This theory, one of the most simple that can be imagined, is regarded as being anterior to Hippocrates. It is predominant in two treatises, viz., those on the Regions in Man, and on the Glands. A few extracts from these two books will give us a sufficient idea of the doctrine.
It is said in the first, " Fluxions are caused by cold, which causes the condensation of the tissues and veins of the head, if the cold strikes them when they are heated ; then by their contraction the humors contained in them are expelled. All the tissues are obliged to pour out their fluids when they contract. The contraction of the skin, by compressing the roots of the hairs, causes them to become erect. The liquids thus compressed are diffused in every possible direction.
" Fluxions are also caused by heat, because the tissues become rarified when they are heated, their pores enlarge, and the humor they contain is attenuated, so that it flows easily when compressed. The greater the rarification, the more the effusion, especially when the tissues are full of humors ; what they can no longer contain, escapes. When a channel is once formed, they pass off by it until the body, becoming dry, contracts and closes the passage. As all parts are in communication, the moisture that exists is attracted by the driest. The body being permeable, it is easy, in those parts which have not imbibed so as to augment their volume, to attract the humors ; especially is this the case, if the inferior extremities are dry, the superior being charged with humidity ; for there are more veins in the upper part of the body, than in the lower, and the soft parts of the head are thinner, and need less humidity. The fluxion in this way becomes easy from the moist parts toward the dry ; beside this, all the dry parts attract moisture. Nor can it be denied, that the humors tend downward, naturally, however light the force may be that affects them."
It would be difficult to exhibit, in so few words, more ignorance on the conformation of our tissues, and the laws of physiology and physics. It will not be expected that I should seriously attempt to refute the gross errors that are crowded together in these few lines. I will simply say, that the body of man is there likened, sometimes to a sponge, which absorbs water or allows it to escape, according to the degree of pressure acting upon it; sometimes to a sieve, the pores of which are dilated by heat, giving a free passage to the fluids, or contracted by cold, and preventing their passage. There is no more mention of the organic or vital forces, the effects of which are so manifest and wonderful, not only in the human economy, but also in the vegetable, than if they did not exist at all !
The author of this book admits seven species of fluxions : the first tends to the eyes ; the second to the nose ; the third to the cars ; the fourth to the chest ; the fifth to the spinal marrow ; the sixth to the vertebra and general tissues ; finally, the seventh, which flows slower than any other, producing sciatica and rheumatism. In this way he explains the origin of all diseases.
As to the treatment, it is worthy of such an etiology. I will quote only one method, which will be sufficient to give an idea of others. " To cure convulsions it is necessary to place a furnace of coals on each side of the bed, and give an infusion of the root of mandrake, but not so strong as to excite frenzy, and apply hot cloths to the ligamentum nuchoe." The translators and commentators are much at a loss to find any common sense in this passage, because the curative method laid down is so absurd ; but they omit to notice, that that method proceeds, naturally, from the etiology above given. In fact, if convulsions result from too much humidity in the head, it is entirely natural that an effort should he made to diminish this excess of humor, by a large supply of heated furnaces and hot hags.
I will complete the exposition of this theory, by some extracts from a little monograph on the glands. The author commences thus: "The structure of the glands is such as I have just stated. They are of a loose, spongy nature, and of a fatty color. Their tissue is not like that of other parts of the body, and may be distinguished from all other parts by being granular. They have many veins. When they are cut, the blood that flows out is whitish and watery. When handled, they feel like greasy wool, and if strongly pressed between the fingers, a juice oozes out, which looks somewhat like oil, and their organization is destroyed.
" The glands are found in great numbers in the interior of the body : more numerous in the cavities than around the articulations. They are, also, found in all moist and sanguineous regions. Some attract and take up the humors that come from above, into the cavities, others absorb those which are poured out in large quantities in the cavities themselves, or those which are expressed by the working of the joints. Thus they prevent the superabundance of humors in the tissues. Observe too, that where there is hair, there are glands also. There is a connection between the hair and the glands ; these attract the humors, as above said ; the hair profits by it : it is developed by the nourishment which the glands procure, and grows by leading outward the excess of humors. In dry parts of the body we see neither hair nor glands."
A little further on, the author observes, that certain parts, as the intestines and the omentum, have glands, but no hair, but he is not embarrassed to explain this anomaly. "We see," ho says, "that in marshes and very wet places, the seeds do not germinate ; they perish, smothered by excess of moisture. So in the intestines, the abundance of fluids prevents the development of glands, and there is, therefore, no hair."
These efforts to explain everything, often throws the best minds into strange ramblings. We shall see many, and even celebrated examples of it. The philosophers and physicians of antiquity would have thought themselves without reputation, if they had announced a single phenomenon without giving some interpretation of it. Rather than fail in this, they made use of the most ridiculous explanations. The little treatise that suggests these reflections is certainly not one of the worst executed of the Hippocratic collection ; it exhibits its subject, on the contrary, with all the details and comprehensiveness that the anatomical light of that epoch would allow, yet what vagaries it contains ! One example more, and the last: "The head has glands; the brain itself resembles a gland, it is white, and divided into lobes, like glands. It produces, also, the same effects, abstracting from the head, as before said, the humors which there abound. The brain relieves the head from humors, and distributes them to the extremities, by means of currents that flow in different parts. Observe, also, that the brain is larger than the glands.(The author does not include the liver among the glands.) The hair on the head is longer than elsewhere.
It is from the continued flow of the humors toward the head, which can not contain them, as well as from their unceasing currents toward the parts which need them for their nutrition, that proceed the alteration of humors, and thus diseases. Either of these results, if not checked, may exhaust nature entirely, although there are great differences in the intensity of diseases."
From History of Medicine by P.V. Renouard M.D.