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Ambroise Paré and his times, 1510-1590 online

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pernicious to men than that of other animals: so is
that of cattle to cattle, of horses to horses, of swine

Pare s Account of the Plague 285

to swine, and so with sheep and other animals:
which comes of the sympathy and concordance be-
tween them ; as we see in one family, or among per-
sons alike in their temperaments, if one catches the
plague, it generally spreads to all of them. All the
same, there are cases of men having flayed cattle
and other beasts dead of the plague, who died sud-
denly, and their bodies became all swollen.

Thunder and lightning, by their great noise and
commotion, so violently disturb the air, that they
make the plague worse.*

And to come to an end of the manifold effects of
the air, I must add that as it is diverse and variable
in its action so it produces a variety of affections
and acts in several ways, even on the spirits, making
them gross and dull, or subtle and acute. In a word,
the air has dominion over all men and other animals,
and over plants, trees, and shrubs.

4. Of the Duties of Magistrates and Pub-
lic Officers, who Keep Order in

The magistrates must keep clean all houses and

streets, and let no filth or ordure lie in them, and

carry all dead animals and other rubbish far out of

the town, and bury them deep : they must keep all

* This sentence was added in 1585.

286 Ambroise Pare

rivers, wells, and cisterns free from impurities, and
must expressly forbid the sale of spoiled grain,
tainted meat in the markets, and stale, unwhole-
some fish. They must close the public hot baths,
because on leaving them the muscles and the general
tone of the body are relaxed, and the pores are open,
and so the vapour of the plague can readily enter the
body and cause death at once ; there are many cases
of this kind. They must catch and kill the dogs
and cats, lest they carry the plague from one house
to another: for these animals may devour the re-
mains or the excretions of persons attacked by the
plague, and so take the plague and carry it else-
where; but the animals seldom suffer from it, be-
cause their temperament is not disposed that

The magistrates must have all sick folk attended
by physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries, good
men, of experience: and must know them that are
attacked, and must isolate them, sending them to
places set apart for their treatment, or must shut
them up in their own houses (but this I do not
approve, and would rather they should forbid those
that are healthy to hold any converse with them)
and must send men to dress and feed them, at the
expense of the patients, if they have the means, but
if they are poor, then at the expense of the parish.

Fare's Account of the Plague 287

Also they must forbid the citizens to put up for sale
the furniture of those who have died of the plague.

They must close the gates of such towns as are
not yet attacked, lest the plague be brought by trav-
ellers from some infected place : for as one diseased
sheep may contaminate a whole flock, so one man
with the plague may infect a whole town.

And they must hang a cloth, or some such token,
from the windows of houses where any are dead of
the plague. And the surgeons, and all who have
to do with the patients, must carry white staves in
their hands when they go through the town, that
men may keep away from them.

Also the magistrates must bury all bodies at once :
for in one hour they become more corrupt and
putrid than those become in three days who die of
something other than the plague : and putrid vapours
arise from them in a very fetid exhalation, worse,
past all comparison, than in life, because the natural
heat is gone v/hich restrained and tempered the cor-
ruption : indeed, bodies dead of the plague are not
devoured by any animal, even the crows do not
touch them, and if they ate them they would die at

And since fire, of all things that can purify the
air, is most necessary and unlike anything else, we
must here imitate Hippocrates, who, as the ancients

288 Ambrolse Pare

have told us, stopped a marvellous great plague in
the city of Athens by making them burn huge fires
at night in the houses and streets of the city, and
all round it, throwing on the flames strong-smelling
things, as juniper, pine, broom and the like, which
produced a quantity of aromatic smoke, and so the
plague ceased : then the citizens raised a gold statue
to him in the middle of the square, and adored him
as a God, and saviour of the country: which had
never before been done for any man.

And Levinus Levinius, in the second book De
Occultis NaturcB Miracidis, chapter lo, says that
when the plague was at Tournay the soldiers, to
prevent it, used to load their cannon with powder
without ball, and fire them every night and at day-
break: and by this explosion and strong-smelling
smoke the contagion of the air was amended and re-
moved, and the town was made free of plague.

Finally, to perform their whole duty to the state,
the Magistrates will do all else that shall be for the
safety of the city.

There is one thing more : they must keep an eye
on certain thieves, murderers, and poisoners, worse
than inhuman, who grease and daub the walls and
doors of rich houses with matter discharged from
the swellings and carbuncles, and other excretions
of them that have the plague, so as to infect the

Fare's Account of the Plague 289

houses, and then break into them and sack and strip
them, and even strangle the poor sufferers in their
beds: which was done at Lyon in the year 1565.
Oh my God, what exemplary punishments these
gentlemen deserve : whom I leave to the discretion
of the magistrates, and the arm of the law.

5. How TO Proceed to the Election of
Physicians, Surgeons, and Apothe-
caries, TO Attend them that Have
THE Plague.

As for the physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries,
the magistrates must choose good men, of experi-
ence, to help the poor folk. Let them not by
sound of trumpet make a proclamation — buying bad
wares in a cheap market — that any companion bar-
bers and apothecaries, who are willing to dress them
that have the plague, shall in return receive the
Mastership. Oh my God, what fine Masters! In-
stead of curing their patients, they more often flout
Heaven and earth with their inexperience, for they
have never seen or known a case of the disease :
hence they will be a hundred times more formidable
than the brigands and murderers who infest our
woods and highways, whom you can avoid, and take
some other road : but a poor wretch with the plague
must go and look for his surgeon, and must hold his

290 Ambroise Pare

own throat to the murderer's knife, hoping for help
from the very man who takes his life.

Again, if the Magistrates compel and force ex-
perienced physicians and surgeons to serve them, by
false promises or by violence, threatening that if
they do not serve they shall be driven out of the
town for ever, I leave you to decide, Gentlemen, how
the poor patients can be treated properly, if those
who are set to attend them are thus employed by
force and violence : then, when the occasion for
their services is past, they are cheated of their
wages, and there the poor physicians, surgeons,
apothecaries, and barbers, are left, white staves and
all, with this mark branded on them, that they were
employed to dress patients with the plague : and
every one avoids them as if they were the plague
itself, and they are called no more to the exercise of
their art : then their colleagues, seeing them after-
ward thus begging their bread, and fearing they
themselves will fall, sooner or later, into the like
disaster of poverty, which they dread a hundred
thousand times more than the plague, will not go
near a case of it : for it is indeed a great plague to
a man, not to have money for the needs of this
poor life.

So I implore the Magistrates, with all respect, to
choose, as I have said, men of good position and ex-

Fare's Account of the Plague 291

perience to help them that have the plague : and to
give them an honest pension, not only during the
time of need, but for their whole life. Then they
will not want any trumpets and proclamations; for
the men will come forward of their own accord to
serve the magistrates and their fellow-citizens.

6. Of the Duties of those who shall be
Chosen to Attend Patients with the

Above all things, they must remember that they
are called of God to this vocation for the exercise of
surgery: therefore they should go to it with a high
courage free of all fear, having firm faith that God
both gives and takes away our lives as and when it
pleases Him : but, as I have said before, they must
not neglect and despise preservative remedies, or we
should be plainly guilty of ingratitude, since God
has given them to us, having done all things for our

Therefore those surgeons, who shall be called to
attend patients with the plague, must first get
purged and bled, if they have need of it, to make
their bodies wholesome and proof against the poison
of the plague. Next, the surgeon must have two
issues made — unless he has already some running

292 Ambroise Pare

sore — one on the right arm a little below the deltoid,
the other three fingers' breadth below the left knee,
on the outer side : for truly we know from experi-
ence that they who have such open sores have not
been subject to the plague, and have taken no
harm, though they were every day among cases of

Also they must wash the whole of their bodies
very frequently with this water, which has great
aromatic virtue, and is full of vaporous and subtle
spirits, and wholly opposed to the poison :

A Preservative Water.

^r. Aquae rosarum, aceti rosati aut sam-

bucini, vini albi aut malvatici . ana | vi.

Rad. enulae campanae, angelicse, gen-

tianae, bistortae, zedoariae . . ana | iii.

Baccarum juniperi et hederae . . ana f ii.

Salviae, rorismarini, absinthii, rutae . ana TTj, i.

Corticis citri ..... § ss,

Theriacae, mithridatii . . . ana | i.

Conquassanda conquassentur, et buUiant lento
igni, et serventur ad usum.

They must wash the whole body with a sponge in
this water, making it just warm. And it is a good
thing to wash the mouth with it, and draw a little
of it up the nose, and put a few drops into the ears.

Also they should carry and wear over the region

Fare's Account of the Plague 293

of the heart a sachet or epitheme, Hke those that I
have aheady described : for Jean Baptiste Theodose,
in the second of his Medical Letters written to
Athanase, a Florentine physician, says it is useful
to wear arsenic or some other poison over the heart,
to accustom the heart to the poison of the plague
and to fortify it, since all poisons alike seek the
heart. But as to this you will note what I have
said already.

Their clothes shall be of camlet. Arras serge,
satin, taffeta, or the like. If they cannot afTord
these, they must have morocco, or German twill, or
some other fine black stuff: not cloth, or frieze, or
fur, lest it harbour the poison, and they carry death
to them that are healthy. They must frequently
change their clothes, shirts, and vests, if they have
suf^cient store of them, and must perfume them
with the smoke of aromatic herbs : and when they
come to their patients, they must be careful not to
inhale their breath, or the smell of their excretions,
also not to use their clothes or bed-clothes, and not
to eat and drink with them, or partake of anything
that they have tasted.

Moreover, they must breakfast early in the
morning: and if they hate breakfast, as some men
do, they may instead of it take this or that preserva-
tive drug which I have already mentioned : and

294 Ambroise Pare

when they come near the patient, they must keep
in their mouths a clove, or a morsel of canella or
angelica-root, or a juniper berry, or some such pre-
ventive to occupy and fill the void interstitial spaces,
and so the vapour of the plague will find no lodg-
ment in them.

I will tell here, as an example of the danger of
frequent contact with infected persons, what once
happened to me, going to dress a man with the
plague, who had a bubo and two great carbuncles :
when I got there, I raised the sheet and the cover-
let off him, and was overcome by the extreme fcetor
from his body and from his sores, and fell down at
once like a dead man, suddenly, as do those who
faint, from want of action of the heart : but I had no
pain, and no trouble at the heart, which shows plainly
that the animal faculty alone was injured : then I got
up at once, and it felt as if the house were turning up-
side down, and I had to hold on to one of the posts
of the patient's bed, or I should have fallen again.
And having soon recovered animation, I sneezed ten
or twelve times, with such violence that my nose
bled : and this, in my humble opinion, was why the
vapour of the plague made no impression on me.
For I leave the reader to philosophize whether death
would not have followed, but for the ef^cacy of the
expulsive virtue of my brain in sneezing: seeing

Fare's Account of the Plague 295

that all my senses, and even the animal faculty,
suddenly failed me : which are the instruments of
the soul.

So I advise both physicians and surgeons, espe-
cially those who have much to do with the victims
of this pernicious disease, to be careful not to inhale
the breath of their patients or the vapours of their
excretions, whether gross or liquid or in vapour ; and
to take breakfast every morning, or some antidote,
before they go to see them, that they may have the
more protection against the poison. Finally, let
them study what things are known to be profitable,
what hurtful, in this disease of the plague, that they
may follow these, or avoid those, according to their
needs : but remembering that their preservation lies
more in the providence of God than in the wisdom
of the physican or the surgeon.

7. A Discourse on the Troubles Brought
UPON Men by the Plague.

Touching the causes of the plague, I have already
urged that as it is one of the scourges of the wrath of
God, so we can only fall into this utmost extremity
of evil when the enormity of our sins has provoked
His goodness to take away His favourable hand
from us, and to inflict on us this grievous wound.

296 Ambroise Pard

Therefore it will be enough, for the end of my
book, if I recount the troubles, or rather the terrible
calamities, which come upon human society from
this perilous disease: that by the methods divinely
ordained for our protection against it we may from
the very greatness of the evil be the more eager to
seek and use such remedies as may save us.

Consider then : so soon as a country is attacked
by the plague, all commerce and traiific, which men
must have to help one another, are interrupted and
abandoned : for none will dare bring anything to an
infected place, for fear of death. So victuals are
soon very dear, and at last fail altogether, especially
in great cities where multitudes live from hand to
mouth without provision for to-morrow: for those
who go to buy food at this or that place are not
allowed inside the town or village, and often those
within the walls drive them away with diverse
weapons, arquebuses, cross-bows, and stones : some-
times they are even killed or massacred brutally,
instead of the help that men ought to give them
in their distress. So others will not go after them,
and they who would save their own town from want
and famine must starve along with the rest. Often
children bury their fathers and mothers, parents
their children, husbands their wives, and wives their
husbands (which tears their hearts out) because no

Park's Account of the Plague 297

one else will do it. Often bodies are left unburied,
and emit putrid vapours which make the plague
worse.* Again, the wealthier folk, even the magis-
trates, and others who have the management of
public affairs, are mostly among the first to depart
and go elsewhere, so that justice is no longer admin-
istered, for there is no man from whom to seek it :
and then everything is in disorder, which is one of
the greatest evils that could happen to a state, to
be without justice: and villains bring yet another
plague on the town, breaking into the houses, rob-
bing and stripping them to their hearts' content
without punishment, and often cutting the throats
of the patients, or even of them that are not ill, lest
discovery and arrest overtake them.

If any man wants recent instances, he can get
them from the inhabitants of Lyon, when the King
went there. t A like thing happened here in Paris:
there was a gang of men who all had a grudge
against one poor fellow : they got some villains to
help them, and spread a report that he had the
plague, though he was perfectly well : and on the
day when he must be in the streets about his busi-
ness — some affair that required him to be there —
they had him seized and carried off to the hospital,

* These two sentences were added in 1585.
f 1565. A. P.

298 Ambroise Pare

with the help of these blackguards, he making the
best fight that he could, one against all of them :
and when he would call on the people to pity and
help him, these murderous thieves prevented him,
and drowned his voice by shouting louder than he
could, or gave folk to understand that the disease
had made him mad and possessed by a devil : then
everybody ran away, and they managed to drag him
to the hospital, and had him bound and put to bed
with them that had the plague. And in a few
days he died, as much from anguish of mind as
from infection, knowing that his death, while he yet
lived, had been bought and sold for good ready

Nor need I here describe what we all know only
too well : how the deserted towns become like fields,
and you see grass growing in the streets, husband-
men leaving their cottages and fruit-trees, land un-
tilled, flocks lost and scattered far and wide, and
men, who chance to meet, running away from each
other; a sure sign of the heavy hand of God. I will
only add that the misery of a man in time of plague
is so extreme, that at once, when he is but suspected
of it, his home, which was his chief safety and free-
dom, is his cruel prison : for they shut him up in it,
that he cannot get forth, and none are allowed to
enter and help him. And if one dies in a family

Fare's Account of the Plague 299

thus kept under lock and key, the rest of them, it
may be for a long time, have to face the fearful sight
of the body full of worms and corruption, and the
fcetid stench of it, which increases the poison and
infection of the air, till the plague is twice as bad as
it was, and often kills everybody in the house. Or
if a man flees into the country, the same fear and
horror are there, in every one who sees him, all the
more because he is less known and cared for there.
The country towns, villages, and hamlets are all
shut up close, even their own houses are shut against
the masters of them, so that they must camp out in
the fields as best they can, away from all human
intercourse and acquaintance: which happened at
Lyon, on the Rhone, where those patients who
camped out in the open country were overpowered
by the heat of the day, and at night the cold
gnawed upon them, and brought with it other fatal
diseases. And what is worse, in these field-huts
there was that sight of the father and the mother
grievously ill, not able to help their child, and they
saw it smothered and bitten by wasps, and the
mother to save it got up and then fell dead between
her child and her husband. Again, he who has vas-
sals, serfs, or servants, is deserted by them : they
turn their backs, and none dare go to him : even the
father abandons his child, and the child his father :

300 Ambrolse Pare

the husband his wife, and the wife her husband : the
brother his sister, and the sister her brother: and
those whom you think your nearest and truest
friends abandon you now in the horror and peril of
this disease. And if any man, out of pity and
Christian charity, or from kinship, will help and
visit the sick man, nor parent nor friend will after-
ward talk with him or come near him. And Lyon
is witness that this is true : for if the physicians,
surgeons, and barbers, appointed to dre<is the pa-
tients, were but seen in the streets, everybody ran
after them throwing stones to kill them like mad
dogs, bidding them go by night only, lest they
should infect them that were healthy.

How many poor women, great with child, have
been deserted and left to travail all alone, on mere
suspicion, though they had no trace of the plague
about them — for every sort of illness, in time of
plague, is feared — and so the mother and the child
have died together. I found on the breasts of a
woman, dead of the plague, her baby still sucking
the deadly poison that was soon to kill it like its
mother. And if a nurse dies, though it were not of
the plague, no other nurse will be found for the
child, for they all think it may have been the
plague : such fear and panic come of it, that a man
is no sooner stricken than all help is gone and he

Pares Account of the Plague 301

must just await a painful death. Out of an infinite
number of such cases as we often see, take that
story * of the woman whose husband and two of her
children died, and she found she too had the plague,
and began to put herself into her shroud, and was
found half shrouded, and the needle and thread still
in her hands. In another case, a strong hearty man
was seized, and went to the graveyard, and had his
grave dug in his own presence, and before it was
done he died on the edge of it.

Others, when the plague fell on them, were so
afraid to die that they applied red-hot irons to the
swelling, burning their own flesh, if by any means
they might escape : others, in hope of cure, tore it
out with pincers. Some in the heat and phrenzy of
the disease have thrown themselves into the fire,
others into wells, others into rivers : men have
hurled themselves out of windows, or have dashed
their heads against the wall till their brains came
out, as I have seen : others have put an end to
themselves with a dagger or a knife.

The Latin poet Lucretius noted that the plague
once raged so furiously in Athens that many, over-
powered by the vehemence of it, threw themselves
into the water. And they say that the plague,
about fourscore years ago, was so fierce all round
* Au livre des Histoires prodigieuses. A. P.

302 Ambroise Pare

Lyon that many (women more than men), though
they had no visible mark of the disease on them,
threw themselves into the wells, overwhelmed by
the phrenzy of it.*

Thus I have heard that a priest of Sainct Eustache
here in Paris, a short time ago, lying ill of the
plague at the Hostel Dieu, went mad and got out
of bed, took a dagger, and stabbed a number of
poor patients in their beds, and killed three of
them : and if the surgeon of the hospital had not seen
and held him — who in the struggle got stabbed in
the bowels and nearly died of it — he would have
killed all whom he found : but as soon as he was
controlled, and the phrenzy was spent, he yielded
up the ghost.

Another horrible case happened at Lyon, Rue
Merciere, where a surgeon named Amy Baston be-
ing dead of the plague his wife was taken with it six
days later, and went from apathy to phrenzy, and
appeared at the window brandishing a little child in
her arms : the neighbours all shouted to her that she
should do the child no harm, but she gave no heed
to them, and then and there threw him into the
street, and herself after him : so mother and child
died together.

There is an infinite number of like instances,

* This paragraph was added in 1579.

Fare's Account of the Plague 303

enough for me to be telling them for ever: and the
root of the whole evil is that none dare hold con-
verse with the patients or draw near to help them.
There is no disease like it for this : not even leprosy,
for men will help lepers: but the plague cuts a man
off from parents, from friends, even from his own
home, as I have said : which is the less strange, see-
ing that human charity to-day has waxed so cold that
men who are free to do as they like, with gold and
silver to buy all they fancy, yet in time of plague
can get no help from anywhere.

Nor can I stop here v/ithout quoting good old
Guidon,* how in the year 1348 came a time of
death, when the plague's victims died in three days,

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