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In former times there was a sort of ambition, as it were, of adopting plants, by bestowing upon them one's name, a thing that has been done before now by kings even, as we shall have occasion to show:1 so desirable a thing did it appear to have made the discovery of some plant, and thus far to have contributed to the benefit of mankind. At the present day, however, it is far from impossible that there may be some who will look upon these researches of ours as frivolous even, so distasteful to a life of ease and luxury are the very things which so greatly conduce to our welfare.

Still, however, it will be only right to mention in the first place those plants the discoverers of which are known, their various properties being classified2 according to the several maladies for the treatment of which they are respectively employed: in taking a review of which one cannot do otherwise than bewail the unhappy lot of mankind, subject as it is, in addition to chances and changes, and those new afflictions which every hour is bringing with it, to thousands of diseases which menace the existence of each mortal being. It would seem almost an act of folly to attempt to determine which of these diseases is attended with the most excruciating pain, seeing that every one is of opinion that the malady with which for the moment he himself is afflicted, is the most excruciating and insupportable. The general experience, however, of the present age has come to the conclusion, that the most agonizing torments are those attendant upon strangury, resulting from calculi in the bladder; next to them, those arising from maladies of the stomach; and in the third place, those caused by pains and affections of the head; for it is more generally in these cases, we find, and not in others, that patients are tempted to commit suicide.

For my own part, I am surprised that the Greek authors have gone so far as to give a description of noxious plants even; in using which term, I wish it to be understood that I do not mean the poisonous plants merely; for such is our tenure of life that death is often a port of refuge to even the best of men. We meet too, with one case of a somewhat similar nature, where M. Varro speaks of Servius Clodius,3 a member of the Equestrian order, being so dreadfully tormented with gout, that he had his legs rubbed all over with poisons, the result of which was, that from that time forward all sensation, equally with all pain, was deadened in those parts of his body. But what excuse, I say, can there be for making the world acquainted with plants, the only result of the use of which is to derange the intellect, to produce abortion, and to cause numerous other effects equally pernicious? So far as I am concerned, I shall describe neither abortives nor philtres, bearing in mind, as I do, that Lucullus, that most celebrated general, died of the effects of a philtre.4 Nor shall I speak of other ill-omened devices of magic, unless it be to give warning against them, or to expose them, for I most emphatically condemn all faith and belief in them. It will suffice for me, and I shall have abundantly done my duty, if I point out those plants which were made for the benefit of mankind, and the properties of which have been discovered in the lapse of time.

1 In c. 33, et seq., of this Book.

2 In the next Book.

3 See the case of M. Agrippa, mentioned in 1. xxiii. c. 27.

4 Said, by Plutarch, to have been administered to him by his freedman Callisthenes, with the view of securing his affection.

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