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IN the course of my life I have often pleased or entertained myself with observing the various and fantastical changes of the diseases generally complained of, and of the remedies in common vogue, which were like birds of passage, very much seen or heard of at one season, disappearing in another, and commonly succeeded by some of a very different kind.
When I was young, nothing was so much feared or talked of as rickets among children, and consumption among young people of both
After these the spleen came in play and grew a formal disease; then the scurvy, which was the general complaint, and both were thought to appear in many various guises. After these, and for a time, nothing was so much talked of as the ferment of the blood, which .
passed for the cause of all sorts of ailments, that neither physicians nor patients knew well what to make of.
To all these succeeded vapours, which serve the same turn, and furnish occasion of complaint among persons whose bodies or minds ail something, but they know not what; and among the Chinese would pass for mists of the mind, or fumes of the brain, rather than indispositions of any other part
Yet these employ our physicians, perhaps, more than other diseases, who are fain to humour such patients in their fancies of being ill, and to prescribe some remedies, for fear of losing their practice to others, that pretend more skill in finding out the cause of diseases, or care in advising remedies, of which neither they nor their patients find any effects besides some gains to one, and amusement to the other. This I suppose may have contributed much to the mode of go. ing to the waters, either cold or hot, upon so many occasions, or else upon none besides that of entertainment, and which commonly may have no other effect. And it is well if this be the worst of the frequent use of those waters, which though commonly innocent, are yet sometimes dangerous; if the tempers of the person, or the cause of the indisposition be unhappily mistaken, especially in people of age.
As diseases have changed vogue, so have remedies in
time and observation. I remember at one time the taking of tobacco, at another the drinking of warm beer, approved as universal remedies ; then swallowing pebble-stones, in imitation of falconers curing hawks. One doctor pretended to help all heats and fevers by driuking as much cold spring water as the patient could bear; at another swallowing a spoonful of powder of sea biscuit after meals was infallible for all indigestion and so preventing diseases. Then coffee and tea began their successive reigns. The infusion of powder of steel have had their turns, and certain drops of several names and compositions; but none that I find have established their authority either long or generally, by any constant and sensible successes of their reigo, but have rather passed like a mode, which every one is apt to follow, and finds the most convenieut or graceful while it lasts, and begins to dislike in both those respects when it goes out of fashion. Thus men are apt to play with their healths and their lives as they do with their clothes, which may be the better excused, since both are so transitory, so subject to be spoiled by common use, to be torn by accidents, and at, best to be so soon worn out.
In the midst of such uncertainties of health and of physic, for my own part I have in the general course of my life and of many acute diseases, as well as some habitual, trusted to God Almighty, to nature, to temperance or abstinence, and the use of commou remedies either vulgarly known, and approved, like proverbs, by long observation and experience, either of my own, or of such persons as have fallen in the way of my observation or enquiry.
To make any thing very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom ourselves to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes. Every one will be sensible of this, who considers how greatly night adds to our dread, in all cases of danger, and how much the notions of ghosts and goblins, of which none can form clear ideas, affect minds which give credit to the popular tales concerning such sorts of beings.
Those despotic governments which are founded on the passions of men, and principally upon the passion of fear, keep their chief as much as may be from the public eye. The policy has been the same in many cases of religion. Almost all