The Author's Practice as a Surgeon and Physician, in the City of Algiers.
MY circumstances were now so greatly ameliorated that, if I could have been assured of returning to my native country in a few years, I should have es|teemed them eligible. To observe the customs, habits, and manners of a people, of whom so much is said and so little known at home; and especially to notice the medical practice of a nation, whose ancestors have been spoken of with re|spect, in the annals of the healing art, was highly interesting.
Page 87 After a marked and assiduous atten|tion of some months to the duties of my office, I acquired the confidence of my superiours so far, that I was sometimes sent abroad in the city to examine a pa|tient, who had applied for admission into the infirmary; and sometimes the physi|cians themselves would condescend to consult me. Though they affected to despise my skill, I had often the gratifica|tion of observing that they administered my prescriptions with success.
In surgery they were arrant bunglers. Indeed, their pretensions to knowledge in this branch were so small that my superiour adroitness scarce occasioned envy. Ap|plications, vulgarly common in the Unit|ed States, were there viewed with admira|tion. The actual cautery was their only method of staunching an external hemor|rhage. The first amputation, I operated, drew all the principal physicians around me. Nothing could equal their surprize, Page 88 at the application of the spring tourni|quet, which I had assisted a workman to make for the occasion, except the taking up of the arteries. My friend the Mollah came to congratulate me on my success, and spread my reputation wherever he visited. A poor creature was brought to the hospital with a depressed fracture up|on the os frontis, sunk into a lethargy, and died. I proposed trepanning, but found those useful instruments unknown in this country. By the care of the di|rector, I had a set made under my direc|tion; but, after having performed upon a dead, I never could persuade the Alge|rine faculty to permit me to opperate up|on a living subject. What was more a|musing, they pretended to improve the aid of philosophy against me, and talked of the weight of a column of air press|ing upon the dura mater, which, they said, would cause instant death. Of all follies the foppery of learning is the most Page 89 insupportable. Professional ignorance and obstinacy were not all I had to con|tend with. Religious prejudice was a constant impediment to my success. The bigotry of the Mahometan differs essen|tially from that of the Roman catholic. The former is a passive, the latter an ac|tive principle. The papist will burn infidels and heretics; the Mussulman never torments the unbeliever, but is more tenaciously attached to his own creed, makes his faith a principle in life, and never suffers doubt to disturb, or reason to overthrow it. I verily believe that, if the alcoran had declared, that the earth was an immense plain and stood still, while the sun performed its revolution round it, a whole host of Gallileos, with a Newton at their head, could not have shaken their opinion, though aided by all the demonstrative powers of experiment|al philosophy.
I was invited by one of the faculty to Page 90 inspect the eyes of a child, which had lost its sight about three years; I proposed couching, and operated on the right eye with success. This child was the only son of an opulent Algerine, who, being inform|ed that an infidel had restored his son to sight, refused to let me operate on the other, protesting that, if he had known that the operator was an unbeliever, his son should have remained blind, until he opened his eyes upon the Houri of para|dise. He sent me however a present of money, and offered to make my fortune, if I would abjure the christian faith and embrace Ismaelism, which, he said, he believed, I should one day do: as he thought that God never would have de|creed that I should restore his son to sight, if he had not also decreed that I should be a true believer.