Medical Essays
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

Part 1 out of 7

This etext was produced by David Widger


By Oliver Wendell Holmes













The character of the opposition which some of these papers have met
with suggests the inference that they contain really important, but
unwelcome truths. Negatives multiplied into each other change their
sign and become positives. Hostile criticisms meeting together are
often equivalent to praise, and the square of fault-finding turns out
to be the same thing as eulogy.

But a writer has rarely so many enemies as it pleases him to believe.
Self-love leads us to overrate the numbers of our negative
constituency. The larger portion of my limited circle of readers
must be quite indifferent to, if not ignorant of, the adverse
opinions which have been expressed or recorded concerning any of
these Addresses or Essays now submitted to their own judgment. It is
proper, however, to inform them, that some of the positions
maintained in these pages have been unsparingly attacked, with
various degrees of ability, scholarship, and good-breeding. The tone
of criticism naturally changes with local conditions in different
parts of a country extended like our own, so that it is one of the
most convenient gauges of the partial movements in the direction of
civilization. It is satisfactory to add, that the views assailed
have also been unflinchingly defended by unsought champions, among
the ablest of whom it is pleasant to mention, at this moment of
political alienation, the Editor of the Charleston Medical Journal.

"Currents and Counter-Currents" was written and delivered as an
Oration, a florid rhetorical composition, expressly intended to
secure the attention of an audience not easy to hold as listeners.
It succeeded in doing this, and also in being as curiously
misunderstood and misrepresented as if it had been a political
harangue. This gave it more local notoriety than it might otherwise
have attained, so that, as I learn, one ingenious person made use of
its title as an advertisement to a production of his own.

The commonest mode of misrepresentation was this: qualified
propositions, the whole meaning of which depended on the
qualifications, were stripped of these and taken as absolute. Thus,
the attempt to establish a presumption against giving poisons to sick
persons was considered as equivalent to condemning the use of these
substances. The only important inference the writer has been able to
draw from the greater number of the refutations of his opinions which
have been kindly sent him, is that the preliminary education of the
Medical Profession is not always what it ought to be.

One concession he is willing to make, whatever sacrifice of pride it
may involve. The story of Massasoit, which has furnished a coral, as
it were, for some teething critics, when subjected to a powerful
logical analysis, though correct in its essentials, proves to have
been told with exceptionable breadth of statement, and therefore (to
resume the metaphor) has been slightly rounded off at its edges, so
as to be smoother for any who may wish to bite upon it hereafter. In
other respects the Discourse has hardly been touched. It is only an
individual's expression, in his own way, of opinions entertained by
hundreds of the Medical Profession in every civilized country, and
has nothing in it which on revision the writer sees cause to retract
or modify. The superstitions it attacks lie at the very foundation
of Homoeopathy, and of almost every form of medical charlatanism.
Still the mere routinists and unthinking artisans in most callings
dislike whatever shakes the dust out of their traditions, and it may
be unreasonable to expect that Medicine will always prove an
exception to the rule. One half the opposition which the numerical
system of Louis has met with, as applied to the results of treatment,
has been owing to the fact that it showed the movements of disease to
be far more independent of the kind of practice pursued than was
agreeable to the pride of those whose self-confidence it abated.

The statement, that medicines are more sparingly used in physicians'
families than in most others, admits of a very natural explanation,
without putting a harsh construction upon it, which it was not
intended to admit. Outside pressure is less felt in the physician's
own household; that is all. If this does not sometimes influence him
to give medicine, or what seems to be medicine, when among those who
have more confidence in drugging than his own family commonly has,
the learned Professor Dunglison is hereby requested to apologize for
his definition of the word Placebo, or to expunge it from his Medical

One thing is certain. A loud outcry on a slight touch reveals the
weak spot in a profession, as well as in a patient. It is a doubtful
policy to oppose the freest speech in those of our own number who are
trying to show us where they honestly believe our weakness lies.
Vast as are the advances of our Science and Art, may it not possibly
prove on examination that we retain other old barbarisms beside the
use of the astrological sign of Jupiter, with which we endeavor to
insure good luck to our prescriptions? Is it the act of a friend or
a foe to try to point them out to our brethren when asked to address
them, and is the speaker to subdue the constitutional habit of his
style to a given standard, under penalty of giving offence to a grave

"Homoeopathy and its Kindred Delusions" was published nearly twenty
years ago, and has been long out of print, so that the author tried
in vain to procure a copy until the kindness of a friend supplied him
with the only one he has had for years. A foolish story reached his
ears that he was attempting to buy up stray copies for the sake of
suppressing it. This edition was in the press at that very time.

Many of the arguments contained in the Lectures have lost whatever
novelty they may have possessed. All its predictions have been
submitted to the formidable test of time. They appear to have stood
it, so far, about as well as most uninspired prophecies; indeed, some
of them require much less accommodation than certain grave
commentators employ in their readings of the ancient Prophets.

If some statistics recently published are correct, Homoeopathy has
made very slow progress in Europe.

In all England, as it appears, there are hardly a fifth more
Homoeopathic practitioners than there are students attending Lectures
at the Massachusetts Medical College at the present time. In America
it has undoubtedly proved more popular and lucrative, yet how loose a
hold it has on the public confidence is shown by the fact that, when
a specially valued life, which has been played with by one of its
agents, is seriously threatened, the first thing we expect to hear is
that a regular practitioner is by the patient's bed, and the
Homoeopathic counsellor overruled or discarded. Again, how many of
the ardent and capricious persons who embraced Homoeopathy have run
the whole round of pretentious novelties;--have been boarded at
water-cure establishments, closeted with uterine and other
specialists, and finally wandered over seas to put themselves in
charge of foreign celebrities, who dosed them as lustily as they were
ever dosed before they took to globules! It will surprise many to
learn to what a shadow of a shade Homoeopathy has dwindled in the
hands of many of its noted practitioners. The itch-doctrine is
treated with contempt. Infinitesimal doses are replaced by full ones
whenever the fancy-practitioner chooses. Good Homoeopathic reasons
can be found for employing anything that anybody wants to employ.
Homoeopathy is now merely a name, an unproved theory, and a box of
pellets pretending to be specifics, which, as all of us know, fail
ignominiously in those cases where we would thankfully sacrifice all
our prejudices and give the world to have them true to their

Homoeopathy has not died out so rapidly as Tractoration. Perhaps it
was well that it should not, for it has taught us a lesson of the
healing faculty of Nature which was needed, and for which many of us
have made proper acknowledgments. But it probably does more harm
than good to medical science at the present time, by keeping up the
delusion of treating everything by specifics,--the old barbarous
notion that sick people should feed on poisons [Lachesis, arrow-
poison, obtained from a serpent (Pulte). Crotalus horridus,
rattlesnake's venom (Neidhard). The less dangerous Pediculus capitis
is the favorite remedy of Dr. Mure, the English "Apostle of
Homoeopathy." These are examples of the retrograde current setting
towards barbarism] against which a part of the Discourse at the
beginning of this volume is directed.

The infinitesimal globules have not become a curiosity as yet, like
Perkins's Tractors. But time is a very elastic element in Geology
and Prophecy. If Daniel's seventy weeks mean four hundred and ninety
years, as the learned Prideaux and others have settled it that they
do, the "not many years" of my prediction may be stretched out a
generation or two beyond our time, if necessary, when the prophecy
will no doubt prove true.

It might be fitting to add a few words with regard to the Essay on
the Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever. But the whole question I
consider to be now transferred from the domain of medical inquiry to
the consideration of Life Insurance agencies and Grand Juries. For
the justification of this somewhat sharply accented language I must
refer the reader to the paper itself for details which I regret to
have been forced to place on permanent record.

BOSTON, January, 1861.


These Lectures and Essays are arranged in the order corresponding to
the date of their delivery or publication. They must, of course, be
read with a constant reference to these dates, by such as care to
read them. I have not attempted to modernize their aspect or
character in presenting them, in this somewhat altered connection, to
the public. Several of them were contained in a former volume which
received its name from the Address called "Currents and Counter-
Currents." Some of those contained in the former volume have been
replaced by others. The Essay called "Mechanism of Vital Actions"
has been transferred to a distinct collection of Miscellaneous
essays, forming a separate volume.

I had some intention of including with these papers an Essay on
Intermittent Fever in New England, which received one of the Boylston
prizes in 1837, and was published in the following year. But as this
was upon a subject of local interest, chiefly, and would have taken
up a good deal of room, I thought it best to leave it out, trusting
that the stray copies to be met with in musty book-shops would
sufficiently supply the not very extensive or urgent demand for a
paper almost half a century old.

Some of these papers created a little stir when they first fell from
the press into the pool of public consciousness. They will slide in
very quietly now in this new edition, and find out for themselves
whether the waters are those of Lethe, or whether they are to live
for a time as not wholly unvalued reminiscences.

March 21, 1883.


These Essays are old enough now to go alone without staff or crutch
in the shape of Prefaces. A very few words may be a convenience to
the reader who takes up the book and wishes to know what he is likely
to find in it.


Homoeopathy has proved lucrative, and so long as it continues to be
so will surely exist,--as surely as astrology, palmistry, and other
methods of getting a living out of the weakness and credulity of
mankind and womankind. Though it has no pretensions to be considered
as belonging among the sciences, it may be looked upon by a
scientific man as a curious object of study among the vagaries of the
human mind. Its influence for good or the contrary may be made a
matter of calm investigation. I have studied it in the Essay before
the reader, under the aspect of an extravagant and purely imaginative
creation of its founder. Since that first essay was written, nearly
half a century ago, we have all had a chance to witness its practical
working. Two opposite inferences may be drawn from its doctrines and
practice. The first is that which is accepted by its disciples.
This is that all diseases are "cured" by drugs. The opposite
conclusion is drawn by a much larger number of persons. As they see
that patients are very commonly getting well under treatment by
infinitesimal drugging, which they consider equivalent to no
medication at all, they come to disbelieve in every form of drugging
and put their whole trust in "nature." Thus experience,

"From seeming evil still educing good,"

has shown that the dealers in this preposterous system of pseudo-
therapeutics have cooperated with the wiser class of practitioners in
breaking up the system of over-dosing and over-drugging which has
been one of the standing reproaches of medical practice. While.
keeping up the miserable delusion that diseases were all to be
"cured" by drugging, Homoeopathy has been unintentionally showing
that they would very generally get well without any drugging at all.
In the mean time the newer doctrines of the "mind cure," the "faith
cure," and the rest are encroaching on the territory so long
monopolized by that most ingenious of the pseudo-sciences. It would
not be surprising if its whole ground should be taken possession of
by these new claimants with their flattering appeals to the
imaginative class of persons open to such attacks. Similia similabus
may prove fatally true for once, if Homoeopathy is killed out by its
new-born rivals.

It takes a very moderate amount of erudition to unearth a charlatan
like the supposed father of the infinitesimal dosing system. The
real inventor of that specious trickery was an Irishman by the name
of Butler. The whole story is to be found in the "Ortus Medicinm" of
Van Helmont. I have given some account of his chapter "Butler" in
different articles, but I would refer the students of our
Homoeopathic educational institutions to the original, which they
will find very interesting and curious.


My attack on over-drugging brought out some hostile comments and
treatment. Thirty years ago I expressed myself with more vivacity
than I should show if I were writing on the same subjects today.
Some of my more lively remarks called out very sharp animadversion.
Thus my illustration of prevention as often better than treatment in
the mother's words to her child which had got a poisonous berry in
its mouth,--"Spit it out!" gave mortal offence to a well-known New
York practitioner and writer, who advised the Massachusetts Medical
Society to spit out the offending speaker. Worse than this was my
statement of my belief that if a ship-load of miscellaneous drugs,
with certain very important exceptions,--drugs, many of which were
then often given needlessly and in excess, as then used "could be
sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind
and all the worse for the fishes." This was too bad. The sentence
was misquoted, quoted without its qualifying conditions, and
frightened some of my worthy professional brethren as much as if I
had told them to throw all physic to the dogs. But for the
epigrammatic sting the sentiment would have been unnoticed as a
harmless overstatement at the very worst.

Since this lecture was delivered a great and, as I think, beneficial
change has taken place in the practice of medicine. The habit of the
English "general practitioner" of making his profit out of the pills
and potions he administered was ruinous to professional advancement
and the dignity of the physician. When a half-starving medical man
felt that he must give his patient draught and boluses for which he
could charge him, he was in a pitiable position and too likely to
persuade himself that his drugs were useful to his patient because
they were profitable to him. This practice has prevailed a good deal
in America, and was doubtless the source in some measure of the
errors I combated.


This Essay was read before a small Association called "The Society
for Medical Improvement," and published in a Medical Journal which
lasted but a single year. It naturally attracted less attention than
it would have done if published in such a periodical as the "American
Journal of Medical Sciences." Still it had its effect, as I have
every reason to believe. I cannot doubt that it has saved the lives
of many young mothers by calling attention to the existence and
propagation of "Puerperal Fever as a Private Pestilence," and laying
down rules for taking the necessary precautions against it. The case
has long been decided in favor of the views I advocated, but, at the
time when I wrote two of the most celebrated professors of Obstetrics
in this country opposed my conclusions with all the weight of their
experience and position.

This paper was written in a great heat and with passionate
indignation. If I touched it at all I might trim its rhetorical
exuberance, but I prefer to leave it all its original strength of
expression. I could not, if I had tried, have disguised the feelings
with which I regarded the attempt to put out of sight the frightful
facts which I brought forward and the necessary conclusions to which
they led. Of course the whole matter has been looked at in a new
point of view since the microbe as a vehicle of contagion has been
brought into light, and explained the mechanism of that which was
plain enough as a fact to all who were not blind or who did not shut
their eyes.

O. W. H.

BEVERLY Farms, Mass., August 3, 1891

[Two lectures delivered before the Boston Society for the Diffusion
of Useful Knowledge. 1842.]

[When a physician attempts to convince a person, who has fallen into
the Homoeopathic delusion, of the emptiness of its pretensions, he is
often answered by a statement of cases in which its practitioners are
thought to have effected wonderful cures. The main object of the
first of these Lectures is to show, by abundant facts, that such
statements, made by persons unacquainted with the fluctuations of
disease and the fallacies of observation, are to be considered in
general as of little or no value in establishing the truth of a
medical doctrine or the utility of a method of practice.

Those kind friends who suggest to a person suffering from a tedious
complaint, that he "Had better try Homoeopathy," are apt to enforce
their suggestion by adding, that "at any rate it can do no harm."
This may or may not be true as regards the individual. But it always
does very great harm to the community to encourage ignorance, error,
or deception in a profession which deals with the life and health of
our fellow-creatures. Whether or not those who countenance
Homoeopathy are guilty of this injustice towards others, the second
of these Lectures may afford them some means of determining.

To deny that good effects may happen from the observance of diet and
regimen when prescribed by Homoeopathists as well as by others, would
be very unfair to them. But to suppose that men with minds so
constituted as to accept such statements and embrace such doctrines
as make up the so-called science of Homoeopathy are more competent
than others to regulate the circumstances which influence the human
body in health and disease, would be judging very harshly the average
capacity of ordinary practitioners.

To deny that some patients may have been actually benefited through
the influence exerted upon their imaginations, would be to refuse to
Homoeopathy what all are willing to concede to every one of those
numerous modes of practice known to all intelligent persons by an
opprobrious title.

So long as the body is affected through the mind, no audacious
device, even of the most manifestly dishonest character, can fail of
producing occasional good to those who yield it an implicit or even a
partial faith. The argument founded on this occasional good would be
as applicable in justifying the counterfeiter and giving circulation
to his base coin, on the ground that a spurious dollar had often
relieved a poor man's necessities.

Homoeopathy has come before our public at a period when the growing
spirit of eclecticism has prepared many ingenious and honest minds to
listen to all new doctrines with a candor liable to degenerate into
weakness. It is not impossible that the pretended evolution of great
and mysterious virtues from infinitely attenuated atoms may have
enticed a few over-refining philosophers, who have slid into a vague
belief that matter subdivided grows less material, and approaches
nearer to a spiritual nature as it requires a more powerful
microscope for its detection.

However this may be, some persons seem disposed to take the ground of
Menzel that the Laity must pass formal judgment between the Physician
and the Homoeopathist, as it once did between Luther and the
Romanists. The practitioner and the scholar must not, therefore,
smile at the amount of time and labor expended in these Lectures upon
this shadowy system; which, in the calm and serious judgment of many
of the wisest members of the medical profession, is not entitled by
anything it has ever said or done to the notoriety of a public
rebuke, still less to the honors of critical martyrdom.]


I have selected four topics for this lecture, the first three of
which I shall touch but slightly, the last more fully. They are

1. The Royal cure of the King's Evil, or Scrofula.

2. The Weapon Ointment, and its twin absurdity, the Sympathetic

3. The Tar-water mania of Bishop Berkeley.

4. The History of the Metallic Tractors, or Perkinism.

The first two illustrate the ease with which numerous facts are
accumulated to prove the most fanciful and senseless extravagances.

The third exhibits the entire insufficiency of exalted wisdom,
immaculate honesty, and vast general acquirements to make a good
physician of a great bishop.

The fourth shows us the intimate machinery of an extinct delusion,
which flourished only forty years ago; drawn in all its details, as
being a rich and comparatively recent illustration of the
pretensions, the arguments, the patronage, by means of which windy
errors have long been, and will long continue to be, swollen into
transient consequence. All display in superfluous abundance the
boundless credulity and excitability of mankind upon subjects
connected with medicine.

From the time of Edward the Confessor to Queen Anne, the monarchs of
England were in the habit of touching those who were brought to them
suffering with the scrofula, for the cure of that distemper. William
the Third had good sense enough to discontinue the practice, but Anne
resumed it, and, among her other patients, performed the royal
operation upon a child, who, in spite of his, disease, grew up at
last into Samuel Johnson. After laying his hand upon the sufferers,
it was customary for the monarch to hang a gold piece around the neck
of each patient. Very strict precautions were adopted to prevent
those who thought more of the golden angel hung round the neck by a
white ribbon, than of relief of their bodily infirmities, from making
too many calls, as they sometimes attempted to do. According to the
statement of the advocates and contemporaries of this remedy, none
ever failed of receiving benefit unless their little faith and
credulity starved their merits. Some are said to have been cured
immediately on the very touch, others did not so easily get rid of
their swellings, until they were touched a second time. Several
cases are related, of persons who had been blind for several weeks,
and months, and obliged even to be led to Whitehall, yet recovered
their sight immediately upon being touched, so as to walk away
without any guide." So widely, at one period, was the belief
diffused, that, in the course of twelve years, nearly a hundred
thousand persons were touched by Charles the Second. Catholic
divines; in disputes upon the orthodoxy of their church, did not deny
that the power had descended to protestant princes;--Dr. Harpsfield,
in his "Ecclesiastical History of England," admitted it, and in
Wiseman's words, "when Bishop Tooker would make use of this Argument
to prove the Truth of our Church, Smitheus doth not thereupon go
about to deny the Matter of fact; nay, both he and Cope acknowledge
it." "I myself," says Wiseman, the best English surgical writer of
his day,[Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. iii. p. 103.]
--"I my self have been a frequent Eye-witness of many hundred of
Cures performed by his Majesties Touch alone, without any assistance
of Chirurgery; and those, many of them such as had tired out the
endeavours of able Chirurgeons before they came hither. It were
endless to recite what I myself have seen, and what I have received
acknowledgments of by Letter, not only from the severall parts of
this Nation, but also from Ireland, Scotland, Jersey, Garnsey. It is
needless also to remember what Miracles of this nature were performed
by the very Bloud of his late Majesty of Blessed memory, after whose
decollation by the inhuman Barbarity of the Regicides, the reliques
of that were gathered on Chips and in Handkerchieffs by the pious
Devotes, who could not but think so great a suffering in so
honourable and pious a Cause, would be attended by an extraordinary
assistance of God, and some more then ordinary a miracle: nor did
their Faith deceive them in this there point, being so many hundred
that found the benefit of it." [Severall Chirurgicall Treatises.
London.1676. p. 246.]

Obstinate and incredulous men, as he tells us, accounted for these
cures in three ways: by the journey and change of air the patients
obtained in coming to London; by the influence of imagination; and
the wearing of gold.

To these objections he answers, 1st. That many of those cured were
inhabitants of the city. 2d. That the subjects of treatment were
frequently infants. 3d. That sometimes silver was given, and
sometimes nothing, yet the patients were cured.

A superstition resembling this probably exists at the present time in
some ignorant districts of England and this country. A writer in a
Medical Journal in the year 1807, speaks of a farmer in Devonshire,
who, being a ninth son of a ninth son, is thought endowed with
healing powers like those of ancient royalty, and who is accustomed
one day in every week to strike for the evil.

I remember that one of my schoolmates told me, when a boy, of a
seventh son of a seventh son, somewhere in Essex County, who touched
for the scrofula, and who used to hang a silver fourpence halfpenny
about the neck of those who came to him, which fourpence halfpenny it
was solemnly affirmed became of a remarkably black color after having
been some time worn, and that his own brother had been subjected to
this extraordinary treatment; but I must add that my schoolmate drew
a bow of remarkable length, strength, and toughness for his tender

One of the most curious examples of the fallacy of popular belief and
the uncertainty of asserted facts in medical experience is to be
found in the history of the UNGUENTUM ARMARIUM, or WEAPON OINTMENT.

Fabricius Hildanus, whose name is familiar to every surgical
scholar, and Lord Bacon, who frequently dipped a little into
medicine, are my principal authorities for the few circumstances I
shall mention regarding it. The Weapon Ointment was a preparation
used for the healing of wounds, but instead of its being applied to
them, the injured part was washed and bandaged, and the weapon with
which the wound was inflicted was carefully anointed with the
unguent. Empirics, ignorant barbers, and men of that sort, are said
to have especially employed it. Still there were not wanting some
among the more respectable members of the medical profession who
supported its claims. The composition of this ointment was
complicated, in the different formulae given by different
authorities; but some substances addressed to the imagination, rather
than the wound or weapon, entered into all. Such were portions of
mummy, of human blood, and of moss from the skull of a thief hung in

Hildanus was a wise and learned man, one of the best surgeons of his
time. He was fully aware that a part of the real secret of the
Unguentum Armarium consisted in the washing and bandaging the wound
and then letting it alone. But he could not resist the solemn
assertions respecting its efficacy; he gave way before the outcry of
facts, and therefore, instead of denying all their pretensions, he
admitted and tried to account for them upon supernatural grounds. As
the virtue of those applications, he says, which are made to the
weapon cannot reach the wound, and as they can produce no effect
without contact, it follows, of necessity, that the Devil must have a
hand in the business; and as he is by far the most long headed and
experienced of practitioners, he cannot find this a matter of any
great difficulty. Hildanus himself reports, in detail, the case of a
lady who had received a moderate wound, for which the Unguentum
Armarium was employed without the slightest use. Yet instead of
receiving this flat case of failure as any evidence against the
remedy, he accounts for its not succeeding by the devout character of
the lady, and her freedom from that superstitious and over-
imaginative tendency which the Devil requires in those who are to be
benefited by his devices.

Lord Bacon speaks of the Weapon Ointment, in his Natural History, as
having in its favor the testimony of men of credit, though, in his
own language, he himself "as yet is not fully inclined to believe
it." His remarks upon the asserted facts respecting it show a
mixture of wise suspicion and partial belief. He does not like the
precise directions given as to the circumstances under which the
animals from which some of the materials were obtained were to be
killed; for he thought it looked like a provision for an excuse in
case of failure, by laying the fault to the omission of some of these
circumstances. But he likes well that "they do not observe the
confecting of the Ointment under any certain constellation; which is
commonly the excuse of magical medicines, when they fail, that they
were not made under a fit figure of heaven." [This was a mistake,
however, since the two recipes given by Hildanus are both very
explicit as to the aspect of the heavens required for different
stages of the process.] "It was pretended that if the offending
weapon could not be had, it would serve the purpose to anoint a
wooden one made like it." "This," says Bacon, "I should doubt to be a
device to keep this strange form of cure in request and use; because
many times you cannot come by the weapon itself." And in closing his
remarks on the statements of the advocates of the ointment, he says,
"Lastly, it will cure a beast as well as a man, which I like best of
all the rest, because it subjecteth the matter to an easy trial." It
is worth remembering, that more than two hundred years ago, when an
absurd and fantastic remedy was asserted to possess wonderful power,
and when sensible persons ascribed its pretended influence to
imagination, it was boldly answered that the cure took place when the
wounded party did not know of the application made to the weapon, and
even when a brute animal was the subject of the experiment, and that
this assertion, as we all know it was, came in such a shape as to
shake the incredulity of the keenest thinker of his time. The very
same assertion has been since repeated in favor of Perkinism, and,
since that, of Homoeopathy.

The same essential idea as that of the Weapon Ointment reproduced
itself in the still more famous SYMPATHETIC POWDER. This Powder was
said to have the faculty, if applied to the blood-stained garments of
a wounded person, to cure his injuries, even though he were at a
great distance at the time. A friar, returning from the East,
brought the recipe to Europe somewhat before the middle of the
seventeenth century. The Grand Duke of Florence, in which city the
friar was residing, heard of his cures, and tried, but without
success, to obtain his secret. Sir Kenehn Digby, an Englishman well
known to fame, was fortunate enough to do him a favor, which wrought
upon his feelings and induced him to impart to his benefactor the
composition of his extraordinary Powder. This English knight was at
different periods of his life an admiral, a theologian, a critic, a
metaphysician, a politician, and a disciple of Alchemy. As is not
unfrequent with versatile and inflammable people, he caught fire at
the first spark of a new medical discovery, and no sooner got home to
England than he began to spread the conflagration.

An opportunity soon offered itself to try the powers of the famous
powder. Mr. J. Howell, having been wounded in endeavoring to part
two of his friends who were fighting a duel, submitted himself to a
trial of the Sympathetic Powder. Four days after he received his
wounds, Sir Kenehn dipped one of Mr. Howell's gaiters in a solution
of the Powder, and immediately, it is said, the wounds, which were
very painful, grew easy, although the patient, who was conversing in
a corner of the chamber, had not, the least idea of what was doing
with his garter. He then returned home, leaving his garter in the
hands of Sir Kenelm, who had hung it up to dry, when Mr. Howell sent
his servant in a great hurry to tell him that his wounds were paining
him horribly; the garter was therefore replaced in the solution of
the Powder, "and the patient got well after five or six days of its
continued immersion."

King James First, his son Charles the First, the Duke of Buckingham,
then prime minister, and all the principal personages of the time,
were cognizant of this fact; and James himself, being curious to know
the secret of this remedy, asked it of Sir Kenelm, who revealed it to
him, and his Majesty had the opportunity of making several trials of
its efficacy, "which all succeeded in a surprising manner." [Dict.
des Sciences Medieales.]

The king's physician, Dr. Mayerne, was made master of the secret,
which he carried to France and communicated to the Duke of Mayenne,
who performed many cures by means of it, and taught it to his
surgeon, who, after the Duke's death, sold it to many distinguished
persons, by whose agency it soon ceased to be a secret. What was
this wonderful substance which so astonished kings, princes, dukes,
knights, and doctors? Nothing but powdered blue vitriol. But it was
made to undergo several processes that conferred on it extraordinary
virtues. Twice or thrice it was to be dissolved, filtered, and
crystallized. The crystals were to be laid in the sun during the
months of June, July, and August, taking care to turn them carefully
that all should be exposed. Then they were to be powdered,
triturated, and again exposed to the sun, again reduced to a very
fine powder, and secured in a vessel, while hot, from the sunshine.
If there seem anything remarkable in the fact of such astonishing
properties being developed by this process, it must be from our
short-sightedness, for common salt and charcoal develop powers quite
as marvellous after a certain number of thumps, stirs, and shakes,
from the hands of modern workers of miracles. In fact the Unguentum
Armarium and Sympathetic Powder resemble some more recent
prescriptions; the latter consisting in an infinite dilution of the
common dose in which remedies are given, and the two former in an
infinite dilution of the common distance at which they are applied.

Whether philosophers, and more especially metaphysicians, have any
peculiar tendency to dabble in drugs and dose themselves with physic,
is a question which might suggest itself to the reader of their

When Bishop Berkeley visited the illustrious Malebranche at Paris, he
found him in his cell, cooking in a small pipkin a medicine for an
inflammation of the lungs, from which he was suffering; and the
disease, being unfortunately aggravated by the vehemence of their
discussion, or the contents of the pipkin, carried him off in the
course of a few days. Berkeley himself afforded a remarkable
illustration of a truth which has long been known to the members of
one of the learned professions, namely, that no amount of talent, or
of acquirements in other departments, can rescue from lamentable
folly those who, without something of the requisite preparation,
undertake to experiment with nostrums upon themselves and their
neighbors. The exalted character of Berkeley is thus drawn by Sir
James Mackintosh: Ancient learning, exact science, polished society,
modern literature, and the fine arts, contributed to adorn and enrich
the mind of this accomplished man. All his contemporaries agreed
with the satirist in ascribing

"'To Berkeley every virtue under heaven.'

"Even the discerning, fastidious, and turbulent Atterbury said, after
an interview with him, 'So much understanding, so much knowledge, so
much innocence, and such humility, I did not think had been the
portion of any but angels, till I saw this gentleman.'"

But among the writings of this great and good man is an Essay of the
most curious character, illustrating his weakness upon the point in
question, and entitled, "Siris, a Chain of Philosophical Reflections
and Inquiries concerning the Virtues of TAR WATER, and divers other
Subjects,"--an essay which begins with a recipe for his favorite
fluid, and slides by gentle gradations into an examination of the
sublimest doctrines of Plato. To show how far a man of honesty and
benevolence, and with a mind of singular acuteness and depth, may be
run away with by a favorite notion on a subject which his habits and
education do not fit him to investigate, I shall give a short account
of this Essay, merely stating that as all the supposed virtues of Tar
Water, made public in successive editions of his treatise by so
illustrious an author, have not saved it from neglect and disgrace,
it may be fairly assumed that they were mainly imaginary.

The bishop, as is usual in such cases, speaks of himself as
indispensably obliged, by the duty he owes to mankind, to make his
experience public. Now this was by no means evident, nor does it
follow in general, that because a man has formed a favorable opinion
of a person or a thing he has not the proper means of thoroughly
understanding, he shall be bound to print it, and thus give currency
to his impressions, which may be erroneous, and therefore injurious.
He would have done much better to have laid his impressions before
some experienced physicians and surgeons, such as Dr. Mead and Mr.
Cheselden, to have asked them to try his experiment over again, and
have been guided by their answers. But the good bishop got excited;
he pleased himself with the thought that he had discovered a great
panacea; and having once tasted the bewitching cup of self-quackery,
like many before and since his time, he was so infatuated with the
draught that he would insist on pouring it down the throats of his
neighbors and all mankind.

The precious fluid was made by stirring a gallon of water with a
quart of tar, leaving it forty-eight hours, and pouring off the clear
water. Such was the specific which the great metaphysician
recommended for averting and curing all manner of diseases. It was,
if he might be believed, a preventive of the small-pox, and of great
use in the course of the disease. It was a cure for impurities of
the blood, coughs, pleurisy, peripneumony, erysipelas, asthma,
indigestion, carchexia, hysterics, dropsy, mortification, scurvy, and
hypochondria. It was of great use in gout and fevers, and was an
excellent preservative of the teeth and gums; answered all the
purpose of Elixir Proprietatis, Stoughton's drops, diet drinks, and
mineral waters; was particularly to be recommended to sea-faring
persons, ladies, and men of studious and sedentary lives; could never
be taken too long, but, on the contrary, produced advantages which
sometimes did not begin to show themselves for two or three months.

"From my representing Tar Water as good for so many things," says
Berkeley, "some perhaps may conclude it is good for nothing. But
charity obligeth me to say what I know, and what I think, however it
may be taken. Men may censure and object as they please, but I
appeal to time and experiment. Effects misimputed, cases wrong told,
circumstances overlooked, perhaps, too, prejudices and partialities
against truth, may for a time prevail and keep her at the bottom of
her well, from whence nevertheless she emergeth sooner or later, and
strikes the eyes of all who do not keep them shut." I cannot resist
the temptation of illustrating the bishop's belief in the wonderful
powers of his remedy, by a few sentences from different parts of his
essay. "The hardness of stubbed vulgar constitutions renders them
insensible of a thousand things that fret and gall those delicate
people, who, as if their skin was peeled off, feel to the quick
everything that touches them. The tender nerves and low spirits of
such poor creatures would be much relieved by the use of Tar Water,
which might prolong and cheer their lives." "It [the Tar Water] may
be made stronger for brute beasts, as horses, in whose disorders I
have found it very useful." "This same water will also give
charitable relief to the ladies, who often want it more than the
parish poor; being many of them never able to make a good meal, and
sitting pale, puny, and forbidden, like ghosts, at their own table,
victims of vapors and indigestion." It does not appear among the
virtues of Tar Water that "children cried for it," as for some of our
modern remedies, but the bishop says, "I have known children take it
for above six months together with great benefit, and without any
inconvenience; and after long and repeated experience I do esteem it
a most excellent diet drink, fitted to all seasons and ages." After
mentioning its usefulness in febrile complaints, he says: "I have had
all this confirmed by my own experience in the late sickly season of
the year one thousand seven hundred and forty-one, having had twenty-
five fevers in my own family cured by this medicinal water, drunk
copiously." And to finish these extracts with a most important
suggestion for the improvement of the British nation: "It is much to
be lamented that our Insulars who act and think so much for
themselves, should yet, from grossness of air and diet, grow stupid
or doat sooner than other people, who, by virtue of elastic air,
water-drinking, and light food, preserve their faculties to extreme
old age; an advantage which may perhaps be approached, if not
equaled, even in these regions, by Tar Water, temperance, and early

Berkeley died at the age of about seventy; he might have lived
longer, but his fatal illness was so sudden that there was not time
enough to stir up a quart of the panacea. He was an illustrious man,
but he held two very odd opinions; that tar water was everything, and
that the whole material universe was nothing.


Most of those present have at some time in their lives heard mention
made of the METALLIC TRACTORS, invented by one Dr. Perkins, an
American, and formerly enjoying great repute for the cure of various
diseases. Many have seen or heard of a satirical poem, written by
one of our own countrymen also, about forty years since, and called
"Terrible Tractoration." The Metallic Tractors are now so utterly
abandoned that I have only by good fortune fallen upon a single one
of a pair, to show for the sake of illustration. For more than
thirty years this great discovery, which was to banish at least half
the evils which afflict humanity, has been sleeping undisturbed in
the grave of oblivion. Not a voice has, for this long period, been
raised in its favor; its noble and learned patrons, its public
institutions, its eloquent advocates, its brilliant promises are all
covered with the dust of silent neglect; and of the generation which
has sprung up since the period when it flourished, very few know
anything of its history, and hardly even the title which in its palmy
days it bore of PERKINISM. Taking it as settled, then, as no one
appears to answer for it, that Perkinism is entirely dead and gone,
that both in public and private, officially and individually, its
former adherents even allow it to be absolutely defunct, I select it
for anatomical examination. If this pretended discovery was made
public; if it was long kept before the public; if it was addressed to
the people of different countries; if it was formally investigated by
scientific men, and systematically adopted by benevolent persons, who
did everything in their power to diffuse the knowledge and practice
of it; if various collateral motives, such as interest and vanity,
were embarked in its cause; if, notwithstanding all these things, it
gradually sickened and died, then the conclusion seems a fair one,
that it did not deserve to live. Contrasting its failure with its
high pretensions, it is fair to call it an imposition; whether an
expressly fraudulent contrivance or not, some might be ready to
question. Everything historically shown to have happened concerning
the mode of promulgation, the wide diffusion, the apparent success of
this delusion, the respectability and enthusiasm of its advocates, is
of great interest in showing to what extent and by what means a
considerable part of the community may be led into the belief of that
which is to be eventually considered' as an idle folly. If there is
any existing folly, fraudulent or innocent in its origin, which
appeals to certain arguments for its support; provided that the very
same arguments can be shown to have been used for Perkinism with as
good reason, they will at once fall to the ground. Still more, if it
shall appear that the general course of any existing delusion bears a
strong resemblance to that of Perkinism, that the former is most
frequently advocated by the same class of persons who were
conspicuous in behalf of the latter, and treated with contempt or
opposed by the same kind of persons who thus treated Perkinism; if
the facts in favor of both have a similar aspect; if the motives of
their originators and propagators may be presumed to have been
similar; then there is every reason to suppose that the existing
folly will follow in the footsteps of the past, and after displaying
a given amount of cunning and credulity in those deceiving and
deceived, will drop from the public view like a fruit which has
ripened into spontaneous rottenness, and be succeeded by the fresh
bloom of some other delusion required by the same excitable portion
of the community.

Dr. Elisha Perkins was born at Norwich, Connecticut, in the year
1740. He had practised his profession with a good local reputation
for many years, when he fell upon a course of experiments, as it is
related, which led to his great discovery. He conceived the idea
that metallic substances might have the effect of removing diseases,
if applied in a certain manner; a notion probably suggested by the
then recent experiments of Galvani, in which muscular contractions
were found to be produced by the contact of two metals with the
living fibre. It was in 1796 that his discovery was promulgated in
the shape of the Metallic Tractors, two pieces of metal, one
apparently iron and the other brass, about three inches long, blunt
at one end and pointed at the other. These instruments were applied
for the cure of different complaints, such as rheumatism, local
pains, inflammations, and even tumors, by drawing them over the
affected part very lightly for about twenty minutes. Dr. Perkins
took out a patent for his discovery, and travelled about the country
to diffuse the new practice. He soon found numerous advocates of his
discovery, many of them of high standing and influence. In the year
1798 the tractors had crossed the Atlantic, and were publicly
employed in the Royal Hospital at Copenhagen. About the same time
the son of the inventor, Mr. Benjamin Douglass Perkins, carried them
to London, where they soon attracted attention. The Danish
physicians published an account of their cases, containing numerous
instances of alleged success, in a respectable octavo volume. In the
year 1804 an establishment, honored with the name of the Perkinean
Institution, was founded in London. The transactions of this
institution were published in pamphlets, the Perkinean Society had
public dinners at the Crown and Anchor, and a poet celebrated their
medical triumph in strains like these:

"See, pointed metals, blest with power t' appease
The ruthless rage of merciless disease,
O'er the frail part a subtle fluid pour,
Drenched with invisible Galvanic shower,
Till the arthritic staff and crutch forego,
And leap exulting like the bounding roe!"

While all these things were going on, Mr. Benjamin Douglass Perkins
was calmly pocketing money, so that after some half a dozen years he
left the country with more than ten thousand pounds, which had been
paid him by the believers in Great Britain. But in spite of all this
success, and the number of those interested and committed in its
behalf, Perkinism soon began to decline, and in 1811 the Tractors are
spoken of by an intelligent writer as being almost forgotten. Such
was the origin and duration of this doctrine and practice, into the
history of which we will now look a little more narrowly.

Let us see, then, by whose agency this delusion was established and
kept up; whether it was principally by those who were accustomed to
medical pursuits, or those whose habits and modes of reasoning were
different; whether it was with the approbation of those learned
bodies usually supposed to take an interest in scientific
discoveries, or only of individuals whose claims to distinction were
founded upon their position in society, or political station, or
literary eminence; whether the judicious or excitable classes entered
most deeply into it; whether, in short, the scientific men of that
time were deceived, or only intruded upon, and shouted down for the
moment by persons who had no particular call to invade their

Not much, perhaps, was to be expected of the Medical Profession in
the way of encouragement. One Dr. Fuller, who wrote in England,
himself a Perkinist, thus expressed his opinion: "It must be an
extraordinary exertion of virtue and humanity for a medical man,
whose livelihood depends either on the sale of drugs, or on receiving
a guinea for writing a prescription, which must relate to those
drugs, to say to his patient, 'You had better purchase a set of
Tractors to keep in your family; they will cure you without the
expense of my attendance, or the danger of the common medical
practice.' For very obvious reasons medical men must never be
expected to recommend the use of Perkinism. The Tractors must trust
for their patronage to the enlightened and philanthropic out of the
profession, or to medical men retired from practice, and who know of
no other interest than the luxury of relieving the distressed. And I
do not despair of seeing the day when but very few of this
description as well as private families will be without them."

Whether the motives assigned by this medical man to his professional
brethren existed or not, it is true that Dr. Perkins did not gain a
great deal at their hands. The Connecticut Medical Society expelled
him in 1797 for violating their law against the use of nostrums, or
secret remedies. The leading English physicians appear to have
looked on with singular apathy or contempt at the miracles which it
was pretended were enacting in the hands of the apostles of the new
practice. In looking over the reviews of the time, I have found
little beyond brief occasional notices of their pretensions; the
columns of these journals being occupied with subjects of more
permanent interest. The state of things in London is best learned,
however, from the satirical poem to which I have already alluded as
having been written at the period referred to. This was entitled,
"Terrible Tractoration!! A Poetical Petition against Galvanizing
Trumpery and the Perkinistic Institution. Most respectfully
addressed to the Royal College of Physicians, by Christopher Caustic,
M. D., LL. D., A. S. S., Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians,
Aberdeen, and Honorary Member of no less than nineteen very learned
Societies." Two editions of this work were published in London in
the years 1803 and 1804, and one or two have been published in this

"Terrible Tractoration" is supposed, by those who never read it, to
be a satire upon the follies of Perkins and his followers. It is, on
the contrary, a most zealous defence of Perkinism, and a fierce
attack upon its opponents, most especially upon such of the medical
profession as treated the subject with neglect or ridicule. The
Royal College of Physicians was the more peculiar object of the
attack, but with this body, the editors of some of the leading
periodicals, and several physicians distinguished at that time, and
even now remembered for their services to science and humanity, were
involved in unsparing denunciations. The work is by no means of the
simply humorous character it might be supposed, but is overloaded
with notes of the most seriously polemical nature. Much of the
history of the subject, indeed, is to be looked for in this volume.

It appears from this work that the principal members of the medical
profession, so far from hailing Mr. Benjamin Douglass Perkins as
another Harvey or Jenner, looked very coldly upon him and his
Tractors; and it is now evident that, though they were much abused
for so doing, they knew very well what they had to deal with, and
were altogether in the right. The delusion at last attracted such an
amount of attention as to induce Dr. Haygarth and some others of
respectable standing to institute some experiments which I shall
mention in their proper place, the result of which might have seemed
sufficient to show the emptiness of the whole contrivance.

The Royal Society, that learned body which for ages has constituted
the best tribunal to which Britain can appeal in questions of
science, accepted Mr. Perkins's Tractors and the book written about
them, passed the customary vote of thanks, and never thought of
troubling itself further in the investigation of pretensions of such
an aspect. It is not to be denied that a considerable number of
physicians did avow themselves advocates of the new practice; but out
of the whole catalogue of those who were publicly proclaimed as such,
no one has ever been known, so far as I am aware, to the scientific
world, except in connection with the short-lived notoriety of
Perkinism. Who were the people, then, to whose activity, influence,
or standing with the community was owing all the temporary excitement
produced by the Metallic Tractors?

First, those persons who had been induced to purchase a pair of
Tractors. These little bits of brass and iron, the intrinsic value
of which might, perhaps, amount to ninepence, were sold at five
guineas a pair! A man who has paid twenty-five dollars for his
whistle is apt to blow it louder and longer than other people. So it
appeared that when the "Perkinean Society" applied to the possessors
of Tractors in the metropolis to concur in the establishment of a
public institution for the use of these instruments upon the poor,
"it was found that only five out of above a hundred objected to
subscribe, on account of their want of confidence in the efficacy of
the practice; and these," the committee observes, "there is reason to
believe, never gave them a fair trial, probably never used them in
more than one case, and that perhaps a case in which the Tractors had
never been recommended as serviceable." "Purchasers of the
Tractors," said one of their ardent advocates, "would be among the
last to approve of them if they had reason to suppose themselves
defrauded of five guineas." He forgot poor Moses, with his "gross of
green spectacles, with silver rims and shagreen cases." "Dear
mother," cried the boy, "why won't you listen to reason? I had them
a dead bargain, or I should not have bought them. The silver rims
alone will sell for double the money."

But it is an undeniable fact, that many persons of considerable
standing, and in some instances holding the most elevated positions
in society, openly patronized the new practice. In a translation of
a work entitled "Experiments with the Metallic Tractors," originally
published in Danish, thence rendered successively into German and
English, Mr. Benjamin Perkins, who edited the English edition, has
given a copious enumeration of the distinguished individuals, both in
America and Europe, whose patronage he enjoyed. He goes so far as to
signify that ROYALTY itself was to be included among the number.
When the Perkinean Institution was founded, no less a person than
Lord Rivers was elected President, and eleven other individuals of
distinction, among them Governor Franklin, son of Dr. Franklin,
figured as Vice-Presidents. Lord Henniker, a member of the Royal
Society, who is spoken of as a man of judgment and talents,
condescended to patronize the astonishing discovery, and at different
times bought three pairs of Tractors. When the Tractors were
introduced into Europe, a large number of testimonials accompanied
them from various distinguished characters in America, the list of
whom is given in the translation of the Danish work referred to as

"Those who have individually stated cases, or who have presented
their names to the public as men who approved of this remedy, and
acknowledged themselves instrumental in circulating the Tractors, are
fifty-six in number; thirty-four of whom are physicians and surgeons,
and many of them of the first eminence, thirteen clergymen, most of
whom are doctors of divinity, and connected with the literary
institutions of America; among the remainder are two members of
Congress, one professor of natural philosophy in a college, etc.,
etc." It seemed to be taken rather hardly by Mr. Perkins that the
translators of the work which he edited, in citing the names of the
advocates of the Metallic Practice, frequently omitted the honorary
titles which should have been annexed. The testimonials were
obtained by the Danish writer, from a pamphlet published in America,
in which these titles were given in full. Thus one of these
testimonials is from "John Tyler, Esq., a magistrate in the county
of New London, and late Brigadier-General of the militia in that
State." The "omission of the General's title" is the subject of
complaint, as if this title were sufficient evidence of the
commanding powers of one of the patrons of tractoration. A similar
complaint is made when "Calvin Goddard, Esq., of Plainfield, Attorney
at Law, and a member of the Legislature of the State of Connecticut,"
is mentioned without his titular honors, and even on account of the
omission of the proper official titles belonging to "Nathan Pierce,
Esq., Governor and Manager of the Almshouse of Newburyport." These
instances show the great importance to be attached to civil and
military dignities, in qualifying their holders to judge of
scientific subjects, a truth which has not been overlooked by the
legitimate successors of the Perkinists. In Great Britain, the
Tractors were not less honored than in America, by the learned and
the illustrious. The "Perkinistic Committee" made this statement in
their report: "Mr. Perkins has annually laid before the public a
large collection of new cases communicated to him for that purpose by
disinterested and intelligent characters, from almost every quarter
of Great Britain. In regard to the competency of these vouchers, it
will be sufficient simply to state that, amongst others whose names
have been attached to their communications, are eight professors, in
four different universities, twenty-one regular Physicians, nineteen
Surgeons, thirty Clergymen, twelve of whom are Doctors of Divinity,
and numerous other characters of equal respectability."

It cannot but excite our notice and surprise that the number of
clergymen both in America and Great Britain who thrust forward their
evidence on this medical topic was singularly large in proportion to
that of the members of the medical profession. Whole pages are
contributed by such worthies as the Rev. Dr. Trotter of Hans Place,
the Rear. Waring Willett, Chaplain to the Earl of Dunmore, the Rev.
Dr. Clarke, Chaplain to the Prince of Wales. The style of these
theologico-medical communications may be seen in the following from a
divine who was also professor in one of the colleges of New England.
"I have used the Tractors with success in several other cases in my
own family, and although, like Naaman the Syrian, I cannot tell why
the waters of Jordan should be better than Abana and Pharpar, rivers
of Damascus; yet since experience has proved them so, no reasoning
can change the opinion. Indeed, the causes of all common facts are,
we think, perfectly well known to us; and it is very probable, fifty
or a hundred years hence, we shall as well know why the Metallic
Tractors should in a few minutes remove violent pains, as we now know
why cantharides and opium will produce opposite effects, namely, we
shall know very little about either excepting facts." Fifty or a
hundred years hence! if he could have looked forward forty years, he
would have seen the descendants of the "Perkinistic" philosophers
swallowing infinitesimal globules, and knowing and caring as much
about the Tractors as the people at Saratoga Springs do about the
waters of Abana and Pharpar.

I trust it will not be thought in any degree disrespectful to a
profession which we all honor, that I have mentioned the great zeal
of many clergymen in the cause of Perkinism. I hope, too, that I may
without offence suggest the causes which have often led them out of
their own province into one to which their education has no special
reference. The members of that profession ought to be, and commonly
are, persons of benevolent character. Their duties carry them into
the midst of families, and particularly at times when the members of
them are suffering from bodily illness. It is natural enough that a
strong desire should be excited to alleviate sufferings which may
have defied the efforts of professional skill; as natural that any
remedy which recommends itself to the belief or the fancy of the
spiritual physician should be applied with the hope of benefit; and
perfectly certain that the weakness of human nature, from which no
profession is exempt, will lead him to take the most flattering view
of its effects upon the patient; his own sagacity and judgment being
staked upon the success of the trial. The inventor of the Tractors
was aware of these truths. He therefore sent the Tractors
gratuitously to many clergymen, accompanied with a formal certificate
that the holder had become entitled to their possession by the
payment of five guineas. This was practised in our own neighborhood,
and I remember finding one of these certificates, so presented, which
proved that amongst the risks of infancy I had to encounter Perkins's
Tractors. Two clergymen of Boston and the vicinity, both well known
to local fame, gave in their testimony to the value of the
instruments thus presented to them; an unusually moderate proportion,
when it is remembered that to the common motives of which I have
spoken was added the seduction of a gift for which the profane public
was expected to pay so largely.

It was remarkable, also, that Perkinism, which had so little success
with the medical and scientific part of the community, found great
favor in the eyes of its more lovely and less obstinate portion.
"The lady of Major Oxholin,"--I quote from Mr. Perkins's volume,--
"having been lately in America, had seen and heard much of the great
effects of Perkinism. Influenced by a most benevolent disposition,
she brought these Tractors and the pamphlet with her to Europe, with
a laudable desire of extending their utility to her suffering
countrymen." Such was the channel by which the Tractors were
conveyed to Denmark, where they soon became the ruling passion.
The workmen, says a French writer, could not manufacture them fast
enough. Women carried them about their persons, and delighted in
bringing them into general use. To what extent the Tractors were
favored with the patronage of English and American ladies, it is of
course not easy to say, except on general principles, as their names
were not brought before the public. But one of Dr. Haygarth's
stories may lead us to conjecture that there was a class of female
practitioners who went about doing good with the Tractors in England
as well as in Denmark. A certain lady had the misfortune to have a
spot as big as a silver penny at the corner of her eye, caused by a
bruise, or some such injury. Another lady, who was a friend of hers,
and a strong believer in Perkinism, was very anxious to try the
effects of tractoration upon this unfortunate blemish. The patient
consented; the lady "produced the instruments, and, after drawing
them four or five times over the spot, declared that it changed to a
paler color, and on repeating the use of them a few minutes longer,
that it had almost vanished, and was scarcely visible, and departed
in high triumph at her success." The lady who underwent the
operation assured the narrator "that she looked in the glass
immediately after, and that not the least visible alteration had
taken place."

It would be a very interesting question, what was the intellectual
character of those persons most conspicuous in behalf of the
Perkinistic delusion? Such an inquiry might bring to light some
principles which we could hereafter apply to the study of other
popular errors. But the obscurity into which nearly all these
enthusiasts have subsided renders the question easier to ask than to
answer. I believe it would have been found that most of these
persons were of ardent temperament and of considerable imagination,
and that their history would show that Perkinism was not the first
nor the last hobby-horse they rode furiously. Many of them may very
probably have been persons of more than common talent, of active and
ingenious minds, of versatile powers and various acquirements. Such,
for instance, was the estimable man to whom I have repeatedly
referred as a warm defender of tractoration, and a bitter assailant
of its enemies. The story tells itself in the biographical preface
to his poem. He went to London with the view of introducing a
hydraulic machine, which he and his Vermont friends regarded as a
very important invention. He found, however, that the machine was
already in common use in that metropolis. A brother Yankee, then in
London, had started the project of a mill, which was to be carried by
the water of the Thames. He was sanguine enough to purchase one
fifth of this concern, which also proved a failure. At about the
same period he wrote the work which proved the great excitement of
his mind upon the subject of the transient folly then before the
public. Originally a lawyer, he was in succession a mechanician, a
poet, and an editor, meeting with far less success in each of these
departments than usually attends men of less varied gifts, but of
more tranquil and phlegmatic composition. But who is ignorant that
there is a class of minds characterized by qualities like those I
have mentioned; minds with many bright and even beautiful traits; but
aimless and fickle as the butterfly; that settle upon every gayly-
colored illusion as it opens into flower, and flutter away to another
when the first has dropped its leaves, and stands naked in the icy
air of truth!

Let us now look at the general tenor of the arguments addressed by
believers to sceptics and opponents. Foremost of all, emblazoned at
the head of every column, loudest shouted by every triumphant
disputant, held up as paramount to all other considerations,
stretched like an impenetrable shield to protect the weakest advocate
of the great cause against the weapons of the adversary, was that
omnipotent monosyllable which has been the patrimony of cheats and
the currency of dupes from time immemorial,--Facts! Facts! Facts!
First came the published cases of the American clergymen, brigadier-
generals, almshouse governors, representatives, attorneys, and
esquires. Then came the published cases of the surgeons of
Copenhagen. Then followed reports of about one hundred and fifty
cases published in England, "demonstrating the efficacy of the
metallic practice in a variety of complaints both upon the human body
and on horses, etc." But the progress of facts in Great Britain did
not stop here. Let those who rely upon the numbers of their
testimonials, as being alone sufficient to prove the soundness and
stability of a medical novelty, digest the following from the report
of the Perkinistic Committee. "The cases published [in Great
Britain] amounted, in March last, the date of Mr. Perkins's last
publication, to about five thousand. Supposing that not more than
one cure in three hundred which the Tractors have performed has been
published, and the proportion is probably much greater, it will be
seen that the number, to March last, will have exceeded one million
five hundred thousand!"

Next in order after the appeal to what were called facts, came a
series of arguments, which have been so long bruised and battered
round in the cause of every doctrine or pretension, new, monstrous,
or deliriously impossible, that each of them is as odiously familiar
to the scientific scholar as the faces of so many old acquaintances,
among the less reputable classes, to the officers of police.

No doubt many of my hearers will recognize, in the following
passages, arguments they may have heard brought forward with
triumphant confidence in behalf of some doctrine not yet extinct. No
doubt some may have honestly thought they proved something; may have
used them with the purpose of convincing their friends, or of
silencing the opponents of their favorite doctrine, whatever that
might be. But any train of arguments which was contrived for
Perkinism, which was just as applicable to it as to any other new
doctrine in the same branch of science, and which was fully employed
against its adversaries forty years since, might, in common charity,
be suffered to slumber in the grave of Perkinism. Whether or not the
following sentences, taken literally from the work of Mr. Perkins,
were the originals of some of the idle propositions we hear bandied
about from time to time, let those who listen judge.

The following is the test assumed for the new practice: "If diseases
are really removed, as those persons who have practised extensively
with the Tractors declare, it should seem there would be but little
doubt of their being generally adopted; but if the numerous reports
of their efficacy which have been published are forgeries, or are
unfounded, the practice ought to be crushed." To this I merely add,
it has been crushed.

The following sentence applies to that a priori judging and uncandid
class of individuals who buy their dinners without tasting all the
food there is in the market. "On all discoveries there are persons
who, without descending to any inquiry into the truth, pretend to
know, as it were by intuition, that newly asserted facts are founded
in the grossest errors. These were those who knew that Harvey's
report of the circulation of the blood was a preposterous and
ridiculous suggestion, and in latter later days there were others who
knew that Franklin deserved reproach for declaring that points were
preferable to balls for protecting buildings from lightning."

Again: "This unwarrantable mode of offering assertion for proof, so
unauthorized and even unprecedented except in the condemnation of a
Galileo, the persecution of a Copernicus, and a few other acts of
inquisitorial authority, in the times of ignorance and superstition,
affords but a lamentable instance of one of his remarks, that this is
far from being the Age of Reason."

"The most valuable medicines in the Materia Medica act on principles
of which we are totally ignorant. None have ever yet been able to
explain how opium produces sleep, or how bark cures intermittent
fevers; and yet few, it is hoped, will be so absurd as to desist from
the use of these important articles because they know nothing of the
principle of their operations." Or if the argument is preferred, in
the eloquent language of the Perkinistic poet:

"What though the CAUSES may not be explained,
Since these EFFECTS are duly ascertained,
Let not self-interest, prejudice, or pride,
Induce mankind to set the means aside;
Means which, though simple, are by
Heaven designed to alleviate the woes of human kind."

This course of argument is so often employed, that it deserves to be
expanded a little, so that its length and breadth may be fairly seen.
A series of what are called facts is brought forward to prove some
very improbable doctrine. It is objected by judicious people, or
such as have devoted themselves to analogous subjects, that these
assumed facts are in direct opposition to all that is known of the
course of nature, that the universal experience of the past affords a
powerful presumption against their truth, and that in proportion to
the gravity of these objections, should be the number and competence
of the witnesses. The answer is a ready one. What do we know of the
mysteries of Nature? Do we understand the intricate machinery of the
Universe? When to this is added the never-failing quotation,

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,"--

the question is thought to be finally disposed of.

Take the case of astrology as an example. It is in itself strange
and incredible that the relations of the heavenly bodies to each
other at a given moment of time, perhaps half a century ago, should
have anything to do with my success or misfortune in any undertaking
of to-day. But what right have I to say it cannot be so? Can I bind
the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? I do
not know by what mighty magic the planets roll in their fluid paths,
confined to circles as unchanging as if they were rings of steel, nor
why the great wave of ocean follows in a sleepless round upon the
skirts of moonlight; nor cam I say from any certain knowledge that
the phases of the heavenly bodies, or even the falling of the leaves
of the forest, or the manner in which the sands lie upon the sea-
shore, may not be knit up by invisible threads with the web of human
destiny. There is a class of minds much more ready to believe that
which is at first sight incredible, and because it is incredible,
than what is generally thought reasonable. Credo quia impossibile
est,--"I believe, because it is impossible,"--is an old paradoxical
expression which might be literally applied to this tribe of persons.
And they always succeed in finding something marvellous, to call out
the exercise of their robust faith. The old Cabalistic teachers
maintained that there was not a verse, line, word, or even letter in
the Bible which had not a special efficacy either to defend the
person who rightly employed it, or to injure his enemies; always
provided the original Hebrew was made use of. In the hands of modern
Cabalists every substance, no matter how inert, acquires wonderful
medicinal virtues, provided it be used in a proper state of purity
and subdivision.

I have already mentioned the motives attributed by the Perkinists to
the Medical Profession, as preventing its members from receiving the
new but unwelcome truths. This accusation is repeated in different
forms and places, as, for instance, in the following passage:
"Will the medical man who has spent much money and labor in the
pursuit of the arcana of Physic, and on the exercise of which depends
his support in life, proclaim the inefficacy of his art, and
recommend a remedy to his patient which the most unlettered in
society can employ as advantageously as himself? and a remedy, too,
which, unlike the drops, the pills, the powders, etc., of the Materia
Medica, is inconsumable, and ever in readiness to be employed in
successive diseases?"

As usual with these people, much indignation was expressed at any
parallel between their particular doctrine and practice and those of
their exploded predecessors. "The motives," says the disinterested
Mr. Perkins, "which must have impelled to this attempt at classing
the METALLIC PRACTICE with the most paltry of empyrical projects, are
but too thinly veiled to escape detection."

To all these arguments was added, as a matter of course, an appeal to
the feelings of the benevolent in behalf of suffering humanity, in
the shape of a notice that the poor would be treated gratis. It is
pretty well understood that this gratuitous treatment of the poor
does not necessarily imply an excess of benevolence, any more than
the gratuitous distribution of a trader's shop-bills is an evidence
of remarkable generosity; in short, that it is one of those things
which honest men often do from the best motives, but which rogues and
impostors never fail to announce as one of their special
recommendations. It is astonishing to see how these things brighten
up at the touch of Mr. Perkins's poet:

"Ye worthy, honored, philanthropic few,
The muse shall weave her brightest wreaths for you,
Who in Humanity's bland cause unite,
Nor heed the shaft by interest aimed or spite;
Like the great Pattern of Benevolence,
Hygeia's blessings to the poor dispense;
And though opposed by folly's servile brood,

Having thus sketched the history of Perkinism in its days of
prosperity; having seen how it sprung into being, and by what means
it maintained its influence, it only remains to tell the brief story
of its discomfiture and final downfall. The vast majority of the
sensible part of the medical profession were contented, so far as we
can judge, to let it die out of itself. It was in vain that the
advocates of this invaluable discovery exclaimed over their perverse
and interested obstinacy,--in vain that they called up the injured
ghosts of Harvey, Galileo, and Copernicus to shame that unbelieving
generation; the Baillies and the Heberdens,--men whose names have
come down to us as synonymous with honor and wisdom,--bore their
reproaches in meek silence, and left them unanswered to their fate.
There were some others, however, who, believing the public to labor
under a delusion, thought it worth while to see whether the charm
would be broken by an open trial of its virtue, as compared with that
of some less hallowed formula. It must be remembered that a peculiar
value was attached to the Metallic Tractors, as made and patented by
Mr. Perkins. Dr. Haygarth, of Bath, performed various experiments
upon patients afflicted with different complaints,--the patients
supposing that the real five-guinea Tractors were employed. Strange
to relate, he obtained equally wonderful effects with Tractors of
lead and of wood; with nails, pieces of bone, slate pencil, and
tobacco-pipe. Dr. Alderson employed sham Tractors made of wood, and
produced such effects upon five patients that they returned solemn
thanks in church for their cures. A single specimen of these cases
may stand for all of them. Ann Hill had suffered for some months
from pain in the right arm and shoulder. The Tractors (wooden ones)
were applied, and in the space of five minutes she expressed herself
relieved in the following apostrophe: "Bless me! why, who could have
thought it, that them little things could pull the pain from one.
Well, to be sure, the longer one lives, the more one sees; ah, dear!"

These experiments did not result in the immediate extinction of
Perkinism. Doubtless they were a great comfort to many obstinate
unbelievers, and helped to settle some sceptical minds; but for the
real Perkinistic enthusiasts, it may be questioned whether they would
at that time have changed their opinion though one had risen from the
dead to assure them that it was an error. It perished without
violence, by an easy and natural process. Like the famous toy of
Mongolfier, it rose by means of heated air,--the fevered breath of
enthusiastic ignorance,--and when this grew cool, as it always does
in a little while, it collapsed and fell.

And now, on reviewing the whole subject, how shall we account for the
extraordinary prevalence of the belief in Perkinism among a portion
of what is supposed to be the thinking part of the community?

Could the cures have been real ones, produced by the principle of
ANIMAL MAGNETISM? To this it may be answered that the Perkinists
ridiculed the idea of approximating Mesmer and the founder of their
own doctrine, that nothing like the somnambulic condition seems to
have followed the use of the Tractors, and that neither the exertion
of the will nor the powers of the individual who operated seem to
have been considered of any consequence. Besides, the absolute
neglect into which the Tractors soon declined is good evidence that
they were incapable of affording any considerable and permanent
relief in the complaints for the cure of which they were applied.

Of course a large number of apparent cures were due solely to nature;
which is true under every form of treatment, orthodox or empirical.
Of course many persons experienced at least temporary relief from the
strong impression made upon their minds by this novel and marvellous
method of treatment.

Many, again, influenced by the sanguine hopes of those about them,
like dying people, who often say sincerely, from day to day, that
they are getting better, cheated themselves into a false and short-
lived belief that they were cured; and as happens in such cases, the
public never knew more than the first half of the story.

When it was said to the Perkinists, that whatever effects they
produced were merely through the imagination, they declared (like the
advocates of the ROYAL TOUCH and the UNGUENTUM ARMARIUM) that this
explanation was sufficiently disproved by the fact of numerous and
successful cures which had been witnessed in infants and brute
animals. Dr. Haygarth replied to this, that "in these cases it is
not the Patient, but the Observer, who is deceived by his own
imagination," and that such may be the fact, we have seen in the case
of the good lady who thought she had conjured away the spot from her
friend's countenance, when it remained just as before.

As to the motives of the inventor and vender of the Tractors, the
facts must be allowed to speak for themselves. But when two little
bits of brass and iron are patented, as an invention, as the result
of numerous experiments, when people are led, or even allowed, to
infer that they are a peculiar compound, when they are artfully
associated with a new and brilliant discovery (which then happened to
be Galvanism), when they are sold at many hundred times their value,
and the seller prints his opinion that a Hospital will suffer
inconvenience, "unless it possesses many sets of the Tractors, and
these placed in the hands of the patients to practise on each other,"
one cannot but suspect that they were contrived in the neighborhood
of a wooden nutmeg factory; that legs of ham in that region are not
made of the best mahogany; and that such as buy their cucumber seed
in that vicinity have to wait for the fruit as long as the Indians
for their crop of gunpowder.


The succeeding lecture will be devoted to an examination of the
doctrines of Samuel Hahnemann and his disciples; doctrines which some
consider new and others old; the common title of which is variously
known as Ho-moeopathy, Homoe-op-athy, Homoeo-paith-y, or Hom'pathy,
and the claims of which are considered by some as infinitely
important, and by many as immeasurably ridiculous.

I wish to state, for the sake of any who may be interested in the
subject, that I shall treat it, not by ridicule, but by argument;
perhaps with great freedom, but with good temper and in peaceable
language; with very little hope of reclaiming converts, with no
desire of making enemies, but with a firm belief that its pretensions
and assertions cannot stand before a single hour of calm


It may be thought that a direct attack upon the pretensions of
HOMOEOPATHY is an uncalled-for aggression upon an unoffending
doctrine and its peaceful advocates.

But a little inquiry will show that it has long assumed so hostile a
position with respect to the Medical Profession, that any trouble I,
or any other member of that profession, may choose to bestow upon it
may be considered merely as a matter of self-defence. It began with
an attempt to show the insignificance of all existing medical
knowledge. It not only laid claim to wonderful powers of its own,
but it declared the common practice to be attended with the most
positively injurious effects, that by it acute diseases are
aggravated, and chronic diseases rendered incurable. It has at
various times brought forward collections of figures having the air
of statistical documents, pretending to show a great proportional
mortality among the patients of the Medical Profession, as compared
with those treated according to its own rules. Not contented with
choosing a name of classical origin for itself, it invented one for
the whole community of innocent physicians, assuring them, to their
great surprise, that they were all ALLOPATHISTS, whether they knew it
or not, and including all the illustrious masters of the past, from
Hippocrates down to Hunter, under the same gratuitous title. The
line, then, has been drawn by the champions of the new doctrine; they
have lifted the lance, they have sounded the charge, and are
responsible for any little skirmishing which may happen.

But, independently of any such grounds of active resistance, the
subject involves interests so disproportioned to its intrinsic
claims, that it is no more than an act of humanity to give it a
public examination. If the new doctrine is not truth, it is a
dangerous, a deadly error. If it is a mere illusion, and acquires
the same degree of influence that we have often seen obtained by
other illusions, there is not one of my audience who may not have
occasion to deplore the fatal credulity which listened to its

I shall therefore undertake a sober examination of its principles,
its facts, and some points of its history. The limited time at my
disposal requires me to condense as much as possible what I have to
say, but I shall endeavor to be plain and direct in expressing it.
Not one statement shall be made which cannot be supported by
unimpeachable reference: not one word shall be uttered which I am not
as willing to print as to speak. I have no quibbles to utter, and I
shall stoop to answer none; but, with full faith in the sufficiency
of a plain statement of facts and reasons, I submit the subject to
the discernment of my audience.

The question may be asked in the outset,--Have you submitted the
doctrines you are professing to examine to the test of long-repeated
and careful experiment; have you tried to see whether they were true
or not? To this I answer, that it is abundantly evident, from what
has often happened, that it would be of no manner of use for me to
allege the results of any experiments I might have instituted. Again
and again have the most explicit statements been made by the most
competent persons of the utter failure of all their trials, and there
were the same abundant explanations offered as used to be for the
Unguentum Armarium arid the Metallic Tractors. I could by no
possibility perform any experiments the result of which could not be
easily explained away so as to be of no conclusive significance.
Besides, as arguments in favor of Homoeopathy are constantly
addressed to the public in journals, pamphlets, and even lectures, by
inexperienced dilettanti, the same channel must be open to all its

It is necessary, for the sake of those to whom the whole subject may
be new, to give in the smallest possible compass the substance of the
Homoeopathic Doctrine. Samuel Hahnemann, its founder, is a German
physician, now living in Paris, [Hahnemann died in 1843.] at the age
of eighty-seven years. In 1796 he published the first paper
containing his peculiar notions; in 1805 his first work on the
subject; in 1810 his somewhat famous "Organon of the Healing Art;"
the next year what he called the "Pure Materia Medica;" and in 1828
his last work, the "Treatise on Chronic Diseases." He has therefore
been writing at intervals on his favorite subject for nearly half a

The one great doctrine which constitutes the basis of Homoeopathy as
a system is expressed by the Latin aphorism,


or like cures like, that is, diseases are cured by agents capable of
producing symptoms resembling those found in the disease under
treatment. A disease for Hahnemann consists essentially in a group
of symptoms. The proper medicine for any disease is the one which is
capable of producing a similar group of symptoms when given to a
healthy person.

It is of course necessary to know what are the trains of symptoms
excited by different substances, when administered to persons in
health, if any such can be shown to exist. Hahnemann and his
disciples give catalogues of the symptoms which they affirm were
produced upon themselves or others by a large number of drugs which
they submitted to experiment.

The second great fact which Hahnemann professes to have established
is the efficacy of medicinal substances reduced to a wonderful degree
of minuteness or dilution. The following account of his mode of
preparing his medicines is from his work on Chronic Diseases, which
has not, I believe, yet been translated into English. A grain of the
substance, if it is solid, a drop if it is liquid, is to be added to
about a third part of one hundred grains of sugar of milk in an
unglazed porcelain capsule which has had the polish removed from the
lower part of its cavity by rubbing it with wet sand; they are to be
mingled for an instant with a bone or horn spatula, and then rubbed
together for six minutes; then the mass is to be scraped together
from the mortar and pestle, which is to take four minutes; then to be
again rubbed for six minutes. Four minutes are then to be devoted to
scraping the powder into a heap, and the second third of the hundred
grains of sugar of milk to be added. Then they are to be stirred an
instant and rubbed six minutes,--again to be scraped together four
minutes and forcibly rubbed six; once more scraped together for four
minutes, when the last third of the hundred grains of sugar of milk
is to be added and mingled by stirring with the spatula; six minutes
of forcible rubbing, four of scraping together, and six more
(positively the last six) of rubbing, finish this part of the

Every grain of this powder contains the hundredth of a grain of the
medicinal substance mingled with the sugar of milk. If, therefore, a
grain of the powder just prepared is mingled with another hundred
grains of sugar of milk, and the process just described repeated, we
shall have a powder of which every grain contains the hundredth of
the hundredth, or the ten thousandth part of a grain of the medicinal
substance. Repeat the same process with the same quantity of fresh
sugar of milk, and every grain of your powder will contain the
millionth of a grain of the medicinal substance. When the powder is
of this strength, it is ready to employ in the further solutions and
dilutions to be made use of in practice.

A grain of the powder is to be taken, a hundred drops of alcohol are
to be poured on it, the vial is to be slowly turned for a few
minutes, until the powder is dissolved, and two shakes are to be
given to it. On this point I will quote Hahnemann's own words.
"A long experience and multiplied observations upon the sick lead me
within the last few years to prefer giving only two shakes to
medicinal liquids, whereas I formerly used to give ten." The process
of dilution is carried on in the same way as the attenuation of the
powder was done; each successive dilution with alcohol reducing the
medicine to a hundredth part of the quantity of that which preceded
it. In this way the dilution of the original millionth of a grain of
medicine contained in the grain of powder operated on is carried
successively to the billionth, trillionth, quadrillionth,
quintillionth, and very often much higher fractional divisions. A
dose of any of these medicines is a minute fraction of a drop,
obtained by moistening with them one or more little globules of
sugar, of which Hahnemann says it takes about two hundred to weigh a

As an instance of the strength of the medicines prescribed by
Hahnemann, I will mention carbonate of lime. He does not employ
common chalk, but prefers a little portion of the friable part of an
oystershell. Of this substance, carried to the sextillionth degree,
so much as one or two globules of the size mentioned can convey is a
common dose. But for persons of very delicate nerves it is proper
that the dilution should be carried to the decillionth degree. That
is, an important medicinal effect is to be expected from the two
hundredth or hundredth part of the millionth of the millionth of the
millionth of the millionth of the millionth of the millionth of the
millionth of the millionth of the millionth of the millionth of a
grain of oyster-shell. This is only the tenth degree of potency, but
some of his disciples profess to have obtained palpable effects from
"much higher dilutions."

The third great doctrine of Hahnemann is the following. Seven
eighths at least of all chronic diseases are produced by the
existence in the system of that infectious disorder known in the
language of science by the appellation of PSORA, but to the less
refined portion of the community by the name of ITCH. In the words
of Hahnemann's "Organon," "This Psora is the sole true and
fundamental cause that produces all the other countless forms of
disease, which, under the names of nervous debility, hysteria,
hypochondriasis, insanity, melancholy, idiocy, madness, epilepsy, and
spasms of all kinds, softening of the bones, or rickets, scoliosis
and cyphosis, caries, cancer, fungua haematodes, gout,--yellow
jaundice and cyanosis, dropsy,--"

["The degrees of DILUTION must not be confounded with those of
POTENCY. Their relations may be seen by this table:

lst dilution,--One hundredth of a drop or grain.

2d " One ten thousandth.

3d " One millionth, marked I.

4th " One hundred millionth.

5th " One ten thousand millionth.

6th " One million millionth, or one billionth, marked II.

7th " One hundred billionth.

8th " One ten thousand billionth.

9th " One million billionth, or one trillionth, marked III.

10th " One hundred trillionth.

11th " One ten thousand trillionth.

12th " One million trillionth, or one quadrillionth, marked
IV.,--and so on indefinitely.

The large figures denote the degrees of POTENCY.]

"gastralgia, epistaxis, haemoptysis,--asthma and suppuration of the
lungs,--megrim, deafness, cataract and amaurosis,--paralysis, loss of
sense, pains of every kind, etc., appear in our pathology as so many
peculiar, distinct, and independent diseases."

For the last three centuries, if the same authority may be trusted,
under the influence of the more refined personal habits which have
prevailed, and the application of various external remedies which
repel the affection from the skin; Psora has revealed itself in these
numerous forms of internal disease, instead of appearing, as in
former periods, under the aspect of an external malady.

These are the three cardinal doctrines of Hahnemann, as laid down in
those standard works of Homoeopathy, the "Organon" and the "Treatise
on Chronic Diseases."

Several other principles may be added, upon all of which he insists
with great force, and which are very generally received by his

1. Very little power is allowed to the curative efforts of nature.
Hahnemann goes so far as to say that no one has ever seen the simple
efforts of nature effect the durable recovery of a patient from a
chronic disease. In general, the Homoeopathist calls every recovery
which happens under his treatment a cure.

2. Every medicinal substance must be administered in a state of the
most perfect purity, and uncombined with any other. The union of
several remedies in a single prescription destroys its utility, and,
according to the "Organon," frequently adds a new disease.

3. A large number of substances commonly thought to be inert develop
great medicinal powers when prepared in the manner already described;
and a great proportion of them are ascertained to have specific
antidotes in case their excessive effects require to be neutralized.

4. Diseases should be recognized, as far as possible, not by any of
the common names imposed upon them, as fever or epilepsy, but as
individual collections of symptoms, each of which differs from every
other collection.

5. The symptoms of any complaint must be described with the most
minute exactness, and so far as possible in the patient's own words.
To illustrate the kind of circumstances the patient is expected to
record, I will mention one or two from the 313th page of the
"Treatise on Chronic Diseases,"--being the first one at which I
opened accidentally.

"After dinner, disposition to sleep; the patient winks."

"After dinner, prostration and feeling of weakness (nine days after
taking the remedy)."

This remedy was that same oyster-shell which is to be prescribed
"fractions of the sextillionth or decillionth degree." According to
Hahnemann, the action of a single dose of the size mentioned does not
fully display itself in some cases until twenty-four or even thirty
days after it is taken, and in such instances has not exhausted its
good effects until towards the fortieth or fiftieth day,--before
which time it would be absurd and injurious to administer a new

So much for the doctrines of Hahnemann, which have been stated
without comment, or exaggeration of any of their features, very much
as any adherent of his opinions might have stated them, if obliged to
compress them into so narrow a space.

Does Hahnemann himself represent Homoeopathy as it now exists? He
certainly ought to be its best representative, after having created
it, and devoted his life to it for half a century. He is spoken of
as the great physician of the time, in most, if not all Homoeopathic
works. If he is not authority on the subject of his own doctrines,
who is? So far as I am aware, not one tangible discovery in the
so-called science has ever been ascribed to any other observer; at
least, no general principle or law, of consequence enough to claim
any prominence in Homoeopathic works, has ever been pretended to have
originated with any of his illustrious disciples. He is one of the
only two Homoeopathic writers with whom, as I shall mention, the
Paris publisher will have anything to do upon his own account. The
other is Jahr, whose Manual is little more than a catalogue of
symptoms and remedies. If any persons choose to reject Hahnemann as
not in the main representing Homoeopathy, if they strike at his
authority, if they wink out of sight his deliberate and formally
announced results, it is an act of suicidal rashness; for upon his
sagacity and powers of observation, and experience, as embodied in
his works, and especially in his Materia Medica, repose the
foundations of Homoeopathy as a practical system.

So far as I can learn from the conflicting statements made upon the
subject, the following is the present condition of belief.

1. All of any note agree that the law Similia similibus is the only
fundamental principle in medicine. Of course if any man does not
agree to this the name Homoeopathist can no longer be applied to him
with propriety.

2. The belief in and employment of the infinitesimal doses is
general, and in some places universal, among the advocates of
Homoeopathy; but a distinct movement has been made in Germany to get
rid of any restriction to the use of these doses, and to employ
medicines with the same license as other practitioners.

3. The doctrine of the origin of most chronic diseases in Psora,
notwithstanding Hahnemann says it cost him twelve years of study and
research to establish the fact and its practical consequences, has
met with great neglect and even opposition from very many of his own

It is true, notwithstanding, that, throughout most of their writings
which I have seen, there runs a prevailing tone of great deference to
Hahnemann's opinions, a constant reference to his authority, a
general agreement with the minor points of his belief, and a pretence
of harmonious union in a common faith. [Those who will take the
trouble to look over Hull's Translation of Jahr's Manual may observe
how little comparative space is given to remedies resting upon any
other authority than that of Hahnemann.]

Many persons, and most physicians and scientific men, would be
satisfied with the statement of these doctrines, and examine them no
further. They would consider it vastly more probable that any
observer in so fallacious and difficult a field of inquiry as
medicine had been led into error, or walked into it of his own
accord, than that such numerous and extraordinary facts had really
just come to light. They would feel a right to exercise the same
obduracy towards them as the French Institute is in the habit of
displaying when memoirs or models are offered to it relating to the
squaring of the circle or perpetual motion; which it is the rule to
pass over without notice. They would feel as astronomers and natural
philosophers must have felt when, some half a dozen years ago, an
unknown man came forward, and asked for an opportunity to demonstrate
to Arago and his colleagues that the moon and planets were at a
distance of a little more than a hundred miles from the earth. And
so they would not even look into Homoeopathy, though all its
advocates should exclaim in the words of Mr. Benjamin Douglass
Perkins, vender of the Metallic Tractors, that "On all discoveries
there are persons who, without descending to any inquiry into the
truth, pretend to know, as it were by intuition, that newly asserted
facts are founded in the grossest errors." And they would lay their
heads upon their pillows with a perfectly clear conscience, although
they were assured that they were behaving in the same way that people
of old did towards Harvey, Galileo, and Copernicus, the identical
great names which were invoked by Mr. Benjamin Douglass Perkins.

But experience has shown that the character of these assertions is
not sufficient to deter many, from examining their claims to belief.
I therefore lean but very slightly on the extravagance and extreme
apparent singularity of their pretensions. I might have omitted
them, but on the whole it seemed more just to the claims of my
argument to suggest the vast complication of improbabilities involved
in the statements enumerated. Every one must of course judge for
himself as to the weight of these objections, which are by no means
brought forward as a proof of the extravagance of Homoeopathy, but
simply as entitled to a brief consideration before the facts of the
case are submitted to our scrutiny.

The three great asserted discoveries of Hahnemann are entirely
unconnected with and independent of each other. Were there any
natural relation between them it would seem probable enough that the
discovery of the first would have led to that of the others. But
assuming it to be a fact that diseases are cured by remedies capable
of producing symptoms like their own, no manifest relation exists
between this fact and the next assertion, namely, the power of the
infinitesimal doses. And allowing both these to be true, neither has
the remotest affinity to the third new doctrine, that which declares
seven eighths of all chronic diseases to be owing to Psora.

This want of any obvious relation between Hahnemann's three cardinal
doctrines appears to be self-evident upon inspection. But if, as is
often true with his disciples, they prefer the authority of one of
their own number, I will refer them to Dr. Trinks's paper on the
present state of Homoeopathy in Europe, with which, of course, they
are familiar, as his name is mentioned as one of the most prominent
champions of their faith, in their American official organ. It would
be a fact without a parallel in the history, not merely of medicine,
but of science, that three such unconnected and astonishing
discoveries, each of them a complete revolution of all that ages of
the most varied experience had been taught to believe, should spring
full formed from the brain of a single individual.

Let us look a moment at the first of his doctrines. Improbable
though it may seem to some, there is no essential absurdity involved
in the proposition that diseases yield to remedies capable of
producing like symptoms. There are, on the other hand, some
analogies which lend a degree of plausibility to the statement.
There are well-ascertained facts, known from the earliest periods of
medicine, showing that, under certain circumstances, the very
medicine which, from its known effects, one would expect to aggravate
the disease, may contribute to its relief. I may be permitted to
allude, in the most general way, to the case in which the spontaneous
efforts of an overtasked stomach are quieted by the agency of a drug
which that organ refuses to entertain upon any terms. But that every
cure ever performed by medicine should have been founded upon this
principle, although without the knowledge of a physician; that the
Homoeopathic axiom is, as Hahnemann asserts, "the sole law of nature
in therapeutics," a law of which nothing more than a transient
glimpse ever presented itself to the innumerable host of medical
observers, is a dogma of such sweeping extent, and pregnant novelty,
that it demands a corresponding breadth and depth of unquestionable
facts to cover its vast pretensions.

So much ridicule has been thrown upon the pretended powers of the
minute doses that I shall only touch upon this point for the purpose
of conveying, by illustrations, some shadow of ideas far transcending
the powers of the imagination to realize. It must be remembered that
these comparisons are not matters susceptible of dispute, being
founded on simple arithmetical computations, level to the capacity of
any intelligent schoolboy. A person who once wrote a very small
pamphlet made some show of objecting to calculations of thus kind, on
the ground that the highest dilutions could easily be made with a few
ounces of alcohol. But he should have remembered that at every
successive dilution he lays aside or throws away ninety-nine
hundredths of the fluid on which he is operating, and that, although
he begins with a drop, he only prepares a millionth, billionth,
trillionth, and similar fractions of it, all of which, added
together, would constitute but a vastly minute portion of the drop
with which he began. But now let us suppose we take one single drop
of the Tincture of Camomile, and that the whole of this were to be
carried through the common series of dilutions.

A calculation nearly like the following was made by Dr. Panvini, and
may be readily followed in its essential particulars by any one who

For the first dilution it would take 100 drops of alcohol.

For the second dilution it would take 10;000 drops, or about a pint.

For the third dilution it would take 100 pints.

For the fourth dilution it would take 10,000 pints, or more than
1,000 gallons, and so on to the ninth dilution, which would take ten
billion gallons, which he computed would fill the basin of Lake
Agnano, a body of water two miles in circumference. The twelfth
dilution would of course fill a million such lakes. By the time the
seventeenth degree of dilution should be reached, the alcohol
required would equal in quantity the waters of ten thousand Adriatic
seas. Trifling errors must be expected, but they are as likely to be
on one side as the other, and any little matter like Lake Superior or
the Caspian would be but a drop in the bucket.

Swallowers of globules, one of your little pellets, moistened in the
mingled waves of one million lakes of alcohol, each two miles in
circumference, with which had been blended that one drop of Tincture
of Camomile, would be of precisely the strength recommended for that
medicine in your favorite Jahr's Manual, "against the most sudden,
frightful, and fatal diseases!" [In the French edition of 1834, the
proper doses of the medicines are mentioned, and Camomile is marked
IV. Why are the doses omitted in Hull's Translation, except in three
instances out of the whole two hundred remedies, notwithstanding the
promise in the preface that "some remarks upon the doses used may be
found at the head of each medicine"? Possibly because it makes no
difference whether they are employed in one Homoeopathic dose or
another; but then it is very singular that such precise directions
were formerly given in the same work, and that Hahnemann's
"experience" should have led him to draw the nice distinctions we
have seen in a former part of this Lecture (p. 44).]

And proceeding on the common data, I have just made a calculation
which shows that this single drop of Tincture of Camomile, given in
the quantity ordered by Jahr's Manual, would have supplied every
individual of the whole human family, past and present, with more
than five billion doses each, the action of each dose lasting about
four days.

Yet this is given only at the quadrillionth, or fourth degree of
potency, and various substances are frequently administered at the
decillionth or tenth degree, and occasionally at still higher
attenuations with professed medicinal results. Is there not in this
as great an exception to all the hitherto received laws of nature as
in the miracle of the loaves and fishes? Ask this question of a
Homoeopathist, and he will answer by referring to the effects
produced by a very minute portion of vaccine matter, or the
extraordinary diffusion of odors. But the vaccine matter is one of


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