the future weal and woe, perhaps of the universe;—in ten short years we beheld Montesquieu, Raynal, Rousseau, Voltaire, Condillac, Helvetius, beaming like rising meteors in the dark firmament, and shedding a fearful gleam on the past, the present, and the future; boldly tracking a path once trodden with groping steps by Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, and Gassendi! No longer trusting in blind confidence to the scholastic rules of those dignitaries of science whose conclusions were considered sufficient to command our faith, man became sceptical and positive; doubt and disbelief were carried into every investigation; the reign of prestiges was over; the former monopolists of power and of science, the two great levers of society (the more effective since their fulcra rested on timidity and ignorance), were thrown from their antiquated stand, and found themselves brought face to face in explanatory contact with their once all-believing and obedient pupils, but now become a neoteric generation;—the crown and the sceptre, the cap and the gown, were baubles in their eyes. When the faculty of reasoning was not able to prevail, the shafts of ridicule were drawn from the quiver of philosophic wit, and inflicted rankling wounds where they could not destroy. Ancient systems were exploded with ancient prejudices, theories were overthrown with dynasties, and doctrines with governments;—one might have imagined that the formidable power of steam had been communicated to the mind, illustrating the words of Milton,
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, and hell of heaven.
Science, now aimed at generalization-the physiologist, the chemist, became legislators, stepping from the academic chair to the senatorial seat, and from teaching how to benefit mankind they hurried to destroy, forgetful, in their ambitious dream, of the noble encomium of Cicero, “Homines ad deos nullâ se proprius accedunt, quam salutem hominibus dando.”
Philosophy and the study of medicine were now inseparable; this generous science was not to be attained in books only, but in the study of mankind. Rousseau thus spoke of physicians when writing to Bernardin de Saint Pierre:—“Il n’y a pas d’état qui exige plus d’étude que le leur; par tous les pays, ce sont des hommes les plus véritablement savans et utiles.” Voltaire was of a similar opinion when he thus expressed himself:—“Il n’est rien de plus estimable au monde, qu’un médecin qui, ayant dans sa jeunesse étudié la nature, connu les ressorts du corps humain, les maux qui le tourmentent, les remèdes qui peuvent le soulager, exerce son état en s’en défiant, et soigne également les pauvres et les riches.”
How came it then that these great observers did not partake of the prejudices of Montaigne, Molière, and other writers, who invariably stigmatized the practice of physic? simply because it was no longer a dogmatic profession exercised with scholastic pedantry, but a science founded on the study of nature, and the immutable laws of sound philosophy. Although a classic education forms an indispensable part of a physician’s education, yet it is in more important pursuits that his experience should be obtained: the knowledge of ancient languages is principally useful in discovering the errors of the olden writers, and in detecting the barefaced plagiarisms of the moderns.
Much valuable time, however, may be lost in the pursuit of ancient lore; and Montaigne has justly observed, “There are books which should only be read, but others that must be learnt.” This discrimination is of the utmost importance; for it may be said of the bookworm’s library, “Multitudo librorum sæpe est nubes testium ignorantiæ possessoris.” Aristippus very properly replied to a man who boasted of his reading, “It is not those who eat the most that are hale and healthy, but those who can best digest.” Hence the distinction that arose between the philosophical physician and the dogmatizer. The one was guided by the observation of facts, the other by glossarial records. Men of erudition are seldom men of genius. The exploring mind is ever anxious to take flight from the prison-house of scholastic restraints. Scepticism, moreover, is frequently the result of deep study, which leads the neophyte into such a labyrinth of conflicting opinions, that decision and conviction are not easily attained. Laugier, a most learned German physician, had no faith in his profession: being reproached with his incredulity, he replied, “Credo, Domine, adjuva incredulitatem meam.”
The preceding observations lead to an important, and at the same time a painful reflection. Will this rapid intellectual progress tend ultimately to meliorate the condition of mankind? Nations have been compared to Man: having once reached the acme of prosperity and strength, their vigour like his gradually declines. History offers nothing more than a chronicle of such facts. Whatever may be the causes of this degeneracy, is a matter foreign to my present subject; although I may be permitted to observe by the way, that it may have arisen from the great disparity and inequality in the condition of society that tends to lull the wealthy into apathetic indifference and blind security in their power, while it urges the poor and the bold to rapine and destructive deeds. This perilous state can only cease to exist when general education is improved: if this most important source of real prosperity is attended to, we perhaps need not seek in particular events, gloomy anticipations of the future.
Whatever may be the destinies of nations in the wreck of empires and the destruction of men, the philosopher calmly seated on ruins that often “speak that sometime they were a worthy building,” reflects with pride that science has withstood the withering hand of time. It is true, that in every study errors have been heaped upon errors; but truth will often result from falsehood, and doubt that brings on investigation, leads to comparative certainty. Locke has justly observed, that the faculty of reasoning seldom or never deceives those who trust to it: its consequences, from what it builds on, are evident and certain; but that which it oftenest, if not only, misleads us in, is, that the principles from which we conclude, the grounds upon which we bottom our reasoning, are but a part—something is left out which should go into the reckoning to make it just and exact. This something is the constant pursuit of the philosopher. The name of a country may be obliterated from a map, the deeds of heroes be effaced from the annals of the world; the pursuit of truth can only cease when man is no more;—its light may be veiled by ignorance, craft, or cupidity,—but it cannot be extinguished. The cities that gave birth to the illustrious philosophers of old have long ceased to exist, yet the immortal works of those sages that have escaped the ravages of time, are still as fresh and luxuriant as when their glorious oratory enchanted and captivated their disciples’ ears.
No science has been cultivated with more difficulty than that of Medicine. The following papers will show how fearfully it has had to contend in turn with the power of priestcraft, that sought to monopolize its practice, as a privilege from the gods, and with the furious opposition of contemporary members of the profession, whose cupidity and vanity were alarmed by the introduction of novel doctrines, which they were too old, too busy, or too obstinate to learn. The extracts from Medical Literature that I have given will show that most of