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medicine, that the curative branch rather repels than attracts minds of a highly scientific tendency, of whose active co-operation it stands in need, to register its facts and ascertain its laws.
A special hindrance to the advancement of medicine, is the system of prescribing many ingredients in one receipt. On this head, Boyle anticipates to a great extent what has since been written, and is almost as energetic as any of our more modern writers.
"It seems a great impediment to the further discovery of the virtues of simples, to confound so many of them in compositions; for in a mixture of a great number of ingredients, it is hard to know what is the operation of each or any of them, that I fear there will scarce, in a long time, be any progress made in the discovery of the virtues of simple drugs, till they either be oftener employed singly, or be but few of them employed in one remedy. Again he returns to the charge :-" I fear that when a multitude of simples are heaped together into one compound medicine, though there may result a new crisis, yet it is very hard for the physicians to know beforehand what that will be; and it may sometimes prove rather hurtful than good, or at least by the coalition the virtues of the chief ingredients may be rather impaired than improved. I had not the respect I have for Mathiolus and other famous doctors that devised the compositions, whereinto ingredients are thrown by scores if not by hundreds, yet, however, I would not reject an effectual remedy, because I thought it proved so rather by chance, than by any skill in the contriver; and I think a wise man may use a remedy that none but a fool would have devised." Such are Boyle's opinions on the use of compound medicines: it was not by them that the art of healing was to be improved. Nor was it by reverting to "the wisdom of the ancients," as Sprengel
1 Vol. II., p. 124.
suggests; or by worshipping the "vis medicatrix naturæ," as our modern school inculcate. His words on this head are very striking. "Though, in a right sense, it be true that the physician is nature's minister, and is to comply with her, who aims always at the best; yet if we take this in the sense those expressions are vulgarly used in, I may elsewhere acquaint you with my exceptions at them; and in the meantime I confess to you that I know not whether they have not done harm, and hindered the advancement of physic, fascinating the minds of men, and keeping them from those effectual courses whereby they may potently alter the engine of the body; and, by rectifying the motion and texture of its parts, both consistent and fluid, may bring nature to their bent, and accustom her to such convenient courses of the blood and other juices, and such fit times and ways of evacuating (what is noxious or superfluous) as may prevent or cure stubborn diseases more happily than the vulgar Methodists are wont to do."
Boyle does not leave us in any doubt as to the helm by which the vessel is to be steered. Far from denying the power of nature, he was one of the greatest investigators of her hidden forces; but, once discovered, they are to be used, not obeyed; not submitted to as eternal laws to which we owe subjection, but employed under the direction of reason for the benefit of the human race. And what are these forces which are to regenerate the art of healing, and restore it to its pristine dignity as exercised by the Messenger of good-will to man? They are-Specifics.
By the term specific, Boyle distinctly states that he does not mean a nostrum or panacea, which is to cure all diseases, or any disease whatever, infallibly, and as by magic; all he means is, a remedy which most commonly relieves the patient, lessening the disease by reason of some unknown property or peculiar virtue. One great stumbling-block in
1 Op. cit., Vol. II., p. 186.
the recognition of specifics he thus tries to remove. "Finding at every turn that the main thing which does prevail with learned physicians to reject specifics, is, that they cannot clearly conceive the distinct manner of the specific's working, and think it utterly improbable that such a medicine, which must pass through digestions in the body, and be whirled about by the mass of the blood to all the parts, should, neglecting the rest, show itself friendly to the brain, for instance, or the kidneys, or fall upon this or that juice or humour, rather than any other. But to this objection, which I have proposed as plausible as I can make it, I shall at present but briefly offer these two things.
"First, I would demand of these objectors a clear and satisfactory, or, at least, an intelligible explication of the manner of working of divers other medicaments that do not pass for specifics. Why the glass of antimony, though it acquire no pungent, or so much as manifest taste, whereby to vilicate the palate, is both vomitive and cathartic? For I confess, that to me even many of the vulgar operations of common drugs seem not to have been hitherto intelligibly explained by physicians, who have yet, for aught I have observed, to seek for an account of the manner of how diuretics, sudorifics, &c., perform their operations." Again, "The same objection that is urged to prove that a specific cannot befriend the kidneys, for example, or throat, rather than any other parts of the body, lies against the noxiousness of poisons to this or that determinate part; yet experience manifests that some poisons do respect some particular parts of the body, without equally (or at all sensibly) offending the rest; and we see that cantharides, in a certain dose, are noxious to the kidneys and bladder, and quicksilver to the throat and glandules thereabouts, stramonium to the brain, and opium to the animal spirits and genus nervosum." Had the
1 Vol. II., p. 191.
reigning teachers of medicine accepted these propositions of Boyle, and worked them out to their natural consequences, they would have inevitably anticipated a later system, for they would have gone on experimenting with substances which had a specific relation to the parts of the body affected with disease, and they would have been forced to give the medicines in small quantity, to prevent the aggravation which would otherwise have been excited Indeed, this idea is clearly discernible in the system of specifics recommended by Boyle. Here is the earliest vindication of the use of minute doses, and the true explanation of the principle of their efficacy: :
"To show you that a distempered body is an engine disposed to receive alterations upon such impressions as will make none on a sound body, let me put you in mind that those subtle streams that wander through the air before considerable changes of weather disclose themselves, are wont to be painfully felt by many sickly persons, and more constantly by men that have had great bruises or wounds, in the parts that have been so hurt; though neither are healthy men at all incommoded thereby, nor do those themselves that have been hurt feel anything in their sound parts, whose tone or texture has not been altered or enfeebled by outward violence."1
Here we have distinct expression of the doctrine of morbid sensitiveness to the action of specific influences—a plain and simple corroboration of the belief, that a dose which produces no effect upon a person in health, may act energetically upon the frame of what Boyle calls "a distempered body."
He repeats elsewhere the answer to the objection against the efficacy of small doses in the following words:"Whereas it is objected that so small a quantity of the matter of a specific, as is able to retain its nature when it arrives at 1 Vol. II., p. 176.
the part it should work on, must have little or no power left to relieve it: this difficulty will not stagger those who know how unsafe it is to measure the power that natural agents may have to work upon such an engine as the human body, by their bulk rather than by their subtilty and activity." The force or curative power of a specific is to be measured by its adaptation to the disease, and the degree of intensified sensitiveness which the organ affected with the disease for which it is a specific, has reached.
Such are some of the arguments he advances in favour of the credibility of specifics; but Boyle was far too much of the inductive philosopher to claim a verdict for his client on merely speculative grounds. He not only gives his reasons for believing that there is nothing in the nature of things to warrant the summary rejection of specifics, but he puts forward what he considers valid proofs for believing in the reality and efficacy of this class of medicinal agents. Among these proofs is, "The concurrent suffrage of many eminent physicians, including Galen; and this testimony from physicians in favour of specifics is of more weight from their unwillingness to admit cures they cannot explain." He then gives various examples of the evidence of medical authorities on this point, and quotes from the travels of Dr. Piso, in South America, who gives some remarkable instances of the action of specifics in arresting the poisons of that region.
To quote the words of that writer, "I saw divers, as it were in an instant redeemed from death, who had been poisoned by the eating of venomous mushrooms and other unwholesome things, only by drinking a recent infusion of the root of Jaborand, whilst myself and others of Galen's disciples blushed to see the ineffectual endeavours of all our alexipharmacy, treacles, and other antidotes. So that I afterwards suffered myself to be joined in consultation with these barbarous colleagues, not so much to be