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The New York Times, February 28, 1901

Appears at Public Hearing Before Assembly Committee.
Wants to Try Everything That Comes Along - Adam, He Says, Was Unjustly Criticised.

Special to The New York Times

ALBANY, Feb. 27. - With Mark Twain and Will Carleton advertised as "top liners," the hearing before the Assembly Committee on Public Health today upon the Seymour bill to license osteopaths drew a big audience to the Assembly Chamber. Mr. Carleton did not speak, but Mark Twain did. For nearly an hour he had his hearers laughing.

The New York County Medical Society, which is opposing the bill, was represented at the hearing today by a formidable delegation. Among the speakers for the society were Dr. Elliot Harris, Dr. Floyd Crandall, Dr. Frank Van Fleet, Dr. Charles N. Dowd, Dr. Henry D. Didama, Regent of the Medical University of Syracuse, and Jacob Bolin, the President of the New York Society of Masseurs. Assemblyman Julius Seymour, the author of the bill; Attorney Edward Coleman, and Mason W. Presley, a Philadelphia osteopath, were the speakers in support of the bill.

In his speech Dr. Van Fleet made some caustic personal references to Mark Twain and to Assemblyman Seymour. He said: "One of the reasons which are given why this should be passed is that Mark Twain favors it. Mark Twain is a very funny man. He writes humorous books. People read them and roll over on the floor with laughter. But no one ever takes Mark Twain seriously. We he returned from abroad recently, Mark Twain referred to the American flag as a dishonored flag. The people did not take his utterance seriously. If they had they would have mobbed him, and justly, too." Mr. Clemens was sitting within a few feet of Dr. Van Fleet when the doctor took his fling at him, but he showed no signed of being disturbed by the criticism.

Dr. Didama of Syracuse said the purpose of the bill was a vicious one. It sought to give a license to practice to men who, according to their own admissions, did not take a course of study of half the length required by the State of all persons who applied to practice medicine. Referring to Dr. Van Fleet's references to Mark Twain, Dr. Didama said:

"Mark Twain has the respect not only of the physicians of this State, but of the whole country. Down under all his joking we know him to have a great deal of common sense, and we do not believe his common sense will permit him to give indorsement to the proposition which is here advanced."

Dr. Robert T. Morris read from one of the authorities of he osteopaths the treatment prescribed for felon. The treatment advised consisted n moving the muscles of the finger on which the felon was. "The value of that treatment will be readily understood," said Dr. Morris, "when I tell you that there are no muscles in the fingers." He continued:

"Mark Twain may come to you with jokes, but we are here dealing with life and death. It is a part of the game which these people play to get noted men to indorse their practice. When a patent medicine man wants to advertise his medicine he goes to a clergyman. They are used to taking things of faith. These osteopaths and others go to the great men in public life, who give their indorsement to get their pictures in the papers or to get rid of the preying solicitor. When the physician wants to try a new remedy he first tries it on the dog. He does not fool with precious human life. I notice that a lot of the indorsements of these osteopaths come from Vermont. Well, Vermont has such lax laws with regard to medical practice that is now the garbage ground of the profession."

At this point of his address Dr. Morris created something of a sensation. After referring to the fact that the osteopaths, according to their authorities, treated locomotor ataxia by rubbing the spinal cord and adjusting, as they claimed, by this process, bones which were out of position, the doctor produced from a bundle, which he unwrapped, the spinal cord of a child.

"Now, there," he said, "is the vertebrae of a little child. I challenge any one of these osteopaths to move a part of that bone the fraction of an inch."

A crowd gathered around the table upon which is the specimen had been laid to view it, but none of the osteopaths took up the challenge, although Dr. Morris repeated it several times, saying: "Now, there are the gloves; come put them on and give us an exhibition of your professed skill."


Attorney Coleman, the spokesman for the osteopaths introduced Mark Twain as the first speaker in their behalf. As Mr. Clemens faced his large audience he was greeted with generous applause. Turning to Dr. Van Fleet he said:

"This is the gentleman who gave me the character. Well, I want to say to him that I have been furnished with views of my character before he was born, and the men who described it were much more competent to show up all the iniquities in it than he is: [Laughter.]

"Now, gentlemen of the committee, when I came here, I came with a purpose of some kind, but it is difficult for me to find out now just what it was. These debaters have knocked it all out of my head. They have put my mind in a sort of maze with their scientific terms. I must say that I was both touched and distressed when they brought out that part of a child. I suppose the object of it was to prove that you cannot take a child apart in that way, (laughter), and I suppose we must concede that they have proved that.

"Why, Sir, when I listened to all those remarkable names of diseases which our learned medical friends have thrown out to us here this afternoon it made me envious of the man who had them all. [Laughter.] I don't suppose I shall ever enjoy the felicity of having them all in the span of life allotted to me, but I am truly thankful for those I have had.

"I am so constituted that I want to give everybody a chance. I want to give the mountebank a chance, if you please. And I do not want to have any restrictions put upon my free will when I have that disposition. I could not stand here and advocate osteopathy without knowing much more about it than I do. One of the gentlemen who spoke referred to my having acquired such knowledge of osteopathy as I had in Sweden. That is true. About a year and a half ago in London I met Mr. Kelgrin [sic], who I believe is the most noted practitioner of this kind abroad. He calls himself Mr. because he has not acquired the privilege of giving a certificate when a patient dies on his hands. He has been practicing in London for twenty-seven years.

"My meeting with him was quite by chance. I heard of him through a friend of mine whom he had cured of dysentery after eminent physicians had failed to give any relief, and after my friend had been brought close to the point of death. The friend I speak of is Poultney Bigelow. Now, of course, there may have been some flaw in Mr. Bigelow's cure, but he seemed to me to have been restored to full strength and health, and he himself insisted that he was. I thought he ought to know, though doubtless our medical friends will not agree with me on that point.


"Now I am always wanting to try everything that comes along. It doesn't matter much what it is, I want to try it. And so I went to Mr. Kelgrin [sic], was treated by him in London, and later on in Switzerland, and he did me a lot of good, as I thought, although I must admit that my education doesn't qualify me to say just when I am in good health. [Laughter.] But I should like to have the right to experiment with my own body to my heart's content. I don't care whether it is to my own peril or anybody else's. I am not particular about that.

"I notice that the Bell bill exempts the grandmother practitioner. Well, that is just as well, for she would practice, anyhow. As a matter of fact, we all know that our population is really divided in allegiance between two schools of medicine, the regular physicians and the grandmothers. [Laughter.] Now all I ask is the same liberty you give to the grandmother. The grandmother has been practicing without a license as far as the memory of any one of us goes back, and, on the whole, her success has been such that the medical profession is willing to have her continue in practice.

The State stands a Gibraltar between me and anybody who insists upon prescribing for my soul what I don't want to take and why shouldn't I have equal liberty with regard to my body, which is of so much less concern?


"I believe we ought to retain all of our liberties. We can't afford to throw any of them away. They didn't come to us in a night, like Jonah's gourd, if Jonah was the man who had a gourd. [Laughter.] The moment you start to drive anybody out of the State, then you have the same situation which existed in the Garden of Eden. I don't know as I cared much about these osteopaths until I heard you were going to drive them out of the state, but since I heard that I haven't been able to sleep. [Laughter.]

"I suppose if you do drive them out, they will go up to Vermont, which has been characterized here as the 'garbage ground of the profession,' and which, since it became that, has also become one of the healthiest States in the Union, and I suppose I can go up there without much trouble. But anyhow, it worries me. I can conceive just how it was in the Garden of Eden when the Lord told Adam he must not eat of the forbidden fruit. And my own opinion is that Adam is unjustly criticised. I am confident that if any of my tribe had been in the Garden of Eden when that injunction was served they would never have contented themselves with just one apple. They would have eaten the whole crop. [Great laughter.]

"Now what I contend is that my body is my own, at least, I have always so regarded it. If I do it harm through my experimenting it is I who suffer, not the state. And if I indulge in dangerous experiments the state don't die. I attend to that. [Laughter.] This disposition to experiment is an inheritance from my mother. She was all the time experimenting. She bought every patent medicine that came along. Not that she needed it, but just to see what effect it would have. But withal she was cautious. She didn't try the thing herself first, nor did she just pick out any one of the flock at random. She nearly always chose me.


"I can remember well when the cold water cure was first talked about. I was then about nine years old, and I remember how my mother used to stand me up naked in the back yard every morning and throw buckets of cold water on me, just to see what effect it would have. Personally, I had no curiosity upon the subject. [Laughter.] And then, when the dousing was over, she would wrap me up in a sheet wet with ice water and then wrap blankets around that and put me into bed. I never realized that the treatment was doing me any particular good physically. But it purified me spiritually. For pretty soon after I was put into bed I would get up a perspiration that was something worth seeing. Mother generally put a life preserver in bed with me. And when finally she let me out and unwound the sheet, I remember that it was all covered with yellow color, but that was only the outpourings of my conscience, just spiritual outpourings, and, fortunately, it removed all that, so that I am not troubled with it now.

"But I am willing to say that sometimes my mother's experiments had such an effect upon me that she was obliged to call in 'that ministering angel with the pills' to bring me around. And remembering that, I do not bar allopathy in my experiments now. No, I am willing to take a chance at that just for old times' sake. [Laughter.]

"At the time when I lived in the banner state, Missouri, we had a rather primitive society there. We didn't have the fine distinctions in language which we now have. To us the word dispute meant to quarrel. One day, when I was carried out to visit an uncle of mine I saw a picture in the house, copies of which most you have doubtless seen, 'Christ Disputing with the Disciples [sic] in the Temple.' Now, although I was the model Sunday school boy of our section, I couldn't quite understand that. For to my mind to dispute meant to quarrel. There was an old slave in the house, Uncle Ben by name, who came into the room when I was revolving the problem of the picture in my mind. I thought perhaps Uncle Ben might be able to enlighten me, for he was a sort of doctor himself, a herb doctor, unlicensed, of course.

" 'Uncle Ben,' I asked him, 'What does that picture mean? Christ surely didn't begin the dispute, did He?'

" 'Naw, the doctors, they begin it," he said.

" 'And what did they want to quarrel with Christ for?'

" 'Cause he ain't got no license, dat's why dey say He bust dem up in business." [Great laughter.]

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