Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

MALADY— MEDICINE.

I will suppose that a fair princess who never heard speak of anatomy is ill either from having eaten or danced too much, or having done too much of what several princesses occasionally do. I suppose the following controversy takes place:

physician.

Madam, for your health to be good, it is necessary for your cerebrum and cerebellum to distribute a fine, well-conditioned marrow, in the spine of your back down to your highness’s rump; and that this marrow should equally animate fifteen pairs of nerves, each right and left. It is necessary that your heart should contract and dilate itself with a constantly equal force; and that all the blood which it forces into your arteries should circulate in all these arteries and veins about six hundred times a day. This blood, in circulating with a rapidity which surpasses that of the Rhone, ought to dispose on its passage of that which continually forms the lymph, urine, bile, etc., of your highness — of that which furnishes all these secretions, which insensibly render your skin soft, fresh, and fair, that without them would be yellow, gray, dry, and shrivelled, like old parchment.

princess.

Well, sir, the king pays you to attend to all this: fail not to put all things in their place, and to make my liquids circulate so that I may be comfortable. I warn you that I will not suffer with impunity.

physician.

Madam, address your orders to the Author of nature. The sole power which made millions of planets and comets to revolve round millions of suns has directed the course of your blood.

princess.

What! are you a physician, and can you prescribe nothing?

physician.

No, madam; we can only take away from, we can add nothing to nature. Your servants clean your palace, but the architect built it. If your highness has eaten greedily, I can cleanse your entrails with cassia, manna, and pods of senna; it is a broom which I introduce to cleanse your inside. If you have a cancer, I must cut off your breast, but I cannot give you another. Have you a stone in your bladder? I can deliver you from it. I can cut off a gangrened foot, leaving you to walk on the other. In a word, we physicians perfectly resemble teethdrawers, who extract a decayed tooth, without the power of substituting a sound one, quacks as they are.

princess.

You make me tremble; I believed that physicians cured all maladies.

physician.

We infallibly cure all those which cure themselves. It is generally, and with very few exceptions, with internal maladies as with external wounds. Nature alone cures those which are not mortal. Those which are so will find no resource in it.

princess.

What! all these secrets for purifying the blood, of which my ladies have spoken to me; this Baume de Vie of the Sieur de Lievre; these packets of the Sieur Arnauld; all these pills so much praised by femmes de chambre

physician.

Are so many inventions to get money, and to flatter patients, while nature alone acts.

princess.

But there are specifics?

physician.

Yes, madam, like the water of youth in romances.

princess.

In what, then, consists medicine?

physician.

I have already told you, in cleaning and keeping in order the house which we cannot rebuild.

princess.

There are, however, salutary things, and others hurtful?

physician.

You have guessed all the secret. Eat moderately that which you know by experience will agree with you. Nothing is good for the body but what is easily digested. What medicine will best assist digestion? Exercise. What best recruit your strength? Sleep. What will diminish incurable ills? Patience. What change a bad constitution? Nothing. In all violent maladies, we have only the recipe of Molière, “seipnare, purgare”; and, if we will, “clisterium donare.” There is not a fourth. All, I have told you amounts only to keeping a house in order, to which we cannot add a peg. All art consists in adaptation.

princess.

You puff not your merchandise. You are an honest man. When I am queen, I will make you my first physician.

physician.

Let nature be your first physician. It is she who made all. Of those who have lived beyond a hundred years, none were of the faculty. The king of France has already buried forty of his physicians, as many chief physicians, besides physicians of the establishment, and others.

princess.

And, truly, I hope to bury you also.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25