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Historical Relations of Pharmacy and Physic

Nature volume 140, pages 676677 (16 October 1937) | Download Citation



THE historical relation of pharmacy and physic was the subject of Sir Humphry Rolleston's address at the opening of the ninety-sixth session of the College of the Pharmaceutical Society. He showed how, in the field of medicine, as in most other fields, evolution has brought with it specialization, and that among the roots of the tree of medical knowledge is the legend of Cosmos and Damian, the patron saints whom pharmacy shares with medicine, surgery, barbery and midwifery as evidence of their common origin. The process of decentralization and specialization of medicine has been repeated at very different dates in the world's chronology. In Egypt medical specialism had reached its acme in the fifth century B.C. when every confined his activities to one disease. On the other hand, in Europe it is difficult to trace a distinction between medical practitioners and the representatives of modern pharmacists until the approach of the Renaissance. In Great Britain, the process of specialization and separation was slow and painful. From so early as 1447, the Grocers Company in the City of Lond had the right of inspecting shops for the sale of drugs ointments and plasters, and its members were the recognized drug sellers of the day. From the specialist grocer the apothecary developed and in due time became a thorn in the flesh of the physicians, so that in 1540 the Royal College of Physicians obtained the power to "search, view and see the apothecariees' wares, drugs and stuffs". The apothecaries, balancing between trading and professionalism, temporarily came down on the wrong side of the fence, being united with the Grocers Company by charter in 1606. But this inconvenient marriage was dissolved in 1617, when the Society of Apothecaries obtained its own charter, James I saying that the apothecaries practised an art as well as a mystery, whereas the grocers were merely merchants.

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