Prevalent Diseases - Abuse of Stimulants - Medicinal Well - Sorcery - Hydrophobia.


Although the plague is not so common in these states as in Turkey and Egypt, yet it is often brought hither by means of the caravans, and several articles of luxury imported annually by the merchants from Mecca and Medina; and, for want of proper precaution, it is suffered to spread, to desolate, and to stop of its own accord; for the Moors continue obstinately blinded by the same superstitious and absurd notions that are entertained by the Mahometans of the Turkish empire, of its being a punishment occasionally inflicted upon the true believers by their angry Prophet, and that it is incurable; and here I receive on this subject the same tales and romantic accounts that I did during my residence in Egypt in the year 1801.

The most prevailing diseases in this country that have come under my observation, are, cutaneous disorders of all kinds, intermittent fevers, those of a putrid, malignant, pestilential kind, and the puerperal fever, which proceeds from the barbarous treatment of lying-in women in this country, as they are kept in small confined rooms, deprived of the benefit of pure air.

One day I went to see a very fine young woman, the lady of one of the Xeriffes. The heat of the room was intolerable. After much persuasion, I succeeded in having her removed to a cooler one, and she recovered, contrary to the predictions of the female attendant, who reported the daily changes to a celebrated doctor here. It is wonderful what numbers of young women fall victims to this fever in the course of a year.

Besides the above-mentioned complaints, I have observed insanity, epilepsy, spasmodic affections of the face, ruptures of all kinds (which last are produced by their loose kind of trowsers); nervous consumptions, extreme debility, and dropsy, brought on by their indolent manner of living, and the great abuses of violent doses of drastic medicines.

The principal and opulent inhabitants of this country, in order to excite certain desires, are frequently in the habit of receiving, from their own doctors, several strong and powerful stimulants, to the infallible detriment and ultimate, destruction of their constitutions. I have been at great pains to deter them from these abominable habits, by representing to them their ill effects and fatal consequences; but as they all appear to have a great propensity for a short life and a merry one, I fear my advice has been thrown away, for I have daily the most pressing and importunate solicitations from all classes of people, both young and old, to give them the medicines I have alluded to: - but 1 must here be clearly understood, that debauchery which exists in all the principal towns of this country in a superlative degree, does not extend to the inland and mountainous parts, where the morals are pure, and the people remarkably healthy, strong, and robust, living to a very advanced age, and scarcely ever afflicted with any disease excepting cutaneous disorders, to which they are very subject. The great abuse of blood-letting on all trifling occasions, practised by the rich inhabitants, produces very bad effects.

There is a well in the neighbourhood of this town, which possesses a great many medicinal virtues; and though I have not been able to ascertain its mineral qualities, I have found, by using the water, that it is extremely friendly to the stomach, that it excites appetite and digestion, and lively spirits; that it is efficacious in the cure of gravel and nephritic complaints; and in cases of foulness of the blood, I have found it superior to any mineral waters I have met with in Europe. It has completely cured my Jew servant of a most inveterate scurvy, under which he had laboured for a very considerable time.

Notwithstanding the Moors possess this inestimable treasure near one of their most opulent and populous cities, yet, owing to fabulous tales, handed down by tradition from one generation to another, these superstitious people will never drink or disturb the water; to do so is reckoned sacrilege, and the offender is severely punished: for they positively affirm, that one of their great saints has been transmuted into it, and that at some distant period he will resume his natural form, to perform a great many miracles, and to render the Moors rich and happy, more so indeed than Mahomet has promised them in the other world.

While I have been here, I have had daily intercourse with the most eminent of their Tweebs. They pay me regular morning visits, questioning me on several points. One day I was asked by what means health was preserved, and what produced disease in the human body; I answered, that, "among several other remote causes, the air, by its different constitutions, had a great effect upon the human frame: that diseases revolve periodically, and keep time and measure exactly with the seasons of the year; and that either health or disease depended in some measure on the universal influence of the air, by its gravity, heat, cold, moisture, dryness, or exhalations." They have no idea of natural philosophy, nor of the knowledge and physiology of the air, or how to change and destroy its bad qualities in close and confined places. After much persuasion, I prevailed on some of them to make use of the fuming mixture of brimstone and aromatic ingredients, in all cases of pestilential fevers. Though this is not so efficacious as the nitrous acid, yet it will considerably abate the progress of contagion, and they are acquainted with the materials of the former, whereas they have not the smallest idea of the latter.

They are perfectly ignorant of the animal and comparative anatomy, and of physiology and pathology. They have no notion either of the nervous fluid, or of the solids, their restriction and relaxation. They have no other idea of the fluids than the blood, to a superabundance of which they attribute all the diseases incident to the human body. In the spring they recommend bleeding, to ensure a good state of health for the remainder of the year. These Tweebs are wonderfully reserved in all their actions.

The Moors have great faith in sorcery and witchcraft. I was called upon to visit a young man about eighteen, who was universally believed to be possessed by an evil spirit. His case was a confirmed hydrophobia. I informed the people that the disease was occasioned by the bite of a mad dog, and that the man would die in the course of the ensuing night. I inquired the next morning, when I found that I had judged correctly. I have also visited several young women who were reported to have been bewitched. Some I found labouring under the last stage of a nervous consumption; others under a dangerous and incurable lunacy. In short, nothing can exceed the ignorance and superstition of these deluded people.

I am afraid, my dear D - - , I have trespassed on your patience, both in this letter and the last, as nothing but physic and its practitioners have been introduced and discussed. I have certainly been too selfish; for, while I have been pursuing a subject the most interesting to me from the nature of my profession, a thought never once obtruded itself, that my friend perhaps would take no interest in the relation. However, by way of compensation, I give you leave to wish the Moorish physicians and their physic at the bottom of the Red Sea, and me with them, if you choose; but I have now done with them, and my next will, most probably, not be from Mequinez, as I think I have a good opportunity of returning to Gibraltar.