(From vol. ii, 3rd edit., 1833.)
(The semi-oxyde of metallic arsenic in diluted solution)
As I write down the word Arsenic, consideration the most momentous throng upon my mind.
When the beneficient Creator made iron he no doubt permitted the children of men to fashion it either into the murderous dagger or gentle ploughshare wherewith to kill or to feed their fellow-creatures. How much happier would they be did the employ His gifts only for the purpose of doing good! This should be aim of their life; this was His desire.
It is not to Him, the All-loving, we can impute the wickedness practised by men, who have misemployed the wonderfully powerful medicinal substances in enormous doses in diseases for which they are not suitable, guided only by frivolous ideas or some paltry authority, without having subjected them to any careful trial, and without any substantial reason for their choice.
If a careful tester of the uses of medicines and of their doses arise, they inveigh against him as an enemy to their comfort, and do not refrain from aspersing him with the vilest calumines.
The ordinary medical art has hitherto employed, in large and frequently repeated doses, the most powerful drugs, such as arsenic, nitrate of silver, corrosive sublimate, aconite, belladonna, digitalis, opium, hyoscyamus, & c. Homoeopathy can not employ stronger substances, for there are none stronger. When physicians of the ordinary stamp employ them, they evidently vie with another who shall prescribe the largest possible doses of these drugs, and make a great boast of increasing these doses to such enormous extremes. This practice they laud and recommend to their fellow practitioners. But if the homoeopathic medical art employ the same drugs, not at random, like the ordinary method, but after careful investigation, only in suitable cases and in the smallest possible doses, it is denounced as a practice of poisoning. How prejudiced, how injust, how calumnious is such a charge made by persons who make pretensions to honesty and rectitude!
If Homoeopathy now make a fuller explanation – if she condemn ( as from conviction she must) the monstrous doses of those drugs employed in ordinary practice – and if she, relying on careful trials, insist that very much less of them should be given for a dose, that where ordinary practitioners give a tenth, a half, a whole grain, and even several grains, often only a quadrillionth, a sextillointh, a decillionth of a grain is required and sufficient, then see the adherents of the ordinary school who denounce the homoeopathic healing art as a system of poisoning, see how they laugh aloud at what they call childishness, and declare themselves convinced (convinced without trial?) that such a small quantity can do nothin at all, and can have no effect whatever-is, indeed just the same as nothing. They are not ashamed thus to blow hot and cold from the same mouth, and to pronounce the very same thing to be inert and luidicrously small which they had just accused of being a system of poisoning, whilst they justify and praise their own monstrous and murderous doses of the same medicines. Is not this the grossest and most wretched inconsistency that can be imagined, perpetrated for the purpose of being shamelessly unjust towards a doctrine which they cannot deny possesses truth and consistency, which is borne out by experience, and which enjoins the most delicate cautiousness and the most unwearied circumspection in the selection and administration of its remedies?
Not very long ago a highly celebrated physician (MARCUS, of Bamberg) spoke of pounds of opium being consumed every month in his hospital, where even the nurses were allowed to give it to the patients according to their fancy. Opium, mind! A drug that has sent many thousands of persons to their graves in ordinary practice! Yet this man continued to be held in honour, for he belonged to the dominant clique to which everything is lawful, even if it be of the most enlightened cities ( To what a low depth of degradation as an art must not medicine have sunk in this quarter of the globe when such a state of things could exist in a city like Berlin, which yet in all other departments of human knowledge has scarcely an equal!) of Europe, every practitioner, from the betitled physician down to the barber’s apprentice, prescribed arsenic as a fashionable remedy in almost every disease and that in such frequent and large doses, one after the other, that the detriment to the health of the people must have been quite palpable; yet this was held to be honourable practice, though not one of them was acquainted with the peculiar effects of this metallic oxyde (and consequently knew not what cases of disease it was suited for.) And yet all prescribed it in repeated doses, a single one of which, sufficiently attenuated and potentized. Would have sufficed to cure all the diseases in the whole habitable world for which this drug is the suitable remedy. Which of these two opposite modes of employing medicines best deserves the flattering appellation of “system of poisoning”- the ordinary method just alluded to, which attacks with tenth of grains the poor patients (who often require some quite different remedy), or homoeopathy, which does not give even a droplet of tincture of the rhuburb is the most suitable, the only appropriate remedy for the case – homoeopathy, which, by unwearied multiplied experiments, discovered that it is only in rare cases that more than a decillionth of a grain of arsenic should be given, and that only in cases where careful proving shows this medicine to be the only one perfectly suitable? To which of these two modes of practice does the title of honour, “thoughtless, rash system of poisoning” best apply?
There is yet another sect of practitioners who mey be called hypocritical purists. If they are practical physicians they, indeed, prescribe all sorts of sustanses thath are injuious when misused, but before the world they wish to pose as patterns of innocence and caution. From their professional chairs and in their writings they give the most alarming definition of poison, so that to listen to their declammations it would appear unadvisable to treat any imaginable disease with anything stronger than quick-grass, dandelion oxymal, and raspberry juice. According to their account poisons are absolutely (i. e. under all circumstances, in all doses, in all cases) prejudicial to human life, an in this category they include, as suits their humour, a lot of substances which in all ages have been extensively employed by physicians for the cure of the diseases. But the employment of these substances would be a criminal offence had not every one of them occasionally proved of use. If, however, each of them had only been of use on one single occasion – and it can not be denied that this sometimes happened – then this definition, besides being blasphemous, is a palpable absurdity. Absolutely and under all circumstances injuriuos and destructive, and at the same time beneficial, is a self-evident contradiction, utter nonsence. They seek to wriggle out of this contradictory assertion by alleging that these substances have more frequently proved injurious than useful. But, let me ask, did the injury si frequently caused by these things come of itself, or did it not come from their improper employment? In other words, was it not caused by those more physicians who made an unskilful use of them in diseases for which they were unsuitable? These medicines do not administer themselves in diseases; they must be administered by somebody, and if ever they were benificial that was because they happened to be given appropiately by somebody; it was because they might always be beneficial if nobody ever employed them otherwise than appropiately. Hence it follows that whenever these substances were hurtful and destructive, they were so only on account of having been inappropiately employed. Therefore, all the injury they did is attributable to the unskilfulness of their employer.
These narrow-minded individuals further allege, “that even when we ato tame arsenic by means of a corrective, e.g. by mixing it with an alkali, it still often does harm enough.”
Nay, I reply, the arsenic must be blamed for this; for, as I before observed, drugs do not administer themselves, somebody administers them and does harm with them. And how does the alkali act as a corrective? Does it merely make the arsenic weaker, or does it alter its nature and convert it into something else? In the latter case the neutral arsenical salt produced is no longer arsenic proper, but something different. If, however, it be merely made weaker, then a simple diminution of the dose of the pure solution of arsenic would be a much more sensible and effectual mode of making it weaker and milder than leaving the dose in its hurtful magnitude, and by the addition of another medicinal substance endeavouring to effect some, but nobody knows what, alteration in its nature, as takes place when a pretended corrective is used. If you think a tenth of a grain of arsenic too strong a dose, what is to prevent you diluting the solution and giving less, a great deal less of it?