NOTE ON DR. PARKIN'S ESSAY ON THE REMOTE CAUSE OF
A WELL-READ correspondent favours us with the following letter 013 Dr. PARKIN'S theory.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
London. 2d December 1841.
Sm-In your criticism of Dr. PARKIN'S book on the Origin of Epidemic Diazases, you neglect to mention that his hypothesis is by no means a new one The majority of the writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries-Fluxes- TON, Msncerus, Mescal/, and others-attributed the epidemics which they described to the agency of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. LEO- NARDO I,I CAPUA (in his Lezioni Intorno alla Natura dells Mofette, No. 35) states that an earthquake caused a fearful pestilence at Rome during the Consulship of MARCUS CORNELIUS and Lucius PAPIRIUS CRASSUS. Accord- log to EUSEDIUS, a like convulsion produced a plague in the imperial city, which carried off ten thousand persons daily ! PLATINA, BARONIUS, and ARNAUD DE VILLENEUVE, mention similar coincidences, and place them in the connexion of cause and effect.
But a more recent and full discussion of the hypothesis in question is to be found in the work of an American writer, Dr. NOAH WEBSTER, which was published at the commencement of the present century, and professes to esta- blish a connexion between the existence of political and epidemic disorders and various phaenomena of external nature, but more especially volcanic eruptions and earthquakes; which, he says, give out deleterious agents to the atmosphere, sometimes locally, at others universally, reappearing at irregular periods. In support of this idea, Dr. WEBSTER cites a number of dates. Between A.M. 480 and the Christian am, several plagues occurred, some of which coincided with the above-named phenomena. Of thirteen comets during this period, eight corresponded with eruptions of Etna, the only volcano mentioned in ancient history, and eleven with pestilence. In further proof, he marks the years of our Lord 80, 167, 252, 375, 400, 445, 542, 590, 639, 679, 682, 745, 762, 802, 905, 994, 1005, 1031, 1044, 1069, 1106, 1135, 1142, 1162, 1181, 1222, 1244, 1300, 1347, 1368, 1400, 1477, 1500, 1531, 1577, 1602, 1625, 1636, 1665, 1692, 1709, 1719, 1722, 1743, 1751, 1760, 1770, 1783, 1789. Earthquake, according to this author, is most generally connected with pestilence ; and volcanic erup- tions next in frequency. From 1631 to 1637, the three great European vol- canoes continued to give out an enormous quantity of lava and fire ; and during that period epidemical sickness pervaded the whole of Europe. The same was observed between 1660 and 1663, and between 1783 and 1786.
NOAH WEBSTER, however, though quite as positive as Dr. PARKIN, is not so exclusive in his theory. For besides the elimination of poisonous matter, he admits that the volcanic action induces other changes of the atmosphere; varied amount of electricity, extreme and rapid diversities of temperature, excessive rains, or heats, &c.; which, singly or in different combinations, stand in the relation of causes to pestilential diseases. With this extension, the theory assumes a much stronger air of probability ; but that is all; and, as you rightly observe, the occasional coincidence alone is as yet proved,-a thing very likely to take place when we consider the great number of eruptions which Etna and Vesuvius have exhibited. DELLA TORRE, in his account of the eruptions of Vesuvius between 79 A.D. and 1800, makes them amount to four hundred: it would be strange indeed if epidemic sickness did not prevail during some of these, the rather as not a few have persisted for years,-that of November 1754, for instance, continuing until 1760. What is your authority for stating that malaria has been analyzed, and its poisonous principles fixed?
I am your obedient servant, J. M. G.
Supposing, which it seems impossible not to suppose, that the
works referred to by our correspondent produce the same im- pression on the mind of a reader before as after an acquaintance with Dr. Palms's theory, the merit of that gentleman's book is re- duced to a very slender kind; for the history of epidemic diseases in conjunction with volcanic and other phenomena appears to have been much more fully done by WEBSTER,-unless it should be the Black Death, which Dr. PARKIN takes from HECKER, and the Cholera, which had not occurred when WEBSTER wrote. The attempt to pass off "a theory at variance with and different from those hitherto broached," * as his own, in the teeth of the facts stated by our correspondent, is the less justifiable, as Dr. Rums was acquainted with Noss WEBSTER'S views; at least he quotes him oftener than once.
We did not say that " malaria," but that " marsh effluvia," had been analyzed. Our authority is Dr. SOUTHWOOD SMITH, in his Report to the Poor-law Commissioners in 1838. We think it is appended to the Commissioners' Report, House of Commons Papers, session 1838, No. 539.
* Parkin, page 7.