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that all the different vegetables which I have mentioned, should have a place in the materia medica of physicians? I answer, No. But how are we to know what plants are most proper for the purposes of medicine, until we shall have examined the properties of a great body of vegetables? The Digitalis is now thought one of the most important of the diuretic medicines: but perhaps future inquiries will discover a diuretic which shall, in a great measure, supersede the frequent use of this active plant. I wish to turn the attention of our physicians to an investigation of the properties of their native productions. When it is considered how little has hitherto been done in this way, every attempt (mine is an humble one) should be candidly received. I do not mean that its faults should not be pointed out.
The arrangement of the articles which I have mentioned is by no means faultless: on the contrary, it is liable to many objections. I should not have followed this arrangement had I been considering all the articles of the materia medica. I shall give a sketch of my ideas of a method of the science, in my strictures on the arrangement of the learned and elegant author of the Botanic Garden, a poem which unites the fire of Lucretius with the taste of Virgil, and a learning unequalled by that of Camoëns or of Milton.
I THINK it but candid to confess, that since reading this address to the Medical Society, I have made some alterations in it. These alterations, however, are very inconsiderable. In general, even the very style and faults of each phrase are preserved, for I had not time to alter or correct much. I have left out the concluding part of the address, relative to the establishment of a medical library: not that I doubt the ability of the society to form a library of its own. The notes contained in the appendix were not read to the society.
WHATEVER may be the reception of this essay by the public, whether favourable or unfavourable, I shall pursue my inquiries concerning the nature and properties of the natural productions of my native country. I shall pursue them, because there is at least a possibility that they may ultimately tend to something useful: and because I have the experience of several years to teach me, that the cultivation of science is the extension of my happiness.
E RR A T U M.
E have assembled together to celebrate the anniversary of our foundation. It is an occasion which ought to give pleasure to us all. We have met, however, for the difficult purpose of mingling science with pleasure. This difficulty falls peculiarly upon me. By your vote, I have been called upon to deliver the annual discourse. I accepted of the appointment cheerfully, because I was anxious to demonstrate my attachment to the Society, of which I had the honor to be a member at a very early period of my life; a Society in which I first imbibed my love of the different sciences which constitute the great fabric of medicine.
But if I accepted of the appointment with pleasure, I do not address you with confidence. I have found it difficult to select a subject for your
entertainment. I, at one time, contemplated a comparative view of the different theories which have prevailed in medicine, in the present century. But I soon found this subject too extensive for our purpose: besides, in the investigation of this view, I should have been obliged to speak with a freedom, which might not have given pleasure to every one of us. Men are often attached to theories, as parents are attached to their children.
APTER some difficulty, I have selected a subject. It is An Essay towards a materia medica of the United States; or, if you please, An Inquiry what indigenous vegetables of our country may be used with advantage in the treatment of diseases. This, you will immediately perceive, is a task both extensive and difficult. But it is an important one. I shall not, perhaps, perform a duty altogether unacceptable to you, if I furnish you with a few facts not generally known to you before. This is all I aim at.
Mine is not the first attempt of this kind. Besides the paper entitled Specifica Canadensium,* Dr. Schoepf, of Erlangen in Germany, has favoured us with a specimen of such a work, under the title of Materia Medica Americana potissimum regni vege
* See Amoenitates Academica. Vol. iv. Dissertatio lxxii.