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History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White

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1881, pp. 58 et seq; also chapter x of the Memorial History of
Boston, by the same author and O. W. Holmes. For a letter of Dr.
Franklin's, see Massachusetts Historical Collections, second
series, vol. vii, p. 17. Several most curious publications
issued during the heat of the inoculation controversy have been
kindly placed in my hands by the librarians of Harvard College
and of the Massachusetts Historical Society, among them A Reply
to Increase Mather, by John Williams, Boston, printed by J.
Franklin, 1721, from which the above scriptural arguments are
cited. For the terrible virulence of the smallpox in New England
up to the introduction of the inoculation, see McMaster, History
of the People of the United States, first edition, vol. i, p. 30.

The steady evolution of scientific medicine brings us next to
Jenner's discovery of vaccination. Here, too, sundry vague
survivals of theological ideas caused many of the clergy to side
with retrograde physicians. Perhaps the most virulent of
Jenner's enemies was one of his professional brethren, Dr.
Moseley, who placed on the title-page of his book, Lues Bovilla,
the motto, referring to Jenner and his followers, "Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do": this book of Dr.
Moseley was especially indorsed by the Bishop of Dromore. In
1798 an Anti-vaccination Society was formed by physicians and
clergymen, who called on the people of Boston to suppress
vaccination, as "bidding defiance to Heaven itself, even to the
will of God," and declared that "the law of God prohibits the
practice." As late as 1803 the Rev. Dr. Ramsden thundered
against vaccination in a sermon before the University of
Cambridge, mingling texts of Scripture with calumnies against
Jenner; but Plumptre and the Rev. Rowland Hill in England,
Waterhouse in America, Thouret in France, Sacco in Italy, and a
host of other good men and true, pressed forward, and at last
science, humanity, and right reason gained the victory. Most
striking results quickly followed. The diminution in the number
of deaths from the terrible scourge was amazing. In Berlin,
during the eight years following 1783, over four thousand
children died of the smallpox; while during the eight years
following 1814, after vaccination had been largely adopted, out
of a larger number of deaths there were but five hundred and
thirty-five from this disease. In Wurtemberg, during the
twenty-four years following 1772, one in thirteen of all the
children died of smallpox, while during the eleven years after
1822 there died of it only one in sixteen hundred. In
Copenhagen, during twelve years before the introduction of
vaccination, fifty-five hundred persons died of smallpox, and
during the sixteen years after its introduction only one hundred
and fifty-eight persons died of it throughout all Denmark. In
Vienna, where the average yearly mortality from this disease had
been over eight hundred, it was steadily and rapidly reduced,
until in 1803 it had fallen to less than thirty; and in London,
formerly so afflicted by this scourge, out of all her inhabitants
there died of it in 1890 but one. As to the world at large, the
result is summed up by one of the most honoured English
physicians of our time, in the declaration that "Jenner has
saved, is now saving, and will continue to save in all coming
ages, more lives in one generation than were destroyed in all the
wars of Napoleon."

It will have been noticed by those who have read this history
thus far that the record of the Church generally was far more
honourable in this struggle than in many which preceded it: the
reason is not difficult to find; the decline of theology enured
to the advantage of religion, and religion gave powerful aid to

Yet there have remained some survivals both in Protestantism and
in Catholicism which may be regarded with curiosity. A small
body of perversely ingenious minds in the medical profession in
England have found a few ardent allies among the less
intellectual clergy. The Rev. Mr. Rothery and the Rev. Mr.
Allen, of the Primitive Methodists, have for sundry vague
theological reasons especially distinguished themselves by
opposition to compulsory vaccination; but it is only just to say
that the great body of the English clergy have for a long time
taken the better view.

Far more painful has been the recent history of the other great
branch of the Christian Church--a history developed where it
might have been least expected: the recent annals of the world
hardly present a more striking antithesis between Religion and

On the religious side few things in the history of the Roman
Church have been more beautiful than the conduct of its clergy in
Canada during the great outbreak of ship-fever among immigrants
at Montreal about the middle of the present century. Day and
night the Catholic priesthood of that city ministered fearlessly
to those victims of sanitary ignorance; fear of suffering and
death could not drive these ministers from their work; they laid
down their lives cheerfully while carrying comfort to the poorest
and most ignorant of our kind: such was the record of their
religion. But in 1885 a record was made by their theology. In
that year the smallpox broke out with great virulence in
Montreal. The Protestant population escaped almost entirely by
vaccination; but multitudes of their Catholic fellow-citizens,
under some vague survival of the old orthodox ideas, refused
vaccination; and suffered fearfully. When at last the plague
became so serious that travel and trade fell off greatly and
quarantine began to be established in neighbouring cities, an
effort was made to enforce compulsory vaccination. The result
was, that large numbers of the Catholic working population
resisted and even threatened bloodshed. The clergy at first
tolerated and even encouraged this conduct: the Abbe
Filiatrault, priest of St. James's Church, declared in a sermon
that, "if we are afflicted with smallpox, it is because we had a
carnival last winter, feasting the flesh, which has offended the
Lord; it is to punish our pride that God has sent us smallpox."
The clerical press went further: the Etendard exhorted the
faithful to take up arms rather than submit to vaccination, and
at least one of the secular papers was forced to pander to the
same sentiment. The Board of Health struggled against this
superstition, and addressed a circular to the Catholic clergy,
imploring them to recommend vaccination; but, though two or three
complied with this request, the great majority were either silent
or openly hostile. The Oblate Fathers, whose church was situated
in the very heart of the infected district, continued to denounce
vaccination; the faithful were exhorted to rely on devotional
exercises of various sorts; under the sanction of the hierarchy
a great procession was ordered with a solemn appeal to the
Virgin, and the use of the rosary was carefully specified.

Meantime, the disease, which had nearly died out among the
Protestants, raged with ever-increasing virulence among the
Catholics; and, the truth becoming more and more clear, even to
the most devout, proper measures were at last enforced and the
plague was stayed, though not until there had been a fearful
waste of life among these simple-hearted believers, and germs of
scepticism planted in the hearts of their children which will
bear fruit for generations to come.[325]

[325] For the opposition of concientious men to vaccination in
England, see Baron, Life of Jenner, as above; also vol. ii, p.
43; also Dun's Life of Simpson, London, 1873, pp. 248, 249; also
Works of Sir J. Y. Simpson, vol. ii. For a multitude of
statistics ahowing the diminution of smallpox after the
introduction of vaccination, see Russell, p. 380. For the
striking record in London for 1890, see an article in the
Edinburgh review for January, 1891. The general statement
referred to was made in a speech some years since by Sir Spencer
Wells. For recent scattered cases of feeble opposition to
vaccination by Protestant ministers, see William White, The Great
Delusion, London, 1885, passim. For opposition of the Roman
Catholic clergy and peasantry in Canada to vaccination during the
smallpox plague of 1885, see the English, Canadian, and American
newspapers, but especially the very temperate and accurate
correspondence in the New York Evening Post during September and
October of that year.

Another class of cases in which the theologic spirit has allied
itself with the retrograde party in medical science is found in
the history of certain remedial agents; and first may be named
cocaine. As early as the middle of the sixteenth century the
value of coca had been discovered in South America; the natives
of Peru prized it highly, and two eminent Jesuits, Joseph Acosta
and Antonio Julian, were converted to this view. But the
conservative spirit in the Church was too strong; in 1567 the
Second Council of Lima, consisting of bishops from all parts of
South America, condemned it, and two years later came a royal
decree declaring that "the notions entertained by the natives
regarding it are an illusion of the devil."

As a pendant to this singular mistake on the part of the older
Church came another committed by many Protestants. In the early
years of the seventeenth century the Jesuit missionaries in South
America learned from the natives the value of the so-called
Peruvian bark in the treatment of ague; and in 1638, the
Countess of Cinchon, Regent of Peru, having derived great benefit
from the new remedy, it was introduced into Europe. Although its
alkaloid, quinine, is perhaps the nearest approach to a medical
specific, and has diminished the death rate in certain regions to
an amazing extent, its introduction was bitterly opposed by many
conservative members of the medical profession, and in this
opposition large numbers of ultra-Protestants joined, out of
hostility to the Roman Church. In the heat of sectarian feeling
the new remedy was stigmatized as "an invention of the devil";
and so strong was this opposition that it was not introduced into
England until 1653, and even then its use was long held back,
owing mainly to anti-Catholic feeling.

What the theological method on the ultra-Protestant side could do
to help the world at this very time is seen in the fact that,
while this struggle was going on, Hoffmann was attempting to give
a scientific theory of the action of the devil in causing Job's
boils. This effort at a quasi-scientific explanation which
should satisfy the theological spirit, comical as it at first
seems, is really worthy of serious notice, because it must be
considered as the beginning of that inevitable effort at
compromise which we see in the history of every science when it
begins to appear triumphant.[326]

[326] For the opposition of the South American Church authorities
to the introduction of coca, etc., see Martindale, Coca, Cocaine,
and its Salts, London, 1886, p. 7. As to theological and
sectarian resistance to quinine, see Russell, pp. 194, 253; also
Eccles; also Meryon, History of Medicine, London, 1861, vol. i,
p. 74, note. For the great decrease in deaths by fever after the
use of Peruvian bark began, see statistical tables given in
Russell, p. 252; and for Hoffmann's attempt at compromise, ibid.,
p. 294.

But I pass to a typical conflict in our days, and in a Protestant
country. In 1847, James Young Simpson, a Scotch physician, who
afterward rose to the highest eminence in his profession, having
advocated the use of anaesthetics in obstetrical cases, was
immediately met by a storm of opposition. This hostility flowed
from an ancient and time-honoured belief in Scotland. As far
back as the year 1591, Eufame Macalyane, a lady of rank, being
charged with seeking the aid of Agnes Sampson for the relief of
pain at the time of the birth of her two sons, was burned alive
on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh; and this old theological view
persisted even to the middle of the nineteenth century. From
pulpit after pulpit Simpson's use of chloroform was denounced as
impious and contrary to Holy Writ; texts were cited abundantly,
the ordinary declaration being that to use chloroform was "to
avoid one part of the primeval curse on woman." Simpson wrote
pamphlet after pamphlet to defend the blessing which he brought
into use; but he seemed about to be overcome, when he seized a
new weapon, probably the most absurd by which a great cause was
ever won: "My opponents forget," he said, "the twenty-first
verse of the second chapter of Genesis; it is the record of the
first surgical operation ever performed, and that text proves
that the Maker of the universe, before he took the rib from
Adam's side for the creation of Eve, caused a deep sleep to fall
upon Adam." This was a stunning blow, but it did not entirely
kill the opposition; they had strength left to maintain that the
"deep sleep of Adam took place before the introduction of pain
into the world--in a state of innocence." But now a new champion
intervened--Thomas Chalmers: with a few pungent arguments from
his pulpit he scattered the enemy forever, and the greatest
battle of science against suffering was won. This victory was
won not less for religion. Wisely did those who raised the
monument at Boston to one of the discoverers of anaesthetics
inscribe upon its pedestal the words from our sacred text, "This
also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in
counsel, and excellent in working."[327]

[327] For the case of Eufame Macalyane, se Dalyell, Darker
Superstitions of Scotland, pp. 130, 133. For the contest of
Simpson with Scotch ecclesiatical authorities, see Duns, Life of
Sir J. Y. Simpson, London, 1873, pp. 215-222, and 256-260.


While this development of history was going on, the central idea
on which the whole theologic view rested--the idea of diseases as
resulting from the wrath of God or malice of Satan--was steadily
weakened; and, out of the many things which show this, one may
be selected as indicating the drift of thought among theologians

Toward the end of the eighteenth century the most eminent divines
of the American branch of the Anglican Church framed their Book
of Common Prayer. Abounding as it does in evidences of their
wisdom and piety, few things are more noteworthy than a change
made in the exhortation to the faithful to present themselves at
the communion. While, in the old form laid down in the English
Prayer Book, the minister was required to warn his flock not "to
kindle God's wrath" or "provoke him to plague us with divers
diseases and sundry kinds of death," from the American form all
this and more of similar import in various services was left out.

Since that day progress in medical science has been rapid indeed,
and at no period more so than during the last half of the
nineteenth century.

The theological view of disease has steadily faded, and the
theological hold upon medical education has been almost entirely
relaxed. In three great fields, especially, discoveries have
been made which have done much to disperse the atmosphere of
miracle. First, there has come knowledge regarding the relation
between imagination and medicine, which, though still defective,
is of great importance. This relation has been noted during the
whole history of the science. When the soldiers of the Prince of
Orange, at the siege of Breda in 1625, were dying of scurvy by
scores, he sent to the physicians "two or three small vials
filled with a decoction of camomile, wormwood, and camphor, gave
out that it was a very rare and precious medicine--a medicine of
such virtue that two or three drops sufficed to impregnate a
gallon of water, and that it had been obtained from the East with
great difficulty and danger." This statement, made with much
solemnity, deeply impressed the soldiers; they took the medicine
eagerly, and great numbers recovered rapidly. Again, two
centuries later, young Humphry Davy, being employed to apply the
bulb of the thermometer to the tongues of certain patients at
Bristol after they had inhaled various gases as remedies for
disease, and finding that the patients supposed this application
of the thermometer-bulb was the cure, finally wrought cures by
this application alone, without any use of the gases whatever.
Innumerable cases of this sort have thrown a flood of light upon
such cures as those wrought by Prince Hohenlohe, by the "metallic
tractors," and by a multitude of other agencies temporarily in
vogue, but, above all, upon the miraculous cures which in past
ages have been so frequent and of which a few survive.

The second department is that of hypnotism. Within the last
half-century many scattered indications have been collected and
supplemented by thoughtful, patient investigators of genius, and
especially by Braid in England and Charcot in France. Here, too,
great inroads have been made upon the province hitherto sacred to
miracle, and in 1888 the cathedral preacher, Steigenberger, of
Augsburg, sounded an alarm. He declared his fears "lest
accredited Church miracles lose their hold upon the public,"
denounced hypnotism as a doctrine of demons, and ended with the
singular argument that, inasmuch as hypnotism is avowedly
incapable of explaining all the wonders of history, it is idle to
consider it at all. But investigations in hypnotism still go on,
and may do much in the twentieth century to carry the world yet
further from the realm of the miraculous.

In a third field science has won a striking series of victories.
Bacteriology, beginning in the researches of Leeuwenhoek in the
seventeenth century, continued by O. F. Muller in the eighteenth,
and developed or applied with wonderful skill by Ehrenberg, Cohn,
Lister, Pasteur, Koch, Billings, Bering, and their compeers in
the nineteenth, has explained the origin and proposed the
prevention or cure of various diseases widely prevailing, which
until recently have been generally held to be "inscrutable
providences." Finally, the closer study of psychology,especially
in its relations to folklore, has revealed processes involved in
the development of myths and legends: the phenomena of
"expectant attention," the tendency to marvel-mongering, and the
feeling of "joy in believing."

In summing up the history of this long struggle between science
and theology, two main facts are to be noted: First, that in
proportion as the world approached the "ages of faith" it receded
from ascertained truth, and in proportion as the world has
receded from the "ages of faith" it has approached ascertained
truth; secondly, that, in proportion as the grasp of theology
Upon education tightened, medicine declined, and in proportion as
that grasp has relaxed, medicine has been developed.

The world is hardly beyond the beginning of medical discoveries,
yet they have already taken from theology what was formerly its
strongest province--sweeping away from this vast field of human
effort that belief in miracles which for more than twenty
centuries has been the main stumblingblock in the path of
medicine; and in doing this they have cleared higher paths not
only for science, but for religion.[328]

[328] For the rescue of medical education from the control of
theology, especially in France, see Rambaud, La Civilisation
Contemporaine en France, pp. 682, 683. For miraculous cures
wrought by imagination, see Tuke, Influence of Mind on Body, vol.
ii. For opposition to the scientific study of hypnotism, see
Hypnotismus und Wunder: ein Vortrag, mit Weiterungen, von Max
Steigenberger, Domprediger, Augsburg, 1888, reviewed in Science,
Feb. 15, 1889, p. 127. For a recent statement regarding the
development of studies in hypnotism, see Liegeois, De la
Suggestion et du Somnambulisme dans leurs rapports avec la
Jurisprudence, Paris, 1889, chap. ii. As to joy in believing and
exaggerating marvels, see in the London Graphic for January 2,
1892, an account of Hindu jugglers by "Professor" Hofmann,
himself an expert conjurer. He shows that the Hindu performances
have been grossly and persistently exaggerated in the accounts of
travellers; that they are easily seen through, and greatly
inferior to the jugglers' tricks seen every day in European
capitals. The eminent Prof. De Gubernatis, who also had
witnessed the Hindu performances, assured the present writer that
the current accounts of them were monstrously exaggerated. As to
the miraculous in general, the famous Essay of Hume holds a most
important place in the older literature of the subject; but, for
perhaps the most remarkable of all discussions of it, see Conyers
Middleton, D. D., A Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers which
are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church, London,
1749. For probably the most judicially fair discussion, see
Lecky, History of European Morals, vol. i, chap. iii; also his
Rationalism in Europe, vol. i, chaps. i and ii; and for perhaps
the boldest and most suggestive of recent statements, see Max
Muller, Physical Religion, being the Gifford Lectures before the
University of Glasgow for 1890, London, 1891, lecture xiv. See
also, for very cogent statements and arguments, Matthew Arnold's
Literature and Dogma, especially chap. v, and, for a recent
utterance of great clearness and force, Prof. Osler's Address
before the Johns Hopkins University, given in Science for March
27, 1891.




A very striking feature in recorded history has been the
recurrence of great pestilences. Various indications in ancient
times show their frequency, while the famous description of the
plague of Athens given by Thucydides, and the discussion of it by
Lucretius, exemplify their severity. In the Middle Ages they
raged from time to time throughout Europe: such plagues as the
Black Death and the sweating sickness swept off vast multitudes,
the best authorities estimating that of the former, at the middle
of the fourteenth century, more than half the population of
England died, and that twenty-five millions of people perished in
various parts of Europe. In 1552 sixty-seven thousand patients
died of the plague at Paris alone, and in 1580 more than twenty
thousand. The great plague in England and other parts of Europe
in the seventeenth century was also fearful, and that which swept
the south of Europe in the early part of the eighteenth century,
as well as the invasions by the cholera at various times during
the nineteenth, while less terrible than those of former years,
have left a deep impress upon the imaginations of men.

From the earliest records we find such pestilences attributed to
the wrath or malice of unseen powers. This had been the
prevailing view even in the most cultured ages before the
establishment of Christianity: in Greece and Rome especially,
plagues of various sorts were attributed to the wrath of the
gods; in Judea, the scriptural records of various plagues sent
upon the earth by the Divine fiat as a punishment for sin show
the continuance of this mode of thought. Among many examples and
intimations of this in our sacred literature, we have the
epidemic which carried off fourteen thousand seven hundred of the
children of Israel, and which was only stayed by the prayers and
offerings of Aaron, the high priest; the destruction of seventy
thousand men in the pestilence by which King David was punished
for the numbering of Israel, and which was only stopped when the
wrath of Jahveh was averted by burnt-offerings; the plague
threatened by the prophet Zechariah, and that delineated in the
Apocalypse. From these sources this current of ideas was poured
into the early Christian Church, and hence it has been that
during nearly twenty centuries since the rise of Christianity,
and down to a period within living memory, at the appearance of
any pestilence the Church authorities, instead of devising
sanitary measures, have very generally preached the necessity of
immediate atonement for offences against the Almighty.

This view of the early Church was enriched greatly by a new
development of theological thought regarding the powers of Satan
and evil angels, the declaration of St. Paul that the gods of
antiquity were devils being cited as its sufficient

[329] For plague during the Peloponnesian war, see Thucydides,
vol. ii, pp.47-55, and vol. iii, p. 87. For a general statement
regarding this and other plagues in ancient times, see Lucretius,
vol. vi, pp. 1090 et seq.; and for a translation, see vol. i, p.
179, in Munro's edition of 1886. For early views of sanitary
science in Greece and Rome, see Forster's Inquiry, in The
Pamphleteer, vol. xxiv, p. 404. For the Greek view of the
interference of the gods in disease, especially in pestilence,
see Grote's History of Greece, vol. i, pp. 251, 485, and vol. vi,
p. 213; see also Herodotus, lib. iii, c. xxxviii, and elsewhere.
For the Hebrew view of the same interference by the Almighty, see
especially Numbers xi, 4-34; also xvi, 49; I Samuel xxiv; also
Psalm cvi, 29; also the well-known texts in Zechariah and
Revelation. For St. Paul's declaration that the gods of the
heathen are devils, see I Cor. x, 20. As to the earlier origin
of the plague in Egypt, see Haeser, 'Lehrbuch der Geschichte der
Medicin und der epidemischen Krankheiten, Jena, 1875-'82, vol.
iii, pp. 15 et seq.

Moreover, comets, falling stars, and earthquakes were thought,
upon scriptural authority, to be "signs and wonders"-- evidences
of the Divine wrath, heralds of fearful visitations; and this
belief, acting powerfully upon the minds of millions, did much to
create a panic-terror sure to increase epidemic disease wherever
it broke forth.

The main cause of this immense sacrifice of life is now known to
have been the want of hygienic precaution, both in the Eastern
centres, where various plagues were developed, and in the
European towns through which they spread. And here certain
theological reasonings came in to resist the evolution of a
proper sanitary theory. Out of the Orient had been poured into
the thinking of western Europe the theological idea that the
abasement of man adds to the glory of God; that indignity to the
body may secure salvation to the soul; hence, that cleanliness
betokens pride and filthiness humility. Living in filth was
regarded by great numbers of holy men, who set an example to the
Church and to society, as an evidence of sanctity. St. Jerome
and the Breviary of the Roman Church dwell with unction on the
fact that St. Hilarion lived his whole life long in utter
physical uncleanliness; St. Athanasius glorifies St. Anthony
because he had never washed his feet; St. Abraham's most striking
evidence of holiness was that for fifty years he washed neither
his hands nor his feet; St. Sylvia never washed any part of her
body save her fingers; St. Euphraxia belonged to a convent in
which the nuns religiously abstained from bathing. St. Mary of
Egypt was eminent for filthiness; St. Simnon Stylites was in this
respect unspeakable--the least that can be said is, that he lived
in ordure and stench intolerable to his visitors. The Lives of
the Saints dwell with complacency on the statement that, when
sundry Eastern monks showed a disposition to wash themselves, the
Almighty manifested his displeasure by drying up a neighbouring
stream until the bath which it had supplied was destroyed.

The religious world was far indeed from the inspired utterance
attributed to John Wesley, that "cleanliness is near akin to
godliness." For century after century the idea prevailed that
filthiness was akin to holiness; and, while we may well believe
that the devotion of the clergy to the sick was one cause why,
during the greater plagues, they lost so large a proportion of
their numbers, we can not escape the conclusion that their want
of cleanliness had much to do with it. In France, during the
fourteenth century, Guy de Chauliac, the great physician of his
time, noted particularly that certain Carmelite monks suffered
especially from pestilence, and that they were especially filthy.
During the Black Death no less than nine hundred Carthusian monks
fell victims in one group of buildings.

Naturally, such an example set by the venerated leaders of
thought exercised great influence throughout society, and all the
more because it justified the carelessness and sloth to which
ordinary humanity is prone. In the principal towns of Europe, as
well as in the country at large, down to a recent period, the
most ordinary sanitary precautions were neglected, and
pestilences continued to be attributed to the wrath of God or the
malice of Satan. As to the wrath of God, a new and powerful
impulse was given to this belief in the Church toward the end of
the sixth century by St. Gregory the Great. In 590, when he was
elected Pope, the city of Rome was suffering from a dreadful
pestilence: the people were dying by thousands; out of one
procession imploring the mercy of Heaven no less than eighty
persons died within an hour: what the heathen in an earlier
epoch had attributed to Apollo was now attributed to Jehovah, and
chroniclers tell us that fiery darts were seen flung from heaven
into the devoted city. But finally, in the midst of all this
horror, Gregory, at the head of a penitential procession, saw
hovering over the mausoleum of Hadrian the figure of the
archangel Michael, who was just sheathing a flaming sword, while
three angels were heard chanting the Regina Coeli. The legend
continues that the Pope immediately broke forth into hallelujahs
for this sign that the plague was stayed, and, as it shortly
afterward became less severe, a chapel was built at the summit of
the mausoleum and dedicated to St. Michael; still later, above
the whole was erected the colossal statue of the archangel
sheathing his sword, which still stands to perpetuate the legend.
Thus the greatest of Rome's ancient funeral monuments was made to
bear testimony to this medieval belief; the mausoleum of Hadrian
became the castle of St. Angelo. A legend like this, claiming
to date from the greatest of the early popes, and vouched for by
such an imposing monument, had undoubtedly a marked effect upon
the dominant theology throughout Europe, which was constantly
developing a great body of thought regarding the agencies by
which the Divine wrath might be averted.

First among these agencies, naturally, were evidences of
devotion, especially gifts of land, money, or privileges to
churches, monasteries, and shrines--the seats of fetiches which
it was supposed had wrought cures or might work them. The whole
evolution of modern history, not only ecclesiastical but civil,
has been largely affected by the wealth transferred to the clergy
at such periods. It was noted that in the fourteenth century,
after the great plague, the Black Death, had passed, an immensely
increased proportion of the landed and personal property of every
European country was in the hands of the Church. Well did a
great ecclesiastic remark that "pestilences are the harvests of
the ministers of God."[330]

[330] For triumphant mention of St. Hilarion's filth, see the
Roman Breviary for October 21st; and for details, see S.
Hieronymus, Vita S. Hilarionis Eremitae, in Migne, Patrologia,
vol. xxiii. For Athanasius's reference to St. Anthony's filth,
see works of St. Athanasius in the Nicene and Post-Nicene
Fathers, second series, vol. iv, p. 209. For the filthiness of
the other saints named, see citations from the Lives of the
Saints, in Lecky's History of European Morals, vol. ii, pp. 117,
118. For Guy de Chauliac's observation on the filthiness of
Carmelite monks and their great losses by pestilence, see Meryon,
History of Medicine, vol. i, p. 257. For the mortality among the
Carthusian monks in time of plague, see Mrs. Lecky's very
interesting Visit to the Grand Chartreuse, in The Nineteenth
Century for March, 1891. For the plague at Rome in 590, the
legend regarding the fiery darts, mentioned by Pope Gregory
himself, and that of the castle of St. Angelo, see Gregorovius,
Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter, vol. ii, pp. 26-35; also
Story, Castle of St. Angelo, etc., chap. ii. For the remark that
"pestilences are the harvest of the ministers of God," see
reference to Charlevoix, in Southey, History of Brazil, vol. ii,
p. 254, cited in Buckle, vol. i, p. 130, note.

Other modes of propitiating the higher powers were penitential
processions, the parading of images of the Virgin or of saints
through plague-stricken towns, and fetiches innumerable. Very
noted in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were the
processions of the flagellants, trooping through various parts of
Europe, scourging their naked bodies, shrieking the penitential
psalms, and often running from wild excesses of devotion to the
maddest orgies.

Sometimes, too, plagues were attributed to the wrath of lesser
heavenly powers. Just as, in former times, the fury of
"far-darting Apollo" was felt when his name was not respectfully
treated by mortals, so, in 1680, the Church authorities at Rome
discovered that the plague then raging resulted from the anger of
St. Sebastian because no monument had been erected to him. Such
a monument was therefore placed in the Church of St. Peter ad
Vincula, and the plague ceased.

So much for the endeavour to avert the wrath of the heavenly
powers. On the other hand, theological reasoning no less subtle
was used in thwarting the malice of Satan. This idea, too, came
from far. In the sacred books of India and Persia, as well as in
our own, we find the same theory of disease, leading to similar
means of cure. Perhaps the most astounding among Christian
survivals of this theory and its resultant practices was seen
during the plague at Rome in 1522. In that year, at that centre
of divine illumination, certain people, having reasoned upon the
matter, came to the conclusion that this great scourge was the
result of Satanic malice; and, in view of St. Paul's declaration
that the ancient gods were devils, and of the theory that the
ancient gods of Rome were the devils who had the most reason to
punish that city for their dethronement, and that the great
amphitheatre was the chosen haunt of these demon gods, an ox
decorated with garlands, after the ancient heathen manner, was
taken in procession to the Colosseum and solemnly sacrificed.
Even this proved vain, and the Church authorities then ordered
expiatory processions and ceremonies to propitiate the Almighty,
the Virgin, and the saints, who had been offended by this
temporary effort to bribe their enemies.

But this sort of theological reasoning developed an idea far more
disastrous, and this was that Satan, in causing pestilences, used
as his emissaries especially Jews and witches. The proof of this
belief in the case of the Jews was seen in the fact that they
escaped with a less percentage of disease than did the Christians
in the great plague periods. This was doubtless due in some
measure to their remarkable sanitary system, which had probably
originated thousands of years before in Egypt, and had been
handed down through Jewish lawgivers and statesmen. Certainly
they observed more careful sanitary rules and more constant
abstinence from dangerous foods than was usual among Christians;
but the public at large could not understand so simple a cause,
and jumped to the conclusion that their immunity resulted from
protection by Satan, and that this protection was repaid and the
pestilence caused by their wholesale poisoning of Christians. As
a result of this mode of thought, attempts were made in all parts
of Europe to propitiate the Almighty, to thwart Satan, and to
stop the plague by torturing and murdering the Jews. Throughout
Europe during great pestilences we hear of extensive burnings of
this devoted people. In Bavaria, at the time of the Black Death,
it is computed that twelve thousand Jews thus perished; in the
small town of Erfurt the number is said to have been three
thousand; in Strasburg, the Rue Brulee remains as a monument to
the two thousand Jews burned there for poisoning the wells and
causing the plague of 1348; at the royal castle of Chinon, near
Tours, an immense trench was dug, filled with blazing wood, and
in a single day one hundred and sixty Jews were burned.
Everywhere in continental Europe this mad persecution went on;
but it is a pleasure to say that one great churchman, Pope
Clement VI, stood against this popular unreason, and, so far as
he could bring his influence to bear on the maddened populace,
exercised it in favour of mercy to these supposed enemies of the

[331] For an early conception in India of the Divinity acting
through medicine, see The Bhagavadgita, translated by Telang, p.
82, in Max Muller's Sacred Books of the East. For the necessity
of religious means of securing knowledge of medicine, see the
Anugita, translated by Telang, in Max Muller's Sacred Books of
the East, p. 388. For ancient Persian ideas of sickness as sent
by the spirit of evil and to be cured by spells, but not
excluding medicine and surgery, and for sickness generally as
caused by the evil principle in demons, see the Zend-Avesta,
Darmesteter's translation, introduction, passim, but especially
p. xciii. For diseases wrought by witchcraft, see the same, pp.
230, 293. On the preferences of spells in healing over medicine
and surgery, see Zend-Avesta, vol. i, pp. 85, 86. For healing by
magic in ancient Greece, see, e. g., the cure of Ulysses in the
Odyssey, "They stopped the black blood by a spell" (Odyssey,
xxix, 457). For medicine in Egypt as partly priestly and partly
in the hands of physicians, see Rawlinson's Herodotus, vol. ii,
p. 136, note. For ideas of curing of disease by expulsion of
demons still surviving among various tribes and nations of Asia,
see J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough: a Study of Comparative
Religion, London, 1890, pp. 184-192. For the Flagellants and
their processions at the time of the Black Death, see Lea,
History of the Inquisition, New York, 1888, vol. ii, pp. 381 et
seq. For the persecution of the Jews in time of pestilence, see
ibid., p. 379 and following, with authorities in the notes. For
the expulsion of the Jews from Padua, see the Acta Sanctorum,
September, tom. viii, p. 893.

Yet, as late as 1527, the people of Pavia, being threatened with
plague, appealed to St. Bernardino of Feltro, who during his
life had been a fierce enemy of the Jews, and they passed a
decree promising that if the saint would avert the pestilence
they would expel the Jews from the city. The saint apparently
accepted the bargain, and in due time the Jews were expelled.

As to witches, the reasons for believing them the cause of
pestilence also came from far. This belief, too, had been poured
mainly from Oriental sources into our sacred books and thence
into the early Church, and was strengthened by a whole line of
Church authorities, fathers, doctors, and saints; but, above
all, by the great bull, Summis Desiderantes, issued by Pope
Innocent VIII, in 1484. This utterance from the seat of St.
Peter infallibly committed the Church to the idea that witches
are a great cause of disease, storms, and various ills which
afflict humanity; and the Scripture on which the action
recommended against witches in this papal bull, as well as in so
many sermons and treatises for centuries afterward, was based,
was the famous text, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
This idea persisted long, and the evolution of it is among the
most fearful things in human history.[332]

[332] On the plagues generally, see Hecker, Epidemics of the
Middle Ages, passim; but especially Haeser, as above, III. Band,
pp. 1-202; also Sprengel, Baas, Isensee, et al. For brief
statement showing the enormous loss of life in these plagues, see
Littre, Medecine et Medecins, Paris, 1875, pp. 3 et seq. For a
summary of the effects of the Black Plague throughout England,
see Green's Short History of the English People, chap. v. For
the mortality in the Paris hospitals, see Desmazes, Supplices,
Prisons et Graces en France, Paris 1866. For striking
descriptions of plague-stricken cities, see the well-known
passages in Thucydides, Boccaccio, De Foe, and, above all,
Manzoni's Promessi Sposi. For examples of averting the plagues
by processions, see Leopold Delisle, Etudes sur la Condition de
la Classe Agricole, etc., en Normandie au Moyen Age, p. 630; also
Fort, chap. xxiii. For the anger of St. Sebastian as a cause of
the plague at Rome, and its cessation when a monument had been
erected to him, see Paulus Diaconus, cited in Gregorovius, vol.
ii. p. 165. For the sacrifice of an ox in the Colosseum to the
ancient gods as a means of averting the plague of 1522, at Rome,
see Gregorovius, vol. viii, p. 390. As to massacres of the Jews
in order to avert the wrath of God in pestilence, see L'Ecole et
la Science, Paris, 1887, p. 178; also Hecker, and especially
Hoeniger, Gang und Verbreitung des Schwarzen Todes in
Deutschalnd, Berlin, 1889. For a long list of towns in which
burnings of Jews took place for this imaginary cause, see pp.
7-11. As to absolute want of sanitary precautions, see Hecker,
p. 292. As to condemnation by strong religionists of medical
means in the plague, see Fort, p. 130. For a detailed account of
the action of Popes Eugene IV, Innocent VIII, and other popes,
against witchcraft, ascribing to it storms and diseases, and for
the bull Summis Desiderantes, see the chapters on Meteorology and
Magic in this series. The text of the bull is given in the
Malleus Maleficarum, in Binsfield, and in Roskoff, Geschichte des
Teufels, Leipzig, 1869, vol. i, pp. 222-225, and a good summary
and analysis of it in Soldan, Geschichte der Hexenprocesse. For
a concise and admirable statement of the contents and effects of
the bull, see Lea, History of the Inquisition, vol. iii, pp. 40
et seq.; and for the best statement known to me of the general
subject, Prof. George L. Burr's paper on The Literature of
Witchcraft, read before the American Historical Association at
Washington, 1890.

In Germany its development was especially terrible. From the
middle of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth,
Catholic and Protestant theologians and ecclesiastics vied with
each other in detecting witches guilty of producing sickness or
bad weather; women were sent to torture and death by thousands,
and with them, from time to time, men and children. On the
Catholic side sufficient warrant for this work was found in the
bull of Pope Innocent VIII, and the bishops' palaces of south
Germany became shambles,--the lordly prelates of Salzburg,
Wurzburg, and Bamberg taking the lead in this butchery.

In north Germany Protestantism was just as conscientiously cruel.
It based its theory and practice toward witches directly upon the
Bible, and above all on the great text which has cost the lives
of so many myriads of innocent men, women, and children, "Thou
shalt not suffer a witch to live." Naturally the Protestant
authorities strove to show that Protestantism was no less
orthodox in this respect than Catholicism; and such theological
jurists as Carpzov, Damhouder, and Calov did their work
thoroughly. An eminent authority on this subject estimates the
number of victims thus sacrificed during that century in Germany
alone at over a hundred thousand.

Among the methods of this witch activity especially credited in
central and southern Europe was the anointing of city walls and
pavements with a diabolical unguent causing pestilence. In 1530
Michael Caddo was executed with fearful tortures for thus
besmearing the pavements of Geneva. But far more dreadful was
the torturing to death of a large body of people at Milan, in the
following century, for producing the plague by anointing the
walls; and a little later similar punishments for the same crime
were administered in Toulouse and other cities. The case in
Milan may be briefly summarized as showing the ideas on sanitary
science of all classes, from highest to lowest, in the
seventeenth century. That city was then under the control of
Spain; and, its authorities having received notice from the
Spanish Government that certain persons suspected of witchcraft
had recently left Madrid, and had perhaps gone to Milan to anoint
the walls, this communication was dwelt upon in the pulpits as
another evidence of that Satanic malice which the Church alone
had the means of resisting, and the people were thus excited and
put upon the alert. One morning, in the year 1630, an old woman,
looking out of her window, saw a man walking along the street and
wiping his fingers upon the walls; she immediately called the
attention of another old woman, and they agreed that this man
must be one of the diabolical anointers. It was perfectly
evident to a person under ordinary conditions that this
unfortunate man was simply trying to remove from his fingers the
ink gathered while writing from the ink-horn which he carried in
his girdle; but this explanation was too simple to satisfy those
who first observed him or those who afterward tried him: a mob
was raised and he was thrown into prison. Being tortured, he at
first did not know what to confess; but, on inquiring from the
jailer and others, he learned what the charge was, and, on being
again subjected to torture utterly beyond endurance, he confessed
everything which was suggested to him; and, on being tortured
again and again to give the names of his accomplices, he accused,
at hazard, the first people in the city whom he thought of.
These, being arrested and tortured beyond endurance, confessed
and implicated a still greater number, until members of the
foremost families were included in the charge. Again and again
all these unfortunates were tortured beyond endurance. Under
paganism, the rule regarding torture had been that it should not
be carried beyond human endurance; and we therefore find Cicero
ridiculing it as a means of detecting crime, because a stalwart
criminal of strong nerves might resist it and go free, while a
physically delicate man, though innocent, would be forced to
confess. Hence it was that under paganism a limit was imposed to
the torture which could be administered; but, when Christianity
had become predominant throughout Europe, torture was developed
with a cruelty never before known. There had been evolved a
doctrine of "excepted cases"--these "excepted cases" being
especially heresy and witchcraft; for by a very simple and
logical process of theological reasoning it was held that Satan
would give supernatural strength to his special devotees--that
is, to heretics and witches--and therefore that, in dealing with
them, there should be no limit to the torture. The result was in
this particular case, as in tens of thousands besides, that the
accused confessed everything which could be suggested to them,
and often in the delirium of their agony confessed far more than
all that the zeal of the prosecutors could suggest. Finally, a
great number of worthy people were sentenced to the most cruel
death which could be invented. The records of their trials and
deaths are frightful. The treatise which in recent years has
first brought to light in connected form an authentic account of
the proceedings in this affair, and which gives at the end
engravings of the accused subjected to horrible tortures on their
way to the stake and at the place of execution itself, is one of
the most fearful monuments of theological reasoning and human

To cap the climax, after a poor apothecary had been tortured into
a confession that he had made the magic ointment, and when he had
been put to death with the most exquisite refinements of torture,
his family were obliged to take another name, and were driven out
from the city; his house was torn down, and on its site was
erected "The Column of Infamy," which remained on this spot
until, toward the end of the eighteenth century, a party of young
radicals, probably influenced by the reading of Beccaria, sallied
forth one night and leveled this pious monument to the ground.

Herein was seen the culmination and decline of the bull Summis
Desiderantes. It had been issued by him whom a majority of the
Christian world believes to be infallible in his teachings to the
Church as regards faith and morals; yet here was a deliberate
utterance in a matter of faith and morals which even children now
know to be utterly untrue. Though Beccaria's book on Crimes and
Punishments, with its declarations against torture, was placed
by the Church authorities upon the Index, and though the
faithful throughout the Christian world were forbidden to read
it, even this could not prevent the victory of truth over this
infallible utterance of Innocent VIII.[333]

[333] As to the fearful effects of the papal bull Summis
Desiderantes in south Germany, as to the Protestant severities in
north Germany, as to the immense number of women and children put
to death for witchcraft in Germany generally for spreading storms
and pestilence, and as to the monstrous doctrine of "excepted
cases," see the standard authorities on witchcraft, especially
Wachter, Beitrage zur Geschichte des Strafrechts, Soldan, Horst,
Hauber, and Langin; also Burr, as above. In another series of
chapters on The Warfare of Humanity with Theology, I hope to go
more fully into the subject. For the magic spreading of the
plague at Milan, see Manzoni, I Promessi Sposi and La Colonna
Infame; and for the origin of the charges, with all the details
of the trail, see the Precesso Originale degli Untori, Milan,
1839, passim, but especially the large folding plate at the end,
exhibiting the tortures. For the after-history of the Column of
Infamy, and for the placing of Beccaria's book on the Index, see
Cantu, Vita di Beccaria. For the magic spreading of the plague
in general, see Littre, pp. 492 and following.

As the seventeenth century went on, ingenuity in all parts of
Europe seemed devoted to new developments of fetichism. A very
curious monument of this evolution in Italy exists in the Royal
Gallery of Paintings at Naples, where may be seen several
pictures representing the measures taken to save the city from
the plague during the seventeenth century, but especially from
the plague of 1656. One enormous canvas gives a curious example
of the theological doctrine of intercession between man and his
Maker, spun out to its logical length. In the background is the
plague-stricken city: in the foreground the people are praying
to the city authorities to avert the plague; the city authorities
are praying to the Carthusian monks; the monks are praying to St.
Martin, St. Bruno, and St. Januarius; these three saints in
their turn are praying to the Virgin; the Virgin prays to Christ;
and Christ prays to the Almighty. Still another picture
represents the people, led by the priests, executing with
horrible tortures the Jews, heretics, and witches who were
supposed to cause the pestilence of 1656, while in the heavens
the Virgin and St. Januarius are interceding with Christ to
sheathe his sword and stop the plague.

In such an atmosphere of thought it is no wonder that the death
statistics were appalling. We hear of districts in which not
more than one in ten escaped, and some were entirely depopulated.

Such appeals to fetich against pestilence have continued in
Naples down to our own time, the great saving power being the
liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius. In 1856 the present
writer saw this miracle performed in the gorgeous chapel of the
saint forming part of the Cathedral of Naples. The chapel was
filled with devout worshippers of every class, from the officials
in court dress, representing the Bourbon king, down to the lowest
lazzaroni. The reliquary of silver-gilt, shaped like a large
human head, and supposed to contain the skull of the saint, was
first placed upon the altar; next, two vials containing a dark
substance said to be his blood, having been taken from the wall,
were also placed upon the altar near the head. As the priests
said masses, they turned the vials from time to time, and the
liquefaction being somewhat delayed, the great crowd of people
burst out into more and more impassioned expostulation and
petitions to the saint. Just in front of the altar were the
lazzaroni who claimed to be descendants of the saint's family,
and these were especially importunate: at such times they beg,
they scold, they even threaten; they have been known to abuse
the saint roundly, and to tell him that, if he did not care to
show his favour to the city by liquefying his blood, St. Cosmo
and St. Damian were just as good saints as he, and would no doubt
be very glad to have the city devote itself to them. At last, on
the occasion above referred to, the priest, turning the vials
suddenly, announced that the saint had performed the miracle, and
instantly priests, people, choir, and organ burst forth into a
great Te Deum; bells rang, and cannon roared; a procession was
formed, and the shrine containing the saint's relics was carried
through the streets, the people prostrating themselves on both
sides of the way and throwing showers of rose leaves upon the
shrine and upon the path before it. The contents of these
precious vials are an interesting relic indeed, for they
represent to us vividly that period when men who were willing to
go to the stake for their religious opinions thought it not wrong
to save the souls of their fellowmen by pious mendacity and
consecrated fraud. To the scientific eye this miracle is very
simple: the vials contain, no doubt, one of those mixtures
fusing at low temperature, which, while kept in its place within
the cold stone walls of the church, remains solid, but upon being
brought out into the hot, crowded chapel, and fondled by the warm
hands of the priests, gradually softens and becomes liquid. It
was curious to note, at the time above mentioned, that even the
high functionaries representing the king looked at the miracle
with awe: they evidently found "joy in believing," and one of
them assured the present writer that the only thing which COULD
cause it was the direct exercise of miraculous power.

It may be reassuring to persons contemplating a visit to that
beautiful capital in these days, that, while this miracle still
goes on, it is no longer the only thing relied upon to preserve
the public health. An unbelieving generation, especially taught
by the recent horrors of the cholera, has thought it wise to
supplement the power of St. Januarius by the "Risanamento,"
begun mainly in 1885 and still going on. The drainage of the
city has thus been greatly improved, the old wells closed, and
pure water introduced from the mountains. Moreover, at the last
outburst of cholera a few years since, a noble deed was done
which by its moral effect exercised a widespread healing power.
Upon hearing of this terrific outbreak of pestilence, King
Humbert, though under the ban of the Church, broke from all the
entreaties of his friends and family, went directly into the
plague-stricken city, and there, in the streets, public places,
and hospitals, encouraged the living, comforted the sick and
dying, and took means to prevent a further spread of the
pestilence. To the credit of the Church it should also be said
that the Cardinal Archbishop San Felice joined him in this.

Miracle for miracle, the effect of this visit of the king seems
to have surpassed anything that St. Januarius could do, for it
gave confidence and courage which very soon showed their effects
in diminishing the number of deaths. It would certainly appear
that in this matter the king was more directly under Divine
inspiration and guidance than was the Pope; for the fact that
King Humbert went to Naples at the risk of his life, while Leo
XIII remained in safety at the Vatican, impressed the Italian
people in favour of the new regime and against the old as
nothing else could have done.

In other parts of Italy the same progress is seen under the new
Italian government. Venice, Genoa, Leghorn, and especially Rome,
which under the sway of the popes was scandalously filthy, are
now among the cleanest cities in Europe. What the relics of St.
Januarius, St. Anthony, and a multitude of local fetiches
throughout Italy were for ages utterly unable to do, has been
accomplished by the development of the simplest sanitary

Spain shows much the same characteristics of a country where
theological considerations have been all-controlling for
centuries. Down to the interference of Napoleon with that
kingdom, all sanitary efforts were looked upon as absurd if not
impious. The most sober accounts of travellers in the Spanish
Peninsula until a recent period are sometimes irresistibly comic
in their pictures of peoples insisting on maintaining
arrangements more filthy than any which would be permitted in an
American backwoods camp, while taking enormous pains to stop
pestilence by bell-ringings, processions, and new dresses
bestowed upon the local Madonnas; yet here, too, a healthful
scepticism has begun to work for good. The outbreaks of cholera
in recent years have done some little to bring in better sanitary

[334] As to the recourse to fetichism in Italy in time of plague,
and the pictures showing the intercession of Januarius and other
saints, I have relied on my own notes made at various visits to
Naples. For the general subject, see Peter, Etudes Napolitaines,
especially chapters v and vi. For detailed accounts of the
liquefaction of St. Januarius's blood by eye-witnesses, one an
eminent Catholic of the seventeenth century, and the other a
distinguished Protestant of our own time, see Murray's Handbook
for South Italy and Naples, description of the Cathedral of San
Gennaro. For an interesting series of articles on the subject,
see The Catholic World for September, October, and November,
1871. For the incredible filthiness of the great cities of
Spain, and the resistance of the people, down to a recent period,
to the most ordinary regulations prompted by decency, see
Bascome, History of the Epidemic Pestilences, especially pp. 119,
120. See also the Autobiography of D'Ewes, London, 1845, vol.
ii, p. 446; also, for various citations, the second volume of
Buckle, History of Civilization in England.


We have seen how powerful in various nations especially obedient
to theology were the forces working in opposition to the
evolution of hygiene, and we shall find this same opposition,
less effective, it is true, but still acting with great power, in
countries which had become somewhat emancipated from theological
control. In England, during the medieval period, persecutions of
Jews were occasionally resorted to, and here and there we hear of
persecutions of witches; but, as torture was rarely used in
England, there were, from those charged with producing plague,
few of those torture-born confessions which in other countries
gave rise to widespread cruelties. Down to the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries the filthiness in the ordinary mode of life
in England was such as we can now hardly conceive: fermenting
organic material was allowed to accumulate and become a part of
the earthen floors of rural dwellings; and this undoubtedly
developed the germs of many diseases. In his noted letter to the
physician of Cardinal Wolsey, Erasmus describes the filth thus
incorporated into the floors of English houses, and, what is of
far more importance, he shows an inkling of the true cause of the
wasting diseases of the period. He says, "If I entered into a
chamber which had been uninhabited for months, I was immediately
seized with a fever." He ascribed the fearful plague of the
sweating sickness to this cause. So, too, the noted Dr. Caius
advised sanitary precautions against the plague, and in
after-generations, Mead, Pringle, and others urged them; but the
prevailing thought was too strong, and little was done. Even the
floor of the presence chamber of Queen Elizabeth in Greenwich
Palace was "covered with hay, after the English fashion," as one
of the chroniclers tells us.

In the seventeenth century, aid in these great scourges was
mainly sought in special church services. The foremost English
churchmen during that century being greatly given to study of the
early fathers of the Church; the theological theory of disease,
so dear to the fathers, still held sway, and this was the case
when the various visitations reached their climax in the great
plague of London in 1665, which swept off more than a hundred
thousand people from that city. The attempts at meeting it by
sanitary measures were few and poor; the medical system of the
time was still largely tinctured by superstitions resulting from
medieval modes of thought; hence that plague was generally
attributed to the Divine wrath caused by "the prophaning of the
Sabbath." Texts from Numbers, the Psalms, Zechariah, and the
Apocalypse were dwelt upon in the pulpits to show that plagues
are sent by the Almighty to punish sin; and perhaps the most
ghastly figure among all those fearful scenes described by De Foe
is that of the naked fanatic walking up and down the streets with
a pan of fiery coals upon his head, and, after the manner of
Jonah at Nineveh, proclaiming woe to the city, and its
destruction in forty days.

That sin caused this plague is certain, but it was sanitary sin.
Both before and after this culmination of the disease cases of
plague were constantly occurring in London throughout the
seventeenth century; but about the beginning of the eighteenth
century it began to disappear. The great fire had done a good
work by sweeping off many causes and centres of infection, and
there had come wider streets, better pavements, and improved
water supply; so that, with the disappearance of the plague,
other diseases, especially dysenteries, which had formerly raged
in the city, became much less frequent.

But, while these epidemics were thus checked in London, others
developed by sanitary ignorance raged fearfully both there and
elsewhere, and of these perhaps the most fearful was the jail
fever. The prisons of that period were vile beyond belief. Men
were confined in dungeons rarely if ever disinfected after the
death of previous occupants, and on corridors connecting directly
with the foulest sewers: there was no proper disinfection,
ventilation, or drainage; hence in most of the large prisons for
criminals or debtors the jail fever was supreme, and from these
centres it frequently spread through the adjacent towns. This
was especially the case during the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. In the Black Assize at Oxford, in 1577, the chief
baron, the sheriff, and about three hundred men died within forty
hours. Lord Bacon declared the jail fever "the most pernicious
infection next to the plague." In 1730, at the Dorsetshire
Assize, the chief baron and many lawyers were killed by it. The
High Sheriff of Somerset also took the disease and died. A
single Scotch regiment, being infected from some prisoners, lost
no less than two hundred. In 1750 the disease was so virulent at
Newgate, in the heart of London, that two judges, the lord mayor,
sundry aldermen, and many others, died of it.

It is worth noting that, while efforts at sanitary dealing with
this state of things were few, the theological spirit developed a
new and special form of prayer for the sufferers and placed it in
the Irish Prayer Book.

These forms of prayer seem to have been the main reliance through
the first half of the eighteenth century. But about 1750 began
the work of John Howard, who visited the prisons of England, made
known their condition to the world, and never rested until they
were greatly improved. Then he applied the same benevolent
activity to prisons in other countries, in the far East, and in
southern Europe, and finally laid down his life, a victim to
disease contracted on one of his missions of mercy; but the
hygienic reforms he began were developed more and more until this
fearful blot upon modern civilization was removed.[335]

[335] For Erasmus, see the letter cited in Bascome, History of
Epidemic Pestilences, London, 1851. For the account of the
condition of Queen Elizabeth's presence chamber, see the same, p.
206; see also the same for attempts at sanitation by Caius, Mead,
Pringle, and others; also see Baas and various medical
authorities. For the plague in London, see Green's History of
the English People, chap. ix, sec. 2; and for a more detailed
account, see Lingard, History of England, enlarged edition of
1849, vol. ix, pp. 107 et seq. For full scientific discussion of
this and other plagues from a medical point of view, see
Creighton, History of Epidemics in Great Britain, vol. ii, chap.
i. For the London plague as a punishment for Sabbath-breaking,
see A Divine Tragedie lately acted, or A collection of sundry
memorable examples of God's judgements upon Sabbath Breakers and
other like libertines, etc., by the worthy divine, Mr. Henry
Burton, 1641. The book gives fifty-six accounts of Sabbath-
breakers sorely punished, generally struck dead, in England, with
places, names, and dates. For a general account of the condition
of London in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the
diminution of the plague by the rebuilding of some parts of the
city after the great fire, see Lecky, History of England in the
Eighteenth Century, vol. i, pp. 592, 593. For the jail fever,
see Lecky, vol. i, pp. 500-503.

The same thing was seen in the Protestant colonies of America;
but here, while plagues were steadily attributed to Divine wrath
or Satanic malice, there was one case in which it was claimed
that such a visitation was due to the Divine mercy. The
pestilence among the INDIANS, before the arrival of the Plymouth
Colony, was attributed in a notable work of that period to the
Divine purpose of clearing New England for the heralds of the
gospel; on the other hand, the plagues which destroyed the WHITE
population were attributed by the same authority to devils and
witches. In Cotton Mather's Wonder of the Invisible World,
published at Boston in 1693, we have striking examples of this.
The great Puritan divine tells us:

"Plagues are some of those woes, with which the Divil troubles
us. It is said of the Israelites, in 1 Cor. 10. 10. THEY WERE
DESTROYED OF THE DESTROYER. That is, they had the Plague among
them. 'Tis the Destroyer, or the Divil, that scatters Plagues
about the World: Pestilential and Contagious Diseases, 'tis the
Divel, who do's oftentimes Invade us with them. 'Tis no uneasy
thing, for the Divel, to impregnate the Air about us, with such
Malignant Salts, as meeting with the Salt of our Microcosm, shall
immediately cast us into that Fermentation and Putrefaction,
which will utterly dissolve All the Vital Tyes within us; Ev'n
as an Aqua Fortis, made with a conjunction of Nitre and Vitriol,
Corrodes what it Siezes upon. And when the Divel has raised
those Arsenical Fumes, which become Venomous. Quivers full of
Terrible Arrows, how easily can he shoot the deleterious Miasms
into those Juices or Bowels of Men's Bodies, which will soon
Enflame them with a Mortal Fire! Hence come such Plagues, as that
Beesome of Destruction which within our memory swept away such a
throng of people from one English City in one Visitation: and
hence those Infectious Feavers, which are but so many Disguised
Plagues among us, Causing Epidemical Desolations."

Mather gives several instances of witches causing diseases, and
speaks of "some long Bow'd down under such a Spirit of Infirmity"
being "Marvelously Recovered upon the Death of the Witches," of
which he gives an instance. He also cites a case where a patient
"was brought unto death's door and so remained until the witch
was taken and carried away by the constable, when he began at
once to recover and was soon well."[336]

[336] For the passages from Cotton Mather, see his book as cited,
pp. 17, 18, also 134, 145. Johnson declares that "by this meanes
Christ . . . not only made roome for His people to plant, but
also tamed the hard and cruell hearts of these barbarous Indians,
insomuch that a halfe a handful of His people landing not long
after in Plymouth Plantation, found little resistance." See The
History of New England, by Edward Johnson, London, 1654.
Reprinted in the Massachusetts Historical Society's Collection,
second series, vol. i, p. 67.

In France we see, during generation after generation, a similar
history evolved; pestilence after pestilence came, and was met
by various fetiches. Noteworthy is the plague at Marseilles near
the beginning of the last century. The chronicles of its sway
are ghastly. They speak of great heaps of the unburied dead in
the public places, "forming pestilential volcanoes"; of
plague-stricken men and women in delirium wandering naked through
the streets; of churches and shrines thronged with great crowds
shrieking for mercy; of other crowds flinging themselves into
the wildest debauchery; of robber bands assassinating the dying
and plundering the dead; of three thousand neglected children
collected in one hospital and then left to die; and of the
death-roll numbering at last fifty thousand out of a population
of less than ninety thousand.

In the midst of these fearful scenes stood a body of men and
women worthy to be held in eternal honour--the physicians from
Paris and Montpellier; the mayor of the city, and one or two of
his associates; but, above all, the Chevalier Roze and Bishop
Belzunce. The history of these men may well make us glory in
human nature; but in all this noble group the figure of Belzunce
is the most striking. Nobly and firmly, when so many others even
among the regular and secular ecclesiastics fled, he stood by his
flock: day and night he was at work in the hospitals, cheering
the living, comforting the dying, and doing what was possible for
the decent disposal of the dead. In him were united the, two
great antagonistic currents of religion and of theology. As a
theologian he organized processions and expiatory services,
which, it must be confessed, rather increased the disease than
diminished it; moreover, he accepted that wild dream of a
hysterical nun--the worship of the material, physical sacred
heart of Jesus--and was one of the first to consecrate his
diocese to it; but, on the other hand, the religious spirit gave
in him one of its most beautiful manifestations in that or any
other century; justly have the people of Marseilles placed his
statue in the midst of their city in an attitude of prayer and

In every part of Europe and America, down to a recent period, we
find pestilences resulting from carelessness or superstition
still called "inscrutable providences." As late as the end of
the eighteenth century, when great epidemics made fearful havoc
in Austria, the main means against them seem to have been
grovelling before the image of St. Sebastian and calling in
special "witch-doctors"--that is, monks who cast out devils. To
seek the aid of physicians was, in the neighbourhood of these
monastic centres, very generally considered impious, and the
enormous death rate in such neighbourhoods was only diminished in
the present century, when scientific hygiene began to make its

The old view of pestilence had also its full course in
Calvinistic Scotland; the only difference being that, while in
Roman Catholic countries relief was sought by fetiches, gifts,
processions, exorcisms, burnings of witches, and other works of
expiation, promoted by priests; in Scotland, after the
Reformation, it was sought in fast-days and executions of witches
promoted by Protestant elders. Accounts of the filthiness of
Scotch cities and villages, down to a period well within this
century, seem monstrous. All that in these days is swept into
the sewers was in those allowed to remain around the houses or
thrown into the streets. The old theological theory, that "vain
is the help of man," checked scientific thought and paralyzed
sanitary endeavour. The result was natural: between the
thirteenth and seventeenth centuries thirty notable epidemics
swept the country, and some of them carried off multitudes; but
as a rule these never suggested sanitary improvement; they were
called "visitations," attributed to Divine wrath against human
sin, and the work of the authorities was to announce the
particular sin concerned and to declaim against it. Amazing
theories were thus propounded--theories which led to spasms of
severity; and, in some of these, offences generally punished much
less severely were visited with death. Every pulpit interpreted
the ways of God to man in such seasons so as rather to increase
than to diminish the pestilence. The effect of thus seeking
supernatural causes rather than natural may be seen in such facts
as the death by plague of one fourth of the whole population of
the city of Perth in a single year of the fifteenth century,
other towns suffering similarly both then and afterward.

Here and there, physicians more wisely inspired endeavoured to
push sanitary measures, and in 1585 attempts were made to clean
the streets of Edinburgh; but the chroniclers tell us that "the
magistrates and ministers gave no heed." One sort of calamity,
indeed, came in as a mercy--the great fires which swept through
the cities, clearing and cleaning them. Though the town council
of Edinburgh declared the noted fire of 1700 "a fearful rebuke of
God," it was observed that, after it had done its work, disease
and death were greatly diminished.[337]

[337] For the plague at Marseilles and its depopulation, see
Henri Martin, Histoire de France, vol. xv, especially document
cited in appendix; also Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. xliii;
also Rambaud. For the resort to witch doctors in Austria against
pestilence, down to the end of the eighteenth century, see
Biedermann, Deutschland im Achtzehnten Jahrhundert. For the
resort to St. Sebastian, see the widespread editions of the Vita
et Gesta Sancti Sebastiani, contra pestem patroni, prefaced with
commendations from bishops and other high ecclesiastics. The
edition in the Cornell University Library is that of Augsburg,
1693. For the reign of filth and pestilence in Scotland, see
Charles Rogers, D. D., Social Life in Scotland, Edinburgh, 1884,
vol. i, pp. 305-316; see also Buckle's second volume.


But by those standing in the higher places of thought some
glimpses of scientific truth had already been obtained, and
attempts at compromise between theology and science in this field
began to be made, not only by ecclesiastics, but first of all, as
far back as the seventeenth century, by a man of science eminent
both for attainments and character--Robert Boyle. Inspired by
the discoveries in other fields, which had swept away so much of
theological thought, he could no longer resist the conviction
that some epidemics are due--in his own words--"to a tragical
concourse of natural causes"; but he argued that some of these
may be the result of Divine interpositions provoked by human
sins. As time went on, great difficulties showed themselves in
the way of this compromise--difficulties theological not less
than difficulties scientific. To a Catholic it was more and more
hard to explain the theological grounds why so many orthodox
cities, firm in the faith, were punished, and so many heretical
cities spared; and why, in regions devoted to the Church, the
poorer people, whose faith in theological fetiches was
unquestioning, died in times of pestilence like flies, while
sceptics so frequently escaped. Difficulties of the same sort
beset devoted Protestants; they, too, might well ask why it was
that the devout peasantry in their humble cottages perished,
while so much larger a proportion of the more sceptical upper
classes were untouched. Gradually it dawned both upon Catholic
and Protestant countries that, if any sin be punished by
pestilence, it is the sin of filthiness; more and more it began
to be seen by thinking men of both religions that Wesley's great
dictum stated even less than the truth; that not only was
"cleanliness akin to godliness," but that, as a means of keeping
off pestilence, it was far superior to godliness as godliness was
then generally understood.[338]

[338] For Boyle's attempt at compromise, see Discourse on the
Air, in his works, vol. iv, pp. 288, 289, cited by Buckle, vol.
i, pp. 128, 129, note.

The recent history of sanitation in all civilized countries shows
triumphs which might well fill us with wonder, did there not rise
within us a far greater wonder that they were so long delayed.
Amazing is it to see how near the world has come again and again
to discovering the key to the cause and cure of pestilence. It
is now a matter of the simplest elementary knowledge that some of
the worst epidemics are conveyed in water. But this fact seems
to have been discovered many times in human history. In the
Peloponnesian war the Athenians asserted that their enemies had
poisoned their cisterns; in the Middle Ages the people generally
declared that the Jews had poisoned their wells; and as late as
the cholera of 1832 the Parisian mob insisted that the
water-carriers who distributed water for drinking purposes from
the Seine, polluted as it was by sewage, had poisoned it, and in
some cases murdered them on this charge: so far did this feeling
go that locked covers were sometimes placed upon the
water-buckets. Had not such men as Roger Bacon and his long line
of successors been thwarted by theological authority,--had not
such men as Thomas Aquinas, Vincent of Beauvais, and Albert the
Great been drawn or driven from the paths of science into the
dark, tortuous paths of theology, leading no whither,--the world
to-day, at the end of the nineteenth century, would have arrived
at the solution of great problems and the enjoyment of great
results which will only be reached at the end of the twentieth
century, and even in generations more remote. Diseases like
typhoid fever, influenza and pulmonary consumption, scarlet
fever, diphtheria, pneumonia, and la grippe, which now carry off
so many most precious lives, would have long since ceased to
scourge the world.

Still, there is one cause for satisfaction: the law governing
the relation of theology to disease is now well before the world,
and it is seen in the fact that, just in proportion as the world
progressed from the sway of Hippocrates to that of the ages of
faith, so it progressed in the frequency and severity of great
pestilences; and that, on the other hand, just in proportion as
the world has receded from that period when theology was
all-pervading and all-controlling, plague after plague has
disappeared, and those remaining have become less and less
frequent and virulent.[339]

[339] For the charge of poisoning water and producing pestilence
among the Greeks, see Grote, History of Greece, vol. vi, p. 213.
For a similar charge against the Jews in the Middle Ages, see
various histories already cited; and for the great popular
prejudice against water-carriers at Paris in recent times, see
the larger recent French histories.

The recent history of hygiene in all countries shows a long
series of victories, and these may well be studied in Great
Britain and the United States. In the former, though there had
been many warnings from eminent physicians, and above all in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from men like Caius, Mead,
and Pringle, the result was far short of what might have been
gained; and it was only in the year 1838 that a systematic
sanitary effort was begun in England by the public authorities.
The state of things at that time, though by comparison with the
Middle Ages happy, was, by comparison with what has since been
gained, fearful: the death rate among all classes was high, but
among the poor it was ghastly. Out of seventy-seven thousand
paupers in London during the years 1837 and 1838, fourteen
thousand were suffering from fever, and of these nearly six
thousand from typhus. In many other parts of the British Islands
the sanitary condition was no better. A noble body of men
grappled with the problem, and in a few years one of these rose
above his fellows--the late Edwin Chadwick. The opposition to
his work was bitter, and, though many churchmen aided him, the
support given by theologians and ecclesiastics as a whole was
very far short of what it should have been. Too many of them
were occupied in that most costly and most worthless of all
processes, "the saving of souls" by the inculcation of dogma.
Yet some of the higher ecclesiastics and many of the lesser
clergy did much, sometimes risking their lives, and one of them,
Sidney Godolphin Osborne, deserves lasting memory for his
struggle to make known the sanitary wants of the peasantry.

Chadwick began to be widely known in 1848 as a member of the
Board of Health, and was driven out for a time for overzeal; but
from one point or another, during forty years, he fought the
opposition, developed the new work, and one of the best exhibits
of its results is shown in his address before the Sanitary
Conference at Brighton in 1888. From this and other perfectly
trustworthy sources some idea may be gained of the triumph of the
scientific over the theological method of dealing with disease,
whether epidemic or sporadic.

In the latter half of the seventeenth century the annual
mortality of London is estimated at not less than eighty in a
thousand; about the middle of this century it stood at
twenty-four in a thousand; in 1889 it stood at less than
eighteen in a thousand; and in many parts the most recent
statistics show that it has been brought down to fourteen or
fifteen in a thousand. A quarter of a century ago the death rate
from disease in the Royal Guards at London was twenty in a
thousand; in 1888 it had been reduced to six in a thousand. In
the army generally it had been seventeen in a thousand, but it
has been reduced until it now stands at eight. In the old Indian
army it had been sixty-nine in a thousand, but of late it has
been brought down first to twenty, and finally to fourteen. Mr.
Chadwick in his speech proved that much more might be done, for
he called attention to the German army, where the death rate from
disease has been reduced to between five and six in a thousand.
The Public Health Act having been passed in 1875, the death rate
in England among men fell, between 1871 and 1880, more than four
in a thousand, and among women more than six in a thousand. In
the decade between 1851 and 1860 there died of diseases
attributable to defective drainage and impure water over four
thousand persons in every million throughout England: these
numbers have declined until in 1888 there died less than two
thousand in every million. The most striking diminution of the
deaths from such causes was found in 1891, in the case of typhoid
fever, that diminution being fifty per cent. As to the scourge
which, next to plagues like the Black Death, was formerly the
most dreaded--smallpox--there died of it in London during the
year 1890 just one person. Drainage in Bristol reduced the death
rate by consumption from 4.4 to 2.3; at Cardiff, from 3.47 to
2.31; and in all England and Wales, from 2.68 in 1851 to 1.55 in

What can be accomplished by better sanitation is also seen to-day
by a comparison between the death rate among the children outside
and inside the charity schools. The death rate among those
outside in 1881 was twelve in a thousand; while inside, where
the children were under sanitary regulations maintained by
competent authorities, it has been brought down first to eight,
then to four, and finally to less than three in a thousand.

In view of statistics like these, it becomes clear that Edwin
Chadwick and his compeers among the sanitary authorities have in
half a century done far more to reduce the rate of disease and
death than has been done in fifteen hundred years by all the
fetiches which theological reasoning could devise or
ecclesiastical power enforce.

Not less striking has been the history of hygiene in France:
thanks to the decline of theological control over the
universities, to the abolition of monasteries, and to such
labours in hygienic research and improvement as those of Tardieu,
Levy, and Bouchardat, a wondrous change has been wrought in
public health. Statistics carefully kept show that the mean
length of human life has been remarkably increased. In the
eighteenth century it was but twenty-three years; from 1825 to
1830 it was thirty-two years and eight months; and since 1864,
thirty-seven years and six months.


The question may now arise whether this progress in sanitary
science has been purchased at any real sacrifice of religion in
its highest sense. One piece of recent history indicates an
answer to this question. The Second Empire in France had its
head in Napoleon III, a noted Voltairean. At the climax of his
power he determined to erect an Academy of Music which should be
the noblest building of its kind. It was projected on a scale
never before known, at least in modern times, and carried on for
years, millions being lavished upon it. At the same time the
emperor determined to rebuild the Hotel-Dieu, the great Paris
hospital; this, too, was projected on a greater scale than
anything of the kind ever before known, and also required
millions. But in the erection of these two buildings the
emperor's determination was distinctly made known, that with the
highest provision for aesthetic enjoyment there should be a
similar provision, moving on parallel lines, for the relief of
human suffering. This plan was carried out to the letter: the
Palace of the Opera and the Hotel-Dieu went on with equal steps,
and the former was not allowed to be finished before the latter.
Among all the "most Christian kings" of the house of Bourbon who
had preceded him for five hundred years, history shows no such
obedience to the religious and moral sense of the nation.
Catharine de' Medici and her sons, plunging the nation into the
great wars of religion, never showed any such feeling; Louis XIV,
revoking the Edict of Nantes for the glory of God, and bringing
the nation to sorrow during many generations, never dreamed of
making the construction of his palaces and public buildings wait
upon the demands of charity. Louis XV, so subservient to the
Church in all things, never betrayed the slightest consciousness
that, while making enormous expenditures to gratify his own and
the national vanity, he ought to carry on works, pari passu, for
charity. Nor did the French nation, at those periods when it was
most largely under the control of theological considerations,
seem to have any inkling of the idea that nation or monarch
should make provision for relief from human suffering, to justify
provision for the sumptuous enjoyment of art: it was reserved
for the second half of the nineteenth century to develop this
feeling so strongly, though quietly, that Napoleon III,
notoriously an unbeliever in all orthodoxy, was obliged to
recognise it and to set this great example.

Nor has the recent history of the United States been less
fruitful in lessons. Yellow fever, which formerly swept not only
Southern cities but even New York and Philadelphia, has now been
almost entirely warded off. Such epidemics as that in Memphis a
few years since, and the immunity of the city from such
visitations since its sanitary condition was changed by Mr.
Waring, are a most striking object lesson to the whole country.
Cholera, which again and again swept the country, has ceased to
be feared by the public at large. Typhus fever, once so deadly,
is now rarely heard of. Curious is it to find that some of the
diseases which in the olden time swept off myriads on myriads in
every country, now cause fewer deaths than some diseases thought
of little account, and for the cure of which people therefore
rely, to their cost, on quackery instead of medical science.

This development of sanitary science and hygiene in the United
States has also been coincident with a marked change in the
attitude of the American pulpit as regards the theory of disease.
In this country, as in others, down to a period within living
memory, deaths due to want of sanitary precautions were
constantly dwelt upon in funeral sermons as "results of national
sin," or as "inscrutable Providences." That view has mainly
passed away among the clergy of the more enlightened parts of the
country, and we now find them, as a rule, active in spreading
useful ideas as to the prevention of disease. The religious
press has been especially faithful in this respect, carrying to
every household more just ideas of sanitary precautions and
hygienic living.

The attitude even of many among the most orthodox rulers in
church and state has been changed by facts like these. Lord
Palmerston refusing the request of the Scotch clergy that a fast
day be appointed to ward off cholera, and advising them to go
home and clean their streets,--the devout Emperor William II
forbidding prayer-meetings in a similar emergency, on the ground
that they led to neglect of practical human means of help,--all
this is in striking contrast to the older methods.

Well worthy of note is the ground taken in 1893, at Philadelphia,
by an eminent divine of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The
Bishop of Pennsylvania having issued a special call to prayer in
order to ward off the cholera, this clergyman refused to respond
to the call, declaring that to do so, in the filthy condition of
the streets then prevailing in Philadelphia, would be

In summing up the whole subject, we see that in this field, as in
so many others, the triumph of scientific thought has gradually
done much to evolve in the world not only a theology but also a
religious spirit more and more worthy of the goodness of God and
of the destiny of man.[340]

[340] On the improvement in sanitation in London and elsewhere in
the north of Europe, see the editorial and Report of the
Conference on Sanitation at Brighton, given in the London Times
of August 27, 1888. For the best authorities on the general
subject in England, see Sir John Simon on English Sanitary
Institutions, 1890; also his published Health Reports for 1887,
cited in the Edinburgh Review for January, 1891. See also
Parkes's Hygiene, passim. For the great increase in the mean
length of life in France under better hygienic conditions, see
Rambaud, La Civilisation contemporaine en France, p. 682. For
the approach to depopulation at Memphis, under the cesspool
system in 1878, see Parkes, Hygiene, American appendix, p. 397.
For the facts brought out in the investigation of the department
of the city of New York by the Committee of the State Senate, of
which the present writer was a member, see New York Senate
Documents for 1865. For decrease of death rate in New York city
under the new Board of Health, beginning in 1866, and especially
among children, see Buck, Hygiene and Popular Health, New York,
1879, vol. ii, p. 573; and for wise remarks on religious duties
during pestilence, see ibid., vol. ii, p. 579. For a contrast
between the old and new ideas regarding pestilences, see Charles
Kingsley in Fraser's Magazine, vol. lviii, p. 134; also the
sermon of Dr. Burns, in 1875, at the Cathedral of Glasgow before
the Social Science Congress. For a particularly bright and
valuable statement of the triumphs of modern sanitation, see Mrs.
Plunkett's article in The Popular Science Monthly for June, 1891.
For the reply of Lord Palmerston to the Scotch clergy, see the
well-known passage in Buckle. For the order of the Emperor
William, see various newspapers for September, 1892, and
especially Public Opinion for September 24th.




Of all the triumphs won by science for humanity, few have been
farther-reaching in good effects than the modern treatment of the
insane. But this is the result of a struggle long and severe
between two great forces. On one side have stood the survivals
of various superstitions, the metaphysics of various
philosophies, the dogmatism of various theologies, the literal
interpretation of various sacred books, and especially of our
own--all compacted into a creed that insanity is mainly or
largely demoniacal possession; on the other side has stood
science, gradually accumulating proofs that insanity is always
the result of physical disease.

I purpose in this chapter to sketch, as briefly as I may, the
history of this warfare, or rather of this evolution of truth out
of error.

Nothing is more simple and natural, in the early stages of
civilization, than belief in occult, self-conscious powers of
evil. Troubles and calamities come upon man; his ignorance of
physical laws forbids him to attribute them to physical causes;
he therefore attributes them sometimes to the wrath of a good
being, but more frequently to the malice of an evil being.

Especially is this the case with diseases. The real causes of
disease are so intricate that they are reached only after ages of
scientific labour; hence they, above all, have been attributed
to the influence of evil spirits.[341]

[341] On the general attribution of disease to demoniacal
influence, see Sprenger, History of Medicine, passim (note, for a
later attitude, vol. ii, pp. 150-170, 178); Calmeil, De la Folie,
Paris, 1845, vol. i, pp. 104, 105; Esquirol, Des Maladies
Mentales, Paris, 1838, vol. i, p. 482; also Tylor, Primitive
Culture. For a very plain and honest statement of this view in
our own sacred books, see Oort, Hooykaas, and Kuenen, The Bible
for Young People, English translation, chap. v, p. 167 and
following; also Farrar's Life of Christ, chap. xvii. For this
idea in Greece and elsewhere, see Maury, La Magie, etc., vol.
iii, p. 276, giving, among other citations, one from book v of
the Odyssey. On the influence of Platonism, see Esquirol and
others, as above--the main passage cited is from the Phaedo. For
the devotion of the early fathers and doctors to this idea, see
citations from Eusebius, Lactantius, St. Jerome, St. Augustine,
St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen, in Tissot,
L'Imagination, p. 369; also Jacob (i.e., Paul Lecroix), Croyances
Populaires, p. 183. For St. Augustine, see also his De Civitate
Dei, lib. xxii, chap. vii, and his Enarration in Psal., cxxxv, 1.
For the breaking away of the religious orders in Italy from the
entire supremacy of this idea, see Becavin, L'Ecole de Salerne,
Paris, 1888; also Daremberg, Histoire de la Medecine. Even so
late as the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther maintained
(Table Talk, Hazlitt's translation, London, 1872, pp. 250, 256)
that "Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind."

But, if ordinary diseases were likely to be attributed to
diabolical agency, how much more diseases of the brain, and
especially the more obscure of these! These, indeed, seemed to
the vast majority of mankind possible only on the theory of
Satanic intervention: any approach to a true theory of the
connection between physical causes and mental results is one of
the highest acquisitions of science.

Here and there, during the whole historic period, keen men had
obtained an inkling of the truth; but to the vast multitude,
down to the end of the seventeenth century, nothing was more
clear than that insanity is, in many if not in most cases,
demoniacal possession.

Yet at a very early date, in Greece and Rome, science had
asserted itself, and a beginning had been made which seemed
destined to bring a large fruitage of blessings.[342] In the
fifth century before the Christian era, Hippocrates of Cos
asserted the great truth that all madness is simply disease of
the brain, thereby beginning a development of truth and mercy
which lasted nearly a thousand years. In the first century after
Christ, Aretaeus carried these ideas yet further, observed the
phenomena of insanity with great acuteness, and reached yet more
valuable results. Near the beginning of the following century,
Soranus went still further in the same path, giving new results
of research, and strengthening scientific truth. Toward the end
of the same century a new epoch was ushered in by Galen, under
whom the same truth was developed yet further, and the path
toward merciful treatment of the insane made yet more clear. In
the third century Celius Aurelianus received this deposit of
precious truth, elaborated it, and brought forth the great idea
which, had theology, citing biblical texts, not banished it,
would have saved fifteen centuries of cruelty--an idea not fully
recognised again till near the beginning of the present
century--the idea that insanity is brain disease, and that the
treatment of it must be gentle and kind. In the sixth century
Alexander of Tralles presented still more fruitful researches,
and taught the world how to deal with melancholia; and, finally,
in the seventh century, this great line of scientific men,
working mainly under pagan auspices, was closed by Paul of
Aegina, who under the protection of Caliph Omar made still
further observations, but, above all, laid stress on the cure of
madness as a disease, and on the absolute necessity of mild

[342] It is significant of this scientific attitude that the
Greek word for superstition means, literally, fear of gods or

Such was this great succession in the apostolate of science:
evidently no other has ever shown itself more directly under
Divine grace, illumination, and guidance. It had given to the
world what might have been one of its greatest blessings.[343]

[343] For authorities regarding this development of scientific
truth and mercy in antiquity, see especially Krafft-Ebing,
Lehrbuch des Psychiatrie, Stuttgart, 1888, p. 40 and the pages
following; Trelat, Recherches Historiques sur la Folie, Paris,
1839; Semelaigne, L'Alienation mentale dans l'Antiquitie, Paris,
1869; Dagron, Des Alienes, Paris, 1875; also Calmeil, De la
Folie, Sprenger, and especially Isensee, Geschichte der Medicin,
Berlin, 1840.

This evolution of divine truth was interrupted by theology.
There set into the early Church a current of belief which was
destined to bring all these noble acquisitions of science and
religion to naught, and, during centuries, to inflict tortures,
physical and mental, upon hundreds of thousands of innocent men
and women--a belief which held its cruel sway for nearly eighteen
centuries; and this belief was that madness was mainly or largely
possession by the devil.

This idea of diabolic agency in mental disease had grown
luxuriantly in all the Oriental sacred literatures. In the
series of Assyrian mythological tablets in which we find those
legends of the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and other early
conceptions from which the Hebrews so largely drew the accounts
wrought into the book of Genesis, have been discovered the
formulas for driving out the evil spirits which cause disease.
In the Persian theology regarding the struggle of the great
powers of good and evil this idea was developed to its highest
point. From these and other ancient sources the Jews naturally
received this addition to their earlier view: the Mocker of the
Garden of Eden became Satan, with legions of evil angels at his
command; and the theory of diabolic causes of mental disease took
a firm place in our sacred books. Such cases in the Old
Testament as the evil spirit in Saul, which we now see to have
been simply melancholy--and, in the New Testament, the various
accounts of the casting out of devils, through which is refracted
the beautiful and simple story of that power by which Jesus of
Nazareth soothed perturbed minds by his presence or quelled
outbursts of madness by his words, give examples of this. In
Greece, too, an idea akin to this found lodgment both in the
popular belief and in the philosophy of Plato and Socrates; and
though, as we have seen, the great leaders in medical science had
taught with more or less distinctness that insanity is the result
of physical disease, there was a strong popular tendency to
attribute the more troublesome cases of it to hostile spiritual

[344] For the exorcism against disease found at Ninevah, see G.
Smith, Delitzsch's German translation, p. 34. For a very
interesting passage regarding the representaion of a diabolic
personage on a Babylonian bronze, and for a very frank statement
regarding the transmission of ideas regarding Satanic power to
our sacred books, see Sayce, Herodotus, appendix ii, p. 393. It
is, indeed, extremely doubtful whether Plato himself or his
contemporaries knew anything of evil demons, this conception
probably coming into the Greek world, as into the Latin, with the
Oriental influences that began to prevail about the time of the
birth of Christ; but to the early Christians, a demon was a
demon, and Plato's, good or bad, were pagan, and therefore
devils. The Greek word "epilepsy" is itself a survival of the
old belief, fossilized in a word, since its literal meaning
refers to the SEIZURE of the patient by evil spirits.

From all these sources, but especially from our sacred books and
the writings of Plato, this theory that mental disease is caused
largely or mainly by Satanic influence passed on into the early
Church. In the apostolic times no belief seems to have been more
firmly settled. The early fathers and doctors in the following
age universally accepted it, and the apologists generally spoke
of the power of casting out devils as a leading proof of the
divine origin of the Christian religion.

This belief took firm hold upon the strongest men. The case of
St. Gregory the Great is typical. He was a pope of exceedingly
broad mind for his time, and no one will think him unjustly
reckoned one of the four Doctors of the Western Church. Yet he
solemnly relates that a nun, having eaten some lettuce without
making the sign of the cross, swallowed a devil, and that, when
commanded by a holy man to come forth, the devil replied: "How
am I to blame? I was sitting on the lettuce, and this woman,
not having made the sign of the cross, ate me along with

[345] For a striking statement of the Jewish belief in diabolical
interference, see Josephus, De Bello Judaico, vii, 6, iii; also
his Antiquities, vol. viii, Whiston's translation. On the "devil
cast out," in Mark ix, 17-29, as undoubtedly a case of epilepsy,
see Cherullier, Essai sur l'Epilepsie; also Maury, art. Demonique
in the Encyclopedie Moderne. In one text, at least, the popular
belief is perfectly shown as confounding madness and possession:
"He hath a devil,and is mad," John x, 20. Among the multitude of
texts, those most relied upon were Matthew viii, 28, and Luke x,
17; and for the use of fetiches in driving out evil spirits, the
account of the cures wrought by touching the garments of St. Paul
in Acts xix, 12. On the general subject, see authorities already
given, and as a typical passage, Tertullian, Ad. Scap., ii. For
the very gross view taken by St. Basil, see Cudworth,
Intellectual System, vol. ii, p. 648; also Archdeacon Farrar's
Life of Christ. For the case related by St. Gregory the Great
with comical details, see the Exempla of Archbishop Jacques de
Vitrie, edited by Prof. T. F. Crane, of Cornell University, p.
59, art. cxxx. For a curious presentation of Greek views, see
Lelut, Le demon Socrate, Paris, 1856; and for the transmission of
these to Christianity, see the same, p. 201 and following.

As a result of this idea, the Christian Church at an early period
in its existence virtually gave up the noble conquests of Greek
and Roman science in this field, and originated, for persons
supposed to be possessed, a regular discipline, developed out of
dogmatic theology. But during the centuries before theology and
ecclesiasticism had become fully dominant this discipline was, as
a rule, gentle and useful. The afflicted, when not too violent,
were generally admitted to the exercises of public worship, and a
kindly system of cure was attempted, in which prominence was
given to holy water, sanctified ointments, the breath or spittle
of the priest, the touching of relics, visits to holy places, and
submission to mild forms of exorcism. There can be no doubt that
many of these things, when judiciously used in that spirit of
love and gentleness and devotion inherited by the earlier
disciples from "the Master," produced good effects in soothing
disturbed minds and in aiding their cure.

Among the thousands of fetiches of various sorts then resorted to
may be named, as typical, the Holy Handkerchief of Besancon.
During many centuries multitudes came from far and near to touch
it; for, it was argued, if touching the garments of St. Paul at
Ephesus had cured the diseased, how much more might be expected
of a handkerchief of the Lord himself!

With ideas of this sort was mingled a vague belief in medical
treatment, and out of this mixture were evolved such
prescriptions as the following:

"If an elf or a goblin come, smear his forehead with this salve,
put it on his eyes, cense him with incense, and sign him
frequently with the sign of the cross."

"For a fiend-sick man: When a devil possesses a man, or controls
him from within with disease, a spew-drink of lupin, bishopswort,
henbane, garlic. Pound these together, add ale and holy water."

And again: "A drink for a fiend-sick man, to be drunk out of a
church bell: Githrife, cynoglossum, yarrow, lupin,
flower-de-luce, fennel, lichen, lovage. Work up to a drink with
clear ale, sing seven masses over it, add garlic and holy water,
and let the possessed sing the Beati Immaculati; then let him
drink the dose out of a church bell, and let the priest sing over
him the Domine Sancte Pater Omnipotens."[346]

[346] See Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wort-cunning, and Star-Craft of
Early England in the Rolls Series, vol. ii, p. 177; also pp. 355,
356. For the great value of priestly saliva, see W. W. Story's

Had this been the worst treatment of lunatics developed in the
theological atmosphere of the Middle Ages, the world would have
been spared some of the most terrible chapters in its history;
but, unfortunately, the idea of the Satanic possession of
lunatics led to attempts to punish the indwelling demon. As this
theological theory and practice became more fully developed, and
ecclesiasticism more powerful to enforce it, all mildness began
to disappear; the admonitions to gentle treatment by the great
pagan and Moslem physicians were forgotten, and the treatment of
lunatics tended more and more toward severity: more and more
generally it was felt that cruelty to madmen was punishment of
the devil residing within or acting upon them.

A few strong churchmen and laymen made efforts to resist this
tendency. As far back as the fourth century, Nemesius, Bishop of
Emesa, accepted the truth as developed by pagan physicians, and
aided them in strengthening it. In the seventh century, a
Lombard code embodied a similar effort. In the eighth century,
one of Charlemagne's capitularies seems to have had a like
purpose. In the ninth century, that great churchman and
statesman, Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons, superior to his time in
this as in so many other things, tried to make right reason
prevail in this field; and, near the beginning of the tenth
century, Regino, Abbot of Prum, in the diocese of Treves,
insisted on treating possession as disease. But all in vain; the
current streaming most directly from sundry texts in the
Christian sacred books, and swollen by theology, had become

[347] For a very thorough and interesting statement on the
general subject, see Kirchhoff, Beziehungen des Damonen- und
Hexenwesens zur deutschen Irrenpflege in the Allgemeine
Zeitschrift fur Psychiatrie, Berlin, 1888, Bd. xliv, Heft 25.
For Roman Catholic authority, see Addis and Arnold, Catholic
Dictionary, article Energumens. For a brief and eloquent
summary, see Krefft-Ebing, Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie, as above;
and for a clear view of the transition from pagan mildness in the
care of the insane to severity and cruelty under the Christian
Church, see Maudsley, The Pathology of the Mind, London, 1879, p.
523. See also Buchmann, Die undfreie und die freie Kirche,
Bresleau, 1873, p. 251. For other citations, see Kirchoff, as
above, pp. 334-346. For Bishop Nemesius, see Trelat, p. 48. For
an account of Agobard's general position in regard to this and
allied superstitions, see Reginald Lane Poole's Illustrations of
the History of Medieval Thought, London, 1884.

The first great tributary poured into this stream, as we approach
the bloom of the Middle Ages, appears to have come from the brain
of Michael Psellus. Mingling scriptural texts, Platonic
philosophy, and theological statements by great doctors of the
Church, with wild utterances obtained from lunatics, he gave
forth, about the beginning of the twelfth century, a treatise on
The Work of Demons. Sacred science was vastly enriched thereby
in various ways; but two of his conclusions, the results of his
most profound thought, enforced by theologians and popularized by
preachers, soon took special hold upon the thinking portion of
the people at large. The first of these, which he easily based
upon Scripture and St. Basil, was that, since all demons suffer
by material fire and brimstone, they must have material bodies;
the second was that, since all demons are by nature cold, they
gladly seek a genial warmth by entering the bodies of men and

[348] See Baas and Werner, cited by Kirchhoff,as above; also
Lecky, Rationalism in Europe, vol. i, p. 68, and note, New York,
1884. As to Basil's belief in the corporeality of devils, see
his Commentary on Isaiah, cap. i.

Fed by this stream of thought, and developed in the warm
atmosphere of medieval devotion, the idea of demoniacal
possession as the main source of lunacy grew and blossomed and
bore fruit in noxious luxuriance.

There had, indeed, come into the Middle Ages an inheritance of
scientific thought. The ideas of Hippocrates, Celius Aurelianus,
Galen, and their followers, were from time to time revived; the
Arabian physicians, the School of Salerno, such writers as
Salicetus and Guy de Chauliac, and even some of the religious
orders, did something to keep scientific doctrines alive; but
the tide of theological thought was too strong; it became
dangerous even to seem to name possible limits to diabolical
power. To deny Satan was atheism; and perhaps nothing did so
much to fasten the epithet "atheist" upon the medical profession
as the suspicion that it did not fully acknowledge diabolical

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