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Benjamin Rush


   As a lecturer on chemistry, and a practitioner, Dr. Rush became deservedly popular. During his residence abroad, his professional attainments were much enlarged, and he was successful in introducing several, valuable improvements. He was particularly attached to the system of depletion, and resorted to bleeding in many new cases. Next to the lancet, he used cathartics; and upon these two remedies he chiefly depended for the cure of diseases. About the year 1790, twenty years after Dr. Rush had been a practitioner, and professor of medicine, he began to publish his new principles of medicine. These were more or less developed by him in his successive annual course of lectures, for the subsequent twenty-three years of his life.
   It is not our province to settle the merits of that system. which Dr. Rush adopted. He applied his principles of medicine to the cure of consumptions, dropsies, hydrocephalus, apoplexy gout, and other diseases of the body, and also to madness, and the diseases of the mind. He depended chiefly upon the lancet, and strongly urged the use of calomel, to which he gave the name of "the Sampson of the Materia Medica."
   It was not to be expected that a system, in many respects so novel, should be adopted by every one. It had its strong opposers, and these opposers exist at the present day. They objected to the system of depletion, but agreed with Doctor Rush, that calomel was well entitled to the name of "Sampson," not for the reason which he assigned, but "because," said they, "it has slain its thousands."
   In the year 1793, Dr. Rush had an opportunity of applying his principles, in the treatment of yellow fever. In that year, Philadelphia was desolated by that tremendous scourge, after an interval of thirty-one years. The disease baffled the, skill of the oldest and most judicious physicians; and they differed about the nature, and the treatment of it. "This general calamity lasted for about one hundred days, extending from July till November. The deaths in the whole of this distressing period, were four thousand and forty-four, or something more than thirty-eight each day, on an average. Whole families were confined by it. There was a great deficiency of nurses for the sick. There was likewise a great deficiency of physicians, from the desertion of some, and the sickness and death of others. At one time, there were but three physicians, who were able to do business out of their houses, and at this time there were probably not less than six thousand persons ill with the fever."
   "A cheerful countenance was scarcely to be seen for six weeks. The streets every where discovered marks of the distress that pervaded the city. In walking for many hundred yards, few persons were met, except such as were in quest of a physician, a nurse, a bleeder, or the men who buried the dead. The hearse alone kept up the remembrance of the noise of carriages, or carts, in the streets. A black man leading or driving a horse, with a corpse, on a pair of chair wheels, met the eye in most of the streets of the city, at every hour of the day; while the noise of the same wheels passing slowly over the pavement kept alive anguish and fear in the sick and well, every hour of the night."
   For some time after the commencement of the disease, all the physicians were nearly alike unsuccessful in the management of it. At this time, Dr. Rush resorted to gentle evacuants as had been used in the yellow fever of 1762 ; but finding these unavailing, he applied himself to an investigation if the disease, by means of the authors who had written on the subject. He ransacked his library, and pored over every book which treated of the yellow fever. At length he took up a manuscript, which contained an account of the disease, as it prevailed in Virginia, in 1741, and which was given to him by Dr. Franklin, and had been written by Dr. Mitchell of Virginia. In this manuscript the propriety and necessity of powerful evacuants were stated and urged, even in cases of' extreme debility.

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Last modified January 1, 2004