Quaint and antiquarian though this book may seem, Colby, a more polished voice than his mentor, Samuel Thomson, was dealing as best as possible with the arrogant, hubristic and mechanistic disarray of Medicine between 1800 and 1860. The Thomsonians were radical populists that espoused the rude concept that common sense and a little learning was a better doctor than professionals seemingly addicted to bloodletting, purging with heavy metals, and heroic cleanses. They were a popular and robust "sect", with lay practitioners crawling all over the woodwork like ticks on a feeble dog.

The substantial presence in later years of "irregular" physicians (licensed M.D.s) such as the Eclectics and the Physio-Medicalists, as well as medical Homeopathy, was opposed with almost religious fervor by the "regulars" of the Eastern Establishment. Better funded (often by public moneys) and with close ties to full universities, the regulars prevailed in almost all arenas by the first decade of the twentieth century. The last Eclectic Medical School closed to resounding indifference in 1938. Well before that time, mainstream American Medicine had responded to the CAUSE of opposition by cleaning its house, and reestablishing the general trust of most Americans. The populist movements, by whatever name, had served the greater good...and sealed their own doom.

Frankly, the problems of mid-nineteenth-century medicine uncomfortably resemble the state of medicine at the end of the twentieth century, with alternative medicine/healing/therapy presenting a populist resistance to Standard Practice Medicine that seems to be growing almost expotentially. The slow, ritually scathing indictment by Colby of Medicine in his day may seem quaint...unless you remember that the physicians he verbally eviscerates were products of the most rigorous training available anywhere. His denouncement of the quack remedies of his age are blamed upon the people's loss of faith in regular medicine, a state disturbingly similar to our present circumstance.

In my life I have seen DES therapy and the standard practice of thymus implants with radium come and go...a few brief years later scoffed at as "primitive". Yet hundreds of thousands of physicians still in practice dutifully used BOTH of these modalities at the time, with nary a question (until later). To the educated outsider, it seems astonishing how little attention is given by Medicine to its own history...even that of a decade or two past. History of Medicine as taught in medical schools consists of the exposition of its SUCCESSFUL lineage, whereas the most important parts are not who first observed the circulation of blood or saw the potential of the Digitalis in a Herb Woman's brew. The greatest lessons medicine has learned in the last several centuries has come from CORRECTING its mistakes.

If the last century is an example to learn from, it will be many frantic years before we "irregulars" bring about the re-ordination of mainstream medicine back into the vitalist center. In that context, as well as for some of its surprisingly sound observations, this popular little book from 150 years ago can serve as a parable for our present perceptions of the early-stages of medical decline.

Michael Moore