Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/829

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
807
DEAN SWIFT'S DISEASE.

sane part of Swift's life was likely to have been in any way affected by the latent presence of insanity; whether a correct diagnosis was possible; whether parallel cases were on record; and, finally, whether a surfeit of green fruit, at the age of twenty-three years, was capable of resulting in the absolute fatuity from which the patient suffered at seventy-five.

This questioning has stimulated me to an investigation which I had thought was already threadbare, but which I found full of interest; and when I say that, upon weighing the evidence, it will probably be acknowledged that Jonathan Swift's mysterious disease was an instance of that curious form of disease, labyrinthine vertigo, or le maladie de Menière, the knowledge of which is one of the most recent triumphs of pathological research directed by physiological experiment, it will scarcely be thought that it was needless to reopen a controversy in which already everything had been said which ought to have been said, and not a little which ought not to have been said.

When Dr. Beddoes suggested that Swift's ailments and his conduct toward women were due to dissolute habits in youth, Sir Walter Scott replied that, "until medical authors can clearly account for and radically cure the diseases of their contemporary patients, they may readily be excused from assigning dishonorable causes for the disorders of the illustrious dead." But, if Dr. Beddoes were unquestionably wrong in making such a suggestion without evidence, Sir Walter was scarcely right in making his retort too general; for, if medical opinions respecting the states of mind of persons who have departed this life must be forbidden until medical men can insure the radical cure of diseases, not only will much valuable evidence respecting the validity of wills be excluded, but the science of pathology itself, depending upon the history of diseases and verified by observations made after death, must be interrupted until an event which seems impossible has taken place.

Whether the causes of disease are or are not dishonorable, and whether the subjects of them are or are not illustrious, has nothing to do with the scientific question; and the often-quoted sneer of Swift's greatest biographer at the medical profession seems, when examined, as silly as general sarcasm usually is. Undeterred by such sarcasm, an eminent medical man did investigate the causes for the disorders of the illustrious dead in a work which he modestly called an essay, published in 1849, and entitled "The Closing Years of Dean Swift's Life," etc., by W. R. Wilde, M. R. I. A., F. R. C. S. This little work, marked by the excellences of careful research, sound reasoning, moderate opinions and fair conclusions, would have rendered further discussion needless if medical science had stood still since its publication; but the advances made in medical psychology during the last thirty-two years might give us some excuse for reconsideration even if Menière