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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 17, 2010

Literary Critics of the Medical Profession

JAMA. 2010;303(7):674. doi:10.1001/jama.303.7.674-b

Medical News
PARIS LETTER

(From Our Regular Correspondent)
PARIS, Feb. 4, 1910.

Since the time of Molière, who in comedies overwhelmed the physicians of his time with ridicule, there have always been in France literary men inclined to exercise their wit at the expense of the medical profession and of physicians. In the present generation certain of these critics, among them Octave Mirbeau and Henry Maret, have been extremely violent in their strictures on physicians. A few years ago Léon Daudet, son of the celebrated novelist, Alphonse Daudet, and himself a writer of talent, published a pamphlet in which he criticized physicians violently, calling them morticoles, that is to say, cultivators of death. This pamphlet created quite a sensation, especially because its author had studied medicine, although he did not graduate. Recently Dr. G. Pasquier, devoting his inaugural thesis to “The Enemies of the Medical Profession,” asked certain writers, especially those who have often attacked physicians, to express their sincere opinion in regard to the medical profession and its representatives. The replies which he received show that literary men in general hold the medical profession in high esteem. Except Henry Maret, who went so far as to declare that therapeutics had not made the least progress since Hippocrates and Galen, inasmuch as more people die than ever, all the writers render justice to the knowledge and the devotion of the medical profession. Thus Octave Mirbeau writes, “I have no enmity against physicians. If I have sometimes directed some sallies against them it is because the medical profession, like all other professions, is open to criticism and satire—more than the others perhaps, for the higher the standing of a profession the more merciless satire should be against those who fail to recognize their social rôle and their great duties toward humanity. I have on the contrary a very lively sympathy, rising to a very lively admiration, for physicians, by whom I mean, of course, properly educated, hardworking, conscientious physicians. There is no profession which I find finer, more elevated and more noble in its ideals. There is none which demands more disinterestedness, more real renunciation, more self-sacrifice. I speak, be it understood, of practitioners, not of those teaching bonzes who despise medicine, consider therapeutics a low charlatanism and whose whole life is devoted to the chatter of congresses and to the intrigues of salons and academies.”

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