« PreviousContinue »
down to Boccaccio, the notion is traced that pestilential diseases are contracted by communication with the sick. Dr. M.Lean is a little sore on this subject, and he has a curious mode of defending himself. When reminded in the Committee of Boccaecio's account of the plague at Florence in 1348, in which the healthy are represented as flying from the sick, to avoid catching the disease, he says, • It is necessary to ascertain the precise date of its being printed, in order to appreciate the authenticity of the doetrines as being those of the writer, or as being introduced by interpolation of editors or comnientators.'
What must be the condition of that man's mind' who could suspect interpolation on such a subject?
When Dr. M'Lean was examined by the Committee on the doctrine of contagion, he told them that his opinions were founded on an experience of seventeen days; but requested them to recollect how little the value of experience might be commensurate with its duration—that the plague was generally fatal in nine cases out of ten—but that he could cure it in four cases out of five. When asked to what extent he had tried this triumphant mode of treatment, he said upon one patient, and that was himself. When reminded that Dr. Whyte bad inoculated himself with the plague, and had died of it, he said that he took it by a coincidence. When told that the Turks, who used no precautions to avoid the plague, suffer much more from it than the Christians, who avoid it, he said that he did not believe it, because he did not see the grounds for it. When asked upon what grounds he concluded that the Turks and Mahometans suffered less than the Christians, he said, not from actual observation, but from the nature of things, and because there was no eridence to the contrary. He said, he would not believe that a person had the small-pos twice, even if he were to witness it; he should distrust the evidence of his own eyes. When asked at what periods of the year the plague at Moscow in 1771 had prevailed and declined, he answered, that his impression was that it began at the usual epidemic season in northern latitudes, and ceased at the usual time. Being thereupon asked what he called the epidemic season at Moscow, he rejoined that it was the same,or nearly the same, as in this country, judging from the pestilence in 1771. So that the plague at Moscow was epidemic because it raged at the epidemic season; and that was the epidemic season, because the plague raged at that time; there is no circle in Euclid, wbich it would be inore difficult to square than this. He denied that Thucydides describes the plague at Athens as contagious; it is true that this is in express detiance not only of that author's positive assertion, but of some details, occasioned by the contagious nature of the disorder; we infer, indeed, from Dr. M.Lean's cautiously worded answer that he would find a difficulty in reading the original; probably, however, he knows Latin, and as he professes to have formed bis opinion from a comparison of interpretations, we would ask bim whether he has ever stumbled on rather a spirited and yet faithful translation of that part of Thucydides by Lucretius; or, if his Latinity be confined to the Pharmacopeia, whether he ever looked at the best English translation by one Thomas Hobbes of Malmsbury. These were a few of the precious statements with wbich Dr. M'Lean favoured the Contagion Committee, and we know not which to wonder at inost, the mind of the man who uttered them, or the patience of the Committee who could listen to them. This gentleman has been described by an enlightened member of parliament, as one of those extraordinary persons who will be pointed out by the finger of the future historian! History has two fingers, which she employs for different purposes in pointing out individuals to the notice of their fellow-men; which of the two she will use, if ever she happen to notice Dr. M'Lean, we will not venture to predict. Judging by his writings and his actions we conclude that he is a man of great self-confidence, zeal, and perseverance; these qualities, when combined with ability, judgment, and knowledge, form the improvers of science, the master-spirits of their age, the benefactors of their species; but wben combined, as they often are, with wrong-headedness, and a heap of inaccurate and ill-digested knowledge, they form very absurd, and often very mischievous men. Every age affords examples of both; the latter are not uncommonly mistaken for the former; but time corrects the blunder.
We are tired of refuting errors and exposing absurdities which would require no refutation nor exposure if those, who are to decide, were well acquainted with the facts of the question. We call on our legislators, however, before they consent to abolish the system of quarantine, to pause and reflect on the tremendous importance of the stake; to consider that these barriers were built up by our experienced ancestors, and that we have no experience, who are about to pull them down; that the experienced powers of the Mediterranean behold with astonishment the opinions which have been broached in England on the subject, and in consequence of the relaxations to which our government has already consented, have refused to adınit our vessels into their ports without a previous quarantine. We beg them to remember how often, in their own families, they act on the supposition of contagiou when the evidence amounts only to a probability; and we entreat them to legislate for the nation on the same principles of wise and
humane caution which they observe in the regulation of their own establishments. If in the details of the present amended system there be any thing vexatious or unnecessarily dilatory, and we are far from saying that there is nothing such, let it receive a still farther consideration, and any remedy be applied, which may appear to be adequate and proper; but we earnestly hope that no individual inconvenience, nor any ingenious speculations, however strongly the one may be pressed, or however plausibly the other stated, will induce our legislature to abandon the principle of quarantine, or introduce any system founded on the belief that the plague is not a contagious disease.
Dr. MʻLean must excuse the freedom with which we have examined his theory, his arguments, and his pretensions. We have written nothing in personal ill will against a man of whom we know nothing except on this question; but this is too important a matter to allow us to weigh any pain, which we may unavoidably inflict on him, against the cause of the public and of truth. His hobby, or his delusion, be it which it may, is not a harmless one, and he must not be indulged in it. We remember, a few years since, a newspaper story, with which, as not an inapt illustration of his proceedings, we will conclude. An odd fellow, a chemist, appeared before the Lord Mayor, begging leave to show experimentally, that detonating balls were quite harmless; and drew half a pound of gunpowder out of his pocket, in which he meant to explode the balls; the Lord Mayor exclaimed loudly against the experiment; but at length, on his earnest entreaty and strong assurances, permitted him to try it with a small quantity of powder. To the chemist's utter discomfiture the powder exploded, he protesting that it ought not to have done so.
If parliament will but enact the part of the yielding Lord Mayor, the plague will not be slow to represent, very adequately, that of the detonating balls; Dr. M.Lean cannot indeed, like the chemist, limit the quantity of his gunpowder, but he will protest most solemnly and most consolingly over the dead and the dying, that the disease ought not to have spread amongst them.
Art. X.—Letter to Mr. Brougham on the Subject of a London
University, together with Suggestions respecting the Plan. By
T. Campbell, Esq. London. 1825. IT is T is difficult, in a country in which public opinion bears a de
cided sway, to discuss any measure, that is likely to have a wide influence upon society, with feelings altogether unbiassed, or with a tone perfectly sedate and impartial. So many established principles and modes of thinking are shaken by any new method of
VOL. XXXIII. NO. LXV.
acting upon the public mind, so many vested interests are liable to be injured by plans remotely advantageous to the whole community, there is so much risk of losing what we know to be good, in the pursuit of something which we only hope will be better, that almost all experienced and prudent people take the safe side, and present, if not an active and declared opposition, yet a sort of inert resistance to the proposed innovation. Neither is this ungracious reception even of schemes decidedly beneficial, and the slow progress they make through a reluctant medium of prejudice, altogether to be lamented. If founded upon just principles, and not springing from ephemeral fashion or from causes of a transient nature, they are sure to make their way under a free government, and the difference of a few years, sooner or later, in the execution, is a trifling consideration, when set against the advantage derived from this cautious procedure; while the credit and confidence which the friends of the measure gradually acquire by temperately persevering in a design, to which the public attention is candidly invited, amply indemnifies them for a little procrastination of success.
We have, in fact, been so often deceived by specious names adopted to mask the most mischievous intentions, that great allowance is to be made for those who disregard the titles and the first prospectus of new institutions, professing to wait for fuller evidence of their nature before they venture to give them any countenance, and taking no pains in the mean time to conceal their suspicions, or even their positive hostility.
The ordinary practice, indeed, in all such cases, is to argue the point with the vehemence and exaggeration of forensic pleading: a task infinitely more easy as well as more fruitful of applause, than the sober comparison of good and evil, instituted under a calm resolution of supporting that side on which the good shall appear to preponderate. Thus the whole rhetorical armoury is commonly ransacked for weapons both of offence and defence. Not content with exhibiting a portrait of his case as flattering as art can make it, leaving out what is dubious, and boldly denying what is adverse, the advocate proceeds to charge all opposition to bis claims with interested motives, or with a mean spirit of rivalship and jealousy, which would sacrifice the public good to private and mercenary views. Panegyric and invective soon supply the place of argument: or if arguinent be employed, it is of that unmeasured headstrong kind which, reckless of consequences, as having nothing at stake, aims only at immediate triumph. In the mean time all the nicer and more laborious processes of balancing contrary evidence, of calculating the necessary aberrations of practice from pure theory, and of reconciling abstract principles
with the entangled interests of real life, in which the whole difficulty of the argument actually consist, and upon which the whole merit of the proposition turns, are utterly disregarded.
The natural consequence of this proceeding is to excite a spirit of party on the other side ; to call forth all the trite topics of declamation against innovators, and theorists, and agitators of the public mind. The subject of contention commonly partakes more or less of the character of some political division which runs through the nation; and, in proportion to the eagerness and heat which the discussion generates, is absorbed into it: and then farewell to all hope of candour and moderation.
• Omnia tunc pariter vento nimbisque videbis
Fervere.' When this strife of elements has once begun, it is the part of wisdom to retreat to its shelter, and to wait for happier days before the plan of improvement is again submitted to the public attention.
We are far from imputing to the authors of the plan for founding a London University, designs hostile to existing establishments, or that intemperance of language which either supposes or makes an enemy of every one who suspends his approbation of the measure.
Hitherto the cause has been recommended by the moderate and judicious conduct of its friends. Even in Parliament the greatest care has been taken to avoid every topic of offence, to disclaim all competition with our ancient and Hourishing Universities, to conciliate favour rather than to demand assistance, and to represent the scheme as naturally growing out of the existing state of society, instead of anticipating important changes to be wrought upon society by its powerful operation. With the exception of one contemporary publication, which, notwithstanding the shameful discomtiture of its former efforts, has again disgraced itself by a strain of low scurrility against the English Universities, as dull in manner as it is false in fact, and fallacious in argument, the rest have been distinguished by an unassuming and dispassionate tone, earnest indeed but calm, and free from all the bitterness of contention.
The author of the little tract before us, in particular, who may also be considered as the prime author of the design itself, has done himself much credit by the manner in which he has explained the outline of his plan; and, although addressing himself to a poJitical partisan of no ordinary vehemence, by disclaiming and dissuading all connexion with politics, and all ideas of comparison with the English Universities, as well as any attempt to censure their proceedings. He assumes only the great advantages that must arise from increase of knowledge; le endeavours to rouse R2