Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/86

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76
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the nourishment prepared for next year's sprouts. This fungus is a thief preying on the industry of the onion — it is more than a thief, for its ravages leave destruction and death in their wake.

The warmth and moisture necessary for the growth of my crops were not good for the onion. It developed untimely, sickly sprouts from the interior layers, while the exterior became the prey of swarms of those minute forms of life known as bacteria — forms that lie, as it were, in the border-land between plant life and animal, and whose function it is to resolve complicated organic structures into their original elements. Under this process my onion sank into a mass of putrescence so ill-looking and ill-smelling that, ere its original elements were reached, I committed it to the swifter dissolution of the flames.


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EVOLUTION OF PATENT MEDICINE.

By LEE J. VANCE.

"THIS wonderful remedy works like a charm" — so reads a bold advertisement now lying before me. Why should any patent medicine work like a "charm"? The modern notion of a medical remedy working like a "charm" is a survival of the belief that certain secret remedies are charms. This is the savage's view of all medicines. He mixes his medicines with magic. His remedies are magical remedies, his songs of healing are incantations, his prayers for restoration to health are magic formula, his doctors are magicians.

Patent medicine had its origin in folk medicine. We are thus enabled to examine patent medicine as a magical practice and art of gradual development and of slow and subtle transformation. We shall argue that the blind, unthinking faith in a secret compound known as "patent medicine" is, for the most part, a survival. Further, we shall be able to show how magical practices, as of the Indians, develop into the remedies of the folk, of the people who share least in progress; how folk practices, in turn, in the hands of the mediæval leech and alchemist, become "occult science"; how, finally, out of leechcraft and quackery was evolved our curious system of patent medicine. The modern doctor is the heir of the leech, apothecary, and alchemist. He too seeks the elixir of life. He now makes a lymph more wonderful than the witches' ointment, which enabled people to sail through the air.

Briefly stated, patent medicines are drugs compounded of unknown ingredients, and are intended for the relief or cure of the various ills that flesh is heir to. They always have been, and still are, prepared and put up in an entirely different way from