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Title: Observations on antimony - Read before the Medical Society of London, and published - at their request
Author: Millar, John
Language: English
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               Read before the MEDICAL SOCIETY of LONDON,

                     And published at their Request,

                           JOHN MILLAR, M. D.

         Printed for J. JOHNSON, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church-yard,
                and D. WILSON and G. NICOL in the Strand,



The following observations having been honoured with your approbation,
are now published at your request, and presented to you as a testimony of
the author’s respectful regard.

Candour requires him to acknowledge that some gentlemen of the Society
were averse to the publication, judging that the free censure of popular
opinions would rather provoke resentment than produce reformation. Not
deterred from his purpose, he has availed himself of their friendly
cautions to obviate some objections which may be made to the design.

The account of the earlier chymists may, on a superficial view, appear
superfluous; but it was thought necessary to illustrate the Medical
History of Antimony, and to shew how little credit is due to those
writers whose exaggerated praises of that medicine have contributed so
much to mislead and abuse mankind.

It may be objected that the author has not himself assayed the antimonial
ores, nor repeated the chymical processes. But by drawing the chymical
and mineralogical materials from other sources, all imputation of
prejudice or partiality, on his part, is prevented, since he appeals
to the testimony of the patrons of antimony themselves, for the
authenticity of the facts by which some of their opinions are subverted.

I am,


              Your most obedient, and most humble servant,

                                                             JOHN MILLAR.

Pall Mall, April 2, 1774.


    INTRODUCTION                                                Page 1

                               SECTION I.

    _Some Account of the earlier Chymists, and of their opinions
      concerning Antimony_                                           4

                               SECTION II.

    _Of the Natural History of Antimony_                            13

                              SECTION III.

    _Of the Chymical Properties and Analysis of Antimony_           27

                               SECTION IV.

    _Of the Antimonial Preparations and their Medical Effects_      48

                               SECTION V.

    _Of the Secret Antimonial Medicines, and particularly of
      the Fever-Powder_                                             71



Read 1st and 15th Febry. 1774.

Remedies have often acquired reputation without sufficient evidence of
their innocence and efficacy. Some have been introduced by an injudicious
application of the theory of the schools, others by rash and precipitate
conclusions drawn from partial experiment, and many by a refined species
of imposition on the credulity of mankind, veiled under the specious
pretence of strict morality, extensive benevolence, and disinterested
love of science.

It is not surprising that a steady exertion of these arts should prevail,
when we consider that physicians, whose duty it is intelligently to
examine these boasted remedies, and if frivolous or dangerous, to expose
and resist the patrons of them, have too often contributed to establish
the deceit. Some are borne along by the torrent of vulgar prejudice;
while others stand aloof beholding, with indignant pride, the triumph of
imposture; and many judging a compliance with popular prejudices their
surest and safest course, unite in supporting error and imposition, and
in confirming the most pernicious practices.

Thus is the publick confidence betrayed, the art of physick brought into
contempt, bold and extravagant assertions gain ground, and dangerous
remedies are established.

The common interest calls us to expose these intrigues, since men do
not knowingly sacrifice life and health, but are unwarily misled by
misrepresentation. Let us therefore unite in promoting a safe and
effectual practice, and in repelling the common enemies of science and of

Among the delusions of the present age, one of the most dangerous is
the universal belief of the perfect innocence and superlative efficacy
of antimony. The extensive use of this mineral demands our particular
attention, since it not only obtains among regular physicians, but has
been generally adopted in domestic practice. But if its reputation shall
appear to have been raised by falsehood or misrepresentation, it becomes
us to resist that tyrannical fashion by which it hath been established.


_Some Account of the ancient Chymists, and of their opinions concerning

Antimony was originally used by the Chymists, who, as they pretended
to preternatural illumination, affected to conceal from the vulgar and
profane, the sacred mysteries of the adepts, who arrogantly stiled
themselves the favourites of Heaven. An exact chronological account
is not to be expected in an art which took its rise among illiterate
Miners, and in the most superstitious country in the world. How long it
was cultivated by the lower set of people, with whom it originated, is
uncertain; but Trismegistus, having, as is believed, first treated it
in a scientifical manner, has been honoured by his successors as the
Inventor and founder of the art. He is stiled a philosopher, a priest
and a King, is said to have been instructed in all manner of learning, to
have been the Inventor of medicine among the Egyptians, and to have lived
about fifteen hundred years before the christian æra, or according to
some about the time of Moses.

Chymistry, among the Egyptians, was joined to the magic art, it passed,
thus corrupted, from them to the Arabians, where it was rendered still
more unintelligible; and, in the course of the pilgrimages, and warlike
expeditions to the holy land, it was imported into Europe, during the
dark ages of ignorance, where it was still further vitiated by those
impostors who scrupled not to corrupt the christian doctrines, and to
pervert a religion, instituted to promote the happiness of mankind,
to the purpose of oppressing them, by erecting, under the pretence of
obedience to its precepts, a temporal and spiritual dominion over all
whom they could intimidate or deceive.

In these rude times, when the nations of Europe were overwhelmed with
ignorance and slavery, it was not to be expected that Chymistry could
be much reformed. The little learning of that age was confined to the
ecclesiastical orders, who avowedly reprobated all knowledge which was
not derived from divine illumination.

Hence we find the chymical writers of that period boasting of their
weakness, yielding up all confidence in their faculties, glorying in what
they termed poverty of spirit, which was a state of absolute quietism,
and betaking themselves to the invocation of supernatural assistance, on
which they depended for that information which had been wisely placed
within the reach of their natural capacity. An implicit submission to
these monkish tenets was, however, strictly enforced, and all who
presumed to depart from them, called forth the severest censures of the
catholic church.

But, even in those times of ignorance an ecclesiastic arose worthy of a
better age and happier fate. Roger Bacon, undaunted by the terrors of
the church, boldly attempted to stem the torrent of superstition, and
recal the world to truth and sound philosophy. Such of his writings as
yet remain, are composed in a rational, manly stile, void of hypocrisy
and dissimulation. He leads us to examine the works of nature and of art,
chastly distinguishing those from the sacred truths of revelation, and
clearly demonstrating their united operations to be far more wonderful
than the pretended miracles of those who boasted of supernatural
assistance, whom he justly censures as amusing the ignorant with the
fumes of drunkenness, or the ravings of a distempered brain.

The age in which he lived was too much depressed to be roused by his
vigorous efforts; and his laudable attempts to emancipate the christian
world from that slavish ignorance in which it was held, were, for very
obvious reasons, severely censured by the Roman church: he was arraigned,
condemned, and cast into prison, where he was exhausted by a tedious
confinement and severe penance[1], and soon after fell a victim to the
vengeance of his enemies.

The papal tyranny having thus prevailed against the strenuous efforts
of this rational and intelligent philosopher, it was easy, under the
pretence of exalted devotion, to suppress more feeble attempts toward
improvement and reformation.

But those high pretensions to extraordinary sanctity have been so often
used as a cloak, by men of an intriguing spirit, that they are now justly
deemed suspicious; and we need only look into the lives and writings
of the ecclesiastical chymists to be convinced that they were assumed
by them, to cover their ignorance, ambition, and dissolute manners. An
overweening conceit of their own opinions, and an arrogant contempt for
those of others, is, notwithstanding all their pretensions to humility
and self-denial, the genuine characteristic of those hypocritical
writers. Thus we find them extolling themselves to the disparagement of
all mankind. _Ye doctors of physick and surgery_, says Basil Valentine,
_come to me, a religious person, and servant of God, I will shew you what
ye have never seen, I will make manifest to you the way of health and
salvation, which you have not yet known_.[2]

In delivering their chymical processes, an invocation of God is the
first precept, and they, then, proceed in the name of the Lord. But
not content with having magnified themselves beyond their equals, they
address their disciples in the stile and manner of the founder of the
christian religion: _I warn you_, says the same ecclesiastical chymist,
_my disciple and apostle, if you would imitate me, you must take up your
cross, and suffer as I have suffered, and learn to bear persecution as I
also have done_[3]: and having thus made themselves equal with God, they
proceeded to disclaim all dependance on the supreme Being, declaring,
in their pride, that, if God would not assist them, they would rather
consult the Devil than the works of former writers[4].

But if the chymists were more intitled to our confidence; the extravagant
praises which they bestow on antimony, would justly render their evidence
suspected. Not content with attributing to it an infallible efficacy
in the cure of diseases, they assert its influence over the temper and
disposition of the mind, and seriously affirm that it disposes to probity
and chastity. Notwithstanding these miraculous effects they scruple not
to own that, in its original state, it is of a poisonous nature; but they
pretend that they can easily convert the most noxious substances into
salutary medicines, and the mildest nourishment into deadly poison; and
thus is antimony rendered an infallible cure for all diseases, and honey
destructive to the human race[5].

The writings of modern physicians are indeed free from those gross
absurdities; yet the high character given, even by them, to antimonial
medicines, so greatly exceeds all bounds of probability, that we shall
be justified in witholding our assent, till it is supported by proofs
bearing some proportion to the boldness of their assertions.

By the study of mathematics a habit of accuracy and precision is
acquired, and it may be suspected that chymistry leads to credulity;
or else, some of the modern chymists, after the example of their
predecessors, have craftily obtained wealth and fame, by the most
criminal practices. Upon the whole, the evidence, as well ancient
as modern, concerning the superlative efficacy of antimony is to be
suspected, and it is necessary impartially to enquire into its natural
history, chymical analysis, and medical effects.


_Of the Natural History of Antimony._

Antimony is of different kinds: by some it is described a blackish
mineral substance staining the hands, full of long, shining needle-like
striæ, hard, brittle, and considerably heavy. It is found in different
parts of Europe, as Bohemia, Saxony, Transylvania, Hungary, France,
and England, commonly in mines, intermixed with earth and stones.
Sometimes it is blended with the richer ores of silver, which renders the
extraction of that metal difficult, volatilising a part of the silver,
or, in the language of the miners, robbing the ore[6].

The Hungarian and Transylvanian, of which little or none comes to us,
is esteemed much the best for medicinal use. The English seems of all
others the least proper for that purpose, frequently containing a portion
of lead[7], which is not separable by any of the common methods of
purification, or else the English miners are unacquainted with the method
of purifying it in foreign countries.

The celebrated Dr. Hunter has in his museum, eighteen curious specimens
of antimony, very different from each other: some are covered with a
white calcareous crust; some, in external appearance, resemble cobalt[8];
others the lead ores; and others, those of arsenic; some are almost
perfectly black; some have red striæ, interspersed throughout the ore,
and others shining spiculæ like polished steel. But as they have not yet
been assayed, no very probable conjecture can be formed concerning their
component parts, nor of the proportion they bear to each other.

Chymists have not been sufficiently accurate in pointing out the signs by
which the purity of this mineral is to be distinguished. Basil Valentine
says, it is of two kinds which are very different, one is beautiful
and possessed of some of the properties of gold. The other has more
of sulphur and not so much affinity to gold, it is distinguished by
beautiful, white shining striæ. The one is much to be preferred to the
other for the purpose of the medicine as well as alchymy[9].

Some direct antimony to be tried by rubbing the powder with a strong
dog’s tooth upon yellow paper, where, if it leaves a red spot it is pure.
Others order a tincture to be made with spirit of vinegar and evaporated
on an iron plate, and if it leaves a red powder it is reputed good. It
is also said to be good, when it is not spongy, but heavy, and when it
evaporates by a strong heat[10].

The earlier chymical writers who praise it highly, scruple not to own
that it is, in its natural state, a virulent poison. Basil Valentine, its
greatest advocate, though he admits that it is given by farmers to their
cattle, when they intend to make them fat and smooth; yet declares it to
be truly poisonous, and strictly prohibits the use of it unprepared.

Paracelsus, as well as Glauber,[11] recommends it as an external
application in the cure of cancers, judging it superior even to arsenic
in all corroding diseases, and expresses his ardent wishes that it should
be substituted in place of all other remedies, that the reproach of the
chirurgical art might be removed, and our humanity might not be offended
with such numbers of maimed and mutilated objects[12]. He highly extols
its preparations, and attributes to some of them the power of giving the
bloom of youth to decrepit old age, but strictly prohibits its internal
use unprepared, and treats particularly of the baneful influence of the
crude mineral, in his book on the diseases occasioned by working in mines
and in metals.

Some later writers are silent concerning its noxious qualities, and
others positively assert, that antimony, in its crude state, is not a
poison, but if given from four grains to half a drachm, an excellent
resolvent and purifier of the blood.

Dr. James in the universal English Dispensatory says, _it is astonishing
that so many physicians, and some of them men of learning, should so
strenuously oppose the introduction of antimony into medicine, and
without any manner of evidence or experience, treat it as a deleterious
poison. For it appears that antimony reduced to powder is neither emetic
nor cathartic: though, if given in large quantities, it may perhaps,
by its weight, gently loosen the belly; and so far is it from being
deleterious, that it is an excellent alterative in the mange of horses,
and a salutary medicine in some diseases of men as well as cattle. It
is therefore astonishing that any instances should occur of patients
who have been deserted by physicians, and afterwards found a remedy in
antimony, administered by quacks, who do not so much as pretend to any
degree of medicinal knowledge._

But the arguments drawn from the example of giving antimony in large
quantities to horses, do not prove its innocence in the human body. The
crocus metallorum is used by farriers to the quantity of an ounce or two
in the day, yet a few grains of this preparation produce in men the most
violent and dangerous effects.

The authority of Basil Valentine, which is brought to prove the innocence
of crude antimony is also directly perverted, and the story of his having
introduced it into medicine from an accidental observation of its effects
upon swine, is no where to be found in the Triumphal Chariot of Antimony.
Basil Valentine, _to whom_, says the same author, _we are obliged for
discovering the medical uses of antimony, first using it internally, and
enriching medicine with many of its preparations, having thrown away
some antimony which he had used in the fusion of metals, and observing
some swine, who had accidentally eaten it, to purge considerably, and
afterwards become sleek and fat, took the hint of trying what it would do
in human bodies_.

But this matter is very differently represented by Basil Valentine
himself. Let mankind, says he, be instructed, that antimony not only
purifies and refines gold, and frees it from all metals and every foreign
matter, but accomplishes the same in men and cattle by its innate virtue.
I shall explain this by a rude experiment. If a farmer should set apart
any animal, a hog for instance, to be fed, let him give the animal half
a drachm of antimony, for two or three days, mixed with his food, so
that he may be purged, by which he will not only acquire an appetite
and become sooner fat; but if he labours under any disease the antimony
will expel it[13]. But I would not advise any person to give crude
antimony to the human race, as a medicine, for he that would use it with
safety and success, must first know the method of preparing it, in which
the greatest part of the mystery consists; and an imprudent physician,
who gives it without this necessary knowledge, will do more hurt than

This is not taking a hint from the effects of antimony on swine, but a
direction to give it to those animals when they are to be made fat. It is
the more necessary to point out this mistake, since Basil Valentine is
quoted by this author, as having maintained the safety and efficacy of
crude antimony, though he constantly asserts it, in its natural state,
to be virulent and poisonous. _I shall be the first_, says he, _to
protest and exclaim against those, who, being ignorant of the method
of preparation, give poisons to mankind, for mercury, orpiment, and
antimony are poisonous, and will ever remain so, unless they are fitly
prepared_[15]: and again, _If antimony is given without being prepared,
it will quickly kill the patient_[16].

Hence it appears, though he highly extols the preparations of antimony,
yet he not only exclaims against using it in its crude state, but ranks
it with orpiment, and declares it poisonous.

It may indeed be suspected that the writers of that age went to the
opposite extreme, too easily admitting the poisonous quality of these
minerals, which were the subject of their Chymical operations, the more
illustriously to display, among the ignorant laity, the supernatural
powers of their mystical art.

Yet this difference of opinion, between the earlier and some of the
later writers, may be otherwise accounted for, from the present mode of
purifying that mineral before it comes into the hands of the Chymists.
It is not improbable it may have been formerly sent to them without
any preparation, but it is now separated from its natural impurities
at the mines, by fusion in an earthen pot, whose bottom is perforated
with a number of holes, the fusible antimony passing through, whilst
the infusible substances remain behind. The melting vessel is let into
another pot, sunk into the ground, which serves as a receiver. This last
is of a conical figure, and such is the shape of the loaves of antimony
met with in the shops[17].

But some of the modern chymists assert that, if crude antimony is
reduced to so fine a powder that the shining spiculæ cannot be seen, its
operation is similar to mild kermes mineral[18], and Doctor James[19],
and the author of the New Dispensatory[20], the greatest advocates for
its perfect innocence, admit, that when acid, alcaline or oleaginous
food have been taken liberally, it has proved violently emetic. It
may therefore be fairly concluded, even on their authority, that the
crude mineral contains such active particles as may, by accident or
mismanagement be rendered extremely virulent.

The best modern authors on mineralogy who have carefully examined the
antimonial ores, in their natural state, affirm that all of them are
arsenical; and some of them were found in Carls ort, in the mine of
Salberg, about the end of the last century, so similar to arsenical ores
as to be preserved in cabinets, as specimens of arsenical pyrites, their
real nature remaining undiscovered, till it was explained in the year
1748, by Mr. Van Swob master of the mines, in a treatise communicated to
the royal academy of sciences at Stockholm[21].

Antimony also frequently contains a portion of lead[22], the poisonous
qualities of which have been clearly demonstrated by the learned Doctor
Baker in his elaborate critical dissertations on that subject, published
in the transactions of the college of physicians of London, and by the
ingenious Doctor Percival in his observations and experiments on the
poison of lead.


_Of the Chymical Properties and Analysis of Antimony._

It appears from Dioscorides, Pliny and Galen, that in their time antimony
was not chymically examined, nor used internally though they recommend
it as an external application. It is not surprising that modern chymists
should differ concerning its constituent parts, since they cannot be
separated without losing something in the operation. Their proportions
are also various in different specimens of the crude mineral, a pound
of some yielding ten or eleven ounces of regulus, whilst others scarce
afford eight ounces[23].

But whatever may be their opinion concerning the effects of crude
antimony, they are almost unanimous in affirming, that it contains
a portion of arsenic, which by different management, may be either
converted into an efficacious remedy or a deadly poison.[24]

It is a fact, says Hoffman, proved beyond all doubt among the chymists,
that antimony is composed of sulphur and a mercurial or arsenical
substance[25]. The same is asserted by Stahl. Antimony, says he, consists
of two or three mineral substances, sulphur, a portion of arsenic,
and an imperfect metallic matter. That arsenic enters its composition
is proved by the red tinge of sulphur of antimony; its great power of
vomiting, and that sickness of stomach and faintness with which its
operation is attended; by the resemblance of glass of antimony, to the
saturnine arsenical glass; by its solution in aquaregia, and many other
appearances. But it is particularly demonstrated, by the purity of
antimony, which is regenerated from regulus and pure sulphur, which is
much finer and milder than vulgar or native antimony[26].

The author of the New Dispensatory, however, in opposition to these
weighty authorities, and to the concurring testimony of almost all the
chymists, affirms, that this opinion, however plausible, does not seem
to have any just foundation. Nothing arsenical, he says, has ever been
separated from pure antimony. The most violent antimonial preparations
are rendered inactive by means which do not lessen the poisonous quality
of arsenic, and the most inactive are rendered virulent by operations in
which arsenic would either be dissipated, or its violence abated[27].

This opinion, contradicted by the general voice of mineralogical and
chymical writers, since it is not supported by more convincing proofs,
should not have been published in a book intended for the use of every
pupil in pharmacy; if the prevailing opinion of the poisonous quality of
antimony should be erroneous, it cannot affect the lives of mankind, but
if it is well founded, what words can express the dangerous tendency of a
false doctrine so universally propagated!

He has not indeed treated this subject with his usual accuracy, for with
Hoffman and other celebrated chymists, he elsewhere compares antimony
to arsenic, as well with respect to its virulence, as the means of
correcting it: _Orpiment_, says he, _from which a perfect arsenic is
obtainable in notable quantity, is when it participates more largely of
sulphur, almost perfectly innocent; and sulphur, which restrains the
power of the antimonial semimetal, remarkably abates the virulence of
this poisonous mineral also_[28].

Poppius affirms, that an impure, bituminous and arsenical sulphur,
noxious to the eyes, nose, and lungs, with a blue flame and arsenical
smell, which cannot be endured without danger, is raised during the
calcination or sublimation of antimony[29].

Glauber also directs antimonial cups to be made for the purpose of
communicating an emetic quality to acid liquors, which according to him
produce the same effects as those prepared from orpiment[30]; Boerhaave
asserts that antimony seems to be of the same nature with arsenic[31];
Macquer informs us, that some of the antimonial ores contain a portion of
the same poisonous mineral[32]; and Cronstedt affirms that all of them
are arsenical[33].

Unless therefore those modern chymists, who assert the perfect innocence
of antimony, expect from us that implicit confidence which their
predecessors, who held a very different opinion, rigorously exacted, it
cannot, on their authority, be admitted that it does not contain arsenic.
Wonderful as the works are which they have atchieved, many secrets of
nature have escaped their researches, which may hereafter be discovered,
and many will, undoubtedly, elude all human investigation.

Nor is more credit due to those who assert that all arsenical particles
are volatilised, and carried off by the force of fire; the crocus,
regulus and glass of antimony containing such subtil virulent particles
as must for ever escape observation, since without losing in any degree
their specific gravity, they impart, almost inexhaustibly, an emetic
power to wine and other liquors, and the operation of these essences of
antimony, as they have been emphatically called, is similar to those of

But although, in opposition to the testimony of the best chymical
writers, it should be granted that there is no arsenic in antimony, it
cannot be affirmed, that it does not contain poison, since by unfolding
its texture by the force or fire, it is rendered highly virulent; and by
the addition of various substances, in the stomach, it becomes violently

By those who assert the perfect innocence of antimony, and extol its
virtues, orpiment is allowed to be a poisonous substance, and giving it
as a medicine, is declared a practice too dangerous to be followed[36],
yet it is ranked by Hoffman with antimony. It ought to be remarked, says
he, that orpiment was known to the ancient philosophers and physicians,
and universally deemed a poison, and to this day is sold for arsenic.
Yet it does not, when taken internally, give any molestation, either by
vomiting or purging, and may be given, in a large quantity, to dogs,
without hurting them. But if it is exposed to the fire, then, indeed, it
acquires a poisonous quality, as is also the case with antimony, which,
though in its natural crude state, it is rather a medicine than a poison,
yet when melted by fire it exerts a violent emetic power[37].

Crude white arsenic, the most virulent poison of that tribe, is not
always baneful[38]. It is now more than twenty years since it was taken
in large quantity by four persons, on whom it had no other effect than,
what is usually produced by antimonial preparations, to excite violent
vomiting. All of them were lately, and, I believe, are still in perfect
health. To this I was an eyewitness, and took large lumps of white
arsenic out of the pot in which their victuals were prepared. It happened
at Kelso, in the shire of Roxburgh, and is well known in that country.

I was a few years afterwards, desired to visit a gentleman in
Northumberland, who had taken white arsenic: it operated in the same
manner, and for several years after this accident he continued in his
usual health.

Thus far does arsenic resemble antimony, but their affinity is still
more strongly asserted by Hoffman. While, says he, the sulphureous part
of antimony is intimately combined with the arsenical or reguline[39];
it cannot exert its violence. For mineral poisons cannot act or become
noxious, till the poisonous parts are freed from their union with those
which correct their virulence.

But that mineral sulphur has a power of correcting poison, is clearly
proved by that experiment which shews, that arsenic, the greatest poison,
being melted on a slow fire, with an equal portion of mineral sulphur,
is converted into a mass, almost void of virulence; and if regulus
of antimony is fused with an equal portion of the same sulphur, it
immediately loses its drastic power[40].

This theory probably introduced an arsenical medicine into practice at
Berlin, where Hoffman, who was physician to the king of Prussia, resided.
Newman, professor of chymistry and director of the Royal Elaboratory
and Dispensatory in that city, observes, that _chymistry is capable of
converting sundry poisons into remedies; thus the virulent antimonial
regulus is changed, by that art, into the mild diaphoretic antimony;
and some have been hence induced to imagine, that arsenic might also be
corrected and rendered safe, and have even ventured to put so dangerous
a speculation in practice. A preparation of arsenic with nitre has been
actually sold at Berlin, and in other places, under the title of a
specific febrifuge_[41]_._

There is, in many instances, a strong analogy not only between antimony
and orpiment, but the more virulent poison of white arsenic; and those
who have been bold enough to use that poisonous mineral as a medicine,
have found, in its preparations, a more certain and efficacious remedy
than in those of antimony. The illustrious Stahl gives some account of
a famous fever powder, which obtained great reputation in Germany, and
was used by most of the nobility in his neighbourhood. This celebrated
chymist does not deny its great efficacy, but, alarmed by a suspicion of
poison in its composition, earnestly declaims against its use: it was at
length acknowledged to be a preparation of white arsenic[42].

The same fever-powder, or a similar preparation, was used, with great
success, by the German Physicians and Surgeons, in the late Flanders
war. It was also introduced among the English, but the late Mr. Pringle,
Inspector General of the British hospitals in Flanders, on whose
authority this fact is related, alarmed at the danger and uncertainty
of this remedy, ordered all the preparations of it to be destroyed.
This gentleman acknowledged it had proved successful, but dropsies and
visceral obstructions, which sometimes followed the fevers in which it
was given, were, perhaps unjustly, ascribed to its use.

Some account of an arsenical fever-powder is given by Doctor Werlhoff,
late physician to his Britannic Majesty at Hanover. He mentions its
being recommended from successful experience by Michael Friccius[43],
who had used some drachms of it, and by Sleuogtius[44], who had given it
with safety in fifty cases, but, notwithstanding these and many other
recommendations, he expressly condemns this dangerous remedy[45].

Lemery also affirms, that many diseases have been cured by giving four
grains of white arsenic in a large quantity of water. It operates,
according to this intelligent chymist, by vomiting, in the same manner
as antimony. But he highly disapproves of using it as an internal

Poisons having been lately strongly recommended for the cure of many
obstinate diseases, and generally adopted in practice, the dread of them,
wisely implanted in our nature, is in a great measure banished; and
such is the influence of novelty and fashion, and so much has prejudice
prevailed, that one of the most eminent physicians in Europe has been
disgraced for exposing a practice fraught with danger, and supported by

But though the strong proofs of the poison of antimony, drawn from its
natural history and chymical analysis, should be rejected by prejudice
or scepticism, yet the easy transition of this mineral, by the simplest
processes and slightest accidents, from a salutary medicine to a deadly
poison, has not yet, been seriously denied.

It is found by chymists generally to contain mercury, arsenic, lead,
sulphur, and sometimes copper, silver, and other metals[48]. When it
is melted by fire, or deflagrated with half its weight of nitre, it
becomes a poison. But if antimony, or its regulus, is mixed with an
equal portion of common salt, and calcined with a gentle heat, stirring
it constantly, and afterwards washing it with pure water, it becomes a
gentle diaphoretic.

The mildest preparation of antimony; its white calx, which may be safely
taken to the quantity of some drachms, if melted with an equal portion of
nitre, a little powder of charcoal, and a small quantity of animal fat,
is immediately rendered poisonous.

If antimony is melted with a fourth part of salt of tartar, a salutary
medicine is obtained; but if the same process is performed with two or
three times that quantity of the salt, so nice is the management of this
wonderful mineral, in place of a medicine it becomes a poison[49]

When antimony is combined with other medicines, as it frequently is by
practical physicians, unless the composition is directed with chymical
skill, it may be so changed, or, in the language of the chymists,
decomposed, as totally to alter its usual qualities.

By marine acids the activity of antimonials is increased, and they are
rendered corrosive, or virulently emetic and purgative; but by the
addition of the nitrous acid this virulence is diminished or destroyed,
and they become mild diaphoretics[50].

Such being the uncertainty and variety in the operation of antimonial
preparations, it cannot be improper, since they are now in common
family use, to lay before the public the objections against the general
application of them, which arise from the accurate observations of
the best chymists, and most experienced physicians; since it is not
improbable, that many who deal them out with a liberal hand, and with
the most charitable and benevolent intentions, would dread the danger
of a drug, which though published as an infallible remedy, may, without
great skill and precision in the direction of it, in place of a remedy
become a poison.

But the ultimate decision of this point must depend on the real effects
of antimonial medicines on the human body, which are therefore now to be


_Of the preparations of antimony, and their medical effects._

The limits to which dissertations of this kind ought to be confined will
not permit us to enter into a minute detail of the various antimonial
preparations which may be found in every dispensatory. Those in most
frequent use are calx of antimony, crocus of antimony, antimonial wine,
tartar emetic, and kermes mineral.

The virtues of calx of antimony are variously represented by different
writers, some ascribing to it the power of an excellent diaphoretic,
others asserting that it even proves violently emetic, and others,
among whom is the great Boerhaave, declaring it a mere inert earth
intirely destitute of all medicinal virtue. The College of Physicians
of London, who had formerly directed this preparation, under the title
of diaphoretic antimony, thought proper, because of the various opinions
concerning its operation, to change its name to that of calx of antimony,
till its medicinal qualities should be better ascertained[51].

These different judgments can scarce be supposed to have been delivered
by competent judges concerning the same medicine, but may be accounted
for from the different manner in which the process for making the calx
may have been conducted. The common nitre, with which it is prepared,
contains some portion of sea-salt, and when that abounds, the proportion
of nitre being less, the calx may prove an active remedy[52].

If it is not sufficiently calcined, or perfectly freed from the reguline
parts by washing, such of these as remain, may produce more sensible
effects than are to be expected when it is duly prepared, and hence
perhaps proceed the contradictory opinions of chymists and physicians
concerning this antimonial preparation.

But the assertion of its being a mere inert earth, is not well founded,
since a small dose of it sometimes produces violent effects; and it
may be reduced by fusion, with inflammable fluxes, into pure regulus.
It enters the composition of a medicine described by the judicious
Doctor Morton, with which, in three instances, he cured an obstinate
intermitting fever. In one case the disease was of two years standing,
and in all of them had resisted a diligent and skilful application of
the Peruvian bark. But these were the only opportunities he had of trying
it; for having never met with any other case in which that excellent
febrifuge disappointed his expectation, he deemed it an unpardonable
wantonness to use a precarious remedy, while he was possessed of one more
certain and efficacious[53]. It is also recommended by Van Swieten in the
peripneumony, as a deobstruent and expectorant[54].

Crocus of antimony is made by deflagrating equal parts of antimony
and nitre: it operates as a violent emetic when given from two to six
grains. A preparation of this kind, recommended to the London College of
Physicians by one of their own members, under the title of milder crocus
of antimony, as a medicine of mild operation and eminently efficacious,
was inserted in their Dispensatory; but the committee appointed to review
and correct it having had some comparative trials reported to them of
this and the common crocus, which rendered them dubious of their effects,
were induced to leave the matter to be further examined[55].

It is seldom prescribed: but an extraordinary cure is said to have been
performed by the milk of an ass that had drank water in which it was
accidently infused[56]; and from such an improbable story, an eminent
physician was induced to use the milk of a goat which drank the same kind
of water.

Antimonial wine was formerly ordered, in the London Dispensatory, to be
made, by infusing an ounce of powdered glass of antimony in two pints of
claret; and is commended by Salmon, as a strong vomit, under the name of
vinum rubellum.

The vinum benedictum is made by infusing an ounce of crocus metallorum
in a pint and an half of Spanish white wine. A third form is, to digest
two ounces of regulus of antimony in three pints of white wine. This
last preparation is declared by Salmon to be an excellent medicine in
fevers and agues, and in obstructions of the bowels, emptying them of
all evil humours. It perfectly cures the falling-sickness, convulsions,
cramps, gout, sciatica and almost all other disorders. Another tincture
of antimony is directed by the same author, and is said, on account of
its many virtues, to be a gift sent from God. It cures the plague and
all pestilential fevers. A tincture of antimony is also directed by Basil
Valentine, eight drops of which are said to be a remedy for all diseases.

The simple infusion of crocus, glass, or regulus of antimony in wine, if
not more efficacious, is at least less dangerous than those preparations
which are made by more elaborate chymical processes, since the accuracy
and attention of those who prescribe it, will not so readily be defeated
by the carelessness or ignorance of an operative chymist. But though
it may be given with greater safety than other antimonials, yet the
extravagant encomiums bestowed upon it are contradicted by the testimony
of the faithful, attentive and judicious Sydenham. That candid physician
expresses his wishes, that instead of the infusion of crocus of antimony,
we had safer vomits sufficiently efficacious. When called to infants, and
observing a vomit indicated, whereby they might have been preserved from
danger, he durst not give this infusion for fear of bad consequences. He
was cautious of giving it, even to grown people, though, when plentifully
diluted, he found no ill effect from it; but he positively declares that,
in a continued fever, it is by no means safe to give it to children under
the age of fourteen; and expects no other benefit from it, than what
might be obtained by milder emetics[57].

But the obsolete opinions of the universal efficacy of antimonial wine,
although expressly contradicted by the chaster judgement of Sydenham,
were again revived in their full force by Dr. Huxham. In the year 1737
he recommended the vinum benedictum, in a manner that might rather
have been expected from the mystical chymists, in times of ignorance
and superstition, than from an able and experienced physician, in a
liberal and enlightened age[58]. As he had obtained much influence and
authority in his profession, his earnest recommendation could not fail
widely to extend the use of this medicine in regular practice; and when
further experience induced him to speak of it in more moderate terms,
and physicians to look out for less precarious remedies, a new and
infallible antimonial medicine, known by the name of the fever-powder,
was published, which brought us again back to the abuse of antimonial
preparations, which had already been often exploded.

That which next became fashionable, as having the greatest supposed
resemblance, in its operation, to the celebrated fever-powder, was
tartar emetic. It is prepared by boiling equal quantities of washed
crocus of antimony and crystals of tartar in water. This, as being
soluble in liquids, is said to be less precarious in its effects than
the other solid preparations; yet the strength of it greatly depends
upon the manner of conducting the process, for some of the tartar, in
the ordinary method, will be apt to shoot by itself, retaining little
of the crocus. Some have therefore advised, as soon as the solution is
filtered, to carry the evaporation much further than is usually done, if
not to the total exhalation of the liquor[59]. Its effects, however, are
uncertain, six or eight grains sometimes proving a mild emetic; though
in other cases, I have seen half a grain operate so severely as to bring
on violent convulsions, and Newman has known three or four grains prove

Fatal consequences have also happened from want of attention to the
different methods of preparing this medicine. A Dutch physician, being
accustomed to an emetic tartar made with salt of tartar, which was given
in doses of ten, twelve, or fifteen grains, prescribed a like dose from a
German shop, by which the patient vomited to death[60].

Kermes mineral, a preparation similar to golden sulphur of antimony, has
been vended as a quack medicine in France and Germany, under the title of
Mineral Centaury, Kermes or Alkermes Mineral, or Poudre des Chartreu, and
in England by that of Wilson’s Panacæa, and Russel’s Powder.

The king of France was at length persuaded by M. Dodart, his first
physician, to purchase it from M. La Ligerie, a surgeon at Paris, and it
was made publick in the year 1720: but, like all other catholicons, has
lost its consequence since the secret has been divulged, and the medicine
found to be a well-known preparation described by Glauber,[61] and the
elder Lemery.[62]

How long this medicine was used by the mystical chymists cannot be known,
since they seldom communicated any of their processes excepting for a
valuable consideration, and under the strictest obligation to secresy.
But Cristopher Farnner, who was a humble retainer of Glauber’s, on the
small stock of chymical knowledge which he had gleaned from him and from
a servant whom he seduced to betray his master and discover his secrets,
attempted to become his rival, and set the process for making the golden
sulphur of antimony to sale, at the price of thirty rixdollars. Glauber,
incensed at his treachery, published his own improved method of preparing
this medicine, which he calls a Panacea of common antimony, and it has
since under different names, and with some variation, been transcribed
into most of the chymical books[63].

According to Geoffroy, as well as the earlier chymists, it was esteemed
an universal medicine. It sometimes vomits, often purges, and generally
operates by sweat and urine; in a word, says this celebrated writer, it
promotes the feveral evacutions, according to the different channels by
which nature may be disposed to throw of the vitiated humours.

It is recommended in the small-pox and measles, in obstinate autumnal
intermittents, in spitting of blood, and other pulmonary complaints, in
chronic diseases arising from obstructions in the bowels, in dropsies and
in the bloody-flux. It is made by boiling antimony repeatedly in water,
with a certain proportion of alcaline salt, and owes its virtues to a
portion of regulus being rendered soluble in water[64].

But this manner of preparing it is condemned by Hoffman; who affirms,
that the reguline or arsenical parts are not sufficiently sheathed by the
sulphureous, as appears from many circumstances which he mentions, but
especially from its violent emetic quality. He recommends a different
process, by which he supposes the sulphur to be so blended with the
reguline, or arsenical particles as to render it a mild and effectual

The fate of antimony and its preparations has been as various as the
reports concerning their efficacy are contradictory. They have been
ranked among the wonders of the world, and their virtues extolled
beyond all probability. They have again been proscribed as baneful, and
prohibited under the severest penalties.

Those who used antimony in Rome were sent to the gallies. It was
prohibited in France by an edict of parliament in 1566; and in 1609 a
physician was expelled the faculty of Paris for prescribing it. The
edict was repealed in 1650, and it was again received into the number
of purgatives; but this having been found inconvenient or dangerous,
its general use was prohibited by a new edict in 1668, and it was only
permitted to be prescribed by Doctors of the faculty.

The opinions of different authors on this subject have not been more
various than those of the same person at different times. In the year
1737 Dr. Huxham asserts, without reserve, that no medicine is more safe
or more efficacious than Vinum Benedictum, which, from a supposition
of its possessing all the powers of this mineral, he calls essence of
antimony[65]. But after almost twenty years further experience, he
declares, whoever would give antimony with safety and success, should be
well acquainted with its analysis and component principles, and should
know what different combinations, preparations, and doses, will effect,
otherwise it may prove a poison instead of a remedy[66].

From what has already been advanced, it will not be difficult to account
for these contradictory reports. Different specimens of antimony when dug
out of the mines are not made up of the same component parts; and it is
so changed by fusion, that different pieces of the same lump are not of
equal virtue[67]. There are few antimonial preparations which may not
be made by various processes, none of which can be conducted with such
accuracy as uniformly to produce a medicine of invariable strength, and
their operation is rendered yet more precarious by their combination with
a variety of humours, food, drink and medicines in the stomach.

But since no judgment can be formed from the opposite and contradictory
opinions of others, it may now be proper to mention the result of my own
experience and observation. In one instance, I have seen a dangerous
pleuritic fever, of seven days standing, accompanied with an incessant
cough, a hard, full, quick pulse, laborious breathing, and violent pain
in the breast, perfectly cured in a few hours by the use of antimonial

A dropsy of two years standing, occasioned by a tedious remitting fever,
and accompanied with an obstruction in the liver, which had withstood
the diligent application of a variety of medicines, under the direction
of several skilful practitioners, was cured in a few days by a medicine
which owed its efficacy to tartar emetic[69].

An obstinate dysentery, which had long resisted many other methods of
cure, was perfectly removed by two doses of the vitrum antimonii ceratum.

Encouraged by these signal instances of the efficacy of antimonial
medicines, and by the universal prejudice in their favour, I have used
them in many thousand cases, but never, even in slighter diseases with
the same success. When given with much attention and caution, they have
generally failed where milder medicines have proved effectual, and in
some instances they have been prejudicial.

In a recent dropsy and visceral obstructions occasioned by a remitting
fever, tartar emetic was prescribed not only without success, but with
an apparent aggravation of the symptoms, which were afterwards perfectly
removed by the use of Peruvian bark, snake-root and rhubarb[70].

I have been desired to visit children and some grown persons in fevers,
attended with convulsions, which were, with good reason, attributed to
the misapplication of antimonials, and in one case an imprudent use of
them was judged to be the cause of death.

Though it is asserted that antimonial preparations may be so directed as
to vomit, purge, or sweat according to the intention of the prescriber,
yet those who have had much experience will not obstinately defend the
assertion, since nothing perhaps is more difficult than to foretel
their effects when administered alone. If they are combined with other
medicines their operation may be more certainly directed, since by opium
they may be determined to the skin, by senna or manna they may be carried
off by the intestines, and by an addition of ipecacuan or oxymel of
squills they may be rendered emetic.

But much prudence and skill are requisite in conducting the operation
of these compound medicines. For tho’ no danger were to be apprehended
from joining antimonials with emetics or purgatives, yet, by unskilful
combinations, the peculiar efficacy of antimony may be destroyed; and
by opiates those virulent particles may be retained, and prove noxious,
which would have been carried off, without any other inconvenience than
what might arise from the violence of their operation.

Upon the whole, the evidence in favour of antimony and its preparations
is too slight to justify the exaggerated encomiums with which it has been
extolled: it contains in its crude state, and in all its preparations,
such virulent particles as may, by slight accidents, become poisonous in
the stomach: well-attested instances of remarkable cures performed by
it are few; cases in which it has failed or been prejudicial, numerous;
the reports of chymists and physicians concerning it are various and
contradictory; its effects are precarious, and more skill, experience
and attention requisite to conduct its operation than are to be expected
among the generality, even of regular practitioners[71]. It is therefore
very improper for common use; and as there is no certain rule to direct
the management of it, every physician must form his judgment by comparing
his own observations with the opposite and contradictory assertions of

It would be imprudent to reprobate a medicine which, in some instances,
has certainly performed such cures as are seldom obtained by milder
methods. No bounds are to be fixed to discreet and experienced
practitioners, who, on mature deliberation, may determine the propriety
of hazarding, in particular circumstances, a violent and precarious
remedy, and can conduct its operation with skill and sagacity. Yet the
present indiscriminate use of antimony, which is now grown up into a
fashion too formidable to be attacked with much hope of success, must,
after a candid and impartial examination, be condemned as pernicious.


_Of the Secret Antimonial Medicines, and particularly of the

If the difficulty of conducting the operation of antimony, renders the
general application of it, in regular practice, dangerous, it must, as
a secret remedy, in the hands of those who have no medicinal skill, be
still more pernicious. But as some secrets, now, universally extolled,
are avowed, by their proprietors, to be preparations of antimony, let us
next proceed to examine their claim to the high character which they have
obtained. For this purpose the fever-powder may be selected, since if the
impropriety and danger of its general use should be demonstrated, the
arguments in favour of less celebrated secrets will not require a serious

Unpleasing as the task may be, and however odious, to some, it may render
the man who undertakes it, yet the great importance of life and health
requires, that the precepts of the most illustrious physicians should not
pass without examination, nor secret and mysterious remedies be adopted
with implicit faith.

The devout solemnity with which the fever-powder is ushered into the
world, the exorcisms against detractors and malicious persecutors, and
the invocation of God to support his own work, being in the usual stile
of the mystical chymists, require no comment. _As there may be some_,
says the Inventor, _whose lucrative views may tempt them to persecute me,
and the method I propose, with all the detraction and falsehood which
may be expected from self-interest and unprovoked revenge, these I shall
advise to save themselves a good deal of unnecessary trouble, and to let
it alone; for if it be of men it will come to nought, but if it be of
God ye cannot overthrow it_[72]. When magical chymistry and superstition
reigned over the dark ages of ignorance, this charm would have secured it
from all enquiry. But as the sober light of religion and philosophy hath
now illuminated the world, and displayed the absurdity of that servile
bondage which obstructed all improvement, we may, notwithstanding this
solemn prohibition, with candor and modesty, proceed to examine the real
merit of this boasted arcanum.

The process for making it has been carefully concealed, while its being
an antimonial preparation, hath, with industry and ostentation, been
universally published. From the view which has already been given of
the natural history of antimony, its analysis and chymical properties,
its preparations and their medical effects, it has, I think, been
clearly proved, that however efficacious it may have been in particular
circumstances, and under judicious management, yet there is not, in
unskilful hands, a medicine more dangerous and destructive.

By a judicious regulation of the doses of different preparations of
antimony, by guarding against the pernicious effects which might arise
from the virulent particles which it contains, by directing such
food, drink, and medicines as may promote its salutary operation, and
prohibiting those by which it might be rendered noxious; skilful and
experienced physicians have been able, in singular instances, to render
it a safe and efficacious remedy: but when it has been accidentally
or imprudently given in too large doses[73], or joined with such food
or medicines as excite its poisonous qualities[74], it has not only
proved too violent in its operations, but has been productive of fatal

Had, therefore, the Inventor discovered a method of divesting this
Proteus-like mineral of all pernicious qualities, and rendering it a
medicine invariably safe and efficacious, however combined with other
remedies, or mixed with a variety of humours, food, and drink in the
stomach, his powder would have been more proper for common use, and might
have been trusted, in unskilful hands, with less danger, than other
antimonial preparations. But it does not in this respect lay any claim to
superiority. _Supposing_, says the Inventor, _physicians perfectly well
skilled in the preparation and uses of it, that knowledge will inform
them, that nothing can be added to it that will in any degree increase
its virtues; or rather that no addition can be made to it that will not
diminish them_[75].

By this frank declaration we understand that the fever-powder retains
the mutability of antimony, and is, from slight accidents, changed from
a salutary medicine to a noxious substance; and hence proceeds the
Inventor’s anxiety to prevent improper combinations. But the dread of
dangerous consequences, or some other cause, has led him unwarily and
inconsistently to depreciate his powder, and reduce it below all other
antimonial preparations; for though by certain additions the virtues of
antimony may be diminished, yet by others they may be improved; and this,
it is probable, from the known properties of that mineral, will also hold
with the fever-powder, although the contrary is here expressly asserted.

But, lest the assertion should give unfavourable impressions, it is
immediately retracted; and we are told that, _occasion may sometimes
occur of employing, advantageously, a regimen, or even medicine, when
judgment directs and integrity presides_[76]. and again: _It sometimes
happens, when little or no putrid bile is contained in the stomach,
bowels, &c. &c. that the powder, though given in the largest doses, will
have no sensible operation of any kind whatever. In these cases half, or
a whole paper should be repeated every four or six hours. But on those
occasions, it will be proper to procure two stools in twenty four hours,
either by a clyster, which is the most easy way, or by giving, with every
dose of the powder, from five to ten grains of rhubarb_[77]_. But in
some constitutions where a putrid bile has very much abounded, and for
this reason the stimulus of the medicine, added to that of the bile, has
been apt to operate more than was sufficient, it has been necessary to
reduce the dose so low as two or three grains_[78]: and thus, after a
series of contradictions, the fever-powder, as might have been expected,
is declared to require the addition of other medicines, and to be as
uncertain in its operation as other antimonials.

These contradictions are suspicious, but if the efficacy of the medicine
is confirmed by authentic facts, the Inventor may still be intitled to
our confidence; and for this purpose some cases are related in which
it was successfully used: the first is that of Mrs. Morton, on which
it is remarked, that _many gentlewomen were present during her whole
disorder, saw her take the medicine, observed the effects, and are ready
to give their testimony to the truth of what has been asserted_. From
what has been advanced on this subject, it clearly appears, that the
operation of antimony is precarious, and its effects uncertain. Not
only the most skilful physicians have given various and contradictory
opinions concerning it, but the judgment of the same person has varied
at different times[79]: it is not therefore to be expected, that a fact,
which has not yet been agreed upon by the most intelligent and attentive
practitioners, should be ascertained by these charitable _gentlewomen_,
who, however sincere and humane their intentions might be, cannot be
supposed to have any pretensions to that critical and discriminating
skill which is necessary to determine a question so intricate. The
Inventor therefore, in offering to the publick a proof so incompetent,
must have relied on that credulity which, though generally abused, is
still continued.

But though the cases had been attested by competent judges, yet the
inferences in favour of the powder are not warranted by the circumstances
related. Thus Mr. French of St. Albans street, late Surgeon of his
Majesty’s ship the Levant, “_having given tartar emetic and other
medicines unsuccessfully, prescribed the powder on the fourth day of
the fever: it was continued on the fifth, and on the evening of that
day, the fever being entirely removed, on account of the lowness and
weakness of the patient, a drachm of bark was given every hour in a
glass of Madeira_[80].” The misrepresentation, in this case, is evident,
since the cure must be attributed, by candid and intelligent judges,
not to the powder, but to the bark and Madeira; and the slovenliness of
the deception is an insult to the credulity of the publick, as this is
perhaps the only instance in which it has been pretended, on account of
lowness and weakness, to give every hour a drachm of bark in a glass of

These are not the only circumstances in which the evidence is deceitful;
successful cases are industriously published, while those ending fatally
are carefully concealed. The medicine is frequently given in slight
disorders which could not, even by improper management, be rendered
dangerous, and when the sick recover, its praise is loudly proclaimed.

Those who use it often become insensibly interested in advancing its
reputation, and are not only incompetent judges, but partial in their
testimony. Thus some who, with horror and remorse have applied for
assistance, accusing themselves of murder, and vowing, for ever, to
renounce quackery, have afterwards triumphed and assumed the credit of
cures of which they had absolutely despaired, though the sick were, by
other means, rescued from the danger incurred by the severe operation of
this violent remedy; while others, shocked by the fatal consequences of
their facility and misplaced confidence, wish to banish it for ever from
their remembrance. The cases must therefore be dismissed as insufficient
to justify the claim of infallibility to this antimonial preparation.

A proof of its salutary influence is attempted to be drawn from the
bills of mortality. Fewer having, on an average, died in the space of
thirteen years, from the year one thousand seven hundred and fifty,
to the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty-three, than in the
preceding thirteen years; this decrease in the funerals amounting to
sixty-two thousand, two-hundred and sixty-six, is attributed to the

It might with some plausibility be objected, that the bills of mortality
being collected from the reports of incompetent judges, cannot be
admitted as proper evidence of the fact; but as no extraordinary skill
seems necessary for the employment, and as the bills cannot be supposed
to be made up with any partial intention, this argument must be
admitted; and if the deaths, by fevers, shall be found to have decreased,
in so great proportion, since the powder has been in general use, its
reputation will be established by the most desirable evidence.

In collecting this proof, the whole circle of disorders, accidents
and casualties has been calculated, though the powder was then only
recommended for fevers. It has, indeed, been since extended to other
diseases, but our examination shall be restricted to fevers, during the
period to which the Inventor refers.

Though some of the cases which he relates happened in the year one
thousand seven hundred and forty-one, yet the medicine was not much
known till one thousand seven hundred and fifty, the æra from which its
auspicious influence on the bills of mortality is dated. But antimonial
medicines were more in fashion before the powder came into general use,
than at any future time. Dr. Huxham having, in the year one thousand
seven hundred and thirty-seven, recommended, in the highest strain of
panegyric, the vinum benedictum, it was universally adopted, though
expressly condemned by the Inventor of the fever-powder. _Great numbers_,
says he, _of those whose employment it is to attend the sick, cunningly
exhibited to their patients something, which they asserted was like the
fever-powder, and would do as well. I leave it to the relations of those
who took the something, to judge the consequence, for I suppose few or
none of them who were thus treated survive_[82].

The something, it is well known, was essence of antimony or tartar
emetic, medicines under the direction of prudent practitioners, similar
in their operation and in their effects, not only to each other, but
also to the fever-powder; and though the Inventor has perhaps too much
indulged his indignation against his competitors in the antimonial
trade, yet his general position, concerning the fatal consequences of
the universal administration of antimonial medicines, is well supported
by the evidence to which he has appealed, the bills of mortality having
greatly increased during the prevalence of that practice.

The numbers of those who died of fevers from the year one thousand seven
hundred and thirty-eight, to one thousand seven hundred and fifty,
including a series of thirteen years, is fifty-five thousand four hundred
and ninety, and those in a like series of years, immediately succeeding,
is thirty-six thousand three hundred and seventy-two; consequently
nineteen thousand one hundred and eighteen fewer have died in the latter
than in the former period, and this has, with some appearance of justice,
been urged as a proof of the efficacy of the fever-powder.

But if this decrease in the funerals were actually owing to that
medicine, it should have been still more observable in the last ten
years, when the powder has been more universally used. But, in that
period, thirty-five thousand four hundred and ninety-four have died,
and consequently, the number of deaths, by fevers, have increased
eight thousand seven hundred and eighty; and if inflammation, rash,
and sore-throat, which were included in the former calculations, are
added, the number will amount, nearly, to ten thousand, and therefore,
on an average, _one thousand, or near one-third_ more have died, of
fevers, _every year_, in the last ten years, while the medicine has
been universally used, than in the thirteen immediately preceding. The
proof, therefore, from the bills of mortality is fatal to the fame of the
fever-powder, and the decrease in the funerals during the thirteen years
to which the Inventor appeals for the success of his antimonial powder,
must be attributed to the desertion of the antimonial practice, and not
to its prevalence.

But an appeal to the sum-total of the funerals, to prove the efficacy
of the fever-powder, is unfair and inconclusive, since a great number
of deaths happen from disorders, accidents and casualties with which it
cannot possibly have any connection. That it might have a fair trial, our
calculation has been restricted to fevers; and if the other diseases, in
which it is recommended, had been included, the evidence would have been
still more unfavourable.

Another argument in favour of the powder is, _if it had not been attended
with general success, it could not, amidst the opposition of Physicians,
have grown into reputation_. But transitions, from the highest
approbation of antimony, to the absolute condemnation of it, have been
so frequent, and are so familiar to those acquainted with its history,
that no conclusion can be drawn from its casual reputation, or transitory
condemnation; and since, in the course of our enquiry, no advantage has
been taken of the penal laws enacted against its use, nor of the public
edicts by which it has been prohibited, neither can any concession be
made on account of the transient applause, _artfully_, obtained to some
of its preparations.

As to the opposition of physicians, the Inventor, indeed, that the
prophecy with which he set out might be fulfilled[83], complains, that
all laws human and divine, have been trampled upon in opposing him; that
he has been persecuted with _malice, rancour, virulence, detraction
and unprovoked revenge_, and that his enemies have not only sacrificed
_candour, honour, truth and reputation_, but even the _lives_ committed
to their care, in order to discredit his boasted arcanum[84].

Were we not witnesses of his triumph, we should naturally conclude that
he had suffered as a martyr in the cause of truth and humanity. Yet we
find, in his Dissertation, many cases in which the powder was given
under the sanction of eminent physicians, and these, too, produced by
the author, in proof of its efficacy; though by his own account of the
medicine, it is of all others the most improper to be used without an
accurate knowledge of its composition, and cannot therefore be prescribed
by physicians on any justifiable principles; although they may, from
facility or complaisance, yield to the importunity and prejudice of the
sick or their relations, and assent, even against their better judgement,
to its administration.

_When the fever-powder is given_, says the Inventor, _no other medicine
should be taken either with it, or during the course of it. For want of
this caution many have perished. For it may be depended upon, that in the
state of credit in which it has at present the honour of standing amongst
many of the medicinal worthies, nothing is meant by any addition, but
to counteract or discredit the powder at the expence of the patient’s
life. It is usual for them to say, that they are acquainted with the
preparation of the medicine, or that they cannot use a medicine that they
do not know, just as either favours the present intention and purpose.
Now let us suppose they do not know it, which is very true; by what
conjuration, magic, or inspiration are they taught a method of improving,
by adding something to a medicine, of which they are so totally ignorant,
that they choose to suffer their friends to perish rather than employ

It may be left to the Author to explain how those physicians, who do not
use the powder, _kill_ their friends, by adding something to counteract
or discredit it, while from his own declaration, we may fairly conclude
that those who _do use it_, must, in _his_ opinion, be destitute either
of judgment or integrity. _For supposing them_, says he, _perfectly well
skilled in the preparation and uses of it, their behaviour is, for this
very reason, abundantly more infamous. For the same knowledge would
inform them, that no addition can be made to it that will not diminish
its virtues_[86].

But so far is this heinous charge of committing _murder_ to discredit
the powder from being supported by any shadow of proof, that physicians,
on the contrary, have been complaisant to excess, or culpably indolent,
in suffering the many _misrepresentations_ concerning this medicine to
pass uncensured and unexposed; and those who, from the most laudable
principles, have refused to adopt it, are wanting to themselves, to
their profession, and to the public, in neglecting to explain the
honourable principles on which they have acted; while others from
different motives, _which they can best justify to themselves_, have
acquired fame and fortune by a _studied_ compliance with the popular
prejudices in favour of this fashionable remedy.

In the course of more than twenty years practice, though I have never
prescribed this medicine, yet, I have not, after fairly declaring my
opinion, opposed its being given, when desired by the sick or their
relations; and as the cure, where I have been concerned, has been wholly
committed to it, without the addition of any medicine, or even regimen,
excepting what is prescribed in the printed directions, or what the
Inventor himself has ordered, some fair opportunities have occurred of
observing its effects, to which, and to every other information that
could be obtained, with a mind open to conviction, I have carefully
attended. But in this, as in all our former researches, the evidence has
been unfavourable to the fame of the powder.

In some instances it has occasioned fainting, convulsions, and other
violent symptoms, which terrified those who gave it. In all which I
have seen, it has proved unsuccessful, though, in some cases the cure
has afterwards been accomplished by safer methods; and in those where
it was too late to use other remedies, the sick have died, although it
was probable they might have recovered by a different management, which
has succeeded in similar instances, but from an abused and misplaced
confidence, has too often been set aside to make way for this favourite

An argument still remains in favour of the powder drawn from the credit
due to its Inventor. If that is impeached by what has already been
advanced, it is only by the force of the evidence, since all personal
application has been avoided. But as the reputation of the medicine
is chiefly supported by an implicit confidence in the Inventor, it is
necessary, however unpleasing, that this should also be considered.

When our assent is demanded, on the credibility of the relator, to any
fact which we are not permitted to examine, we can only judge of its
probability from his known accuracy and ability. Several specimens of
these have occurred in the course of our enquiry. Quotations have been
misrepresented[87]. Authorities misapplied[88]. Evidence produced which
establishes facts, directly opposite to those in support of which it is
perverted[89]. Palpable contradictions have been pointed out[90]; and an
air of mystery and devotion detected, the tendency of which, when joined
to a train of suspicious circumstances, cannot be mistaken[91].

But the inaccuracy betrayed in the directions given with the powder,
is sufficient to put us on our guard. _The best general and plain
direction_, we are told, _is to repeat half a paper, or ten grains and
a half of the powder once in six hours[92], but in South America they
seldom give less than twenty_, which the Inventor _thinks right_[93],
yet when it fell under the direction of the navy-surgeons, the general
rule which was avowedly intended, and is still continued, for the common
people, was found to be fraught with danger, and the Inventor admits
that it has been necessary to reduce the dose so low as two or three
grains[94], thereby acknowledging _the best plain general direction, to
be a very improper one for the common people_, since no good reason can
be assigned, why ten or twenty-one grains should be given by those who
have no medical skill, though it is judged necessary to warn others, who
may be supposed capable of conducting its operation, and detecting and
counteracting its pernicious effects, of the necessity of reducing it, in
some cases, to two or three grains. The only solution of this parodox,
is, _there is one faith for the learned, and another for the unlearned_.

But not to insist on the contradictions abounding in this dissertation,
one more only shall be mentioned. No addition, it has been said, can be
made to this medicine, by which its virtues will not be diminished, and
that assertion has again been retracted; but as one affirmation is as
good as another, that there may be no doubt which is to be credited, the
Inventor _being extremely cautious of leading any one into error in an
affair of so much importance as is that of life, thinks it imprudent to
neglect repeated bleeding, purges, clysters, and all other assistances
which the art of medicine can afford_[95], and is _obliged to own,
that, as he esteemed life too sacred to be hazarded for the sake of an
experiment, he had never neglected to call in all other medical aids
to his assistance when he thought the case required them, and believed
they would of service_[96]. But though he is _extremely cautious_, and
though _life_ is too sacred to be hazarded, yet the experiment of using
the powder without any addition or aid, is still to be tried _throughout
the whole British dominions, and in other parts of the world, where our
commerce has conveyed it_[97], excepting by the Inventor and the Navy
Surgeons, _who being persons versed in practice will readily distinguish
when the rules laid down are punctually to be followed and when not_[98].

The real motives assigned for these contradictions and this mysterious
conduct, _waving whatever artifices might be employed by way of
palliation or disguise, are represented without reserve, and with that
sincerity which will stand the strictest scrutiny_. The Inventor _was
very cautious of divulging a medicine of such vast importance, because if
it failed of success, it would subject him to infinite reproach. He was
so ignorant as to expect assistance and applause from every one concerned
in any branch of physic, not considering that a miliary or nervous fever
of twenty days continuance, was attended with greater emoluments than
one that terminated in two or three. But he had soon an opportunity of
discovering his error, for some became his avowed enemies, without the
least pretence to any provocation; whilst others, with the countenance
of friendship, pointed a dagger to his breast_[99], and therefore, after
a contest between simplicity and caution, ignorance and shrewdness,
the unsuspecting Inventor _thought it time prudently to consult his
own interest, and the advancement of his private fortune, by securing
to himself the exclusive privilege, and putting it out of the power of
others to disguise, misrepresent, deny, or forge facts_[100].

Thus, from the parade, ostentation, and mysterious secrecy, with which
this medicine has been published, from its resemblance to the Berlin
specific febrifuge, from its being prepared from an arsenical mineral,
and easily converted into a noxious substance; from the difficulty
of ascertaining the dose, and conducting its operation, and from the
necessity of calling in other medical aids to its assistance; from the
incompetency of the generality of the witnesses in its favour; from
the unfair conclusions drawn from their testimony; from the dangerous
symptoms and fatal consequences, which have followed its administration;
from the inaccuracy and inconsistency of its Inventor; and from the
increase of the bills of mortality during its general use, it appears,
not only, that no proof of its salutary efficacy has been produced, but
that many circumstances and facts, which have been perverted to that
purpose, concur to demonstrate its general and indiscriminate application
to be highly dangerous to mankind, to whom, to borrow the language of
the Inventor, _it is not material, whether they lose their lives by
ignorance, mistake, or design_.


[1] Prelati enim, et fratres, me jejuniis macerantes tuto custodiebant,
nec aliquem ad me venire voluerant, veriti ne scripta mea, aliis quam
summo pontifici et sibi ipsis pervenirent. Epistola Rogeri Bacon ad
Clement. IV.

[2] Triumphal Chariot of Antimony.

[3] Id. p. 3, and p. 118.

[4] Paracelsus.

[5] Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, p. 93.

[6] Poppius’s Basilica Antimonii, Newman’s Chemistry, &c. &c.

[7] New Dispensatory, p. 21.

[8] Dr. James describes cobalt, from which the most virulent kind of
arsenic is extracted, a ponderous, hard, fossil substance, almost black,
not unlike antimony. Universal English Dispensatory, p. 288.

[9] Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, p. 37.

[10] See Schroder’s Pharmacopœia, Poppius’s Basilica Antimonii.

[11] Philosophical Furnaces, book i. and ii. and Mineral Work, part first.

[12] Ninth chapter of the first book of Surgery.

[13] Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, p. 187.

[14] Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, p. 188 and 189.

[15] Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, p. 64.

[16] Ibid. p. 49.

[17] Lemery Cours de Chymie, p. 283. Geoffrey’s Treatise of the Materia
Medica, tom. i. p. 41. Poppius Basil. cap. 8. p. 216, Newman’s Chymistry,
New Dispensatory, &c.

[18] Geoffroy Memoires de l’Academie des Sciences 1735.

[19] Dr. James’s Dispensatory, page 282.

[20] New Dispensatory, page 236.

[21] Cronstedt’s Essay toward a System of Mineralogy, translated by Da
Costa, Sect. 135. p. 223. London 1772.

[22] See p. 14. Cronstedt’s Essay, sect. 236, and the New Dispensatory.

[23] Newman’s Chymistry, New Dispensatory, &c.

[24] Cronstedt’s Essay toward a System of Mineralogy, p. 223, 224.
Stahl on the Arsenical Substance of Antimony. Hoffman of the wonderful,
virulent and medical powers of Antimony, and the easy transition from one
to the other.

[25] Id. Ibid.

[26] Stahl’s Chymico-Physico-Medical Works, page 488-591. On the
arsenenical substance of antimony.

[27] New Dispensatory, page 343.

[28] New Dispensatory, p. 85 and 86.

[29] Basilica Antimonii, in the Appendix to Hartman’s Chymistry, p. 896.

[30] See the fifth part of the Philosophical Furnaces.

[31] Vol. I. Of the Theory of Chymistry, p. 31, of sulphureous

[32] Chymical Dictionary on the Ores of Antimony.

[33] Cronstedt’s Essay toward a System of Mineralogy, translated by Da
Costa. London, 1772.

[34] Compare Glauber’s account of the effect of orpiment cups, in page
31, with that of essence of antimony in the fourth section.

[35] Mais quelquefois il se (antimoine) rencontre avec des sels acides
qui l’ouvrent, (dans l’estomach, et dans les intestines) luy donnent
une nouvelle fermentation, et lui sont produire des super-purgations
incommodes. Traîte de l’antimoine, par M. Nicholas Lemery, p. 7.

[36] Dr. James’s, in his Dispensatory, page 285.

[37] Observationes Physico-Chymicæ, p. 233.

[38] We are told by Newman, that the utmost caution is necessary to avoid
the fumes of arsenic, and that it is on account of the danger arising
from them that this mineral has been so little examined by the chymists;
but according to Dr. Percival’s late observations, they seem to have been
mistaken. I have, says he, some doubt, whether the vapours of arsenic
be so poisonous as is commonly supposed, and if the candid reader will
excuse the digression, I will lay before him my reasons for it. To solder
works of silver filligree, and other delicate manufactures of that kind,
a composition is used of which arsenic is the principal ingredient. The
solder is melted by the flame of a lamp, directed by a blow-pipe; and
this operation cannot be performed with due accuracy, but in a close
room. The greatest part of the arsenic is evaporated by the blast and
flames, and some part also of the rest of the solder. The workmen must
constantly breath these vapors, because there is little or no current of
air to carry them into the chimney. Yet the men appear to enjoy as good
health, and to live as long as other artists who pursue their business
in close rooms, and use lamps. Amongst other examples of the truth of
this observation, I saw one lately at the manufactory at Soho, near
Birmingham: a man, aged upwards of fifty years, who has soldered silver
filigree more than five and thirty years, and has regularly passed from
eight to twelve hours daily in his occupation, and is at present fat,
strong, active, chearful, and of a complexion by no means sickly. Neither
he, nor his brother artists, use any means to counteract the effects of
their trade. Dr. Percival’s Observations and Experiments on the Poison of
Lead, p. 75, 76, and 77, London, 1774.

[39] The word reguline signifies royal, and has been applied by chymists
to the harder or more fixed parts of minerals or metals. Hoffman uses
reguline and arsenical indifferently when applied to antimony; and
Carthusier asserts that the intimate union of the reguline part with
the arsenical principle of antimony, is the cause of its being caustic,
drastic, emetic, and virulent.

La parte reguline est etroitement unie au principe arsenical, qu’elle
est par elle-meme caustique drastique, emetique, et virulente. Matiere
Medicalle, tom. ii. sect. xv. chap. v. De l’antimoine crud. A Paris, 1765.

[40] Observationes Physico-Chymicæ, p. 251 & 252.

[41] Newman, p. 146.

[42] Opuscula Chymico-Physico-Medica, p. 434-441.

[43] In a treatise on the medical virtues of poisons, published in 1702.

[44] In an inaugural speech printed in 1700. This and the last quoted
author I have not seen.

[45] Observations, on fevers, p. 42, and 204, published at Hanover in

[46] Cours de Chemie, p. 374.

[47] This matter is explained in a letter from Doctor De Haen, of Vienna,
to a physician in England. I have, _says this celebrated physician_,
made many experiments with hemlock, in consequence of an order from
high authority: the result was, that not one of one hundred and twenty
patients was cured or relieved by it; many grew worse, and seven unhappy
women, with cancers in their breasts, perished in my hands, some of whom
might have been saved by the knife. How did I intreat those to whom
it belonged to use more precaution, or at least to suspend publishing
in praise of poisons, till repeated trials had been made by several
hands, lest the public faith should be abused, and the author rendered
ridiculous in the face of the universe. But my remonstrances were
fruitless, and, to my great concern, my best friend abruptly fell out
with me, and I have incurred the disgrace of the best of sovereigns.

Since I have spoke my sentiments freely, I am looked upon as the chief of
heretics, as an enemy of the public and of the author’s reputation; and
for this reason I have been unhappily disgraced, and defamatory libels,
of the most virulent kind, have been printed against me. I expect yet
more terrible storms; however, I adore that Providence which directs
all for his glory and my good, from whom I should deserve a disgrace
infinitely more fearful than that which I now suffer, if for the sake of
transitory glory, perishable treasures, or tranquillity of life, that may
be taken from me in this world, I _should become a confederate with those
who have thus infamously abused the publick confidence, to the disgrace
of physick_. See Medical Museum, vol. III. London, 1764.

[48] Cronstedt, Hoffman, Stahl, &c. &c.

[49] See Hoffman’s Physico-Chymical Observations. Of the wonderful,
virulent and medical powers of antimony, and by what means the one may
easily be changed into the other.

[50] Newman, p. 133. New Dispensatory, p. 343. Geoffroy Tractatus de
Materia Medica, tom. I. p. 234-239.

[51] See a narrative of the proceedings of the committee appointed by the
College of Physicians to review their Pharmacopœia. p. 64.

[52] New Dispensatory, page 347.

[53] See Morton’s Treatise of Acute Diseases, printed at Geneva, 1727.

[54] See Baron Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Vol.
II. p. 797.

[55] See the narrative of the proceedings of the committee appointed by
the College of Physicians to review their Pharmacopœia.

[56] Medical Museum, Vol. III. p. 530. London, 1764.

[57] Sydenhami Opera, p. 67. Lipsiæ, 1695.

[58] Observations made at Plymouth, on the weather and prevailing
diseases from the year one thousand seven hundred and twenty-eight, to
one thousand seven hundred and thirty-seven, p. 140, &c.

[59] Newman, page 137.

[60] Newman’s Chymistry, p. 137.

[61] Geoffroy’s Treatise on the Materia Medica, tom. i. p. 225, and
Glauber’s Apology against the lying calumnies of Christopher Farnner.

[62] Histoire de l’Academie Royalle des Sciences, pour l’anne 1720, and
Lemery, Traîte de l’Antimoine.

[63] See the apology of John Rudolph Glauber, against the lying calumnies
of Cristopher Farnner.

[64] Geoffroy’s Treatise of the Materia Medica, tom. i p. 225.

[65] Observationes de Aere et Morbis Epidemicis ab anno 1728, ad finem
anni 1737, Plymuthi factæ, p. 140, 141, & 142. London. 1752.

[66] Medical and Chymical Observations on Antimony, p. 6 and 75. London.

[67] New Dispensatory, p. 351.

[68] Observations on the prevailing Diseases of Great Britain, part i.
chap. iv. case 2d, p. 34.

[69] Ibid. part 2d, chap. x. p. 305.

[70] Observations on the Diseases of Great Britain, part i. chap. iii.
case x, p. 106.

[71] See p. 49-66.

[72] Dissertation on Fevers, p. 6. London, 1770.

[73] See p. 57 and 58.

[74] See p. 24, 45 and 46.

[75] Introduction to the Dissertation on Fevers, p. 10.

[76] Introduction to the Dissertation on fevers, p. 11.

[77] Dissertation, p. 85.

[78] Dissertation on Fevers, p. 91. Ibid. p. 7.

[79] See p. 62 and 63.

[80] Addenda to the Dissertation.

[81] Introduction to the Dissertation, page 4.

[82] Introduction to the Dissertation, page 4.

[83] See page 72.

[84] Introduction to the Dissertation on Fevers, pages 1st, 2d, and 10th.

[85] Introduction to the Dissertation on Fevers, pages 9, 10.

[86] Introduction to the Dissertation on Fevers, page 10.

[87] See page 18-22.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Ibid. and page 79, 80, 86, and 87.

[90] Page 75-78.

[91] See page 72, and 73.

[92] Dissertation on Fevers, p. 84.

[93] Ibid. p. 81.

[94] Ibid. p. 91.

[95] Dissertation on Fevers, p. 76.

[96] Dissertation on Fevers, p. 70.

[97] Introduction to the Dissertation on Fevers, p. 1.

[98] Dissertation on Fevers, p. 90.

[99] Dissertation on Fevers, p. 72.

[100] Dissertation, p. 72.


The Medical Society of London, have resolved to give an honorary Gold
Medal to the Author of the best Dissertation on fevers.

Gentlemen who become candidates are desired to attend to the following

Dissertations on this subject are to be delivered to the Secretary in
Crane Court, on or before the third Tuesday of April, 1775, written in
a fair hand, and in the English or Latin language, and along with each
a packet (sealed up) containing the name of the Author, and his place
of residence, some motto or device being written on the outside of the
packet, and at the beginning or end of the Dissertation.

It is resolved that the medal shall be publickly adjudged on the fifth
day of June, 1775, after which all the papers, excepting that which
obtains the honorary reward, shall be returned with the packets unopened,
so that all the names excepting that of the successful candidate shall be

_N. B._ No Member of the Society will be admitted a Candidate for the

       *       *       *       *       *

The Medical Society, being instituted for the improvement of medicine in
all its branches, will be obliged to all who shall contribute toward the
execution of their extensive design.

Papers intended for them may be directed to their Secretary in Crane
Court, Fleet Street, or to any of the Members.

       *       *       *       *       *

BOOKS printed for J. JOHNSON, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church-yard; and D.
WILSON, and G. NICOL, opposite to York Buildings, in the Strand.

I. Observations on the prevailing Diseases in Great Britain. Together
with a Review of the History of those of former Periods, and in other
Countries. By John Millar, M. D. Price 12s. in Boards.

II. A Discourse on the best Means of promoting Medical Enquiries,
delivered before the Medical Society at their annual Meeting, on Tuesday
the 18th Jan. 1774. and published at their Request. By James Sims, M. D.

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