Medical inquiries and observations. By Benjamin Rush, M.D. professor of chemistry in the University of Pennsylvania.
Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813., Redman, John, 1722-1808, dedicatee., Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813. Appendix: containing, the new method of inoculating for the small pox.
Page  197


IN entering upon this subject, I feel like the clown, who, after several unsuccessful attempts to play upon a violin, threw it hastily from him, exclaiming at the same time, that "there was music in it," but that he could not bring it out.

I SHALL endeavour, by a few brief remarks, to lay a foundation for more successful inquiries upon this difficult subject.

ATTRACTION and repulsion seem to be the active principles of the universe. They pervade not only the greatest but the minutest works of nature. Salts, earths, inflammable bodies, metals, and vegetables, have all their respective relations to each other. The order of these relations is so uniform, that it has been ascribed by some philosophers to a latent principle of intelligence pervading each of them.

Page  198 COLORS, odors, and sounds, have likewise their respective relations to each other. They become agree|able and disagreeable, only in proportion to the na|tural or unnatural combination which takes place be|tween each of their different species.

IT is remarkable, that the number of original colors and notes in music is exactly the same. All the va|riety in both proceeds from the difference of combi|nation. An arbitrary combination of them is by no means productive of pleasure. The relation which every color and sound bear to each other, was as im|mutably established at the creation, as the order of the heavenly bodies, or as the relation of the objects of chemistry to each other.

BUT this relation is not confined to colors and sounds alone. It probably extends to the objects of human aliment. For example; bread and meat, meat and salt, the alkalescent meats and acescent vegetables, all harmonize with each other upon the tongue; while fish and flesh, butter and raw onions, fish and milk, when combined, are all offensive to a pure and healthy taste.

IT would be agreeable to trace the analogy of sounds and tastes. They have both their flats and their sharps. They are both improved by the contrast of discords. Thus pepper, and other condiments, (which are dis|agreeable when taken by themselves) enhance the re|lish of many of our aliments, and they are both de|lightful in proportion as they are simple in their com|position. To illustrate this analogy by more exam|ples from music, would lead us from the subject of the present inquiry.

Page  199 IT is observable that the tongue and the stomach, like instinct and reason, are, by nature, in unison with each other. One of these organs must always be dis|ordered, when they disagree in a single article of ali|ment. When they both unite in articles of diet that were originally disagreeable, it is owing to a perversi|on in each of them, similar to that which takes place in the human mind, when both the moral faculty and the conscience lose their natural sensibility to virtue and vice.

UNFORTUNATELY for this part of science, the taste and the stomach are so much perverted in infancy and childhood by heterogeneous aliment, that it is dif|ficult to tell what kinds and mixtures of food are na|tural, and what are artificial. It is true, the system possesses a power of accommodating itself both to ar|tificial food, and to the most discordant mixtures of that which is natural; but may we not reasonably suppose, that the system would preserve its natural strength and order much longer, if no such violence had been offered to it?

IF the relation of aliments to each other follows the analogy of the objects of chemistry, then their union will be influenced by many external circumstances, such as heat and cold, dilution, concentration, rest, motion, and the addition of substances which promote unnatural, or destroy natural mixtures. This idea en|larges the field of inquiry before us, and leads us still further from facts and certainty upon this subject, but at the same time it does not preclude us from the hope of obtaining both; for every difficulty that arises out of this view of the subject, may be removed by ob|servation and experiment.

Page  200 I COME now to apply these remarks to health and pleasure. I shall select only a few cases for this pur|pose; for if my principles are true, my readers can|not avoid discovering many other illustrations of them.

1. WHEN an article of diet is grateful to the taste, and afterwards disagrees with the stomach, may it not be occasioned by some other kind of food, or by some drink being taken into the stomach, which refuses to unite with the offending article of diet?

2. MAY not the uneasiness which many persons feel after a moderate meal, arise from its having con|sisted of articles of aliment which were not related to each other?

3. MAY not the delicacy of stomach which some|times occurs after the fortieth or forty-fifth year of human life, be occasioned by nature recovering her empire in the stomach, so as to require simplicity in diet, or such articles only of aliment, as are related? May not this be the reason why most people, who have passed those periods of life, are unable to retain or to digest fish and flesh at the same time, and why they ge|nerally dine only upon one kind of food?

4. IS not the language of nature in favor of sim|plicity in diet, discovered by the avidity with which the luxurious and intemperate often seek relief from variety and satiety, by retreating to spring water for drink, and to bread and milk, for aliment?

5. MAY not the reason why plentiful meals of fish, venison, oysters, beef or mutton, when eaten alone, Page  201 lie so easily in the stomach, and digest so speedily, be occasioned by no other food being taken with them? A pound, and even more, of the above articles, fre|quently oppress the system much less than half the quantity of heterogeneous aliments.

6. DOES not the facility with which a due mixture of vegetable and animal food digests in the stomach, in|dicate the certainty of their relation to each other?

7. MAY not the peculiar good effects of a diet whol|ly vegetable, or animal, be occasioned by the more frequent and intimate relation of the articles of the same kingdoms to each other? And may not this be the reason why so few inconveniencies are felt from the mixture of a variety of vegetables in the stomach?

8. MAY not the numerous acute and chronic dis|eases of the rich and luxurious, arise from heteroge|neous aliments being distributed in a diffused, instead of a mixed state, through every part of the body?

9. MAY not the many cures which are ascribed to certain articles of diet, be occasioned more by their being taken alone, than to any medicinal quality inhe|rent in them? A diet of oysters in one instance, of strawberries in another, and of sugar of roses in many instances, has cured violent and dangerous disorders of the breast*. Grapes, according to Doctor Moore, when eaten in large quantities, have produced the same salu|tary effect. A milk diet, persisted in for several years, has cured the gout. I have seen many cases of dys|pepsia cured by a simple diet of beef or mutton, and Page  202 have heard of a well attested case of a diet of veal alone having removed the same disorder. Squashes, and turnips likewise, when taken by themselves, have cured that distressing complaint in the stomach. It has been removed even by milk, when taken by itself in a mode|rate quantity*. The farther the body, and more espe|cially the stomach, recede from health, the more this simplicity of diet becomes necessary. The appetite in these cases does not speak the language of uncorrupt|ed nature. It frequently calls for various and impro|per aliment; but this is the effect of intemperance hav|ing produced an early breach between the taste and the stomach.

PERHAPS the extraordinary cures of obstinate dis|eases which are sometimes performed by persons not regularly educated in physic, may be occasioned by a long and steady perseverance in the use of a single arti|cle of the materia medica. Those chemical medicines which decompose each other, are not the only substan|ces which defeat the intention of the prescriber. Ga|lenical medicines, by combination, I believe, frequent|ly produce effects that are of a compound and contra|ry nature to their original and simple qualities. This remark is capable of extensive application, but I quit it as a digression from the subject of this inquiry.

10. I WISH it to be observed, that I have condemn|ed the mixture of different aliments in the stomach only in a few cases, and under certain circumstances. It remains yet to determine by experiments, what chan|ges are produced upon aliments by heat, dilution, ad|dition, concentration, motion, rest, and the addition Page  203 of uniting substances, before we can decide upon the relation of aliments to each other, and the influence of that relation upon health. The olla podrida of Spain, is said to be a pleasant and wholesome dish. It is probably rendered so, by a previous tendency of all its ingredients to putrefaction, or by means of heat producing a new arrangement, or addition new rela|tions of all its parts. I suspect heat to be a powerful agent in disposing heterogeneous aliments to unite with each other; and hence a mixture of aliments is probably less unhealthy in France and Spain, than in England, where so much less fire is used in preparing them than in the former countries.

AS too great a mixture of glaring colors, which are related to each other, becomes painful to the eye, so too great a mixture of related aliments oppresses the sto|mach, and debilitates the powers of the system. The original colors of the sky, and of the surface of the globe, have ever been found the most permanently agreeable to the eye. In like manner, I am disposed to believe that there are certain simple aliments which correspond, in their sensible qualities, with the intermediate colors of blue and green, that are most permanently agreeable to the tongue and stomach, and that every deviation from them is a departure from the simplicity of health and nature.

11. WHILE nature seems to have limited us to simplicity in aliment, is not this restriction abundant|ly compensated by the variety of tastes which she al|lows us to impart to it in order to diversify and increase the pleasure of eating? It is remarkable that salt, sugar, mustard, horse-radish, capers, and spices of all kinds, according to Mr. Gosse's experiments, related by Ab|bè Page  204 Spallanzani*, all contribute not only to render ali|ments savoury, but to promote their digestion.

12. WHEN we consider, that part of the art of cookery consists in rendering the taste of aliments a|greeable, is it not probable that the pleasure of eating might be increased beyond our present knowledge upon that subject, by certain new arrangements or mixtures of the substances which are used to impart a pleasant taste to our aliment?

13. SHOULD philosophers ever stoop to this sub|ject, may they not discover and ascertain a table of the relations of sapid bodies to each other, with the same accuracy that they have ascertained the relation of the numerous objects of chemistry to each other?

14. WHEN the tongue and stomach agree in the same kinds of aliment, may not the increase of the pleasure of eating be accompanied with an increase of health and a prolongation of life?

15. UPON the pleasure of eating, I shall add the following remarks. In order to render it truly ex|quisite, it is necessary that all the senses, except that of taste, should be as quiescent as possible. Those per|sons mistake the nature of the appetite for food, who attempt to whet it by accompanying a dinner by a band of music, or by connecting the dining table with an extensive and delightful prospect. The excitement of one sense, always produces collapse in another. Even conversation sometimes detracts from the pleasure of eating; hence great feeders love to eat in silence, or alone; and hence the speech of a passionate Frenchman, Page  205 while dining in a talkative company, was not so im|proper as might at first be imagined. "Hold your tongues, (said he) I cannot taste my dinner." I know a physician who, upon the same principle, always shuts his eyes, and requests silence in a sick chamber, when he wishes to determine by the pulse the propriety of blood-letting, in cases where its indication is doubtful. His perceptions become more distinct, by confining his whole attention to the sense of feeling.

IT is impossible to mention the circumstance of the senses acting only in succession to each other in the enjoyment of pleasure, without being struck by the im|partial goodness of Heaven, in placing the rich and the poor so much upon a level in the pleasures of the table. Could the numerous objects of pleasure, which are ad|dressed to the ears and the eyes, have been possessed at the same time, with the pleasure of eating, the rich would have commanded three times as much pleasure in that enjoyment as the poor; but this is so far from being the case, that a king has no advantage over a beggar, in eating the same kind of aliment.

WITH this remark, I shall close this collec|tion of Inquiries and Observations. To the interests of science and humanity, I thus publicly devote them. If the histories of epidemics, which I have given, con|tain no discoveries, they may perhaps prove useful, by shewing the degrees of affinity between similar diseases in the same latitudes, and in the same state of society in different countries, and thereby contribute to form a complete system of the history of epidemics.

Page  206 I SHALL make no apology for having suggested several new remedies for common diseases. Each of those remedies has been so often, and so successfully, administered in Philadelphia, and in the neighbouring states, that I shall leave them to plead their own cause before the bar of the public.

AN apology will be more necessary for those opi|nions in which I have taken the liberty of differing from some of the present established systems of medi|cine. My motives for publishing these opinions were, that if true, they might be placed in a situation to re|ceive support from the inquiries and observations of other physicians; and if they are erroneous, that they might, as speedily as possible, be examined and re|futed. Nor will my errors be without benefit to me|dicine.

Men (says M. de Fontenelle) cannot, upon any subject, arrive at what is rational, till they have first, on that very subject, exhausted all imaginable folly. How many absurdities (adds the same en|lightened author) should we not now utter, if the ancients had not said them before us, and thus de|livered us from the trouble of repeating them.
—The uniformity of nature in this instance, with her conduct in the production of moral happiness, deserves our particular attention. As good can be known by mortals, only by the means of evil; so truth, perhaps, can be discovered by them, only through the means of error.