the meantime, What is to be done with Dr. Dewar himself? Burn him alive in his own lurid flames, and his magical machine into the bargain, as our forefathers would have done? No, no, in this advancing unwarlock age. We can only give him a vote of thanks. To be sure, we have been trying that gentleman for 'murder.' The verdict brought in has been 'Guilty, my Lord!' But when we bear in mind that the victims of his wrath have been the various destroying angels which afflict the world, why should the fellow not at once be 'strung'—in effigy, of course—on our parlour walls, as a benefactor of the race? To grant a testimonial in money would be as ridiculous as valuing health by ounces of gold, and as absurd as driving coals to Newcastle. The doctor will soon be rolling in wealth by his new patent for converting salmon and herrings into scones! This is positively true. The antiseptic treatment has as miraculous effects on dead meat and dead fish as on living men. By preventing putrefaction such materials can be kept sweet and pure for any length of time. By a process of drying and pounding into meal, the finest and most nutritious of bread, such as beef-baps, mutton-biscuits, and oyster-cookies can actually be baked; and the last accounts from Kirkcaldy are, that he is just now engaged in securing patents in all the countries of the world for this very end! This is another little grudge that a certain little mind owes the doctor, who always dreamed that if the two medical pigmies were to unite their forces, the one to kill poison from without, the other to kill poison from within, the general superintendence of the 'eating' department should somehow or other have been left to the latter!

Finally, if you think this letter important, that it is an honest trial of a doubtful subject,—that the Sulphur Cure should be more extensively adopted in neighbouring parishes,—that a flame from Biggar Auld Crossknowe should extend some sparks, not to Peebles only, but as far as Hamilton and Crawfordjohn,—I give you leave to send my letter to your relative, Professor Christison of Edinburgh, if you feel inclined; to let the Professor show it to Dr. Halliday Douglas; to let Dr. Douglas declare whether the results of my short and hurried experience correspond with his own, so far as it goes. And, if the report from Chalmers' Hospital be favourable, it may be an afterthought between us whether this letter should be seen by any other eye in the parish but your own.—I am, Rev. Sir, yours most respectfully,

R. Pairman.

Biggar, October 13, 1867.

1 1 part acid, 1 part glycerine, and 5 or 6 of water, form probably the best hair-wash in the market, not only cleansing the hair, but destroying the fungi on which scurf, dandriff, and some kinds of baldness depend.