CH. I. -- Gil Blas sets out for the Asturias; and passes through Valladolid, where he goes to see his old master, Doctor Sangrado. By accident, he comes across Signor Manuel Ordonnez, governor of the hospital.
JUST as I was arranging matters to take my departure from Madrid, and go with Scipio to the Asturias, Paul V. gave the Duke of Lerma a cardinal's hat. This pope, wishing to establish the inquisition in the kingdom of Naples, invested the minister with the purple, and by that means hoped to bring King Philip over to so pious and praiseworthy a design. Those who were best acquainted with this new member of the sacred college, thought much like myself, that the church was in a fair way for apostolical purity, after so ghostly an acquisition.
Scipio, who would have liked better to see me once more blazing at court, than either cloistered or rusticated, advised me to shew my face at the cardinal's audience. Perhaps, said he, his eminence, finding you at large by the king's order, may think it unnecessary to affect any further displeasure against you, and may even reinstate you in his service. My good friend Scipio, answered I, you seem to forget that my liberty was granted only on condition of making myself scarce in the two Castiles. Besides, can you suppose me so soon inclined to become an absentee from my domain of Lirias? I have told you before, and I tell it you once again: Though the Duke of Lerma should restore me to his good graces, though he should even offer me Don Rodrigo de Calderona's place, I would refuse it. My resolution is taken: I mean to go and find out my parents at Oviedo, and carry them with me to Valencia. As for you, my good fellow, if you repent of having linked your fate with mine, you have only to say so: I am ready to give you half of my ready money, and you may stay at Madrid, where fortune puts on her kindest smiles to those who woo her lustily.
What then! replied my secretary, a little affected by these words, can you suspect me of any unwillingness to follow you into your retreat? The very idea is an injury to my zeal and my attachment . . . . What, Scipio! that faithful appendage, who would willingly have passed the remnant of his days with you in the tower of Segovia, rather than abandon you to your wretched fate, can he feel sorrowful at the prospect of an abode, where a thousand rural delights are waiting to smile on his arrival? No, no, I have not a wish to turn you aside from your resolution. Nor can I refrain from owning my malicious drift; when I advised you to shew your face at the Duke of Lerma's audience, it was for the purpose of ascertaining whether any seedlings of ambition were scattered among the fallows of your philosophy. Since that point is settled, and you are mortified to all the pomps and vanities of the world; let us make the best of our way from court, to go and suck in with Zephyrus and Flora the innocent, delicious pleasures so luxuriant in the nursery of our imaginations.
In fact, we soon afterwards took our departure together, in a chaise drawn by two good mules, driven by a postilion whom I had added to my establishment. We stopped the first day at Alcala de Henarès, and the second at Segovia, whence, without stopping to see our generous warden, Tordesillas, we went forward to Penáfiel on the Duero, and the next day to Valladolid. At sight of this large town, I could not help fetching a deep sigh. My companion, surprised at that conscientious ventilation, inquired the reason of it. My good fellow, said I, it is because I practised medicine here for a long time. It gives me the horrors, even now, to think of my unexpiated murders. The whole list of killed and wounded are mustered in battle-array yonder: the tomb and the hospital yawn with their disgorged inhabitants, who are rushing on to tear me piece-meal, and exact the vengeance due to the drenched crew. What a dreadful fancy! said my secretary. In truth, Signor de Santillane, your nature is too tender. Why should you be shocked at the common course of exchange in your branch of trade? Look at all the oldest physicians: their withers are unwrung. What can exceed the self-complacency with which they view the exits of patients, and the entrances of diseases? Natural constitution bears the brunt of all their failures, and medical infallibility takes the credit of lucky accidents.
It is very true, replied I, that Doctor Sangrado, on whose practice I formed myself, was like the rest of the old physicians in point of self-complacency. It was to little purpose that twenty people in a day yielded to his prowess; he was so persuaded that bleeding in the arm and copious libations of warm water were specifics for every case, that instead of doubting whether the death of his patients might not possibly invalidate the efficacy of his prescriptions, he ascribed the result to a vacillating compliance with his system. By all the powers! cried Scipio with a burst of laughter, you open to me an incomparable character. If you have any curiosity to be better acquainted with him, said I, it may be gratified to-morrow, should Sangrado be still living, and resident at Valladolid: but it is highly improbable; for he had one foot in the grave when I left him several years ago.
Our first care, on putting up at the inn, was to inquire after this doctor. We were told that he was not dead; but being incapacitated by age from paying visits or any other vigorous exertions, he had been superseded by three or four other doctors who had risen into repute by a new practice, accomplishing the same end by different means. We determined on lying by for a day at Valladolid, as well to rest our mules, as to call on Signor Sangrado. About ten o'clock next morning we knocked at his door; and found him sitting in his elbow-chair, with a book in his hand. He rose on our entrance; advanced to meet us with a firm step for a man of seventy, and begged to know our business. My worthy and approved good master, said I, have you lost all recollection of an old pupil? There was formerly one Gil Blas, as you may remember, a boarder in your house, and for some time your deputy. What! is it you, Santillane? answered he, with a cordial embrace. I should not have known you again. It, however, gives me great pleasure to see you once more. What have you been doing since we parted? Doubtless you have made medicine your profession. It was very strongly my inclination so to do, replied I; but imperious circumstances made me reluctantly abandon so illustrious a calling.
So much the worse, rejoined Sangrado: with the principles you sucked in under my tuition, you would have become a physician of the first skill and eminence, with the guiding influence of heaven to defend you from the dangerous allurements of chemistry. Ah, my son! pursued he with a mournful air, what a change in practice within these few years! The whole honour and dignity of the art is compromised. That mystery, by whose inscrutable decrees the lives of men have in all ages been determined, is now laid open to the rude, untutored gaze of blockheads, novices, and mountebanks. Facts are stubborn things; and ere long the very stones will cry aloud against the rascality of these new practitioners: lapides clamabunt! Why, sir, there are fellows in this town, calling themselves physicians, who drag their degraded persons at the currus triumphalis antimonii, or as it should properly be translated, the cart's tail of antimony. Apostates from the faith of Paracelsus, idolaters of filthy kermes, healers at haphazard, who make all the science of medicine to consist in the preparation and prescription of drugs. What a change have I to announce to you! There is not one stone left upon another in the whole structure which our great predecessors had raised. Bleeding in the feet, for example, so rarely practised in better times, is now among the fashionable follies of the day. That gentle, civilized system of evacuation which prevailed under my auspices is subverted by the reign of anarchy and emetics, of quackery and poison. In short, chaos is come again! Every one orders what seems good in his own eyes; there is no deference to the authority of ancient wisdom; our masters are laid upon the shelf, and their axioms not one tittle the more regarded, for being delivered in languages as defunct as the subjects of their application.
However desirable it might seem to laugh at so whimsical a declamation, I had the good manners to resist the impulse; and not only that, but to inveigh bitterly against kermes, without knowing whether it was a vegetable or an animal, and to pour forth a commination of curses against the authors and inventors of so diabolical an engine. Scipio, observing my by-play in this scene, had a mind to come in for his share in the banter. Most venerable prop of the true practice, said he to Sangrado, as I am descended in the third generation from a physician of the old school, give me leave to join you in your philippic against chemical conspiracies. My late illustrious progenitor, heaven forgive him all his sins! was so warm a partisan of Hippocrates, that he often came to blows with ignorant pretenders, who vomited forth blasphemies against that high priest of the faculty. What is bred in the bone will not come out of the flesh: I could willingly inflict tortures and death with my own hands on those rash innovators whose daring enormities you have characterized with such accuracy of discrimination and such force of language. When wretches like these gain an ascendancy in civilized society, can we wonder at the disjointed condition of the world?
The times are even more out of joint than you are aware of, said the doctor. My book against the vanities and delusions of the new practice might as well have fallen still-born from the press; it seems, if anything, to have acted by contraries, and to have exasperated heresy. The apothecaries, like the Titans of old, heaping potion upon pill, and invading the Olympus of medicine, think themselves fully qualified to usurp and maintain the throne, now that it is only thought necessary to set open the doors, and to drive the enemy out at the portal or the postern by main force. They go to the length of infusing their deadly drugs into apozems and cordials, and then set themselves up against the most eminent of the fraternity. This contagion has spread its influence even among the cloisters. There are monks in our convents who unite surgery and pharmacy to the labours of the confessional. Those medical baboons are always dipping their paws into chemistry, and inventing compositions strong enough to lay a scene of ecclesiastical mortality in the temperate abodes of peace and religion. Now there are in Valladolid above sixty religious houses for both sexes; judge what ravage must have been made there by unmerciful pumping and the lancet misapplied. Signor Sangrado, said I, you are perfectly in the right to give these poisoners no quarter. I utter groan for groan with you, and heave the philanthropic sigh over the invaded lives of our fellow-creatures, sinking under the fell attack of so heterodox a practice. It fills me with horror to think what a dead weight chemistry may one day be to medicine, just as adulterated coin operates on national credit. Far be that evil day from this generation.
Just at this climax of our discourse, in came an old female servant, with a salver for the doctor, on which was a little light roll and a glass with two decanters, the one filled with water and the other with wine. After he had eaten a slice, he washed it down with a diluted beverage, two parts water to one of wine; but this temperate use of the good creature did not at all save him from the acrimony of my ridicule. So so, good master doctor, said I, you are fairly caught in the fact. You a wine-bibber! you, who have entered the lists like a knight-errant against that unauthenticated fermentation? you, who reached your grand climacteric on the strength of the pure element? How long have you been so at odds with yourself? Your time of life can be no excuse for the alteration; since, in one passage of your writings, you define old age to be a natural consumption, which withers and attenuates the system; and as an inference from that position, you reprobate the ignorance of those writers who dignify wine with the appellation of old men's milk. What can you say, therefore, in your own defence?
You belabour me most unjustly, answered the old physician. If I drank neat wine, you would have a right to treat me as a deserter from my own standard; but your eyes may convince you that my wine is well mixed. Another heresy, my dear apostle of the wells and fountains! replied I. Recollect how you rated the canon Sédillo for drinking wine, though plentifully dashed with the salubrious fluid. Own modestly and candidly that your theory was unfounded and fanciful, and that wine is not a poisonous liquor, as you have so falsely and scandalously libelled it in your works, any further than, like any other of nature's bounties, it may be abused to excess.
This lecture sat rather uneasily on our doctor's feelings, as a candidate for consistency. He could not deny his inveteracy against the use of wine in all his publications; but pride and vanity not allowing him to acknowledge the justice of my attack on his apostasy, he was left without a word to say for himself. Not wishing to push my sarcasm beyond the bounds of good humour, I changed the subject; and after a few minutes' longer stay, took my leave, gravely exhorting him to maintain his ground against the new practitioners. Courage, Signor Sangrado! said I: never be weary of setting your wits against kermes; and deafen the health-dispensing tribe with your thunders against the use of bleeding in the feet. If, spite of all your zeal and affection for medical orthodoxy, this empiric generation should succeed in supplanting true and legitimate practice, it will be at least your consolation to have exhausted your best endeavours in the support of truth and reason.
As my secretary and myself were walking to the inn, making our observations in high glee on the doctor's entertaining and original character, n man from fifty five to sixty years of age happened to pass near us in the street, walking with his eyes fixed on the ground, and a large rosary in his hand. I conned over the distinctive cut of his appearance most cunningly, and was rewarded in the recognition of Signor Manuel Ordonnez, that faithful trustee for the affairs of the hospital, of whom so honourable mention is made in the first volume of these true and instructive memoirs. Accosting him with the most profound and unquestionable tokens of respect, I paid my compliments in due form and order to the venerable and trust-worthy Signor Manuel Ordonnez, the man of all the world in whose hands the interests of the poor and needy are most safely and beneficially placed. At these words he looked me steadfastly in the face, and answered that my features were not altogether strange to him, but that he could not recollect where he had seen me. I used to go backwards and forwards to your house, replied I, when one of my friends, by name Fabricio Nunez, was in your service. Ah! I recollect the circumstance at once, rejoined the worthy director with a cunning leer, and have good reason to do so; for you were a brace of pleasant lads, and were by no means backward in the little scape-grace tricks of youth and inexperience. Well! and what is become of poor Fabricio? Whenever he comes across my thoughts, I cannot help feeling a little uneasy about his temporal and eternal welfare.
It was to relieve your mind upon that subject, said I to Signor Manuel, that I have taken the liberty of stopping you in the street. Fabricio is settled at Madrid, where he employs himself in publishing miscellanies and collections. What do you mean by miscellanies and collections? replied he. I mean, resumed I, that he writes in verse and prose, from epic poems and the highest branches of philosophy, down to plays, novels, epigrams, and riddles. In short, he is a lad of universal genius, and most exemplary benevolence; sometimes modestly taking to himself the credit of his own compositions, and sometimes lending out his talents to the literary ambition of those noblemen who write for their own amusement, but wish their names to be concealed, except from a chosen circle. By traffic like this he sits at the very first tables. But how does he sit at his own? said the director: upon what terms does he live with his baker? Not quite so confidentially as with people of fashion, answered I; for between ourselves, I take him to be quite as much out at elbows as ever Job was. More bonds and judgments against him than ever Job had, take my word for it! replied Ordonnez. Let him lick the spittle of his titled friends and patrons till his stomach heaves at the nauseating saliva; his printed dedications and his oral flattery, in spite of all the cringing and all the toad-eating, which constitute the stock-in-trade of his profession, with all the profits of his works, whether by subscription or ordinary publication, will not bring grist enough to his mill, to keep hunger from the door. Mind if what I say does not turn out to be true! He will come to the dogs at last.
Nothing more likely! replied I; for he cohabits with the muses already; and many a plain man has found, to his cost, that there is no keeping company with the sisters, without being worried by their bullying brethren. My friend Fabricio would have done much better by remaining quietly with your lordship; he would now have been lying on a bed of roses, and everything he had touched would have turned to gold. He would at least have been in a very snug berth, said Manuel. He was a great favourite of mine; and I meant, by a regular gradation from subaltern to principal situations, to have established him in ease and affluence on the basis of public charity; but the foolish fellow took it into his head to set up for a wit. He wrote a play, and brought it out at the theatre in this town: the piece went off tolerably well, and nothing thenceforth would serve his turn but commencing author by profession. Lope de Vega, in his estimation, was but a type of him: preferring, therefore, the intoxicating vapour of public applause to the plain roast and boiled of this substantial ordinary, he came to me for his discharge. It was to no purpose for me to argue the point, or to prove to him what a silly cur he was, to drop the bone and run after the shadow: the mad blockhead was so suffocated by the smother of authorship, that the instinctive dread of fire could not rouse his alacrity to escape burning. In short, he was miserably unconscious of his own interest, as his successor can testify: for he, possessing practical good sense, though without half Fabricio's quickness and versatility, makes it his whole study and delight to go through his business in a workmanlike manner, and to fall in with all my little ways. In return for such good conduct, I pushed him forward in a manner corresponding with his deserts; and he unites in his own person, even at this time of day, two offices in the hospital, the least lucrative of which would be more than sufficient to place any honest man at his ease, though encumbered with a yearly teeming wife.