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Chapter 42: Europe again.—heroic remedies.—health restored. 1858-1859.

Sumner arrived at Havre June 1; and after a night at Rouen, an old city which always fascinated him, he went on to Paris. Two days after, an American merchant, Mr. Henry Woods of Boston, then engaged in business in that city, directed his attention to Dr. Brown-Sequard1 as a person who, though not in the regular practice of medicine or surgery, had devoted himself to the study of nervous diseases, particularly as connected with the spine, and was well known for his experiments in physiology and his lectures before medical bodies. Sumner had had in mind a consultation with some eminent French physician, like Louis, Trousseau, or Velpeau; but now, with the sanction of Dr. George Hayward of Boston, then in Paris, he had recourse to Dr. Brown-Sequard, who concurred with Dr. Hayward in the opinion that the curative influences of time and change of scene were not sufficient to meet the case, but that it required ‘active treatment.’ Dr. Hayward expressed to Sumner full confidence that he would recover, though warning him that much patience on his part and considerable time would be required.

Dr. Brown-Sequard met Sumner first at the latter's lodgings, Hotel de la Paix, Rue de la Paix, on the 10th, having assured his patient in the note by which he made the appointment that there was not a human being, his own family included, whom he would so heartily rejoice to relieve from pain. After a diagnosis lasting three hours, and accompanied with the application of ice and boiling water, he decided that the blows on the head had taken effect by contre-coup in the spine, producing disturbance [564] in the spinal cord.2 In his view the original injury had resulted in an effusion of liquid about the brain, and in a slight degree of congestion,—chiefly, if not wholly, confined to the membrane around the brain, but taking effect by counter-stroke in the spine. To Sumner's instant inquiry as to the remedy, the doctor replied ‘fire;’ and the patient asking for an immediate application, the moxa was applied that afternoon to the back of the neck and to the spine.3 Sumner was asked whether he would take chloroform or not, and he at once wished to know whether the remedy would be less effective with its use; and being answered that it might be, he refused it, although in other like cases it was usually availed of to moderate pain. During the application, which lasted from five to ten minutes, Sumner held firmly the back of a chair, and griping it in his agony, broke the back. The fire was applied six times within two weeks, leaving wounds which, with the inflammation and suppuration, made motion difficult, and seriously interrupted sleep. Pains came in other parts of the body, as in the legs,—driven there, as it was thought, by the moxa. The doctor came daily to dress the wounds, and by the middle of August had made forty-five visits, passing nearly an hour with his patient at each visit. He gave a memorandum at the time:—

I have applied six moxas to Senator Sumner's neck and back, and he has borne these exceedingly painful applications with the greatest courage and patience. A moxa is a burning of the skin with inflamed agaric (amadou), cotton wood, or some other very combustible substance. I have never seen a Man bearing with such fortitude as Mr. Sumner has shown the extremely violent pain of this kind of burning.4


In a note to Sumner, July 1, the doctor said:—

I write a line to give you a kind of moral compensation to your excessive physical suffering. I am perfectly sure that the greater is the pain you have suffered, and the pain you have yet to suffer, the greater also is your chance of being cured. Bear this idea in your mind, and the wakefulness of your nights will be less dreadful.

Sumner wrote to Longfellow, June 27:—

Little did I think when I last wrote you that fire would be my destiny. It has been applied six times to my neck and spine; to-morrow again. The torment is great; and then the succession of blisters, inflammations, and smarts. . . . I struggle for health, and do everything simply to that end. The doctor is clear that without this cruel treatment I should have been a permanent invalid, always subject to a sudden and serious relapse. Surely this life is held sometimes on hard conditions!

Dr. Hayward submitted the case in London to Sir Benjamin Brodie, Sir James Clark, Sir Henry Holland, and the venerable Dr. Lawrence, whom he reported as approving, with some qualifications, the treatment.

In the midst of this treatment, Sumner experienced, July 20, with some intimations a few days earlier, a severe pain and pressure in his chest,—the first attack of the angina pectoris, a malady which sixteen years later was to prove fatal to him. This new turn of the disease, which was singular and perplexing, was attributed to sympathy between the nerves in the region of the chest and those of the spine. Whether it was due to the treatment seems not to have been a subject of medical discussion. The attack came at night, while the wounds from the moxa were healing; and the suffering was even greater than from the moxa. Sumner was obliged to leave his bed and sit in a chair during that night and the next day. These attacks continued, occurring four times on some days, as on August 3, and were so severe as ‘to make the fire seem pleasant.’

The correspondent of the New York Tribune, who was in frequent communication with Dr. Brown-Sequard and Sumner, wrote, July 26:—

His physical sufferings have been constant, and rather increasing than diminishing, since I last wrote. The moxa has not been administered anew, but none of the wounds on the neck and back left by the six first burnings are [566] yet healed. These render every change of posture difficult, slow walking very painful, and the constantly irritating motion of a carriage nearly intolerable. The bed gives only a cramped, labored repose; for the nature and position of the fire wounds are such as to forbid the poor privilege of tossing about under penalty of fresh agony. This state of things has lasted now for nearly six weeks. Meanwhile, however, the burns are slowly closing over; and Dr. Brown-Sequard, who is in daily attendance, does not propose to apply the moxa again for the next two months.

Some new features in the case have developed, causing the patient intense new pains. It is throwing but little light on them to say that they are neuralgic, constringing and oppressing the chest as with a torturing, deadly weight. They have been considerably reduced by the administration of hot baths and powerful internal remedies. If I rightly understand the physician and his patient, these new pains are to be regarded purely as an effect of sympathy between the nerves in the region of the chest and the great nervous central column, not as an extension to that region of the malady of the latter, nor as an independent local disease of those nerves.

In June and July Sumner passed the greater part of the time in his bed, unable even to take the air in a drive. He saw few persons, as it was difficult for him to move about; and indeed lie had little heart for society. Among his American callers were Mr. Woods,—always ready with kind offices for him, as for all fellow-countrymen,—William C. Bryant, Professor Felton, George Bemis, Thomas N. Dale, and Mrs. Ritchie of Boston; and among English friends full of sympathy whom he met were Mr.Grote and Mrs. Grote, Madame du Quaire, Madame Molh, Mr.Browning and Mrs. Browning, and Mrs. Jameson.5 In August he passed a day with the Grotes at St. Germain. Among French friends who came to him or communicated their interest were Auguste Carlier,6 the Comte and Comtesse de Circourt, and Laboulaye. The last-named desired to know about Channing,—a topic always grateful to Sumner. Madame Mohl was his companion in a call at Rueil on M. and Madame Turgenev.7 He listened to a lecture on Schelling8 at the Institute, receiving a complimentary ticket from Mignet, the lecturer. Tender messages came across the channel from the Wharncliffes,

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