Having learned the Conception and proper Contents of the History of a Disease, we naturally proceed to another closely connected question,—do all Diseases admit of such a historical exposition? It may be taken for granted at the outset with tolerable certainty that the answer to this question will be affirmative for the majority of actual Diseases; at any rate hardly an objection can be alleged from the theoretical stand-point. At the same time practical Experience must be allowed a voice on this point.
Unhappily we gain but little that is comforting from experience. It can scarcely be said that even a beginning has been made so far towards writing the History of a Disease in the indicated sense; and besides this, diseases have been primarily selected for consideration in which the historical factor obtrudes itself, as it were, on the attention, to wit the epidemic diseases. For the rest hardly anything at all has been done, excepting only in the case of Leprosy and the Venereal Disease, for which with singular unanimity an epidemic character has always been claimed. The Proteus-like character of these Maladies hindered every attempt of speculation to penetrate their nature, and so enquirers saw themselves forced to consult History. But the merest superficial glance at the treatment of Venereal disease by its Historians (and this applies equally to Leprosy) will show that little more than an insufficient collection of materials towards an actual History of the disease has thus far seen the light; and this in spite of the fact that no contemptible number of the most distinguished Scholars have devoted time and trouble to the subject, in many cases making it their life’s work.
However, if the matter is looked into more closely, it will be evident that a large proportion of these scholars directed their attention to one single point only, viz. the antiquity and time of origin of the Disease; and regarded all the other factors only in so far as they supported one or other of the views they had formulated. Besides the co-ordination of these factors is seen to be so loose that no general result of any stringency could ever be obtained. The few men whose definite purpose it was to arrive at such a result, failed, in view of the difficulty of collecting the material, to reach the completeness they had proposed, and so deferred working up what they had accumulated till death put an end to their enterprise. In especial this was the case with Hensler, and the non-appearance of the Second Part of his History of the Venereal Disease must doubtless long continue to be mourned as an irreparable loss.
The Past, on which all experience must draw, affords us so little assistance here that it is to the Future we must look for everything. The Present cannot show us in existence any history of Venereal disease as we understand it, but this in no way entitles it to deny the possibility of such a History. Thus it is of the highest importance to make the attempt to arrange and sift the material now ready and accessible, so far as it concerns the Venereal Disease, on principles conformable to the Conception and proper Contents as indicated above of the History of a Disease, and for this a relative completeness of the collected materials suffices. If in this way we are successful in sketching the history of Venereal Disease at any rate in its general outlines, it can quite well be left to the continued efforts of other Investigators to fill in the individual lines of the picture, especially as then and then only is the particular point ascertained by anticipation, at which later accessions must be worked in.
In every History, what comes first and foremost is to get to know the original Authorities from which the material for its treatment can be drawn, and this forms the proper Contents of the Literary history of the Disease. Accordingly our first duty will be to give a general survey of the literary helps lying ready to hand for the use of the Historian of Venereal Disease, and at the same time to specify how far these were accessible to ourselves. Thus the reader will be enabled at the very outset to form a judgement as to the completeness of the information supplied; and succeeding Enquirers will learn the gaps that are left remaining for them to fill up.
This will conclude a Survey of the historical results so far obtained in connection with the antiquity and time of origin of the Disease; and it will then be possible to indicate the special Scheme we propose to follow in our treatment of the task before us.