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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Curiosities of Medical Experience

Curiosities of Medical Experience  
by J. G. Millingen (1839)

I sincerely hope that the good surgeon did not experiment on his lunatic patients. I'm giving you the contents page to show you what it's about. It's riveting reading - seriously. 

He is, as are we all, a product of his age, hence some statements most of us would find curious, but he's very observant, learned, and dedicated to science as well. 

He must have made a bundle out of it.


  Obesity                                                      1
  Dwarfs                                                       9
  Gigantic Races                                              12
  Unlawful Cures                                              19
  Voice and Speech                                            32
  Ecstatic Exaltation                                         37
  Varieties of Mankind                                        44
  On the Inhumation of the Dead in Cities                     54
  Buried Alive                                                63
  Spontaneous Combustion                                      66
  Brassica Eruca                                              70
  Cagliostro                                                  71
  Lunar Influence on Human Life and Diseases                  73
  Spectacles                                                  76
  Leeches                                                     77
  Somnambulism                                                79
  Medical Powers of Music                                     88
  The Food of Mankind                                         96
  Influence of Imagination                                   125
  Ancient Ideas of Phrenology                                135
  Perfumes                                                   136
  Love Philters and Potions                                  141
  Ventriloquism                                              148
  Chaucer's Description of a Physician                       151
  Démonomania                                                152
  The Plague                                                 164
  Abstinence                                                 185
  Poison of the Upas, or Ipo                                 190
  Homophagous and polyphagous                                196
  Causes of Insanity                                         202
  Leprosy                                                    221
  The Aspic                                                  227
  Selden's Comparison between a Divine, a Statesman, and
    a Physician                                              229
  The Lettuce                                                230
  Medical Fees                                               231
  Enthusiasm                                                 237
  Medical effects of Water                                   252
  Proverbs and Sayings regarding Health and Disease          259
  The Night-mare                                             262
  Incubation of Diseases                                     266
  Quackery and Charlatanism                                  269
  On the use of Tea                                          277
  Mandragore                                                 281
  Barber-Surgeons, and the Progress of Chirurgical Art       285
  On Dreams                                                  295
  On Flagellation                                            312
  On Life and the Blood                                      317
  Of the Homoeopathic Doctrines                              337
  Doctrine of Signatures                                     365
  Coffee                                                     370
  Aqua Tophania                                              374
  Plica Polonica & Human Hair                                377
  Animal Magnetism                                           384
  Poisonous Fishes                                           397
  Memory & the Mental Faculties                              404
  Affections of the Sight                                    420
  Hellebore                                                  426
  Sympathies and Antipathies                                 428
  The Archeus of Van Helmont                                 439
  Monsters                                                   443
  Longevity                                                  453
  Cretinism                                                  472
  Temperaments                                               476
  Solar Influence                                            482
  Sweating Fever                                             485
  Smallpox                                                   491
  Drunkenness                                                507
  Decapitation                                               516
  Mummies                                                    518
  Hydrophobia                                                527
  Rise and Progress of Medicine                              534
  Medicine of the Chinese                                    552
  Experiments on Living Animals                              559

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Unlawful Cures

Nothing could be more absurd than the notions regarding some of these supposed cures: a ring made of the hinge of a coffin had the power of relieving cramps; which were also mitigated by having a rusty old sword hung up by the bedside. Nails driven in an oak-tree prevented the toothache. A halter that had served in hanging a criminal was an infallible remedy for a headache, when tied round the head; this affection was equally cured by the moss growing on a human skull, dried and pulverized, and taken as a cephalic snuff.

A dead man's hand could dispel tumours of the glands by stroking the parts nine times, but the hand of a man who had been cut down from the gallows was the most efficacious. To cure warts, one had nothing to do but to steal a piece of beef from the butcher, with which the warts were to be rubbed; then inter it in any filth, and as it rotted, the warts would wither and fall. The chips of a gallows on which several persons had been hanged, when worn in a bag round the neck, would cure the ague.

A stone with a hole in it, suspended at the head of the bed, would effectually stop the nightmare; hence it was called a hag-stone, as it prevents the troublesome witches from sitting upon the sleeper's stomach. The same amulet tied to the key of a stable-door, deterred witches from riding horses over the country.

Rickety children were cured by being drawn through a cleft tree, which was afterwards bound up, and as the split wood united, the child acquired strength. Creeping through a perforated stone to cure various disorders was a Druidical rite, still practised in the East. In the parish of Marden there is a stone with a hole in it, fourteen inches in diameter, through which children are drawn for the rickets; and, in the North, infants are made to pass through a hole cut in a _groaning_ cheese the day of their christening.


Fat is a fluid similar to vegetable oils, inodorous, and lighter than water; besides the elements common to water, to oils, and wax, it contains carbon, hydrogen, and sebacic acid, which is pretty similar to the acetic. 

Human fat, like that of other animals, has been frequently employed for various purposes. A story is told of an Irish tallowchandler, who, during the invasion of Cromwell's army, made candles with the fat of Englishmen, which were remarkable for their good quality; but when the times became more tranquil, his goods were of an inferior kind, and when one of his customers complained of his candles falling off, he apologised by saying, "I am sorry to inform you that the times are so bad that I have been short of Englishmen for a long time."

Obesity may be considered a serious evil, and has exposed corpulent persons to many désagrémens. The ancients held fat people in sovereign contempt. Some of the Gentoos enter their dwellings by a hole in the roof; and any fat person who cannot get through it, they consider as an excommunicated offender who has not been able to rid himself of his sins. An Eastern prince had an officer to regulate the size of his subjects, and who dieted the unwieldy ones to reduce them to a proper volume. In China this calamity is considered a blessing, a man's intellectual qualities are esteemed in the ratio of corporeal bulk. 

Chinese medicine

Medicine was taught in the imperial colleges of Pekin; but in every district, a physician, who had studied six years, is appointed to instruct the candidate for the profession, who was afterwards allowed to practise, without any further studies or examination; and it is said, that, in general, the physician only receives his fee when the patient is cured. This assertion, however, is very doubtful, as the country abounds in quacks, who, under such restrictions as to remuneration, would scarcely earn a livelihood. 

Another singular, but economical practice prevails amongst them – a physician never pays a second visit to a patient unless he is sent for. 

Whatever may be the merits of Chinese practitioners both in medicine and surgery, or their mode of receiving remuneration, it appears that they are as much subject to animadversion as in other countries:--a missionary having observed to a Chinese, that their medical men had constantly recourse to fire in the shape of moxa, redhot iron, and burning needles; he replied, "Alas! you Europeans are carved with steel, while we are martyrized with hot iron; and I fear that in neither country will the fashion subside, since the operators do not feel the anguish they inflict, and are equally paid to torment us or to cure us!"

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Curiosities of Medical Experience by J. G. Millingen

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