comprising his views of medicine and the theory of diseases, showing what is man, and how he may retain his health, perfectly renouncing the old theory that heat or fever, pain, ache, and swelling, is a disease, but maintaining the position that it is no more or less than the effect of a difficulty, by /
Syracuse, N.Y. : J.G.K. Truair & Co., stereotypes and printers, 1860.
Description : [i]- v, -507 p. ; ill., port. front. ; 20 cm.
Photograph : frontispiece, small mounted cameo albumen of the author.
Subject : materia medica, autobiography.
Cyrus was the son of Samuel Thomson who authored the botanical movement at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a movement which was popularized by the plebian sick, but vigorously prosecuted by the medical establishment. Equal parts autobiography, political screed, and folksy physiology, Cyrus's book mirrors the autobiography of his father even in its title,1 although he is more acrimonious than his parent mentor. This is persecution prose and Cyrus is most politically mordant in a chapter titled The Scourge of Pennsylvania in which he rails against a symbolic nemesis of the Thomsonians, Benjamin Rush. As a straw man in Thomson's logic, Rush was an easy target, loved as a patriot but widely hated for an extreme form of medical orthodoxy which he practiced during the plague years beginning in 1793. By 1794 Rush was treating over 150 cases of yellow fever a day with his system of blood-letting and purging with calomel (mercurous chloride) and extracts from the tubers of jalap:
The purge which he fixed upon was composed of 10 grs. of Calomel and 15 of Jalap. To this purge, which the inventor sometimes called the Sampson of medicine, was added copious blood letting — a powerful co-operator ! With these remedies, the Pennsylvania Hippocrates set to work, and he declared that there was no necessity for the people fleeing to the country, for the Yellow Fever was no longer a dangerous disease, but was now perfectly under the power of medicine, and that there was no more danger to be apprehended from it than from the measles, influenza, or common cold — Yet Doct. Currie, compelled by the calls of humanity, earnestly besought the poor deluded Philadelphians to open their eyes, to beware of the new remedies; "for," said he, " the mode of treatment advised by Dr. Rush, cannot, in the Yellow Fever, fail of causing death."
Benjamin Rush was also an easy target because he was dead by 47 years when Cyrus Thomson wrote these words. In 1813, returning from business with the patent office in Washington D.C., Samuel Thomson stopped in Philadelphia and called upon Rush, hoping to sample him with his newly patented "fever medicine" made from an extract of Lobelia. The doctor was too indisposed however, and he referred Thomson to an associate who was knowledgeable in materia medica. Thomson — whose therapeusis was an interpretation of the Hippocratic aphorism that fire and heat lead to health and so promoted a regimen of herbal diaphoretics and steaming — must have known that Rush was heavily promoting a therapeusis that was a throwback to Paracelsus and included mineral purgatives, blood-letting and ice-water therapy based on his belief that fever is proof that all disease has a single origin and its heat must be counteracted. Though so opposed, Rush might well have appreciated Samuel Thomson's entrepreneurship, if we except his following thoughts with the same generosity with which they were expressed in 1776:
The Constitution of this Republic should make special provision for medical freedom. To restrict the art of healing to one class will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic. . . Unless we put medical freedom into the constitution the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship and force people who wish doctors and treatment of their own choice to submit to only what the dictating outfit offers. 2 — Benjamin Rush [attributed to].
Like his father, Cyrus fancied himself a poet and he ends the chapter on Rush with the following piece of doggerel :
Much horrid torture every day,
Among our neighbors we survey ;
If done by Indians it would kill —
By learned doctors, it is skill.
The lancet's used to take the blood,
The poisonous merc'ry for our good ;
The nitre give to kill the heat,
They tell the patient not to eat.
They opium give to ease the pain,
This kills in part, then live again ;
To take the life which doth remain,
They then the lancet use again.
The blister's used to help distress,
and break the patient of his rest ;
With seatons they will tear the skin,
With physic clear what is within.
The tortured victim now must die,
The worms have killed him, is their cry ;
Or else the time the Lord hath sent,
Our healing power can't death prevent.
This is the place some moderns fill,
Where one is cured there's ten they kill ;
We now presume to tell those tales,
That death's a cure that never fails.
MERCURY – ARS'NIC – OPIUM, too —
PHYSIC – BLISTERS – LANCE – Adieu !
And all who use them we deny,
Excepting when we wish to die.
We know that bleeding causes death :
We bleed a beast to stop its breath :
The same is used to save man's life,
To ease his pain they take the knife.
Much as these moderns take man's blood,
So much his life goes in the flood !
If any life should yet remain,
They then the LANCET use again.
With ign'rant practices like these,
We may find many as we please ;
And if all were at their command,
Men would be slain throughout the land.
We do disdain their poisoning trade,
For better purposes we were made
Than to be bled, like beasts, to death,
Or poison'd like rats, to stop our breath !
1 Thomson, Samuel ; A narrative of the life and medical discoveries of Samuel Thomson, containing an account of his system of practice, and the manner of curing disease with vegetable medicine, upon a plan entirely new; to which is added an introduction to his New guide to health; or, Botanic family physician, containing the principles upon which the system is founded, with remarks on fevers, steaming, poison, &c ; Boston, House, 1822.
2 Rush, Benjamin & Corner, George Washington ; The autobiography of Benjamin Rush; his "Travels through Life" together with his Commonplace Book for 1789-1813, ed. with introd. and notes by George W. Corner. Now first printed in full from the original manuscripts in possession of The American Philosophical Society and The Library Company of Philadelphia. ; Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society, 1948.