« PrécédentContinuer »
the filling of teeth, artificial dentures, eren orthodontia, were anticipated by the dentists of the Middle Ages. We have only the compressed account of it which is to be found in text-books of general surgery, and while in this they give mainly a beritage from the past, yet even this suffices to give us a picture very surprising in its detailed anticipation of much that we have been inclined to think of as quite modern in invention and discovery.
Medicine developed much more slowly than surgery, or, rather, lagged behind it, as it seems nearly always prone to do. Surgical problems are simple, and their solution belongs to a great extent to a handicraft. That is, after all, what chirurgy, the old form of our word surgery, means. Medical problems are more complex and involve both art and science, so that solutions of them are often merely temporary and lack finality. During the Middle Ages, however, and especially towards the end of them, the most important branches of medicine, diagnosis and therapeutics, took definite shape on the foundations that lie at the basis of our modern medical science. We hear of percussion for abdominal conditions, and of the most careful study of the pulse and the respiration. There are charts for the varying color of the urine, and of the tints of the skin. With Nicholas of Cusa there came the definite suggestion of the need of exact methods of diagnosis. A mathematician himself, he wished to introduce mathematical methods into medical diagnosis, and suggested that the pulse should be counted in connection with the water clock, the water that passed being weighed, in order to get very definite comparative values for the pulse rate under varying conditions, and also that the specific gravity of fluids from the body should be ascertained in order to get another definite datum in the knowledge of disease. It was long before these suggestions were to bear much fruit, but it is interesting to find them so clearly expressed.
At the very end of the Middle Ages came the father of modern pharmaceutical chemistry, Basil Valentine. Already the spirit that was to mean so much for scientific investigation in the Renaissance period was abroad. Valentine, however, owes little to anything except his own investigations, and they were surprisingly successful, considering the circumstances of time and place. His practical suggestions so far as drugs were concerned did not prove to have enduring value, but then this has been a fate shared by many of the masters of medicine. There were many phases of medical practice, however, that he insisted on in his works. He believed that the best agent for the cure of the disease was nature, and that the physician's main business must be to find out how nature worked, and then foster her efforts or endeavor to imitate them. He insisted, also that personal observation, both of patients and drugs, was more important than book knowledge. Indeed, he has some rather strong expressions with regard to the utter valuelessness of book information in subjects where actual experience and observation are necessary. It gives a conceit of knowledge quite unjustified by what is really known.
What is interesting about all these men is that they faced the same problems in medicine that we have to, in much the same temper of mind that we do ourselves, and that, indeed, they succeeded in solving them almost as well as we have done, in spite of all that might be looked for from the accumulation of knowledge ever since.
It was very fortunate for the after time that in the period now known as the Renaissance, after the invention of printing, there were a number of serious, unselfish scholars who devoted themselves to the publication in fine printed editions of the works of these old-time makers of medicine. If the neglect of them that characterized the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had been the rule at the end of the fifteenth and during the sixteenth century, we would almost surely have been without the possibility of ever knowing that so many serious physicians lived and studied and wrote large important tomes during the Middle Ages. For our forefathers of a few generations ago had very little knowledge, and almost less interest, as to the Middle Ages, which they dismissed simply as the Dark Ages, quite sure that nothing worth while could possibly have come out of the Nazareth of that time. What they knew about the people who had lived during the thousand years before 1500 only seemed to them to prove the ignorance and the depths of superstition in which they were sunk. That medieval scholars should have written books not only well worth preservation, but containing anticipations of modern knowledge, and, though of course they could not have known that, even significant advances over their own scientific conditions, would have seemed to them quite absurd.
Fortunately for us, then, the editions of the early printed books, so many of them monuments of learning and masterpieces of editorial work with regard to medieval masters of medicine, were lying in libraries waiting to be unearthed and restudied during the nineteenth century. German and French scholars, especially during the last generation, have recovered the knowledge of this thousand years of human activity, and we know now and can sympathetically study how the men of these times faced their problems, which were very much those of our own time, in almost precisely the same spirit as we do ours at the present time, and that their solutions of them are always interesting, often thorough and practical, and more frequently than we would like to think possible, resemble our own in many ways. For the possibility of this we are largely indebted originally to the scholars of the Renaissance. Without their work that of our investigators would have been quite unavailing. It is to be hoped, however, that our recovery of this period will not be followed by any further eclipse, though that seems to be almost the rule of human history, but that we shall continue to broaden our sympathetic knowledge of this wonderful medieval period, the study of which has had so many surprises in store for us.
What we know of the life of the Founder of Christianity and how much He did for the ailing poor would make us expect that the religion that He established would foster the care and the cure of suffering humanity. As we have outlined in the Introduction, the first of the works of Christian service that was organized was the care of the sick. At first a portion of the bishop's house was given over to the shelter of the ailing, and a special order of assistants to the clergy, the deaconesses, took care of them. As Christians became more numerous, special hospitals were founded, and these became public institutions just as soon as freedom from persecution allowed the Christians the liberty to give overt expression to their feelings for the poor. While hospitals of limited capacity for such special purposes as the sheltering of slaves or of soldiers and health establishments of various kinds for the wealthy had been erected before Christianity, this was the first time that anyone who was ill, no matter what the state of his pecuniary resources, could be sure to find shelter and care. The expression of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, that admission to these hospitals was not limited to Christians, is the