The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

Part 41 out of 51

asking students to her house on Saturday afternoons and praying with
and for them. Bodily exercise was not, however, entirely superseded
by spiritual exercises, and a rudimentary form of base-ball and the
heroic sport of football were followed with some spirit.

A slight immature boy finds his materials of though and enjoyment in
very shallow and simple sources. Yet a kind of romance gilds for me
the sober tableland of that cold New England hill where I came in
contact with a world so strange to me, and destined to leave such
mingled and lasting impressions. I looked across the valley to the
hillside where Methuen hung suspended, and dreamed of its wooded
seclusion as a village paradise. I tripped lightly down the long
northern slope with facilis descensus on my lips, and toiled up
again, repeating sed revocare gradum. I wandered' in the autumnal
woods that crown the "Indian Ridge," much wondering at that vast
embankment, which we young philosophers believed with the vulgar to
be of aboriginal workmanship, not less curious, perhaps, since we
call it an escar, and refer it to alluvial agencies. The little
Shawshine was our swimming-school, and the great Merrimack, the right
arm of four toiling cities, was within reach of a morning stroll. At
home we had the small imp to make us laugh at his enormities, for he
spared nothing in his talk, and was the drollest little living
protest against the prevailing solemnities of the locality. It did
not take much to please us, I suspect, and it is a blessing that this
is apt to be so with young people. What else could have made us
think it great sport to leave our warm beds in the middle of winter
and "camp out,"--on the floor of our room,--with blankets disposed
tent-wise, except the fact that to a boy a new discomfort in place of
an old comfort is often a luxury.

More exciting occupation than any of these was to watch one of the
preceptors to see if he would not drop dead while he was praying. He
had a dream one night that he should, and looked upon it as a
warning, and told it round very seriously, and asked the boys to come
and visit him in turn, as one whom they were soon to lose. More than
one boy kept his eye on him during his public devotions, possessed by
the same feeling the man had who followed Van Amburgh about with the
expectation, let us not say the hope, of seeing the lion bite his
head off sooner or later.

Let me not forget to recall the interesting visit to Haverhill with
my room-mate, and how he led me to the mighty bridge over the
Merrimack which defied the ice-rafts of the river; and to the old
meetinghouse, where, in its porch, I saw the door of the ancient
parsonage, with the bullet-hole in it through which Benjamin Rolfe,
the minister, was shot by the Indians on the 29th of August, 1708.
What a vision it was when I awoke in the morning to see the fog on
the river seeming as if it wrapped the towers and spires of a great
city!--for such was my fancy, and whether it was a mirage of youth or
a fantastic natural effect I hate to inquire too nicely.

My literary performances at Andover, if any reader who may have
survived so far cares to know, included a translation from Virgil,
out of which I remember this couplet, which had the inevitable
cockney rhyme of beginners:

"Thus by the power of Jove's imperial arm
The boiling ocean trembled into calm."

Also a discussion with Master Phinehas Barnes on the case of Mary,
Queen of Scots, which he treated argumentatively and I rhetorically
and sentimentally. My sentences were praised and his conclusions
adopted. Also an Essay, spoken at the great final exhibition, held
in the large hall up-stairs, which hangs oddly enough from the roof,
suspended by iron rods. Subject, Fancy. Treatment, brief but
comprehensive, illustrating the magic power of that brilliant faculty
in charming life into forgetfulness of all the ills that flesh is
heir to,--the gift of Heaven to every condition and every clime, from
the captive in his dungeon to the monarch on his throne; from the
burning sands of the desert to the frozen icebergs of the poles,
from--but I forget myself.

This was the last of my coruscations at Andover. I went from the
Academy to Harvard College, and did not visit the sacred hill again
for a long time.

On the last day of August, 1867, not having been at Andover, for
many years, I took the cars at noon, and in an hour or a little more
found myself at the station,--just at the foot of the hill. My first
pilgrimage was to the old elm, which I remembered so well as standing
by the tavern, and of which they used to tell the story that it held,
buried in it by growth, the iron rings put round it in the old time
to keep the Indians from chopping it with their tomahawks. I then
began the once familiar toil of ascending the long declivity.
Academic villages seem to change very slowly. Once in a hundred
years the library burns down with all its books. A new edifice or
two may be put up, and a new library begun in the course of the same
century; but these places are poor, for the most part, and cannot
afford to pull down their old barracks.

These sentimental journeys to old haunts must be made alone. The
story of them must be told succinctly. It is like the opium-smoker's
showing you the pipe from which he has just inhaled elysian bliss,
empty of the precious extract which has given him his dream.

I did not care much for the new Academy building on my right, nor for
the new library building on my left. But for these it was surprising
to see how little the scene I remembered in my boyhood had changed.
The Professors' houses looked just as they used to, and the stage-
coach landed its passengers at the Mansion House as of old. The pale
brick seminary buildings were behind me on the left, looking as if
"Hollis" and "Stoughton" had been transplanted from Cambridge,--
carried there in the night by orthodox angels, perhaps, like the
Santa Casa. Away to my left again, but abreast of me, was the bleak,
bare old Academy building; and in front of me stood unchanged the
shallow oblong white house where I lived a year in the days of James
Monroe and of John Quincy Adams.

The ghost of a boy was at my side as I wandered among the places he
knew so well. I went to the front of the house. There was the great
rock showing its broad back in the front yard. I used to crack nuts
on that, whispered the small ghost. I looked in at the upper window
in the farther part of the house. I looked out of that on four long
changing seasons, said the ghost. I should have liked to explore
farther, but, while I was looking, one came into the small garden, or
what used to be the garden, in front of the house, and I desisted
from my investigation and went on my way. The apparition that put me
and my little ghost to flight had a dressing-gown on its person and a
gun in its hand. I think it was the dressing-gown, and not the gun,
which drove me off.

And now here is the shop, or store, that used to be Shipman's, after
passing what I think used to be Jonathan Leavitt's bookbindery, and
here is the back road that will lead me round by the old Academy

Could I believe my senses when I found that it was turned into a
gymnasium, and heard the low thunder of ninepin balls, and the crash
of tumbling pins from those precincts? The little ghost said, Never!
It cannot be. But it was. "Have they a billiard-room in the upper
story?" I asked myself. "Do the theological professors take a hand
at all-fours or poker on weekdays, now and then, and read the secular
columns of the 'Boston Recorder' on Sundays?" I was demoralized for
the moment, it is plain; but now that I have recovered from the
shock, I must say that the fact mentioned seems to show a great
advance in common sense from the notions prevailing in my time.

I sauntered,--we, rather, my ghost and I,--until we came to a broken
field where there was quarrying and digging going on,--our old base-
ball ground, hard by the burial-place. There I paused; and if any
thoughtful boy who loves to tread in the footsteps that another has
sown with memories of the time when he was young shall follow my
footsteps, I need not ask him to rest here awhile, for he will be
enchained by the noble view before him. Far to the north and west
the mountains of New Hampshire lifted their summits in along
encircling ridge of pale blue waves. The day was clear, and every
mound and peak traced its outline with perfect definition against the
sky. This was a sight which had more virtue and refreshment in it
than any aspect of nature that I had looked upon, I am afraid I must
say for years. I have been by the seaside now and then, but the sea
is constantly busy with its own affairs, running here and there,
listening to what the winds have to say and getting angry with them,
always indifferent, often insolent, and ready to do a mischief to
those who seek its companionship. But these still, serene,
unchanging mountains,--Monadnock, Kearsarge,--what memories that name
recalls!--and the others, the dateless Pyramids of New England, the
eternal monuments of her ancient race, around which cluster the homes
of so many of her bravest and hardiest children,--I can never look at
them without feeling that, vast and remote and awful as they are,
there is a kind of inward heat and muffled throb in their stony
cores, that brings them into a vague sort of sympathy with human
hearts. It is more than a year since I have looked on those blue
mountains, and they "are to me as a feeling" now, and have been ever

I had only to pass a wall and I was in the burial-ground. It was
thinly tenanted as I remember it, but now populous with the silent
immigrants of more than a whole generation. There lay the dead I had
left, the two or three students of the Seminary; the son of the
worthy pair in whose house I lived, for whom in those days hearts
were still aching, and by whose memory the house still seemed
haunted. A few upright stones were all that I recollect. But now,
around them were the monuments of many of the dead whom I remembered
as living. I doubt if there has been a more faithful reader of these
graven stones than myself for many a long day. I listened to more
than one brief sermon from preachers whom I had often heard as they
thundered their doctrines down upon me from the throne-like desk.
Now they spoke humbly out of the dust, from a narrower pulpit, from
an older text than any they ever found in Cruden's Concordance, but
there was an eloquence in their voices the listening chapel had never
known. There were stately monuments and studied inscriptions, but
none so beautiful, none so touching, as that which hallows the
resting-place of one of the children of the very learned Professor
Robinson: "Is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well."

While I was musing amidst these scenes in the mood of Hamlet, two old
men, as my little ghost called them, appeared on the scene to answer
to the gravedigger and his companion. They christened a mountain or
two for me, "Kearnsarge" among the rest, and revived some old
recollections, of which the most curious was "Basil's Cave." The
story was recent, when I was there, of one Basil, or Bezill, or
Buzzell, or whatever his name might have been, a member of the
Academy, fabulously rich, Orientally extravagant, and of more or less
lawless habits. He had commanded a cave to be secretly dug, and
furnished it sumptuously, and there with his companions indulged in
revelries such as the daylight of that consecrated locality had never
looked upon. How much truth there was in it all I will not pretend
to say, but I seem to remember stamping over every rock that sounded
hollow, to question if it were not the roof of what was once Basil's

The sun was getting far past the meridian, and I sought a shelter
under which to partake of the hermit fare I had brought with me.
Following the slope of the hill northward behind the cemetery, I
found a pleasant clump of trees grouped about some rocks, disposed so
as to give a seat, a table, and a shade. I left my benediction on
this pretty little natural caravansera, and a brief record on one of
its white birches, hoping to visit it again on some sweet summer or
autumn day.

Two scenes remained to look upon,--the Shawshine River and the Indian
Ridge. The streamlet proved to have about the width with which it
flowed through my memory. The young men and the boys were bathing in
its shallow current, or dressing and undressing upon its banks as in
the days of old; the same river, only the water changed; "The same
boys, only the names and the accidents of local memory different," I
whispered to my little ghost.

The Indian Ridge more than equalled what I expected of it. It is
well worth a long ride to visit. The lofty wooded bank is a mile and
a half in extent, with other ridges in its neighborhood, in general
running nearly parallel with it, one of them still longer. These
singular formations are supposed to have been built up by the eddies
of conflicting currents scattering sand and gravel and stones as they
swept over the continent. But I think they pleased me better when I
was taught that the Indians built them; and while I thank Professor
Hitchcock, I sometimes feel as if I should like to found a chair to
teach the ignorance of what people do not want to know.

"Two tickets to Boston." I said to the man at the station.

But the little ghost whispered, "When you leave this place you leave
me behind you."

"One ticket to Boston, if you please. Good by, little ghost."

I believe the boy-shadow still lingers around the well-remembered
scenes I traversed on that day, and that, whenever I revisit them, I
shall find him again as my companion.


The priest is dead for the Protestant world. Luther's inkstand did
not kill the devil, but it killed the priest, at least for us: He is
a loss in many respects to be regretted. He kept alive the spirit of
reverence. He was looked up to as possessing qualities superhuman in
their nature, and so was competent to be the stay of the weak and
their defence against the strong. If one end of religion is to make
men happier in this world as well as in the next, mankind lost a
great source of happiness when the priest was reduced to the common
level of humanity, and became only a minister. Priest, which was
presbyter, corresponded to senator, and was a title to respect and
honor. Minister is but the diminutive of magister, and implies an
obligation to render service.

It was promised to the first preachers that in proof of their divine
mission they should have the power of casting out devils and talking
in strange tongues; that they should handle serpents and drink
poisons with impunity; that they should lay hands on the sick and
they should recover. The Roman Church claims some of these powers
for its clergy and its sacred objects to this day. Miracles, it is
professed, are wrought by them, or through them, as in the days of
the apostles. Protestantism proclaims that the age of such
occurrences as the apostles witnessed is past. What does it know
about miracles? It knows a great many records of miracles, but this
is a different kind of knowledge.

The minister may be revered for his character, followed for his
eloquence, admired for his learning, loved for his amiable qualities,
but he can never be what the priest was in past ages, and is still,
in the Roman Church. Dr. Arnold's definition may be found fault
with, but it has a very real meaning. "The essential point in the
notion of a priest is this: that he is a person made necessary to our
intercourse with God, without being necessary or beneficial to us
morally,--an unreasonable, immoral, spiritual necessity." He did not
mean, of course, that the priest might not have all the qualities
which would recommend him as a teacher or as a man, but that he had a
special power, quite independent of his personal character, which
could act, as it were, mechanically; that out of him went a virtue,
as from the hem of his Master's raiment, to those with whom his
sacred office brought him in contact.

It was a great comfort to poor helpless human beings to have a
tangible personality of like nature with themselves as a mediator
between them and the heavenly powers. Sympathy can do much for the
sorrowing, the suffering, the dying, but to hear God himself speaking
directly through human lips, to feel the touch of a hand which is the
channel of communication with the unseen Omnipotent, this was and is
the privilege of those who looked and those who still look up to a
priesthood. It has been said, and many who have walked the hospitals
or served in the dispensaries can bear witness to the truth of the
assertion, that the Roman Catholics know how to die. The same thing
is less confidently to be said of Protestants. How frequently is the
story told of the most exemplary Protestant Christians, nay, how
common is it to read in the lives of the most exemplary Protestant
ministers, that they were beset with doubts and terrors in their last
days! The blessing of the viaticum is unknown to them. Man is
essentially an idolater,--that is, in bondage to his imagination,--
for there is no more harm in the Greek word eidolon than in the Latin
word imago. He wants a visible image to fix his thought, a scarabee
or a crux ansata, or the modern symbols which are to our own time
what these were to the ancient Egyptians. He wants a vicegerent of
the Almighty to take his dying hand and bid him godspeed on his last
journey. Who but such an immediate representative of the Divinity
would have dared to say to the monarch just laying his head on the
block, "Fils de Saint Louis, monte au ciel"?

It has been a long and gradual process to thoroughly republicanize
the American Protestant descendant of the ancient priesthood. The
history of the Congregationalists in New England would show us how
this change has gone on, until we have seen the church become a hall
open to all sorts of purposes, the pulpit come down to the level of
the rostrum, and the clergyman take on the character of a popular
lecturer who deals with every kind of subject, including religion.

Whatever fault we may find with many of their beliefs, we have a
right to be proud of our Pilgrim and Puritan fathers among the
clergy. They were ready to do and to suffer anything for their
faith, and a faith which breeds heroes is better than an unbelief
which leaves nothing worth being a hero for. Only let us be fair,
and not defend the creed of Mohammed because it nurtured brave men
and enlightened scholars, or refrain from condemning polygamy in our
admiration of the indomitable spirit and perseverance of the Pilgrim
Fathers of Mormonism, or justify an inhuman belief, or a cruel or
foolish superstition, because it was once held or acquiesced in by
men whose nobility of character we heartily recognize. The New
England clergy can look back to a noble record, but the pulpit has
sometimes required a homily from the pew, and may sometimes find it
worth its while to listen to one even in our own days.

From the settlement of the country to the present time, the ministers
have furnished the highest type of character to the people among whom
they have lived. They have lost to a considerable extent the
position of leaders, but if they are in our times rather to be looked
upon as representatives of their congregations, they represent what
is best among those of whom they are the speaking organs. We have a
right to expect them to be models as well as teachers of all that
makes the best citizens for this world and the next, and they have
not been, and are not in these later days unworthy of their high
calling. They have worked hard for small earthly compensation. They
have been the most learned men the country had to show, when learning
was a scarce commodity. Called by their consciences to self-denying
labors, living simply, often half-supported by the toil of their own
hands, they have let the light, such light as shone for them, into
the minds of our communities as the settler's axe let the sunshine
into their log-huts and farm-houses.

Their work has not been confined to their professional duties, as a
few instances will illustrate. Often, as was just said, they toiled
like day-laborers, teasing lean harvests out of their small
inclosures of land, for the New England soil is not one that "laughs
when tickled with a hoe," but rather one that sulks when appealed to
with that persuasive implement. The father of the eminent Boston
physician whose recent loss is so deeply regretted, the Reverend Pitt
Clarke, forty-two years pastor of the small fold in the town of
Norton, Massachusetts, was a typical example of this union of the two
callings, and it would be hard to find a story of a more wholesome
and useful life, within a limited and isolated circle, than that
which the pious care of one of his children commemorated. Sometimes
the New England minister, like worthy Mr. Ward of Stratford-on-Avon,
in old England, joined the practice of medicine to the offices of his
holy profession. Michael Wigglesworth, the poet of "The Day of
Doom," and Charles Chauncy, the second president of Harvard College,
were instances of this twofold service. In politics their influence
has always been felt, and in many cases their drums ecclesiastic have
beaten the reveille as vigorously, and to as good purpose, as it ever
sounded in the slumbering camp. Samuel Cooper sat in council with
the leaders of the Revolution in Boston. The three Northampton-born
brothers Allen, Thomas, Moses, and Solomon, lifted their voices, and,
when needed, their armed hands, in the cause of liberty. In later
days, Elijah Parish and David Osgood carried politics into their
pulpits as boldly as their antislavery successors have done in times
still more recent.

The learning, the personal character, the sacredness of their office,
tended, to give the New England clergy of past generations a kind of
aristocratic dignity, a personal grandeur, much more felt in the days
when class distinctions were recognized less unwillingly than at
present. Their costume added to the effect of their bodily presence,
as the old portraits illustrate for us, as those of us who remember
the last of the "fair, white, curly" wigs, as it graced the imposing
figure of the Reverend Dr. Marsh of Wethersfield, Connecticut, can
testify. They were not only learned in the history of the past, but
they were the interpreters of the prophecy, and announced coming
events with a confidence equal to that with which the weather-bureau
warns us of a coming storm. The numbers of the book of Daniel and
the visions of the Revelation were not too hard for them. In the
commonplace book of the Reverend Joel Benedict is to be found the
following record, made, as it appears, about the year 1773:
"Conversing with Dr. Bellamy upon the downfall of Antichrist, after
many things had been said upon the subject, the Doctor began to warm,
and uttered himself after this manner: 'Tell your children to tell
their children that in the year 1866 something notable will happen in
the church; tell them the old man says so.'"

The "old man" came pretty near hitting the mark, as we shall see if
we consider what took place in the decade from 1860 to 1870. In 1864
the Pope issued the "Syllabus of Errors," which "must be considered
by Romanists--as an infallible official document, and which arrays
the papacy in open war against modern civilization and civil and
religious freedom." The Vatican Council in 1870 declared the Pope to
be the bishop of bishops, and immediately after this began the
decisive movement of the party known as the "Old Catholics." In the
exact year looked forward to by the New England prophet, 1866, the
evacuation of Rome by the French and the publication of "Ecce Homo"
appear to be the most remarkable events having Special relation to
the religious world. Perhaps the National Council of the
Congregationalists, held at Boston in 1865, may be reckoned as one of
the occurrences which the oracle just missed.

The confidence, if not the spirit of prophecy, lasted down to a later
period. "In half a century," said the venerable Dr. Porter of
Conway, New Hampshire, in 1822, "there will be no Pagans, Jews,
Mohammedans, Unitarians, or Methodists." The half-century has more
than elapsed, and the prediction seems to stand in need of an
extension, like many other prophetic utterances.

The story is told of David Osgood, the shaggy-browed old minister of
Medford, that he had expressed his belief that not more than one soul
in two thousand would be saved. Seeing a knot of his parishioners in
debate, he asked them what they were discussing, and was told that
they were questioning which of the Medford people was the elected
one, the population being just two thousand, and that opinion was
divided whether it would be the minister or one of his deacons. The
story may or may not be literally true, but it illustrates the
popular belief of those days, that the clergyman saw a good deal
farther into the councils of the Almighty than his successors could
claim the power of doing.

The objects about me, as I am writing, call to mind the varied
accomplishments of some of the New England clergy. The face of the
Revolutionary preacher, Samuel Cooper, as Copley painted it, looks
upon me with the pleasantest of smiles and a liveliness of expression
which makes him seem a contemporary after a hundred years' experience
of eternity. The Plato on this lower shelf bears the inscription:"
Ezroe Stiles, 1766. Olim e libris Rev. Jaredis Eliot de
Killingworth." Both were noted scholars and philosophers. The hand-
lens before me was imported, with other philosophical instruments, by
the Reverend John Prince of Salem, an earlier student of science in
the town since distinguished by the labors of the Essex Institute.
Jeremy Belknap holds an honored place in that unpretending row of
local historians. And in the pages of his "History of New Hampshire"
may be found a chapter contributed in part by the most remarkable
man, in many respects, among all the older clergymen preacher,
lawyer, physician, astronomer, botanist, entomologist, explorer,
colonist, legislator in state and national governments, and only not
seated on the bench of the Supreme Court of a Territory because he
declined the office when Washington offered it to him. This manifold
individual was the minister of Hamilton, a pleasant little town in
Essex County, Massachusetts,--the Reverend Manasseh Cutler. These
reminiscences from surrounding objects came up unexpectedly, of
themselves: and have a right here, as showing how wide is the range
of intelligence in the clerical body thus accidentally represented in
a single library making no special pretensions.

It is not so exalted a claim to make for them, but it may be added
that they were often the wits and humorists of their localities.
Mather Byles's facetie are among the colonial classic reminiscences.
But these were, for the most part, verbal quips and quibbles. True
humor is an outgrowth of character. It is never found in greater
perfection than in old clergymen and old college professors. Dr.
Sprague's "Annals of the American Pulpit" tells many stories of our
old ministers as good as Dean Ramsay's "Scottish Reminiscences." He
has not recorded the following, which is to be found in Miss Larned's
excellent and most interesting History of Windham County,
Connecticut. The Reverend Josiah Dwight was the minister of
Woodstock, Connecticut, about the year 1700. He was not old, it is
true, but he must have caught the ways of the old ministers. The
"sensational" pulpit of our own time could hardly surpass him in the
drollery of its expressions. A specimen or two may dispose the
reader to turn over the pages which follow in a good-natured frame of
mind. "If unconverted men ever got to heaven," he said, "they would
feel as uneasy as a shad up the crotch of a white-oak." Some of his
ministerial associates took offence at his eccentricities, and called
on a visit of admonition to the offending clergyman. "Mr. Dwight
received their reproofs with great meekness, frankly acknowledged his
faults, and promised amendment, but, in prayer at parting, after
returning thanks for the brotherly visit and admonition, 'hoped that
they might so hitch their horses on earth that they should never kick
in the stables of everlasting salvation.'"

It is a good thing to have some of the blood of one of these old
ministers in one's veins. An English bishop proclaimed the fact
before an assembly of physicians the other day that he was not
ashamed to say that he had a son who was a doctor. Very kind that
was in the bishop, and very proud his medical audience must have
felt. Perhaps he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Luke, "the beloved
physician," or even of the teachings which came from the lips of one
who was a carpenter, and the son of a carpenter. So a New-Englander,
even if he were a bishop, need not be ashamed to say that he
consented to have an ancestor who was a minister. On the contrary,
he has a right to be grateful for a probable inheritance of good
instincts, a good name, and a bringing up in a library where he
bumped about among books from the time when he was hardly taller than
one of his father's or grandfather's folios. What are the names of
ministers' sons which most readily occur to our memory as
illustrating these advantages? Edward Everett, Joseph Stevens
Buckminster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Bancroft, Richard Hildreth,
James Russell Lowell, Francis Parkman, Charles Eliot Norton, were all
ministers' boys. John Lothrop Motley was the grandson of the
clergyman after whom he was named. George Ticknor was next door to
such a descent, for his father was a deacon. This is a group which
it did not take a long or a wide search to bring together.

Men such as the ministers who have been described could not fail to
exercise a good deal of authority in the communities to which they
belonged. The effect of the Revolution must have been to create a
tendency to rebel against spiritual dictation. Republicanism levels
in religion as in everything. It might have been expected,
therefore, that soon after civil liberty had been established there
would be conflicts between the traditional, authority of the minister
and the claims of the now free and independent congregation. So it
was, in fact, as for instance in the case which follows, for which
the reader is indebted to Miss Lamed's book, before cited.

The ministerial veto allowed by the Saybrook Platform gave rise, in
the year 1792, to a fierce conflict in the town of Pomfret,
Connecticut. Zephaniah Swift, a lawyer of Windham, came out in the
Windham "Herald," in all the vehemence of partisan phraseology, with
all the emphasis of italics and small capitals. Was it not time, he
said, for people to look about them and see whether "such despotism
was founded in Scripture, in reason, in policy, or on the rights of
man! A minister, by his vote, by his single voice, may negative the
unanimous vote of the church! Are ministers composed of finer clay
than the rest of mankind, that entitles them to this preeminence?
Does a license to preach transform a man into a higher order of
beings and endow him with a natural quality to govern? Are the laity
an inferior order of beings, fit only to be slaves and to be
governed? Is it good policy for mankind to subject themselves to
such degrading vassalage and abject submission? Reason, common
sense, and the Bible, with united voice, proclaim to all mankind that
they are all born free and equal; that every member of a church or
Christian congregation must be on the same footing in respect of
church government, and that the CONSTITUTION, which delegates to one
the power to negative the vote of all the rest, is SUBVERSIVE OF THE

The Reverend Mr. Welch replied to the lawyer's attack, pronouncing
him to be "destitute of delicacy, decency, good manners, sound
judgment, honesty, manhood, and humanity; a poltroon, a cat's-paw,
the infamous tool of a party, a partisan, a political weathercock,
and a ragamuffin."

No Fourth-of-July orator would in our day rant like the lawyer, and
no clergyman would use such language as that of the Reverend Moses
Welch. The clergy have been pretty well republicanized within that
last two or three generations, and are not likely to provoke quarrels
by assertion of their special dignities or privileges. The public is
better bred than to carry on an ecclesiastical controversy in terms
which political brawlers would hardly think admissible. The minister
of religion is generally treated with something more than respect; he
is allowed to say undisputed what would be sharply controverted in
anybody else. Bishop Gilbert Haven, of happy memory, had been
discussing a religious subject with a friend who was not convinced by
his arguments. "Wait till you hear me from the pulpit," he said;
"there you cannot answer me." The preacher--if I may use an image
which would hardly have suggested itself to him--has his hearer's
head in chancery, and can administer punishment ad libitum. False
facts, false reasoning, bad rhetoric, bad grammar, stale images,
borrowed passages, if not borrowed sermons, are listened to without a
word of comment or a look of disapprobation.

One of the ablest and most conscientiously laborious of our clergymen
has lately ventured to question whether all his professional brethren
invariably give utterance to their sincerest beliefs, and has been
sharply criticised for so doing. The layman, who sits silent in his
pew, has his rights when out of it, and among them is the right of
questioning that which has been addressed to him from the privileged
eminence of the pulpit, or in any way sanctioned by his religious
teacher. It is nearly two hundred years since a Boston layman wrote
these words: "I am not ignorant that the pious frauds of the ancient,
and the inbred fire (I do not call it pride) of many of our modern
divines, have precipitated them to propagate and maintain truth as
well as falsehoods, in such an unfair manner as has given advantage
to the enemy to suspect the whole doctrine these men have profest to
be nothing but a mere trick."

So wrote Robert Calef, the Boston merchant, whose book the Reverend
Increase Mather, president of Harvard College, burned publicly in the
college yard. But the pity of it is that the layman had not cried
out earlier and louder, and saved the community from the horror of
those judicial murders for witchcraft, the blame of which was so
largely attributable to the clergy.

Perhaps no, laymen have given the clergy more trouble than the
doctors. The old reproach against physicians, that where there were
three of them together there were two atheists, had a real
significance, but not that which was intended by the sharp-tongued
ecclesiastic who first uttered it. Undoubtedly there is a strong
tendency in the pursuits of the medical profession to produce
disbelief in that figment of tradition and diseased human imagination
which has been installed in the seat of divinity by the priesthood of
cruel and ignorant ages. It is impossible, or at least very
difficult, for a physician who has seen the perpetual efforts of
Nature--whose diary is the book he reads oftenest--to heal wounds, to
expel poisons, to do the best that can be done under the given
conditions,--it is very difficult for him to believe in a world where
wounds cannot heal, where opiates cannot give a respite from pain,
where sleep never comes with its sweet oblivion of suffering, where
the art of torture is the only science cultivated, and the capacity
for being tormented is the only faculty which remains to the children
of that same Father who cares for the falling sparrow. The Deity has
often been pictured as Moloch, and the physician has, no doubt,
frequently repudiated him as a monstrosity.

On the other hand, the physician has often been renowned for piety as
well as for his peculiarly professional virtue of charity,--led
upward by what he sees to the source of all the daily marvels wrought
before his own eyes. So it was that Galen gave utterance to that
psalm of praise which the sweet singer of Israel need not have been
ashamed of; and if this "heathen" could be lifted into such a strain
of devotion, we need not be surprised to find so many devout
Christian worshippers among the crowd of medical "atheists."

No two professions should come into such intimate and cordial
relations as those to which belong the healers of the body and the
headers of the mind. There can be no more fatal mistake than that
which brings them into hostile attitudes with reference to each
other, both having in view the welfare of their fellow-creatures.
But there is a territory always liable to be differed about between
them. There are patients who never tell their physician the grief
which lies at the bottom of their ailments. He goes through his
accustomed routine with them, and thinks he has all the elements
needed for his diagnosis. But he has seen no deeper into the breast
than the tongue, and got no nearer the heart than the wrist. A wise
and experienced clergyman, coming to the patient's bedside,--not with
the professional look on his face which suggests the undertaker and
the sexton, but with a serene countenance and a sympathetic voice,
with tact, with patience, waiting for the right moment,--will
surprise the shy spirit into a confession of the doubt, the sorrow,
the shame, the remorse, the terror which underlies all the bodily
symptoms, and the unburdening of which into a loving and pitying soul
is a more potent anodyne than all the drowsy sirups of the world.
And, on the other hand, there are many nervous and over-sensitive
natures which have been wrought up by self-torturing spiritual
exercises until their best confessor would be a sagacious and
wholesome-minded physician.

Suppose a person to have become so excited by religious stimulants
that he is subject to what are known to the records of insanity as
hallucinations: that he hears voices whispering blasphemy in his
ears, and sees devils coming to meet him, and thinks he is going to
be torn in pieces, or trodden into the mire. Suppose that his mental
conflicts, after plunging him into the depths of despondency, at last
reduce him to a state of despair, so that he now contemplates taking
his own life, and debates with himself whether it shall be by knife,
halter, or poison, and after much questioning is apparently making up
his mind to commit suicide. Is not this a manifest case of insanity,
in the form known as melancholia? Would not any prudent physician
keep such a person under the eye of constant watchers, as in a
dangerous state of, at least, partial mental alienation? Yet this is
an exact transcript of the mental condition of Christian in
"Pilgrim's Progress," and its counterpart has been found in thousands
of wretched lives terminated by the act of self-destruction, which
came so near taking place in the hero of the allegory. Now the
wonderful book from which this example is taken is, next to the Bible
and the Treatise of "De Imitatione Christi," the best-known religious
work of Christendom. If Bunyan and his contemporary, Sydenham, had
met in consultation over the case of Christian at the time when be
was meditating self-murder, it is very possible that there might have
been a difference of judgment. The physician would have one
advantage in such a consultation. He would pretty certainly have
received a Christian education, while the clergyman would probably
know next to nothing of the laws or manifestations of mental or
bodily disease. It does not seem as if any theological student was
really prepared for his practical duties until he had learned
something of the effects of bodily derangements, and, above all, had
become familiar with the gamut of mental discord in the wards of an
insane asylum.

It is a very thoughtless thing to say that the physician stands to
the divine in the same light as the divine stands to the physician,
so far as each may attempt to handle subjects belonging especially to
the other's profession. Many physicians know a great deal more about
religious matters than they do about medicine. They have read the
Bible ten times as much as they ever read any medical author. They
have heard scores of sermons for one medical lecture to which they
have listened. They often hear much better preaching than the
average minister, for he hears himself chiefly, and they hear abler
men and a variety of them. They have now and then been distinguished
in theology as well as in their own profession. The name of Servetus
might call up unpleasant recollections, but that of another medical
practitioner may be safely mentioned. "It was not till the middle of
the last century that the question as to the authorship of the
Pentateuch was handled with anything like a discerning criticism.
The first attempt was made by a layman, whose studies we might have
supposed would scarcely have led him to such an investigation." This
layman was "Astruc, doctor and professor of medicine in the Royal
College at Paris, and court physician to Louis XIV." The quotation
is from the article "Pentateuch" in Smith's "Dictionary of the
Bible," which, of course, lies on the table of the least instructed
clergyman. The sacred profession has, it is true, returned the favor
by giving the practitioner of medicine Bishop Berkeley's "Treatise on
Tar-water," and the invaluable prescription of that "aged clergyman
whose sands of life"----but let us be fair, if not generous, and
remember that Cotton Mather shares with Zabdiel Boylston the credit
of introducing the practice of inoculation into America. The
professions should be cordial allies, but the church-going, Bible-
reading physician ought to know a great deal more of the subjects
included under the general name of theology than the clergyman can be
expected to know of medicine. To say, as has been said not long
since, that a young divinity student is as competent to deal with the
latter as an old physician is to meddle with the former, suggests the
idea that wisdom is not an heirloom in the family of the one who says
it. What a set of idiots our clerical teachers must have been and
be, if, after a quarter or half a century of their instruction, a
person of fair intelligence is utterly incompetent to form any
opinion about the subjects which they have been teaching, or trying
to teach him, so long!

A minister must find it very hard work to preach to hearers who do
not believe, or only half believe, what he preaches. But pews
without heads in them are a still more depressing spectacle. He may
convince the doubter and reform the profligate. But he cannot
produce any change on pine and mahogany by his discourses, and the
more wood he sees as he looks along his floor and galleries, the less
his chance of being useful. It is natural that in times like the
present changes of faith and of place of worship should be far from
infrequent. It is not less natural that there should be regrets on
one side and gratification on the other, when such changes occur. It
even happens occasionally that the regrets become aggravated into
reproaches, rarely from the side which receives the new accessions,
less rarely from the one which is left. It is quite conceivable that
the Roman Church, which considers itself the only true one, should
look on those who leave its communion as guilty of a great offence.
It is equally natural that a church which considers Pope and Pagan a
pair of murderous giants, sitting at the mouths of their caves, alike
in their hatred to true Christians, should regard any of its members
who go over to Romanism as lost in fatal error. But within the
Protestant fold there are many compartments, and it would seem that
it is not a deadly defection to pass from one to another.

So far from such exchanges between sects being wrong, they ought to
happen a great deal oftener than they do. All the larger bodies of
Christians should be constantly exchanging members. All men are born
with conservative or aggressive tendencies: they belong naturally
with the idol-worshippers or the idol-breakers. Some wear their
fathers' old clothes, and some will have a new suit. One class of
men must have their faith hammered in like a nail, by authority;
another class must have it worked in like a screw, by argument.
Members of one of these classes often find themselves fixed by
circumstances in the other. The late Orestes A. Brownson used to
preach at one time to a little handful of persons, in a small upper
room, where some of them got from him their first lesson about the
substitution of reverence for idolatry, in dealing with the books
they hold sacred. But after a time Mr. Brownson found he had
mistaken his church, and went over to the Roman Catholic
establishment, of which he became and remained to his dying day one
of the most stalwart champions. Nature is prolific and ambidextrous.
While this strong convert was trying to carry us back to the ancient
faith, another of her sturdy children, Theodore Parker, was trying
just as hard to provide a new church for the future. One was driving
the sheep into the ancient fold, while the other was taking down the
bars that kept them out of the new pasture. Neither of these
powerful men could do the other's work, and each had to find the task
for which he was destined.

The "old gospel ship," as the Methodist song calls it, carries many
who would steer by the wake of their vessel. But there are many
others who do not trouble themselves to look over the stern, having
their eyes fixed on the light-house in the distance before them. In
less figurative language, there are multitudes of persons who are
perfectly contented with the old formulae of the church with which
they and their fathers before them have been and are connected, for
the simple reason that they fit, like old shoes, because they have
been worn so long, and mingled with these, in the most conservative
religious body, are here and there those who are restless in the
fetters of a confession of faith to which they have pledged
themselves without believing in it. This has been true of the
Athanasian creed, in the Anglican Church, for two centuries more or
less, unless the Archbishop of Canterbury, Tillotson, stood alone in
wishing the church were well rid of it. In fact, it has happened to
the present writer to hear the Thirty-nine Articles summarily
disposed of by one of the most zealous members of the American branch
of that communion, in a verb of one syllable, more familiar to the
ears of the forecastle than to those of the vestry.

But on the other hand, it is far from uncommon to meet with persons
among the so-called "liberal" denominations who are uneasy for want
of a more definite ritual and a more formal organization than they
find in their own body. Now, the rector or the minister must be well
aware that there are such cases, and each of them must be aware that
there are individuals under his guidance whom he cannot satisfy by
argument, and who really belong by all their instincts to another
communion. It seems as if a thoroughly honest, straight-collared
clergyman would say frankly to his restless parishioner: "You do not
believe the central doctrines of the church which you are in the
habit of attending. You belong properly to Brother A.'s or Brother
B.'s fold, and it will be more manly and probably more profitable for
you to go there than to stay with us." And, again, the rolling-
collared clergyman might be expected to say to this or that uneasy
listener: "You are longing for a church which will settle your
beliefs for you, and relieve you to a great extent from the task, to
which you seem to be unequal, of working out your own salvation with
fear and trembling. Go over the way to Brother C.'s or Brother D.'s;
your spine is weak, and they will furnish you a back-board which will
keep you straight and make you comfortable." Patients are not the
property of their physicians, nor parishioners of their ministers.

As for the children of clergymen, the presumption is that they will
adhere to the general belief professed by their fathers. But they do
not lose their birthright or their individuality, and have the world
all before them to choose their creed from, like other persons. They
are sometimes called to account for attacking the dogmas they are
supposed to have heard preached from their childhood. They cannot
defend themselves, for various good reasons. If they did, one would
have to say he got more preaching than was good for him, and came at
last to feel about sermons and their doctrines as confectioners'
children do about candy. Another would have to own that he got his
religious belief, not from his father, but from his mother. That
would account for a great deal, for the milk in a woman's veins
sweetens, or at least, dilutes an acrid doctrine, as the blood of the
motherly cow softens the virulence of small-pox, so that its mark
survives only as the seal of immunity. Another would plead atavism,
and say he got his religious instincts from his great-grandfather, as
some do their complexion or their temper. Others would be compelled
to confess that the belief of a wife or a sister had displaced that
which they naturally inherited. No man can be expected to go thus
into the details of his family history, and, therefore, it is an ill-
bred and indecent thing to fling a man's father's creed in his face,
as if he had broken the fifth commandment in thinking for himself in
the light of a new generation. Common delicacy would prevent him
from saying that he did not get his faith from his father, but from
somebody else, perhaps from his grandmother Lois and his mother
Eunice, like the young man whom the Apostle cautioned against total

It is always the right, and may sometimes be the duty, of the layman
to call the attention of the clergy to the short-comings and errors,
not only of their own time, but also of the preceding generations, of
which they are the intellectual and moral product. This is
especially true when the authority of great names is fallen back upon
as a defence of opinions not in themselves deserving to be upheld.
It may be very important to show that the champions of this or that
set of dogmas, some of which are extinct or obsolete as beliefs,
while others retain their vitality, held certain general notions
which vitiated their conclusions. And in proportion to the eminence
of such champions, and the frequency with which their names are
appealed to as a bulwark of any particular creed or set of doctrines,
is it urgent to show into what obliquities or extravagances or
contradictions of thought they have been betrayed.

In summing up the religious history of New England, it would be just
and proper to show the agency of the Mathers, father and son, in the
witchcraft delusion. It would be quite fair to plead in their behalf
the common beliefs of their time. It would be an extenuation of
their acts that, not many years before, the great and good
magistrate, Sir Matthew Hale, had sanctioned the conviction of
prisoners accused of witchcraft. To fall back on the errors of the
time is very proper when we are trying our predecessors in foro
conscientace: The houses they dwelt in may have had some weak or
decayed beams and rafters, but they served for their shelter, at any
rate. It is quite another matter when those rotten timbers are used
in holding up the roofs over our own heads. Still more, if one of
our ancestors built on an unsafe or an unwholesome foundation, the
best thing we can do is to leave it and persuade others to leave it
if we can. And if we refer to him as a precedent, it must be as a
warning and not as a guide.

Such was the reason of the present writer's taking up the writings of
Jonathan Edwards for examination in a recent essay. The "Edwardsian"
theology is still recognized as a power in and beyond the
denomination to which he belonged. One or more churches bear his
name, and it is thrown into the scale of theological belief as if it
added great strength to the party which claims him. That he was a
man of extraordinary endowments and deep spiritual nature was not
questioned, nor that be was a most acute reasoner, who could unfold a
proposition into its consequences as patiently, as convincingly, as a
palaeontologist extorts its confession from a fossil fragment. But
it was maintained that so many dehumanizing ideas were mixed up with
his conceptions of man, and so many diabolizing attributes embodied
in his imagination of the Deity, that his system of beliefs was
tainted throughout by them, and that the fact of his being so
remarkable a logician recoiled on the premises which pointed his
inexorable syllogisms to such revolting conclusions. When he
presents us a God, in whose sight children, with certain not too
frequent exceptions, "are young vipers, and are infinitely more
hateful than vipers;" when he gives the most frightful detailed
description of infinite and endless tortures which it drives men and
women mad to think of prepared for "the bulk of mankind;" when he
cruelly pictures a future in which parents are to sing hallelujahs of
praise as they see their children driven into the furnace, where they
are to lie "roasting" forever,--we have a right to say that the man
who held such beliefs and indulged in such imaginations and
expressions is a burden and not a support in reference to the creed
with which his name is associated. What heathenism has ever
approached the horrors of this conception of human destiny? It is
not an abuse of language to apply to such a system of beliefs the
name of Christian pessimism.

If these and similar doctrines are so generally discredited as some
appear to think, we might expect to see the change showing itself in
catechisms and confessions of faith, to hear the joyful news of
relief from its horrors in all our churches, and no longer to read in
the newspapers of ministers rejected or put on trial for heresy
because they could not accept the most dreadful of these doctrines.
Whether this be so or not, it must be owned that the name of Jonathan
Edwards does at this day carry a certain authority with it for many
persons, so that anything he believed gains for them some degree of
probability from that circumstance. It would, therefore, be of much
interest to know whether he was trustworthy in his theological
speculations, and whether he ever changed his belief with reference
to any of the great questions above alluded to.

Some of our readers may remember a story which got abroad many years
ago that a certain M. Babinet, a scientific Frenchman of note, had
predicted a serious accident soon to occur to the planet on which we
live by the collision with it of a great comet then approaching us,
or some such occurrence. There is no doubt that this prediction
produced anxiety and alarm in many timid persons. It became a very
interesting question with them who this M. Babinet might be. Was he
a sound observer, who had made other observations and predictions
which had proved accurate? Or was he one of those men who are always
making blunders for other people to correct? Is he known to have
changed his opinion as to the approaching disastrous event?

So long as there were any persons made anxious by this prediction, so
long as there was even one who believed that he, and his family, and
his nation, and his race, and the home of mankind, with all its
monuments, were very soon to be smitten in mid-heaven and instantly
shivered into fragments, it was very desirable to find any evidence
that this prophet of evil was a man who held many extravagant and
even monstrous opinions. Still more satisfactory would it be if it
could be shown that he had reconsidered his predictions, and declared
that he could not abide by his former alarming conclusions. And we
should think very ill of any astronomer who would not rejoice for the
sake of his fellow-creatures, if not for his own, to find the
threatening presage invalidated in either or both of the ways just
mentioned, even though he had committed himself to M. Babinet's dire

But what is the trivial, temporal accident of the wiping out of a
planet and its inhabitants to the infinite catastrophe which shall
establish a mighty world of eternal despair? And which is it most
desirable for mankind to have disproved or weakened, the grounds of
the threat of M. Babinet, or those of the other infinitely more
terrible comminations, so far as they rest on the authority of
Jonathan Edwards?

The writer of this paper had been long engaged in the study of the
writings of Edwards, with reference to the essay he had in
contemplation, when, on speaking of the subject to a very
distinguished orthodox divine, this gentleman mentioned the existence
of a manuscript of Edwards which had been held back from the public
on account of some opinions or tendencies it contained, or was
suspected of containing "High Arianism" was the exact expression he
used with reference to it. On relating this fact to an illustrious
man of science, whose name is best known to botanists, but is justly
held in great honor by the orthodox body to which he belongs, it
appeared that he, too, had heard of such a manuscript, and the
questionable doctrine associated with it in his memory was
Sabellianism. It was of course proper in the writer of an essay on
Jonathan Edwards to mention the alleged existence of such a
manuscript, with reference to which the same caution seemed to have
been exercised as that which led, the editor of his collected works
to suppress the language Edwards had used about children.

This mention led to a friendly correspondence between the writer and
one of the professors in the theological school at Andover, and
finally to the publication of a brief essay, which, for some reason,
had been withheld from publication for more than a century. Its
title is "Observations concerning the Scripture OEconomy of the
Trinity and Covenant of Redemption. By Jonathan Edwards." It
contains thirty-six pages and a half, each small page having about
two hundred words. The pages before the reader will be found to
average about three hundred and twenty-five words. An introduction
and an appendix by the editor, Professor Egbert C. Smyth, swell the
contents to nearly a hundred pages, but these additions, and the
circumstance that it is bound in boards, must not lead us to overlook
the fact that the little volume is nothing more than a pamphlet in
book's clothing.

A most extraordinary performance it certainly is, dealing with the
arrangements entered into by the three persons of the Trinity, in as
bald and matter-of-fact language and as commercial a spirit as if the
author had been handling the adjustment of a limited partnership
between three retail tradesmen. But, lest a layman's judgment might
be considered insufficient, the treatise was submitted by the writer
to one of the most learned of our theological experts,--the same who
once informed a church dignitary, who had been attempting to define
his theological position, that he was a Eutychian,--a fact which he
seems to have been no more aware of than M. Jourdain was conscious
that he had been speaking prose all his life. The treatise appeared
to this professor anti-trinitarian, not in the direction of
Unitarianism, however, but of Tritheism. Its anthropomorphism
affected him like blasphemy, and the paper produced in him the sense
of "great disgust," which its whole character might well excite in
the unlearned reader.

All this is, however, of little importance, for this is not the work
of Edwards referred to by the present writer in his previous essay.
The tract recently printed as a volume may be the one referred to by
Dr. Bushnell, in 1851, but of this reference by him the writer never
heard until after his own essay was already printed. The manuscript
of the "Observations" was received by Professor Smyth, as he tells us
in his introduction, about fifteen years ago, from the late Reverend
William T. Dwight, D. D., to whom it was bequeathed by his brother,
the Reverend Dr. Sereno E. Dwight.

But the reference of the present writer was to another production of
the great logician, thus spoken of in a quotation from "the
accomplished editor of the Hartford 'Courant,'" to be found in
Professor Smyth's introduction:

"It has long been a matter of private information that Professor
Edwards A. Park, of Andover, had in his possession an published
manuscript of Edwards of considerable extent, perhaps two thirds as
long as his treatise on the will. As few have ever seen the
manuscript, its contents are only known by vague reports.... It is
said that it contains a departure from his published views on the
Trinity and a modification of the view of original sin. One account
of it says that the manuscript leans toward Sabellianism, and that it
even approaches Pelagianism."

It was to this "suppressed" manuscript the present writer referred,
and not to the slender brochure recently given to the public. He is
bound, therefore, to say plainly that to satisfy inquirers who may be
still in doubt with reference to Edwards's theological views, it
would be necessary to submit this manuscript, and all manuscripts of
his which have been kept private, to their inspection, in print, if
possible, so that all could form their own opinion about it or them.

The whole matter may be briefly stated thus: Edwards believed in an
eternity of unimaginable horrors for "the bulk of mankind." His
authority counts with many in favor of that belief, which affects
great numbers as the idea of ghosts affected Madame de Stall: "Je n'y
crois pas, mais je les crains." This belief is one which it is
infinitely desirable to the human race should be shown to be
possibly, probably, or certainly erroneous. It is, therefore,
desirable in the interest of humanity that any force the argument in
its favor may derive from Edwards's authority should be weakened by
showing that he was capable of writing most unwisely, and if it
should be proved that he changed his opinions, or ran into any
"heretical" vagaries, by using these facts against the validity of
his judgment. That he was capable of writing most unwisely has been
sufficiently shown by the recent publication of his "Observations."
Whether he, anywhere contradicted what were generally accepted as his
theological opinions, or how far he may have lapsed into heresies,
the public will never rest satisfied until it sees and interprets for
itself everything that is open to question which may be contained in
his yet unpublished manuscripts. All this is not in the least a
personal affair with the writer, who, in the course of his studies of
Edwards's works, accidentally heard, from the unimpeachable sources
sufficiently indicated, the reports, which it seems must have been
familiar to many, that there was unpublished matter bearing on the
opinions of the author through whose voluminous works he had been
toiling. And if he rejoiced even to hope that so wise a man as
Edwards has been considered, so good a man as he is recognized to
have been, had, possibly in his changes of opinion, ceased to think
of children as vipers, and of parents as shouting hallelujahs while
their lost darlings were being driven into the flames, where is the
theologian who would not rejoice to hope so with him or who would be
willing to tell his wife or his daughter that he did not?

The real, vital division of the religious part of our Protestant
communities is into Christian optimists and Christian pessimists.
The Christian optimist in his fullest development is characterized by
a cheerful countenance, a voice in the major key, an undisguised
enjoyment of earthly comforts, and a short confession of faith. His
theory of the universe is progress; his idea of God is that he is a
Father with all the true paternal attributes, of man that he is
destined to come into harmony with the key-note of divine order, of
this earth that it is a training school for a better sphere of
existence. The Christian pessimist in his most typical manifestation
is apt to wear a solemn aspect, to speak, especially from the pulpit,
in the minor key, to undervalue the lesser enjoyments of life, to
insist on a more extended list of articles of belief. His theory of
the universe recognizes this corner of it as a moral ruin; his idea
of the Creator is that of a ruler whose pardoning power is subject to
the veto of what is called "justice;" his notion of man is that he is
born a natural hater of God and goodness, and that his natural
destiny is eternal misery. The line dividing these two great classes
zigzags its way through the religious community, sometimes following
denominational layers and cleavages, sometimes going, like a
geological fracture, through many different strata. The natural
antagonists of the religious pessimists are the men of science,
especially the evolutionists, and the poets. It was but a
conditioned prophecy, yet we cannot doubt what was in Milton's mind
when he sang, in one of the divinest of his strains, that

"Hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day."

And Nature, always fair if we will allow her time enough, after
giving mankind the inspired tinker who painted the Christian's life
as that of a hunted animal, "never long at ease," desponding,
despairing, on the verge of self-murder,--painted it with an
originality, a vividness, a power and a sweetness, too, that rank him
with the great authors of all time,--kind Nature, after this gift,
sent as his counterpoise the inspired ploughman, whose songs have
done more to humanize the hard theology of Scotland than all the
rationalistic sermons that were ever preached. Our own Whittier has
done and is doing the same thing, in a far holier spirit than Burns,
for the inherited beliefs of New England and the country to which New
England belongs. Let me sweeten these closing paragraphs of an essay
not meaning to hold a word of bitterness with a passage or two from
the lay-preacher who is listened to by a larger congregation than any
man who speaks from the pulpit. Who will not hear his words with
comfort and rejoicing when he speaks of "that larger hope which,
secretly cherished from the times of Origen and Duns Scotus to those
of Foster and Maurice, has found its fitting utterance in the noblest
poem of the age?"

It is Tennyson's "In Memoriam" to which he refers, and from which he
quotes four verses, of which this is the last:

"Behold! we know not anything
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last,--far off,--at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring."

If some are disposed to think that the progress of civilization and
the rapidly growing change of opinion renders unnecessary any further
effort to humanize "the Gospel of dread tidings;" if any believe the
doctrines of the Longer and Shorter Catechism of the Westminster
divines are so far obsolete as to require no further handling; if
there are any who thank these subjects have lost their interest for
living souls ever since they themselves have learned to stay at home
on Sundays, with their cakes and ale instead of going to meeting,
--not such is Mr. Whittier's opinion, as we may infer from his
recent beautiful poem, "The Minister's Daughter." It is not science
alone that the old Christian pessimism has got to struggle with, but
the instincts of childhood, the affections of maternity, the
intuitions of poets, the contagious humanity of the philanthropist,
--in short, human nature and the advance of civilization. The pulpit
has long helped the world, and is still one of the chief defences
against the dangers that threaten society, and it is worthy now, as
it always has been in its best representation, of all love and honor.
But many of its professed creeds imperatively demand revision, and
the pews which call for it must be listened to, or the preacher will
by and by find himself speaking to a congregation of bodiless echoes.


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


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