Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/89

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lieved that a solution of gold had great medicinal virtues. Why? On the theory that the strength and quality of the metal might be communicated. to the body of the person taking it. Still more potent than the aurum potabile was the elixir vitæ, by which people preserved their youth and lived forever.

The magical element in patent medicine actually won scientific repute in the "doctrine of signatures"—a doctrine which held that plants and minerals, by their external character, indicated the particular disease for which Nature had intended them as remedies. Thus the Euphrasia, or eyebright, was good for the eyes; the wood-sorrel, being shaped like a heart, for the heart; the liverwort for the liver, and so on. Pettigrew, in his history of medical superstition, says that this fanciful and magical notion "led to serious errors in practice," and often to fatal results.

Observe that, at this stage of its evolution, patent medicine is herb medicine, and so it remained for a long time. The materials of the healing art were all vegetable. The patent-medicine man was a dealer in herbs, and his shop is well described by Romeo:

"And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
An alligator stuffed, and other skins
Of ill-shaped fishes; and about his shelves
A beggarly account of empty boxes,
Green earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds,
Remnants of pack-thread and old cakes of roses,
Were thinly scattered, to make up a show."

In those days the barber-surgeon and the apothecary were the recognized exponents of the healing art; to them patients repaired for treatment. "The students of medicine," Mr. Goadby, in his England of Shakespeare, says, "were usually extensive dealers in charms and philters." They were as ready "to sell love-philters to a maiden as narcotics to a friar." The Arabic physicians introduced chemical and mineral remedies into European pharmacopoeias, and then patent medicines took a turn for the worse.

The mantle of alchemists and witches seems to have fallen upon certain "wise" men and women, whose medicinal preparations were invested with a dash of magic; so that their nostrums were held in popular favor. Lord Bacon complained of the weakness and credulity of men in his day. "They will," said he, "often prefer a mountebank or witch before a learned physician." Secret preparations were put up by physicians of repute. Thus, Sir Kenelm Digby made a sympathetic powder which was reputed to cure wounds. He even published a book of Choice and Experimented Receipts in Physick and Chirurgery. The efforts of physicians were directed to the invention of nostrums and charms, not to the cause of the disease or to the action of their remedies. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth