« ForrigeFortsæt »
into court; but the judge decided against the professor, who, losing command of his temper, expressed his indignation and astonishment in such violent abuse of the legal functionary, that the matter had to be taken up by the town council, and ended in the expulsion of Paracelsus from Basle.'
This incident reveals the ignoble side of the character of Paracelsus. He may have been a man of great genius; he may have really possessed invaluable specifics; but from this anecdote, which is not denied by his warmest admirers, we must pronounce him a quack. It is against both law and usage to bargain with a patient suffering pain, or in fear of death, as to the remuneration the physician is to receive in the event of giving relief or of saving life. The transaction establishes, beyond a doubt, that it was the habit of Paracelsus to pursue this illegal and disreputable course; otherwise, while holding a position of so much importance and respectability as a Professorship in the University of Basle, he would not have incurred the odium of so disreputable a compact. We again repeat that Paracelsus was a quack.
Once more let loose upon the world, he recommenced his wanderings, which were brought to a premature termination in 1541. Wherever he went, he excited the regular faculty to a state of violent hatred by his real or pretended cures, and his unmitigated contempt of the doctors and their systems—not wholly undeserved. At Salzburg, he had given offence in his usual way; and the result was, that "he was pitched out of a window at an inn by the doctor's servants, and had his neck broken by the fall." In confirmation of this story of his melancholy end, we know that the great anatomist, Soemmering, found a fracture, which must have taken place before his death, extending through the base of Paracelsus' skull.
1 Sprengel, Vol. III., s. 445.
That a man, whose life was such a disreputable and incoherent medley, should not only excite a powerful sensation in his day, but exert an influence over human thought and action for centuries after his death, may well be a matter of surprise. The explanation may be, that the man and the age were fitted for each other. He appeared with the sixteenth century. By a slow and steady accumulation of causes, the system of thought received by tradition from the ancient philosophers, had come to be felt insufficient for the purposes of the times. There had been a great expansion of experience; men had travelled further, and had made many observations and discoveries which could not be fitted into the received systems of the universe. The most learned man of the twelfth century, Peter the Lombard, had described the earth as a square table, and the heavens as a solid dome.' The schoolmen had employed their erudition and intellect in reasoning from propositions which they had assumed as facts, and not in inquiring into the grounds of their belief in them. They discussed, with amazing subtilty, the relation of the soul to the body; and wrote learned disquisitions on the important questions-whether Adam felt pain when the rib was taken out of his side; whether Eve was made of the whole rib, or only the bony part; and whether, at the resurrection, Eve would have a rib too many, or Adam a rib too few.2 So long as intellectual cultivation was confined to monasteries, such exercises of ingenuity were not unnatural. But when nations were founded, when languages were made, when new Europe rose, then it was discovered that the old bottle of thought-forms was insufficient to confine the fermentation of its contents. The crisis had arrived, and the catastrophe could not be postponed. At such a moment, all that was wanted was a man of sufficient
1 Hist. Liter. de la France. Vol. VII.,
2 Albertus Magnus in 1 Sentent. dis
tinct. 7, art. 10, quoted by Sprengel, Vol. II., p. 235.
inherent self-confidence and audacity to pronounce the sentence of dissolution. "Were there a single man," says Bacon, "to be found with a firmness sufficient to efface from his mind the theories and notions vulgarly received, and to apply his intellect free, and without prevention, the best hopes might be entertained of his success." Such a man was Paracelsus. His burning of the books of Galen was but symbolical of his absolute rejection of his doctrines. Of the humoral pathology, which had been so long implicitly received, he says, "What you call humours are not diseases"-the disease does not consist in a deficiency or excess of black or yellow bile-" that is the disease which makes these humours. How can a physician think to discover the disease in the humours, when the humours spring out of the disease? It is not the snow which makes the winter, but the winter the snow; for although the snow is gone, the winter remains. You mistake the product of disease for disease itself." It would be impossible to put more clearly and effectively one of the radical vices of Galen's system. Again, he says, contraria contrariis curantur-that is, hot remedies cure cold diseases; that is false, the whole design is false, there is no proof of a disease being hot, or a remedy being cold.2
Thus Paracelsus undoubtedly struck the weak point of the prevailing system; he struck it with boldness and success. He held it up and said: It is nonsense, no matter though all the wise men that ever lived may have called it sense. I appeal to your understandings, whether it is not nonsense to suppose a discase to be cold, or a remedy to be hot, and to suppose that the one will counteract the other. Besides, he said: Do you find it answer-can you cure the gout, or the plague, or any other disease in this way? Certainly not. The whole system is false, and can lead to nothing but miserable failure. And look at the receipts they give you! "Open one of their herbals (books on herbs), and you will Fract. II., p. 134.
2 Schultz, s. 44.
there find how one herb has fifty or one hundred virtues; that it will cure so many forms of disease. But open their receipt books, and you will find forty or fifty such herbs in one receipt against one disease."1
Paracelsus, not content with simply rejecting the system of the ancients, a system handed down from Hippocrates, and reverenced with superstitious awe for more than 2000 years, treated the whole doctrine of their elements and humours, their crises and purgations, with the most unmitigated scorn and contempt. In its place he proposed a system of his own, of which it is very difficult to give an intelligible description. One of the greatest obstacles to a right understanding of what Paracelsus means, lies in the language he uses. Not only has he a vocabulary of his own, where we meet with such words as astrum, limbus, aniadus, with significations peculiar to Paracelsus, but he seems to have dictated his writings with an indistinct utterance to an amanuensis who was both ignorant of the subject and the language. For example, instead of Edema we have Undimia, instead of the wellknown verse of Ovid, "Tollere nodosum nescit medicina podagrum;" which means that there is no cure in medicine for the gout; we have "Nescit tartarium noades curare podagrum," which means-nobody knows what.2 In short, if we were to suppose an illiterate person attempting to write down a soliloquy of Coleridge's, which the poet delivered with his intellect confused by opium, and (if the supposition be not too extravagant) his speech thickened by wine, we might form some faint conception of the style in which the writings of Paracelsus were composed. We can hardly wonder that the cultivated and respectable Sprengel should manifest contempt for such a man; but we cannot help regretting that he should not have bestowed more pains upon the explanation of the
1 De Pestil. lib. I., p. 341.
Sprengel, Vol. III., p. 419.
doctrines of a writer who, however much his mode of life may have shocked the respectabilities of his own and our times, did yet inaugurate a new era of medicine.
What adds to the difficulty of giving a succinct and lucid account of the system contained in the various writings ascribed to Paracelsus, is that many of them are, undoubtedly, spurious. Besides the difficulties of the words and style, there is such obscurity, that it often seems as if there had been an intentional effort at mystification. If so, he has in this respect been eminently successful. There is, however, one prominent and fundamental idea which stands out in sharp contrast with the doctrines of his predecessors, and round which all the other parts of the system may be grouped. This one idea is, that disease does not depend upon a change in the so-called humours;-not on an excess or deficiency of black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, or blood, nor is it to be cured by getting rid of the peccant or faulty element; but that disease is an actual existence, an entity, that settles like a blight upon the body; that this blight, or possession, or parasite, has its own laws of growth like a plant, and is to be opposed by something of a nature similar to its own; and that the character of the disease, or morbid plant, is decided by the original constitution of the body:-" as the vegetation of a district depends upon its soil, so," says he, "do we find different persons liable to different kinds of complaints." But how, it may be asked, are we to discover the different kinds of remedies which, from their inherent similarity, are proper for the destruction of this morbid principle? To answer this question, we must enter into some explanation of his general theories.
Medicine he represents as consisting of three partsphilosophy, astronomy, and alchemy. The notion of a three-fold unity pervades all his speculations, founded on
1 Schultz, s. 39.