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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
arbiters of the condition of our men by their pulse, as to gain their assistance and counsel in the above-mentioned way, viz :-the prescribing of proper medicines." That is, this learned physician assisted at consultations, not so much to afford the advantage of his scientific knowledge of diagnosis to these barbarians, as to receive their aid in applying the specific remedies. Surely a more honourable course than the "odi profanum vulgus," too often practised now-a-days. Boyle observes, upon this instance :-"I consider that some poisons that produce such dreadful symptoms in the body, are frequently cured by their appropriate antidotes, which must therefore have a sanative power, great enough to surmount the efficacy of the venomous matter. And he pushes the argument to the effect that there is no essential difference between a disease caused by a poison, and one naturally incident; and if a person poisoned can be cured by an antidote direct and specific, why should not a person ill of a natural ailment be so likewise? In corroboration, he quotes Dr. Willis, one of the most celebrated physicians of his day in England, who calls the Jesuit's powder, i. e. Peruvian Bark, the noblest medicine we know, and adds:-" Although I will not dispute whether it be so certain and safe a specific for agues, as it is believed by divers eminent doctors, yet I think it can scarce be denied to be a specific medicine to stop the fits of agues, since it does that more effectually than physicians were wont to do;"-an affirmative, certified by the experience of the two centuries that have elapsed since it was written. That we should use one specific at a time, is laid down by Boyle as an obvious, even self-evident maxim. For if we use more than one, it will be impossible to arrive at a certain knowledge of the power of any one. "By heaping up or blending simples into one compounded remedy, I see not how, in many ages, men will 2 Vol. V., p. 80.
1 Op. cit., Vol. II., p. 155.
be able to discover their qualities of good and bad, that are comprised under the name of the materia medica; whereas, when a physician often employs a simple, and observes the effects of it, the relief or prejudice of the patient may very probably, if not with medical certainty, be ascribed to the good or bad qualities of that particular remedy."
But it may be objected that a disease, being a complicated action, may require a variety of remedies to antagonize its total operation on the system. To this objection Boyle replies, that many symptoms arise from a single cause, and that if we can find out a specific antidote for the cause, on that being destroyed, the morbid phenomena will decline of themselves. "Diseases are not always so differing in their nature and essence as they are commonly thought; but the same morbific matter for essence may produce very different symptoms, which may be taken for several diseases, according to the condition of the parts that it resides in, or works upon, in all or most of which it may be subdued by the same remedies, which may destroy its texture, giving it a more innocent one.
When we remember that this great philosopher lived when the virtues of Bark were still sub judice, and before the discovery of Vaccination, we are lost in admiration of his wonderful penetration. And yet, in all that Boyle wrote upon the subject of medicine, he avowedly only amplified, expounded, and illustrated by new facts, maxims and principles laid down by his great preceptor Lord Bacon. These two earliest instructors in the right method to be pursued for the liberation of the Art of Healing from the yoke of prejudice and blind authority, and for promoting its growth to the full stature of its normal development, entirely agreed both as to what must be given up and what must be worked out. Physicians are desired to give up the 1 Op. cit., Vol. V., p. 116. 2 Op. cit., Vol. I., p. 81.
blending of many medicines in one prescription; they are desired to give up searching for imaginary causes of disease such as acidity of the blood-and treating these supposititious causes with equally supposititious antidotes, after the fashion of the chemists and the school of Sylvius; they are desired to give up a blind and infatuated respect for Galen, such as was professed by the College of France and the fashionable Guy Patin. They must neither be disciples of Galen, bleeding because he bled, and giving purgatives because he says the humors must be cleansed; nor must they be disciples of Nature, as Hippocrates was, merely imitating the natural crises and evacuations of the morbific actions in the body. They must do something quite different: they must search out substances which exercise a directly curative power-a power of neutralizing the causes of disease without producing any disturbing effect on the body. Having found these medicines, which are known by the name of Specifics, they must give one, and one only, at a time, and carefully observe its action; they must, moreover, give it in a small dose, for its action. must be preternaturally energetic upon a part preternaturally sensitive.
Such is the Baconian system of Medicine as set forth by Boyle.