TRAITÉ DE LA TRANSPIRATION DES HUMEURS, by [CUSAC, Louis.]

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The dangers of bloodletting

TRAITÉ DE LA TRANSPIRATION DES HUMEURS, qui sont les causes des maladies. Ou la methode de guerir les malades sans le triste secours de la frequente saignée. Discours Philosophique. A Paris, Chez L’Autheur... Laurent D’Houry... MDCLXXXII

[1682.]. 12mo, pp. [24], 276, [xii]; with two engraved plates and small engraved head-piece; lightly browned and foxed throughout, some worming affecting lower gutter from ff. 70 to the end, though never touching text and unobtrusive, some dampstaining affecting gutter and lower corner from ff. 263 getting more prominent; in contemporary sprinkled calf, spine in compartments with raised bands,tooled and lettered in gilt, head and tail of spine and joints expertly repaired, corners repaired, covers and extremities lightly rubbed and worn; with the ex-libris stamp and book-plate of Dr J. C. Bergo on front paste-down and free endpaper. First edition of this staunch attack against the practice of bloodletting, the work of the physician Louis Cusac (fl. 1682-1692), and one of few 17th century authors to speak out against the practice, in what was a golden age of bloodletting. Written in the form of dialogues between Cleante and Lisandre, and Lisandre and Polemon, Cusac’s criticism of the practice is made clear from the very start, as he expresses in his introductory ‘Epistre’ addressed to the King (and which he signs at the end revealing his authorship of the work). ‘Ever since medicine has recognised that blood was the principle and the support of life, it employed all possible means to preserve it. But being persuaded in the course of time that it contained within itself the cause of almost all our ills, it believed that to deliver us from these, it was necessary to exhaust our veins; in such a way that frequent bleeding has become the quickest and most familiar of all remedies... But how important it is, Sir, to arrest the course of this error, which destroys nature, by depriving it of its strength’. Cusac, in contrast, recommends using a spirit of wine, of his own making, which ‘peut, en ostant les obstructions des pores, contribuer à rétablir la nature’ (preface p. 15). By opening up the pores, he can cure the sick, helping them to sweat out the corruption in the veins and other parts of the body. As Cusac notes in the preface, he was inspired by ‘des Aphorismes de Sanctorius’, who did much work on the study of ‘insensible perspiration’ or sweating through the skin. Cusac devotes the first part of the work discussing his theories, with the second section highlighting his therapeutic use of his ‘spirit of wine’. Santorio’s ‘De Statica Medica’ was first published in 1614, and had not yet been translated into French, the first French edition appearing in 1694. Cusac was to publish a further fierce assault on the practice in ‘Reflexions sur la theorie et la pratique d’Hippocrate et de Galien’ (1692).
The present work received a favourable review in the the Journal des Scavans, 1683, (vol. 10, 111-112), supporting his use of perspiration as a more natural remedy to expel corrupt ‘humors’ from the body, and ‘deliver men from the unfortunate necessity of frequent bleeding’. ‘Le Sr. Cusac aprés avoir employé presqu'autant de temps à la recherche de ce secret, que Sanctorius dans la consideration des operations de la nature sur ce sujet, a esté assez heureux pour en trouver un que l'experience de plusieurs cures extraordinaires sur une infinité de differentes malades nous fait juger estre tres-utile et salutaire contre tous les maux, dont les humeurs ne sont ny si froides ny si grossieres, qu'elles ne se puissent evaporer par le transpiration. Il consiste dans un certain esprit de vin composé à sa maniere, dont on fomente les malades suivant les maux qu'ils ont, ou selon les parties qui sont affligées. Cet esprit de vin ouvre d'abord les pores d'une maniere aisée; en suite la nature secondée et fortifiée par cette douce chaleur agite les humeurs, les attenüe, les subtilise, et aprés les avoir rarefiées les pousse dehors, et se délivre ainsi du mal, en chassant les causes qui le produisent’.

Bibliography: Krivatsy 3033; Wellcome II, p. 422; OCLC locates further copies at Yale, Illinois, Johns Hopkins, the British Library and the BnF; for further reading see Héritier, J ‘La sève de l'homme: de l'âge d'or de la saignée aux débuts de l'hématologie’ (1987) and Renbourn, E. ‘The Natural History of Insensible Perspiration: A Forgotten Doctrine of health and Disease’, Medical History, 4(2), 135-152, 1960.

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