MARK TWAIN ON MEDICINE
He Discusses the Progress Made in the Science.
Justice Woodward, Another Guest at Medical Jurisprudence Society Dinner Deals with Expert Testimony.
Mark Twain was the principal speaker at the Hotel Savoy last night at the dinner in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of the Society of Medical Jurisprudence. He said at the outset of his remarks that it was a pleasure to watch a company of gentlemen "in that condition which is peculiar to gentlemen who have had their dinners." That was a time, said Mr. Clemens, when the real nature of man came out.
"As a rule," he continued, "we go about with masks, we go about looking honest, and we are able to conceal ourselves all through the day. But when the time comes that man has had his dinner, then the true man comes to the surface. I could see it here this evening. I noticed the burst of applause when Judge O'Brien got up to speak, and I knew that he was either an exceedingly able man or else that a lot of you practice in his court. [Laughter.] You have been giving yourselves away all evening. One speaker got up here and urged you to be honest, and there was no response.
"Now, I want you to remember that medicine has made all its progress during the past fifty years. One member of this society sent me a typewritten judicial decision of the year 1809 in a medical case with the suggestion that this was the kind of medicine to have, and that the science of medicine had not progressed, but gone back. This decision went on and described a sort of medicine I used to take myself fifty years ago, and which was in use also in the time of the Pharaohs, and all the knowledge up to fifty years ago you got from five thousand years before that.
"I now hold in my hand Jaynes's Medical Dictionary, published in 1745. In that book there is a suggestion as to what medicine was like a long time ago. How many operations that are in use now were known fifty years ago? - they were not operations, they were executions. [Laughter.]
"I read in this book the case of a man who 'died from a severe headache.' Why 'severe?' The man was dead. Didn't that cover the ground? [Laughter.] This book goes on to say: 'A certain merchant about fifty years of age, of a melancholy habit, and deeply involved in affairs of the world, was, during the dog days' - with a capital D-'seized with a violent pain of his head, which some time after kept him in bed. I being called ' - remember this man was a regular - 'ordered vennisection in the arms, bleeding; I also ordered the application of leeches to the vessels of his nostrils; I also ordered the application of leeches to his forehead and temples, and also behind his ears.'
"Now you see," continued Mark Twain, holding the old medical book in his hand, "he has got him fringed all over with leeches. But that was not enough, for he goes on to say: 'I likewise ordered the application of cup glasses, with scarification on his back.' Now, he has township maps carved all over him, and all this is for a headache. But notwithstanding these precautions the man dies, or rather, perhaps, I might have said, because of these precautions the man dies. [Laughter.] Now this physician goes on to say: 'If any surgeon skilled in arterial anatomy had been present, I should also have ordered an operation.' [Laughter.] He was not satisfied with what he had done, with the precautions he had already taken, but he wanted apparently to put a pump into that man and pump out what was left. [Laughter.]
"Now all that has passed away, and modern medicine and surgery have come in. Medicine was like astronomy, which did not move for centuries. When a comet appeared in the heavens it was a sign that a Prince was going to die! It was also a sign of earthquakes and of pestilence and other dreadful things. But they began to drop one thing after another. They finally got down to earthquakes and the death of a Prince as the result of the appearance of a comet, until in 1818 a writer in The Gentlemen's Magazine found at least one thing that a comet was sent for, because it was of record that when the comet appeared in 1818 all the flies in London went blind and died. [Laughter.] Now they had got down to flies. [Laughter.]
"In 1829 a clergyman found still one thing that a comet was sent for, because while it was in the heavens all the cats in Westphalia got sick. But in 1868 that whole scheme was swept away and the comet was recognized to be only a pleasant summer visitor, and as for the cats and flies they never were so healthy as they were then. [Laughter.] From that time dates the great step forward that your profession has taken." [Laughter and applause.]
Justice John Woodward spoke on the value of expert testimony as viewed by appellate tribunals. He said that the subject was a very important one, but that the solution of the problem was to be found in common honesty.
"When a witness swears in favor of his side, " said Justice Woodward, "because he has got a fee, then he is no longer worthy to be received in decent society or respected by self-respecting men. [Applause.] The value of an expert's testimony rests on the value of the man who gives it. The expert who does not tell the whole truth is as much a perjurer before God as the man who says he saw an accident which occurred ten miles away from him. If when an expert is known among his professional brethren to have given false testimony, he were shunned by them, if he were treated in the same manner as a man would be in society for having committed perjury on any other subject, that kind of swearing would soon be a matter of the past. [Applause.]
"On the other hand, the man who masters his art or science and practices it conscientiously and then in the course of affairs, by reason of the knowledge that he has acquired consents to testify in a particular case and gives the benefit of his great experience and knowledge to the Judge and jury, then that man is entitled to credence and standing."
Justice Morgan J. O'Brien answered to the toast of "The Law." He related some incidents of judicial life that excited much amusement, and concluded with a definition of constitutional law and its place in human society that was loudly cheered.
The Rev. Dr. Howard Duffield responded to the toast "The Triple Alliance," speaking briefly on the three learned professions - law, medicine, and theology.
Charles V. Fornes, President of the Board of Aldermen, was the last speaker. He spoke on "Fusion or Confusion" and attributed the Fusion victory in the last municipal campaign largely to the newspapers.
Theodore Sutro, President of the society, acted as the toastmaster.
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