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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alain René Lesage (1688–1747)

The Universal Fire Cure

From “Vanillo Gonzales”

I WAS perfectly astonished that any person should be so foolish as to place himself under my Uncle Damien’s hands; for he was bigoted in the practise of the ancients, and followed their precepts with scrupulous precision and severity.

A few instances of his mode of practise, in particular cases, will completely exhibit his professional character. In venesection, he made the incision transversely; and to close the orifice, either choked the vein with a silk cord, or cauterized the wound with a red-hot iron. To relieve a patient from the pangs of the gout, he made punctures on the afflicted part with needles put together in the form of a brush, and dissipated all scrofulous swellings by pricking the parts with the sharp points that grow on a thorn-back’s tail. A nasal hemorrhage he stopped by making a transverse incision from one part of the forehead to the other, or rather two incisions, in the shape of St. Andrew’s Cross, all round the hairy part of the head. The most powerful caustics were constantly applied to the hip, loins, and thighs to remove sciaticas; and he banished a headache by placing red-hot irons on each side of the nostrils, temples, cheeks, and under the chin. The element of fire, in short, was his grand specific for the cure of every disorder; and the belly, legs, and thighs of dropsical persons were fried or broiled without mercy. But, as it sometimes happened, whenever a refractory patient obstinately refused to try the effect of these salutary ordeals, he humanely accommodated his practise to the weakness of the patient; and, under pretense of employing a more anodyne remedy than fire, he scalded the flesh with hot water or boiling oil, unless they preferred being singed with ignified sulfur, spirits of wine, gunpowder, melted lead, or liquefied glass.

This able professor, anxious to instruct me in all the mysteries of the healing art, frequently carried me off with him when he had any grand operation to perform; but, instead of affording information to my mind, he tortured every feeling of my heart. I am sure that I should have endured, without complaining, all the pains that can afflict mankind, rather than have undergone the mildest of his remedies. He was, however, principal surgeon to the hospital of Murcia, where I constantly attended him, to learn this art of broiling people into health.

Leaving me one morning by the bedside of a man who had been broiled in various ways for the dropsy, the unhappy sufferer entreated me with doleful cries to give him a drop of water, to assuage the raging thirst by which he was devoured. The heart of a surgeon should be inexorable to the cries of his patient, but, unable to resist the affecting entreaty which was made to me upon this occasion, I presented to his lips a large jug half full of water, which he seized with avidity between his hands, and emptied in a moment. No sooner, however, had I afforded him this comfort than he fainted away, and by an almost instantaneous death gained perfect relief from all his complaints.