Page:A cyclopedia of American medical biography vol. 2.djvu/502

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Thomson, Adam (-


He was born and educated in Scotland; the date of birtli has not been ascertained. In his memorable and eloquent " Dis- course on the Preparation of the Body for the Small-pox," ho refers to "the Famous Monro of Edinburgh" as one of his first masters in the healing art.

He settled in Prince George's County, in the Province of Maryland, early in the eiglitecnth century. In 1748 he went to Philadelphia where he continued to practice, his services being in de- mand throughout the colonies because of his eminence and success as an inoculator.

In 173S he began his method of pre- paring the body for small-pox. It con- sisted of a two weeks' course of treatment or "cooling regimen" preparatory to inoculation, to wit: a light, non-stimulat- ing diet, the administration of a combi- nation of mercury and antimony, and moderate bleeding and purgation. He^ admitted that Boerhaave's Aphorism No. 1392 advanced the "hint" that mercury and antimony properly pre- pared and administered "might act as an antidote for the variolous contagion." Dr. Thomson's phenomenal success with the method convinced him that " mercury under proper managment is more of a specific agent against the effects of the variolous than the venereal poison." He was careful to give it within the bounds of salivation and to modify the regimen to suit the patient's age and constitution.

In his "Discourse" he says: "On every occasion for the space of twelve years where I have been called to prepare people for receiving the small-pox, either in the natual way or by inoculation — having prepared many for both — I have constantly used such a mercurial and antimonial medicine as Boerhaave has de- scribed, and I can honestly declare that

'Boerhaave's 1392'd Aphorism. Some success from antimony and mercury prompts us to seek for a specific for the small-pox in a combination of these two minerals reduced by art to an active, but not to an acrimonious or corrosive state.

I never saw one so prepared in any danger under the disease."^

His explanation of the manner in which immunity is acquired against small-pox is most interesting, and sug- gests to readers of to-day Pasteur's exhaustion hypothesis. He states: "It seems to me highly probable that there is a certain quantity of an infinitely subtle matter which may be called the variolous fuel, equally, intimately and universally ditTused through the blood of every human creature; in some more, in others less, that lies still and quiet in the body never showing itself in any manner hitherto discovered until put in action l)y the variolous contagion, at which time it is totally expelled by the course of the disease."

He found the average medical practi- tioner of America poorly educated, and therefore a source of danger in the com- munity. He recommends in the dis- course that the Legislature interpose in l)ehalf of the safety of the people and appoint proper persons to judge of the qualifications of those permitted to practise.

Dr. Thomson delivered his " Discourse on the Preparation of the Body for the Small-pox" before the trustees and others in the Academy of Philadelphia, on Wed- nesday, the twenty-first of November, 1750.- It was published by Benjamin Franklin, and was reprinted in London in 1752, and in New York in 1757. It met with favorable reviews in America, England and France. Dr. Thacher ("American Medical Biography," vol. i, p. 66, 1828) refers to the "Discourse" in the following manner : " This production was highly applauded both in Ameria and Europe, as at that period (1750) the practice of inoculation was on the de-

'Dr. Thomson makes a similar assertion in a letter which appeared in the Md. Gaz., Nov. 25, 1762.

^ An original Franklin print of the Discourse is on file in the Library of the surgeon-general's office, Washington, D. C. Copies of it may be seen in the Libraries of the .lohns Hopkin's Hospital and of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland.