The mediaeval ecclesiastics expressed a great truth in that saying, so often quoted, as carrying a reproach with it: "Ubi tres medici, duo athei,"--"Where there are three physicians, there are two atheists."
It was true then, it is true to-day, that the physician very commonly, if not very generally, denies and repudiates the deity of ecclesiastical commerce. The Being whom Ambroise Pare meant when he spoke those memorable words, which you may read over the professor's chair in the French School of Medicine, "Te le pensay, et Dieu le guarit," "I dressed his wound, and God healed it,"--is a different being from the God that scholastic theologians have projected from their consciousness, or shaped even from the sacred pages which have proved so plastic in their hands. He is a God who never leaves himself without witness, who repenteth him of the evil, who never allows a disease or an injury, compatible with the enjoyment of life, to take its course without establishing an effort, limited by certain fixed conditions, it is true, but an effort, always, to restore the broken body or the shattered mind. In the perpetual presence of this great Healing Agent, who stays the bleeding of wounds, who knits the fractured bone, who expels the splinter by a gentle natural process, who walls in the inflammation that might involve the vital organs, who draws a cordon to separate the dead part from the living, who sends his three natural anaesthetics to the over-tasked frame in due order, according to its need,--sleep, fainting, death; in this perpetual presence, it is doubtless hard for the physician to realize the theological fact of a vast and permanent sphere of the universe, where no organ finds itself in its natural medium, where no wound heals kindly, where the executive has abrogated the pardoning power, and mercy forgets its errand; where the omnipotent is unfelt save in malignant agencies, and the omnipresent is unseen and unrepresented; hard to accept the God of Dante's "Inferno," and of Bunyan's caged lunatic. If this is atheism, call three, instead of two of the trio, atheists, and it will probably come nearer the truth.
I am not disposed to deny the occasional injurious effect of the materializing influences to which the physician is subjected. A spiritual guild is absolutely necessary to keep him, to keep us all, from becoming the "fingering slaves" that Wordsworth treats with such shrivelling scorn. But it is well that the two callings have been separated, and it is fitting that they remain apart. In settling the affairs of the late concern, I am afraid our good friends remain a little in our debt. We lent them our physician Michael Servetus in fair condition, and they returned him so damaged by fire as to be quite useless for our purposes. Their Reverend Samuel Willard wrote us a not over-wise report of a case of hysteria; and our Jean Astruc gave them (if we may trust Dr. Smith's Dictionary of the Bible) the first discerning criticism on the authorship of the Pentateuch. Our John Locke enlightened them with his letters concerning toleration; and their Cotton Mather obscured our twilight with his "Nishmath Chajim."
Yet we must remember that the name of Basil Valentine, the monk, is associated with whatever good and harm we can ascribe to antimony; and that the most remarkable of our specifics long bore the name of "Jesuit's Bark," from an old legend connected with its introduction. "Frere Jacques," who taught the lithotomists of Paris, owes his ecclesiastical title to courtesy, as he did not belong to a religious order.
Medical science, and especially the study of mental disease, is destined, I believe, to react to much greater advantage on the theology of the future than theology has acted on medicine in the past. The liberal spirit very generally prevailing in both professions, and the good understanding between their most enlightened members, promise well for the future of both in a community which holds every point of human belief, every institution in human hands, and every word written in a human dialect, open to free discussion today, to-morrow, and to the end of time. Whether the world at large will ever be cured of trusting to specifics as a substitute for observing the laws of health, and to mechanical or intellectual formula as a substitute for character, may admit of question. Quackery and idolatry are all but immortal.
We can find most of the old beliefs alive amongst us to-day, only having changed their dresses and the social spheres in which they thrive. We think the quarrels of Galenists and chemists belong to the past, forgetting that Thomsonism has its numerous apostles in our community; that it is common to see remedies vaunted as purely vegetable, and that the prejudice against "mineral poisons," especially mercury, is as strong in many quarters now as it was at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Names are only air, and blow away with a change of wind; but beliefs are rooted in human wants and weakness, and die hard. The oaks of Dodona are prostrate, and the shrine of Delphi is desolate; but the Pythoness and the Sibyl may be consulted in Lowell Street for a very moderate compensation. Nostradamus and Lilly seem impossible in our time; but we have seen the advertisements of an astrologer in our Boston papers year after year, which seems to imply that he found believers and patrons. You smiled when I related Sir Kenelm Digby's prescription with the live eel in it; but if each of you were to empty his or her pockets, would there not roll out, from more than one of them, a horse-chestnut, carried about as a cure for rheumatism? The brazen head of Roger Bacon is mute; but is not "Planchette" uttering her responses in a hundred houses of this city? We think of palmistry or chiromancy as belonging to the days of Albertus Magnus, or, if existing in our time, as given over to the gypsies; but a very distinguished person has recently shown me the line of life, and the line of fortune, on the palm of his hand, with a seeming confidence in the sanguine predictions of his career which had been drawn from them. What shall we say of the plausible and well-dressed charlatans of our own time, who trade in false pretences, like Nicholas Knapp of old, but without any fear of being fined or whipped; or of the many follies and inanities, imposing on the credulous part of the community, each of them gaping with eager, open mouth for a gratuitous advertisement by the mention of its foolish name in any respectable connection?
I turn from this less pleasing aspect of the common intelligence which renders such follies possible, to close the honorable record of the medical profession in this, our ancient Commonwealth.
We have seen it in the first century divided among clergymen, magistrates, and regular practitioners; yet, on the whole, for the time, and under the circumstances, respectable, except where it invoked supernatural agencies to account for natural phenomena.
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