In presenting to the public this little volume, advocating and explaining a system of Medical Practice, diverse from the popular system of the day--a system against which there exists much unfounded, deep-rooted prejudice--prejudice, not based on a knowledge of its principles, on a trial of its remedial agents, but on the false and ridiculous reports in circulation against it; a brief history of the circumstances and motives that led to its publication, may not be uninteresting to the reader.
Having spent a large proportion of the last fifteen years of my life in examining the different medical theories, and observing the results of those theories carried out in practice, I arrived at conclusions that were to me startling--that were painful to contemplate--that could not fail to inspire in every benevolent man a fixed determination to wage an uncompromising war against systems productive of so much sorrow, misery, and death.
The evidences brought to bear upon my mind, in the testimony of the most eminent of the faculty, statesmen, and philosophers, and my own personal experience and observation, compelled me to believe, although very reluctantly, in consequence of the regard I had for those of my friends who were engaged in the practice of medicine, that the science of medicine, as taught in the schools of physic, and as practiced from the time of Paracelsus until the present, was a series of blind experiments with the most deadly poisons; the effect of which is now felt by millions of its unhappy victims, while millions more sleep beneath the clods of the valley, cut off in the vigor of youth and strength of manhood, by these poisons. I do not feel responsible for a belief, that the force of evidence urges upon me, any more than I should for falling to the ground from a height, when all intercepting objects are removed. Justice to my follow-men demands of me that I should fearlessly express my views, and I shall not demur. It is my candid opinion, and that opinion has not been formed hastily, that nine-tenths of all the medical practice of the nineteenth century, including a portion, but by no means an equal portion, of all the different systems, is not based on scientific principles, or benevolence and truth, but on cupidity, avarice, and a desire for fame, on the one part, and ignorance and misplaced confidence, on the other. Remove these pillars, and the gilded temple called medical science, that medical authors have been propping up for four thousand years--the material of which it is composed not being sufficiently strong to sustain its own weight--would fall to the ground with as much certainty as did the edifice from which Samson, with giant's strength, removed the pillars.
One quarter part of nearly all the newspapers throughout the country is filled with flaming advertisements of quack nostrums--the most of which are prepared without any regard to scientific principles or adaptedness to cure disease; for which millions of dollars are annually paid, and not one in a hundred receives any permanent benefit therefrom.
The editor of the Portland Tribune gives the following as the origin of that celebrated medicine, Brandreth's Pills:-- "A few years ago, a young Englishman, by the name of Anson, was an under-servant in a large pill establishment in London, where he received trifling pay; but he managed to lay by sufficient funds to bring him to this country. He arrived at New York; called himself Dr. Brandreth, from London; said he was a grandson of a distinguished doctor by that name, who died some years since. He was so extremely ignorant, that he wrote his name, or scratched it rather, as "Dr. Benjamin Brandreth, M D." He hired an office, made pills, advertised them pretty freely, and now they are all over the country. By such empiricism, this individual, whose real name is Anson, has obtained the cognomen of "Prince of Quacks," and has accumulated a handsome fortune, while not one in a thousand who has taken his pills, has any doubt of his being a regular physician. Such is the success of quackery; and in this manner are the American people gulled, when if known, they themselves, of brown bread and aloes, could make a better pill. Mr. A., alias Dr. B., in the course of time opened a shop in Philadelphia for the of his medicine, and appointed a man by the name of Wright as his sole agent. In a short time the Doctor and he quarreled, and had a newspaper controversy; the result of which was, Mr. W. set up for himself, made a new pill, or rather gave a new name to an old one, calling it the "Indian Purgative Pill," advertised it freely, employed agents, etc, and now it is used pretty extensively as an INDIAN medicine, when probably not a son of the forest knows of its existence.
In a similar way nearly all the medicines advertised so extensively, and recommended so extravagantly for their intrinsic virtues, were first brought into existence. Should the thousand pills of different names, daily vended in this country, and swallowed by the dozen, be analyzed by the nicest process, these should be found to contain nearly the same ingredients.
The 'Matchless Sanative,' said to be a German invention, was sold in very small vials, at the moderate price of two dollars and fifty cents, as a certain cure for the consumption. It was nothing more, we believe, than sweetened water, and yet hundreds were induced to buy it, because its price was so exorbitant, presuming by this that its virtues were rare; and many a poor widow was drained of her last farthing to obtain this worthless stuff. Even the Sanative, in its conspicuous advertisements, was not lacking in lengthy recommendations of its superlative virtues--throwing all other medicines far into the shade.
Had regular physicians adopted a system of practice in accordance with nature, reason, and common sense, they would have retained the confidence of the people, and no medicine could have been successfully introduced, unless sanctioned by themselves. But the misery and death occasioned by their practice having been too apparent to be misunderstood, and failing to cure in many curable cases, many have lost all confidence in them, and are ready to catch at any medicine that is recommended for their complaints. Men with large acquisitiveness and small conscientiousness, almost entirely destitute of medical knowledge, taking advantage of this state of things, have flooded the country with their pretended cure-alls, that they themselves would never think of using if afflicted with the same complaints for which they are so confidently recommended. Benevolence, conscientiousness and knowledge may have induced many to prepare and sell secret medicines, but avarice and ignorance many more
The only way to prevent quackery is to diffuse a knowledge of medicine among the people, and also to point out to them the proper course to pursue to prevent being sick. This I have made a feeble effort to do in this little work, reserving nothing for future emolument, for which I expect to be ridiculed by those it is designed to benefit, and persecuted by those whose craft is in danger; begging the pardon of the literati for entering the authors ranks with so few of the requisite qualifications, but asking no favors of the medical faculty, scientific as they may be; for if I have not succeeded in proving the Thomsonian system true, it cannot possibly come farther from the truth than their own.
I have endeavored to present plain, simple facts in a plain, simple manner, so as to be easily understood by all. The technicalities of medical works are left out, or explained in a glossary, where any medical word used in this work may be found, with its meaning. I acknowledge my indebtedness to Drs. Thomson, Curtis, and others, for the principles herein contained, especially to Dr. Curtis, Professor of the Medical Institute at Cincinnati, who has done more than any other man to present the Thomsonian system to the world in a receivable shape.
This little work is designed to be, as its name declares, a Guide to Health. Not a guide for a few to enable them to get rich by selling advice and medicine to the many; but a guide to all to enable them to avoid becoming the victims of the avarice and duplicity of physicians. Many of them, to be sure, take a philanthropic and noble course, consulting always the interest of those who place confidence in them. But common observation leads me to think that the large majority of physicians consult their own interests first, in doing which they are not "sinners above all others," as the common motto is, Let every man look out for himself. Therefore, if every man was his own physician, the interest of physician and patient would be identified. Those who make the practice of medicine a source of gain, will ridicule the idea of every man being his own physician. So have priests ridiculed the idea of letting every man read the Bible, and judge for himself of the important truths therein contained. As well might the village baker ridicule the idea of the good housewife making her own bread; alleging that it required a long course of study to make breads, and the people must not only buy all their bread of them at an exorbitant price, but pay them a fee for telling them what kind they must eat, and how much. The preparation and use of medicine to cure disease, requires no more science than the preparation and use of bread.
Every head of a family ought to understand the medicinal properties of a sufficient number of roots and plants to cure any disease that might occur in his or her family, and teach their children the same. This is in accordance with the declaration of the learned and philanthropic, and justly celebrated Rush. He says, "Let us strip our profession of every thing that looks like mystery and imposition, and clothe medical knowledge in a dress so simple and intelligible, that it may become a part of academical education in all seminaries of learning. Truth is simple on all subjects; and Upon those essential to the happiness of mankind, it is obvious to the meanest capacities. There is no man so simple, that cannot be taught to cultivate grain, and no woman who cannot be taught to make it into bread. And shall the means of preserving our health, by the cultivation and preparation of proper aliments, be so intelligible, and yet the means of restoring it when lost, so abstruse, that we must take years of study to discover and apply them? To suppose this, is to call in question the goodness of the Deity, and to believe that he acts without system and unity in his work. Surgical operations and diseases that rarely occur, may require professional aid; but the knowledge necessary for these purposes is soon acquired; and two or three persons, separated from other pursuits, would be sufficient to meet the demands of a city containing forty thousand people.
The imposition practiced by medical men in writing their prescriptions in Latin, and the evils resulting from it by the ignorance or carelessness of apothecaries or their clerks, who may know nothing of the language in which the prescription is written--the mistakes of whom have destroyed thousands of lives, are too obvious to be misunderstood. The following narration of a circumstance which actually occurred in Boston a few years since, taken from a paper published at the time, illustrates the folly of such a course-"A respectable physician of this city lately wrote a prescription of certain articles to be procured at an apothecary's, and at the bottom were the words, 'Lac Bovis.' A young lady took the prescription to an apothecary, who did up three of the articles, and very gravely told her he had not the last-mentioned article, Lac Bovis. She took the recipe to another shop, and was there equally unsuccessful--and upon her inquiring whether it was a scarce or costly article, she was informed he could find no such article on his book, and he did not know where it might be procured, or what the price of it might be. On returning home, and acquainting her friends with her ill success, she was not a little amused when told she had been inquiring at apothecaries shops for cow's milk!
With these preliminary remarks we submit this volume to the people, trusting it may lend many a bewildered victim of disease into the paths of health.
Nashua, N H, 1844