(From vol. vi, 2nd edit., 1827.)
(The bath sponge – the habitation of the animal of the Spongia officinalis,. – is cut into pieces of moderate size and roasted in a tin-plate coffee-roaster, turned round over glowing charcoal until it becomes brown, and can without much labour be triturated to a powder. Of this 20 grains are added to 400 drops of good alcohol, shaken twice a day and allowed to macerate for a week without warmth. Thus a tincture is made which contains a grain of roasted sponge-power in every 20 drops.)
Sponge burnt to black coal (spongia usta, combusta) as it is not seldom prepared, seems to be less powerful. On the other hands, if only roasted brown in the manner described above, it is very odorous, and communicates all its great medicinal powers to the alcohol. If the tincture be dropped into water a milkiness is produced, yet a good deal of it is retained in solution. The sponge is said to contain some iodine.
That remarkable swelling of the thyroid gland of the neck called goitre, which is peculiar to the inhabitants of deep valleys and their termination in plains, which arises from a concurrence of apparently tolerably identical causes, though most of these are unknown to us, constitutes a malady which us almost always uniform in its nature, for which a medicine, if it has in one case been proved servicable, must be so always and in every case (specific).
But the ordinary medical school did not know how to obtain a knowledge of medicines a priori, before their administration in diseases, and knew not for what morbid states they would and must be curative, and consequently to prescribed them in a blind sort of way in diseases, several medicines at once, always in mixtures. Hence the ordinary schoonl was unable to discover any certain remedies for chronic ailments, not even for diseases that always remained the same. Hence common folk had to look to themselves for help, but this they could only obtain in the slowest an most tedious way in the world, namely, by incessantly trying all sorts of simple substances which chance offered them, whereby after some millions of fruitless trials at last a remedy came into their hands, which having once been of use, must assuredly be always servicable in diseases of fixed character and identical nature. Thus medicine has, to thank this thorough trial by the common folk of all conceivable medicinal substances, for the few surely curative drugs for such diseases as are always the same, that is, arising from identical causes and hence of fixed character. The ancient medical school that thinks itself so wise could not do this for itself, as we see.
In this way thousands of years might have elapsed ere the ordinary domestic medical practice, after unnumerable trials of drugs, at length lighted upon roasted sponge as the remedy for this troublesome ailment, the goitre, and found it to be a specific for the disease. At all events, we find it first mentioned a specific for goitre in the thirteenth century by ARNOLD VON VILLANOVA.
The medical art then reaped where it had not sowed, and appropriated this discovery of common folk. But as it has even held simplicity to be dishonourable, it mixed the roasted sponge when employing it as a remedy for goitre with a number of other substances, (in the Pharmacopoeia Angustana, for example, ten other ingredients are added and so the actual efficaciuos remedy, the Spongia usta, deteriorated.) always varying them, in order as if declared in its learned way, to act as adjuvants to the sponge, but in reality this only spoilt its action. The mixture, on account of these perturbing additions, often proved useless, or if it still did good, then in course of time the good effects were ascribed by subsequent practitioners to the auxillary ingredients, so that at length it was not known which was the efficacious ingredient in the prescription. Thus roasted sponge, owing to this quackish but learned addition of other drugs, gradually lost its reputation, and, indeed, sometimes disappeared altogether from the goitre-remedy (As for example in KLEIN’S Selectus Medicaminum, p. 138, compared with p. 183.) (pulvis ad strumas), so that at length roasted sponge was dropped out of many modern works on materia medica as a useless thing. So the distinguished medical school, by means of its learned mixture-art, succeeded once more in destroying and burying in oblivion a truth which the unsophisticated experience of the common folk had discovered by an infinity of tedious trials carried on during thousands of years. This is a little specimen of the benefits which have been bestowed on the human race by the ordinary medical art.