Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/718

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of all disease. In the United States the want of such a system is in a manner compensated for by the periodical enumeration of causes of death at each national census. Although for obvious reasons such enumeration must be defective, both as regards the actual causes themselves and the number dying within the census year (the returns of 1870 being computed as forty-one per cent. less than the true number), still, the same sources of error and the same elements of truth obtaining, as a rule, in every section, the results of comparisons between different portions of the country contain much less of fallacy and more of fact than might be anticipated. For the last census year, ending June 1, 1870, nearly half a million deaths were collated and appropriately arranged by the Census Bureau, in tables referring both to the country as a whole and to separate States and Territories.

Among our English kinsmen across the Atlantic there has existed for many years a uniform and comprehensive system of death-registration. Thus, within a brief period of the outbreak after an epidemic, its mortuary figures from every quarter reach the central bureau in London, where they are at once systematically tabulated and published. The character of the morbific storm is studied, and its course predicted with almost as much certainty and promptness as each approaching disturbance of the elements is foretold and described in Washington from a comparison of manifold meteorological phenomena. In the same manner, whatever peculiarities may characterize the mortality by sporadic and endemic affections at different seasons, in various portions of the country, are observed and converted into numerical expressions for analytical study.

It is unfortunate for the cause of medical and sanitary science that no similar system has yet been established in this country. In our population of forty-odd millions over seven hundred thousand deaths must have occurred within the last twelve months; and yet, except in the case of our large cities, we are almost as ignorant of our causes of mortality as we are of those which cut off the population of China.

The British system, one applicable to the peculiarities of different populations, was devised by Dr. William Farr, the distinguished medical director of the English Registrar-General's office. A statistical congress, under the auspices of the French Government, was convened in Paris in September, 1855, to consider this subject, and it agreed upon a nomenclature of the causes of death substantially the same as that proposed by Dr. Farr. At another congress held in Vienna, in 1857, a uniform nomenclature and plan of registration for all the European states was determined upon. Dr. Farr's classification of diseases was not so generally adopted; but it has since been making its way in Germany and other portions of Europe. This nosological classification, though by no means perfect, doubtless possesses, in its practical relations to public health, advantages over every system that has preceded it. Its divisions are founded upon the manner in