In the 18th century, medical opinion had it that the body was governed by the four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile) and that ill health was the result of miasms which disturbed the balance of these humours. Balance was restored by means such as purging, sweating and bloodletting — dramatic interventions which caused Immanuel Kant to describe such methods as "the quickest way of ending a conflict; but […] also (in medical terms) a heroic means — one that endangers life". As well as being dramatic, these interventions also tended to be at least as likely to kill you as the disease itself.
Although the humours were disproved by anatomist Dr. William Harvey in 1628,, it was widely used until the middle of the 19th century and is credited with partial responsibility for the death of George Washington.
- Misunderstood Genius in Human Anatomy: A new video from the World Science Festival tells the story of this medical pioneer (December 19, 2014) Smithsonian.
- The Death of George Washington George Washington's Mount Vernon