"Black Death."


Selected writings of A. Jackson Howe.

This historic article was a timely production at a date when bubonic plague was not so familiar to physicians as it is now. Volumes are now written upon tropical diseases, and the wars of expansion have made necessary redoubled energy lest plagues be brought into this country by returning soldiers from tropical campaigns. Very little of importance that was going on in the world that had a medical or surgical bearing escaped the notice of Dr. Howe; and when an important menace like the plague threatened this country, he came out with this article. His words were prophetic— "We may yet pay a fearful price for the dirt imported from the eastern shores of Asia— a sin has been committed which commands atonement." The vigilance of the army medical department alone prevented such an invasion but a few years since on our Pacific Coast.—Ed. Gleaner.

"BLACK DEATH."—In 1347 some caravans from Central Asia arrived at Constantinople, and soon spread an infectious disease which proved exceedingly fatal. A patient came down with the morbid action very suddenly, the first symptoms being a "chill," followed by exalted heat and profuse sweating. Soreness attacked the muscles, and the sufferer had lumps appear in the arm-pits and groins—buboes. In three days the afflicted were moribund, and not one in ten survived an attack. Physicians did not make much effort to cure the disease, for at that date in history medicine was a black art. Away on the banks of the Volga and the shores of the Caspian "the plague"—bubo disease—breaks out every few years among the filthy fishermen of those regions, and spreads in every direction unless quarantined—unless shotgun cordons be drawn around the infected district.

A ukase of the Czar makes it death to cross the line marking the infected villages. The disease, as described by army surgeons in the Russian service, is declared to be identical with the "Black Death" which visited Constantinople over six centuries ago. "Plagues" having thinned out mankind ever since histories of the race can be traced or traditionally followed, it is highly probable that the bubo disease came into existence thousands of years ago. The authentic records of China describe a disease of the kind which nearly depopulated the "Flowery Kingdom" on repeated occasions. If Central Asia be the region where "Black Death" always exists, the disease may have spread eastward to China before traveling westward to Europe.

Cholera has its home in the jungles of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, so the bubo-plague may have its abode in the table lands north of the Himalaya range among people who dress in untanned sheepskins—the vilest dress ever worn by human beings. It is no stretch of the fancy to suppose a zymotic disease might spring from the combination of filth accumulating in such a raiment.

The smitten people of Europe looked upon the disease as a visitation of Providence—a chastisement for violated vows; and never once thought the infection sprang directly from neglect of the law of cleanliness. What a horrible disease to contemplate! The fevered and delirious patient begs for water to moisten a parched and blackened tongue; and there being more sick than well, the needed and craved cup of water can not be obtained!

What passes in history as the Great Plague, and which visited London in 1664, was nothing more nor less than the Black Tongue, or "Black Death" that has its breeding among the wearers of un-tanned pelts. Zymosis is only a technical expression for putrefaction;—the "Black Tongue" may yet reach America via China. What is the condition of a ship which has just landed three thousand Chinese laborers at Vancouver's Island or on the banks of Frazer River? The filth and stench of such a vessel are too revolting for contemplation. We may yet pay a fearful price for the dirt imported from the eastern shores of Asia—a sin has been committed which commands atonement.—HOWE, Eclectic Medical Journal, 1888.

The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.