Cornhill Magazine,  5 (1862), 707–16.

Is it Food, Medicine, or Poison?

[Francis E Anstie]




Narcotics, Temperance, Physiological Chemistry, Controversy, Medical Practitioners, Neurology, Medical Treatment

Publications cited:

Miller 1858

    Tells the 'story of the Alcohol controversy' for 'the benefit of readers quite unaccustomed to physiological terms', and endeavours to 'show at what amount of scientific demonstration we have really arrived' regarding the characteristics of alcohol. The 'great chemist and physiologist' Justus von Liebig and the 'famous English physician' Robert B Todd both 'reckoned alcohol as a heat-producing food' with beneficial properties for the 'treatment of acute diseases—such as inflammations and fevers'. (707–08) More recently, however, chemists have expressed 'great revulsion' for the view that alcohol is a food, and 'teetotallers' have become 'radiant with triumph' at the suggestion that it is instead 'nothing more nor less than a poison'. Reports that the 'spectacle is not very edifying to the general public, who are puzzled at these rapid changes of medical belief; more especially as one of the most eminent surgeons of the day—Professor Miller, of Edinburgh—has completely espoused the new doctrines'. Warns against 'casting away the traditions of the greatest teacher of clinical medicine, and one of the most philosophical physicians of the present century' [i.e. Liebig and Todd] (709), and insists that 'our teetotal friends', who are 'very fond of throwing hard words at the "slavish habit", as they call it, of moderate drinking' (711), fail to recognize the 'essential distinction between the effects of small and large doses' of alcohol on the nervous system (716).

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