This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
They, therefore, who are in favour of its antiquity, must hold one of these three opinions concerning that virulent disease of the fifteenth century;-viz., 1st, That it was a new kind of venereal disease;-or 2nd, That it was merely an aggravated variety of the old disease, or 3rd, That it was not the venereal disease at all; but some malady (such as sivvens, yaws, radesyge, etc.,) resembling it.
The most probable supposition is, that Syphilis existed from very early ages, and that its increased virulence in the fifteenth century-is to be attributed to war, famine, and the intercourse of foreigners;
-circumstances, which in all times have produced an aggravated type of Syphilis; whilst its virulence is invariably diminished under the influence of peace and cleanliness. But the consideration of this new malady brings us to our second question:
Was it imported from America? The greatest weight of evidence is certainly opposed to this supposition. Because no such disease is mentioned by the very earliest historians of the discovery of that continent; neither is it mentioned by the earliest writers on America; and Peter Martyr, who was physician to Ferdinand and Isabella, and who was actually at Barcelona when Columbus returned from his first voyage in 1493, does not say a word as to its American origin. But besides-of the earliest authors on the venereal disease, some attribute it to the divine vengeance, some to an earthquake, some to a malignity of the air caused by an overflow of the Tiber; not a few to a celestial influx, or malignant conjunction of Saturn and Mars in the sign Scorpio, or some other astrological nonsense; almost all refer its outbreak to the siege of Naples-but not one for the first thirty or forty years derives it from the West Indies.
They who conceive that the new disease was not Syphilis, found their opinion on the fact, that the descriptions given by many of the oldest writers correspond pretty closely with the yaws, or frambcesia, or sivvens, (a disease frequent enough in America,) and that like yaws it often was communicated to the very young or old, and to persons who did not catch it by carnal conversation.
Are there more syphilitic poisons than one? Carmichael and others assert, that there are various kinds of syphilitic poisons, each kind causing a peculiar primary ulcer, and a peculiar train of secondary symptoms. They say in,proof of their opinions, that every other morbid poison muniform and regular in its effects; and that it would be "an unreasonable and unwarranted exception to an universal law of nature" if the venereal were not so also. But venereal diseases are multiform and irregular; consequently they must be caused by more poisons than one. For what other single poison can produce papular, pustular, scaly, and other kinds of eruptions?
But these arguments are subverted by the fact, that a prostitute with one ulcer, may cause various kinds of primary ulcers in the men who have intercourse with her;-that the same kind of primary sore will give rise to different eruptions in different persons, and in the same persons at different times; that the differences of primary sores depend on differences of situation, constitution, treatment, and the circumstances of the times, as was observed in the last page:-and that if arguments in favour of multiplicity of poisons be drawn from the mere appearance of ulcers or eruptions, there may be forty or fifty instead of four or five venereal poisons.
Are the poisons of Gonorrhaea and Syphilis indentical?
Hunter believed that they were identical, for he produced a chancre by inoculation with Gonorrhoeal matter, which was followed in three months by sore throat and eruptions. But the recent researches of Ricord show that, although the pus of a syphilitic ulcer, like any other morbid secretion, may irritate a mucous membrane and produce Gonorrhoea, still that gonorrhoeal matter will not produce syphilitic ulcers, and that Gonorrhoea will not be followed by secondary syphilitic symptoms, unless there is also a chancre or syphilitic sore in the urethra; which was probably the case with the patient from whom Hunter took the gonorrhoeal matter.
What is the origin of Syphilis? On this point nothing is known with certainty. M. Ricord throws out the conjecture, that a source foreign to the human race, may have furnished the first germ of Syphilis, which once engrafted, has been propagated by inoculation like the vaccine virus; and he believes that it never arises spontaneously. Another opinion is, that it may occasionally be produced de novo, if a mixture of various foul and diseased male and female secretions act upon a breach of surface in an unhealthy constitution.
At least, the following facts furnish a kind of approximation to a proof of this. - Seventeen galley-slaves were inoculated with gonorrhoeal matter. Slight ulcers were produced, which in five of the cases healed readily enough. But the remaining twelve patients were either scrofulous or scorbutic, or in an ill state of health, and seven of these suffered from eruptions and wandering pains. There is certainly nothing absurd in the supposition, that the same causes which produced it at first may occasionally concur to produce it again; and it is far more probable that a disease so widely diffused, arises from some cause within the ordinary range of events, than that it arose from one source only, at some one particular time and place, and that source extrinsic to the human species. Of the causes of Gonorrhoea we shall speak in the next section.
Lastly, is Mercury a specific? Hunter not only considered that no really syphilitic disease could get well without it, but gravely upbraids human nature for doubting it. "Nothing," says he, "can show more the ungrateful and unsettled mind of man than his treatment of this medicine. If there is such a thing as a specific Mercury is the one for venereal disease." The following results, however, of experiments made by the army surgeons, and especially by Rose, Guthrie, and Hennen, will enable the reader to form a juster estimate of its capabilities. It is concluded, that all kinds of primary and secondary symptoms may get well without Mercury. That out of 1,940 cases treated without it, ninety-six had secondary symptoms; and out of 2,827 treated with it, fifty-one had secondary symptoms. The average result of different experimenters, however, show that there are at least seven times as many cases of secondary symptoms, when no Mercury has been given, as when it has. That the secondary symptoms of cases treated without it are in general less severe, and that affections of the bones in particular are much less frequent. That the average period of cure is much the same in both cases; but that relapses are more frequent when no Mercury has been given.