Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/132

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122
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

equally, or almost equally, suitable for elementary instruction (see Edgeworth's 'Practical Education,' and 'Harry and Lucy'), a collateral or supplementary training, similar in spirit and plan to Miss Youmans's in experimental mechanics founded on the phenomena of mechanical action. Botany for observation, mechanics for experiment, would complete that foundation of nature and fact on which technical education, if it is to be a reality and not a pretence, must be ultimately based."

 


MISCELLANY.

THE NATURE OF DISEASE.
BY SIR WM. W. GULL, BART., M. D., F. R. S.
[1]

In addressing you this evening, gentlemen, I have in some sort to throw myself on the forbearance of the Society, for, though I have been able to bring certain ideas together on the subject on which I desire to speak, I have not, for want of time, been able to adopt a form of words such as I would have liked. In some sense I am the spokesman of the Society as its President, in especial when laying before the public the objects of the Society as I would now do.

We, in our calling, differ from some theologians in one important respect: they look on this world as a decaying world, as much worse than it once was; we, as students of Nature, are opposed to this view, for, if we look to the history of Nature, we see we are ever advancing toward perfection, even if we are not likely to reach it. This is an improving world, and we are met to advance that idea. We believe that this world has something better in store for all than any thing which has yet been seen, and are like to the convalescent, whose last day should always be the very best he has ever spent. Some men are apt to think that science has certain limits set to it, beyond which no man may go; but we believe that knowledge extends far beyond the strictly scientific limit. Doubtless, were the early lower animals assembled together in conclave, they would conceive it quite impossible to transcend their status; that when the world came to megatheriums, let us say, then it must stop. They could not conceive the possibility of such a being as man. But at this point we join the theologians again in accepting a metaphysical element, in forming conceptions of things of which we can have no positive knowledge. In this way we may be said to worship Nature, but only in a very limited sense. We look upon our being, not as perfect, but as becoming perfect, and we are here to-night—and at all times have it as our object—to improve these defects of Nature, and to endeavor to perfect the human frame.

Respecting the object we work for—this living organism of ours—one great advance has of late been made. We are acquiring a physiological notion of disease. Disease is no entity; it is but a modification of health—a perverted physiological process; and this must at all times be insisted upon. Were it not that we fear death, and dislike pain, we should not look upon disease as any thing abnormal in the life-process, but to be as part and parcel of it. Few would now venture on a definition of disease; for in reality it is but the course of Nature in a living thing which is not health. In health the balance of function is even; incline it to either side, and there is disease. That being so, just as the life-process constitutes an individual and puts him apart from his fellows, so must any alteration in it be individual, and not general. But to the ignorant disease is an entity—an evil spirit which attacks us and seizes us. Hence arises the word "seizure," which, though in a somewhat different way, we still use, but with a protest. To the charlatan, disease is a set of symptoms to be attacked by a variety of drugs—a drug for each symptom. To us, disease is a life-process of a perverted kind.

Many states are not now called diseases which used to be, and there are still some to be expunged. Some people are always ailing. Some have feeble stability, and to them it is as natural to be ill as it is to others to be well; but this is not disease. So, too, aged persons get ill; but this is not disease—in reality, it is natural change simulating disease, and, when we try to cure such, we use all the farrago of the chemist's shop to prevent the sun setting. So syphi-

  1. Remarks before the Clinical Society of London.