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August 14 , 2008

Little Masterpieces of Science: Health and Healing


When we remember that sound health is the foundation of every other good, of all work fruitful and enjoyed, we see that in this field new knowledge and new skill have won their most telling victories. Pain, long deemed as inevitable as winter's cold, has vanished at the chemist's bidding: the study of minutest life is resulting in measures which promise to rid the world of consumption itself. Dr. Billings's masterly review of medical progress during the nineteenth century, following upon chapters from other medical writers of the first rank, strikes Prevention as its dominant note. To-day the aim of the great physicians is not simply to restore health when lost, but the maintenance of health while still unimpaired.

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Worthy of remark is the co-operation in this good task which the physician receives at the hands of the inventor and the man of business. To-day the railroad, quick and cheap, disperses crowded cities into country fields: even the poorest of the poor may take a summer outing on mountain slopes, on the shores of lake or sea. As easily may the invalid escape the rigors of a Northern winter as he journeys to the Gulf of Mexico. For those who stay at home the railroad is just as faithfully at work. It exchanges the oranges of Florida for the ice of Maine, and brings figs and peaches from California to New England and New York. These, together with the cold storage warehouse and the cannery, have given the orchard and the kitchen garden all seasons for their own. Nor must we forget the mills that offer a dozen palatable cereals for the breakfast table, most of the drudgery of preparation shifted from the kitchen to the factory. Because food is thus various and wholesome as never before, the health and strength of the people steadily gains, while medicine falls into less and less request; for what is medicine three times in ten but a corrective for a poor or ill-balanced diet?

But if the best health possible is to be enjoyed by everybody, the co-operation with the physician must include everybody. Already a considerable and increasing number of men and women understand this. If they have any reason to suspect organic weakness of any kind, they have recourse to the physician's advice, to the end that a suitable regimen, or a less exacting mode of livelihood, may forefend all threatened harm. A few pages of this volume set forth the due care of the eyes: the work from which those pages is taken gives hints of equal value regarding the care of the ears, the lungs and other bodily organs, so much more easily kept sound than restored to soundness after the assail of disease.

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