Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 7, November 1836, 2:???-???


[page 784:]


The British and Foreign Medical Review, or Quarterly Journal of Practical Medicine and Surgery. Edited by John Forbes, M.D., F. R. S., and John Conolly, M. D. (American Edition.) Nos. I, II and III: For January, April, July, 1836.

If any augury of success is to be drawn from desert, this work may fairly be regarded as likely soon to assume a vanward place amongst its competitors for favor with the medical world. Whether we view the quantity or the quality of its matter — the number, variety, richness, or power of its articles — the comprehensiveness of its plan or the judiciousness of its arrangement — it equally strikes us as possessing the very first degree of merit.

Each number consists of four grand divisions: I. Analytical and Critical Reviews; II. Bibliographical Notices; III. Selections from Foreign Journals; IV. Medical Intelligence. So wide is the scope of each one of these divisions, and so copious its filling up, that a steady reader of the Review can hardly fail to know [page 785:] very material step that medical science takes — every important discovery — every valuable publication, and almost every instructive case. Not the least commendable trait in the work, is the notice it takes of foreign medicine; the attention it bestows upon the state of the profession and upon medical men, medical works, and medical institutions — not only in England — not only in Great Britain — not only in Europe — but in America, and even in Asia. It practically recognizes a great commonwealth of knowledge, pervading the whole earth; each province alike concerned, and alike entitled to be lighted and cheered by the sun of science; a widespread fraternity of intellect and benevolence, of which membership is limited to no climate or hemisphere. Thus we see notices of the state of medicine in Spain, Russia and Denmark; and of the medical journals now published in Great Britain, France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, the Colonies, and America. En passant, we state the number of these: in Germany 11; in Italy 5; in Denmark 4; in the United States 8; in Rio Janeiro 1; in Kingston (Jamaica) 1; in Calcutta 1; in. France (including hebdomadal and tri-weekly papers,) 17. In Great Britain it seems there are but six.

We cannot too much admire the sound sense and enlarged philanthropy breathed in the following passage of the British Medical Review, occurring just after it has bespoken a regular exchange with its foreign contemporaries.

“It is our anxious desire and earnest hope to make it a freer medium of communication and a closer bond of union, between the members of the medical profession in all civilized countries, than has hitherto existed. It is delightful to all who cultivate the arts of peace, to live in times when the nations of the earth may freely communicate with each other. without restraint or difficulty: and it is doubly delightful to those who, like the members of our profession, are striving only for what is good, to find themselves associated in their labors with the virtuous and the wise of every land, differing indeed in the external and unessential characters of language, customs, and civil polity, but identified in the common desire to improve the physical, moral, and intellectual condition of man, and consequently, to augment the happiness, and exalt the dignity of the human race.” No. I, p. 230.

It pleases our pride as Americans, to observe the large space which our country evidently occupies in the opinion of the enlightened men who edit this Review. The physicians of the United States and their works, in its pages, fill twice the room, we believe, of those in any other foreign country, not excepting France or Germany; and there are repeated and unequivocal proofs, that the inconsiderable figure which this, like other departments of American science and literature, has hitherto made in British eyes, is now to be entirely changed. Mark the conciliatory and fraternal tone of what follows:

“The energetic character of the American people, whom we feel proud to regard as derived from a common ancestry with ourselves, and their astonishing progress during the last half century in the arts and sciences, are no less conspicuous in the actual state of medicine there, than in the other branches of human knowledge and social amelioration. Were we, however, not resolved to make the state of medical science among our North American brethren better known and more justly appreciated in England, we should almost be ashamed to confess how little we ourselves know of it, and how little is really known of it by the great majority of our best informed physicians and surgeons. While the medicine of France is familiar to most men of any education among us, and that of Germany and Italy is known to many, the condition of our science throughout the vast territories and in the immense cities of the United States, although recorded in our own language, and cultivated in the same spirit as by ourselves, is scarcely known to us at all. A striking proof of this is, that in some recent histories of medicine published in this country, by men of the very first talents and acquirements, scarcely any notice is taken of America, or of the improvements or discoveries for which we are indebted to American physicians and surgeons. An equally striking evidence is the extremely limited importation into this country of American books, and the non-circulation of American Journals among us. On the contrary, the extreme eagerness with which English books are received in America, is no less strikingly illustrated by the well known fact that all good works on British medicine are not only imported into, but are immediately republished in America, and circulated in vast numbers.” “Dr. Combe's admirable work on Hygiene, has not only been reprinted in America, but circulated to the amount of 10,000.”

“The zeal with which medicine is cultivated in America, is equally manifested by the number and variety of the medical journals published there; and we are bound in fairness to add, that the original communications and criticisms contained in such of them as we have met with, sufficiently prove that it is not a zeal without knowledge.” Id. p. 229.

The foregoing extracts are worth making and worth reading, for two especial reasons: first, because in speaking so kindly of us, they tend to awaken a mutual throb of kindness in our own bosoms, and so to strengthen and multiply the ties of international affection; and second, because by showing us how insignificant we are in the civilized world, they severely and justly rebuke our national vanity, pampered so long by our Fourth of July orators and newspaper paragraphists, into the belief that we are “the greatest and most enlightened people on earth.”

Among the American physicians whose names are brought with praise before the British public in the Review before us, are Drs. Dunglison, Geddings, and Smith, of Baltimore, and Jackson (senior and junior,) of Boston. Though Dr. Dunglison is an Englishman born, we claim his professional merits chiefly for America, who has fostered, developed and matured, by appreciating and rewarding them. We sympathize in the gratification he must feel, at the emphatic and pre eminent tribute rendered him in the preface, where he is classed with, yet above, the distinguished physicians of Berlin, Hamburg, Geneva, Madrid, and St. Petersburg, to whom obligations are acknowledged for valuable assistance.

In No. 2, is a very favorable review of Dr. Dunglison's late work on the Elements of Hygiene. Like his prior and large work on Human Physiology, (of which, as well as of his Medical Dictionary, America is the birth place,) this valuable treatise is rather technical than popular; being designed more for medical than for general readers.

In the same article, is a detailed notice of the before mentioned essay of Dr. Combe, on Hygiene — or, to give its proper title, “The Principles of Physiology applied to the Preservation of Health, and to the Improvement of Physical and Mental Education.” This is the work of which the Reviewer says 10,000 copies have been circulated in the United States; but as it has been stereotyped by the Harpers, and made a number of their “Family Library,” besides publication in other forms, we question if 20,000 copies be not nearer the truth. The whole range of physical authorship, we have long believed, does not present an equal to this modest little book of Dr. Combe's, for curious, interesting, and valuable truth: not to physicians alone, or to [page 786:] scholars, or to gentlemen, or to school-mistresses, but to every class of mankind, from the President of a College to the laborer in “his clouted shoon.” The topics it particularly treats of, are the structure and functions of the skin — of the muscular system — the lungs — the bones — and the nervous system, with the mental faculties, supposed to be connected with it. Annexed to each of these subjects are rules, “by the observance of which, each of them may be kept in health, and may conduce to the general health of the body.” “And thus the reader is led to wholesome customs, by being taught the reason of their being wholesome.”

It is now admitted by all intelligent persons, except those captious and querulous praisers of time past, who abound in every age, that medicine is far advanced in a great and most salutary reformation, the progress of which is still onward. In nothing is this reform more conspicuous — nay, in nothing does it more consist — than in the profession's now aiming to preserve health by timely precautions, instead of being satisfied to restore it when lost. In fact it is not now medicine so much as hygiene; it is the art of preserving rather than the art of healing; prevention rather than cure. And as much superior as prevention proverbially is to cure — so much better is the present plan of guarding the health by a judicious diet, seasonable clothing, dwellings properly warmed and aired, and a strict attention to cleanliness than the old one, of letting luxury and debauchery have their course, and then trusting to expel their crudities and counteract their poison by physic. If the expelling agent — the antidote — had been always infallible (and alas, how many grave-yards prove the contrary!) — the wear and tear of constitution, produced by the action of the disease, and even of the remedy, was a clear balance against the old system.

Dr. Combe's work is emphatically an emanation of the reformed school of medicine; and though in that school the names of Broussais, Louis and Jackson may be more united by fame, we deem “Combe on Mental Health”* to have borne away from them all the palm of usefulness.

In the three numbers of the Review, are many articles which we would fain mention, but all would exceed our space, and we do not like the task of further selection. Some idea of the merits of the work (and incidentally of Dr. C.'s) was all we aimed to convey.

It is republished (quarterly) in New York, by W. Jackson, and in Baltimore by William Neal, who are authorized to receive subscriptions. The price is $5 per annum.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page ???, column 1:]

* This is the title usually affixed to the back of Dr. C.'s book.




[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (November 1836)