Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/54

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44
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

thankful to say, taught, if not practiced, in almost every schoolroom and factory in England, are the direct results of the abstruse researches of Boyle and Priestley, of Lavoisier and Pasteur. Ages of experience did not teach mankind the value of fresh air, or the innocence of clean water. Indeed, I have myself heard astonishment expressed by a German professor at the peculiar immunity with which English skins will bear the daily and unstinted application of soap and water.

If the art of keeping a community in health is but the application of plain physiological laws, it is no less true that the art of restoring the health, curative as distinct from preventive medicine, rests upon the same basis. In former days the physician was one who recognized what he called the disease of his patient, who referred to his books of precedents as a lawyer to his statutes, and who prescribed a proper remedy to cast out the disease. We now know that disease is, as the name implies, a purely subjective conception. The disease of a host is the health of the parasite, and we cure a human sufferer by poisoning the animals or plants which interfere with his comfort. The same changes which in the old man are the natural steps of decay, the absence of which after a certain age would be truly pathological, are the cause of acute disease in the young. Pathology has no laws distinct from those of physiology.

When these now obvious considerations are thoroughly understood, it clearly follows that all "systems of medicine" are in their very nature condemned. All that the art of medicine can do is to apply a knowledge of natural laws, of mechanics and of hydrostatics, of botany and zoology, of chemistry and electricity, of the behavior of living cells and organs when subjected to the influence of heat and of cold, of acids and alkalies, of alcohols and ethers, of narcotics and stimulants, so as to modify certain deviations from ordinary structure and function which are productive of pain, or discomfort, or death. It is, therefore, plain that rational medicine, or keeping right and setting right the human body, must rest upon a knowledge of its structure and its actions, just as a steam-engine or a watch can not be mended upon general principles, but only by one who is familiar with their construction and working, and who can detect the source of their irregularity.

An objector may say: "Admitting that medicine is an art, it is a purely empirical art. You can not detect the origin of many of the maladies which you are yet able to cure; your best remedies have not been obtained by scientific experiment, but by chance, observation, and accumulated experience; and, if you doctors would give more time to practical therapeutics, that is, to finding out what is good for the several aches and pains we complain of, you would spend your time better than in abstruse researches into microscopic anatomy or the properties of a dead frog's muscle."

The answer to the objection is an appeal to fact. For centuries so called observation and experience left medicine in the condition it