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It behoves patients and physicians both to have an eye to these matters. It is in vain for the one to prescribe, or the other to swallow, if the honest endeavors of both are to be thwarted by the substitution of some unhallowed and adulterated compound, instead of the pure elixir, the unalloyed balsam which alone can amend and heal. What avails it to the sick man, shuddering with the rigors of an intermittent fever, that he has the best medical advice that the twenty-four states can afford him, if he is doomed to perish under the infliction of a diet of factitious Peruvian bark, composed of the refuse of the tan-yard and saw-pit, soaked in a solution of aloes to give it taste, color, and efficacy? Who would not rather endure some at least of the tortures of indigestion, than throw himself upon the mercy of those who will send him, for the best ipecacuanha, a mixture of powdered sarsaparilla and tartar emetic; or still worse, a villanous compound of sulphate of zinc and the dust of decayed coffins? an ominous conjunction—a medicine, one would suspect, which might even be said, in some sort, to make the food it feeds on.'


Under the head of qualities, are described the various circumstances of taste, color, appearance, &c. by which we are enabled to distinguish medicines from one another, and to determine, in some measure, the excellence of particular specimens. In this connexion also is given such information as is important, with regard to the composition and chemical relations of the articles of the materia medica. So far as those derived from the mineral kingdom are concerned, a knowledge of their chemical composition and relations is of very considerable consequence, and should be accurately acquired. As it respects those from the vegetable and animal world, an intimate acquaintance is of far less importance, though some general notions with regard to their relations with one another, and their susceptibility of being influenced by chemical agents, are frequently found of great use. This knowledge becomes of service both in the composition of medicines and in their exhibition. For without it, the physician may mix such articles in his prescription, as shall act upon and neutralize one another, destroying the qualities of those on which its efficacy depended; or he may direct those to be taken simultaneously or at short intervals from one another, which shall combine in the stomach and either become inert, or form a third substance of a more powerful and dangerous nature.

'But on the other hand,' says Dr Bigelow, it is not essential that we carry our chemical scruples so far as to consider all substances as incompatible, which produce chemical union or disunion, out of the body, and occasion a precipitate or a change of color. If chemistry be allowed to acquire this ascendency, it will encumber the practice of medicine with an insufferable load of clogs and difficulties, and surround our commonest medicines with a wall of incompatibles. We should not be able to prescribe the Peruvian bark with chalybeates, lest it should turn them into ink, nor with animal food, lest tannin and gelatine should conspire against us and fill the stomach with leather. It is important to bear in mind, that the digestive organs have a material control over the force of chemical agents; that while they promote some combinations, they prevent others; that they separate elements which have strong mutual attractions, and dissolve bodies which are insoluble in common menstrua. I believe that the incompatible character, given to some of our common medicines in books, has been deduced from chemical experiments more than from medical trials.' Pref. pp. 12, 13.

Of the late investigations of chemists into the composition of many of the vegetable medicines, and the nature of some of their constituents, a sufficiently full and complete account is given by our author, although he expresses an opinion, in which we heartily join him, that these researches are likely to be of very little real importance, and that those results only are of practical utility, which are sufficiently general to be uniform, permanent, and of easy application.' These re

searches indeed seem to be more nice than wise. They have been prosecuted to a degree of minuteness which reminds one of the microscopic discoveries of former days; and that too by instruments of investigation as deceptive and as imperfect. Not only the common constituents of vegetables have been found to differ in almost every different plant, such as gum, mucilage, resin, volatile oils, &c. but a great proportion of those which have active properties present, upon analysis, some new, distinct, and peculiar principle, or an acid or an alkali. Some plants, in fact, have two or three of them; thus in opium, meconic acid, morphine, and narcotine; in cinchona, kinic or cinchonic acid, and two alkalies bearing the names of cinchonine and quinine. When we consider the intrinsic. difficulty and delicacy of the analysis of vegetable substances, the nature of the processes and agents to which they are sub

mitted, often alone sufficient to destroy their chemical character, and the opposite and almost contradictory results obtained by different individuals from the examination of the same plants, it is not perhaps too much to say, that there is in many cases a probability that the elementary principles supposed to be procured, are rather produced than simply evolved by the operation. Under the heads of Uses and Exhibition are considered the physiological influence of medicines, the effects produced by them upon the body, considered as a vital system, their application in disease, and their doses, modes and times of exhibition. This embraces by far the most important part of a treatise on materia medica, and it is on the character of this part that its value must principally depend. In these respects the work before us is judicious, discriminating, and exceedingly practical; particularly so in pointing out very clearly the comparative value of different articles, and furnishing data from which the student may determine for himself what degree of faith to attach to the reports of the efficacy of various medicines, with which he is constantly assailed. Indeed the highest recommendation, perhaps, which it possesses, is found in the good common sense with which it abounds, and which is particularly displayed in the opinions delivered with regard to the virtues and properties of medicinal agents.

There is one circumstance in which we think an improvement might be suggested, and that is with respect to the proportion of space devoted to the consideration of different medicines. Some notice is bestowed upon all; enough in all cases to enumerate their real or reputed powers; and a larger share of it upon those whose undoubted efficacy as remedies gives them a claim to particular distinction. In general this attention is very accurately distributed according to their relative importance; but there are a few articles with regard to which we regret that the author did not think it worth while to enter into a more copious and extended detail of their character and agency in the treatment of diseases. This might have been done without enlarging too much the size of his book. The fact is, that notwithstanding the immense number of articles of which the physician occasionally makes use, he depends principally upon a very few. Probably were three quarters of the articles of the materia medica struck from its lists, the practice of medicine would be more safe and certain

than it ever has been. It has been remarked, that the most celebrated and successful practitioners have been those whose number of agents was limited, and whose method of treatment was exceedingly simple. This arises from the fact, that a thorough acquaintance with the powers of a few important medicines is of more advantage, than a superficial acquaintance with those of a great many.

There are many circumstances which would lead us to give the work of Dr Bigelow a preference over most of those which are in common use. It is distinguished by a more judicious and discriminating selection of its materials, a comprehensive brevity in its descriptions, and a greater freedom from useless redundancy. Many of the dispensatories in the hands of physicians are too large and copious for convenient consultation; and this not from the quantity of useful information which they contain, but from the dilution of their valuable matter by an abundance of that which is irrelevant, so that one is completely lost in the heterogeneous mass of good, bad, and indifferent, in which he finds himself immersed. In fact, there is no department of medical science, which has had so little justice done it as the materia medica. There is no one subject, except perhaps the wonders of the invisible world, upon which the credulity of mankind has been so unremittingly called into exercise, as that of the efficacy of external and internal applications of medicinal substances to effect the cure of diseases. There is nothing, about which they are so easily deceived by stale and palpable artifices. They stand always ready to believe the most exaggerated and improbable representations with a faith which strains neither at the gnat nor the camel. Of this disposition of mankind, physicians have always had their due proportion; and it has displayed itself, more especially, in treatises on materia medica. It has been the misfortune, too, of works of this kind, that they have generally been compilations, and have thus not only given currency to the unfounded notions of their authors, but have also embodied the accumulated results of the credulity of all other writers, and entailed them upon their unhappy readers. Speaking of the materia medica, Bichat remarks, that an incoherent assemblage of incoherent opinions, it is perhaps, of all the physiological sciences, that which best shows the caprice of the human mind. What do I say? It is not a science New Series, No. 14.


for a methodical mind, it is a shapeless assemblage of inaccurate ideas, of observations often puerile, of deceptive remedies, and of formulæ as fantastically conceived, as they are tediously arranged.** An individual, not yet initiated into the arcana of medical science, would be led to imagine, from the perusal of some books of this kind, which enjoy a good share of reputation, that the resources of the art of healing were inexhaustible; that for every disease there was a remedy, upon which you might lay your finger at once, without dread of failure. The only merit, of which their authors seem to have had an idea, was that of industry in collecting; of judgment and discrimination in selecting and collating, they could have had no conception.

It certainly is a high recommendation of the present work, that it is free from that implicit credulity which admits accounts of the virtues of medicines, not only without good assurance of the authority on which they are alleged, but without even an examination of it. There are no gross and unqualified statements, borrowed loosely from those whom accident, interest, or desire of personal reputation-for there are some men who seem to consider their character implicated in maintaining that of a remedy they have introduced-have led to make exaggerated representations of the effects which they have witnessed from the exhibition of some particular articles. All the opinions delivered with regard to the powers of medicines are tempered by that philosophical spirit of scepticism, with which every one, who has been engaged in the practice of physic with an unprejudiced observation, must approach the subject. There is no undue commendation bestowed, no extravagant praise; the claims of all are examined with fairness, and justice is generally administered to them with great equality.

We have one word to say with respect to the style, which, along with other circumstances, recommends this work to the attention of physicians. It is neat, plain, perspicuous, and concise. And these are no small excellencies, when it is com pared with some of the medical productions of our countrymen, whose ambitious and inflated manner, particularly when contrasted, as it may sometimes be, with their lean ideas, shows more of a disposition to cull the flowers of rhetoric, than gather * Anat. Generale, Introd.

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