« PreviousContinue »
stances improperly stated, or of the sentiments of envy and jealousy, nourished in our hearts, until the susceptibility of pleasure or happiness is so blunted, that it can scarcely exist, while there is another in the world who is apparently more advantageously situated than ourselves.
L. L. D.
CONDENSED FROM THE DIARY OF AN EMINENT PHYSICIAN, KEPT AT THE TIME.
It was announced, briefly, in the last number of this Magazine, that there would be presented, in the present volume, a series of papers, from the private journal of a distinguished professional gentleman of New-York, long since deceased, kept during the years 1794-5-6-7, embracing the more prominent topics and occurrences of that eventful period, with numerous collateral disquisitions and reflections, of a valuable or entertaining character. We proceed to open the series in question, by transcribing, in a condensed form, some of the minute and copious notes made by the author upon the memorable fever of 1795, which marked so distinct an era in the history of epidemics. Describing only what he saw, the writer demands • absolute and entire credit for his facts.' He commences with a sketch of the locale of the disorder, which is in some respects curious, as a picture of the city, at that remote period, as well as useful in tracing the predisposing circumstances to the disorder.
• Though the fever continued to extend itself, to the last, yet it never became general over the city; and for a long time it was mostly confined to a particular district. As the season advanced, the peculiarities of this district may be supposed to have become common to a larger portion of the city; and their
extension to the whole only prevented by the setting in of winter. To the district alluded to, the
East River, from Long-Island ferry to Mr. Rutgers’, forms the eastern boundary; the northern reaches from thence to Division-street; thence, westerly, down Division-street, Chatham-street, the extremity of Pearl into William-street, to Frankfort-street, down this last, to Gold-street, through that to Beekman-street, along which the line proceeds to Pearl-street as far as the market, down which it should be continued to the river. The space included in these bounds, is all over which the fever, according to the best of m.y remembrance, exerted any power, ti!l after it had reached its height; when it extended down Water-street a little below Wall-street, and proved very mortal. It is true that there were a few persons affected, in various other parts of the town; but, during the greater part of the prevalence of the fever, it was principally active in the north-eastern and middle parts of this district comprehended as above. Thus it will be perceived, that the part of the city where the fever was most active, for the longest period, forms, as it were, a basin, having its side nearest the water a little inclined ; and within this basin, there are several smaller cavities.
* The extreme irregularity in the disposition of the streets, the narrowness of the greater number of them, are great obstacles to a free ventillation of this city. This misfortune, common to every part of it, falls with peculiar heaviness on that district which has just been spoken of. The comparatively high and neighboring lands of Morrisania and Long-Island, receive almost solely the benefit of breezes from the north-east and east. The sound, which divides them from the city, being too narrow to add much force and freshness to a breeze nearly spent on their heights. North, the island rises into little hills, from which the wind passes on to the high parts of the city; rarely visiting the low and intervening space; unless it may be the topmost rooms of the houses : and as the houses are generally low, the effects of a wind from this quarter must be inconsiderable. North-westerly, there is somewhat more of an opening; but even this is small. West, south-west, and south, the other parts of the town, which are higher, and thickly settled, break the force of gales from these points. So that, thus situated, this quarter of the city, though it were perfectly well laid out, would have but little chance for a free ventillation. Much of the ground, in the northern part of this district, is swampy; and abounds with little pools and puddles of stagnant water. This was especially true last summer and autumn; there being great rains, and no adequate means for conducting off the water. Indeed, so flat are some of the paved streets, in this quarter, that the rains did not run down the gutters, but continued in little puddles, and were evaporated from the places whereon they fell. In the new streets, which are unpaved, and without any gutters, numerous imperfect ditches assisted the disposition of the water to stagnate. These places would often be muddy, when the southern part of the town was dry; and the steams from them very offensive, when the dry streets, toward the North River, were perfectly sweet.'
A more minute description succeeds, of the exposed and filthy condition of the streets and docks, in the district alluded to; many of the former having been lined with low, decaying buildings, of wood, and full of semi-putrid vegetable and animal matters. Our journalist
next passes to a consideration of the season, and its remarkable peculiarities.
• The summer and autumn of 1795, were excessively sultry and excessively wet. Every article of household furniture, or in use about a house, susceptible of mould, was speedily and deeply covered with it. It seemed to penetrate places where we should have deemed its appearance impossible. A friend of mine found a pocket-book of morocco leather quite mouldy; though it was in the drawer of a private desk, inclosed within a large desk, both of which were usually locked, and covered by papers. Boots and shoes, hung up by a wall, near a fire-place heated every day, contracted mould within twentyfour hours. Meats spoiled in the market-place uncommonly quick; and those which were brought home, apparently, fresh and good, in the morning, were often found unfit to be eaten, when cooked and brought upon the table. Esculent vegetables in general, and especially fruits, were unusually poor, tough, and tasteless. The peach, particularly that called the cling-stone, was scarcely digestible; and often occasioned temporary illnesses, quite severe, while it doubtless aided in the production or aggravation of the fever.
Flies were very numerous and troublesome, in every part of the city, in the beginning of summer ; but they suddenly disappeared, about the middle of July, from the more airy parts of the town, collecting in swarms in the less healthy parts, and succeeded every where by clouds of musquitoes, incredibly large and distressing; and these continued to afflict us, long after the time when they commonly depart. Almost every person suffered exceedingly from the bites of these insects; and foreigners especially. In some they occasioned universal swellings, and eruption, somewhat like pemphigus ; and in others numerous little ulcers. These last, a physician of my acquaintance saw even in a native American. The irritation, restlessness, and consequent watchfulness and fatigue, occasioned by these animals, no doubt predisposed the well to be affected by the fever; while they extremely harassed the sick, and retarded their recovery.
• During the whole of this season, I remember but one thunderstorm; and this was very gentle. There was but a single hard clap of thunder, for more than four months, that I remember; and very little thunder and lightning at any time.
Our rains, excessive in quantity and frequency as they were, seemed to have lost their wonted power of cooling the air. In those streets, most unhealthy, and least ventillated, this effect was, in a degree, observable ; but in the airy and healthy parts of the town, on the contrary, they never failed to render the heat more intolerable; and the steams from the hot pavements were like those of a vapor bath. The clouds, too, seemed to shut out every kind of breeze. One of these heavy rains, which continued two or three days, seemed to possess all the qualities of steam. It pervaded every recess of the houses, and dissolved the best glue; so that furniture, in many instances, which had been long standing, fell in pieces.
* To this imperfect account of the season, I have one fact only to add, on the authority of a gentleman distinguished for his attention to meteorological phenomena. He informs me, that no aurora-borealis has been seen, of any magnitude, in our country, north of Penn
sylvania, (as he can learn,) for near four years, till the latter end of September, 1795; and adds, that his father, a respectable clergyman, now about seventy years of age, who noticed the same absence of these appearances, remarks, that according to his uniform observation, some uncommon sickness has never failed to follow a long-continued disappearance of these phenomena. How far the experience of other observers will tend to confirm this statement, I have had neither leisure nor opportunity to inquire. And if it be admitted as indisputable, it may still be questionable, whether this is to be regarded as a cause of disease, or whether this disappearance and disease be not coordinate effects of a common cause.'
In the annexed paragraphs, are given some circumstances relative to the principal sufferers by the fever.' The writer evinces, incidentally, the true American spirit of the time.
Of those who were sick and who died of the fever of 1795, the greater number were foreigners; persons either just arrived from other states, from the West-Indies, and from Europe, or who had not been many months or years settled in this city. It is probable that the proportion of citizens, who died, to strangers, did not exceed one in seven. Of these strangers, it is thought, a large number were Irish. The causes productive of disease in foreigners, in those of this nation in particular, are numerous, and some of them deserve particular attention. Both among natives and foreigners, however, the severity of the disease was experienced by the poor.
• Dr. Blane, in his observations on the diseases of seamen, remarks, that it sometimes happens, that a ship, with a long-established crew, shall be very healthy; yet, if strangers are introduced among them, who are also healthy, sickness will be mutually produced ;' and Dr. Rush, in the first volume of his 'Medical Observations and Inquiries,' takes notice of this remark of Dr. Blane's, and confirms it, by a reference to the experience of our own country, during the late war. These are his words : “The history of diseases furnishes many proofs of the truth of this assertion. It was very remarkable, that while the American army at Cambridge, in the year 1775, consisted only of New-England men, (whose habits and manners were the same,) there was scarcely any sickness among them. It was not till the troops of the eastern, middle, and southern states met at New-York and Ticonderoga, in the year 1776, that the typhus became universal, and spread with such peculiar mortality in the armies of the United States.'
It is unnecessary to enlarge, in this place, on the oppressions and distresses of what are called the lower orders of people in Europe. War, which doubles the burthens upon every rank in society, exercises an aggravated violence upon the poor. This violence, severely felt by all, in England, chiefly falls upon the manufacturing poor; who are, at the same time, the most ignorant, abject, and depraved. In Ireland, its effects are more general, including in its circle of wretchedness the cultivator as well as the mechanic. The present war in Europe, unparalleled as it is for the number of men involved in it, has given birth to oppressions and calamities equally new and destructive. Under these circumstances, and when men of fortune and respectability, disgusted and diseartened at the enormous mass