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second or more subtle matter.1 There is, besides, a third kind of matter, of parts more coarse and less fitted for motion. The first matter makes luminous bodies, as the fixed stars; the second is the transparent substance of the skies; the third, the material of opaque bodies, as the earth, planets, and comets. We may suppose, also, that the motions of these parts take the form of revolving circular currents, or vortices. By this means, the first matter will be collected to the centre of each vortex, while the second, or subtle matter, surrounds it, and by its centrifugal effort constitutes light. The planets are carried round the sun by the motion of the vortex,* each planet being at such a distance from the sun as to be in a part of the vortex suitable to its solidity and mobility. The motions are prevented being exactly circular by various causes; for instance, a vortex may be pressed into an oval shape by contiguous vortices. The Satellites are in like manner carried round their primary planets, by subordinate vortices; while the comets have sometimes the liberty of gliding out of one vortex into the one contiguous, and thus travelling in a sinuous course from system to system through the universe.' Although Des Cartes himself styled his famous theory of vortices "A Philosophical Romance," yet it exerted a powerful influence upon the course of speculation both in physiology and pathology. Des Cartes was one of the earliest and most zealous supporters of Harvey, and while he accepted and defended the explanation given by our patient countryman of the cause of the circulation of the blood, he added to it his own imaginative hypothesis as to the production of animal heat. This he conceived to be owing to a fermentation of the blood in the heart; he compares it to the chemical action of an acid upon a metal, and the cause
1 Principia, p. 59.
2 Ibid., p. 56.
3 Ibid., p. 61.
Ibid., c. 140, p. 114.
5 Whewell's History of the Physical Sciences.
6 Sir William Hamilton's Dissertations on Philosophy, p. 304.
of the fermentation he ascribes to an ether (or the gas of Van Helmont), a spirit of some kind that vitalizes the fluid. As the blood proceeds in its course, it becomes more and more divided by this spiritual agency, and at the summit of its career in the brain, the spirit has at length effected its final divorce from the bodily element, and is at liberty-we may presume to enter into the court of the soul itself, which Des Cartes enthroned in the pineal gland, for the fanciful reason that this was the only part of the brain which was not double.
Such is the career of the emancipated spirit; but what becomes of the earthly companion in this dissolved alliance? This forsaken half, being matter, as we have seen, must be composed of atoms, or rather fragments, of various shapes and sizes, all hurried along in a perpetual whirl by the vortices. Of these fragments some are round, some triangular, some square. When a round atom arrives at the mouth of a round hole or pore, there is nothing to prevent its entrance; it is swept in by the force of the current, and finds itself at ease, and so moves on till it is taken up by the part requiring the nourishment it can afford. But, if instead of a round atom, a square one should be forced into a round hole, there occurs in the person of man all the evil consequences that result in the political frame when a round body is put into an office which Nature designed to be occupied by a square one, and we have obstruction of the Out of Des Cartes' physical romance this important doctrine took its rise-a doctrine which, under various modifications, long held sway in medicine, and powerfully affected the practice of the art.1
We may dismiss the consideration of Des Cartes' contribution to medicine, with the words applied by Playfair to his influence on physical science. "The philosophy of Des Cartes could explain all things equally well, and might
Sprengel, Vol. IV., p. 28.
have been accommodated as well to the system of Ptolemy or Tycho, as to that of Copernicus. It forms, therefore, no link in the chain of physical discovery; it served the cause of truth only by exploding errors more pernicious than itself, by exhausting a source of deception which might have misled other adventurers in science, and by leaving a striking proof how little advancement can be made in philosophy by pursuing any path but that of experiment and induction." For philosophy, in the last sentence, we may substitute medicine, and add, that Des Cartes' visions of atoms and pores were of great indirect benefit, by setting men to determine, by actual microscopic inspection, whether they had a counterpart in reality. Thus, while exploding the errors of Galen, and his elements and humours, by a physical theory even of the most fantastic kind, he at the same time instigated the liberated intellect of his age, to cultivate a fertile field of improvement in anatomy and pathology.
Des Cartes' "starting principle-that all philosophy begins in an analysis of the human consciousness-is the foundation of all subsequent psychological investigations down to the present day." He is, therefore, considered the founder of modern mental philosophy; he was, besides, one of the greatest mathematicians that ever lived, being the first to apply algebra to the solution of geometrical problems; -so we cannot wonder that, when this transcendent genius proclaimed the laws of physics, his utterances should be received with profound respect, and accepted as revelations of truth. But it is difficult to adapt our minds to the conditions of the period when Francis de la Boe Sylvius introduced into medicine his chemical theories, which received more attention, and exerted longer and deeper influence than the brilliant reveries of Des Cartes.
1 Dissert. Encyclop. Brit., p. 394. 2 An Historical and Critical View of the Speculative Philosophy of Europe
in the Nineteenth Century, by J. D. Morrell, 2nd edit., p. 176. London.
To realize, in any degree, how the most absurd and mischievous chemical notions of Sylvius were not only admitted, but greedily accepted by the medical world of his time, we must bear in mind that it had passed, or was passing, from a state of despotism into one of anarchy. Galen was still an authority with the orthodox. In the year 1615, one year after Sylvius was born, the Royal College of Physicians of Paris unanimously passed a decree, whereby "chemical medicines were condemned, and interdicted from all pharmacopoeias, and all judges were implored to inflict severe chastisement on all who prescribed, administered, and exhibited those poisonous medicines.” 1
Dr. Guy Patin was the fashionable physician of Paris at the time of Sylvius. His letters have been preserved, and form a most curious collection of medical and general gossip. The first is dated 1630, the last 1672; so they embrace a period of forty-two years. The first was written when Sylvius was sixteen years old, the last when he was fifty-eight. We have thus an opportunity of comparing the extravagances of the orthodox school with those of the heterodox or innovators. These latter went by the derisive name of what we may call "chemikers." The chemikers were all who used antimony, and the other new powerful remedies introduced to the notice of the medical world by Van Helmont and the professed chemists. How these chemikers were looked upon by their orthodox brethren, we learn from the celebrated letters of Guy Patin. A few specimens, which are too characteristically written to bear translation without loss of force, may be taken as fairly representing the opinions he maintained during his whole life. "On tient ici pour charlatans ceux qui donnent de l'antimonie ou vin émétique; il y en a quelques uns des notres qui s'en échappent, mais ils en sont haïs et méprisés, et voudroient que ce fût à recommencer; la plupart sont moines
1 Note to Guy Patin, Vol. 1, p. 191.
froqués ou défroqués, circulatores et agirta, chimistes, souffleurs, apothicaires quelques gens de la cour qui s'y vantent d'avoir des secrets, et tanquam asini exultant inter simias: aussi n'y reussissent-ils point et toute leur faveur ne dure guère." 1 Not content with these regular attacks upon the chemikers, he never fails, in mentioning a death, to attribute it, if possible, to these miscreants. "The Duchess of Lorraine has just died here of sorrow and antimony," writes he, and adds, "the grandees are unfortunate in their medical advisers; the court physicians are either ignorant or charlatans-very often both."
"The Count d' Alais was one of the most learned gentlemen of France. He had by him 'un medicastre chimiste,' whom he had brought from Provence. This man told him there was nothing the matter with him. When his malady gained ground, one of us was called in, who pronounced it to be suffocative catarrh, and said that the Count must be bled at once, and a consultation held. This the Provençal refused; and called, instead, two other workmen of his own kidney (deux autres ouvriers tels que lui), and gave antimony. Cujus vapore maligno statim extinctus fuit et per stibium Stygias ebrius hausit aquas.'
"A few days ago there died here a very rich woman, Mad. de Breton Villiers. She had a shivering, and complained of her head. They put her to bed, and gave her a laxative lavement, containing four ounces of antimonial wine. They afterwards gave her some of the same poison by the mouth. There followed a copious evacuation, a rush of blood to the head, and death in six hours. I hold it for certain that the antimony killed her. The charlatans pretend she died of an abscess in the brain." the four operators. "It was
1 Vol. I., p. 174.
2 The deadly vapour at once extinguished him, and, drunk with the
Here follow the names of the first of the four who
stibial draught, he had to drink the Stygian water.