The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
Preface to the Fifth Edition
Preface to the Fifth Edition.
The following pages present some data in solution of the problem, 'Is the system of sulphurous acid medication true or false?' The answer has a momentous bearing on the interests of our country, and our future modes of dealing both with cattle epidemics and human diseases not a few. Though professing himself as yet no advocate of the system out and out, but only its honest and impartial judge, it is needless to conceal that the more the writer sees of it, the more is he convinced of its general utility; and that very soon, to think of practising medicine without a Spray-producer, will be as absurd as to practise midwifery without forceps, or surgery without chloroform. To get the problem thoroughly sifted and solved, yea, to stir to its depths the whole profession if need be, a humble member, toiling in its ranks, ventured to risk his professional character by a quackish title-page, and adopted a style of writing perhaps unduly merry, partly to make people stare and induce them to read. For why should empiricism monopolize such a mode of inviting attention? and why should 'valuable solid reading,' the great horror of popular journalists, be allowed to fall still-born from the Press, to draw fine compliments merely from competent judges, and as many pounds sterling from the author's pocket? The writer of this pamphlet, however, is no buffoon, but bears the character among his neighbours of being an earnest man, whose peculiarly jocular and merry style can scarcely conceal a vein of seriousness. No newspaper critic or private friend has yet urged an objection that was not anticipated. One kind reverend gentleman, an earnest and zealous preacher of the gospel, said, 'Your title-page, sir, is a downright "puff," that reminds me strongly page 6 of Professor——'s quackish pills.' A. 'That Professor knows best himself (perhaps better than his patients) whether the astonishing virtue of his pills be a fact or fiction. But what one calk "puffing" another may call preaching the gospel.' Q. 'What do you mean?' A. 'Are you a quack, my dear friend, when with a trumpet more earnest, though not so brazen, you proclaim aloud to all and sundry, "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." Or is Isaiah a quack who put you up to the plan?' My friend mused a little, and then said, 'Ah! Doctor, I see you are right. Isaiah's "waters" can stand the test. There may be puffing in appearance without reality, and if your anticipations regarding sulphur be realized as a cure, it may be found a "great" one too.'
Another true friend, also a clergyman, said, 'The subject is important certainly; but, dear me! your hasty rushing into print has permitted some offences against good taste, that disfigure your pamphlet very much.' A. 'Another edition may yet show such stains "rubbed out in the washing." But your own sermons sometimes tell us the folly of paying undue heed to the tithe, mint, and cumin of things. Please, reverend sir, attend you to the weightier matters of the law. Luther's doctrine was not the less important, though he might sometimes preach with a pimple on his nose, scarcely worth the criticising.'
Then there was my style—'pith without polish,' or, as some editors called it, 'inclining to the jaunty.' A. Can the medical profession not be roused to its duty by anything short of a solemn sermon? Would it really have been seemly for an obscure individual to have assumed the serious, and lectured as a dominie Professors at whose feet he had often sat to receive instruction? Are our noble, disinterested, and philanthropic High Priests like the silversmiths of Ephesus, who manufactured idols for Diana's shrine? Surely not. Let their attention be only called to the matter, let them only know of it in any way whatever, and the work is done. Unfortunately, Dr. Dewar's calm, chaste, and sober style has been tried already, and, to some extent, been found wanting. With less flourish of trumpets than mine, his truly valuable and interesting pamphlet has been before the world for months; but instead of convulsing Britain to its centre, not till my pamphlet cordially saluted it, like two stranger country doctors shaking page 7 hands together without the formality of an introduction, did the system of sulphurous acid medication make any appreciable change in our treatment of disease. The mission of my pamphlet has certainly been accomplished, if it has aided in pushing into wider circulation its senior brother, which, sooner or later, must have found its way, by its own merits, into all the libraries of the profession.
Though not anticipating the great circulation which my poor extemporized brochure has attained, I knew very well that with Mr. Christison's name (itself a tower of strength) adorning its title-page, and the honoured names of Drs. Begbie and Douglas showing countenance in the background, it could not fall stillborn from the press. I knew, moreover, that some earnest men throughout the country, attracted to the pamphlet in the first instance from motives of personal friendship to myself, were likely to discover from its important subject matter, that in taking my little production by the hand they were promoting the interests of humanity at large. Not that they could solve its problem for themselves (except by reasoning from facts like other people), but could see the importance of its being solved by somebody. But who could have anticipated that such eminent men as Dr. Lyon Playfair and Dr. Joseph Bell (both total strangers to its author) should have furnished it with such magnificent wings, to aid its flight into dignified quarters that its own lightness or volatility never could have reached? To all such kind, unexpected, and highly valued friends, though acting no doubt chiefly on public grounds, as haters of epidemics and lovers of man, the profoundest gratitude of the author is due. The further prosecution of this important subject is now committed to the physicians of our hospitals, and Gamaliels of great authority in the profession. But in view of what has been already accomplished, it is not presumptuous to admire the usual plan of the providence of God, in educing great things from small. As microscopic fungi are the messengers of God's wrath, and, at His bidding, may lay a continent waste by pestilence; so sulphur may yet be found the panacea furnished by His goodness to arrest its march. And it is quite in keeping with such a mode of working, that to disseminate this truth throughout our land, He may first call on one country doctor to proclaim it; then another country doctor to back him up, who, ignorant of the opinion on the subject of any medical man page 8 in the world, had honesty to form his own conclusions, as well as nerve to cry out with boldness, arising from the consciousness of discovered truth. Dr. Dewar having the great merit of originating this system, his more slowly growing pamphlet has the stamina of the oak, and deserves to live. Mine, on the other hand, having served its end, can afford to die; a little medical 'fungus' at the best, rapid in its growth, likely soon to perish, and whose literary merit is a speck barely visible to the naked eye.
Biggar, 23d Nov. 1867.