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The design of this book is to represent the condition of the Art of Medicine and its practitioners at successive periods of history. In the execution of the plan, it has naturally happened that the characters of the men who have directly, or indirectly, exerted the greatest influence in moulding the medical art have been among the chief subjects of research and delineation. Hence the volume has assumed a lighter, more biographical, and probably more popular form, than might perhaps have been expected in a work of this nature.
There does not yet exist in the English tongue a single complete History of Medicine ; nor does this book aspire to supply the deficiency. In order to do so, an account must have been given of the growth of the sciences on which the Art is built, instead of merely indications of their influence; to do which with any fulness, at least five or six volumes each as large as this one would be required. It is, indeed, a task well worth attempting ; for the Standard History (Sprengel's) is now nearly out of date; and it is time that justice should be done to our great modern anatomists, physiologists, and pathologists ; but it is a task which, for its due execution, demands an amount of leisure at the disposal of few who cultivate Medicine as a profession. In the mean time this less ambitious attempt may serve as a pioneer, and by directing attention to a comparatively new field of study, may be the means of encouraging others better qualified to devote themselves to that important, but laborious and difficult undertaking. With such a result I should be well satisfied ; feeling that the labour bestowed on this production has not been lost. At the same time, I cannot but regret having been compelled to omit all mention of many names which might well claim a place in even the briefest sketch of a History of Medicine. I am, also, painfully conscious that, owing to my endeavour to be as brief as possible in the expression of my own opinions, I incur great risk of being misunderstood by many of my readers, unless they peruse these pages with a desire to fill up the outline rather than to complain of its incompleteness, or to dwell on the errors which they may detect. That these errors are not more numerous, is due to the kindness of two friends who have given me their assistance in the irksome task of preparing for the press a volume, which has occupied in its composition, most of the leisure hours during several years of a busy professional life.