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LETTER TO T—— P▬▬, Esq.
You observe in a late letter of yours, that I had form erly hinted, tar water might be useful in the plague, and desire to know the reasons whereon my opinion was grounded, and that I would communicate my thoughts at large on the subject; I am the more willing to satisfy you in this particular, as the plague now raging in Barbary hath in some measure alarmed the public, and I think it may not be amiss to contribute my mite of advice towards averting or lessening the present danger; and, as fear begets caution, to possess my countrymen with an apprehension of this the greatest of all temporal calamities, sufficient to put them on their guard, and prepare them against the worst that can happen. JON A learned physician of our own observes, that the plague does not visit these Britannic islands oftener than once in thirty or forty years, and it is now above twice that time since we felt the hand of the destroying angel.
It is also the opinion of physicians, that the infec tion cannot spread, except there is a suitable disposition in the air to receive it; the signs of which are wet summers, leaves and fruits blasted, an unusual quantity of insects, epidemical distempers among the cattle, to which I presume may be added long easterly winds, all which signs seem to have discovered themselves pretty plainly in the course of this present year. Iniuje,q
Beside these natural forerunners of a plague or pes tilence in the air, it is worth observing, that a prognos
tic may be also made from the moral and religious disposition of the inhabitants. Certainly that the digitus dei (the ri Oslov of Hippocrates) doth manifest itself in the plague, was not only the opinion of mankind in general, but also in particular of the most eminent physicians throughout all ages down to our own. How far we of these islands have reason to expect this messenger of Divine vengeance, will best appear if we take a view of the prevailing principles and practices of our times, which many think have long called aloud for punishment or amendment.
Analogy and probability prevail in medicine: these are the proper guides where experience hath not gone before. I knew that tar water was useful to prevent catching the small-pox, and consequently that its nature was contrary to the taint or venom producing that distemper, and therefore I concluded, that it might be usefully applied to cure the same, though I never heard nor knew that it had been applied to that purpose, and the success answered my hopes.
In like manner, having known the virtue of tar water in preserving from epidemical infection, I conceive in general it may be useful for the cure of distempers caused by such infection. Besides, being very well assured that tar water was sovereign in the cure of all sorts of fevers, I think it not unreasonable to infer, that it may prove a successful medicine for the plague, although I have never known it used in that distemper, forasmuch as the plague with all its symptoms may be considered as a species of fever, and hath been actually considered as such both by Hippocrates and Sydenham,
not to mention others.
Having observed surprising effects of tar water in the most deplorable cases, for instance, pleurisies, smallpox, spotted and erysipelatous fevers, I am induced to entertain great hopes of its success in pestilential fevers or plagues; which are also confirmed, by its operating
as a powerful diaphoretic and sudorific, when given warm and in great quantities. Add to this, that it frequently throws out postules and ulcers, and is apt to terminate the worst of fevers by an irruption of boils in various parts of the body; that it raises the spirits, is a great alexipharmacum and cordial, and must therefore be of the greatest use in malignant cases.
In cachexy, scurvy, gout, as well as in the close of fevers, I have often known tar water cause troublesome eruptions or boils (the very method taken by nature in casting forth the venom of the plague) to break out in the surface of the body, expelling the morbific humours, the cause and relics of the disease, to the signal benefit of the patients; except such who, being frightened at the symptoms, have supposed the tar water to produce those humours which it only drives out, and in consequence of such their groundless suspicion, laid it aside, or perhaps took other medicines to hinder its effect, and thereby deprived themselves of the benefit they might otherwise have received.
In the plague are observed head-ache, drowsiness, anxiety, vigils, sinking of spirits, and weakness, for all which tar water hath been found an effectual remedy. Bloody urine and spitting blood, which are also dangerous symptoms observed in the plague, have been often removed by the same medicine, which from numberless experiments I have found to be peculiarly fitted for purifying and strengthening the blood, and for giving it a due consistence, as well as a proper motion.
In the plague, pleurisies are esteemed mortal symptoms, and in the cure of these I never knew tar water fail, if given warm in bed, a pint or more an hour, though the patient was neither bled nor blistered. The carbuncles and spots which shew themselves in the plague are of a gangrenous nature, tending to mortification. And gangrenes I have known effectually cured by copious drinking of tar water.
An erysipelas, which sheweth a degree of malignity nearest to the plague, is easily cured by plentiful drinking of tar water. I knew a person, who had been six weeks ill of an erysipelas under the care of a celebrated physician, during which time she struggled with many dangerous symptoms, and hardly escaped with life. This person was a year after seized again in the same manner, and recovered in a week, by the sole use of tar water. Costiveness is reckoned a very hopeful prognostic in the plague; and it is also a symptom which often attends the drinking of tar water, when it throws out the venom of a distemper through the skin.
Diseases of the same season generally bear some affinity to each other in their nature and their cure ; and it may not be improper on this occasion to observe, that the reigning distemper of the black cattle hath been often cured by tar water, and would (I am persuaded) have done much less mischief, if the practice had been general, to have given each distempered beast three gallons the first, two the second, and one the third day, in warm doses (from a pint to a quart), and at equal intervals.
Diemerbroeck recommends in the first appearance of a plague the use of sudorifics, putting the patient to bed, and covering him warm, till a copious sweat be raised, the very method I constantly follow in the beginning of fevers, using no other medicine than tar water, which, after numberless experiments, I take to be the best sudorific that is known, inasmuch as it throws out the morbific miasma, without either heating the patient or weakening him, the common effects of other sudorifics, whereas this, at the same time that it allays the feverish heat, proves a most salutary cordial, giving great and lasting spirits.
Upon the whole, I am sincerely persuaded, that for cure of the plague there cannot be a better method followed, more general for use, more easy in practice, and