“Good morning, Doctor,” said the Idiot as Capsule, M.D., entered the dining-room. “I am mighty glad you’ve come. I’ve wanted for a long time to ask you about this music cure that everybody is talking about and get you if possible to write me out a list of musical nostrums for every day use. I noticed last night before going to bed that my medicine chest was about run out. There’s nothing but one quinine pill and a soda-mint drop in it, and if there’s anything in the music cure I don’t think I’ll have it filled again. I prefer Wagner to squills, and compared to the delights of Mozart, Hayden and Offenbach those of paregoric are nit.”
“Still rambling, eh?” vouchsafed the Doctor. “You ought to submit your tongue to some scientific student of dynamics. I am inclined to think, from my own observation of its ways, that it contains the germ of perpetual motion.”
“I will consider your suggestion,” replied the Idiot. “Meanwhile, let us consult harmoniously together on the original point. Is there anything in this music cure, and is it true that our Medical Schools are hereafter to have conservatories attached to them in which aspiring young M.D.’s are to be taught the materia musica in addition to the materia medica?”
“I had heard of no such idiotic proposition,” returned the Doctor. “And as for the music cure I don’t know anything about it. Haven’t heard everybody talking about it, and doubt the existence of any such thing outside of that mysterious realm which is bounded by the four corners of your own bright particular cerebellum. What do you mean by the music cure?”
“Why, the papers have been full of it lately,” explained the Idiot. “The claim is made that in music lies the panacea for all human ills. It may not be able to perform a surgical operation like that which is required for the removal of a leg, and I don’t believe even Wagner ever composed a measure that could be counted on successfully to eliminate one’s vermiform appendix from its chief sphere of usefulness, but for other things, like measles, mumps, the snuffles, or indigestion, it is said to be wonderfully efficacious; What I wanted to find out from you was just what composers were best for which specific troubles.”
“You’ll have to go to somebody else for the information,” said the Doctor. “I never heard of the theory and, as I said before, I don’t believe anybody else has, barring your own sweet self.”
“I have seen a reference to it somewhere,” put in Mr. Whitechoker, coming to the Idiot’s rescue. “As I recall the matter, some lady had been cured of a nervous affection by a scientific application of some musical poultice or other, and the general expectation seems to be that some day we shall find in music a cure for all our human ills, as the Idiot suggests.”
“Thank you, Mr. Whitechoker,” said the Idiot gratefully. “I saw that same item and several others besides, and I have only told the truth when I say that a large number of people are considering the possibilities of music as a substitute for drugs. I am surprised that Doctor Capsule has neither heard nor thought about it, for I should think it would prove to be a pleasant and profitable field for speculation. Even I who am only a dabbler in medicine, and know no more about it than the effects of certain remedies upon my own symptoms, have noticed that music of a certain sort is a sure emollient for nervous conditions.”
“For example?” said the Doctor. “Of course we don’t doubt your word, but when a man makes a statement based upon personal observation it is profitable to ask him what his precise experience has been merely for the purpose of adding to our own knowledge.”
“Well,” said the Idiot, “the first instance that I can recall is that of a Wagner Opera and its effects upon me. For a number of years I suffered a great deal from insomnia. I could not get two hours of consecutive sleep and the effect of my sufferings was to make me nervous and irritable. Suddenly somebody presented me with a couple of tickets for a performance of Parsifal and I went. It began at five o’clock in the afternoon. For twenty minutes all went serenely and then the music began to work. I fell into a deep and refreshing slumber. The intermission came, and still I slept on. Everybody else went home, dressed for the evening part of the performance, had their dinner, and returned. Still I slept and continued so to do until midnight when one of the gentlemanly ushers came and waked me up and told me that the performance was over. I rubbed my eyes and looked about me. It was true, the great auditorium was empty, and was gradually darkening. I put on my hat and walked out refreshed, having slept from five twenty until twelve, or six hours and forty minutes, straight. That was one instance. Two weeks later I went again, this time to hear Die Goetherdammerung. The results were the same, only the effect was instantaneous. The curtain had hardly risen before I retired to the little ante-room of the box our party occupied and dozed off into a fathomless sleep. I didn’t wake up this time until nine o’clock the next day, the rest of the party having gone off without awakening me, as a sort of joke. Clearly Wagner, according to my way of thinking, then deserves to rank among the most effective narcotics known to modern science. I have tried all sorts of other things—sulfonal, trionel, bromide powders, and all the rest and not one of them produced anything like the soporific results that two doses of Wagner brought about in one instant, and best of all there was no reaction. No splitting headache or shaky hand the next day, but just the calm, quiet, contented feeling that goes with the sense of having got completely rested up.”
“You run a dreadful risk, however,” said the Doctor, with a sarcastic smile. “The Wagner habit is a terrible thing to acquire, Mr. Idiot.”
“That may be,” said the Idiot. “Worse than the sulfonal habit by a great deal I am told, but I am in no danger of becoming a victim to it while it costs from five to seven dollars a dose. In addition to this experience I have also the testimony of a friend of mine who was cured of a frightful attack of the colic by Sullivan’s Lost Chord played on a Cornet. He had spent the day down at Asbury Park and had eaten not wisely but too copiously. Among other things that he turned loose in his inner man were two plates of Lobster Salade, a glass of fresh cider and a saucerful of pistache ice-cream. He was a painter by profession and the color scheme he thus introduced into his digestive apparatus was too much for his artistic soul. He was not fitted by temperament to assimilate anything quite so strenuously chromatic as that, and as a consequence shortly after he had retired to his studio for the night the conflicting tints began to get in their deadly work and within two hours he was completely doubled up. The pain he suffered was awful. Agony was bliss alongside of the pangs that now afflicted him and all the palliatives and pain killers known to man were tried without avail, and then, just as he was about to give himself up for lost, an amateur cornetist who occupied a studio on the floor above began to play the Lost Chord. A counter-pain set in immediately. At the second bar of the Lost Chord the awful pain that was gradually gnawing away at his vitals seemed to lose its poignancy in the face of the greater suffering, and physical relief was instant. As the musician proceeded the internal disorder yielded gradually to the external and finally passed away entirely, leaving him so far from prostrated that by one a.m. he was out of bed and actually girding himself with a shotgun and an Indian Club to go upstairs for a physical encounter with the cornetist.”
“And you reason from this that Sullivan’s Lost Chord is a cure for Cholera morbus, eh?” sneered the Doctor.
“It would seem so,” said the Idiot. “While the music continued my friend was a well man ready to go out and fight like a warrior, but when the cornetist stopped—the colic returned and he had to fight it out in the old way. In these episodes in my own experience I find ample justification for my belief and that of others that some day the music cure for human ailments will be recognized and developed to the full. Families going off to the country for the summer instead of taking a medicine-chest along with them will go provided with a music-box with cylinders for mumps, measles, summer complaint, whooping-cough, chicken-pox, chills and fever and all the other ills the flesh is heir to. Scientific experiment will demonstrate before long what composition will cure specific ills. If a baby has whooping-cough, an anxious mother, instead of ringing up the Doctor, will go to the piano and give the child a dose of Hiawatha. If a small boy goes swimming and catches a cold in his head and is down with a fever, his nurse, an expert on the accordeon, can bring him back to health again with three bars of Under the Bamboo Tree after each meal. Instead of dosing kids with cod liver oil when they need a tonic, they will be set to work at a mechanical piano and braced up on Narcissus. There’ll Be a Hot Time In The Old Town To-Night will become an effective remedy for a sudden chill. People suffering from sleeplessness can dose themselves back to normal conditions again with Wagner the way I did. Tchaikowski, to be well Tshaken before taken, will be an effective remedy for a torpid liver, and the man or woman who suffers from lassitude will doubtless find in the lively airs of our two-step composers an efficient tonic to bring their vitality up to a high standard of activity. Nothing in it? Why, Doctor, there’s more in it that’s in sight to-day that is promising and suggestive of great things in the future than there was of the principle of gravitation in the rude act of that historic pippin that left the parent tree and swatted Sir Isaac Newton on the nose.”
“And the Drug Stores will be driven out of business, I presume,” said the Doctor.
“No,” said the Idiot. “They will substitute music for drugs, that is all. Every man who can afford it will have his own medical phonograph or music-box, and the drug stores will sell cylinders and records for them instead of quinine, carbonate of soda, squills, paregoric and other nasty tasting things they have now. This alone will serve to popularize sickness and instead of being driven out of business their trade will pick up.”
“And the Doctor? And the Doctor’s gig and all the appurtenances of his profession—what becomes of them?” demanded the Doctor.
“We’ll have to have the Doctor just the same to prescribe for us, only he will have to be a musician, but the gig—I’m afraid that will have to go,” said the Idiot.
“And why, pray?” asked the Doctor. “Because there are no more drugs must the physician walk?”
“Not at all,” said the Idiot. “But he’d be better equipped if he drove about in a piano-organ, or if he preferred an auto on a steam calliope.”