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Recent Literature Shakespeare as a Physician . Comprising every Word which in any Way Relates to Medicine, Surgery, or Obstetrics found in the Complete Works of that Writer, with Criticisms and Comparison of the Same with the Medical Thoughts of To-Day. By J. Portman Chesney, M. D., etc., etc. St. Louis: J. H. Chambers & Co. 1884

1884 Boston Medical and Surgical Journal  
Jurisprudence and Toxicology in the University of Pennsylvania, etc. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston, Son & Co. 1884. Professor Reese sets forth the scope and aim of his book with sufficient clearness in his preface. Having become convinced by an " experience of over twenty years as»a public teacher of this branch of science, that students who desire to acquire a knowledge of medical jurisprudence are too often deterred from their purpose by being confronted by the ponderous works of recognized
more » ... of recognized masters," he has " endeavored to condense iu a handy volume all the essentials of the science aud to present the topics in a simple and familiar style." Under these limitations, deliberately established, the author has produced an excellent book. All the subjects usually included iu a treatise on legal medicine are considered with more or less fullness and always attractively. But it is a fair question whether, in thus confining himself, the author has doue himself or his themes the fullest credit. The main defect of the volume seems to us to be this intended leanness ; in the steady purpose to "condense," the author has trimmed his composition too often to an extent that suggests unpleasant emaciation. It is as if one of a class of bright students taking well-written notes of the professor's own lectures had published those notes and called the product a text-book. In other words, the book is suggestive rather than exhaustive. One would hardly seek these pages first of all in the list of works on medical jurisprudence, if occasion demanded of him a preparation for creditable appearance in a medico-legal case ; he would naturally turn to other authorities whose writings are the substance of which this volume is a thin shadow. Both the lawyer and the doctor, when " compelled to cram for the occasion " of an impending trial (as the author expresses it), would scarcely rest satisfied if limited to the " essentials " here provided. Aud we meet repeatedly in the book such clauses as, " These [topics] canuot be farther enlarged upon here ; " and "In a work like the present it would be impossible to enter into a full discussion of the subject ; " as if the author himself felt hampered by his self-imposed barriers. Nevertheless, withiu the limits described, an attractive and instructive volume is the result. The phenomena and signs of death, the details of the medico-legal autopsy, the means of identification of the living and the dead, deaths from wounds, burns and the various forms of asphyxia, by lightning, heat, cold, and starvation,-these are discussed in the first third of the book. In an introductory chapter on the relations of medicine and law, the author describes the " coroner's inquest" without a word of comment on its uselessness or a siugle reference to the successful measures which have been taken to supersede it with something better. " In all civilized countries," he writes, " a special officer, named the coroner, is appointed to investigate" deaths occurring under suspicious circumstances ; there is no hint that uncivilized communities, like Scotland, France, Germany, and even benighted Massachusetts, get on very well without the services of the coroner. The section on poisons, as might be expected from the author's enviable reputation as a toxicologist, is admirably written. Statements have occasionally crept into the text, however, which invite criticism. It is declared that " poisoning is the most frequent of all the causes of violent death (the casualties of war ex-¡ cepted)," and that the statistics of various countries show this to be true ; this seems a most extraordinary declaration, and we hope that iu future editions the statistics will be given iu a foot-note. A poison is defined as " a substance which, when introduced into the body by swallowing, or by any other method, occasions disease or death ; and this, as an ordinary result, in a state of health, and not by a mechanical action." We cannot but believe that a medical witness, using this definition in court, would fiud himself in trouble, if cross-examination were faithfully conducted. Iu the sections relating to the vegetable poisons there is sometimes a want of definiteness ; thus, the fatal dose of strychnia is given as from half a grain to a grain ; that of tincture of aconite, from half a drachm to a drachm ; while of atropia it is stated that " used hypodermically even in doses of one fiftieth to one tenth of a grain it occasions, at times, violent symptoms." Greater preciseuess might have been expected. Fceticide and infanticide, pregnancy, impotence, and rape receive clear and able treatment. The chapter on infanticide is particularly good. Insanity, malpractice, and life insurance comprise the concluding portions of the book, and their medicolegal relations are well described. The author has no words of comfort for those who believe in " emotional insanity," and he analyzes with much skill the shortcomings of the legal doctrines aud distinctions concerning mental disease and criminal responsibility. A word of cordial praise should be bestowed upon the volume as a specimen of fine book-making ; its typographical excellences impress the reader contin-
doi:10.1056/nejm188410161111609 fatcat:6prg2kkazfen5kkawf3e2riv6q