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.
The venereal disease, using the term in its widest acceptation, consists in the effects of certain morbid poisons, generated and usually communicated by promiscuous sexual intercourse.
It includes two distinct diseases, Gonorrhoea and Syphilis, which differ very widely in their nature and effects.
Both diseases present two classes of symptoms,-the primary and the secondary;-the primary being the effects of the morbid poison on the parts to which it is actually applied; the secondary being the subsequent results of some general disorder of the constitution.
Syphilis consists, first, of ulceration of the parts to which the morbid poison is applied, and inflammation of the neighbouring lymphatics, which are the primary symptoms; and, secondly, of sundry eruptions of the skin, ulcerations of the throat, inflammations of the eye, and inflammation and caries of the bones and joints, which are the secondary symptoms.
The primary symptoms of Syphilis are undoubtedly contagious and communicable by inoculation with the matter from the ulcers. The secondary symptoms, which depend on a general contamination of constitution, are not communicable by inoculation, but are capable of transmission from a mother to the foetus in utero; and it is probable that they may also be communicated from the husband to his wife; from a nurse to a suckling infant, and from an infant to its nurse.
There is, moreover, a third class of symptoms, which may be called tertiary; consisting of various eruptions, rheumatic pains, falling off of the hair, deafness, and all kinds of anomalous cachectic complaints, which are the sequelae of Syphilis when it operates on an originally bad constitution, or is aggravated by ill-treatment. This vitiated state of constitution is doubtless a frequent source of stunted, sickly, and scrofulous children. We must next lay before the reader as brief an account as possible of the various disputed opinions with regard to the history and origin of this disease. The following are the principal questions in dispute:-namely, First, Was the venereal disease known to the ancients? Secondly, Was it imported from America? Thirdly, Are there more syphilitic poisons than one? Fourthly, Are the poisons which produce Gonorrhoea and Syphilis identical? Fifthly, What is the origin of Syphilis? And, lastly, what are the specific virtues of Mercury? These questions we will discuss seriatim.
Was the venereal disease known to the ancients?
Those who believe that it was known to the ancients argue thus: they affirm that writers on medicine from the earliest ages make mention of sundry ulcerous diseases of the genitals and the fauces, some of which were most probably venereal. That, in particular, some of the ulcers of the genitals mentioned by Celsus correspond exactly with certain ordinary venereal sores of the present time. That Rhazes, an Arabian writer, mentions an ulcer of the penis produced by the "accen-sionem mulieris supra virum. That sundry foreign authors who flourished between 1270 and 1470,mention ulcers and pustules of the penis as contracted by lying with foul women; or with women who have ulcers,-or who have lately had connection with one whose penis was ulcerated. But the strongest arguments of all are contained in two papers presented by Mr. Beckett to the Royal Society in 1717 and 1718, in which he contends for the antiquity of the disease in England. He proves that Gonorrhoea was well known in 1162 under the terms brenning or burning; and that certain enactments were extant, which provided that any stewholder keeping a woman with the perilous infirmity of burning should forfeit the sum of one hundred shillings. Further, he says, that John Arden, surgeon to Richard II, (1380), defines the brenning to be an inward heat and excoriation of the urethra; and that, besides, he mentions certain "contumacious ulcers which we now term chancres." And, moreover, that a MS. in Lincoln College, Oxford, written by Thomas Gascoigne, Chancellor of that University, and dated 1430, states that some men, (and amongst them John of Gaunt), had died of disease caught by frequenting women. Another potent line of reasoning is founded on the circumstance, that many ancient authors state the leprosy of their times as being contagious; and that ulcers of the penis and heat of urine were contracted by men who lay with leprous women. But it is reasonable to infer, that what they called leprosy was in reality venereal disease. Because in the first place, (as Bateman says,) "there is little doubt that every species of cachectic disease accompanied with ulceration, gangrene, or any superficial derangement, was formerly termed leprous; "-and because, in the second place, there is no ground for believing that elephantiasis (the real tubercular leprosy) is contagious at all;-and because that disease is never communicated by contact in modern times, whether in carnal conversation or otherwise;-a fact which has been ascertained by ample experience, especially at Madeira. Mr. Beckett further mentions the occurrence of nodes on the bones at those early periods; and shows that some of the so-called leprous diseases were cured by Mercury, whilst real leprosy is not. Therefore those who believe in the antiquity of the venereal disease contend, that discharges from the urethra and syphilitical ulcers on the genitals were known in the earlier ages; and that they were known to proceed from fornication; although the secondary symptoms which followed the latter, were for the most part not known to be venereal, but were confounded with the leprosy.
On the other hand, the opponents of its antiquity contend that, although ulcers or pustules on the genital organs, and sundry discharges were not unknown, still that neither in Celsus, nor in any other ancient writer, do we find mention that such maladies were solely, or even frequently, the produce of sexual commerce;-or that they were peculiarly difficult to heal;-or that they were frequently, or indeed ever, followed by constitutional disease. But the most potent argument of all is this: -namely, that all at once, towards the close of the fifteenth century, whilst the French army was besieging Naples, a new and terrible disease sprang up; rebellious to every known method of treatment;-attacking high and low, rich and poor;-sparing neither age nor sex;-consisting of ulcers on the parts of generation in both sexes; which were speedily followed by affections of the throat and nose;-by corroding ulcers over the whole body; by excruciating nocturnal pains, and frequently by death. Whereas " not one word that can be construed into any similar affection, is to be met with distinctly stated in any writer before that period."