Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/September 1883/Correspondence

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Messrs. Editors:

IN the realm of popular science a clear, piquant style is good, to unfold and adhere strictly to truth is better; but a union of these is the best of all. No one who has read Dr. Oswald's series of papers on health and disease in this "Monthly" can deny him the first attribute; but he must be superficial, indeed, who will allow him the second. I do not mean to say that all or even the larger part of his inculcations are false, but only that some of them are so glaringly contrary to fact that the special and cultivated observer can only tolerate the reading of them by the vigorous excellence of their surroundings.

It is not my intention to point out all the errors that have appeared in his long series of papers. I shall only refer to a few in his last article (July), entitled "The Remedies of Nature" for dyspepsia—a misnomer, by-the-way, as the remedies recommended are not Nature's, but Dr. Oswald's; as, for instance, "sleeping in a cross-draught" whatever this may mean, as a bulwark against dyspepsia.

On page 307 the doctor asserts that dyspepsia is not an hereditary complaint. If it is not, then there is no such thing. When consumption, cancer, and insanity, are spoken of as hereditary, the meaning is not that either of these diseases exists per se from the moment of conception, only that the tendency to them does. But the tendency to dyspepsia in some families is even more literally hereditary than the diseases named, for every careful and wide-observing physician knows that the offspring of some parents, almost from the moment of birth, manifests a facility for indigestion from the most trifling indiscretions. Observant mothers know that their own or neighbors' children, all of like habits and conditions of life, are strikingly unequal in digestive strength. Some of them can not eat this or that without severe suffering, others can eat of every unwholesome viand, and laugh at warnings; and this, not only in child-hood, but more or less all through life. The difference is wholly inexplicable, except on the principle of heredity.

Our bright and spicy writer tells the dyspeptic "under no circumstances to resort to drug-exorcism." Only a person of superficial knowledge, of strong physique, and bigoted withal, who judges all others by his own personal equation, could discourse thus. Men and women will eat and drink, either with or without knowledge, what they ought not; as a consequence, the stomach rebels, and intense suffering ensues. Only a short time since I saw a woman who had been writhing every few minutes with terrible gastric cramps for ten hours. Clearly it was an attack of acute dyspepsia. To the suggestion of an emetic she answered that a vomit nearly killed her, and, besides, nothing could be on her stomach, as nothing had been eaten all day. But another paroxysm of cramp led her to exclaim, "Well, anything for relief!" In a few minutes she threw up nearly a gallon of fermenting food, that filled her chamber with the fumes of a fetid sourness worse than that of an August swill-tub. Half an hour after, she fell into a calm sleep. If humans will eat and drink what they ought not—eating, not for need but for pleasure, not as a means but as an end—the physician's duty is clearly to relieve suffering by the removal of its immediate cause, as by an emetic or cathartic. Of course, the homœopathic dogma (all dogmas in science are heretical) is to do nothing of the kind; to wait on Nature, and she will remove all the impurities of the alimentary canal her-self. It is a source of surprise that these idealists, if they wish to be thought consistent, should ever use any soap and water to remove the impurities from their skins; they should wait on Nature, and she will scale the dirt off herself. Certes, skin-foulness is as nothing compared to bowel-filth, and a cathartic soap often lifts, as no skin-cleaning does, an oppressive incubus from the presence of organic decomposing matter in the intestines, which is death itself when a little of it finds its way into the blood. A grain of aloin thrown into the blood-current hypodermically will simply act as a purge; a grain of decaying animal matter similarly used will kill just as surely as a bullet through the lungs. Homœopaths magnify drug-poisoning five hundred diameters; but when they look for the poisons of diseases they reverse the microscope, seeing nothing at all.

Our lively doctor argues for fewer meals per day—even for the single-meal system—as the remedy for dyspepsia (page 312). Vaporific theorizing, without a scintilla of verification, is scarcely worthy of notice. After thirty years' reading and close practical observations, I have yet to learn of a man, not a sensational crank, who seriously proposed, much less gave instances in which it had been successfully employed, as a remedy for dyspepsia. Tens of thousands of practical scientists have tried and found just the opposite plan successful—to wit, eat only and as often as hunger prompts, but always abstemiously, on the principle that a weak stomach, like a weak body, can not manage one big load so readily as several small ones. Enough to nourish the body twenty-four hours is a pretty big meal. For the weak, divide the task to be accomplished, if a break-down by a supreme effort is undesirable.

The recommendation to the dyspeptic to adopt the habits of savages and ophidians is, to say the least, a display of supercilious conceit over Dame Nature, whom our writer professes so much to admire, when she so benignantly takes charge of the matter, saying, when athirst, water is needed; when we hunger, that food is. If men and women would only follow her monitions in this matter, and cease to drink when thirst is satisfied, cease to eat when hunger is, yielding not to the seductions of a menu—each course made more and more appetizing, so as to tempt a satiated appetite to commit the grossest excesses—half the dyspepsia in the land would disappear.

J. R. Black.
Newark, Ohio, June 25, 1883.


Messrs. Editors:

The friends of science owe you a vote of thanks for the unabridged publication of the foregoing epistle. Whether the orthodox school of therapeutics has much reason to thank Dr. Black for undertaking its defense, your readers may be inclined to doubt, but his letter is an encouraging sign of the times. As an attempt to suppress the propaganda of unorthodox tenets, it marks the ascendency of the third or controversial sophistry phase of argumentation. The primitive method was rude, though it had sometimes the advantage of practical conclusiveness. In the winter of 1682 the Spanish missionaries on the Rio Zelades in Yucatan reported a revival of irreligious tendencies among the aborigines of the district. Three weeks after, Colonel Perez Garcia invaded the diocese with a brigade of trained mastiffs. The natives had betrayed symptoms of skepticism, but the arrival of the four-legged dogmatists at once solved all doubts. The dangers of unbelief could no longer be questioned. The local Ingersolls were treed by hundreds, and the fervor of the revival almost surpassed the hopes of the propagandists. The scoffers were overtaken by the Nemesis of Faith, fugitives were recaptured and dragged back, breechless and howling; in short, to use an expression of the Rev. Joseph Cook's, there was "not a fig leaf left to hide the shame of historical skepticism."

In the course of time the Garcia system was superseded by the personal-abuse method: "Professor X—— pretends to question the fact that Philip II possessed a duplicate skeleton of St. Laurentius. The professor's arguments are specious and might be worth refuting, if it were not well known that three years ago he married the daughter of a horse-farrier so notoriously addicted to the use of alcoholic beverages that at the present moment he is probably wallowing behind his stable in a state of scandalous intoxication." That settled it.

The misrepresentation plea, I hold, is a decided improvement upon the aforesaid methods. Like boomerangs, sophisms are crooked weapons, but they are occasionally apt to recoil in an unexpected manner, and may thus serve the cause of truth in spite of their constructor. Dr. J. R. Black betrays an intermittent tendency to relapse into the secondary system, but, on the whole, contents himself with the attempt to refute my tenets by misconstruing my arguments. He charges me with an habitual neglect of the duty "to unfold and adhere strictly to truth," and supports his indictment by the following specifications: He claims that, in repudiating the alleged hereditary transmission of dyspepsia, I disregard an indisputable fact, because "every careful and wide observing physician" knows that in the children of some families a tendency to indigestion manifests itself almost from the moment of birth. Does our careful and wideo bserving correspondent propose to deny that from the moment of birth millions of infants are both overfed and drug-poisoned? That a predisposition to various diseases may exist in the form of a latent tendency, I have often admitted; the point at issue is, whether such tendencies ever manifest themselves in spite of an hygienic regimen, and whether dietetic abuses, aggravated by emetics, cathartics, and paregoric, ever fail to accelerate their development. The monstrous death-rate of children in the institutes managed on the plan of Dr. Black's orthodox colleagues can no longer be explained by such convenient excuses as the fatality of an inherited disposition.

My predilection for non-medicinal remedies Dr. Black attributes to the strength of my physical and the debility of my mental constitution, and betrays an uncharitable disposition to aggravate the sorrows of my predicament by grudging me the use of soap and water. The voluntary renunciation of that cosmetic, he intimates, would prove at least my practical consistency. It is a source of surprise that our careful and wide-observing scientist has not yet learned to avoid the vulgar fallacy of confounding the artificial with the unnatural. Between the legitimate methods of assisting, imitating, and developing the tendencies of Nature and the audacious attempt to counteract her operations, there is all the toto cœlo difference of a duty and a mischievous presumption. Can an opponent of venesection not use a lancet to scrape the ink off his finger-nails, without incurring the reproach of inconsistency? Nature never fails to protest emphatically against the nauseous nostrums which the drug-monger employs under the pretext of relieving her embarrassments. Does she ever protest against soap and water? Does sapolio irritate the human skin? If not, a consistent anti-naturalist should cleanse his hands by means of a blister. In the opinion of our medical hierophant it will probably aggravate the iniquity of the "idealists" that the practical embodiment of their theories has proved a decided success. In the United States alone there are forty-six well patronized hygienic sanitaria that restrict the use of drugs almost, or wholly, to the exceptional cases named on page 729 of "The Popular Science Monthly" for October, 1881. Drs. Schrodt, Maurice Nagy, James Knight, L. B. Coles, Abbott, Coleman, and the disciples of Graham, Alcott, and Isaac Jennings, have not recanted their tenets, and count their followers by tens of thousands. Unto all such Dr. J. R. Black ascribes superficialness, bigotry, and a sound physical constitution. The latter charge, I apprehend, can not be retaliated upon his own converts.

Hahnemann's heresies our critical observer imputes to an optical perversity. If his diagnostic spectacles enable him so distinctly to discern the "poison of disease," he ought to know better than to aggravate it by an additional poison. And if the doctor believes that the tenuous prescriptions of the homœopaths can not be considered as medicines, their success proves the very point I am contending for, namely, that in an infinite plurality of cases diseases can be better cured without any drugs at all.

Such "vaporific theorizing" as my plea for longer pauses between meals, Dr. J. R. Black thinks "scarcely worthy of notice." If the history of dietetics were not so far beneath the notice of a duly-ordained drug dispenser, the doctor would perhaps know that many millions of the races who approach most nearly to the ideal of perfect physical and intellectual development adhered for sixty generations to the one-meal system, and that the plan of reducing the number of daily meals has been tested and urgently recommended by Drs. Haller,[1] Graham, Joel Ross, Dawson,[2]-Dio Lewis,[3] C. E. Page,[4] and T. L. Nichols,[5] of London, as well as by thousands who have tried its efficacy for the cure of obstinate enteric disorders. All these men Dr. J. R. Black denounces as sensational cranks, savages, and ophidians, and accuses me of an inconsistent and "supercilious conceit over Dame Nature," for disregarding her "monitions in this matter." In his eagerness to achieve the glory of a defensor fidlei, Dr. J. R. Black does not shrink from such trifles as logical solecisms. I have certainly never missed an opportunity to urge the importance of consulting the promptings of our natural instincts; but does the doctor propose to apply that rule to the cravings of a morbid appetency? Or have his "thirty years' reading and close practical observation" not yet taught him that the chronic hunger of a dyspeptic is as abnormal as the poison-thirst of a confirmed drunkard? "For the weak divide the task to be accomplished," says he—as if the assimilation of food were a mechanical operation. Dr. Black's decalogue needs a revision if he does not know that digestion is a chemical process, and can be better accomplished in a longer time (by prolonging the pause between meals) than by a division of labor. And what has the illiteracy of a South-Sea Islander to do with the competence of his hygienic instincts? Is the doctor's fund of valid arguments so scant that he has to resort to the expedient of an irrelevant charge? With the same logic the savage might refuse to accept the moral tenets of a short-sighted pale-face.

And Dr. Black's depreciation of the eupeptic ophidian is hardly less injudicious. No consistent follower of his school should allude with disrespect to the trade-mark of his craft—the Æsculapian pet that first suggested the art of utilizing our fellow-creatures by poisoning them.

Felix L. Oswald.


Messrs. Editors:

An article in your June issue, which attempts to deal with the question of quackery, refers at some length to the system of medical practice known by the name of homœopathy. I do not write for the purpose of exposing the fallacies or correcting all the misconceptions of the author; for I am not certain how far you would be willing to convert your monthly into a medium for the settlement of doctors' differences. I only wish to correct a misstatement of facts concerning the condition of practitioners of the homœopathic school in the Province of Ontario; in regard to which, the position I have held on the Board of Examiners and the Medical Council may justify me in speaking with authority. The misstatement is to the effect that "in Ontario, up to ten years ago, homœopaths were yearly registered by scores; since then they have to pass through the same courses and examinations as the regular students, in all but therapeutics and pharmacy. The consequence is, that in ten years there have only been two or three applications for examinations as homœopaths. Homœopathy is now dying a natural death."

1. Up to ten years ago, homœopaths were not "registered" (licensed, he means, for there was then no registering) by scores. Half a score a year was considered a large number. The old law required a longer course of study from homœopathic than allopathic students; and much longer than was necessary for graduation in a United States college. As a consequence, fully five sixths of our students settled across the line.

2. In the ten years following, under the new law, instead of only two or three homœopaths licensed for the whole period, there have been applicants every year—some as homœopaths, while others have passed the allopathic examinations. And, though the number of applicants may be less now than formerly, the diminution applies to students of all schools—the result of our extended course of study and rigid examinations. The proportion of allopathic and homœopathic applicants remains about the same.

3. The way "homœopathy is dying" in Ontario is illustrated by the fact that the President of the Medical Council, the ex-officio head of the medical profession, is this year an avowed homœopathist, and a graduate of a homœopathic college. And he has been elected to that position by a two-thirds vote of a body in which allopathic physicians have a majority of five to one.

As nearly all the statements regarding homœopathy in the article referred to have as much foundation in fact as those I have taken the liberty of correcting, it is evident that your contributor's assertions will need more than a single grain of salt to render them acceptable. Misstatements of facts are always made either in ignorance or in malice. Your contributor probably knows better than I the cause of those that have called forth my corrections.

Cl. T. Campbell.
London, Ontario, June 25, 1883.


Messrs. Editors:

Gordon A. Stewart, writing on "Our Marriage and Divorce Laws" in the June number of the "Monthly," in speaking of the causes for which divorces may be granted in different States, uses this language: . . . "In Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and Maine, there is any cause that a discontented and dishonest party may allege, or that a judge in his discretion, influenced by sympathy or corrupt motives, may approve."

As applied to Indiana this statement is wholly without foundation. In this State the causes for divorce are clearly defined by statute. No one is entitled to a divorce who can not show the existence of some one or more of the statutory grounds.

No discretion is vested in the judge, further than that of saying when the evidence is sufficient to prove the existence of the cause for which a divorce is asked. At one time Indiana had such a statute, but it was repealed many years ago. Mr. Stewart having thus (inadvertently, I presume) libeled our State, should make the "amende honorable" through the columns of the "Monthly," and will doubtless take pleasure in doing so when his attention is called to the matter.

R. W. McBride.
Waterloo, Indiana, June 20, 1883.

  1. "Ein Oatholicon, eine überall gültige Regel in allen Krankheiten. ist die Zahl der täglichen Mahlzeiten zu reduciren."
  2. "It may be said, if we deprive the already wasted body of nourishment for any length of time, will we not run the risk of losing our little patient? To these questions I reply: Starve the stomach! Give it rest"
  3. "I have tested the sufficiency of eating once in twenty-four hours, and have done work enough to put a younger man to his trumps if he had to do it. . . . I keep up my strength and have held in check my constitutional tendencies so that I have reached old age."
  4. "No person ever tried the plan and found reasons for abandoning it. except from considerations utterly remote from health."
  5. "The one-meal-a-day system will largely increase any person's working capacity."