Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/354

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except in the most lamely empirical fashion, without a knowledge of the properties of the organism and of its relations to its environment; for our medical function is to remove the disorder of these relations, which is disease, and to restore the harmony, which is health. In past times it has been too much the practice to treat the body as if it were an entirely independent kingdom, without regard to its essential relations with surrounding Nature, and to try to drive out the enemy which was supposed to have taken possession of it, by pills and potions, as barbarous nations try to drive him out by charms and ceremonies. Now, however, in the recognition of the intimate and constant relations between the organism and its surroundings, we are awaking to juster views of our duties as observers, and of our work as curers of disease; but it is because of the absence yet of anything like exact knowledge in this respect that medical practice is defective, tentative, empirical, often mere guess-work, and that the most experienced physicians, waiting patiently on Nature, aim to do the least harm by the drugs which they employ.

But we are perceiving more clearly, day by day, a larger application of this principle of looking to the relations of man, to what is around him as well as to what is within him, in the fulfillment of the great purpose of preventing disease. It is in this direction that the future course of medicine lies clearly open, and to this end that we must work; it will rise to the true height of its great vocation when it watches over communities, and ministers to the welfare and development of the race. I am apt to think that we shall attain to earlier and larger success in preventing the diseases of communities than in curing the diseases of the individual, as men who had been seeing heavy bodies fall to the earth every moment of their lives discovered the law of gravitation for the first time when they began to observe the grand general motions of the heavenly bodies. Indeed, we have already had encouraging success. Look through the yearly death list of this great city two hundred years ago, and you will find a large proportion of deaths ascribed to diseases which have now been robbed of their sting, if they are not quite extinct. Many persons died then, as "that chief of men," Cromwell, did, from ague. Where is the mortality of ague now? Ague has disappeared with the disappearance, through better drainage, of the damp fogs which occasioned it, as ghosts and other superstitions have vanished with the disappearance, before the light of knowledge, of the fogs of ignorance in which they were engendered. Bloody-flux or dysentery seldom occurs now in England, and is more seldom fatal, but it caused many deaths two hundred years ago. The ravages of small-pox were then terrible, hosts of victims being carried off by it, and many persons who escaped death bearing its marks in blind eyes and hideously-scarred features; but I think we may foresee a time when, Keighley guardians notwithstanding, small-pox will no more afflict a prudent people. Plague,