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APRIL 21, 1867

Official Physic

Ed. T. T.: -- It is one of the beauties of our advance consolidated and all-embracing government that questions which were left to puzzle the private judgment of the citizens under the old regime are now settled by the legislative powers authoritatively. Among other differences of opinion there has been always a variance of choice under which system a citizen preferred to find his way across the Styx, and he enjoyed in this State till now the privilege of choosing the rower who was to aid in ferrying him over in Charon's boat. In other words, if a citizen was inclined to take salts by the ton, ipecac by the barrel, mercury by the quart, or quinine by the load, and thus be cured of his ailment or his sublunary existence by the wholesale, he was at perfect liberty to invite the services of a medicus of the allopathic style; and if another citizen preferred to toy with death, and buy health in small parcels, to bribe death with a sugar pill to stay away, or go to the grave with all the original sweetners undrenched out of him, then the individual adopted the "like cures like" system, and called in a homeopath physician as being a pleasant friend death's. Citizens there were too, who liked to be washed into eternity, or soaked like over-salt mackerel before they were placed on purgatorial gridirons, and these, "of every rank and degree", had the right to pass their few remaining days in an element that they were not likely to see much of for some time. Then again there were those who saw "good in everything" and who believed that whatever is is right, and these last mixed the allopathic, homeopathic, and hydropathic systems, qualified each with each, and thus passed to their long homes, drenched, pickled, sweetened, and soaked. But all this is fast being changed. The highest power in our State has been forced to declare, through the workings of over-legislation, that the allopathic system is the only one at present recognized by the State, and so has reinstated in his position a noted allopathic physician in the Health Board. Before this decision of the Governor's was made known, there was a war of lancets, and many hard pills to swallow were administered by the rival homeopaths and allopaths. Among arguments used were those founded on the questionable statistics of the number of patients who recovered while being treated by the rival systems. Some sarcastic people, justified by the saying of the well-known Oliver Wendell Holmes, may be of the opinion that more people get well in spite of the doctors than by their help, and that a doctor is as likely to be famous from the number that he kills as from that which he cures. Something like this might have passed through the Governor's mind, for evidently he was undecided under which king death to speak or die, and showed that he is like most laymen, inclined to be eclectic; for immediately after the appointment of the allopath to that Board which will authoritatively recommend the kind of physic good for the public bowels in the event of the spread of an epidemic, and which poor patients will be forced to swallow, whatever their medical code may be, the Governor paid the high but rather sarcastic compliment to homeopathy of appointing one of its disciples to a place on the Board of Commissioners for the new State Lunatic Asylum to be located at Poughkeepsie. No doubt, the Governor thought that people divested of reason could offer no reasons against the appointment; and that if the lunatics were not improved by sugar pills, they would at least die sweetly -- a lunatic more or less being of little account. Thus it is officially settled that allopathy is good for the sane and homeopathy for the insane. The famed "judgment of Solomon" dwindles to folly in comparison with this decision. But alas! for the changeableness of human affairs, an energetic Senator is determined to have the hydropaths officially recognized; and no doubt to satisfy the followers of that school, shower-baths, douches, and sitzes, will have to be ordered for the benefit of some class in the community. No persons need the cooling influences of cold water more than the small-fry of hot-tempered politicians who periodically increase our taxes at the State capitol. If, over each member's seat a shower-bath was contrived, and by some electric-telegraph means the check-strings could be placed at the control of the Speaker, then, when honorable members wax so hot in debate that they forget the rules of decorum and ignore the Speaker's gavel, the presiding officer could pull the check-strings, souse the offending members, and bring them to order and a frame of mind and body in which they would look at things coolly. Some such arrangement might be applied to caucuses and conventions, of which the members are troubled with superfluity of bile and too great a rush of blood to the head. Thus the hydropathists might be pacified by being allowed a share in public hygienics. But to return to the starting-point of this communication, the mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble, through the rivalry of schools and creeds that are anxious to obtain official recognition, and there is great danger that our people will lose that independence of thought and action which is the cause of much of our greatness, and sink into the helplessness of the Frenchman or German who expects his government to feed him when hungry, clothe him when naked, to prescribe when his child may be born and when he may die, and, in fine, to regulate every act of humanity from the cradle to the tomb, including the manner in which he may seek future admission to paradise.

- M.T.

[Text from Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays, 1852 - 1890, edited by Louis J. Budd.]

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