Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/227

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215
CHEMISTRY IN ITS RELATIONS TO MEDICINE.

I think we can see, in this reference to history, a tendency which has frequently been repeated since that time—a tendency to generalize upon an insufficient basis of facts concerning the action of remedies. The reasoning of these older physicians, stripped of all unnecessary details, was simply this: Some remedies act chemically upon the body and produce chemical effects, hence all remedies must act in the same way. Thus the chemico-medical school was founded, as many schools of medicine have since been founded. The dogmas of this old school contained a healthy nucleus of truth, to be sure, as do the dogmas of most schools of medicine existing at the present day, but the physician proper now recognizes that remedies act in very many ways, and that the science of medicine must take into consideration every way in which remedies can act. He does not commit the error of being satisfied with one idea, as, for instance, that substances do act chemically upon the body, that cold water is a valuable remedy, that electricity properly applied is at times beneficial. A single idea is not sufficient for him.

Still we must recognize the fact that, in order to impress upon the minds of men the importance of an idea, in order to attract attention to it, it is frequently necessary to present it in an exaggerated form. And so, while we see the error of the old physicians of Paracelsus's time, we see also that, by attracting the attention of physicians and chemists to the connection between chemistry and medicine, the error committed resulted in permanent good to medicine, and the influence of the old school is still felt. The ideas of those who founded and developed the chemico-medical school have found their proper level, as all ideas tend to do sooner or later.

It would doubtless be interesting to follow closely the history of the connection between chemistry and medicine, but our time will not permit the discussion of this subject, and hence I shall speak of the bonds of connection indicated by actual chemical work of the present day.

In the first place, chemistry furnishes medicine with many of its valuable remedies, as every one knows. The chemist, however, does not recognize the discovery of new substances, possessed of medicinal properties, as the object of his work. If he did so, both chemistry and medicine would suffer. The prime object of the scientific chemist must always be to develop his science, to perfect it in every way he may find possible; he must be constantly on the lookout for discrepancies between facts supposed to be established, and must ever endeavor to correct errors into which his predecessors may have fallen; he must reach out beyond that which is known, and strive to know more. The object of the chemist can only be accomplished by employing every method peculiar to the science of chemistry, and by striving to know everything about a substance or class of substances which it is possible to discern. If the chemist should work with the main object of adding