In truth, I have enough the better of them by these domestic examples, that they should rest satisfied. Let them not, therefore, reproach me with the infirmities under which I now suffer; is it not enough that I for my part have lived seven-and-forty years in good health? My ancestors had an aversion to physic by some occult and natural instinct; for the very sight of drugs was loathsome to my father. The last of the brothers—there were four of them—and by many years the last, the Sieur de Bussaguet, was the only one of the family who made use of medicine, by reason, I suppose, of the concern he had with the other arts, for he was a councilor in the court of Parliament, and it succeeded so ill with him, that being in outward appearance of the strongest constitution, he yet died long before any of the rest, save the Sieur de Saint Michel.
It may be I had naturally this propension; but I have supported and fortified it by arguments Edition: current; Page: [ 74 ] and reasons which have established in me the opinion I am of.
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For I also hate the consideration of refusing physic for the nauseous taste: I should hardly be of that humor who hold health to be worth purchasing by all the most painful cauteries and incisions that can be applied. And, with Epicurus, I conceive that pleasures are to be avoided, if greater pains be the consequence, and pains to be coveted, that will terminate in greater pleasures.
Health is a precious thing, and the only one, in truth, meriting that a man should lay out, not only his time, sweat, labor, and goods, but also his life itself to obtain it; forasmuch as, without it, life is wearisome and injurious to us: pleasure, wisdom, learning and virtue, without it, wither away and vanish; and to the most labored and solid discourses that philosophy would imprint in us to the contrary, we need no more but oppose the image of Plato being struck with an epilepsy or apoplexy; and, in this presupposition, to defy him to call the rich faculties of his soul to his assistance.
All means that conduce to health can neither be too painful nor too dear to me. But I have Edition: current; Page: [ 75 ] some other appearances that make me strangely suspect all this merchandise. As we call the piling up of the first laws that fall into our hands justice, and their practice and dispensation very often foolish and very unjust; and as those who Edition: current; Page: [ 76 ] scoff at and accuse it, do not, nevertheless, blame that noble virtue itself, but only condemn the abuse and profanation of that sacred title; so in physic I very much honor that glorious name, its propositions, its promises, so useful for the service of mankind; but the ordinances it foists upon us, betwixt ourselves, I neither honor nor esteem.
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In the first place, experience makes me dread it; for amongst all my acquaintance, I see no people so soon sick, and so long before they are well, as those who take much physic; their very health is altered and corrupted by their frequent prescriptions. Physicians are not content to deal only with the sick, but they will moreover corrupt health itself, for fear men should at any time escape their authority. Do they not, from a continual and perfect health, draw the argument of some great sickness to ensue? I have been sick often enough, and have always found my sickness easy enough to be supported though I have made trial of almost all sorts , and as short as those of any other, without their help, or without swallowing their ill-tasting Edition: current; Page: [ 77 ] doses.
The health I have is full and free, without other rule or discipline than my own custom and pleasure. Every place serves me well enough to stay in, for I need no other conveniences, when I am sick, than what I must have when I am well.
I never disturb myself that I have no physician, no apothecary, nor any other assistance, which I see most other sick men more afflicted at than they are with their disease. Do the doctors themselves show us more felicity and duration in their own lives, that may manifest to us some apparent effect of their skill? There is not a nation in the world that has not been many ages without physic; and these the first ages, that is to say, the best and most happy; and the tenth part of the world knows nothing of it yet; many nations are ignorant of it to this day, where men live more healthful and longer than we do here, and even amongst us the common people live well enough without it.
The Romans were six hundred years before they received it; and after having made trial of it, banished it from the city at the instance of Cato the Censor, who made it appear how easy it was to live Edition: current; Page: [ 78 ] without it, having himself lived fourscore and five years, and kept his wife alive to an extreme old age, not without physic, but without a physician: for everything that we find to be healthful to life may be called physic.
And the country people of our province make use of nothing, in all sorts of distempers, but the strongest wine they can get, mixed with a great deal of saffron and spice, and always with the same success. And to say the truth, of all this diversity and confusion of prescriptions, what other end and effect is there after all, but to purge the belly? Men disturb and irritate the disease by contrary oppositions; it must be the way of living that must gently dissolve, and bring it to its end.
The violent gripings and contest betwixt the drug and the disease are ever to our loss, since the combat is fought within ourselves, and that the drug is an assistant not to be trusted, being in its own nature an enemy to our health, and by trouble having only access into our condition.
Let it alone a little; the general order of things that takes care of fleas and moles, also takes care Edition: current; Page: [ 80 ] of men, if they will have the same patience that fleas and moles have, to leave it to itself. Let us, by God, follow it; it leads those that follow, and those who will not follow, it drags along, both their fury and physic together.
Order a purge for your brain, it will there be much better employed than upon your stomach. They do not much care what mischief they do, since it turns to their own profit. In earnest, they have reason to require a very favorable belief from their patients; and, indeed, it ought to be a very easy one, to swallow things so hard to be believed. Plato said very well, that physicians were the only men who might lie at pleasure, since our health depends upon the vanity and falsity of their promises.
For what reason is it that their patron, Aesculapius, should be struck with thunder for restoring Hippolitus from death to life:—. As to what remains, had I been of their counsel, I would have rendered my discipline more sacred and mysterious; they begun well, but they have not ended so.
Nay, even the very choice of most of their drugs is in some sort mysterious and divine; the left foot of a tortoise, the urine of a lizard, the dung of an elephant, the liver of a mole, blood drawn from under the right wing of a white pigeon; and for us who have the stone so scornfully they use us in our miseries the excrement of rats beaten to powder, and such like trash and fooleries which rather carry a face of magical enchantment than of any solid science.
I omit the odd number of their pills, the destination of certain days and feasts of the year, the superstition of gathering their simples at certain hours, and that so austere and very wise countenance and carriage which Pliny himself so much derides. But they have, as I said, failed in that they have not added to this fine beginning the making their meetings and consultations Edition: current; Page: [ 86 ] more religious and secret, where no profane person should have admission, no more than in the secret ceremonies of Aesculapius; for by the reason of this it falls out that their irresolution, the weakness of their arguments, divinations and foundations, the sharpness of their disputes, full of hatred, jealousy, and self-consideration, coming to be discovered by every one, a man must be marvellously blind not to see that he runs a very great hazard in their hands.
They ought to be satisfied with the perpetual disagreement which is found in the opinions of the principal masters and ancient authors of this science, which is only known to men well read, without discovering to the vulgar the controversies and various judgments which they still nourish and continue amongst themselves.
Will you have one example of the ancient controversy in physic? Herophilus lodges the original cause of all diseases in the humors; Erasistratus, in the blood of the arteries; Asclepiades, in the invisible atoms of the pores; Alcmaeon, in the exuberance or defect of our bodily strength; Diocles, in the inequality of the elements of which the body is composed, and in the quality of the air we breathe; Strato, in the abundance, crudity, and corruption of the nourishment we take; and Hippocrates lodges it in the spirits.
Before the Peloponnesian war there was no great talk of this science. If the nations whence we fetch our guaiacum, sarsaparilla, and China Edition: current; Page: [ 90 ] wood, have physicians, how great a value must we imagine, by the same recommendation of strangeness, rarity, and dear purchase, do they set upon our cabbage and parsley? Since these ancient mutations in physic, there have been infinite others down to our own times, and, for the most part, mutations entire and universal, as those, for example, produced by Paracelsus, Fioravanti, and Argentier; for they, as I am told, not only alter one recipe, but the whole contexture and rules of the body of physic, accusing all others of ignorance and imposition who have practiced before them.
At this rate, in what a condition the poor patient must be, I leave you to judge. If we were even assured that, when they make a mistake, that mistake of theirs would do us no harm, though it did us no good, it were a reasonable bargain to venture the making ourselves better without any danger of being made worse. Aesop tells a story, that one who had bought a Morisco slave, believing Edition: current; Page: [ 91 ] that his black complexion had arrived by accident and the ill usage of his former master, caused him to enter with great care into a course of baths and potions: it happened that the Moor was nothing amended in his tawny complexion, but he wholly lost his former health.
How often do we see physicians impute the death of their patients to one another? I remember that some years ago there was an epidemical disease, very dangerous and for the most part mortal, that raged in the towns about us: the storm being over which had swept away an infinite number of men, one of the most famous physicians of all the country, presently after published a book upon that subject, wherein, upon better thoughts, he confesses that the letting blood in that disease was the principal cause of so many mishaps. Moreover, their authors hold that there is no physic that has not something hurtful in it.
And if even those of the best operation in some measure offend us, what must those do that are totally misapplied? For my own part, though there were nothing else in the case, I am of opinion, that to those who loathe the taste of physic, it Edition: current; Page: [ 92 ] must needs be a dangerous and prejudicial endeavor to force it down at so incommodious a time, and with so much aversion, and believe that it marvellously distempers a sick person at a time when he has so much need of repose.
And moreover, if we but consider the occasions upon which they usually ground the cause of our diseases, they are so light and nice, that I thence conclude a very little error in the dispensation of their drugs may do a great deal of mischief. God knows with how great difficulty most of these things are to be understood: for for example how shall a physician find out the true sign of the disease, every disease being capable of an infinite number of indications? How many doubts and controversies have they amongst themselves upon the interpretation of urines?
In the diseases I have had, though there were ever so little difficulty in the case, I never found three of one opinion: which I instance, because I love to introduce examples wherein I am myself concerned. A gentleman at Paris was lately cut for the stone by order of the physicians, in whose bladder, being accordingly so cut, there was Edition: current; Page: [ 94 ] found no more stone than in the palm of his hand; and in the same place a bishop, who was my particular friend, having been earnestly pressed by the majority of the physicians whom he consulted, to suffer himself to be cut, to which also, upon their word, I used my interest to persuade him, when he was dead and opened, it appeared that he had no malady but in the kidneys.
Even the very promises of physic are incredible in themselves; for, having to provide against divers and contrary accidents that often afflict us at one and the same time, and that have almost a necessary relation, as the heat of the liver and the coldness of the stomach, they will needs persuade us, that of their ingredients one will heat the stomach and the other will cool the liver: one Edition: current; Page: [ 95 ] has its commission to go directly to the kidneys, nay, even to the bladder, without scattering its operations by the way, and is to retain its power and virtue through all those turns and meanders, even to the place to the service of which it is designed, by its own occult property: this will dry the brain; that will moisten the lungs.
Of all this bundle of things having mixed up a potion, is it not a kind of madness to imagine or to hope that these differing virtues should separate themselves from one another in this mixture and confusion, to perform so many various errands? And who can imagine but that, in this liquid confusion, these faculties must corrupt, confound, and spoil one another? And is not the danger still more when the making up of this medicine is intrusted to the skill and fidelity of still another, to whose mercy we again abandon our lives?
As we have doublet and breeches-makers, distinct trades, to clothe us, and are so much the better fitted, seeing that each of them Edition: current; Page: [ 96 ] meddles only with his own business, and has less to trouble his head with than the tailor who undertakes all; and as in matter of diet, great persons, for their better convenience, and to the end they may be better served, have cooks for the different offices, this for soups and potages, that for roasting, instead of which if one cook should undertake the whole service, he could not so well perform it; so also as to the cure of our maladies.
The Egyptians had reason to reject this general trade of physician, and to divide the profession: to each disease, to each part of the body, its particular workman; for that part was more properly and with less confusion cared for, seeing the person looked to nothing else. Ours are not aware that he who provides for all, provides for nothing; and that the entire government of this microcosm is more than they are able to undertake. Whilst they were afraid of stopping a dysentery, lest they should put the patient into a fever, they killed me a friend, who was worth more than the whole of them.
They counterpoise their own divinations with the present evils; and because they will not cure the brain to the Edition: current; Page: [ 97 ] prejudice of the stomach, they injure both with their dissentient and tumultuary drugs.
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Edition: current; Page: [ 98 ] They have the like uniformity in the counsels they give us for the regimen of life: it is good to make water often; for we experimentally see that, in letting it lie long in the bladder, we give it time to settle the sediment, which will concrete into a stone; it is good not to make water often, for the heavy excrements it carries along with it will not be voided without violence, as we see by experience that a torrent that runs with force washes the ground it rolls over much cleaner than the course of a slow and tardy stream; so, it is good to have often to do with women, for that opens the passages and helps to evacuate gravel; it is also very ill to have often to do with women, because it heats, tires, and weakens the reins.
It is good to bathe frequently in hot water, forasmuch as that relaxes and mollifies the places where the gravel and stone lie; it is also ill by reason that this application of external heat helps the reins to bake, harden, and petrify the matter so disposed.
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For those who are taking baths it is most healthful to eat little at night, to the end that the waters they are to drink the next morning may have a better operation Edition: current; Page: [ 99 ] upon an empty stomach; on the other hand, it is better to eat little at dinner, that it hinder not the operation of the waters, while it is not yet perfect, and not to oppress the stomach so soon after the other labor, but leave the office of digestion to the night, which will much better perform it than the day, when the body and soul are in perpetual moving and action.
Thus do they juggle and trifle in all their discourses at our expense; and they could not give me one proposition against which I should not know how to raise a contrary of equal force. Let them, then, no longer exclaim against those who in this trouble of sickness suffer themselves to be gently guided by their own appetite and the advice of nature, and commit themselves to the common fortune.
I have seen in my travels almost all the famous baths of Christendom, and for some years past have begun to make use of them myself: for I look upon bathing as generally wholesome, and believe that we suffer no little inconveniences in our health by having left off the custom that was generally observed, in former times, almost by all nations, and is Edition: current; Page: [ ] yet in many, of bathing every day; and I cannot imagine but that we are much the worse by having our limbs crusted and our pores stopped with dirt.
They have not the virtue to raise men from desperate and inveterate diseases, but they may help some light indisposition, or prevent some threatening alteration. He who does not bring along with him so much cheerfulness as to enjoy the pleasure of the company he will there meet, and of the walks and exercises to which the amenity of those places invite us, will doubtless lose the best and surest part of their effect. For this reason I have hitherto chosen to go to those of the most pleasant situation, where there was the best conveniency of lodging, provision, and company, as the baths of Bagneres in France, those of Plombieres on the frontiers of Germany and Lorraine, those of Baden in Switzerland, those of Lucca in Tuscany, and especially those of Della Villa, which I have the most and at various seasons frequented.
Every nation has particular opinions touching their use, and particular rules and methods in using them; and all of them, according to what I have seen, almost with like effect. Drinking them is not at all received in Germany; the Germans bathe for all Edition: current; Page: [ ] diseases, and will lie dabbling in the water almost from sun to sun; in Italy, where they drink nine days, they bathe at least thirty, and commonly drink the water mixed with some other drugs to make it work the better.
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Here we are ordered to walk to digest it; there we are kept in bed after taking it till it be wrought off, our stomachs and feet having continually hot cloths applied to them all the while; and as the Germans have a particular practice generally to use cupping and scarification in the bath, so the Italians have their doccie, which are certain little streams of this hot water brought through pipes, and with these bathe an hour in the morning, and as much in the afternoon, for a month together, either the head, stomach, or any other part where the evil lies. There are infinite other varieties of customs in every country, or rather there is no manner of resemblance to one another.
By this you may see that this little part of physic to which I have only submitted, though the least depending upon art of all others, has yet a great share of the confusion and uncertainty everywhere else manifest in the profession. The poets put what they would say with Edition: current; Page: [ ] greater emphasis and grace; witness these two epigrams:—.
Dost thou ask, Faustinus, the cause of this so sudden death? The Baron de Caupene in Chalosse and I have betwixt us the advowson of a benefice of great extent, at the foot of our mountains, called Lahontan. This little state had continued from all antiquity in so happy a condition, that no neighboring judge was ever put to the trouble of inquiring into their doings; no advocate was ever retained to give them counsel, no stranger ever called in to compose their differences; nor was ever any of them seen to go a-begging.
They avoided all alliances and traffic with the outer world, that they might not corrupt the purity of their own government; till, as they say, one of them, in the memory of man, having a mind spurred on with a noble ambition, took it into his head, to bring his name into credit and reputation, to make one of his sons something more than ordinary, and having put him to learn to write in a neighboring town, made him at last a brave village notary. In the tail of this corruption, they say, there happened another, and of worse consequence, by means of a physician, who, falling in love with one of their daughters, had a mind to marry her and to live amongst them.
This man first of all began to teach them the names of fevers, colds, and imposthumes; the seat of the heart, liver, and intestines, a science till then utterly unknown to them; and instead of garlic, with which they were wont to cure all manner of diseases, how painful or extreme soever, he taught them, though it were but for a cough or any little cold, to take strange mixtures, and began to make a trade not only of their health, but of their lives.
They swear till then they never perceived the evening air to be offensive to the head; that to drink when they were hot was hurtful, and that the winds of autumn were more unwholesome than those of spring; that, since this use of physic, they find themselves oppressed with a legion of unaccustomed diseases, and that they perceive a general decay in their ancient vigor, Edition: current; Page: [ ] and their lives are cut shorter by the half. This is the first of my stories. The other is, that before I was afflicted with the stone, hearing that the blood of a he-goat was with many in very great esteem, and looked upon as a celestial manna rained down upon these latter ages for the good and preservation of the lives of men, and having heard it spoken of by men of understanding for an admirable drug, and of infallible operation; I, who have ever thought myself subject to all the accidents that can befall other men, had a mind, in my perfect health, to furnish myself with this miracle, and therefore gave order to have a goat fed at home according to the recipe: for he must be taken in the hottest month of all summer, and must only have aperitive herbs given him to eat, and white wine to drink.
I came home by chance the very day he was to be killed; and some one came and told me that the cook had found two or three great balls in his paunch, that rattled against one another amongst what he had eaten. I was curious to have all his entrails brought before me, where, having caused the skin that enclosed them to be cut, Edition: current; Page: [ ] there tumbled out three great lumps, as light as sponges, so that they appeared to be hollow, but as to the rest, hard and firm without, and spotted and mixed all over with various dead colors; one was perfectly round, and of the bigness of an ordinary ball; the other two something less, of an imperfect roundness, as seeming not to be arrived at their full growth.
I find, by inquiry of people accustomed to open these animals, that it is a rare and unusual accident. For to say that the blood does not participate of this contagion, and does not thence alter its wonted virtue, it is rather to be believed that nothing is engendered in a body but by the conspiracy and communication of all the parts: the whole mass works together, though one part contributes more to the work than another, according to the diversity of operations; wherefore it is very likely that there was some petrifying quality in all the parts of this Edition: current; Page: [ ] goat.
It was not so much for fear of the future, and for myself, that I was curious in this experiment, but because it falls out in mine, as it does in many other families, that the women store up such little trumperies for the service of the people, using the same recipe in fifty several diseases, and such a recipe as they will not take themselves, and yet triumph when they happen to be successful. As to what remains, I honor physicians, not according to the precept for their necessity for to this passage may be opposed another of the prophet reproving King Asa for having recourse to a physician , but for themselves, having known many very good men of that profession, and most worthy to be beloved.
Many callings, both of greater and of less dignity than theirs, have no other foundation or support than public abuse. When I am sick I send for them if they be near, only to have their company, and pay them as others do. I give Edition: current; Page: [ ] them leave to command me to keep myself warm, because I naturally love to do it, and to appoint leeks or lettuce for my broth; to order me white wine or claret; and so as to all other things, which are indifferent to my palate and custom.
I know very well that I do nothing for them in so doing, because sharpness and strangeness are incidents of the very essence of physic. Lycurgus ordered wine for the sick Spartans: Why? How many do we see amongst them of my humor, who despise taking physic themselves, are men of a liberal diet, and live a quite contrary sort of life to what they prescribe others?