Elucidating the tractatus
The gratification I have experienced in looking over the writings of these pioneers of medicine, has led me to believe that even this imperfect exposition may be acceptable to many; and that more especially, since few are likely to possess them in their complete and perfect form; yet it is necessary again to repeat, that to estimate the whole by this defective abstract, would be like one who judged of the character of a building by examining a brick which formed a fractional part of it. Medicine is an art that cures the sick, or lessens their pains, and which has nothing to do with incurable diseases: for that which is irremediable, medicine knows not how to attempt its cure.I have therefore to request all due allowance for this attempt to introduce to my contemporaries, a few faint traces of their medical progenitors, who lived two thousand years before them. And I now proceed to prove, that it performs what it promises, and that it is always capable of doing so; and I will at the same time refute the reasons of those who attack it in those parts, wherein to them it seems most weak. It will be admitted that some of those who apply for medical assistance have been cured, but not all: and it is this which has given rise to the opposition against medicine.A detailed summary of the major writings of two of the leading doctors of the ancient Greek and Roman world by one of the pioneering doctors of the early American Republic. This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. We give a free translation of the whole.——“Ars, τέχνη, verum est genus medicinæ, quicquid nonnulli Arabum secuti placita regerant. Quæcunque igitur terminantur operatione, sunt artes: quorum terminus est sola cognitio, scientiarum nomine venire debent. It is incumbent on all to uphold their profession to the best of their abilities, against insolence and temerity; and here it is my intention to defend medicine against injustice and calumny.Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. writings that have reached us under the name of Hippocrates, the so-called “Father of Medicine,” occupy more than a thousand folio pages in the edition by Fœsius. If, in this intention, there is any presumption, considering whom I am to attack, the art I profess to defend, will render my attempt easy,—the principles on which it is based will afford ample means.
Few are the authors of the present day, who attend to the Roman poet’s important precept, of “Nonum prematur in annum.” Scarcely has the student escaped from his alma mater, when he deems himself qualified to become an author, and straightway gives to the world a learned work, purloined from the “Dictionnaire des Sciences Médicales,” or some analogous production, on some disease he has never seen, but quoting authorities of ancient date, apparently familiar as his household gods! As to medicine, our present subject, I undertake to demonstrate its existence, and what it actually is,—I commence therefore with its definition, according to my apprehension. They may come forward with confidence; whilst ignorance proves but a poor foundation, and an empty treasury at all times; the enemy of all confidence and trust; a source of audacity as well as of timidity—since timidity is the offspring of weakness, as audacity is of ignorance. Neither is it considered as correct, that any one is restored to health without the employment of medicine, although unattended by a physician, since every thing that is beneficial or injurious, pertains to medicine. Those who fully attend to the above precepts, will attain to a true knowledge of medicine, and should every where be considered as masters of their profession, and not merely nominal physicians. He says it is altogether a tissue of reasoning; it enters into a defence of physicians, and regards them as free from blame when death takes place, which he considers as rather dependent on the fault of the patient, or the impotence of medicine from the insufficiency of its means, when no suspicion of the intelligence or attention of the physician can be apparent. As this treatise is short, I have judged it to be sufficiently interesting to give it nearly in detail. This, in my opinion, arises chiefly, from the circumstance, that medicine is the only profession, for which, in our cities, there is no penalty attached to such as ignorantly pursue it, beyond that of contempt. It is with them, as with the dumb performers of the theatre: they have the form, the dress, and mask of the real actors, but in nothing else do they resemble them. The rules for its attainment are stated particularly, under six requisites, in order to become fully masters of the science. It has been illustrated by Zwingerus, Heurnius, Fonseca, and others.— Of all the arts, medicine is the most illustrious; but the ignorance of its professors, and that of those who judge of their qualifications, is the cause of its having been considered as among the most contemptible.