(A) Röschlaub’s original essay. Volume 6 (1801/02) of Röschlaub’s journal Magazin zur Vervollkommnung der Medizin discusses Röschlaub’s original article in that journal, “Briefe an Prof. Röschlaub die Verbindung der Philosophie mit der Heilkunde betreffend von seinem Freunde X,” Magazin zur Vervollkommnung der Medizin (1800) vol. 4, no. 2, 182–234, that prompted Kotzebue’s counter-article and accusations of forgery in the Journal der practischen Arzneykunde und Wundarzneykunst.
See here the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1802) 34 (Wednesday, 3 February 1802) 267–68, concerning that background:
Briefe an Prof. Röschlaub die Verbindung der Philosophie mit der Heilkunde betreffend, von seinem Freunde X [Letters to Prof. Röschlaub concerning the relationship between philosophy and the medical sciences, from his friend X].
The only thing we liked in these letters was their classification of physicians according to their view of the organism with tasteless appellations. Everything is attuned to the glorification of the Schellingian philosophy of nature and its application to medicine.
The story of a scholar beset by an illness of the lower intestines is related in an equally boring and extremely long-winded fashion in twenty-one letters, along with the story of in how loathsome a fashion a physician treated him. Quinine and sound dietary advice finally cured the ill person.
No sound, estimable, or thinking physician today ever spoke or wrote or acted the way this alleged physician did, nor did what was recounted have anything to do with customary pre-Brownian treatment, just as the successful healing arts contain nothing peculiar to the Brownian school in any case.
The only piquant element in the entire, pathetic account is that, at the end, we read that the author does not wish to name the practicing physicians yet does want to satisfy the public’s curiosity in knowing the name of the ill person. Because the author has already mentioned that he was a learned and witty person, and that his name begins with a K, the author now advises readers to guess for themselves.
Who else could it be, so the author’s own words, than Herr Kotzebue, the poet, who at just the moment Illustr. gave him belladonna, composes a certain well-known comedy in honor of the experience and of the toilets(!!!).
[As is well known, Herr von Kotzebue, who, when this article appeared, was presumed to have been exiled to Siberia, has in the meantime exhaustively exposed everything, really everything involving him, as the most unabashed web of lies ever conceived, and, moreover, solemnly challenged Herr Röschlaub to publicly reveal the name of his slanderous Friend X. Herr von Kotzebue seems to believe the purpose was to slander his esteemed physician, Herr Dr. Bluhm in Reval. But we doubt as much. On the other hand, we are ourselves indeed puzzled at just what the point was of this pointless and worthless exercise.]
(B) Kotzebue’s Response. Kotzebue responded in the essay “Enthüllung einer völlig erdichteten Krankengeschichte zum Behuf des Brownschen Systems, in Röschlaubs Magazin zur Vervollkommnung der Heilkunde,” Journal der practischen Arzneykunde und Wundarzneykunst 12 (1801) no. 2, 149–69.
The article is divided into essentially four parts:
(1) An introductory explanation of the background:
A while back, in connection with a review in the Salzburger medizinische Zeitung, I declared in the Hamburger Correspondent that the epistolary account of my medical case history reviewed in the Salzburg journal was a mere piece of fiction. At the time, however, I had not yet read the actual piece in Röschlaub’s Magazin in which those letters are to be found.
But now I have. And I have but barely recovered from my initial astonishment at a man who, if ever the Father of Lies himself die, might without further consideration apply to take his place.
Hence I am here taking up my quill a second time, first, because I said far too little in the Hamburger Correspondent; second, because I consider it a moral obligation in part to defend, through my own account of that case history, the so unashamedly and satanically sullied reputation of my upright and excellent physician, Dr. Bluhm in Reval, and in part to prevent emergent Brownians who might give credence to that made-up case history from dispatching into the next life all the poor devils whose sufferings and symptoms resemble my own.
(2) Kotzebue then goes on the enumerate and refute thirty-five “lies” perpetrated by the alleged letters published in Röschlaub’s journal, e.g.,
Fourth lie: “The second physician’s treatment cured a burning fever.”
[Truth:] I have never, in all my life, had a burning fever.
Fifth lie: “And through lengthy, continued experiments with electricity.”
[Truth:] No physician has ever conducted electrical experiments on me.
Sixth lie: “The second physician’s treatment consisted primarily in solutions of bitter extracts and Gummata ferulacca.”
[Truth:] I have never employed either the services of this second physician or Gummata ferulacca.
Seventh lie: “Finally, the third physician applied the treatment of evacuating clysters for three years without interruption. The files of this physician are the most voluminous and contain 21 letters which I will present in extracts shortly.”
[Truth:] Not a single one of these 21 letters was ever written. During my illness and my stay in the country, I received at most three or four letters from Herr Dr. Bluhm, none of which resemble the ones present here either stylistically or in content. . . .
Thirty-fifth lie: Now a letter is presented in which the friend of the liar allegedly presented to me his new, naturally Brownian prescriptions, a letter which I must regret never to have received and which I am thus forced to view as the thirty-fifth lie.
(3) He then issues an indignant challenge to Röschlaub to reveal his sources publicly:
I would not presume that any of my readers would at first glance consider it even possible to send 35 such abominable lies out into the world with such abominable impertinence, and that my readers will have the same reaction as I, who could initially do nothing more than stand there aghast, not knowing whether all this scribbling and scrawling was meant seriously or merely as a joke.
Most of my personal physicians are still living; hundreds of persons who witnessed my illness are still living; I myself am still living; the prescriptions for the medications I took still exist; the apothecary who prepared them is still living; my own diary, which I kept with hypochondrial precision, still exists.
And despite all this, some shameless quidam [Latin, here: “certain someone”] emerges, a Brownian enragé, for whom no device is too base if it but serves to satisfy his system rage, including inventing a case study along with symptoms, making them even worse than they were, healing them, pasquinading in the most abominable fashion an upright, skilled physician who is quite famous in his own country . . .
Ha! And I am not supposed to step forward and thunderously beat down this slanderer with all the power of crystal-clear truth?
Let this pathetic person who so maliciously abused my name come forward and identify himself! Let him identify his famous friend who allegedly healed me! Let him hand over to the local legal authorities the originals of the letters he allegedly copied. Let him hand over the prescriptions and professional diary of his friend, etc. Let him confess to being deceived himself, or to being the most infernally cunning deceiver! — and at the same time as the stupidest deceiver!
For how could he believe, for even a single moment, that this foolish invention would go undiscovered? — Was he perhaps counting on my never reading anything about medicine? — or — did he discover, at the end of his scrawling, that I was exiled to Siberia? was he counting on my never returning? and that he could thus use my name with impunity, using its renown to lend his lie even more credence? — Given this person’s unmistakable malice, I find the latter almost the most probable. . . .
Woe! and twice woe! if the Brownian system is having to seek refuge in such pathetic stopgaps. To save the honor of this system, I hope Herr Professor Röschlaub will publicly identify his slanderous Herr X, and publicly say he himself had nothing to do with the affair. I herewith challenge him to make precisely this admission, and I trust enough in his character to hope he will do so in a noble fashion. If he does not, then on whom will half the guilt fall?
(4) There is then an account of his illness “for the sake of completing this exposé of the deceiver and of justifying my upright physician” (here Kotzebue similarly goes into excruciating detail enumerating the medications, preparations, and their ingredients prescribed by his physicians), finally concluding:
And now, Herr X! Come forward! Show us your original documents, your files; prove your foolish assertions concerning Belladonna, electricity, tapeworms, etc. Identify your excellent friend who allegedly admired my sound sleep and insatiable appetite, and who weighed out my phlegm. —
And should you, instead of being able to do all this, instead be forced to admit that because of sheer system-rage you turned into the most despicable slanderer, and that, perhaps out of financial envy and personal hatred, you created this entire, miserable fairy tale: then beat your breast and cry out: “I am a poor sinner,” who in despair over the fame and skill of a physician whose shoelaces he is not worthy to loosen, took refuge in a vile lie, hoping the Siberian forests would eternally prevent his discovery.
(C) Röschlaub’s Response. Röschlaub rather coarse response to Kotzebue’s essay was published in the Miszellaneen of Röschlaub’s own journal (vol. 6 , no. 2, 435–42: “Auch noch etliche Worte an den Herrn A. von Kotzebue” [“Also a few words to Herr August von Kotzebue”]:
You would not believe, O thou most popular poet of baseness, how sorry I feel for you. For that you genuinely are as stupid as you appear in the essay your good-natured Friend Rath Hufeland accepted for his journal — ever vigilant as he is to liberate medicine from incorrect observations – truly eclipses my imagination.
Your essay, as you yourself say, was intended to expose a completely fictional medical case history concocted for the sake of the Brownian system in Röschlaub’s Magazin zur Vervollkommnung der Heilkunde. Ah! but how pathetic when I demonstrate to you that this essay is — not the exposure of a fictionalized medicial case history for the aforementioned reason, but rather — a rapturous demonstration of your own foolishness and obtuseness!
Please deign to read, for your and your Herr Ordinarius’ edification (whose private missive to me I will keep private out of respect for him), the following explanation.
You claim to find in Dr. X.’s case history as published in this magazine 35, read: thirty-five lies. And this discovery has quite gotten the goat of both you and Dr. Bluhm in Reval, your Herr Ordinarius. You consider it a moral obligation to rescue the honor of your upright and skilled physician Dr. Bluhm (which you say has been so “unabashedly and satanically assaulted”), and in part to prevent perhaps incipient Brownians from trusting in this falsified story and by so doing dispatch into the next world all the poor devils whose sufferings resemble your own.” . . .
You go to considerable effort to delineate 35 lies in the case history related by Dr. X. How amusing, though it reveals more about your odor than your understanding. For were you not so dull-witted, so foolish, that you simply cannot understand that the entire case history concerns you not in the slightest, and that merely at the end the mischievous Dr. X wanted to play a joke on you by naming you as the subject of the case history — which you are decidedly not, nor are intended to be other than being mentioned per sarcasmum — then you would have found not a single, not to speak of 35 lies in this story as such.
Do you, enraged Herr Popular Poet of Baseness, not understand this at all? — Let me put this thing directly in front of you and those who might judge as foolishly as you. Please have the patience to remember the following quite preciselyu.
You see: the case history as presented by Doctor X is, as said, quite true. Not a single sentence is false. But during their entire narrative, no name is mentioned, only the letter K appears as an allusion to the name, and every other letter of the alphabet from A to Z could have been used instead of K, since names matter not in such a narrative. Admittedly, Dr. X. rather mischievously chose the letter K to have a bit of fun with the author of the pathetic literary rubbish Das neue Jahrhundert [in Kotzebue’s Neue Schauspiele, vol. 5 (Leipzig 1801), 1–90], who calls himself Kotzebue.
So, rightly understood, Herr von Kotzebue, in order to play a joke on you, i.e., to make fun of you, the mischievous Dr. X. finally turned things such that K. was seen to mean Kotzebue, as I could document in an original letter if I considered it worth the trouble. It never occurred to him to identify you seriously as the subject of the illness, nor can he (as little as I myself) comprehend how you or anyone else, e.g., the travel writer Lentin, the good-natured doctors Bluhm and — (at least it seems) — Hufeland, could come upon the silly notion that this identification contained more than mere sarcasm.
Do you still not understand? Do you still find lies in the essay? You cannot find more than one in any case unless you simply abuse the word “lie” itself. And you must admit that if indeed one lie can be found here, it is an extremely noble one. (In your own inferior morality, lies can indeed be called “noble.”) — To wit, it was perpetrated to denounce a foolish, pathetic scribbler.
You are unable, O grand Theater President, to come to an end in thinking up enough abusive names for Dr. X. And yet Dr. X. never had the slightest to do with any Bahrd mit der eisernen Stirne [The play Doktor Bahrdt mit der eisernen Stirn, oder: Die deutsche Union gegen Zimmermann. Ein Schauspiel in vier Aufzügen, “by Freiherr von Knigge” (n.p. 1790), an attack on Johann Georg Zimmermann maliciously attributed to Adolf Franz von Knigge, temporarily damaged Kotzebue’s reputation.]
I will, by the way, concede that, as you yourself relate, you have almost never been almost crazy; that no one every suspected you had a tapeworm; that you usually slept poorly or not at all; that you usually had no appetite at all, and certainly not a bottomless one; that you experienced most of your problems after eating and were then indisposed to do anything; that you moved about a great deal in forests and swamps; that you ate a great many green peas, suffered considerable pounding of the heart and anxiety, consumed a great quantity of laxatives to evacuate your bowels, swallowed oxen gall and other bitter things, then suffered continued fevers, also fears resembling those of a patricide and matricide, could not sleep, feared the bed itself; that you became more favorably inclined toward laxatives; that your body was a pea silo; that you were indelicate enough to rinse out the evacuated pea lumps and have the hulls inflated and presented; and who knows what other similar things you yourself have related.
I do indeed believe all that and more from what you relate, and prefer to do so rather than were your story relating something more clever. All that concurs quite well with your own soluble personality and the virtuosity of the physicians you consulted. Nor could it be otherwise.
But by what reasoning do you then entertain hopes that I — out of respect for the Brownian system — will publicly divulge the name of slanderous Dr. X.?
First, what do you have in common with the Brownian system in the first place? Do you perhaps fear that Doctor Excitation or Doctor Potence might perform an autopsy on you while you are still alive to determine whether you be in a state of sthenic or asthenic foolishness or delirium? You are far too dissoluble to be autopsied, nor can the Brownian system hope to gain or lose any respect through you in any case, regardless of how many centuries [Jahrhunderte, an allusion to the play mentioned earlier] you were to plaster together in creating such fine diversion for your friends.
Although you refer to such identification of slanderous Dr. X as a “noble-minded” gesture, that which according to your idea of morality counts as “noble” or “noble-minded” is quite suspicious, to say the least. Lies, too, can be “noble” in such a view, nor is there likely anything in the world to which you would not be capable of imposing a “noble” cast. Let me thank you for your efforts, which you might have spared yourself just as I will spare myself the identification of Dr. X., who is and shall remain loftily out of reach of any reproach from you and Herr Dr. B[luh]m.
So, you may either make do with this sincere assurance or — expose yourself even more. Your good-natured friend Hufeland will from time to time doubtless provide space for your rants in his journal and otherwise not fail you, even assuming he has himself become convinced that Dr. X. did not in fact present any false observations.
In conclusion let say only that you are quite deluded if you believe the Brownian system might forfeit any of its value even if your attempt to expose falsity had any grounds in reality. Neither you nor various of your physician friends understand this, which is why it really would be but wasted effort were one to try to convince you otherwise, since just as little would you understand the proof.
This statement is my final one to you in this magazine. Now may Dr. X., who has in the meantime sent in his own declaration, take the podium himself. Should I myself be forced to say anything more to you, such will take place on the envelope. Perhaps there you will encounter worthy company.
The mysterious Dr. X. issues a lengthy statement on the ensuing pages, following a similar format in a similar tenor and addressing specific issues raised by Kotzebue: “Avis ans Publikum und Herrn von Kotzebue vom Doktor X.,” 6:443–54.
Translation © 2015 Doug Stott