Hoc autem de quo nunc agimus id ipsum est quod utile

“Trace Science, then, with Modesty thy guide;
First, strip off all her equipage of pride;
Deduct what is but vanity of dress,
Or learning’s luxury, or idleness,
Or tricks to show the stretch of human brain,
Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain.”

Lecturing after a fashion is easy enough; _teaching_ is a very
different affair. The one requires little more than good information,
some confidence, and a _copia verborum_; the other establishes
several additional requisitions. These requisitions, when rendered
comparatively easy by nature, are seldom perfectly matured without art
and careful study. The transmission of ideas from one mind to another,
in a simple, unequivocal form, is not always easy; but, in teaching,
the object is not merely to convey the idea, but to give a lively
and lasting impression—something that should not merely cause the
retention of the image, but in such connection as to excite another
process, “thought.”

There was no peculiarity in Abernethy more striking than the power he
possessed of communicating his ideas, and of sustaining the interest
of the subject on which he spoke. For this there is no doubt he was
greatly indebted to natural talent; but it is equally clear that he had
cultivated it with much care. His ability as a lecturer was, we think,
unique. We never saw his like before: we hardly dare hope we shall

There is no doubt that a great part of his success depended on a
facility of giving that variety of expression, and that versatility
of manner, which falls within the province of what we must call
dramatic; but then it was of the very highest description, in that it
was perfectly natural. It was of that kind which we sometimes find in
an actor, and which conveys the impression that he is speaking his
own sentiments, rather than those of the author. It is a species of
talent which dies with its possessor, and cannot, we think, be conveyed
by description. Still there were many things in Abernethy that were
observable, and such as could hardly have been acquired without study.

If we examine any lecturer’s style, and ask ourselves what is his
fault, we shall find very few in whom we cannot detect one or more.
When we do this, and then reflect on Abernethy, we are astonished
to find how many he avoided. We shall endeavour to make this as
intelligible as we can, by citing some of the points which our
attention to different lecturers have suggested.

“Simplicity” has struck us as a feature which, in some sense or
other, is very commonly defective. Simplicity appears so important,
that perhaps, by not a very illegitimate extension of its meaning, it
might be made to include almost all the requisitions of this mode of
teaching. Let us think of it in relation to language and illustration.
In all sciences, the _facts_ are simple; the laws are yet _more
so_; increasing knowledge tends to impress on us an ever-increasing
and comprehensive simplicity. In explaining simple things, no doubt
language should be simple too. If we employ language unnecessarily
technical, we use symbols to which the learner is unaccustomed.
He has not to learn the facts _only_; but he has the _additional
labour_ of something allied to learning it in a foreign language. The
_unnecessary_ use of technicalities should then surely be avoided.
Abernethy was obliged to use them, because there were often no other
terms; but he always avoided any needless multiplication of them. When
they were difficult or objectionable, he tried some manœuvre to lighten
the repulsiveness of them.

There are many muscles in the neck with long names, and which are
generally given with important parts of surgical anatomy. Here he used
to chat a little; he called them the _little_ muscles with the _long_
names; but he would add, that, after all, they were the best-named
muscles in the body, because their names expressed their attachments.
This gave him an excuse for referring to what he had just described,
in the form of a narrative, rather than a dry repetition. Then, with
regard to one muscle, that he wished particularly to impress, the name
of which was longer than any of the others, he used to point it out as
a striking feature in all statues; and then, repeating its attachments,
and pointing to the sites which they occupied, say it was impossible to
do so without having the image of the muscle before us.

In other parts of the Lectures, he would accompany the technical name
by the popular one. Thus he would speak of the pancreas, or sweetbread;
cartilage, or gristle. Few people are aware how many difficulties are
smoothed by such simple manœuvres. Nothing interests people so much as
giving anything _positive_. We think it not improbable that many a man
has heard a lecture, in which animals have been described with whose
habits he had been perfectly familiar, without having recognized his
familiar acquaintances in the disguise afforded by a voluminous Greek
compound. Abernethy seemed always to lecture, not so much as if he was
telling us what he _knew_, as that which _we_ did _not_ know. There was
an absence of all display of any kind whatever.

To hear some lecturers, one would almost think that they adopted the
definition of language which is reported of Talleyrand—that it was
intended to conceal our ideas. Some make simple things very much
otherwise by the mode of explaining them. This reminds us of a very
worthy country clergyman, in the west of England, who, happening to
illustrate something in his sermon by reference to the qualities of
pitch, thought he should help his rustic congregation by enlarging a
little on the qualities of that mineral. He accordingly commenced by
saying, “Now, dear brethren, pitch is a bituminous substance:” rather a
difficult beginning, we should think, to have brought to a successful

Sometimes we have heard a very unnecessary catalogue of technicalities
joined with several propositions in one sentence. It is hardly to
be imagined how this increases the difficulty to a beginner; whilst
it impresses the excellence of that simplicity and clearness which
were so charming in Abernethy. We give an example of this defect. The
lecturer is describing the continuation of the cuticle over the eyes
of the crustacea, as lobsters, &c.: “The epidermis (the cuticle) in
the compound eyes of the crustacea passes transparent and homogeneous
over the external surface of the thick layer of the prismatic corneæ,
which are here, as in insects, generally hexagonal, but sometimes
quadrangular; and to the internal ends of the prismatic corneæ are
applied the broad bases of the hard, tapering, transparent lenses,
which have their internal truncated apices directed to the retinal
expansions of the numerous optic nerves.”

The high respect we entertain for the lecturer here alluded to,
withholds us from attempting to supply a more homely version of the
foregoing passage. But what an idea this must give to a student who
reads it in “the outlines” of a science of which he is about to
commence the study. There is nothing whatever difficult in the ideas
themselves; but what a bristling _chevaux-de-frise_ of hard words,
what a phalanx of propositions! We fear we should never arrive at the
knowledge of many of those beautiful adaptations which all animals
exemplify, if we had to approach them by such a forbidding pathway.

As contrasted with simple facts thus obscured by an unnecessary
complexity of expression, we may see in Abernethy how a very
comprehensive proposition may be very simply expressed. Take almost the
first sentence in his Surgical Lectures, the germ, as it were, of a
new science: “Now I say that local disease, injury, or irritation, may
affect the whole system; and conversely, that disturbance of the whole
system may affect any part.”

We have sometimes thought that lecturers who have had several desirable
qualifications have materially diminished the attraction of them by
faults which we hardly know how to designate by a better term than
vulgarity, ill-breeding, or _gaucherie_. Now Abernethy had, in the
first place, that most difficult thing to acquire, the appearance of
_perfect ease, without_ the slightest _presumption_. Some lecturers
appear painfully “in company;” others have a self-complacent
assurance, that conveys an unfavourable impression to most well-bred
people. Abernethy had a calm, quiet sort of ease, with that expression
of thought which betokened respect for his task and his audience, with
just enough of effort only, to show that his mind was in his business.

He had no offensive tricks. We have known lecturers who never began
without making faces; others who intersperse the lecture with unseemly
gesticulations. Some, on the most trivial occasion, as referring to
a diagram, are constantly turning their backs _completely_ to the
audience. This is, we know, disagreeable to many people, and, unless a
lecturer is very clear and articulate, occasionally renders his words
not distinctly audible. Even in explaining diagrams, it is seldom
necessary to turn quite round; the smallest inclination towards the
audience satisfies the requisitions of good breeding, reminds them
agreeably of a respect with which they never fail to be pleased, and of
the lecturer’s self-possession.

There are, indeed, occasions when the lecturer had better turn a
little aside. Not long ago, we heard a very sensible lecturer, and a
very estimable man, produce an effect which was rather ludicrous—a
very inconvenient impression when not intended. He had been stating,
very clearly, some important facts, and he then observed: “The great
importance of these facts I will now proceed to explain to you;” when
he immediately began to apply the pocket-handkerchief he had in his
hand most elaborately to his nose, still fronting the audience. It had
the most ridiculous effect, and followed so closely on the preceding
remark, as to suggest to the humorously inclined that it was part of
the proposed explanation.

Some think it excusable to cast their eyes upwards, with an expression
of intense thought, or even to carry their hands to their heads or
forehead for the same purpose. But this conveys a painful feeling to
the audience, whose attention is apt to be diverted from the subject by
sympathy with the apparent embarrassment of the lecturer. Sometimes it
conveys the impression of affectation, which of course is one form of

Abernethy was remarkably free from anything of the kind. The
expression of his countenance was, in the highest degree, clear,
penetrative, and intellectual; and his long, but not neglected,
powdered hair, which covered both ears, gave altogether a philosophic
calmness to his whole expression that was peculiarly pleasing. Then
came a sort of little smile, which mantled over the whole face, and
lighted it up with something which we cannot define, but which seemed a
compound of mirth, archness, and benevolence.

The adjustment of the quantity of matter to the time employed in
discussing it, is an important point in teaching. A lecture too _full_,
is as objectionable as a lecture _too long_. If the matter is spread
too thinly, the lecture is bald and uninteresting, and apt to fall
short of representing any integral division of a subject; if it be too
thick, it is worse, for then all is confused and difficult. A man’s
brain is like a box packed in a hurry; when all is done, you neither
know what you have got, nor what you have forgotten.

Here again Abernethy was in general very happy. Various circumstances
would sometimes, indeed, in the Anatomical Course, oblige him to put
more into one lecture than was usual; but he had always, in such a
case, some little manœuvre to sustain the attention of his audience.
No man was ever a more perfect master of the _ars est celare artem_.
Everything he did had its object, every joke or anecdote its particular
errand, which was in general most effectively fulfilled.

The various ways in which Abernethy managed to lighten up the general
lecture, or to illustrate single points, can hardly be conveyed by
selection of particular examples. There was a sort of running metaphor
in his language, which, aided by a certain quaintness of manner, made
common things go very amusingly. Muscles which pursued the same course
to a certain point, were said to travel sociably together, and then to
“part company.” Blood-vessels and nerves had certain habits in their
mode of distribution contrasted in this way; arteries were said to
_creep_ along the sides or between muscles. Nerves, on the contrary,
were represented as penetrating their substance “_without ceremony_.”
Then he had always a ready sympathy with his audience. If a thing was
difficult, he would, as we have said, anticipate the feelings of the
student. This is always encouraging; because, when a student finds a
point difficult, if he is merely diffident, he is depressed; if he is
disposed to be lazy, he finds too good an excuse for it.

Abernethy’s illustrations were usually drawn from some source already
familiar; and if they were calculated to impress the fact, he was not
very scrupulous whence he drew them. This would sometimes lead him
into little trippings against refinement; but these were never wanton.
Everything had its object, from the most pathetic tale down to the
smallest joke. When the thing to be impressed was not so much single
facts or propositions, as a more continued series, he had an admirable
mode of pretending to con over the lecture in a manner which he would
first recommend students to do—something after this fashion: “Let me
see—what did he say?” “Well, first he told us that he should speak of
Matter in general; then he said something about the Laws of Matter,
of Inertia, &c. Well, I did not understand much of that; and I don’t
think he knew much about it himself;” and so on. There would now be a
general smile; the attention of the class would be thoroughly alive;
and then he would, in this “conning over,” bring forward the points
he most wished to impress of the whole lecture. A very striking proof
of how much power he had in this way, came out in a conversation I
had with Dr. Thomas Rees. This gentleman knew Abernethy well, and, in
kindly answering some inquiries I made of him, he spoke of his power
in lecturing. Amongst other things, he said: “The first lecture I ever
heard him give, impressed me very much; I thought it admirable. His
skill appeared so extraordinary! At the conclusion of the lecture,”
said Dr. Rees, “he proposed to the students to con over the lecture,
which he proceeded to do for them.” Dr. Rees then continued repeating
the heads of the lecture, and this after at least thirty, perhaps forty

Lecturers will sometimes endeavour to illustrate a point which is
difficult or obscure by something more difficult still, or something
borrowed from another branch of science. Sometimes the illustrations
are so lengthy, or intrinsically important, that a pupil forgets _what
principle_ it was that was _to be illustrated_. When we are desirous
of learning something about water or air, it is painful for a pupil
to be “reminded” of the “properties of angles,” which it is an even
chance he never knew. It is equally uncomfortable to many an audience,
in lectures on _other subjects_, to have the course of a cannon-ball,
which three pieces of string would sufficiently explain, for mere
purposes of illustration, charged with the “laws of projectiles,” the
“composition of forces,” &c. We are of course not thinking of learn_ed_
but learn_ing_ audiences. To the former, lectures are of no use; but
we allude to learners of mixed information and capacity; like young
men who have been residing with medical men in the country; who come
to a lecture for information, and who require to be interested, in
order that they may be instructed. Abernethy’s illustrations were
always in simple language. Rough ridden sometimes by a succession of
many-footed Greek compounds, the mind of a student loves to repose on
the refreshing simplicity of household phrases.

Abernethy had stories innumerable. Every case almost was given with the
interest of a tale; and every tale impressed some lesson, or taught
some relation in the structure, functions, or diseases of the body. We
will give one or two; but their effect lay in the admirable manner in
which they were related.

If he was telling anything at all humorous, it would be lighted up by
his half-shut, half-smiling, and habitually benevolent eye. Yet his eye
would easily assume the fire of indignation when he spoke of cruelty or
neglect, showing how really repulsive these things were to him. Then
his quiet, almost stealthy, but highly dramatic imitation of the manner
of some singular patient. His equally finished mode of expressing pain,
in the subdued tone of his voice; and then when something soothing or
comfortable had been successfully administered to a patient, his “Thank
you, sir, thank you, that is very comfortable,” was just enough always
to interest, and never to offend. Now and then he would sketch some
patient who had been as hasty as he himself was sometimes reported to
be. “Mr. Abernethy, I am come, sir, to consult you about a complaint
that has given me a great deal of trouble.” “Show me your tongue,
sir. Ah, I see your digestive organs are very wrong.” “I beg your
pardon, sir; there you are wrong yourself; I never was better in all my
life,” &c. All this, which is nothing in telling, was delivered in a
half-serious, half-Munden-like, humorous manner, and yet so subdued as
never to border on vulgarity or farce.

His mode of relating cases which involved some important principle,
showed how really interested he had been in them. A gentleman having
recovered from a very serious illness, after having failed a long time
in getting relief, was threatened, by the influence of the same causes,
with a return of his malady. “He thought,” said Abernethy, “that if he
did not drink deeply, he might eat like a glutton.” He lived in the
country, and Mr. Abernethy one day went and dined with him. “Well,”
said Mr. Abernethy, “I saw he was at his old tricks again; so, being
a merchant, I asked him what he would think of a man who, having been
thriving in business, had amassed a comfortable fortune, and then went
and risked it all in some imprudent speculation?” “Why,” said the
merchant, “I should think him a great ass.” “Nay, then, sir,” said
Abernethy, “thou art the man.”

On another occasion, a boy having suffered severely from disease of the
hip, Abernethy had enjoined his father to remove him from a situation
which he was unfitted to fill, and which, from the exertion it
required, would expose him to a dangerous recurrence of his complaint.
The father, however, put the boy back to his situation. One day,
Abernethy met both father and son in Chancery Lane, and he saw the
boy, who had a second time recovered, again limping in his walk. After
making the necessary inquiry—”Sir,” said he to the father, “did I not
warn you not to place your son in that situation again?” The father
admitted the fact. “Then, sir,” said Abernethy, “if that boy dies, I
shall be ready to say you are his murderer.” Sure enough, the boy had
another attack, and did die in a horrible condition.

This story, and others of a similar kind, were intended to impress
the paramount importance of keeping diseased parts, _and joints
especially_, in a state of _perfect repose_; and to prevent a
recurrence of mischief, by avoiding modes of life inappropriate to
constitutions which had exhibited a tendency to this serious class of

He was remarkably good on the mode of examining and detecting the
nature of accidents; as fractures and dislocations. In regard to the
latter, he had many very good stories, of which we will presently cite
a ludicrous example. He could, however, throw in pathos with admirable
skill when he desired it. The following lamentable case he used to tell
to an audience singularly silent. He is speaking of the course of a
large artery.

“Ah,” said he, “there is no saying too much on the importance of
recollecting the course of large arteries: but I will tell you a
case. There was an officer in the navy, and as brave a fellow as ever
stepped, who in a sea-fight received a severe wound in the shoulder,
which opened his axillary artery. He lost a large quantity of blood;
but the wound was staunched for the moment, and he was taken below. As
he was an officer, the surgeon, who saw he was wounded severely, was
about to attend him, before a seaman who had just been brought down.
But the officer, though evidently in great pain, said: ‘Attend to that
man, sir, if you please; I can wait.’ Well, his turn came; the surgeon
made up his mind that a large artery had been wounded; but, as there
was no bleeding, dressed the wound, and went on with his business. The
officer lay very faint and exhausted for some time, and at length began
to rally again, when the bleeding returned. The surgeon was immediately
called, and, not knowing where to find the artery, or what else to do,
told the officer he must amputate his arm at the shoulder joint. The
officer at once calmly submitted to this additional, but unnecessary
suffering; and, as the operator proceeded, asked if it would be long.
The surgeon replied that it would soon be over. The officer rejoined:
‘Sir, I thank God for it!’ But he never spake more.”

Amidst the death-like silence of the class, Abernethy calmly concluded:
“I hope you will never forget the course of the axillary artery.”

His position was always easy and natural—sometimes homely, perhaps.
In the Anatomical Lecture, he always stood, and either leant against
the wall, with his hands folded before him, or resting one hand on the
table, with the other perhaps in his pocket. In his Surgical Lecture,
he usually sat, and very generally with one leg resting on the other.

He was particularly happy in a kind of coziness, or friendliness of
manner, which seemed to identify him with his audience; as if we were
all about to investigate something interesting _together_, and not as
if we were going to be “Lectured at” at all. He spoke as if addressing
each individual, and his discourse, like a happy portrait, always
seemed to be looking you in the face. On very many accounts, the tone
and pitch of the voice, in lecturing, are important. First: That it may
not be inaudible; nor, on the contrary, too loud. The one of course
renders the whole useless; the other is apt to give an impression of
vulgarity. We recollect a gentleman who was about to deliver a lecture
in a theatre to which he was unaccustomed. He was advised to ascertain
the loudness required, and to place a friend in the most distant part,
to judge of its fitness; but he declined it as unnecessary. When he had
given the lecture, which was a very good one, on a very interesting
subject, he was much mortified in finding that he had been inaudible to
at least one half of the audience.

Abernethy was very successful in this respect. His voice seldom rose
above what we may term the conversational, either in pitch or tone;
it was, in general, pleasing in quality, and enlivened by a sort of
archness of expression. His loudest tone was never oppressive to those
nearest to him; his most subdued, audible everywhere. The _range_
of pitch was very limited; the expression of the eye, and a _slight
modulation_ of the voice being the means by which he infused through
the lecture an agreeable variety, or gave to particular sentiments
the requisite expression. There was nothing like declamation; even
quotations were seldom louder than would have been admissible in a
drawing-room. We have heard lecturers whose habitually declamatory tone
has been very disagreeable; and this seldom fails to be mischievous. A
declamatory tone tends to divert the attention, or to weary it when
properly directed. On almost every subject, it is sure to be the source
of occasional bathos, which now and then borders on the ridiculous.
Conceive a man, describing a curious animal in a diagram, saying,
“This part, to which I now direct my rod, is the point of the tail,”
in a sepulchral tone, and heavy cadence, as if he had said, “This
is the end of all things.” Another inconvenience often attending a
declamatory tone, as distinguished from the narrative or descriptive,
is the tendency it has to make a particular cadence. Sometimes we have
heard lecturers give to every other sentence a peculiar fall; and this
succession of rhythmical samenesses, if the lecturer be not otherwise
extremely able, sends people napping.

Another fault we observe in some lecturers is, a reiteration of
particular phrases. In description, it is not easy always to avoid
this; but it seldom occurred in any disagreeable degree in Abernethy.
We have heard some lecturers, in describing things, continually
reiterating such phrases as “We find,” “It is to be observed,” in such
quick and frequent succession, that people’s sides began to jog in
spite of them.

Provincial or national idiom, or other peculiarity, is by no means
uncommon, and generally more or less disagreeable, Abernethy was
particularly free from either. He could, in telling stories, slightly
imitate the tone and manner of the persons concerned; but it was always
touched in the lightest possible manner, and with the subdued colouring
and finish of a first-rate artist. His power of impressing facts, and
of rendering them simple and interesting by abundance and variety of
illustration, was very remarkable, and had the effect of imparting an
interest to the driest subject. In the first place, he had an agreeable
mode of sympathizing with the difficulty of the student. If he were
about to describe a bone or anything which he knew to be difficult,
he would adopt a tone more like that in which a man would teach it to
himself than describe it to others. For example, he would say, perhaps:
“Ah! this is a queer-looking bone; it has a very odd shape; but I
plainly perceive that one may divide it into two parts.” Then pointing
with a probe to the division he proposed, he would begin, not so much
to _describe_ as to _find_, as if for the first time, the various
parts of which he wished to teach the names and uses; the description
being a kind of running accompaniment to his tracing of the bone, and
in a tone as if half-talking to himself and half to the audience.

Every one feels the value of order, and clearness of arrangement.
Of Abernethy’s, we have already spoken generally: simplicity, and
impressing the more essential facts, were his main objects. He showed
very frequently his perception of the importance of order, and would
often methodize for the students. He knew very well that A B C was much
more easily remembered than Z K J; and he would sometimes humorously
contrast the difference between a man whose knowledge was well packed,
and one whose information was scattered and without arrangement. This
he usually did by supposing two students under examination. The scene
would not _tell_ upon paper; but it never failed to create a good deal
of mirth in the theatre, during which he would contrive to repeat the
facts he meant to impress, without the tedium of mere reiteration.

Various people have been more or less deeply impressed with different
parts of his lectures, most persons having their favourite passages. In
his anatomical course we were never more pleased than by his _general_
view of the structure of the body. He adopted on that occasion the
synthetical plan, and in imagination put the various parts together
which were to be afterwards taught analytically. In his surgical
course, the manner in which he illustrated the practical points, and
his own views in the “Eventful History of a Compound Fracture,” was, we
think, the most successful triumph, both as to matter and manner, which
we have ever witnessed.

An abundance of resource and manœuvres of the kind we have mentioned,
gave a great “liveliness” to his lecture, which _in its quiet form so
as not to divert or disturb_, is a great difficulty in lecturing.

We have heard an excellent lecturer whose only fault, we think, was
want of liveliness and variety. Few men could in other respects lecture
comparably to him. Nothing could surpass the quiet, polished manner
of this accomplished teacher. His voice, though not good, was by no
means unpleasing. His articulation elaborately distinct, and free from
all provincialism. His language invariably correct and appropriate;
the structure of his sentences strikingly grammatical; and they fell
in such an easy, though somewhat too rhythmical succession, as to be
at once graceful and melodious. His arrangement, always simple and
clear. Nothing was more striking than the deferential manner in which
he approached a philosophical subject. “I like ——,” said one who
had often heard him, “because he is always so gentlemanly. There is
nothing off-hand, as if he thought himself very clever, but a kind of
unaffected respect for himself and his audience, which obliges one to
pay attention to him, if it were only because you feel that a man of
education is speaking to you.”

What, it may be said, can such a man want? Why he wanted liveliness
and flexibility. His voice measured forth its gentlemanly way with
all the regularity of a surveying rod. Various and interesting as his
subjects were, and handled with consummate ability, he must certainly
have _taught_; yet we think he sent away many of his audience passive
recipients, as distinguished from persons _set on thinking_ what they
had heard “into their own.”

He performed his task like a good man and a scholar; but still it was
like a task after all. It was something like a scholar reading a book,
always excepting the beautifully clear illustrations for which his
subject gave him abundant opportunity. He wanted that animation and
interest in his subject by which a lecturer inoculates you with his own
enthusiasm. He was the most striking example in our experience of the
importance of liveliness and variety, and of making a lecture, however
well delivered, just that thing which we _cannot_ find in a book. The
life-like, the dramatic effect was wanting; and it was to this alone
that we can ascribe what we have not unfrequently observed in the midst
of a generally attentive audience, a few who were “nodding” their
assent to his propositions.

Now Abernethy’s manner was perfect in these respects. He had just got
the “cheerfully, not too fast” expression, that we sometimes see at
the head of a musical composition. His manner was so good, that it
is difficult to convey any idea of it. It was easy, without being
negligent; cheerful, without being excited; humorous, often witty,
without being vulgar; expeditious, without being in a bustle; and he
usually took care that you should learn _the thing_, before he gave the
_name of it_; and understand it, before he expatiated on the beauty or
perfection of its adaptation to the ends it seemed designed to serve.

He was particularly chaste in the manner in which he spoke of design,
or other of the Attributes so frequently observable in natural
arrangements. It is a great mistake, we think, and not without
something akin to vulgarity, to usher in any description of the
beauties of nature by a flourish of such trumpets as human epithets
form—mere notes of admiration. Nature speaks best for herself. The
mind is kept in a state of excitement by too frequent _feux de joies_
of this kind; the frequent recurrence of such terms as “curious!
strange! wonderful!” on subjects where all is wonderful, have a sort of
bathos in the ears of the judicious, while to the less critical they
produce a kind of disturbed atmosphere, which is unfavourable to the
calm operations of the intellect.

Abernethy was generally very careful in these matters. I give one
example. He is speaking of cartilage, or gristle, which covers the
ends of the bones where they form joints, and has explained its great
elasticity, the use of it in preventing jarring; and contrasted the
_springiness_ of youth with the easily jarred frame of age. “Well,”
he adds, “this cartilage is fibrous, and they say that the fibres are
arranged vertically; so that the body may be said to be supported on
‘_myriads of elastic columns_.'” That was the beauty by which he wished
to impress that which he had previously _taught_.

When marvellousness is too much excited, many say, “Ah, how clever
that gentleman is! what an interesting lecture! what a curious thing
that was he showed us!” But when you inquire what _principle_ or _law_
was intended to be illustrated, you find that the sensual or the
imaginative faculty has alone been excited, and has galloped off with
that which was intended for the intellect. If persons are examined as
to a particular point of the lecture, they are apt to say: “Well, that
is just what I wanted to know; would you explain it?”

It would seem that it is a great mistake to excite marvellousness
or our external senses very vividly, when we desire to concentrate
the intellectual faculties. That breathless silence, with eyes and
mouth open, that “_intenti que ora tenebant_” condition, excited by
marvellousness, is very well for the story of Æneas, or Robinson
Crusoe; but it is out of place, when we are endeavouring to augment our
intellectual possessions.

We require, in fact, a calmer atmosphere. The desire to interest and
hold the attention of our audience is so natural, that it is very apt
to escape one that this may be done _on terms not consistent_ with our
real object—the interesting the intellect; and this fault is perhaps,
of all, the worst; because it is never a greater failure than when it
appears to be successful. All other faults in lecturing, if serious, in
one respect tell their own tale in the thinning audience.

The learned author of the “Philosophy of Rhetoric” has observed that “A
discourse directed to the understanding will not admit of an address to
the passions, which, as it never fails to disturb the operation of the
intellectual faculty, must be regarded by every intelligent hearer as
foreign indeed, if not insidious.” He had before said, “that in such a
discourse you may borrow metaphor or comparison to illustrate it, but
not the bolder figures, prosopopœia and the like, which are intended
not to elucidate the subject, but to _create admiration_.”

“It is obvious,” he continues, “that either of the foregoing, far from
being subservient to the main design (to address the intellect), serves
only to distract the attention from it[67].”

This judicious writer, however, in the first sentence makes a
distinction, which requires, perhaps, to be received with some caution.

There is no discourse that is solely intellectual; the driest
mathematical proposition interests our _feelings_. The pleasure of
truth, what is that? Not merely intellectual, certainly. It is a
pleasure derived _from_ the intellect, no doubt; but it is a _feeling_
entirely distinct. So, in addresses to the passions, if they are
successful, the presiding influence of the intellect is very obvious;
this away, a discourse soon merges into bombast or fustian, a something
which neither impresses the feelings nor the passions as desired.

The true desideratum, as it appears to us, is accuracy of adjustment,
not separation. In intellectual operations, the feelings are to be
subservient to the accomplishment of the objects of the intellect. In
discourses, where the passions or feelings are most appealed to, or
most prominent, the intellect must still really guide, though it may
appear to follow.

Notwithstanding that so much of Abernethy’s lecturing was on anatomy,
and therefore necessarily addressed to the eye, yet he seldom offered
any _illustration_ to the external senses. He was always endeavouring
to impress the mechanical arrangement of parts, by reference to their
uses and surgical relations. Even in speaking of light, he would be
suggestive beyond the mere perception of sense. He used to say, of
refraction of light, when the refracting medium was, as it commonly
is, the denser body, “that the ray seems as if attracted”—a very
suggestive phrase to any one who has thought much on the subject of
light. It is a curious thing to observe how confused the ideas of many
people are on phenomena of light; and we are afraid that the cause is,
that the illustrations to the eye are given _too soon_. If people were
made to _understand_ by a simple illustration what they are about to
_see_, it is probable they would have much clearer ideas. The intellect
having gone before, the eye no longer diverts it from its office; and
the eye would then be merely _impressing_, by means of a physical
representation, an established idea.

“Suavis autem est et vehementer sæpe utilis jocus et facetiæ.”—CIC.

Abernethy’s humour was very peculiar; and though there was of course
something in the matter, there was a good deal more, as it appeared
to us, in the manner. The secret of humour, we apprehend, lies in the
juxtaposition, either expressed or implied, of incongruities, and it is
not easy to conceive anything humourous which does not involve these
conditions. We have sometimes thought there was just this difference in
the humour of Abernethy, as contrasted with that of Sidney Smith. In
Smith’s, there was something that, told by whom it might be, was always
ludicrous. Abernethy’s generally lay in the telling.

“The jest’s propriety lies in the ear
Of him who hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it,”

although true, was still to be taken in rather a different sense from
that in which it is usually received. The former (a far higher species
of humour) may be recorded; the dramatic necessities of the other
occasion it to die with the author. The expression Abernethy threw into
his humour (though of course without that broadness which is excusable
in the drama, but which would have been out of place in a philosophical
discourse) was a quiet, much-subdued colouring, between the good-nature
of Dowton, and (a little closer perhaps to the latter) the more quiet
and gentlemanly portions of Munden.

Few old pupils will forget the story of the Major who had dislocated
his jaw.

This accident is a very simple one, and easily put right; but, having
once happened, it is apt to recur on any unusual extension of the lower
jaw. Abernethy used to represent this as a frequent occurrence with
an hilarious Major; but as it generally happened at mess, the surgeon
went round to him and immediately put it in again. One day, however,
the Major was dining about fourteen miles from the regiment, and, in a
hearty laugh, “out went his jaw.” They sent for the medical man, whom,
said Abernethy, we must call the apothecary. Well, at first, he thought
that the jaw was dislocated; but he began to pull and to show that he
knew nothing about the proper mode of putting it right again. On this,
the Major appeared to be very excited, and vociferated inarticulately
in a strange manner; when, all at once, the doctor, as if he had just
hit on the nature of the case, suggested that the Major’s complaint was
in his brain, and that he could not be in his right mind. On hearing
this, the Major became furious, which was regarded as confirmatory of
the doctor’s opinion; they accordingly seized him, confined him in
a strait-waistcoat and put him to bed, and the doctor ordered that
the barber should be sent for to shave the head, and a blister to be
applied “to the part affected.”

The Major, fairly beaten, ceased making resistance, but made the
best signs his situation and his imperfect articulation allowed, for
pen and paper. This request, being hailed as indicative of returning
rationality, was complied with; and, as soon as he was sufficiently
freed from his bonds, he wrote—”For God’s sake send for the surgeon of
the regiment.” This was accordingly done, and the jaw readily reduced,
as it had been often before. “I hope,” added Abernethy, “you will never
forget how to reduce a dislocated jaw.”

We think that what we have said of the style of his humour cannot be
very incorrect, from knowing that the impressions of one of his oldest
pupils and greatest admirers were almost identical with the foregoing.
I recollect it being said of John Bannister, that the reason his acting
pleased everybody was that he was always a gentleman; an extremely
difficult thing, we should imagine, in handling some of the freer parts
of our comic dialogues. Abernethy’s humour (exceptionally indeed, but
occasionally a little broad) never suggested the idea of vulgarity;
and, as we have said, every joke had its mission. Then, at times,
though there was not much humour, yet a promptness of repartee gave it
that character.

“Mr. Abernethy,” said a patient, “I have something the matter, sir,
with this arm. There, oh! (making a particular motion with the limb)
that, sir, gives me great pain.” “Well, what a fool you must be to do
it, then,” said Abernethy.

One of the most interesting facts in relation to Abernethy’s lecturing,
was, that however great his natural capacity, he certainly owed very
much to careful study and practice; and we cannot but think that it
is highly encouraging to a more careful education for this mode of
teaching, to know the difficulty that even such a man as Abernethy had
for some few years in commanding his self-possession. To those who only
knew him in his zenith or his decline, this will appear extraordinary;
yet, to a careful observer, there were many occasions when it was
easy to see that he did not appear so entirely at ease _without some
effort_. He was very impatient of interruption; an accidental knock
at the door of the theatre, which, by mistake of some stranger, would
occasionally happen, would disconcert him considerably; and once,
when he saw some pupil joking or inattentive, he stopped, and with a
severity of manner I hardly ever saw before or afterwards, said: “If the
lecture, sir, is not interesting to you, I must beg you to walk out.”

There were, as we shall hereafter observe, perhaps physical reasons
for this irritability. He never hesitated, as we occasionally hear
lecturers do, nor ever used any notes. When he came to any part that
he perhaps wished to impress, he would pause and think for a second
or two, with his class singularly silent. It was a fine moment. We
recollect being once at his lecture with the late Professor Macartney,
who had been a student of Abernethy’s[68]. Macartney said, “what can
it be that enables him to give so much interest to what we have so
often heard before?” We believe it to have been nothing but a steady
observance of rules, combined with an admirable power _matured by

That which, above everything, we valued in the whole of Abernethy’s
lectures, was what can hardly be expressed otherwise than by the
term, tone. With an absence of all affectation, with the infusion
of all sorts of different qualities: with humour, hilarity, lively
manner, sometimes rather broad illustrations, at other times, calm
and philosophical, with all the character of deep thought and acute
penetration; indignation at what was wrong or unfeeling, and pathos in
relation to irremediable calamity; still the thing which surpassed all,
was the feeling, with which he inoculated the pupils, of a high and
conscientious calling. He had a way which excited enthusiasm without
the pupil knowing why. We are often told by lecturers of the value of
knowledge for various purposes—for increasing the power and wealth of
the country—for multiplying the comforts and pleasures of society—for
amassing fortunes, and for obtaining what the world usually means by
the term distinction. But Abernethy created a feeling distinct from and
superior to all mere utilitarian purposes. He made one feel the mission
of a conscientious surgeon to be a high calling, and spurned, in manner
as well as matter, the more trite and hackneyed modes of inculcating
these things. You had no set essay, no long speeches. The _moral_
was like a golden thread artfully interwoven in a tissue to which it
gives a diffusive lustre; which, pervading it everywhere, is obtrusive

For example, the condition attached to the performance of our lowest
duties (operations), were, the well-ascertained inefficacy of our
best powers directed to judicious treatment; the _crowning_ test—the
conviction that, placed in the same circumstances, _we would have the
same operation performed on ourselves_. Much of the suggestive lies
in these directions. Our sympathies toward the victims of mistake or
ignorance, excited by the relation of their sufferings, were heightened
by the additional mention of any good quality the patient might have
possessed, or advantage of which he might have been deprived; and thus
that interest secured which a bare narration of the case might have
failed to awaken.

A father, who, in subservience to the worldly prospects of his son,
placed him in a situation to which he was unequal, and thus forgot his
first duty, the health of his offspring, was the “murderer” of his
child. Another victim, we have seen, was as “brave a fellow as ever
stepped,” &c.

Humanity and Science went hand in hand. His method of _discovering_
the nature of dislocations and fractures, by attention to the relative
position of parts, was admirable; and few of his pupils, who have
had much experience, have failed to prove the practical excellence
of them. He repudiated nothing more than the too commonly regarded
test, in fractures, of “grating, or crepitus.” Nothing distinguished
his examination of a case more than his gentleness, unless it was the
clearness with which he delivered his opinion.

To show how important gentleness is—a surgeon had a puzzling case
of injury to the elbow. He believed that he knew the nature of the
accident, and that he had put the parts right; but still the joint
remained in a half-straight position; and the surgeon, who knew his
business, became alarmed, lest something had escaped him, and that
the joint would be stiff. He proposed a consultation. The joint was
examined with great gentleness, and after Abernethy’s plan. The boy
experienced no pain. Everything appeared in its natural position. The
surgeon said: “Now, my boy, bend your arm a little, but no farther
than just to reach my finger; and not as much as that, if it gives you
any pain.” This the boy did very gently. After waiting a few minutes,
the surgeon again told him to bend it a little more, and upon the same
conditions; and so on, until, in a very short space of time—perhaps
eight or ten minutes—the arm had been completely bent. The boy had
been alarmed, and the muscles had become so sensitive that they held
the parts with the most painful tenacity; but, beyond this, there was
nothing the matter.

We cannot help thinking that Abernethy’s benevolence had a great
influence in directing some of his happiest contributions to practice.
We consider that every sufferer with that serious accident, fracture
of the neck of the thigh bone within the joint, owes a great portion
of any recovery he may have, to Abernethy. It was he who was the real
means of overthrowing a dangerous dogma, that such cases could not
unite by bone, and who opposed the practice consequent on it, by which
reparation by bone became impossible. There was hardly any subject
which he touched, of which he did not take some view more or less
original; and his reasoning was always particularly simple and to the
point. No man, we believe, ever exceeded him in the skill he possessed
in conveying ideas from one mind into another; but he did a great deal
more: those who really studied him were sent away thinking, and led to
work with a kind of pleasure, which was in some sense distinct from any
merely practical or professional interest.

He contrived to imbue you with the love of philosophical research
in the abstract—with an interest in truth for its own sake;
you found yourself remembering the bare facts, not so much from
conscious _efforts_ of memory, as from the suggestive interest of the
observations with which they were so frequently associated. In going
over one of his Lectures alone, they seem to grow and expand under your
own reflections. We know not how to express the effect they produced:
they seemed to give new pleasure on repetition, to purify your thoughts
scarcely less than they animated your onward studies.

In studying their more suggestive passages, you would now and then feel
surprise at the number and variety of important practical relations
arising out of a single proposition. We are here merely stating our
own early impressions of his power. What we always really felt was,
that, great as was the excellence of these Lectures in a scientific
or professional sense, there was something more excellent still in
the element they contained of intellectual expansion and of moral

We cannot indeed say that they had no faults; but we should be hard
driven to point them out: and although we feel how short our attempt
to give some idea of his mode of proceeding must fall of doing him
justice, still, if there be any truth at all in our representation, it
is quite clear that his negative excellences alone must have implied
no ordinary powers. But we must conclude: “Quid multa? istum audiens
equidem sic judicare soleo; quidquid aut addideris aut mutaveris aut
detraxeris, vitiosius et deterius futurum.”

HOR. Is it a custom?

HAMLET. Ay, marry, is’t:
But, to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honoured in the breach than the observance.

HAMLET, Act I, Sc. IV.

If a moralist were to divide his catalogue of immoralities into such
as were of general commission, and such as occurred in the conduct of
the various trades and professions, we fear the latter division would
suggest no flattering position to humanity. An elevation somewhat above
gifted creatures it might be; but still we fear it would be at so low a
level as to afford Man but a humiliating indication of the height from
which he had fallen. He would, in too many instances, perhaps, find his
real _claims_ to his high destiny about equal to the shadowy difference
between a creature who fulfils _some_ only of his responsibilities,
and one who has no responsibilities to fulfil. We should like to hear
some grave philosopher discourse on Fashion: it is surely a curious
thing, for there is a fashion in everything. It is very like habit; but
it is not habit neither. Habit is a garment, which takes some time to
fit easily, and is then not abandoned without difficulty. Fashion is a
good fit _instanter_, but is thrown aside at once without the smallest
trouble. The most grotesque or absurd custom which slowly-paced
habit bores us with examining, is at once adopted by fashion with a
characteristic assentation.

Morals are by no means free from this kind of conventionalism: so
much the contrary, that few things evince more strongly the power of
fashion. It might be imagined that the multiplication of examples would
tend to teach the true nature of the thing exemplified; but it would
not seem so with error; “_tout au contraire_.” Arts or acts, which are
tabooed as vicious in the singular number, become, in the plasticity of
our moral grammars, very tolerable in the plural. Things that the most
hardy shrink from perpetrating _single-handed_, are regarded as easy
“compliances with custom” when “joint-stock” vices; practices which,
when partial, men are penetrating enough to discover to be unchristian,
or sufficiently sensitive to regard as ungentlemanly, pass muster with
marvellous lubricity when they become universal. We can anathemize,
with self-complacent indignation, vices in which we have no share; but
we are abundantly charitable when we discuss those in which we have a
common property; and, finally, moral accounts are settled very much to
our own satisfaction, as Butler says, by compounding

“For sins we are inclined to,
By damning those we have no mind to.”

After all, society keeps a pretty good “look-out” after offences
distributed in common. The law is tolerably comprehensive of things
which are of general commission; and mankind, sooner or later, contrive
to catch, or successfully oppose, the numerous little enormities which
slip through the finest of our legal meshes.

“Raro antecedentem scelestum,
Deseruit pede pœna claudo.”

From all this it results that moral obliquities, which fall within the
observation of society, make but an up-hill game; that which is _felt_
to be prejudicial to the interests of all men, is easily determined
to be vicious. But here again there is much in fashion. Society has
often determined that the immorality of a thing is not to be measured
by the nature of the act, nor the motive even on which it has been
founded, so much as by the more refined test afforded by the _position_
of the _actor_. One man may, like a sort of commercial megatherium,
gorge, with railway velocity, provisions which a once-breathing, fond
affection and a cold world had alike determined to be the life-blood of
widows and orphans, and yet have noblemen and others for his associate!
he may perhaps be a legislator in a great nation; whilst the poor
starveling, who steals for the vulgar purpose of satisfying hunger, may
be sent to the treadmill, where he may solve at leisure the problem
thus set him, by “the most enlightened nation on earth.”

Again, vices which have a known influence in disturbing the relations
of society are in various ways opposed by the more _public_ influence
of religion. So that in the end a man finds—although he may arrive at
the conclusion, only by exhausting all other views before he hits on
those which lead to it—that honesty is as good a way of getting on as
any other; or he may advance perhaps even on this utilitarian creed so
far as to agree with Tillotson: that people take more trouble to get to
Hell, than would suffice to carry them to Heaven. The immoralities of
trades and professions lie in a very different position, and involve
peculiarities which favour their growth and perpetuity.

They are committed in secret;—people are proverbially cautious of
attacking the weak positions of others, who feel that their own are
ill-defended. This, and the established manœuvres of each calling,
enable an individual to do a good deal “off his own bat,” without, as
one of our bishops happily expressed it, “being caught out.” In trade
we are sometimes informed that a thing cannot be sold cheaper; that the
price asked is already less than the cost; and people are appropriately
addressed as idiots, who every day appear to believe that which common
sense shows to be impossible.

Your purveyors will sometimes tell you that they are not living by the
prices they charge; although you have just ascertained that the same
article may be bought at infinitely less cost in the next market. The
other day, a watchmaker told us that our watch wanted a good deal of
looking to, and, amongst other things, “no doubt cleaning;” but this he
discovered, we suppose, by some recondite mesmeric process in a book,
which recorded when it had been cleaned last, without looking at the
watch at all.

As regards professions, lawyers are said to defend right and wrong with
indiscriminate avidity, with the encouraging prospect of obtaining more
fruit in maintaining one wrong cause, than establishing twenty right.

Then the _real nature_ of these things is, like too many in other
sciences, obscured by a cloudy nomenclature. We hear of “customs of
the trade,” “secrets of the trade,” or “profession,” applied to things
which the moralist only recognizes under very different designations.
Sophisms thus secured, and which appear to minister to a man’s
interests, have their true colours developed with difficulty; to say
nothing of it not being easy to discover that which there is no desire
to examine.

If any man should be so “peculiar,” or “crotchety,” as to consider that
names are of little import, and that “Vice is vice, for a’ that,” and
venture to anathematize any custom, or even refuse to be an accessory,
in declining to wink at it, he may encounter charges of violating
professional confidence, of being deficient in a proper _esprit de
corps_, and be outvoted, for no better reason than that he cannot
concur in the dogma, that a _vicious sophism is more valuable than a
simple truth_; nor agree with the currier, “that leather is the best
material for fortification.” He may possibly be let off by conceding
his connivance; which is little better than declining to be thief, as
too shocking; but having no objection to the more lubricated position
of the receiver.

But does any one for one moment believe that all this can be hung
on any trade, or profession, with no effect? Or that it will not
have a baneful influence on every calling, and that in proportion
as its _real_ and _proper_ duties are beneficent and exalted? Now,
whilst we claim for the medical profession a character which, in its
single-mindedness and benevolence, yields to no other whatever, we fear
it is not entirely free from these technical besettings.

In the medical profession, we trust, that which we, for want of a
better term, designate as technical immoralities are exceptions.
Exceptional they may be, and we sincerely hope they are; but, in
a crowded island, exceptions, even if _relatively_ few, may be
_absolutely_ numerous; and whenever they occur, especially if men hold
any position, one case of compromise of duty does more harm than a
hundred of the most inflexible adhesions to it can remedy. Suppose a
patient apply to a surgeon with a complaint requiring one operation,
and his fears incline him to another; he is informed it is improper for
his case: that so far from relieving him, it will indefinitely increase
his sufferings. The patient reiterates his wishes; the surgeon declines
doing that which he would not have done in his own person. On lamenting
what he believes to be the consequences of the patient’s determination,
to a brother surgeon, he is met by: “What a fool you must be to throw
away —— guineas; if you don’t do it, somebody else will.”

He is too right in his prediction, and so is the surgeon who refused
to operate, and he has lost a large fee; he receives the verification
of his prediction subsequently from the patient, who exclaims, “Sir,
I never have a moment’s ease!” and when, after weeks of suffering,
the patient dies, the surgeon consoles himself with the melancholy
satisfaction of not having contributed to sufferings which he was
called in too late to remedy.

The more plastic practitioner has, it is true, taken fifty or a hundred
guineas, it may be, out of the one pocket, and put it into his own; but
in what way are mankind benefited? or does any one really think that
the apparent gainer can ultimately be so? The fault in this, as in many
other cases, is the ignorance of the public. There is nothing in the
foregoing sketch that was not as easily intelligible to the commonest
understanding, as that two and two are equal to four! And is it no evil
that one man should pay so large a sum for so plain a piece of honesty?
or that another should be rewarded, as the case may be, for ignorance,
or a compromise of his duty?

Let us take another case. A gentleman was called on to give a
certificate; he examined the case, and found that the wording of the
certificate called on him to certify to that which was diametrically
opposite to the fact. He naturally declined, and, as the point was of
some importance, went to the parties to explain. He was then informed
that two professional men had, the previous day, given the certificate
without hesitation. He is complimented on his conscientiousness,
but never employed again by that family; and he has the further
satisfaction of hearing that his place is supplied by one of his
more accommodating brethren! We fear that in such a case there is a
balance to be adjusted between the several persons, and an appropriate
appellation to be discovered besides. We respectfully leave it to the
reader’s judgment to adjust the one, and to draw on his aptitude for
nomenclature to supply the other.

Again, a man is called in to a consultation; he disapproves of the
treatment, but declares to the friends of the patient that every thing
has been very properly done. In another case of consultation, finding
that every thing has been really conducted properly, he commences an
_apparently_ different treatment, but essentially the same, without
giving his confiding brother the benefit which his acquiescence in his
views would necessarily imply.

In an operation, where the course is doubtful and the opinion various,
the choice is left to the patient—that is, the decision of how the
surgeon is to act is to be determined by him who is confessedly really
least capable of judging. Can it be right to perform a _doubtful_
operation under such circumstances? Should not the patient reflect
that the _temptations_ are all on one side? The attempt to dispense
with the operation is laborious, time-consuming, anxious, encouraged
perhaps only by small, minute accessions of improvement, interspersed
with complaints of tedium and delay, and the result admitted to be
doubtful; the operation, on the other hand, is a work of a few minutes,
the remuneration munificent, the _éclat_ productive, and the labour
nothing. All this and much more no man can entirely prevent; the real
cause is the ignorance of the public, which a very little of the labour
they bestow on many far less important subjects would easily and
quickly dispel.

If these and multitudes of similar things are evils; if they contribute
to debase a profession and to charge the conscientious with unthankful
office and unrequited labour, and to confer fame and profit on a
triumphant chicanery; we surely must feel indebted—not only as
professional men, not merely as patients, but in a far higher and
wider sense—to a man who, availing himself of a commanding position
for the highest purposes, endeavoured, by precept and example, to
oppose all such proceedings, and to cultivate a high _morale_ in the
conduct of the profession. Now no one more sedulously aimed at this
than John Abernethy. Although we shall not, we trust, be accused of
underrating the obligations we owe him in a professional or scientific
sense, we think that, great as they are, they are at least equalled
by those arising out of that duty-to-your-neighbour spirit which was
so universally diffused through every thing he taught, and which, in
his intercourse with his pupils, he never on any occasion failed to
inculcate. We will endeavour to render what we mean intelligible, and
perhaps we cannot do this better than by selecting a few illustrations
from observation of “Abernethy in Consultation.”

Consultation. We are to have a consultation! What a sound is that! How
many a heart has been set thumping by this one word. We doubt whether
there be any in the English language that has more frequently disturbed
the current it was intended to calm. But consultations must be. Already
the carriage of a physician has arrived, a tremendous rap has been
given at the door, the interesting visitor is already in the library.

Another rap, louder somewhat than the former, announces another
physician, or a consulting surgeon. The general practitioner,
taking advantage of his intimacy with the family, may have perhaps
very sensibly walked in without knocking at all. They are now all
assembled in the library, and, having remarked on a “Storm Scene” by
Gaspar Poussin, which hangs over the fire-place, we leave them to the
preliminaries of a consultation.

Presently they are introduced to the patient, on whom the knocking has
already had some effect. A short pause, and they are again assembled
in the library. In a few minutes the bell rings, and the father of a
fine young woman is summoned to hear their decision. As he proceeds,
he stealthily removes a straggling tear that, with all care, would
get out of bounds, enters the library, and hears the result of the
consultation. Neatly enveloped _honoraria_ are presented to the
consultants, the bell has rung, Thomas has shown the gentlemen to their
respective vehicles, and and so ends the consultation.

The father, a widower, returns to the drawing-room, and his second
daughter says: “Well, papa, what do the doctors say of Emily?” “Well,
my dear, they say that Emily is very ill; that she requires great
care; that they cannot say positively, but hope she may ultimately do
well. They entirely coincide with our friend Mr. Smith Jones as to the
nature of the disease, and think his treatment of the case has been
highly judicious. They say there are some points on which the case may
turn, but of which they cannot speak positively to-day; but they hope
to be able to do so when they meet again, which they are to do the day
‘after to-morrow.’ They all seem to consider the nervous system very
much affected. They say we must keep Emily very quiet. She is to have
any light diet she desires, and to have some new medicine to-morrow.
The cod-liver oil, they say, has done her all the good now that it is
calculated to do, and she is this evening to take a composing draught.”
The family are silent, and so ends the consultation.

What! and are all consultations like that? No, reader, we hope not.
Many a valuable life has, we believe, been saved or prolonged by
consultation; and perhaps many more would be, if people would only
_think a little more before_ they act in such important matters.

But how is this to be, when men and women who _do_ think will dive into
all other branches of knowledge, more or less, and neglect all inquiry
into laws, a _general_ knowledge of which may easily be acquired, and
of which ignorance is so frequently visited by no less punishment
than the premature separation of our dearest ties, and the loss or
impairment of that which is acknowledged to be the first of temporal
blessings. There are many things in consultations, which require
putting right, which do not depend on any one man, or on any one class.
What are we to say to a man who admits the ability, and approves of
the investigative power and practice of another, but who cannot call
him in because he _orders so little medicine_? Or of the mode in which
the public treat another, who, wishing to practise as a gentleman, and
to be paid for his brains rather than his bottles, makes no charge for
the latter; and yet who informed us that, having tried this for three
years, he lost so many families by it, that if he had not relinquished
the plan, he should have wanted bread for his own? Or who shall we
blame, when one man, calling in another to a patient, finds that the
other feels no scruple in repaying the _prestige_ which he thus owes
to his confiding brother by taking the patient from him the first
opportunity; albeit that he occupies what should be, and, we trust, as
the rule is, a higher walk in the profession.

We have seen so much feeling arising from this practice, and we hold it
as so serious an error, that we regard it as _tending more than any one
thing whatever_ to injure the position and character of the consulting
branches of the profession.

Again, how inconsiderate must be the adoption of that custom which
first of all institutes an inquiry to ascertain whether there is
any difference of opinion, and yet accompanies it with trammels,
the tendency of which is to oblige men to _appear_ to agree. When
coincidence of opinion is _alone safe_, who can be expected to differ?
The public have allowed lawyers to differ without that difference
involving any reproach. They have also proverbially determined that
“doctors do.” Yet that which they consider as an almost necessary
rule in the one case, in the other they are very prone to visit, in
regard to some one of the dissentients, as a proof of professional
inferiority. A great deal of mischief results from this state of
things; it indefinitely increases the difficulty of obtaining a _really
honest_ and unreserved opinion, and leads to other consequences which
tend to impair that mutual confidence between man and man, which should
be the very life-blood of a fine profession.

We recollect a case, on the nature of which two surgeons were
consulted; and when the patient—a young lady—had been withdrawn, the
_father_ requested to know if there were any objection to his being
present at the conference. The surgeon to whom he seemed to address
himself said, “None on my part;” to which the other _seemed_ also
to assent. When the consultation was over, the surgeon who had thus
_seemed_ to consent addressed the other, saying: “If ever we meet
again, sir, our consultation must not be in the presence of the friends
of the patient.” This was said in a tone to which the other had not
been accustomed; but, as a lady had just then entered the room, no
reply was made. The next morning, however, the gentleman was called
on to re-consider the tone in which he had thus addressed his brother
consultant, when a satisfactory explanation settled the matter.

Such things, however, are extremely disagreeable, and illustrate how
much more easy it is to go straightforward than by any zigzag route.
What! could not a father hear the honest opinion of two men concerning
his child, until results of the consultation had been shorn down,
certain parts thrown out, and the rest dovetailed together so as to be
made a symmetrical nondescript, adapted to the requisitions of a vulgar

In another case, in a consultation on a disease as plainly scrofulous
as it was possible to be, the family attendant had pronounced that it
was _constitutional_, but _not_ scrofula. This was, it appeared, a
miserable assentation to the prejudices of the family, for the result
proved that he knew better. Nevertheless, a consultation had taken
place already with a very eminent surgeon, without the family being
any the wiser in regard to the nature of the disease. The case not
progressing, another surgeon was consulted, who, being asked what
he considered the disease to be, replied that it was scrofula. Upon
this, considerable surprise and uneasiness were manifested on the part
of the family; and the surgeon, wondering what, in so plain a case,
could be the doubt, took occasion to see the former medical attendant,
and to ask him what he thought of the case; when he said that it was
clearly scrofula, and that he had _never known the children_ of certain
temperaments to which he considered the parents to belong, wholly
without a tendency to that disease; so that he had all along been
blinding the parents, so far as his opinion and that of another eminent
man went, to the real nature of the malady.

An occurrence, singular, as we hope, took place one day in
consultation, showing how comfortably the most questionable things
may appear to sit on a man’s conscience, if only supported by some
_supposed_ sanction from custom. Two surgeons met to consider a case.
They differed as to its nature and treatment; as thus—the one thought
a certain remedy necessary, and that any prospective consequences on
its employment merged into the necessity of the moment; the other
thought that remedy wholly unnecessary, and therefore held even the
_possibility_ of any prospective mischief, an insuperable objection to
its use; conceding, however, that it _might_ possibly, if the treatment
were conducted cautiously, be so managed as to secure the patient
from the consequences in question; and that, if the patient preferred
that course, after the matter had been fairly stated to him, he would
superintend the plan.

Having retired into another room to consult, they were now again
introduced to the patient, when the junior was somewhat startled to
hear his senior begin thus: “Well, sir, we have considered your case,
and we perfectly agree as to the nature of it.” Thinking that this
unexpected exordium might possibly be preliminary to some explanation
of the points on which they differed, the surgeon waited a minute to
hear what followed; but finding that his brother was irremediably
misrepresenting the matter, he said: “Stop, let us understand each
other!” and then stated what had really happened, and the exact nature
of their respective opinions; on which the other, in the coolest manner
possible, said: “Yes—exactly, you are quite right!” and so ended the

There is, no doubt, some fault on all sides. The public are too
uninformed on these important subjects, and therefore do much that
is equally against their own interests and the preservation of that
dignity and respect which should ever attach to a high-missioned
profession. But is the profession itself free from blame? Do they
never themselves minister to this wretched system of double dealing?
We fear there is but one answer to this question. We are not careful,
for obvious reasons, to multiply examples of such things; but we are
convinced that there must be a change; and since the profession cannot,
as too many of the public may, plead ignorance—for this and a thousand
other reasons, they should lead the way. We only claim for ourselves
what we readily concede to others—the expression of our opinion—when
we say that consultations should be _bonâ fide_ examinations of the
case, and should be followed by _bonâ fide intelligible_ explanations
of it to the _patient_ or his _friends_, according to the obvious
suggestions of prudence or humanity in the individual case. When the
treatment is correct, the most honest proof should be afforded of it;
namely, the continuance of the plan of the attendant in ordinary,
unobscured by the farce or form of a prescription; or, if _additional_
appliance only is adopted, in such a case its subordinate character
should be honestly explained.

Where there is difference of view, if it be material, that also should
be candidly stated; and if this be done with _real fairness_, our
experience has convinced us that it may be effected without damage
to either party. In other differences of opinion, the public never
think it necessary to impute ignorance or incapacity: let them, _for
their own sakes_, repudiate this construction in regard to the medical
profession. Lastly, let them for ever abandon the practice of paying
any man for his bottles, the number of which will often be an inverse
ratio with his skill and judgment.

To return to Abernethy. No doubt his manner varied in consultation; but
of “Manner” we shall speak in a separate chapter. We will here record
our impressions as to “Abernethy in consultation;” the conditions
which seemed to secure a considerate opinion from him; the good sense
and reasonableness of those conditions; the practical result of the
observance of them, and the effect they were calculated to produce on
the public, in giving to consultations that efficiency by which they
should be characterized—an efficiency which _every one_ begins to
perceive to be necessary, and which must be equally to the advantage of
the public and the elevation of the profession.

Continue Reading


“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises.”


No man, perhaps, ever made a happier application of a Divine precept to
the conduct of human pursuits than Lord Bacon, when he said that the
kingdom of man founded in the sciences must be entered like the kingdom
of God—that is, as a little child.

Independently of the sublimity of the comparison, it is no less
remarkable for its practical excellence.

How many broken friendships, enmities, and heart-burnings might have
been prevented, had even a very moderate degree of the temper of
mind here so beautifully typified been allowed to preside over human
labour! How charitably should we have been led to judge of the works
of others! how measured the approbation of the most successful of our
own! No doubt, in the pursuit of truth, there is great difficulty in
commanding that combination of fearlessness towards the world, and
that reverential humility towards the subject, both of which are alike
necessary; although the one may be more essential to the _discovery_ of
truth, the other the _enunciation_ of it.

To pursue truth regardless of the multiform errors and
conventionalisms, amidst which experience has generally shown almost
all subjects to have been involved; unmindful of the rebukes and
obloquy by which too often the best-conducted investigations are
opposed and assailed; and yet to let no angry passion stir, no
conviction that we are right engender an improper idea of our own
superiority, or a disregard for the claims of others; this overcoming
of the world (we had almost said) is intensely difficult, for it is
in fact overcoming ourselves. Yet we dare not say it is that of which
human nature is incapable, for there is nothing that the heart suggests
as morally right which is really impossible to us; and instances have
not been wanting of the combination of the deepest knowledge with the
most profound humility.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that if there were anything
especially calculated to bring down the cultivators of science and
literature to the level of those who are regardless of the claims, or
insensible to the attractions of either; we could hardly find a series
of facts more fatally influential than are furnished by the disputes
of men who have been employed in the cultivation of these elevating
studies. Powerful intellects in teaching the comparative nothingness
of man’s knowledge seem to give great assistance in the acquisition
of humility; but how few are the intellects of such power? The
contemplation of nature, however, may, we conceive, infuse _feelings_
of humility, which can rarely be attained by the efforts of intellect

We have seen, in Lord Bacon, that the highest powers of intellect
afforded for a while no security against the subtle, but one would have
thought feeble, suggestions of a degrading cupidity. We all know, in
literature, how much the fruits of intellect depend on the dominant
feeling under which they are reared and nourished. Even men like Pope
and Addison, who had little in common but that which should elevate and
adorn human nature, were so dragged down by the demon of controversy,
that, commencing with little more than the irritability of poets, they
ceased only when they had forgotten even the language of gentlemen.
In the controversy in question, Mr. Abernethy’s position was a very
difficult one, and one which shows how easily a man with the best
intentions may find himself engaged in a discussion which he never
contemplated; be wounded on points on which he was most sensitive, and
yet defend himself with dignity, and without compromise of any of those
principles which should guide a gentleman and a Christian.

Mr. Lawrence was appointed Professor of Comparative Anatomy in 1816;
and we know that Mr. Abernethy hailed his appointment with considerable
interest. He was regarded as a gentleman of some promise, and had
already distinguished himself by a singularly nice, level style of
composition, as well as by careful compilation.

Nothing could seem more auspicious than such a prospect. Mr. Abernethy
was a man remarkable for the original view he took of most subjects;
a vast experience, gathered from various sources by a mind combining
vividly perceptive powers with great capacity for reflection, a
conformation well adapted for opening out _new paths, and extending
the boundaries of science_. Abernethy was now to be associated with
a colleague who had already manifested no ordinary talent for the
graceful and judicious exposition of what _was already known_.

Nothing could have seemed more promising; nor was there anything in
the opening of Mr. Lawrence’s first lecture which seemed calculated
to baulk these expectations. His exordium contained an appropriate
recognition of Mr. Abernethy, which, as we should only mar it by
extract, we give entire. Having referred to the circumstances which
immediately preceded his appointment, Mr. Lawrence thus proceeds:

“To your feelings I must trust for an excuse, if any be thought
necessary, for taking the earliest opportunity of giving utterance to
the sentiments of respect and gratitude I entertain for the latter
gentleman (Mr. Abernethy). You and the public know, and have long
known, his acute mind, his peculiar talent for observation, his
zeal for the advancement of surgery, and his successful exertions
in improving the scientific knowledge and treatment of disease; his
singular happiness in developing and teaching to others the original
and philosophic views which he naturally takes of all subjects that
come under his examination, and the success with which he communicates
that enthusiasm in the cause of science and humanity which is so warmly
felt by himself; the admirable skill with which he enlivens the dry
details of elementary instruction are most gratefully acknowledged by
his numerous pupils.

“All these sources of excellence have been repeatedly felt in this
theatre. Having had the good fortune to be initiated in the profession
by Mr. Abernethy, and to have lived for many years under his roof,
I can assure you, with the greatest sincerity, that however highly
the public may estimate the surgeon and philosopher, I have reason to
speak still more highly of the man and of the friend, of the invariable
kindness which directed my early studies and pursuits, and the
disinterested friendship which has assisted every step of my progress
in life, the independent spirit and the liberal conduct which, while
they dignify the profession, win our love, command our respect for
genius and knowledge, converting these precious gifts into instruments
of the most extensive public good[38].”

This graceful exordium, so appropriate to the mutual relations of Mr.
Abernethy and Mr. Lawrence, deriving, too, a peculiar interest from the
circumstances under which it was delivered, had also the rare merit
of an eulogium marked by a comprehensive fidelity. There is nothing
fulsome or overstrained. Mr. Abernethy’s well-known excellences were
touchingly adverted to as matters with which all were _in common_
familiar, whilst the necessarily more special facts of his social
virtues were judiciously brought out in just relief, and as an
appropriate climax, by one who appeared animated by a grateful and
personal experience of them. It is distressing to think that anything
should have followed otherwise than in harmony with that kindness and
benevolence which, whilst it forms the most auspicious tone for the
calm pursuits of philosophy, confers on them the purifying spirit of
practical Christianity.

Mr. Lawrence’s first lecture consisted mainly of an able and
interesting _exposé_ of the objects and advantages of Comparative
Anatomy to the physiologist, pathologist, medical man, and the
theologian; together with numerous references to those authors to
whom the science was most indebted. The second lecture was devoted
to the consideration and the discussion of various views which had
been entertained of the living principle, or by whatever name we may
designate that force which is the immediate cause of the phenomena of
Living Bodies.

Amongst others, those entertained by Mr. Hunter and advocated by Mr.
Abernethy were referred to; but in a tone which was not, perhaps, best
suited to promote calm discussion, and which we may be allowed to
say was unfortunate—a tone of ridicule and banter, which was hardly
suited either to the subject, the place, or the distinguished men to
whom it related; to say the least of it, it was unnecessary. We do not
quote these passages, because they are, we think, not necessary to the
narrative, and could, we think, now give no pleasure to any party[39].

In Mr. Abernethy’s next lecture at the College, he still advocated
the rational nature of Mr. Hunter’s views of Life; and, in a most
interesting exposition of the Gallery of the Museum, opposed at every
opportunity the views of certain French physiologists which Mr.
Lawrence had adopted.

He did this, however, without naming Mr. Lawrence; and applied his
remarks to the whole of those who had advocated the opinions that Life
was the result of organization, as a “Band of modern sceptics.”

Mr. Abernethy had, as he says, argued against a party, and studiously
kept Mr. Lawrence, as an individual, out of view. He, however, argued
roundly against the views advocated by him, and endeavoured to show
that those of Mr. Hunter, besides being at least a philosophical
explanation of the phenomena, had a good moral tendency; although he
admitted that the belief that man was a mere machine did not alter
established notions, and that there were many good sceptics, still he
thought that the “belief of the distinct and independent nature of mind
incited people to act rightly,” &c.

In regard to the general influence of the state of France, he says,
“Most people think and act with a party;” and that “in France, where
the writings of the philosophers and wits had greatly tended to
demoralize the people, he was not surprised that their anatomists and
physiologists should represent the subject of their studies in a manner
conformable to what is esteemed most philosophical and clever; but
that in this country the mere opinions of some French anatomists with
respect to the nature of life should be extracted from their general
writings, translated, and extolled, cannot but excite surprise and
indignation in any one apprized of their pernicious tendency.”

There is no doubt that there was at the time, in this country, a
disposition in many people to disseminate very many opinions on various
subjects different from those usually entertained; and we believe that
this disposition was very greatly increased by the well-intentioned, no
doubt, but in our view injudicious, means employed for the suppression
of them.

We think it important to remember this; because, in estimating fairly
any books or lectures, we must regard the spirit of the time in which
they were delivered—what would be judicious or necessary at one
period, being, of course, unnecessary or injudicious at another.

In relation to the opinions of the nature of life; that which Mr.
Abernethy alleged that he intended to apply to a party, Mr. Lawrence
alleged that he held as personally applying to himself. Accordingly,
the following course of Mr. Lawrence’s lectures commenced with “A
Reply to the ‘Charges’ of Mr. Abernethy.” This lecture, which it is
impossible for any man, mindful of all the circumstances, to peruse
without pain (especially if we include the notes), is couched in
language of the most vituperative and contemptuous character: sarcasm,
ridicule, imputation of corrupt motives, by turn, are the weapons
wielded with the appearance of the most unrelenting virulence.

Those of the audience who had heard the graceful exordium, which
we have quoted, to the first course of lectures, and which so
appropriately represented a just tribute to a great master and kind
friend, from a distinguished and favoured pupil, were now to listen to
a discourse which was so charged with various shades and descriptions
of ridicule and invective, as scarcely to be paralleled in the whole
history of literary or scientific controversy. We have recently again
perused the respective Lectures, and we are utterly at a loss to
understand how the most sensitive mind could have found anything in
Mr. Abernethy’s Lectures to call for such a “Reply.” As it appears
to us, its very virulence was calculated to weaken its force, and
to enlist the sympathies of people on the opposite side. We again
forbear quotation. All we have to do is to show that circumstances of
very unusual provocation, such as no man living could help feeling
most deeply, and which bore on one who was acutely sensitive, never
materially disturbed the native benevolence of Abernethy’s disposition.

The dispute, however, soon merged into matters which the public
regarded as more important. Mr. Lawrence, in the lectures which
followed, took occasion to make some remarks on the Scriptures, which
gave great offence, and led other writers to engage in a controversy
which now assumed more of a theological than a physiological character.
This, however, rather belongs to the writings and opinions of Mr.
Lawrence, than to the life of Abernethy. We will therefore at once
offer the very few observations which we alone think it necessary to
make, either in justice to Mr. Abernethy or the profession.

[Footnote 38: March, 1816. Introductory Lecture to Comparative Anatomy.
Published, July.]

[Footnote 39: Introduction to Comp. Anat. by W. Lawrence, F.R.S.
London, 1816.]

“Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use; and keep thy friend
Under thine own Life’s key: be check’d for silence,
But never tax’d for speech. What Heaven more will,
That thee may furnish, and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head!”


In reviewing the facts of the foregoing controversy, we are anxious to
restrict our remarks to such points as fall within the proper scope of
our present object. These appear to us to relate to the mode in which
Mr. Abernethy conducted his argument, as being legitimate or otherwise;
secondly, the influence the whole affair had in developing one of the
most important features in his character; and, lastly, the impression
it produced, for good or evil, on the public mind, in relation to our

We would observe, in the first place, that the difficulty of Mr.
Abernethy’s position was very painful and peculiar. We are not learned
in controversy; but we should imagine that position to have been almost
without parallel. Mr. Lawrence had been his pupil. As we have seen,
Mr. Abernethy had been his patron and his friend; and, moreover, he
had been not a little instrumental in placing Mr. Lawrence in the
Professor’s chair. This instrumentality could not have been merely
passive. Mr. Abernethy himself was not a senior of the Council at that
time. At all events, he was associated at the College with men much
older than himself, and must have owed any influence in the appointment
to an active expression of his wishes, supported by that attention
to them which, though not necessarily connected with his standing at
the College, was readily enough, no doubt, conceded to his talents
and his reputation. His singleness of mind in this business was the
more amiable, because, had he been disposed to be inactive, there were
not wanting circumstances which might not unnaturally have induced
some hesitation on the subject. In the postscript at the end of Mr.
Abernethy’s published Lectures, delivered at the College, we learn
that, “From an early period of his studies, Mr. Lawrence had been
accustomed to decry and scoff at what I taught as Mr. Hunter’s opinions
respecting life and its functions; yet,” he adds, “as I never could
find that he had any good reason for his conduct, I continued to teach
them in the midst of the controversy, and derision of such students as
had become his proselytes,” &c.

This could hardly have been very agreeable. The pupils were wont to
discuss most subjects in their gossips in the Square of the hospital,
or elsewhere; and many a careless hour has not been unprofitably so
employed. On such occasions, those who were so inclined would no
doubt use ridicule, or any other weapon that suited their purpose;
and so long as any reasonable limits were observed, Mr. Abernethy was
the last person likely to take notice of anything which might have
reached him on the subject. On the contrary, it was his excellence,
and his often-expressed wish that we should canvass every subject for
ourselves; and he would enforce the sincerity of his recommendation by
advising us with an often-repeated quotation:

“Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri.”

Still, we cannot conceive that the desultory discussions at the
hospital, of which he might from time to time have accidentally heard,
could have prepared him to expect that a similar tone was to form any
portion of the sustained compositions of Lectures to be delivered in
Lincoln’s Inn Fields. When, however, he found his opinions ridiculed
there, by his friend and pupil, what was to be done? Was he to enter
into a direct personal sort of controversy with his colleague in office
at the College of Surgeons?

There was everything in that course that was inexpedient and
repulsive. Was he to be silent on opinions which he _knew_ to have been
Mr. Hunter’s, and of the moral and scientific advantages of which he
had a most matured conviction? That would have been a compromise of his
duty. It was a difficult dilemma—a real case of the

“Incidit in Scyllam qui vult vitare Charybdim.”

If he avoided one difficulty, he fell into another. He tried to take a
middle course—he argued in support of the opinions he had enunciated,
and aided these by additional illustrations; and, in contrasting them
with those opinions which were opposed to him, he endeavoured to
avoid a personal allusion to individuals, by arguing against a class,
which he termed the “band of modern sceptics.” Even this was a little
Charybdis, perhaps; because it had a sort of name-calling effect,
whilst it was not at all essential thus to embody in any one phrase the
persons who held opposite opinions.

His position was intensely difficult. It should be recollected that
Abernethy had always been a teacher of young men; that he had _always_
taught principles of surgery which he conceived to be deducible from
those delivered by Hunter; that he further believed that, to understand
Hunter clearly, it was necessary to have a correct notion of the idea
Mr. Hunter entertained of “Life;” and lastly, that, in _all_ his
Lectures, Abernethy had a constant tendency to consider, and a habit
of frequent appeal to, what, under different forms, might be regarded
as the moral bearings of any subject which might be under discussion.
We readily admit that, usually, in conducting scientific _arguments_,
the alleged moral tendencies of this or that view are more acceptable
when reserved to grace a conclusion, than when employed to enforce an
argument; yet we think that, now, comparatively few persons would think
the discussion of any subject bearing on the physical nature of Man,
complete, which omitted the very intimate and demonstrable relations
which exist between the moral and the physiological laws.

The point, however, which we wish to impress, is, that Mr. Abernethy,
in pleading the moral bearings of Hunter’s views by deductions of
his own, was simply following that course which he _had been in
the habit_ of doing on most other questions; it was merely part of
that plan on which, without the smallest approach at any attempt to
intrude religious considerations inappropriately into the discussion
of matters ordinarily regarded as secular, he had always inculcated
a straightforward, free-from-cant, do-as-you-would-be-done-by tone
in his own Lectures. This, while it formed one of their brightest
ornaments, was just that without which all lectures must be held as
defective, which are addressed to young men about to enter an arduous
and responsible profession.

Abernethy stated nothing as facts but which were demonstrably such; and
with regard to any hypotheses which he employed in aid of explaining
them, he observed those conditions which philosophers agree on as
necessary, whether the hypotheses be adopted or otherwise. He did not
do even this, but for the very legitimate object of explaining the
views of the man on whose labours he was discoursing.

When those views of Mr. Hunter, which had been thus set forth and
illustrated, were attacked, he defended them with his characteristic
ability; and although we will not undertake to say that the defence
contains no single passage that might not as well have been omitted, we
are not aware that, from the beginning to the end, it is charged with a
single paragraph that does not fall fairly within the limits that the
most stringent would prescribe to scientific controversy.

The discussion of abstract principles is generally unprofitable. We
think few things more clear than that we know not the intrinsic nature
of _any_ abstract principle; and although it would be presumptuous
to say we never shall, yet we think it impossible for any reflecting
student in any science to avoid perceiving that there are peculiar
relations between the _laws_ of nature and the human capacity, which
most emphatically suggest that the study of the one is the _proper
business_, and the _prescribed limit_ to the power, of the other.

Still, the poverty of language is such, as regards the expression
of natural phenomena, that necessity has obliged us to clothe the
forces in nature with some attribute sufficiently in conformity with
our ideas to enable us to give them an intelligible expression; and,
whether we talk of luminous particles, ethereal undulations, electric
or magnetic fluids, matter of heat, &c. we apprehend that no one now
means more than to convey an intellectually tangible expression, of
certain _forces_ in nature, of which he desires to discourse; in order
to describe the _habitudes_ they observe, or the laws which they obey.
This is all we think it necessary to say on the scientific conduct of
the argument by Abernethy.

The public have long since expressed their opinion on Mr. Lawrence’s
Reply and Lectures; and whatever may be regarded as their decision,
we have no disposition to canvass or disturb it. There was nothing
wonderful, however unusual, in a young man so placed, in a profession
like ours, getting into a controversy with a man of such eminence as
Abernethy, particularly on speculative subjects. There were in the
present case, to be sure, very many objections to such a position; but
these it was Mr. Lawrence’s province to consider. On this, and many
other points, we have as little inclination as we have right, perhaps,
to state our opinion. Nevertheless, we must not omit a few words in
recognition of Mr. Abernethy’s efforts, and a few observations on the
conduct of the governing body of the College at that time. In the
first place, we feel obliged to Mr. Abernethy for the defence he made
on that occasion: not from the importance of any abstract theory, but
from the tendency that his whole tone had to inculcate just views of
the nature and character of the profession. But we can by no means
acquit the Council of the College, at the time of the said controversy,
of what we must conceive to have been a great neglect of duty. There
is, amongst a certain class of persons, an idea that the medical
profession are sceptical on religious subjects; and many of these
persons are people of whom it is impossible not to value the respect
and good opinion. We never could trace any _legitimate_ grounds for the
conclusion. On inquiry, it has always appeared to be nothing more than
a “vulgar error,” resting, as “vulgar errors” generally do, on general
conclusions drawn by people who have deduced them from insufficient

Sometimes, the persons indulging in this idea have known a medical man
whom _they consider_ to be unstable in his religious views; another
knows that Mr. A. or B. never goes to church; sometimes, even political
differences have been held sufficient excuse for impugning the
soundness of a man’s ideas on the all-important subject of religion. We
have never been able to discover any grounds on which they could, with
any show of justice, support so serious an imputation. For our parts,
we know not how the necessary data are to be obtained, and therefore
should shrink from anything so presumptuous as an attempt to describe
the religious character of any profession.

We have no means of obtaining the evidence necessary even to examine,
much less to support, so serious and difficult a generalization.
The great bulk of our profession are general practitioners; and in
forming opinions in regard to any class of men, we naturally look to
the greatest number. So far as our own experience has gone, we cannot
find the slightest ground for the degrading imputation. Like all other
medical men, their labours are incessant, their hours of recreation
few, and far between. In their requisitions on their time, the public
regard neither night nor day, nor the Sabbath, when they require
attention. Then, if we look to conduct as no unreasonable test of
religion, we may, like all other professions, have blots. We have, in
all grades, it may be, our fee-hunters and long-billed practitioners;
but whether we regard the physician, surgeon, or general practitioner,
we verily believe that there are no men in the kingdom who, as a body,
conduct themselves more honourably, none who are less mercenary, none
who, in relation to their position, are less affluent—no bad test—nor
who do one-tenth of the work which they do, without any remuneration

With regard to the alleged absence from public worship, there may be
(however explicable) some ground for the remark, and especially as no
profession shows, in the general respectability of their conduct, a
more ready and respectful acquiescence in the established usages of

But let the question be fairly stated. How many medical men can go to
church every Sunday, and to the same church, without a compromise of
a paramount duty? We are ready to concede, that the necessities which
professional calls impose on so many occasions, may have a tendency to
form habits, when impediments are less pressing; but is it not rather
the exactions of the public, than the choice of the profession, which
imposes the necessity? How many of the public would be satisfied, if
they wished to see a professional man on any pressing occasion, and
were told that he could not be seen for a couple of hours, as he was
going to church?

Highly as we venerate the benign and beautiful ordinance of the
Sabbath, important as we think it, that, on all accounts, it should be
observed with reverence and gratitude,—still we should hesitate before
we regarded the single act of attendance or absence on public worship
as a safe or charitable exposition of any man’s religious stability.
We, therefore, as far as in us lies, repudiate the charge; we regard it
as groundless; and think that, as no profession affords more frequent
opportunities for a constant awakening and keeping alive the best
sympathies of our nature, so no profession can be more calculated to
impress the fragile nature of the body, as contrasted with the immortal
spirit which inhabits it, or the constant presence of that Power by
whose laws they are both governed. But groundless as we think the
charge, we must contend that the apathy of the Council of the College,
at the time Mr. Lawrence delivered the lectures in question, was a
serious neglect of duty. In those Lectures, Mr. Lawrence spoke of the
Old Testament in a tone which must, we think, be regarded as irrelevant
to, or at least unnecessary in, a course of Lectures on Comparative

We hold no sympathy with that sort of persecution with which several
well-intentioned people visited the book; but we must always regard
the Council of the time as having been neglectful of their duty.
Lectures on Comparative Anatomy do not render it necessary to impugn
the historical correctness, or the inspired character, of the Old
Testament. What answer could private individuals make, or with what
influence could they oppose the prejudices of the public in relation
to the religious securities afforded by men in whom they confide, when
they saw a young professor allowed to introduce into lectures—given
to an audience composed of the most aged and eminent of the profession,
as well as of many of those who were just commencing their studies,
delivered, too, at the chartered College of the profession—matter
which was not only not at all necessary to the most ample exposition
of the subject, but which, as we have said, only alluded to the
Old Testament in a manner calculated to weaken its authority as an
historical document, and to impugn its inspired character?

Surely there was no more certain mode of giving an _ex cathedrâ_
sanction to the unfavourable impressions of the public; impressions
which tend to tarnish the lustre of a profession which founds its claim
to respect on its high office in kindly ministrations and unquestioned
utility; and to arm a vulgar and unfounded prejudice with all the
influence of Collegiate recognition. If, indeed, the College had
desired to support the alleged favourable tendency of Mr. Abernethy’s
views, or the alleged opposite bearings of those to which he was
opposed, they could hardly have done better than to have allowed of
the irrelevant matter in question. But we have done. It is no part of
our business to quote passages, or further to renew discussions long
since passed away, than is necessary for our proper objects. But when
we consider on how many points Abernethy must have been hurt, the very
difficult and perplexing position in which he was placed, we cannot
too much admire the very measured tone he adopted throughout; or the
evidently wounded feeling, but still dignified yet simple statement in
the published Postscript in his Lectures; and though there had been no
subsequent exemplification of his forgiving temper—which was not the
case—we should still have felt obliged to regard the whole affair as
indicative of great goodness of heart; and, when all the circumstances
of disappointment and vexation are duly weighed, of almost unexampled

It is just to Mr. Lawrence to observe, that, some few years after
this, the Governors of Bethlem Hospital, on the annual (and usually
formal) election of the surgeon, an office held by Mr. Lawrence, threw
the appointment open to competition; on which occasion Mr. Lawrence
published a letter expressing regret, in general terms, as to certain
passages in the Lectures in question, and his determination not to
publish any more on similar subjects. The coincidence of this letter
with the threatened tenure of office, of course gave rise to the usual
remarks; but, if a man say he is sorry for a thing, perhaps it is
better not to scan motives too closely. Mankind stand too much in need
of what Burns suggests, and with which we close this not very agreeable

“Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Though they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human.”

“And though they prove not, they confirm the cause,
When what is taught agrees with Nature’s laws.”


In endeavouring to give some idea of Abernethy’s manner in more
sustained compositions, we have made some selections from the Lectures
he delivered at the College of Surgeons. Without any pretensions to a
critically faultless style, there always seemed to us to be a peculiar
simplicity, combined with a broad and comprehensive range of thought.
Sometimes, too, he has almost a “curiosa felicitas” in the tone of
his expressions; though this was more remarkable, we think, when he
felt more free; that is, in his unrivalled teaching at the Hospital,
of which we shall endeavour to give a more particular account. As we
have before remarked, it is impossible to do full justice to Abernethy,
unless we were to publish his works, with a running commentary; and we
fear that in the selections we offer we have incurred a responsibility
which we shall not properly fulfil. To convey the full, the suggestive
merit of even some of the following passages, it would be necessary to
state carefully the relation they bear to the state of science, both
chemical and physiological, at the time they were written, and the

The interest of the Lectures is so evenly distributed through the
whole, that selection is very difficult; and being obliged to consider
our limits, we have, in the absence of a better guide, selected the
passages at random, as suggested by our own impressions of them. We
therefore can only earnestly recommend the perusal of the Lectures
themselves, as equally entertaining and instructive to the general as
well as the professional reader. The varied expression and manner,
and his fine intellectual countenance, by which he imparted so
much interest to his delivery on every subject he touched, will be
considered in connection with his success in the art of lecturing, to
which these somewhat formal specimens may serve as an introduction.



“When, therefore, we perceive in the universe at large a cause of rapid
and powerful motions of masses of inert matter, may we not naturally
conclude that the inert molecules of vegetable and animal matter may be
made to move in a similar manner by a similar cause?”


“It is not meant that electricity is life. There are strong analogies
between electricity and magnetism; and yet I do not know that any
one has been hardy enough to assert their absolute identity[40]. I
only mean to prove that Mr. Hunter’s theory is verifiable, by showing
that a subtile substance of a quickly, powerfully mobile nature seems
to pervade everything, and appears to be the life of the world; and
therefore it is probable that a similar substance pervades organized
bodies, and produces similar effects in them.

“The opinions which, in former times, were a justifiable hypothesis,
seem to me now to be converted into a rational theory[41].”


“This general and imperfect sketch of the anatomy of the nervous system
relates only to what may be discovered by our unassisted sight. If by
means of the microscope we endeavour to observe the ultimate nervous
fibres, persons in general are as much at a loss as when, by the same
means, they attempt to trace the ultimate muscular fibres[42].”


“Assuredly, motion does not necessarily imply sensation; it takes place
where no one ever yet imagined there could be sensation. If I put on
the table a basin containing a saturated solution of salt, and threw
into it a single crystal, the act of crystallization would begin from
the point touched, and rapidly and regularly pervade the liquor till
it assumed a solid form. Yet I know I should incur your ridicule if I
suggested the idea that the stimulus of salt had primarily excited the
action, or that its extension was the effect of continuous sympathy.
If, also, I threw a spark amongst gunpowder; what would you think, were
I to represent the explosion as a struggle resentful of injury, or the
noise as the clamorous expression of pain[43]?”



“Thus the odour of a cat, or the effluvia of mutton, the one
imperceptible, the other grateful to the generality of persons, has
caused individuals to fall on the ground as though bereaved of life,
or to have their whole frame agitated by convulsions. Substances which
induce disease in one person or animal, do not induce disease in


“Thinking being inevitable, we ought, as I said, to be solicitous to
think correctly. Opinions are equally the natural result of thought,
and the cause of conduct. If errors of thought terminated in opinions,
they would be of less consequence; but a slight deviation from the
line of rectitude in thought may lead to a most distant and disastrous
aberration from that line in action. I own I cannot readily believe
any one who tells me he has formed no opinion on subjects which must
have engaged and interested his attention. Persons both of sceptical
and credulous characters form opinions, and we have in general some
principal opinion, to which we connect the rest, and to which we make
them subservient; and this has a great influence on all our conduct.
Doubt and uncertainty are so fatiguing to the human mind, by keeping it
in continual action, that it will and must rest somewhere; and if so,
our inquiry ought to be where it may rest most securely and comfortably
to itself, and with most advantage to others.

“In the uncertainty of opinions, wisdom would counsel us to adopt those
which have a tendency to produce beneficial actions.”




“If I may be allowed to express myself allegorically with regard to
our intellectual operations, I would say that the mind chooses for
itself some little spot or district, where it erects a dwelling, which
it furnishes and decorates with the various materials it collects.
Of many apartments contained in it, there is one to which it is most
partial, where it chiefly reposes, and where it sometimes indulges its
visionary fancies. At the same time, it employs itself in cultivating
the surrounding grounds, raising little articles for intellectual
traffic with its neighbours, or perhaps some produce worthy to be
deposited amongst the general stores of human knowledge. Thus my
mind rests at peace in thinking on the subject of life, as it has
been taught by Mr. Hunter; and I am visionary enough to imagine that
if these opinions should become so established as to be generally
admitted by philosophers, that if they once saw reason to believe that
life was something of an invisible and active nature _superadded_ to
organization, they would then see equal reason to believe that mind
might be superadded to life, as life is to structure. They would then,
indeed, still further perceive how mind and matter might reciprocally
operate on each other by means of an intervening substance. Thus,
even, would physiological researches enforce the belief which I say is
natural to man: that, in addition to his bodily frame, he possesses
a sensitive, intelligent, and _independent_ mind—an opinion which
tends in an eminent degree to produce virtuous, honourable, and useful





“No study can surely be so interesting as Physiology. Whilst other
sciences carry us abroad in search of objects, in this we are engaged
at home, and on concerns highly important to us, in inquiring into
the means by which ‘we live, and move, and have our being.’ To those,
however, engaged in the practice of Medicine, the study of Physiology
is indispensable; for it is evident that the nature of the disordered
actions of parts or organs can never be understood or judiciously
counteracted, unless the nature of their healthy actions be previously

“The study of Physiology, however, not only requires that we should
investigate the nature of the various vital processes carried on in
our own bodies, but also that we should compare them with similar
processes in all the varieties of living beings; not only that we
should consider them in a state of natural and healthy action, but also
under all the varying circumstances of disorder and disease. Few indeed
have studied Physiology thus extensively, and none in an equal degree
with Mr. Hunter. Whoever attentively peruses his writings, must, I
think, perceive that he draws his crowds of facts from such different
and remote sources, as to make it extremely difficult to assemble and
arrange them[46].”


“Disorder, which is the effect of faulty actions of _nerves_,
induces disease, which is the consequence of faulty actions of the
_vessels_. There are some who find it difficult to understand how
similar swellings or ulcers may form in various parts of the body
in consequence of general nervous disorder, and are all curable by
appeasing and removing such general disorder. The fact is indisputable.
Such persons are not so much surprised that general nervous disorder
should produce local effects in the nervous and muscular systems;
yet they cannot so well understand how it should locally affect the
vascular system. To me there appears nothing wonderful in such events;
for the local affection is primarily nervous, and the vascular actions
are consequent. Yet it must indeed be granted that there may be other
circumstances leading to the peculiarities of local diseases, with
which, at present, we are unacquainted. Disorder excites to disease,
and when _important organs_ become in a degree diseased, they
will still perform their functions moderately well, _if disorder_
be relieved, which _ought to be the Alpha and Omega of medical

As we have seen, in the early part of our narrative, he was one of
the first to insist on the importance of Comparative Anatomy and
Physiology, and, as we shall have to relate, most active in securing
what has proved so greatly influential to its progress in this country
(the appointment of Professor Owen). Yet he modestly ignores any
positive pretensions which might be imputed to him from his endeavour
to illustrate a Museum dealing so largely with Comparative Anatomy.

“Gratitude to the former of the Museum, and also to the donors to
it, equally demand that its value and excellency should be publicly
acknowledged and displayed, which consideration has goaded me on to
undertake and imperfectly execute a task for which I feel myself not
properly qualified.”

Here follows what is very candid in Abernethy, and honourable to Mr.
Clift, who had very many debtors who were less communicative.

“I cordially acknowledge that I have little acquaintance with the
subject, except what I derived from looking over the preparations
in the Museum, from reading Professor Cuvier’s Lectures, and from
the frank and friendly communications of our highly praiseworthy
conservator, Mr. Clift. Permit me to say, gentlemen, though many know
it already, that Mr. Clift resided with Mr. Hunter, and was taught
by him to exhibit anatomical facts in preparations,—that he does
credit to his excellent instructor,—that he feels the same interest
and zeal that his patron did for the improvement of this department
of science,—and that he possesses the same candour and simplicity of


“I now beg leave to add that there are many who think clearly,
who do not think deeply; and they have greatly the advantage in
expressing themselves, for their thoughts are generally simple and
easy of apprehension. Opinions immediately deduced from any series or
assemblage of facts may be called primary opinions, and they become
types and representatives of the facts from which they are formed,
and, like the facts themselves, admit of assortment, comparison, and
inference; so that from them we deduce ulterior opinions, till at
length, by a kind of intellectual calculation, we obtain some general
total, which in like manner becomes the representative and co-efficient
of all our knowledge, with relation to the subject examined and

“In proportion to the pains we have taken in this algebraical process
of the mind, and our assurance of its correctness, so do we contemplate
the conclusion or consummation of our labours with satisfaction[49].”


“Gentlemen (of the jury), I trust I can prove to your perfect
conviction, by ample and incontrovertible evidence, that my client
(John Hunter) died seized and possessed of very considerable literary
property, the hard-earned gainings of great talent and unparalleled
industry. It is not, however, for the property that I plead; because
already that is secured; it is fenced in; land-marks are set up; it
is registered in public documents. I plead only for the restitution
of a great and accumulated income of reputation derivable from that
property, which, I trust, you will perceive to be justly due, and will
consequently award to my client, and his country[50].”


“Believing that no man will labour in the strenuous and unremitting
manner that Mr. Hunter did, and to the detriment of his own private
interest, without some strong incentive; I have supposed that at an
early period he conceived those notions of life which were confirmed
by his future inquiries and experiments. He began his observations on
the incubated egg, in the year 1755, which must either have suggested
or corroborated all his opinions with regard to the cause of the vital
phenomena. He perceived that, however different in form and faculty,
every creature was nevertheless allied to himself, because it was a
living being; and therefore he became solicitous to inquire how the
vital processes were carried on in all the varieties of animal and even
vegetable existence.”


“In the progress of science, genius with light and airy steps often far
precedes judgment, which proceeds slowly, and either finds or forms
a road along which all may proceed with facility and security; but
the _direction_ of the course of judgment is often suggested, and its
actions are excited and accelerated, by the invocations of preceding



“As Sir H. Davy’s experiments fully prove that electricity may be
superadded to, and that it enters into, the composition of all those
substances we call matter, I felt satisfied with the establishment
of the philosophy of Mr. Hunter’s views, nor thought it necessary to
proceed further, but merely added: ‘It is not meant to be affirmed that
electricity is life.’ I only mean to argue in favour of Mr. Hunter’s
theory, by showing that a subtile substance of a quickly and powerfully
mobile nature seems to pervade everything, and appears to be the life
of the world; and that therefore it is probable a similar substance
pervades organized bodies, and is the life of these bodies. I am
concerned, yet obliged, to detain you by this recapitulation, because
my meaning has been either misunderstood or misrepresented[52].”


“He (Mr. Hunter) told us that life was a great chemist, and, even in a
seemingly quiescent state, had the power of resisting the operations of
external chemical agency, and thereby preventing the decomposition of
those bodies in which it resided. Thus seeds may lie buried far beneath
the surface of the earth for a great length of time without decaying,
but being thrown up, they vegetate. Mr. Hunter showed us that this
chemist, ‘Life,’ had the power of regulating the temperature of the
substances in which it resides[53].”





“The progress of science since Mr. Hunter’s time has wonderfully
manifested that the beam, when dissected by a prism, is not only
separable into seven calorific rays of different refrangibility,
producing the iridescent spectrum, but also into calorific rays
refracted in the greatest degree or intensity beyond the red colour,
and into rays not calorific, refracted in like manner, to the opposite
side of the spectrum beyond the violet colour; and that the calorific
and uncalorific rays produce effects similar to those occasioned by
the two kinds of electricity; and thus afforded additional reasons for
believing that subtile, mobile substances do enter into the composition
of all those bodies which the sun illumines, or its beams can penetrate.

“Late observations induce the belief that even light may be
incorporated in a latent state with animal substances and afterwards
elicited by a kind of spontaneous separation by vital actions, or
by causes that seem to act mechanically on the substance in which
it inheres. All the late discoveries in science seem to realize the
speculations of ancient philosophers, and show that all the changes and
motions which occur in surrounding bodies, as well as those in which we
live, are the effect of subtile and invisible principles existing in
them, or acting on them. Mr. Ellis, who, with such great industry and
intelligence, has collated all the scattered evidences relative to the
production of heat in living bodies, and added so much to the collected
knowledge, seems to think that all the variations of temperature in
them may be accounted for by known chemical processes.

“Here, however, I must observe, that Mr. Hunter’s opinion of life
having the power of regulating temperature was deduced, not only from
his own experiments, related in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ but
also from observing, that, in certain _affections of the stomach, the
heat of the body is subject to great vicissitudes, whilst respiration
and circulation remain unaltered_; and also that parts of the body are
subject to similar variations, which appear inexplicable upon any other
supposition than that of _local nervous excitement_, or torpor, or some
similar affections of the vital powers of the part which undergoes such



“It is equally apparent that the belief of the distinct and independent
nature of mind incites us to act rightly from principle; to relieve
distress, to repel aggression, and defend those who are incapable of
protecting themselves; to practise and extol whatever is virtuous,
excellent, and honourable; to shun and condemn whatever is vicious and
base, regardless also of our own personal feelings and interests when
put in competition with our duty[55].”


“There is nothing in the assertions of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim
contradictory to the results of general observation and experience. It
is admitted that the superior intellectual faculties can and ought
to control the inferior propensities. It is admitted that we possess
organs, which, nevertheless, may be inactive from general torpor or
want of education. General observation and experience proclaim that
susceptibility is the chief incentive to action, that it is the source
of genius; and that the character of the man greatly depends on his
education and habits. We educate our faculties; what is at first
accomplished with difficulty, by repetition is easily performed, and
becomes more perfect and established by habit. Trains of perceptions
and thoughts also become firmly concentrated, and occur in succession.
Even our feelings undergo the same kind of education and establishment.
Casual feelings of goodwill by repetition strengthen and produce
lasting friendships; whilst trivial sensations of disgust, in like
manner, may occasion inveterate hatred.”


“Should the result of our general inquiries, or attention to the
subjects proposed to us by Drs. Gall and Spurzheim, induce us to
believe that the peculiarities of our feelings and faculties were the
effects of variety of excitement, transmitted through a diversity
of organization, they would tend to produce mutual forbearance and
toleration. We should perceive how nearly impossible it must be that
any persons should think and feel exactly alike upon any subject. We
should not arrogantly pride ourselves on our own virtue and knowledge,
nor condemn the errors and weakness of others, since they may depend
upon causes which we can neither produce nor readily counteract. The
path of virtue is plain and direct, and its object distinctly before
us; so that no one can miss either, who has resolution enough never
to lose sight of them, by adverting to advantages and allurements
with which he may be presented on the one hand, or the menacings
with which he may be assailed on the other. Yet no one, judging from
his own feelings and powers, can be aware of the kind and degree of
temptation or terror, or the seeming incapacity to resist them, which
may have induced others to deviate. Now, though from the foregoing
considerations I am pleased with the speculations of Drs. Gall and
Spurzheim, I am quite incompetent to give any opinion as to the
probability of what they have suggested; because I see no mode by which
we can with propriety admit or reject their assertions, except by
pursuing the same course of investigations which they themselves have
followed; a task of great labour and difficulty, and one which, for
various reasons, I should feel great repugnance to undertake[56].”

Abernethy used to like very well to talk with Spurzheim, who resided
for some time in this country. One day, Abernethy, half-seriously,
half-humorously said to Spurzheim: “Well, Doctor, where do you place
the organ of common sense?” Spurzheim’s reply certainly sustained the
coincidence of phrenological deductions with those of experience.
“There is no organ,” said he, “for common sense, but it depends on the
equilibrium of the other organs.”


“Therefore, from this least interesting part of anatomy, we derive
the strongest conviction of there being design and contrivance in the
construction of animals. Equal evidences of design and contrivance and
of adaptation of means to ends may be observed in the construction of
the framework, as I may call it, of other animals, as in that of man,
which subject seems to me very happily displayed in Professor Cuvier’s

“It was, however, the comparing the mechanism of the hand and foot
that led Galen, who they say was a sceptic in his youth, to the public
declaration of his opinion that intelligence must have operated in
ordaining the laws by which living beings are constructed. That Galen
was a man of a very superior intellect could readily be proved, were it
necessary. I have often known the passage I allude to made a subject
of reference, but not of quotation, and therefore I recite it on the
present occasion, and particularly because it shows that Galen was
not in the least degree tinctured with superstition. ‘In explaining
these things,’ he says, ‘I esteem myself as composing a solemn hymn
to the great Architect of our bodily frame, in which I think there is
more true piety than in sacrificing whole hecatombs of oxen, or in
burning the most costly perfumes; for, first, I endeavour from His
works to know Him myself, and afterwards by the same means to show
Him to others, to inform them how great is His wisdom, goodness, and


“Those bodies which we call living are chiefly characterized by their
powers of converting surrounding substances into their own nature,
of building up the structure of their own bodies, and repairing the
injuries they may accidentally sustain[59].”


Very important in our view. The objection was very new at that time,
and has made very little way yet. We have already referred to this
subject. Considering the period of these Lectures (nearly forty years
ago), Abernethy’s objections, though cautious, are very sound, and,
for him, very positive. We know that he felt still more strongly.

“Mr. Hunter, whom I should not have believed to be very scrupulous
about inflicting sufferings upon animals, nevertheless censures
Spalanzani for the unmeaning repetition of similar experiments. Having
resolved publicly to express my own opinion with respect to this
subject, I choose the present opportunity to do it, because I believe
Spalanzani to have been one of those who have tortured and destroyed
animals in vain. I do not perceive that in the two principal subjects
which he sought to elucidate, he has added any important fact to our
stock of knowledge; besides, some of his experiments are of a nature
that a good man would have blushed to think of, and a wise man ashamed
to publish, for they prove no fact requiring to be proved, and only
show that the aforesaid Abbé was a filthy-minded fellow.”


“The design of experiments is to interrogate nature; and surely
the inquirer ought to make himself acquainted with the language of
nature, and take care to propose pertinent questions. He ought further
to consider the probable kind of replies that may be made to his
inquiries, and the inferences that may be warranted in drawing from
different responses, so as to be able to determine whether, by the
commission of cruelty, he is likely to obtain adequate instruction.
Indeed, before we make experiments on sensitive beings, we ought
further to consider whether the information we seek may not be
attainable by other means. I am aware of the advantages which have been
derived from such experiments when made by persons of talent, and who
have properly prepared themselves; but I know that these experiments
tend to harden the feelings which often lead to the inconsiderate
performance of them.

“Surely we should endeavour to foster, and not stifle, benevolence,
the best sentiment of our nature, that which is productive of
the greatest gratification both to its possessor and to others.
_Considering the professors in this place as the organs of the Court
of the College_, addressing its members, I feel that I act as becomes
a senior of this institution, whilst admitting the propriety of the
practice under the foregoing restrictions, I, at the same time,
express an earnest hope that the character of an English surgeon may
never be tarnished by the commission of inconsiderate or unnecessary






“To me, however, who confide more in the eye of reason than in that
of sense, and would rather form opinions from analogy than from the
imperfect evidence of sight, it seems too hasty an inference to
conclude that, in the minute animals, there are no vessels nor other
organization because we cannot see them, or that polypes are actually
devoid of vessels, and merely of the structure described, because we
can discern no other. Were it, however, really so, such facts would
then only show with how little and with what various organization life
could accomplish its principal functions of assimilation, formation,
and multiplication. Who has seen the multitudinous distribution of
absorbing vessels, and all the other organization, which doubtless
exists in the vitreous humour of the eye, than which no glass ever
appeared more transparent or more seemingly inorganic[61]? How strange
is it that anatomists, above all other members of the community of
science, should hesitate to admit the existence of what they cannot
discern, since they, more than all the rest, have such constant
assurance of the imperfection and fallibility of sight[62]?”


“Our physiological theories should be adequate to account for all the
vital phenomena both in health _and disorder_, or they can never be
maintained as good theories[63].”




“Chemists have considered the change as contributory to the production
of animal heat, which opinion may, indeed, be true, though the manner
in which it produces such an effect has not, as yet, been explained.
Mr. Hunter, who believed that life had the power of regulating
temperature, _independently of_ respiration, says nothing of that
process as directly contributing to such an effect. He says: ‘Breathing
seems to render life to the blood, and the blood conveys it to every
part of the body,’ yet he believes the blood derives its vitality
also from the food. I am at a loss to know what chemists now think
respecting heat, whether they consider it to be a distinct species of
matter, or mere motion and vibration. Among the curious revolutions
which this age has produced, those of chemical opinions have a fair
claim to distinction. To show which, I may add, that a lady[64], on
her first marriage, was wedded to that scientific champion who first
overthrew phlogiston, and established, in its stead, the empire of
caloric; and after his decease, on her second nuptials, was united to
the man who vainly supposed he had subverted the rule of caloric and
restored the ancient but long-banished dynasty of motion and vibration.
In this state of perplexity, I cannot, with prudence or probable
security, advance one step further than Mr. Hunter has led me. I must
believe respiration to be essential to life, and that life has the
power, by its actions, of maintaining and regulating temperature[65].”



“Those of the medical profession must readily accord with the remark
of Shakspeare, that such affections (disturbed states of the nervous
system) which may well indeed be called ‘master passions,’ sway us
to their mood in what we like or loathe. For we well know that our
patients and ourselves, from disturbance of the nervous functions of
the digestive organs, producing such affections of the brain, may
become irritable, petulant, and violent about trifles, or oppressed,
morose, and desponding. Permit me, however, to add that those of the
medical profession must be equally apprized that when the functions
of the mind are not disturbed by such affections, it displays great
energy of thought, and evidence of established character, even in
death. Have we not lately heard that the last words of Nelson were:
‘Tell Collingwood to bring the fleet to an anchor?’ Shakspeare has
also represented Mercutio continuing to jest, though he was mortally
wounded; the expiring Hotspur thinking of nothing but honour, and the
dying Falstaff cracking his jokes on Bardolph’s nose. I request you
to excuse this digression, which I have been induced to make, from
perceiving that, if such facts were duly attended to, they would
prompt us to a more liberal allowance for each other’s conduct, under
certain circumstances, than we are accustomed to do; and also incite us
to the more active and constant performance of the great business of
human life—the education of the mind; for, according to its knowledge
and dispositions, do we possess the ability of contributing to our own
welfare and comfort, and that of others[66].”

Continue Reading

Opinionum commenta delet dies, naturæ judicia confirmat

“La première chose qui s’offre à l’Homme quand il se regarde, c’est
son corps. Mais pour comprendre ce qu’elle est, il faut qu’il la
compare avec tout ce qui est au-dessus de lui, et tout ce qui
est au-dessous, afin de reconnoître ses justes bornes.”—PASCAL,

Abernethy, in impressing any anatomical fact, would sometimes say
that we carried about with us in our own bodies excellent means of
refreshing our impressions on many points of anatomy; but we may say
this in a much more extensive sense with regard to the interpretation
of that for which anatomy is alone useful—namely, the _uses_ or
_functions_ of the body. It would be very possible for any observant
person, who was moderately versed in the ordinary principles of
correct reasoning, to detect many defects in medical investigations
and practice; in the correction of which many of Abernethy’s practical
contributions consisted; but the mind, restlessly impatient to arrive
at conclusions, often overlooks the most important facts, and deduces
inferences _directly_ from the evidence of the eye or other senses,
without submitting it to such test as the intellectual faculty can
alone supply. Nothing can exceed the mischief of this in serious
matters, nor the absurdity of it, when we _think awhile_.

We should hardly refrain from laughter if we saw a man try to see with
the point of his nose, or endeavour to examine the odour of a rose by
his ear, or to listen with his eye; yet this is not a whit more absurd
than to try to deduce conclusions from the impressions furnished by
the eye, which can alone be afforded by the rational faculty. Nothing
is more common than this sort of fallacy, nothing more easy than its
correction; but then people must bestow at least a little of that time
on their highest faculties which they so lavishly expend on inferior
powers. How much time we consume, for example, in the study of various
languages—those instruments for the communication of ideas—as
compared with that bestowed on the collecting and marshalling of
ideas themselves; which is little better than grasping at the shadow,
and losing the substance; or, to use a humorous illustration, like a
friend of our own, who, having a new dog, sent his servant forthwith
to purchase sundry articles for him, in the shape of kennel, chains,
engraved collars and food; all of which, at some expense, he safely
accomplished to his master’s satisfaction, expressing his sorrow at the
same time for having accidentally lost the dog!

It is curious, however, to observe how the real business of the human
mind is shadowed forth in the very abuses of its powers; nothing so bad
but it is charged with a certain quantity of good; no error so great
but carries with it the element of its own correction. The mind in its
greatest aberrations is followed by the shadow of its real duty, which
as it were waits on the time when clearer views shall burst on it.
Nothing shows the real tendencies of mind more than its restless desire
to arrive at _some_ conclusion, _some_ tangible evidence of its highest
functions. It is the impulse of this instinct—the ungoverned abuse of
a high faculty, impatient for illegitimate fruition—which lies at the
bottom of much false reasoning, and which blinds men, even of great
power, to obstacles which are luminously evident to the most ordinary
capacity. Important as the next series of illustrations cited by
Abernethy are, the conclusions he deduced from them were the necessary
sequences of clear and correct reasoning on familiar and established

The illustrations in question were those afforded by various cases
of injuries of the head, in which certain consequences, however
exceptional they may be, are too commonly referred to the abstract
nature of the injury. We _see_ that a man has a blow, we _see_ that he
does not recover in the usual way in which we have known many others to
recover; but we do not, perhaps, _consider_ that if a similar—nay,
perhaps an identical force produces very different effects in different
cases, the cause will probably not be in the nature or direction of
the force so much as the condition of the body. Now the value of these
cases of Abernethy’s consists, first, in impressing the influence
of this condition as modifying—in other words, _sustaining_—the
disturbance consequent on injuries (in their origin) purely mechanical;
and secondly, in showing that, in the cases in question, _that
condition_ depended on a disordered state of the digestive organs.
We hardly know any cases more valuable than those in question. When
a patient receives a blow, and, the _immediate_ consequences having
subsided, there still remains an impairment of sense or motion, the
most usual thing, and no doubt very often the true view, is to refer
it all to lesion of nervous structure. It is therefore of the highest
consequence to know the facts of these cases. They not only prevent
the hasty institution of treatment which would be injurious; not only
secure the patient from being abandoned in despair; but supply at
the same time the clues to a rational treatment, and the hope of a
favourable issue.

There can now be few observant surgeons who have not met with cases in
illustration of these circumstances; and yet I know not to whom the
perusal of Mr. Abernethy’s cases might not be useful. It is not without
regret that I forego transcribing at least one of them; forgetful how
impossible it is to do Abernethy full justice in a work intended for
all readers. In his “Book,” the cases in question begin at page 97, and
occupy but a few pages.

The next class of cases, from which Abernethy illustrates the
prevailing influence of the digestive organs, receives additional
importance from the _imperfect_ manner in which the phenomena have been
interpreted in a vast variety of diseases; like small-pox and others,
ascribed to the action of particular poisons. We may possibly have an
opportunity of saying something more on this subject; but we may remark
that when any disease has been presented to the physician or surgeon,
supposed to be the result of specific poisons, it is just the last
case in which any special attention is paid to the digestive organs.
Now Abernethy observed that disorders of the digestive organs would
sometimes _produce_ diseases resembling maladies said to result from
specific poisons. This is about the first indication or hint of that
which, duly carried out by an advancing science, will, we trust, ere
long, demonstrate what to _us_ has long appeared only part of a general
law. Of this we may by and by say a little more, when we endeavour to
show the small quantity of truth which there is mixed with some of
the prevailing errors; and how their occasional success results from
blundering, as it were, on small portions of the principles enunciated
by Abernethy.

In the meantime, we may refer to the illustration afforded by
small-pox of the remarkable influence of the digestive organs in
diseases called specific. We adduce this, because it is one which is
popularly familiar, and a disease that, had it been studied under any
but one particular phase, would have proved, of all others, the most
instructive. There is no malady, under certain circumstances, more
extensively fatal.

In the Spanish conquest in America—a history scarcely less interesting
in a medical than in a moral point of view—it seems that not all the
cruelties of the Spaniards were more destructive than the small-pox. In
less than a century after the arrival of Columbus, it was computed that
it had destroyed more than half the population; and in one year (1590),
it so spread along the coast of Peru, that it swept away nearly the
whole of the Indians, the Mulattoes, and the Mestichos, in the cities
of Potosi and De la Hay[31].

As is well known, before the discovery of vaccination, persons were
_inoculated_ with the small-pox, because it was found that the disease
could _be thus rendered_ comparatively harmless; whilst, if it was
taken naturally, as it was termed, it was always serious, and too
frequently extremely fatal. The preparation for inoculation consisted
of _measures addressed to the digestive organs_. Now the effect may be
judged of by this fact: Inoculation was at first violently opposed;
and, in reply to the alleged safety of it, an opponent wrote to prove
that _one_ in _one_ hundred and eighty-two had died of it. I wish we
could say so of many other diseases.

That such persons had, nevertheless, the genuine malady, was proved
by the fact they were capable of infecting others (unprepared) with
the disease in its most malignant form. But our notions of the mode in
which the laws of the animal economy deal with injurious influences
of this kind, are mischievously conventional. What quantities, for
example, of mercury, in its different forms, have been administered in
almost all diseases; and yet unquestionably there is a great deal of
false reasoning in regard to this poison. Effects are attributed to it
_as mercury_, which only belong to it in _its general character of an
injurious agent_. All the (so-called) specific effects of it, most of
which are become popularly familiar, may occur without any mercury at
all. We have seen them induced by aloes, by scammony; and in a case
where no medicine had been given, and where the only detectable poison
was one which was to be sure bad enough, an enormously loaded liver.

We are obliged to say but little here in connection with this subject.
Abernethy’s cases were very important in relation to the influence of
the digestive organs, although he did not see the generalization to
which, as it appears to us, they help to conduct the pathologist. The
subject is too extensive for discussion here. We will attempt something
of a popular view of it, when we endeavour to explain the fallacy to
which we have already referred.

Abernethy next adduces various illustrations from cases of other
diseases; as indurations, tumours, carbuncles, scrofulous affections,
and others; in proof of the dependence of a “numerous and dissimilar
progeny” of so-called local diseases, on that “fruitful parent,”
disorder of the digestive organs. Of one of the most interesting
and remarkable cases of tumour, Mr. Abernethy did not live to see
the termination. It was of a lady who consulted him previous to the
proposed infliction of an operation. She had been recommended by my
father, in the country, to consult Abernethy before submitting to
it; because he disapproved of it, as did Abernethy—not because they
doubted of the nature of the disease, but because it was not confined
to the part on which it was proposed to operate.

The lady used to call on Abernethy when she came to town; and after his
death she came to me—as she said, just to report her condition. She
had at times various disturbances of her digestive organs; but always
from some imprudence; for, although habitually very simple in her
habits, she would be sometimes careless or forgetful.

She died at a very advanced age—between seventy and eighty—but
there had been no return of the disease for which she had originally
consulted Abernethy, nor had she undergone any operation. It is a
significant circumstance, too, that she had a sister who died of cancer.

The whole of the cases are, however, scarcely less valuable. In the
fifth section, he treats of disorders of parts having continuity of
surface with the alimentary canal, certain affections of the nose, of
the eye, and of the gullet or œsophagus. His observations on the latter
are especially valuable. They strike at that meddling practice which
is too common in the treatment of diseases of these parts. Many of us
have recommended a practice which, without neglecting either, relies
_less_ on manipulatory proceedings, and more on measures directed to
the general health, in such cases; as producing effects which are not
to be obtained by other means; but, if we are to judge from the medical
periodicals, without much success; so inveterate is the habit of
imagining that, whatever the causes of disease may be, if the _results_
be but _mechanical_, mechanical means can alone be applicable. Public
attention, and the perusal of such cases as those of Abernethy, can
alone correct these errors.

Lastly, he describes the results of his dissections as bearing on the
whole subject. Here he shows, that whilst disordered function may
take place coincidentally with, or as a consequence of, change of
structure, yet that such change, so _as to afford visible or detectable
departures_ from natural appearances, is by no means necessary, in
_organs which, during life_, had afforded the most incontrovertible
evidence of impaired function. He also shows that disease has
_terminated_ in _disorder_ which had its original seat in the
digestive organs. And again—that, in cases where the cause of death
had been in the abrogated _function_ of the brain, he found no actual
_disease_ in that organ, but in the _abdominal viscera_. He very justly
observes that the conclusions he has drawn can be _neither_ ascertained
nor disproved by anatomical evidence _alone_. He mentions especially,
and illustrates by a remarkably successful case, how _diseases of the
lungs_ may be engendered by disorders of the digestive organs, and
_entirely_ subdued by correction of that disorder.

He speaks also suggestively of the possibility of that which is
certainly now an established fact. He says: “In cases of diseased
lungs, where no disease of the digestive organs is discovered, yet
considerable _disorder_ does exist, and may continue for many years
without any _organic_ disease being _apparent_; it is possible that
such disorder may excite disease of the lungs, and thus produce a
_severer_ disease of the latter organs than what existed in the
former. Accurate attention to the _digestive organs may determine
this important subject, and lead to the prevention and cure of the
sympathetic diseases which I have mentioned_.” “This attention must
not be merely of that general kind which adverts only to the quality
of the ingesta, &c., but one which more strictly observes whether the
viscera” (that is, reader, not merely the stomach, not merely the
digestive organs, but the whole viscera of the body) “and whether these
secretions are healthy or otherwise.” After speaking of the heart also,
as affected by the digestive organs; and of the infinity of diseases
which arise from the reciprocal disturbance excited between them and
the brain;—he says: “But even these are not the worst consequences.
The disorder of the sensorium, excited and aggravated (by the means
which he has described), affects the mind. The operations of the
intellect become enfeebled, perplexed, and perverted; the temper
and disposition, irritable, unbenevolent, and desponding. The moral
character and conduct appears even to be liable to be affected by these
circumstances. The individual in this case is not the only sufferer,
but the evil extends to his connections and to society. The subject,
therefore, appears to me to be of such importance, that no apology
need be offered for this imperfect attempt to place it under general
contemplation.” Here is that suggestion which, when carried out, leads
to the detection of cases of insanity which depend on disturbances of
the digestive organs.

Lastly, as if, notwithstanding his own previous attention to the
important question of the influence of the digestive organs in
disease, he felt that the inquiry had grown upon him in consequence of
Mr. Boodle’s endeavour to concentrate his attention to the subject,
he concludes by expressing his past obligations to Mr. Boodle; for
he says, with admirable modesty and candour, “for Mr. Boodle first
instructed me how to detect disorders of the digestive organs, _when
their local symptoms were so trivial as to be unnoticed_ by the
patient.” He urges Mr. Boodle to publish also his own observations on
the subject, because any remarks from one who observes the progress of
disease “with such sagacity and accuracy, cannot but be interesting.”
We are quite aware how feeble our attempt has been to do justice to
this admirable book. But nothing can do that but a careful study of the
various principles which it either suggests, dimly shadows forth, or
deeply and beautifully unfolds.

Through not a very short life, we have had ample opportunity of testing
these principles by the bedside, and of endeavouring to connect some
of them with the laws in obedience to which they occur; and we are
free to declare our impression that when the book is studied with the
requisite previous knowledge, and freedom from preconceived opinion;
and when tested and carried out in _principle_, as distinguished from
any adhesion to mere matters of _detail_; we think it infinitely more
valuable than all other professional works whatever. In examining
the truths it unfolds, or in our humble endeavours elsewhere at a
more analytical or extended application of them, like Abernethy, we
have rested our reasoning wholly on facts and observations which are
acknowledged and indisputable.

Whilst other views have only led to a practice in the highest degree
empirical, or, what is worse, conjectural, those of Abernethy’s lead
often directly, but always _when duly studied_, to a practice at once
clear, definite, and in the sense in which we shall qualify the word
“positive,”—that is, one which gives us the power (when we really have
the management of the case) of predicting the success or failure; which
is at least a ripple indicative of a coming science.

In order, however, to carry out this clearly, we shall at once add what
we think necessary to the profession and the public on the subject.
The _general relation_ of Abernethy’s labours to a real and definite
science will be better developed in our concluding Summary; when we may
have an opportunity of stating what further appears to have been done,
and what is yet required. It will have been perhaps already observed
that Abernethy’s views involve a few very simple propositions: first,
that disturbance of a _part_ is competent to disturb the whole system;
and conversely, that disturbance of the _whole system_ is competent to
disturb any _part_. That the disturbance may _commence_ in the brain or
nervous system, may then disturb the various organs, and that these may
again by reflected action disturb the brain, and so reciprocally; and
that in all these cases tranquillity of the digestive organs is of the
very first consequence; not merely from its abstract importance, but
from the influence it exerts on the state of the nervous system.

With respect to any influences immediately directed to the nervous
system, these we apprehend to be few and simple; some kinds of
medicine, are, no doubt, in particular cases useful, none are
susceptible of _general_ application. None of them are _certain_;
and sedatives of all kinds, which appear to have the most direct
influence on the nervous system, either require to be employed with
the utmost caution, or are in the highest degree objectionable. But
there are other _direct_ influences, certainly; and very important
they are. Quiet, avoidance of disturbing external impressions, whether
of light, sound, temperature, &c. whether in fact of mind or body;
but, in the majority of mankind, how few of them we can, in a strictly
philosophical sense, command. We are therefore driven to other sources
of disturbance; and in the digestive organs we find those on which we
can exert great influence, and in which tranquillity, however procured
or under whatever circumstances, is _certain_, _pro tanto_, to relieve
the whole system. This Abernethy attempted, and with a success which
was remarkable in no cases more than those which had resisted all more
ordinary modes of proceeding; by general measures, by simplicity of
diet, by occasional solicitation of this or that organ, by air and
exercise, and measures which were directed to the general health. No
doubt in some cases he failed, and so we shall in many; but let us look
boldly at the cause, and see whether we do not fail a great deal more
from our own ignorance than from any natural impossibility.

To examine the question, we must for the moment forget our admiration
of Abernethy; be no longer dazzled by his genius, but look only to our
duty; endeavour to discover his defects, or rather those of the state
of the question when he left us, and see what further investigation has
afforded in aid of supplying them.

In the first place, we must examine a little further that proposition
which we have seen both in Hunter and Abernethy under different forms.
Hunter says the disturbance of the organ sympathizing is sometimes more
prominent than that of the organ with which it sympathizes. Abernethy
says that the organ primarily affected is sometimes very little
apparently disturbed, or not even perceptibly so.

Now, from both these statements, we find that there may be no signs
in the primarily affected organ; which, practically rendered, is
nothing more or less than saying that in many cases we must not seek
for the primarily affected organ where _the symptoms are_; and this
is a great fact: because, although it does not necessarily teach us
what we must do, it exposes the broken reed on which so many rely. Now
the further point, which, as we would contend, time and labour have
supplied, is first this—that what Hunter had mentioned as one feature
in the history of the sympathies of different organs, and Abernethy as
an occasional or not unfrequent occurrence, is, in disorders of any
standing, and with the exception of mechanical injury, _in fact the
rule_—the _symptoms_ of disorder being almost _never_ in the primary
organ; nay, even organic change (disease) is for the _most part_ first
seen in a _secondarily_ affected organ. In regard to primarily affected
parts, the skin only excepted, they will be found, in the vast majority
of cases, to be one or other of the digestive organs.

I will endeavour to render the cause of this intelligible. A minute
examination of what happens in a living person, especially if it
be extended to some thousands of cases, will soon disclose to the
most unlettered person a few instructive facts, showing that Nature
has a regular plan of dealing with _all_ injurious influences,
which, however _various_ many of the _details_ may be, is in general
character exquisitely simple, surprisingly beautiful, and intelligibly
conservative; and that the various modes on which she exercises this
plan, from the cradle to the grave, are, in _frequency, directly in
the order of their conservative tendency_. Let us explain. There is no
dearth of illustration; the _facts_ are bewilderingly abundant; the
difficulty is which to choose, and how to give them an intelligible
_general expression_. Let us take a single case. We know that if a mote
gets into the eye, there is irritation, immediately there is flow of
blood to the part, a gland pours forth an abundant supply of tears,
and the substance is probably washed out. Very well; we say that is
intelligible. But suppose you have the vapour of turpentine, or any
other irritant, the same thing happens; but still you cannot give quite
the same _mechanical_ explanation.

Again—substances which affect the mouth, nose, and stomach, will
irritate the eye without any contact, and cause a flow of tears.

Lastly, you know that affections of the mind will do this, and where
even we have no _mechanical_ irritant at all.

In _all_ these cases there has been activity of the vessels of the eye,
and in all it has been relieved by secretion. Now this is the universal
mode throughout the body; all irritation of the organs is attended by
secretion; and where this is done, there is no disorder; or rather,
the disorder is relieved: but if organs are irritated _continuously_,
another thing happens, and that is, that an organ becomes unable to
secrete constantly more than is natural, and then _some other_ organ,
less irritated in the commencement, takes on an additional duty—that
is, the duty of the animal economy is _still done_, but _not equally_

This is the state in which most people are in crowded cities, and
who live in the ordinary luxury or the ordinary habits of civilized
society, according to the section to which they may belong. It is easy,
in such cases, to detect those differences which distinguish this state
from what is called condition or perfect health, as we have elsewhere

But of course there is _a limit to this power_ in organs of taking on
additional or compensating actions; and when this limit is exceeded,
then those actions are instituted which we call Disease. The site is
_seldom found_ to be that of the original disturbance; and usually
for a very plain reason—because there it would be more dangerous, or
fatal. It would be scarcely less serious in many cases, even though
placed on organs _secondarily_ affected; and therefore it is more
usually determined _to the surface_ of the body; where, taking them
simply in the order of their greatest number, or frequency, we find the
first class of diseased appearances, and which strikingly impress the
real nature of _the law_. They are the most numerous, most obviously
dependent on general disturbance, and most conservative, as being least
fatal. Diseases of the skin are those to which we allude, and which, in
the characters I have mentioned, exceed all other diseases.

Again—the next surface is that involution of the skin which covers the
eye, and which lines the mouth, throat, and the whole of the interior
surface of the respiratory tubes and the digestive organs. Here again
we find the _next_ seat of greatest frequency, and the conservative
tendency, to coincide. We need only refer to the comparative frequency
of what are called colds, ordinary sore throat, and so forth; as
contrasted with those more serious diseases which occur in the
corresponding surfaces of the respiratory organs and alimentary canal.
In tracing diseases onwards in the order of their number, we never lose
sight of this conservative tendency. When _organs_ become involved
in disease, we find that, for once that the _substance_ of the organ
is so _affected_, the _membrane covering_ it is affected a hundred,
perhaps a thousand times. This is equally observable with respect to
the brain, heart, lungs, digestive organs, and some other parts; and it
is of great importance practically to know how readily affections are
transferred from the _lining_ of the alimentary canal and other parts
to the membrane _covering_ it, rather than to the intermediate texture
of the organ; again impressing, though now in a dangerous type truly,
the conservative _tendency_ of the law.

Finally, then, we arrive at diseases of Organs; and here we see this
conservative tendency still typed in the site first chosen, which is
almost always (where we can distinguish the two structures) not so
much in the _actual tissue_ of the organ as in that which connects it
together—what we term the _cellular tissue_.

This is remarkable in the lungs; where tubercular deposits are first
seated; not in the essential structures of the organs, but in those
by which they are joined together. All those various depositions also
which are called tumours, generally begin in, and are frequently
confined to, the _cellular tissue_; and even though there is, in
certain malignant forms of tumour, a disposition to locate themselves
in organs, there is a very curious tendency towards such, as may have
_already fulfilled_ their purposes in the animal economy.

We might multiply these illustrations to a tedious extent. We might
show, for example, in the eye, how curiously the greatest number of
diseases in that organ are placed in structures least dangerous to
the organ; and even when the organ is spoiled, so to speak, how much
more frequently this is in relation to its function as _an optical
instrument_, than to the structure which forms the link with the brain,
as _an organ of sensation_. I must, however, refer those who wish to
see more of the subject, to the work[33] in which it is more fully
discussed, under the term, “The Law of Inflammation,” which is a bad
phrase, as imperfectly expressing the law; but as the greatest evils it
exposes occur in cases of Inflammation, and as it shows the essential
nature of that process to be entirely distinct from the characters
which had been usually ascribed to it, every one of which may be absent
so that expression was somewhat hastily given to the generalization
which seemed best to express a great practical fact.

To return to the bearing of all this on Abernethy’s views, and in
relation to organs primarily or secondarily affected. In obedience to
the conservative law to which I have above alluded, defective function
in one organ is usually accompanied by increased action in some other;
and thus it happens that the symptoms are _almost always_ in one organ,
whilst the cause, or originally injurious influence, has acted on
another. The general reader will, of course, understand that we are not
speaking of direct mechanical injury to an organ. _Now_ all the most
recondite diseases of the kidney are already acknowledged by many to
be seated in a secondarily affected organ. Still the practice is, in
too many instances, a _strange mixture_ of that which is in accordance
with the true view, more or less marred by much _that is in opposition
to it_; because it often includes that which is certain more or less to
_disturb_ the organ which it should be the object to tranquillize or

In the same manner, the lungs and heart are continually disordered,
and ultimately diseased, from causes which primarily act on the liver;
and I have seen such a case treated with cod-liver oil and bitter
ales, with a result which could not but be disastrous. The liver sends
an enormous quantity of blood to the heart and lungs, from which
it ought previously to have extracted a certain quantity of carbon
(bile). If this be not done, the heart and lungs are oppressed both
by the quantity and the quality of the blood sent to them. If nothing
happen in either of the various sites I have mentioned, the blood must
be got rid of; and it is so. In many cases, a vessel gives way; or
blood is poured out from a vessel; or blood is employed in building
up the structures of disease; but then the _symptoms_ are frequently
altogether in the chest, and not a sign of anything wrong in the liver.

I cannot go on with the multitudinous illustrations of these
principles. The law is to determine injurious influences to the
surface. Deposition in the cellular tissue of the lung is bad enough;
but it is better—that is, less certainly fatal—there, than in the
respiratory tubes: and that is the explanation.

But now comes the practical point. How is the primary organ to be
got at? because that is the way to carry out the removal of the
impediments to the sanative processes of nature, which, in many cases,
no _mere general_ treatment can accomplish. This is to be found by an
examination into the _whole_ (that is, the former _as well as_ the more
recent) history of the case, and adding the further test of a real and
careful observation of all the secretions.

By going back to the former life of the patient, we shall seldom fail
to discover the various influences to which he has been subjected, and
the organs to which they have been originally addressed. Having made up
our minds, from our previous knowledge of injurious influences, on what
organ they will most probably have acted, we now test this, not merely
by inquiry after symptoms—and it may be not by symptoms at all—but
by careful observation of the _actual work_ of the suspected organ.
In this way we almost certainly discover the real offender; in other
words, the organ primarily affected. This is of immense importance;
for we confidently affirm that _one single beneficial impression made
on it_ will do more in a short time—nay, in some rare instances,
_in a single day_—than years of routine treatment, that has been,
nevertheless, of good _general_ tendency.

In treating it—_i. e._ the primary organ—however, great
discrimination is necessary. If it be already organically affected,
that treatment which would be, under _other circumstances_, necessary,
becomes either objectionable, or requiring the utmost caution.
For although an organ _diseased in structure_ will, under some
circumstances, as Abernethy long ago observed, yield its characteristic
secretion, yet, unless we know the _extent_ of the disease, which is
just the thing we can almost never be certain about, excitement of
it is _never without danger_. We should therefore excite the primary
organ with more or less energy, with more or less caution, or _not at
all_, according to circumstances. If we determine on not exciting it,
we should then act on organs _with_ which it has ordinarily closest
_community_ of function, or on whose integrity we can most depend.
For choice, we prefer organs which, in a natural state, have nearest
identity of function, as having the readiest sympathy, it may be, with
each other. Yet so universal is the sympathy between all the organs,
that there is no one that will not, under certain circumstances, or
which may not be induced, perhaps, by judicious management, to take on
_compensating_ actions.

We must not here pursue this subject further. We have endeavoured to
sketch certain extensions of the views of Mr. Abernethy, and can only
refer the profession and the public, for the facts and arguments which
demonstrate and illustrate them, to those works in which they have
been enunciated[34]. They have now been subjected to severer trials,
and abundant criticisms. So far as we know, they have not been shaken;
but if there be any merit in them, if they shall have made any nearer
approach to a definite science, or sketched the proofs that Induction
alone can place us in a position to talk of science at all, _they are
still sequences which have been arrived at by a steady analysis of
Abernethy’s views_. It was he who taught us, in our pupil days, first
to think on such subjects; to him we owe the first glimpse we ever
had of the imperfect state of medical and surgical science; and if we
do not wholly owe to him the means by which we conceive it can alone
be rendered more perfect and satisfactory, he has at least in part
exemplified the application of them. If we have made some advances on
what he left us, and added to his beautiful and simple general views,
something more definite on some points, something more _analytical_ on
others,—still, inasmuch as they are clear deductions from the views he
has left us, and from such views alone, such advances remind us that
the study of his principles serves but to demonstrate their increasing
usefulness, and to augment the sum of our obligations.


Mr. Abernethy’s book “On the Constitutional Origin of Local Diseases”
had an extensive circulation, and excited a great deal of attention
from the public as well as the profession.

As a work which may be read as it were in two days, so as a person
read it with one or other subject, it produced a great variety of
impressions. It may be read simply as a narrative of a number of facts,
with the inferences immediately deducible from them. All this is plain
and intelligible at once to anybody, and of great practical value; but
the work contains numerous observations of a suggestive kind, which
require careful thought, and some previous knowledge, to enable a
person to estimate their value, or to trace their onward relations.
The impression made by the work on different minds varied, of course,
with the reader, his information, and, in some sort, with the spirit in
which it was studied. Some, who had, in their solitary rides, and in
the equally solitary responsibilities of country practice, been obliged
to think for themselves, recognized, in the orderly statement of
clearly enunciated views, facts and principles which they had already
seen exemplified in their own experience, and hailed with admiration
and pleasure a book which realized their own ideas, and supplied a
rational explanation of their truth and value.

Some, who had never thought much on the subject, and were very
ill-disposed to begin, regarded his ideas as exaggerated, and hastily
dismissed the subjects, with the conclusion that he was a clever man,
but too full of theory, and too much disposed to look to the stomach or
the digestive organs. Others, making very little distinction between
what they heard of the man, the book, or his practice, and probably
not having seen either, but deriving only a kind of dreamy notion of a
clever man with many peculiarities, would say that he was mad, or an
enthusiast. Still, a great many of the thinking portion of the public
and the profession held a different tone. The book was recognized as
an intelligible enunciation of definite views—rather a new thing in
medical science. The application of them became more and more general;
his pupils were everywhere disseminating them, more or less, in the
navy, in the army, in the provinces, and in America.

Still, it must not be imagined that his principles became diffused
with that rapidity which might have been inferred from his
numerous and attentive class. Constituted as medical education is,
but more especially as it was at that time—for it is _slowly_
improving—pupils were almost entirely absorbed in the conventional
requisitions for examination. There, they were not questioned as to
the laws of the animal economy, nor any _laws_ at all, nor even on any
real axioms in approximation to them; but simply as to plain anatomy,
the relative situation of parts, and such of the ordinary surgery of
the day as had received the approbation of the Examiners, who were,
for the time, the authorities in the profession. Therefore, out of a
large number, there were comparatively few whose attentions were not
too much absorbed by the prescribed curriculum of hospital routine to
study principles: a curriculum constructed as if the object were to see
how much could be learnt in a short time, without detriment to the very
moderate requisitions of the examination at the College of Surgeons.
But if comparatively few had time to study Abernethy’s lectures at the
time, a great many had treasured up his remarks. As the impressions we
receive in our childhood, before we are capable of thinking of their
value, are vividly rekindled by the experience of real life, so many
of the more suggestive lessons of Abernethy’s lectures, which passed
comparatively unheeded at the time, or were swamped in the “getting
up” of the requisitions for an examination at the College, recurred in
after days in all their force and truthfulness. Many, however, with
more time, and perhaps more zeal, endeavoured to thoroughly master his
views; and now and then he was gratified by evidence, that time had
only served to mature the conviction of the pupils—in dedications and
other complimentary recognitions, in the works of such of them as had
been induced to publish any portion of their own experience.

However various, too, the impressions made by his book, there are two
things certain; viz. that he was much talked of, and the book had an
extensive sale, went through several editions, and served to give the
_public_ some notion of those principles which he was so beautifully
unfolding to the younger portions of the profession in his lectures.
Besides, although there were not wanting those who spoke disparagingly
of him, still, as an old and very far-seeing colleague of our own
used to say, with perhaps too much truth, when canvassing the various
difficulties of a medical man’s progress in the metropolis, “A man
had better be spoken ill of, than not spoken of at all.” He was now
beginning to be very largely consulted. The Public had “got hold of
him,” as we once heard a fashionable physician phrase it, and he soon
obtained a large practice. A great many consulted him for very good
reasons, and probably many for little better reason than that he was
the fashion.

Abernethy had now an amount of practice to which neither he nor any
other man could do full justice. Finding it impossible to make people
understand his views in the time usually allotted for consultation, he
now referred his patients to his book, and especially page 72. This has
been made the subject of a great deal of quizzing, and of something
besides, not altogether quite so good-natured. For our parts, we
think it the most natural thing in the world to refer a patient to a
book, which may contain more in full the principles we desire them to
understand, than we can hope to find opportunity to explain at the time
of consultation. We think that if asking a few questions, and writing
a prescription (and we are here only thinking of a reasonably fair
average time visit), be worth a guinea, the explaining a principle,
or so placing a plan before a patient that his following it may be
assisted and secured, is worth fifty times as much; and it came
particularly well from Abernethy, one of whose lessons, and a most
excellent lesson too, was the remark, “That if a medical man thought
he had done his duty when he had written a prescription, and a patient
regarded his as fulfilled when he had swallowed it, they were both

As we are convinced that, _cæteris paribus_, success in medical
treatment is indefinitely promoted by both patient and surgeon _clearly
understanding_ each other as to _principles_, we think it would be of
great use if every medical man, who has any definite principles of
practice, were to explain them in short printed digests. Nay, we have
sometimes thought it would be useful to both parties, if, in addition
to the inquiries and advice given at consultation, a medical man should
have brief printed digests of the _general_ nature and relations of
most of the well-defined diseases. A careful perusal of one of these
would help the patients to comprehend the nature and objects of the
advice given, tend to the diffusion of useful knowledge, and in time
help them to understand whether their treatment were conducted on
scientific views, or merely a respectable sort of empiricism. What is
here intended might be printed on a sheet of note paper; and, whilst it
would be of great service to the patient, would form _no bad test of
the clearness and definite principles of the medical attendant_. There
is no doubt that Abernethy did good service by referring patients to
his book. It led some to think for themselves, and it also assisted,
_pro tanto_, in doing away with that absurd idea which supposes
something in medical practice inappreciable by the public.

At this time, whilst, with a considerable indifference to money, he
was making a large income, still he was obliged to work hard for it.
He had as yet no emolument from the Hospital; he was still only an
assistant surgeon. The tenacity of office, of which assistant surgeons
so commonly complain, they have themselves seldom failed to exercise
when they have become surgeons (Mr. Abernethy, however, excepted). The
long tenure of office by his senior (Sir James Earle) wearied him, and
was at times a source of not very agreeable discussions.

On one occasion, Sir James was reported to have given Abernethy to
understand that, on the occurrence of a certain event, on which he
would obtain an accession of property, he, Sir James, would certainly
resign the surgeoncy of the hospital. About the time that the event
occurred, he happened one day to call on Abernethy, and was reminded
of what he had been understood to have promised. Sir James, however,
having, we suppose, a different impression of the facts, denied ever
having given such a pledge. The affirmative and negative were more than
once exchanged, and not in the most courteous manner. When Sir James
was going to take his leave, Abernethy opened the door for him, and,
as he had always something quaint or humorous to close a conversation
with, he said, at parting, “Well, Sir James, it comes to this: you say
that you did not promise to resign the surgeoncy of the hospital; I, on
the contrary, affirm that you did: now all I have to add is, —— the

In 1813, Abernethy accepted the surgeoncy of Christ’s Hospital, which
he held until 1828, a short time before he retired from practice.

In 1814, he was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Surgery to the
College of Surgeons—an appointment which could be, at this period, of
little service to him, whatever lustre it might reflect on the College,
where he gave lectures with a result which has not always followed
on that appointment: namely, of still adding to his reputation. He
was one of the few who addressed the elders of the profession without
impressing the conviction that he had been too much employed in
addressing pupils. He had given lectures two years in succession, when,
in 1816, circumstances occurred which will occupy us for some little
time. A new scene will be opening upon us; and this suggests the period
(1815-16) as convenient for taking a retrospect, and a sort of general
view of Abernethy’s position.

[Footnote 31: Clench’s History. Letter from Ch. Uslano, to Gonsalvo de
Solano, July, 1590.]

[Footnote 32: “Health and Disease.” See Treatise on Tumours.]

[Footnote 33: “Medicine and Surgery One Inductive Science.” London,
1838. Highley.]

[Footnote 34: “Medicine and Surgery One Inductive Science;” and “On
Tumours,” Art. “Treatment of Organs.”]

“Sperat infestis, metuit secundis,
Alteram sortem bene preparatum Pectus.”


“Whoe’er enjoys th’ untroubled breast,
With Virtue’s tranquil wisdom blest,
With hope the gloomy hour can cheer,
And temper happiness with fear.”

When we look abroad amongst mankind—nay, even in the contracted
sphere of our own experience—it is interesting to observe the varied
current of human life in different cases. In some, from the cradle
to the grave, life has been beset with difficulties; it has been a
continued struggle; the breath seems to have been first drawn, and
finally yielded up, amidst the multifarious oppositions and agitations
of adversity. In other instances, life seems like an easy, smoothly
gliding stream, gently bearing Man on to what had appeared to be the
haven of his wishes; and the little voyage has been begun and completed
without the appearance of a ripple. All varieties are, no doubt, the
result of constantly operating laws. Of these, many are probably
inscrutable by us; many more, no doubt, escape our observation. The
unforeseen nature of many events confers the character of mystery on
any attempt at foresight; yet, when we take a careful retrospect of
a life, it is curious to observe how naturally the secondary causes
appear to have produced the results by which they were followed; but
which, beforehand, no one had thought of predicting.

Varied, however, as is the course of human life, few men have
arrived at eminence without difficulty. We do not mean that ephemeral
prominence of “position” which makes them marked in their day;
but that which leaves the impression of their minds on the age in
which they lived, or on the science or other pursuit which they had
chosen—original minds, who have enlarged the boundaries of our
knowledge. Such men usually have the ample gifts of nature with
which they are endowed, somewhat counterbalanced by the difficulty
experienced in the successful application of them.

Abernethy had not been altogether exempt from such difficulties. With
a sensitive organization, he had had to make his own way; he had
experienced the difficulties which attend the advocacy of opinions
and principles which were opposed to, or at all events different
from, those generally entertained. He had had to encounter that
misconstruction, misrepresentation, ridicule, even malice—save the
mark!—which are too frequently provoked by any attempts to tell people
that there is something more correct than the notions which they have
been accustomed to value. Still, when we compare Abernethy’s course
with that of _many_—we had almost said _most_—benefactors to science,
he might be said to have been a fortunate man. If a man has power, and
a “place to stand on”—and Abernethy had both—truth will tell at last.

A retired spot, a room in an obscure street, near St. Bartholomew’s,
had been by his unaided talents expanded into a theatre within the
walls of the hospital. This was becoming again crowded; and, although
it formed a satisfactory arena for the development and illustration of
his principles, the increasing audiences were significant of the coming
necessity of a still larger building; which was, in fact, a few years
afterwards, constructed. He had indeed arrived, as we imagine, at a
point which was comparatively smooth water, and which we are inclined
to regard as the zenith of his career.

In the opening of his beautiful lectures at the College, Abernethy,
in one of his warm and earnest endeavours to animate his audience to
regard benevolence, and the love of truth, as the impulses which could
alone urge on, and sustain, industry in cultivating the “Science” of
our profession, had observed that, “unfortunately, a man might attain
to a considerable share of public reputation without being a real
student of his profession.” There have been indeed too many examples
of that, as also of those who, after years of labour, have failed to
obtain a scanty living.

Abernethy had been a real and laborious student in science, and he
was now reaping an abundant and well-deserved fruition. Few surgeons
have arrived at a position so calculated to satisfy the most exacting
ambition. Although the full extent and bearing of his principles were
by no means universally understood, yet the general importance of them
was so, and in some measure appreciated. In a greater or less degree,
they were answering the tests afforded by the bedside in all parts of
the world.

Ample, therefore, as might be the harvest he was reaping in a large
practice, he was enjoying a still higher fruition in the kind of
estimation in which he was held. He had a high reputation with
the public; one still higher amongst men of science. His crowded
waiting-room was a satisfactory evidence of the one, and the manner in
which his name was received here, on the Continent, and in America, a
gratifying testimony of the other. He was regarded much more in the
light of a man of enlarged mind—a medical philosopher—than merely as
a distinguished surgeon.

From the very small beginnings left by Mr. Pott, he had raised the
school of St. Bartholomew’s to an eminence never before attained by
any school in this country. I think I may say that, in its _peculiar
character_, it was at that time (1816) unrivalled.

Sir Astley Cooper was in great force and in high repute at this time;
and, combining as he did the schools of _two_ large hospitals, had, I
believe, even a larger class. Both schools, no doubt, endeavoured to
combine what is not, perhaps, very intelligibly conveyed by the terms
practical and scientific; but the universal impression, assigned the
latter as the distinguishing excellence of Mr. Abernethy, whilst the
former was held to express more happily the characteristic of his
eminent contemporary.

Whatever school, however, a London student might have selected as
his Alma Mater, it was very common for those whose purse, time, or
plans permitted it, to attend one or more courses of Abernethy’s
lectures; and it was pleasing to recognize the graceful concession to
Mr. Abernethy’s peculiar excellence afforded by the attendance of some
of Sir Astley’s pupils, and his since distinguished relatives, at the
lectures of Abernethy.

As I have said, his practice was extensive, and of the most lucrative
kind; that is, it consisted largely of consultations at home. Still, he
had patients to visit, and, as he was very remarkable for punctuality
in all his appointments, was therefore not unfrequently obliged to
leave home before he had seen the whole of those who had applied to
him. The extent of his practice was the more remarkable, as there was
a very general impression, however exaggerated it might be, that his
manners were unkind and repulsive. His pupils were enthusiastically
fond of him; and it was difficult to know which was the dominant
feeling—their admiration of his talents, or their personal regard.

Some of the most distinguished men had been of their number; and it
would be gratifying to us to enumerate the very complimentary catalogue
of able men who have been indebted for much of their eminence and
success to the lessons of Abernethy; but as, in doing so, we might
possibly, in our ignorance, omit some names which ought to be recorded,
we forego this pleasure, lest we should unintentionally appear to
neglect any professional brother whom we ought to have remembered.

In 1812-13, the pupils had presented Mr. Abernethy with a piece of
plate, “as a testimony of their respect and gratitude.” The arrangement
of the matter was confided chiefly to the present Sir James Eyre, Mr.
Stowe of Buckingham, and Mr. George Bullen. In a very interesting
letter, with which I have been favoured by Mr. Stowe, amongst other
matters hereafter to be mentioned, it is stated that the plate was
delivered at Abernethy’s house on the 1st of April; and as he had no
more entirely escaped such things than other medical men, he at first
regarded it as a hoax. But when the contents were exposed, and he
discovered the truth, he became much affected.

The regard of the pupils was always the thing nearest his heart. On
meeting the class at the hospital, he essayed to express his feelings;
but finding that he should only break down, he adopted the same course
as he had employed on another memorable occasion, and _wrote_ his
acknowledgments, a copy of which was suspended against the wall of the

It is due to our worthy and kind-hearted contemporary, Sir James Eyre,
to add that Mr. Stowe observes in his letter, that, of all others, Sir
James was the most zealous promoter of a movement so creditable to all
parties. Some years after this, another subscription was commenced by
the pupils for a portrait of Abernethy, which was painted by Sir Thomas
Lawrence, and engraved by Bromley. It was after this engraving that
Mr. Cook executed the portrait which forms the frontispiece of the
present volume. Sir Thomas, and the engraver after him, have been most
successful. He has caught one of Mr. Abernethy’s most characteristic
expressions. We see him as he often stood when addressing the
_anatomical_ class. We think it impossible to combine more of of him
in one view. We fancy we see his acute penetration, his thoughtful
expression, his archness and humour, and his benevolence, all most
happily delineated, whilst the general position and manner is eminently
faithful. In his surgical lectures, he was generally seated; and in
the lithograph, he is represented in the position which he almost
invariably assumed when he was enunciating the proposition which is
placed beneath the engraving. It is the work of a young artist who was
considered to evince great promise of future excellence; but who, we
regret to say, died last year—Mr. Leighton.

In 1815, he had been appointed surgeon to the hospital, after
twenty-eight years’ tenure of the assistant surgeoncy; a subject that
we merely mention now, as we shall be obliged to revert to it when we
consider the subject of the “Hospital System.”

At the time to which we allude, lecturing had become so easy as to
appear little more than amusement to him; yet there were (we speak of
about 1816) no signs of neglect or forgetfulness. His own interest in
the subject was sustained throughout; but as his unrivalled lecturing
will be more fully described, we must not anticipate. Few old pupils
visited London without contriving to get to the hospital at lecture
time. The drudgery of the early morning anatomical demonstration was
taken off his hands by a gentleman who performed his task with credit
to himself and with justice to his pupils.

Abernethy, at this time, in addition to a successful school, a large
and attached class, a solid and world-wide reputation, was receiving
numerous proofs that his principles were recognized; that, however
imperfectly adopted, they were gaining ground; and that if all his
suggestions were not universally admitted, they were becoming axiomatic
with some of the first surgeons, both in this and other countries.

We think it not improbable that it was somewhere about this period
that it was proposed to confer on him the honour of a Baronetcy. We
had long been familiar with the fact; but not regarding it as very
important, and having nothing in proof of it but the generally received
impression, we omitted any reference to it in the first edition
of these Memoirs. Finding, however, more interest attached to the
circumstance than we expected, we have communicated with the family on
the subject, and have ascertained that all the circumstances are fresh
in their recollection, although they cannot recall the exact period at
which they occurred.

His first announcement of the fact to his family was at table, by his
jocosely saying: “Lady Abernethy, will you allow me to assist you
to—?” &c. Having had his joke, he then formally announced to them
the fact, together with the reasons which had induced him to decline
the proffered honour—namely, that he did not consider his fortune
sufficient, after having made what he regarded as only a necessary
provision for his family.

It is probable that his motives were of a mixed character. We do not
believe that he attached much value to this kind of distinction, and
that, had he availed himself of the offer, it would have been rather
from a kind of deference to the recognition it afforded of the claims,
and thus indirectly promoting the cultivation of Science, than for
any other reason. It was not but that he held rank and station in the
respect which is justly due to them; but that he regarded titles as
no very certain tests of scientific distinction. Enthusiastic in his
admiration of intellectual, still more of moral excellence, he had
something scarcely less than coldness in regard to the value of mere
titles; whilst he beheld, with something like repulsion, the flattery
to which their possessors were so often exposed.

There are men who have so individualized themselves that they seem
to obscure their identity by any new title. John Hunter was scarcely
known by any less simple appellation. We hardly now say “_Mr._” Hunter
without feeling that we may be misunderstood. It begins to have a sound
like “Mr.” Milton or “Mr.” Shakspeare; Abernethy and John Abernethy are
fast becoming the only recognized designations of our philosophical
surgeon, for even the modest prefix of _Mr._ is fast going into disuse.
Be this as it may, it is certain he declined the honour; and to us it
is equally so that he felt at least indifferent to it; for although
the good sense and good feeling implied in the reasons alleged were
characteristic, yet, had they constituted the only motive, he might,
with his abundant opportunities, have removed that objection in a very
reasonable time, without difficulty.

It is perhaps significant of the measured interest with which
Mr. Abernethy regarded the acquisition of a Baronetcy, that the
family could not recollect the period at which it was offered. This
information, however, I obtained from Sir Benjamin Brodie, who has
kindly allowed me to record the fact in the following reply to my
inquiry on the subject.

“14, Saville Row,
“November 16, 1854.


“My answer to your inquiry may be given in a very few words. I
perfectly well remember the having been informed by the late Sir
John Becket that he had been commissioned by Lord Liverpool to
offer Mr. Abernethy, on the part of the Crown, the honor of being
created a Baronet, which, however, Mr. Abernethy declined.

“I am, dear SIR,
“Yours faithfully,


He told me once of an interview he had with Lord Castlereagh, which
may, perhaps, be not out of place here. When Sir T. Lawrence was
painting the portrait, and Abernethy went to give him a sitting,
Abernethy was shown into a room where another visitor, a stranger to
him, was also waiting. The stranger, looking at a portrait of the Duke
of York, observed, “Very well painted, and very like.” “Very well
painted,” Abernethy replied. The other rejoined: “A good picture, and
an excellent likeness.” “A very good picture,” said Abernethy. “And
an excellent likeness,” again rejoined his companion. “Why, the fact
is,” said Abernethy, “Sir Thomas has lived so much amongst the great,
that he has learnt to flatter them most abominably.” On being shown in
to Sir Thomas, Sir Thomas said: “I find you have been talking to Lord

He had not, we think, as yet sustained the loss of any member of his
family, nor hardly experienced any of those ordinary crosses from
which few men’s lives are free, and which, sooner or later, seldom
fail to strew our paths with enough to convince us that perfect peace
cannot be auspiciously sought in the conduct of human affairs. He
was soon, however, to receive an impression of a painful nature,
and from a quarter whence, whatever might have been his experience,
he certainly little expected it. Long accustomed to be listened to
by admiring and assenting audiences, whether in the theatre of the
hospital, or in those clusters of pupils which never failed to crowd
around him whenever he had anything to say; he was now to have some of
his opinions disputed, his mode of advocating them impugned, his views
of “Life,” made the subject of ridicule, and even his fair dealing
in argument called in question. All this, too, by no stranger; no
person known only to him as one of the public, but by one who had been
his pupil, whose talents he had helped to mature and develop, whose
progress and prospects in life he had fostered and improved, and to
whom, as was affirmed by the one, and attested by the other, he had
been a constant friend.

That this controversy was the source of much suffering to Abernethy, we
are compelled to believe; and it is altogether to us so disagreeable,
and difficult a subject, that we should have preferred confining
ourselves to a bare mention of it, and a reference to the works
wherein the details might be found; it is, however, too important an
episode in the life of Abernethy to be so passed over; it suggests
many interesting reflections; it exhibits Abernethy in a new phase,
illustrates, under very trying circumstances, the

“Virtus repulsæ nescia
Intaminatis fulget honoribus,”

and brings out in stronger relief than any other transaction of his
life the best and most distinctive traits of his character (benevolence
and Christian feeling), under temptations which have too frequently
disturbed the one, and destroyed the other.

“Opinionum commenta delet dies, naturæ judicia confirmat.”—CICERO.

“Time, which obliterates the fictions of opinion, confirms the
decisions of nature.”

Whoever has wandered to the south side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields,
will have found himself in one of the “solitudes of London”—one
of those places which, interspersed here and there amidst the busy
current that rushes along every street and ally, seem quite out
of the human life-tide, and furnish serene spots, a dead calm, in
the midst of tumult and agitation. Here a lawyer may con over a
“glorious uncertainty,” a surgeon a difficult case, a mathematician
the general doctrine of probability, or the Chevalier d’Industrie
the particular case of the _habitat_ of his next dinner; but, unless
you have some such need of abstraction from the world, these places
are heart-sinkingly dull. You see few people; perhaps there may be a
sallow-looking gentleman, in a black coat, with a handful of papers,
rushing into “chambers;” or a somewhat more rubicund one in blue,
walking seriously out: the very stones are remarkably round and
salient, as if from want, rather than from excess, of friction. The
atmosphere from the distance comes charged with the half-spent, booming
hum of population.

Immediately around you, all is comparatively silent.

If you are in a carriage, it seems every moment to come in contact with
fresh surfaces, and “beats a roll” of continued vibrations; or, if a
carriage happen to pass you, it seems to make more noise than half
a dozen vehicles anywhere else. You may observe a long façade, of
irregular elevations—upright parallelograms, called habitable houses;
but, for aught you see, half of them may have been deserted: the dull
sameness of the façade is broken only by half a dozen Ionic columns,
which, notwithstanding their number, seem very serious and very
solitary. You may, perhaps, imagine that they bear a somewhat equivocal
relation to the large house before which they stand. You may fancy them
to be architectural relics, inconveniently large for admission to some
depository within, or that they are intended as a sort of respectable
garniture to the very plain house which they partly serve to conceal
or embellish; or quiz them as you please, for architects cannot do
everything, nor at once convert a very ugly house into a very beautiful

But, stop there!—for temple it is—ay, perhaps, as human temples
always are, not altogether unprofaned; but not so desecrated, we trust,
but that it may yet contain the elements of its own purification. It
enshrines, reader, a gem of great value, which nothing extrinsic can
improve, which no mere art can embellish—a treasure gathered from the
ample fields of nature, and which can be enriched or adorned only from
the same exhaustless store. Though humble, indeed, the tenement, yet,
were it humbler still, though it were composed of reeds, and covered in
with straw, it would remain hallowed to science.

It holds the monument of the untiring labour of a great master—the
rich garnerings of a single mind—the record, alas! but of _some_ of
the obligations mankind owe to the faithful pioneer of a Science which,
however now partially merged in clouds and darkness, and obscured by
error, still exhibits through the gloom, enough to assert its lofty
original, and to foster hopes of better times.

The museum of John Hunter (for it is of that we write) is one of the
greatest labours ever achieved by a single individual. To estimate that
labour aright, to arrive at a correct notion of the man, the spectator
should disregard the number of preparations—the mass of mechanical
and manipulatory labour which is involved—the toil, in fact, of mere
collection; and, looking through that, contemplate the _thought_ which
it records; the general nature of the plan; the manner in which the
Argus-eyed Author has assembled together various processes in the
vegetable creation; how he has associated them with their nearest
relations in the animal kingdom; and how he has traced the chain from
link to link, from the more simple to the more compounded forms, so
as to throw light on the laws dispensed to Man. The spectator should
then think of the Hunterian portion of the museum as the exhausting
harvest of half a life, blessed with no greatly lengthened days; a
museum gathered not in peaceful seasons of leisure, nor amid the ease
of undiverted thought, but amidst the interrupting agitations of a
populous city—the persistent embarrassments of measured means—the
multiform distractions of an arduous profession—the still more serious
interruptions of occasional indisposition—and, finally, amidst
annoyances from quarters whence he had every right to expect support
and sympathy—annoyances which served no other purpose but to embitter
the tenure of life, and to hasten its termination.

Our space will not allow us to dwell more on this subject or the Museum
just now. But where is our excellent conservator—where is Mr. Clift,
the assistant, the friend, and young companion of John Hunter? He,
too, is gathered to his rest. He, on whose countenance benevolence
had impressed a life-long smile—he who used to tell us, as boys, so
much of all he knew, and to remind us, as men, how much we were in
danger of forgetting—is now no more. How kind and communicative he
was; how modest, and yet how full of information; how acceptably the
cheerfulness of social feelings mantled over the staid gravity of
science. How fond of any little pleasant story to vary the round of
conservative exposition; and then, if half a dozen of us were going
round with him the “_con_ticuere omnes,” when, with his characteristic
prefatory shrug, he was about to speak of Hunter. Then such a memory!
Why once, in a long delightful chat, we were talking over the Lectures
at the College, and he ran over the general objects of various courses,
during a succession of years, with an accuracy which, if judged of
by those which had fallen within our own recollection, might have
suggested that he had carried a syllabus of each in his pocket.

We had much to say of Mr. Clift; but, in these times of speed, there is
hardly time for anything; yet we think that many an old student, when
he has lingered over the stately pile reared by John Hunter, may have
paused and felt his eyes moistened by the memory of William Clift.

When Mr. Abernethy lectured at the College, there was no permanent
professor, as is now the case; no Professor Owen, of whom we shall have
to speak more in the sequel. Both the professorship of anatomy and
surgery, and also that of comparative anatomy, were only held for a
comparatively short time.

It is not very easy to state the principle on which the professors were
selected. The privilege of addressing the seniors of the profession has
never, any more than any other appointment in the profession, been the
subject of public competition; nor, unless the Council have had less
penetration than we are disposed to give them credit for, has “special
fitness” been a very dominant principle. Considering the respectability
and position of the gentlemen who have been selected, the Lectures at
the College of Surgeons, under the arrangements we are recording, were
certainly much less productive, as regards any improvement in science,
than might have been reasonably expected.

The vice of “system” could not be always, however, corrected by the
merits of the individual. One result, which too commonly arose out of
it, was, that gentlemen were called on to address their seniors and
contemporaries for the first time, who had never before addressed any
but pupils. It would not, therefore, have been very wonderful, if,
amongst the other difficulties of lecturing, that most inconvenient one
of all should have sometimes occurred, of having nothing to say.

Mr. Abernethy was appointed in 1814, and had the rare success of
conferring a lustre on the appointment, and the perhaps still more
difficult task of sustaining, before his seniors and contemporaries,
that unrivalled reputation as a lecturer which he had previously
acquired. As Mr. Abernethy had been all his life teaching a more
scientific surgery, which he believed to be founded on principles
legitimately deducible from facts developed by Hunter; so every
circumstance of time, place, and inclination, disposed him to bring
Mr. Hunter’s views and opinions under the review of the audience at the
College, composed of his seniors, his contemporaries, and of pupils
from the different schools. He was, we believe, equally desirous of
disseminating them amongst the one class, and of having them considered
by the others. At this time, no lectures of Mr. Hunter had been
published; and Mr. Abernethy thought that, _to understand_ Hunter’s
opinions of the _actions_ of living bodies, it was expedient that
people should have some notion of what Mr. Hunter considered to be the
general nature of—”Life.”

We hold this point to be very important; for all experience shows that
speculation on the abstract nature of things is to the last degree
unprofitable. Nothing is so clear in all sciences as that the proper
study of mankind is the Laws by which they are governed. Yet we cannot,
in any science, proceed without something to give an intelligible
expression to our ideas; which _something_ is essentially hypothetical.

If, for example, we speak of light, we can hardly express our ideas
without first supposing of light that it is some subtle substance sent
off from luminous bodies, or that it consists in undulations; as we
adopt the corpuscular or undulatory theory. It would be easy to form a
third, somewhat different from either, and which would yet pretend to
no more than to give a still more intelligible expression to phenomena.

Now this is, as it appears to us, just what Mr. Abernethy did. He did
not speculate on the nature of life for any other reason than to give
a more intelligible expression to Mr. Hunter’s other views. At that
time there was nothing _published_, showing that Mr. Hunter’s ideas
of life were what Mr. Abernethy represented them to be; they might
have been remembered by men of his own age, but this was not very
good for controversy; and as that was made a point of attack[35], it
is well that the since collected “Life and Lectures of John Hunter,”
by Mr. Palmer, have given us a written authority for the accuracy of
Abernethy’s representations.

In theorizing on the cause of the phenomena of living bodies, men have,
at different times, arrived at various opinions; but although not so
understood, it seems to us that they all merge into two—the one which
supposes Life to be the result of organization, or the arrangement
of matter; the other, that the organization given, Life is something
superadded to it; just as electricity or magnetism to the bodies with
which these forces may be connected. The latter was the opinion which
Mr. Abernethy advocated as that held by Mr. Hunter, and which he
honestly entertained as most intelligibly and rationally, in his view,
explaining the phenomena.

That such were really the views held by Mr. Hunter, a few passages
from the work, as published by Mr. Palmer, will show. “Animal and
vegetable substances,” says Mr. Hunter, “differ from common matter
in having a power superadded totally different from any other known
property of matter; out of which various new properties arise[36].”
So much for a general view. Next, a reference to particular powers:
“Actions in animal bodies have been so much considered under a chemical
and mechanical philosophy, that physiologists have entirely lost
sight of Life;” again showing how correctly Abernethy had interpreted
Hunter’s notion of the necessary “Key,” as Abernethy phrased it, to
his views; Hunter says: “For unless we consider Life as the immediate
cause of attraction occurring in animals and vegetables, we can _have
no just conception_ of animal and vegetable matter[37].” Mr. Hunter,
in relation to the idea of life being the result of organization,
shows how faithful an exposition Abernethy had given of his views. “It
appears,” says he, “that the Living Principle cannot arise from the
peculiar modification of matter, because the same modification exists
where this principle is no more.”—Vol. i, p. 221. And in the same
page: “Life, then, appears to be something superadded to this peculiar
modification of matter.”

Then as to one of the illustrations employed by Abernethy, Hunter,
after saying that he is aware that it is difficult to conceive
this superaddition, adds: “But to show that matter may take on new
properties without being altered itself as to the species of matter,
it may not be improper to illustrate this. Perhaps magnetism affords
the best illustration. A bar of iron, without magnetism, may be
considered as animal matter without life. With magnetism, it acquires
new properties of attraction and repulsion,” &c.

Mr. Abernethy, as we have said, advocated similar views; and, we
repeat, founded his reason for so doing on what he conceived to be
the necessity of explaining Mr. Hunter’s ideas of life, _before he
could render_ his (Hunter’s) _explanation_ of the various phenomena
intelligible. In all of this, he certainly was expressing Mr. Hunter’s
own views, with that talent for ornamenting and illustrating everything
he discussed, for which he was so remarkable.

Abernethy multiplied the illustrations by showing the various analogies
which seemed to him to be presented in the velocity, the chemical, and
other powers of Life and Electricity; and, with especial reference
to the extraordinary discoveries of Sir Humphrey Davy, added such
illustrations, as more recent achievements in chemical science had
placed within his grasp; and thence concluding it as evident that some
subtile, mobile, invisible substance seemed to pervade all nature,
so it was not unreasonable to suppose that some similar substance or
power pervaded animal bodies. He guarded himself, however, both in his
first and again in his second Course of Lectures, from being supposed
to identify Life with electricity, in a long paragraph especially
devoted to that object. In his second Course, in 1815, he proceeded to
enumerate John Hunter’s various labours and contributions to science,
as shown by the Museum; imparting great interest to every subject, and
in so popular a form, that we wonder now, when (as we rejoice to see)
there are some small beginnings of a popularization of physiology, that
there is not a cheap reprint of these Lectures.

Keeping, then, his object in view, we cannot see how, as a faithful
interpreter of John Hunter, Abernethy could have done less; and if
any theory of life at all is to be adopted, as _necessary to give an
intelligible impression_ to phenomena, one can hardly quarrel with
that which takes the phenomena of life on one hand, and those of death
on the other, as the means of expressing our ideas. When we see a man
dead, whom we had contemplated alive, it certainly seems that something
has left him; and whether we say “something superadded,”—the “breath”
or “Life,” or by whatever term we call it,—we appear really to express
in as simple a form as possible the facts before us. It seems to us
that, after all, John Hunter did little more; for the illustration
or similitude by which we endeavour to render an idea clear, has in
strictness nothing _necessarily_ to do with the idea itself; any more
than an analogy, however real the likeness, or a parallelism, however
close, represents identity.

We should have thought it, therefore, of all things in the world the
least likely that a representation of any theory of Hunter’s should
have disturbed the harmony which ought to exist between men engaged
in scientific inquiries. It shows, however, the value of confining
ourselves as strictly as possible to phenomena, and the conclusions
deducible from them. Nothing could possibly be more philosophical than
the terms in which Mr. Abernethy undertook to advocate Mr. Hunter’s
views of life. His definitions of hypothesis, the conditions on which
he founded its legitimate character, the modesty with which he applies
it, and the clearness with which he states how easily our best-grounded
suppositions may be subverted by new facts, are very lucid and
beautiful, and give a tone to the lectures (as we should have thought)
the very last calculated to have led to the consequences which followed.

[Footnote 35: “For this Hunterian Theory of Life, which its _real_
author so stoutly maintains, &c. is nowhere to be found in the
published writings of Mr. Hunter.”—_See Lawrence’s Two Lectures

[Footnote 36: Vol. i, p. 214. Note.]

[Footnote 37: Vol. i, p. 217.]

Continue Reading


“Cogitatio in vero exquirendo maxime versatur. Appetitus impellit
ad agendum.”—CICERO.

“The Intellect engages us in the pursuit of Truth. The Passions
impel us to Action.”

In our brief sketches of Abernethy’s works, we are quite as desirous of
showing why he did not do more, as we are of setting down faithfully
our many undoubted obligations to him. This, indeed, is the best mode
of giving an onward impulse to those approaches towards a definite
science which (John Hunter excepted) he was the first to secure. If
we would increase the usefulness of those beautiful principles which
he has left us, we can hardly do better than endeavour to point out
any error or deficiency in the investigation of any subjects to which
such principles may be applicable. His work on “Tumours” contains much
that is interesting in regard to the peculiar character of his mind,
and his aptitude for simplification. He does not undertake a thorough
investigation of the subject. His object seems to have been to place in
an intelligible order, to chronicle and mark, that which was _really_
known; to pack together, as it were, that which was clear and positive,
in a form convenient for consideration; to remove that disorder and
obscurity which seem to hang about the threshold of all inquiries, and
substitute so much of arrangement and perspicuity as might invite, and
perhaps facilitate, further investigation.

He states the more important circumstances which he had observed, and
conducts his classification of the so-called “Tumours” on a basis
as scientific as it could be on an imperfect induction of facts. He
did this in a way eminently characteristic of his quick perception,
in seizing those properties on which a nomenclature should be based,
and in marking those distinctions which, in a practical science,
must always be regarded as of the greatest value. He founded his
nomenclature chiefly on certain resemblances, observed in these
diseases, to well-known structures of the body.

The simplicity of this plan, so long as the resemblance is obvious,
is just that which constitutes excellence in nomenclature. To take an
example, amongst others, he says there is a tumour the structure of
which resembles the Pancreas, or Sweetbread as it is popularly called,
and to this tumour he gives the name of Pancreatic. Now every one
knows a sweetbread, and the name implies no opinion whatever as to its
nature; it simply declares a fact. Whatever we may ultimately discover
with regard to tumours, a name of this kind, though it may possibly be
exchanged for one more significant of the nature of the disease, will
still leave us nothing to unlearn; for the tumour in question will
always have that resemblance from which Mr. Abernethy named it; and if
we should find (as indeed we do find), in course of time, that diseases
undergo alterations of type, the rarity of a tumour resembling the
sweetbread would record that circumstance.

Had he examined them by the microscope, and selected the appearances
so elicited as grounds for his classification, it would have been much
less useful. In the first place, comparatively few persons would have
had the opportunity or taken the pains to _observe_; and secondly, we
should have had the inconveniences resulting from that variety which we
generally find in the reports of microscopic researches. There is just
now a great disposition for microscopic inquiry, perhaps somewhat too
much; but no channel should be neglected, if it be not too exclusively
relied on. Abernethy amused himself at one period in examining ultimate
structure by the microscope; but he seems to have had but a very
measured reliance on this mode of investigation.

Judicious nomenclature is of immense importance in the framework of
science, and a want of care in this has probably done as much as
anything to impede the course of rational investigation. There is
nothing, perhaps, in the whole range of science more to be lamented
than many—indeed, I might say all—parts of medical nomenclature.
If our ignorance prevents us from giving a name to a thing which is
descriptive of its nature, we might easily avoid applying such as
are calculated to mislead. We can imagine the confusion which would
result from a druggist labelling a bottle of water, “poison;” and a
vessel containing poison, “water;” yet we doubt whether he would more
imperfectly express the true relations of these fluids, than the terms
“fever” and “inflammation” do the real nature of the conditions which
they are employed to designate.

Abernethy’s arrangement of tumours not only illustrates his disposition
to seize on the more salient points of a subject, but also his
inclination to seek for the essential relations of (so-called local)
disease in the general condition of the body. He consistently,
therefore, mentions them in an order founded on such relations. He
places those first which he had found least dangerous in their nature,
least destructive in their effects, and which appeared to him to have
been attended by the least disturbance to the general economy. In like
manner he placed those which had manifested more malignant or dangerous
characters, in the order of their severity; inferring their characters
respectively from the disturbance of the constitution, the resistance
of the disease to treatment, and the variety of structures destroyed in
its progress.

Between these two extremes, he placed, as the step of transition,
that tumour which he had observed to partake most strongly of
intermediate characters. But, besides the desire to throw some light
on the subject of tumours generally, he had another special object
in view. Few diseases exemplify the absence of scientific research
more than tumours. In regard to most of these morbid depositions, it
may be remarked that, even now, whenever a patient with one of these
so-called tumours applies for advice, the practicability of removal
is too often the only thing thought of; and it must be obvious to
common sense that the mere cutting away of a deposition of this kind
(however proper under some peculiar circumstances), can hardly ever
exert any influence on the causes of its production. Indeed the manner
in which these diseases are continually removed, without any previous
inquiry that is really worthy of the name, is amongst the many grounds
on which we found the opinion expressed in the sequel on the present
state of medical surgery, as contrasted with that in which it was
left by Abernethy. Now, while the gravity of the subject rendered
the consideration of all tumours important, there was one which in
an especial manner had eluded all efforts to expose its nature and
dependencies—this was the justly-dreaded cancer. In regard to this,
Mr. Abernethy hoped that further information might be obtained, by
investigating other tumours more closely, and thus bringing, as he
expresses it, collateral knowledge to bear on it, “like light shining
from various places to illustrate the object of our researches.”

Here was a suggestion in the true spirit of philosophical inquiry;
whilst, in taking so simple a basis for the names of tumours, and then
associating them in arrangement with their respective constitutional
tendencies, he adopted the best mode of recording in a general sense
their more important relations. But the fault lay in the suppressed
premise that the _relations_ of the so-called tumours were comprehended
by a division which is not founded in nature. Nothing indeed can be
more artificial than that division of diseases to which surgeons
usually restrict the term tumour; a defect which besets all medical
inquiries. The old division, in which all sorts of diseases were
jumbled together under the general name of tumours, defective as it
might be, was much more auspicious, had it ever been made the object
of a really philosophical inquiry; because the very diversity of the
phenomena they presented would, by the ordinary process of common sense
or inductive reasoning, have only served to bring out their common
characters—the most important first step in all investigations of this

Had Mr. Abernethy extended that collateral view which he justly insists
on, to _all sorts of new depositions_, instead of confining it to the
so-called “tumours,” he would have detected how artificial was the
division, and taken it at its just value; he would have found that he
had excluded circumstances which not only led to a much more intimate
knowledge of the relations on which those so-called tumours depend, but
which confer a power of demonstrating easily, and in a more particular
manner, to the most ignorant or prejudiced, those relations to a
disordered state of the body, of which, without such assistance, it
required a mind no less penetrative and suggestive than Abernethy’s to
give even a general enunciation. This defect essentially consisted in
the vice we have before alluded to, and is nothing else but a violation
of one of the rules most insisted on by Lord Bacon[28].

It proceeds, perhaps, from the habit of looking at subjects through a
medium too exclusively anatomical, and by which even Mr. Hunter was
sometimes, though exceptionally, hampered. Popularly, it was deducing
conclusions from only a portion of the facts of the subject; but if
Abernethy did not get the whole of the facts, and therefore missed
some portion of the conclusions to be drawn from them, he at least
avoided the error of inferring anything positive which the facts did
not warrant. We hope, however, that the paper has been valuable, in
enabling some of us to arrive at further views, which serve to confirm
the truth and extend the application of those entertained by Abernethy.

Now, to put the whole thing popularly, and to direct the public view to
the common sense of the matter, it is obvious that if we want to know
the real nature of any growth whatever—say a tumour, a plant, or an
animal—we cannot do this by any examination of its structure _alone_.
If we desire to know its nature, we must also examine its habits, food,
climate, and the various influences to which it is subjected. If,
indeed, this were once done, then it is very possible, on again seeing
the structure _merely_, we might recognize its real relations, although
we might still be glad to have any well-known substance to which we
could compare it, if only to _record_ its identity. This is right
enough, thus to _obtain_ the general knowledge before we _assume_
the particular. Again, suppose I had some ground growing all manner
of plants, and twenty different sorts of fungi, what should I get by
_merely_ examining the fibres of one or the other?

But I should easily discover that some plants grew best in one soil,
some in another, some with more moisture, some with less; whilst the
very circumstances of soil, moisture, and so on, which were essential
to some, might be enfeebling or destructive to others. No one will for
a moment doubt that the kind of nutrition was of great importance in
all, and this would necessarily lead me to infer that, “If I desired to
get such a fungus, I must have more moisture, less air, less heat or
light, or another soil,” and so on.

In a plant, you must also look to the roots and other parts of the
organism. Now this is exactly what should be done in regard to tumours;
and for no reason more cogent than that the great beauty and beneficent
effects of Mr. Abernethy’s views may become practically useful; for
in the same manner that we would desire to influence the plant or
the fungus through the sources whence it derives its nourishment, as
air, water, various ingredients in the earth, and so on; so the only
channels by which _we_ can effect any influence, are those organs by
which these matters are ultimately changed into the structures we
wish to maintain, or we desire to get rid of, as the case may be.
Now, although the number and relations of these organs may render the
investigation more difficult in one case than in another, as they
become more multiplied, or as the animal or vegetable is more or less
simple or complicated in structure; yet, whether we take our example
from man, or any other animal—or, in fact, any organized being of
the countless modifications we find in nature—the instrumentality
through which the vital power acts is neither more nor less than the
assimilating organs.

If we have been too professional in this discussion, we plead, as an
apology, that in no one point in the whole range of surgical practice
would unnecessary suffering be avoided more frequently than on the
subject before us; provided only that what is clear and positive,
as distinguished from what is conventional and erroneous, were once
popularly familiar; for, amongst other evils, most of the operations
in this department of surgery are not only superfluous—to use no
stronger term—but they practically _interfere more than any one thing
whatever_ with the progress of the scientific investigation of the
nature of these maladies.

The removal of them by operation is too commonly undertaken, not
only under circumstances which, as Abernethy said, “add cruelty to
calamity,” but for reasons which logically forbid such a proceeding;
and although there are conditions which call for such interference,
yet those under which it is usually instituted help only to obscure
the real relations of the disease, and to throw the shadowy veil of an
irrational empiricism over the operations of nature.

Those who recollect the remarkable results which Abernethy sometimes
obtained in regard to this intractable and often formidable class of
diseases, will, I think, be disposed to agree in thinking that few
maladies are more open to improved investigation, or promise a more
encouraging prospect of enlarging the boundaries of philosophical




Fractured ribs are common accidents, and illustrate very beautifully
those conservative principles in animal bodies which give such interest
to the study of their economy.

When first we consider that the ribs form the greater part of that
box in which the lungs and heart are enclosed, and by which they are
protected, we are disposed to regard a fracture of one or more ribs as
a very serious affair.

Nevertheless, these accidents generally do extremely well. In the first
place, the gristles, or cartilages as they are called, by which the
ribs are attached to the sternum in front, give, in conjunction with
the spine behind, considerable elasticity to the whole structure of the
chest. Most injuries have therefore to overcome this elasticity, before
anything gives way; and when the rib has done so, and is fractured, the
resiliency of the cartilage or gristle to which it is attached _tends_
to restore it to its place, or to set it, as we phrase it.

Another very curious thing in accidents is the instantaneity with which
muscles which are _ordinarily_ under the dominion of the will, become
reluctant to obey it, or altogether repudiate its authority. In all
fractures, of course, the most material thing is absolute repose; and
there is very little chance of a man moving his rib when it is broken.
He instinctively begins to expand his chest, for the admission of the
necessary air, by other muscles, usually to the exclusion of those
which are attached to the broken bone.

The Lung, which may be considered as a series of tubes, some conveying
blood, and others air, is often wounded; but the blood immediately
stops the leak, from its tendency to coagulate when out of the
vessels; and no harm ensues. Occasionally, however, a circumstance
occurs, which, until it is understood, appears curious and alarming.
Either from the extent, the scratching of the surface, or some other
peculiarity in the wound of the lung, the air escapes from it, and the
patient is as it were blown up, as to the chest, neck, and face, by
the air impelled from the lung beneath the skin into the connecting
tissue, exactly in the same manner as the butcher does when he is
preparing veal. This blowing-up is called, from the Greek word for it,
_Emphysema_; and it was on this feature in these accidents that Mr.
Abernethy wrote a short paper.

There is not much which is absolutely new in it. It is chiefly
remarkable for the clear manner in which it places before us what is
required, as distinguished from what is officious and unnecessary, and,
in fact, reduces the treatment to that of ordinary cases, with one
clearly defined modification.

He shows his familiarity with Pneumatics, so far as they are touched
by the case, just as he does his knowledge of Chemistry elsewhere. The
exceptional cases, in which the air is confined in the chest, the mode
of procuring it an exit by operation, and the condition regulating this
proceeding, are very simply and clearly laid down.

The paper also contains remarks on the collapse of the lungs when the
chest is opened, and on certain exceptions which have been observed,
which, from their general interest and suggestive character, will well
repay an attentive perusal.

He next offers a few remarks on those mothers’ marks, as they are
popularly called, and which are technically styled nævi. They are
generally little more than clusters of enlarged blood-vessels, and are
usually removed by excision or other operative proceedings. As the
essential character of these marks is increased action and size of
vessels, Mr. Abernethy thought that, if well-regulated pressure were
made on them so as to impede the flow of blood into them, and this were
conjoined with Cold (which represses vascular action), many of them
might be got rid of in this manner. He found his idea realized, and
published three cases of its success. The value of these suggestions
consists, first, in the opposition they offer, _pro tanto_, to that
absurd tendency there is to remove everything like a tumour; and the
impediment thence arising to any searching inquiry into the causes on
which they depend.

But there is another inconvenience which occasionally renders the
excision of these nævi very inadvisable. It sometimes happens that
they are so situated that they cannot be removed, without making the
disfigurement greater, or from some other still more serious objection;
as, for example, when small ones occur in the face, or when they
are placed near the eye. Under such circumstances, the contraction
consequent on a wound of any extent is a serious inconvenience; in
some of these cases, the adoption of Mr. Abernethy’s plan allows us to
dispense with the operation by excision, as I have myself experienced.
As it illustrates the advantage of the plan in a case where it was
particularly applicable, I will briefly refer to one example. A
young lady had one of these marks at the root of the nose, where,
from the position, as well as from the contiguity of the eyes, any
dragging from the contraction of a scar, would have been particularly
undesirable. She was brought from the country to have it removed; but,
on representing the objections to that course, it was agreed to try Mr.
Abernethy’s plan, which was completely successful.

At this period, Mr. Abernethy published sundry other interesting
papers, showing, in his observations of all that was passing around
him, that his views were not less circumspect and comprehensive than
they were clear. His “surgical cases” are all excellent; and if they do
not contain so full an account (the great vice of medical records) of
all the circumstances which preceded them, as are sufficient to furnish
future investigators with the elements of accurate generalization, they
are remarkably valuable for the qualities of clearness and candour.

We may have an opportunity of briefly alluding to some of these papers
in our summary; but they are hardly practicable subjects for popular
analysis, although they form some of the most valuable contributions to
the practical literature of the profession. They show also that he was
as penetrative and efficient in regard to the operative department of
practice, as he was in those higher and more extended views, which, in
enlarging the _science_ of surgery, has tended to diminish, of course,
the number of operations.

About the year 1785, John Hunter had invented his celebrated
improvement in the treatment of a disease of the arteries called
“Aneurism.” It was a very simple deduction from observations on the
state of the arteries; and although it was one of those inquiries
which had been made the subject of experiments on living animals, it
was one on which _not the smallest light_ had been thrown by such

Mr. Hunter had found that, in addition to many other serious objections
to an operation which had been usually performed for the relief of this
disease—which consists either of a giving way of a _portion_, or a
general enlargement, of a vessel (for it is sometimes one, sometimes
the other)—a great cause of failure had been, that the ligature which
was placed round the artery was too near the disease, and, in fact,
involved a portion of the tube which was unsound. He accordingly
proposed tying the artery a little farther off, and thus substituted,
for an operation which was extremely severe, very hazardous, and too
commonly fatal, a comparatively short and simple proceeding, which,
under _moderately favourable auspices_, is almost uniformly successful.

As with many other discoveries, accident and similarity of views had
suggested similar proceedings to others, so that continental surgeons
were disposed to dispute the merit of the discovery in favour of
Guillemeau, Guattani, Anel, Desault, &c., as their views favoured one
or other; but there can be no doubt that for the first clear exposition
of the _principles_ of the operation, as well as of the objects it was
designed to accomplish, we are indebted to John Hunter.

John Hunter’s operation applied to the main artery supplying the lower
extremity, and surgeons have since extended the proceeding to many
other arteries. The first extension of it, however, occurred to Mr.
Abernethy, who, about this time (1797), placed a ligature on what is
called the external iliac artery; and as he seldom touched anything
which he did not improve, he made an important modification in the mode
of proceeding.

Subsequent experience, it is true, has, in some measure, rendered
that improvement no longer necessary; yet, whenever circumstances
arise which lead to any material disturbance of the artery from its
situation, we apprehend the caution of Abernethy in tying it in two
places close to its connection with the surrounding parts, is a
valuable condition.

He also sent, about this time, an ingenious paper to the Royal Society,
on certain small openings into the cavities of the heart. They are
called the “Foramina of Thebesius,” from an anatomist who particularly
described them. This is to us one of the prettiest of his physiological
contributions. The facts are stated with great simplicity, their
relations to disease beautifully pointed out, and the inference from
the whole very striking, as being in harmony with the facts whence it
is deduced. Abernethy’s idea being, that the holes were for the purpose
of obviating excessive repletion of the nutrient vessels of the heart,
by allowing them to relieve themselves by pouring a portion of their
blood through these holes into the general mass of the circulation.
It could hardly, however, be made interesting to the general reader
without going into the subject more than is suited to our present

In 1799, Abernethy’s reputation had gone on rapidly increasing. His
numerous pupils, too, had become the media for frequent consultations,
in addition to those which arose from his own connection, and his
reputation with the public.

He now moved from St. Mildred’s Court, and took the house in Bedford
Row. This was some time previous to October, 1799, the September of
that year being the last time his name appears on the rate-book of St.
Mildred’s Court. He never again changed his professional residence. The
move was an important step, but it was only the precursor to one still
more interesting.

In the January of the following year, an event occurred which seldom
fails to exert a greater influence on a man’s future prospects and
happiness than any other. This was no less than his marriage—of which
we must say a few words in a separate chapter.

[Footnote 28: That the nature of a thing is not to be sought only out
of itself, but from things more in common.]

“Ye solvers of enigmas—ye
Who deal in mystery—say,
What’s cried about in London streets
And purchased every day?

“‘Tis that which all, both great and small,
Are striving to obtain;
And yet, though common and quite cheap,
Is daily sought in vain.”


There are few subjects on which people are more agreed than the
value of “good matches;” neither do they seem to differ very widely
as to what that phrase is intended to convey. Not that everybody’s
_beau-idéal_ implies identity of composition, but they are pretty well
agreed as to the more essential elements.

But if we observe the different ways by which people seek to obtain a
common object, we are puzzled to know how folks that set out in such
various directions should ever arrive at the same point. The travellers
are said, too, to provide themselves not unfrequently with various
disguises; not only in dress and externals, but even in manners and
sentiments, which they do not usually entertain. Thus we have heard of
one who professed a great love of music, who scarcely had an idea of
melody; of another who expressed an admiration of poets whom he had
never read, or voted unmitigated bores. Others have been known to avow
a perfect indifference to wealth, who have had scarcely an idea unmixed
with an instinctive admiration of the _æs in presenti_.

We once heard a curious fellow say that he could marry any lady he
liked, if he could only “bring himself to take the trouble;” and we
thought how happy he would be if he could live on as good terms with
his wife as he appeared to be on with himself. Some start with an
apothegm which they carry about like an amulet or charm; such as, “No
greater rogue than he who marries only for money, and no greater fool
than he who marries only for love.” Apothegms, however, like many
things in this world—Macintoshes and umbrellas inclusive—are very apt
to be left at home when most wanted.

We are not informed whether table-turning or mesmerism have yet
discovered any prophylactics against the undoubted perils of an
expedition in search of a partner.

We are unfortunately not sufficiently versed in these mysteries to know
the “latest accounts;” but from the reputed effects of platinum and
other metals, we should not be surprised to hear that a person well
mesmerised would be found very clairvoyant of gold. We are not aware
of the achievements necessary to arrive at the exalted position of “a
Professor;” but it is said that “Professors” find gold without the
necessity of going to the “diggings.”

Table-turning, we hear, has not as yet been found successful. By
shooting too much ahead of the slowly moving current of human affairs,
it skipped over one generation, and thus recently entrapped an Irish
gentleman of the “highest respectability” by giving a fortune to a lady
too soon; it happening to be found still in possession of its “right
owner”—or, as the technical phrase is, “in expectation.”

Many aspirants for wedlock have sundry misgivings about certain
traditionary repulsions which are said to exist between love and
poverty, and, uninfluenced by the charms of matrimony, think only of
the possible consequences. Not a few, however, regard marriage as
too serious an affair for sport or speculation. They think it very
difficult for mortals who know so little of themselves to know much
about other people, and that though matches in rank and money are daily
seen to be very practicable, yet that matches in mind are still as
difficult as Dryden represented them—

“Minds are so hardly match’d, that e’en the first,
Though pair’d in Heaven, in Paradise were curs’d.”

People of this sort contemplate marriage in a very unpoetical manner.
They have great faith that correct intention and common sense are the
best guides; and, although they may not feel less transported with
their prospects than other people, they are apt to remember that it is
“transportation for life.”

A great deal has been said of the marriage of Abernethy, and very
much of it in proof of his eccentricity of character; but if a steady
reliance on earnestness, sincerity, and common sense, on an occasion on
which one or other of these qualities are sometimes laid aside, and the
employment of the highest qualities of the mind for the most important
purposes be wise, we must, if we admit the eccentricity of Abernethy,
concede to him the less-equivocal merit of practical wisdom. Himself a
sensible and clever man, and a great admirer of these qualifications in
others, he was not very likely to ally himself to any lady who appeared
deficient in such characteristics.

Abernethy had a very quick perception of character, and his profession
afforded him ample opportunities for the exercise and the cultivation
of this faculty. He would not have been very likely to lay it aside
on an occasion when a judicious and successful exercise of it, as
distinguished from mere impulse or first impression, is of more
consequence than on almost any other.

Miss Anne Threlfall was the daughter of a gentleman who had retired
from business, and who it appears had been residing in the town of
the far-famed Edmonton. This lady was intimate with the family of Mr.
Hodgson, where Abernethy was also a frequent visitor.

It was at Mr. Hodgson’s that Mr. Abernethy first made the acquaintance
of her who was destined to exert so considerable an influence on his
future happiness.

In the unrestrained intercourse of the society of intimate mutual
friends, a man of Abernethy’s penetration would not be long in
discovering the amiable or the estimable qualities of an agreeable

Mrs. Abernethy added to personal attractions of no common order, great
good sense, and a very lively, ladylike manner. These had not been
without their influence, on their first meeting; and a few additional
interviews, which the usual precursor of an undefinable pleasure in her
society served to accelerate, not only confirmed his first impressions,
but seem to have deepened them into sentiments of warm respect and
affection. Now, supposing his opinion formed, his resolution taken,
there was still a difficulty—Abernethy was remarkably shy, and
extremely sensitive.

His whole time was absorbed in teaching, studying, and practising his
profession; his rising ambition just getting success within its grasp.
How was resolution or opportunity to be found for the tardigrade,
time-consuming process of a regular siege? Still, after all, the
shyness was the real Rubicon which he felt a difficulty in passing.
Common Sense said to a sensitive Conscience, “You are about to ask a
lady to entrust to you her happiness for life.” “Ah!” said Conscience,
“that is indeed a great deal to ask of any one.” And Shyness said it
was equally difficult to know what to say, how to make the request, or
brook a refusal. The difficulty with Abernethy was so great, that there
is some reason to doubt whether he could have got over it, had he been
left entirely to his own resources.

Mr. Hodgson, it seems, did not sympathize with Abernethy’s scruples
and difficulties, but simply encouraged him to overcome them. It is
wonderful how even the greatest minds are influenced sometimes by a
timely “pat on the back.” We recollect a distinguished public man, and
a peculiarly single-minded one too, once observing, that few people
had any idea of the comfort which public men sometimes derived from
any one, whom they imagined sincere, simply saying, “You were quite
right, I think.” Whatever Abernethy might, or might not, have owed to
some little help of this kind, it is quite certain that he at last
opened his heart to Miss Threlfall, or at least essayed so to do; but,
apparently not very well assured that he had said what he intended _to
say_, he supported it by a letter, which proved successful.

This letter is still extant, and an interesting document it is. It
forms a curious commentary on the numerous and dissimilar versions
which have been given of it by gossip; all the versions we ever heard
having had the common character of being in every respect entirely
unlike the original. Here it is:


“I have felt extremely anxious, dearest Lady, since I had
the pleasure to be with you, lest, from my embarrassment in
delivering my sentiments, I might have said any thing liable to
misapprehension. This anxiety induces me to trouble you with the
present letter. I had designed, in our last conversation, to have
said, that I had ever regarded the marriage state as that of the
greatest happiness. It always appeared to me that two persons
of different sexes living together in reciprocal benevolence
were placed at the summit of human felicity. Hard necessity has,
however, precluded me from the enjoyment of such bliss; and when
I had at length relinquished even the idea of it, by accident I
met with a lady in whom were concentred all the qualities which
I could have wished for in the moments of fondest expectation,
and from whom I was led to believe I might derive what I had ever
regarded as the greatest happiness. This was to me one of those
circumstances of the reality of which the mind seems doubtful, from
the excess of delight that it occasions. I had wished, dearest
Lady, at our last interview, to have convinced you that I was
capable of discerning and loving you, as well for the perfections
of your mind, as for the charms of your person. I have ever been an
enthusiastic admirer of intellectual excellence; and in the minds
of some ladies whom I have known, I have distinguished a purity of
thought and benevolence of design which I have never found, nor
can I expect to find, amongst men. In addition to these simple and
fascinating qualities, I have witnessed a clearness of perception
and judgment, an undeviating rectitude of principle, and, as the
result of these and other qualities, such a dignity of character,
that I have looked up to the possessor of them as to something
divine. I had wished to have made you acquainted, in some degree,
with my own character, as far as I might have been supposed to have
acquired that most difficultly attained information, a knowledge
of myself. I perceive, however, an impropriety in saying much upon
this subject; but I wish you to be assured, that I am incapable of
uttering any thing false or deceitful, and that consequently you
may rely upon my word. I have pursued every object in life with an
avidity which has appeared to many disproportionate to its value;
but surely, if an object be worth attaining, neither diligence
should be spared nor time lost in its attainment. How anxious
and earnestly interested must a person of this disposition, with
respect to subjects of little importance, feel when engaged in what
he considers as the most important concern of his life. I shall
suffer the greatest inquietude until I am assured of your good
opinion. This letter has been written by snatches, in the midst of
the avocations of this day, which now so call upon me, that I can
only add (what I hope may be an unnecessary assurance) that I shall
ever be, with the truest affection, and most faithfully yours.


This beautiful letter is very characteristic. The simplicity and
straightforwardness,—the respect and tenderness, “Dearest Lady,”—the
brief, modest, but truthful tone in which he alludes to his own
pretensions,—the plea for his earnestness deducible from his known
character in ordinary pursuits,—his frank confession of anxiety
and inquietude until he is assured of her “good opinion,”—and his
naïveté in saying that his occupations oblige him to conclude,—all
respectively sketch the natural warmth, tenderness, sincerity, and
earnestness of his real disposition.

The marriage took place accordingly in the parish church of All Saints,
Edmonton, on the 9th of January, 1800, and is thus entered in the

“John Abernethy, Bachelor, of the Parish of St. Andrew’s, Holborn,
to Anne Threlfall, of this Parish, Spinster, were married in this
Church by licence, the 9th day of January, 1800, by me,

“D. WARREN, _Vicar_.

“This marriage was solemnized between us:


“In the presence of


By marriage Abernethy obtained a partner for life who to personal
attractions added those social and moral excellences which combine
to form a superior woman—one to whom such a man as Abernethy could,
and always did, to his last moment, look up with equal respect and
affection, as the wife, mother, and the friend. As a husband, there can
be no doubt that, during the thirty years he lived after his marriage,
his conduct was a practical commentary on, and fulfilment of, the
preceding letter; and he endeavoured at all times to convey to the
children the warm sentiments of respect for, and reliance on, their
mother that he had seen so much reason himself to entertain. On the
other hand, it is impossible to overrate the grateful warmth with which
Mrs. Abernethy returned his affection, or the veneration and respect
with which she honored his memory.

Few persons, if any, have experienced a longer period of uninterrupted
happiness than that which followed the marriage of Abernethy. Mrs.
Abernethy survived him twenty-four years, having died in July, 1854.
She had for many years been afflicted with paralysis, which at times
was attended with considerable suffering. It was consolatory, however,
to feel that her faculties remained without being materially impaired
to the last.

Mr. Abernethy had, in his last illness, repeatedly expressed his
anxiety that every kindness and care should be shown towards her to
whom he felt so much indebted; and he had prophetically suggested, as
probable, what really happened. He said, “Take every care of your dear
mother. She may have many and perhaps serious illnesses; but she will
still be, most likely, a long-lived woman.” This legacy, we have reason
to know, was most fully and kindly administered.

One circumstance, on the occasion of his marriage, is very
characteristic of him: namely, his not allowing it to interrupt,
even for a day, a duty with which he rarely suffered anything to
interfere—we mean the lecture at the hospital.

Many years after this, I met him coming into the hospital one day, a
little before two (the hour of lecture), and seeing him rather smartly
dressed, with a white waistcoat, I said:

“You are very gay to-day, Sir.”

“Ay,” said he; “one of the girls was married this morning.”

“Indeed, Sir!” I said. “You should have given yourself a holiday on
such an occasion, and not come down to lecture.”

“Nay,” returned he. “Egad! I came down to lecture the day I was married

On another occasion, I recollect his being sent for to a case just
before lecture. The case was close in the neighbourhood, and it being
a question of time, he hesitated a little; but being pressed to go, he
started off. He had, however, hardly passed the gates of the hospital
before the clock struck two, when, all at once, he said, “No, I’ll be
—— if I do!” and returned to the lecture-room.

“From the barr’d Vizor of Antiquity
Reflected shines the Eternal light of Truth,
As from a mirror; all the means of action,
The shapeless masses, the materials,
Are everywhere around us. What we need
Is the celestial fire, to change the flint
Into transparent crystal, bright as fair.”


In all that Abernethy had hitherto published, it was easy to perceive
that, although he was carefully examining the prevailing opinions and
practice of the day, he was emphatically one of those independent
thinkers who had power to overlay the most established conventionalisms
with opinions of his own. Although hitherto his publications had
related to particular diseases or accidents which were held as
within the ordinary province of the surgeon, he was shadowing forth
_principles_—views which, if they were true, must necessarily have a
much wider range of application than to the particular cases which it
had been his object to consider. In 1804, he had sufficiently matured
his general views to think it right to publish them; and this he did in
his book on the “Constitutional Origin of Local Diseases,” popularly
known as the “My Book,” to which he not unfrequently referred his
patients for a more detailed account of his views, than he could find
time to give in the consulting room. When we reflect that diseases
consist entirely of altered conditions in the structure or function of
some part of the body, a formal announcement that they must be greatly
influenced by the organs on which _the whole body depends_ for its
nutrition, seems to have so much the aspect of an obvious truism, that
we scarcely know whether most to wonder at so formal an announcement of
it having been necessary, or the astonishing number and variety of the
reservations with which it has been admitted.

But, strange as this may appear, and although all the facts have been
before the eyes of man for ages—nay, though their relations have been
_more or less felt_ and acknowledged in cases usually submitted to the
physician,—we venture to say that nothing like an attention at all
adequate to their importance was obtained for them in the practice
of physic, and scarcely any at all in surgery, _until the time of

At the present time, a great deal has been done to establish, by the
most clear and indisputable demonstration, the practical usefulness
and necessity of the principles to which Abernethy conducted us,
in the cure of diseases, whether medical or surgical. Still, these
principles are much neglected, much misunderstood, or so _imperfectly
carried out_, as to excite, even in many of the public, expressions
of astonishment. It is, indeed, not too much to assert, that, even
in those cases in which their successful application has been most
incontestibly exemplified, his principles are _fully carried out on
comparatively few occasions_.

The causes of all this are, we fear, too easily detected; the removal
of them is indeed sufficiently difficult. We may possibly discuss both
points in the sequel.

Instead of the exquisite simplicity and clearness of Abernethy’s
views, so far as he had gone, being carefully studied, and with a
view to the _extension_ of them beyond those limits which his time,
his opportunities, and his caution had assigned to them; instead of
examining into, and testing, the practical value of the deducible, and,
in fact, necessary sequences, on views of which he had demonstrated the
truth and value; practice appears to have taken a retrograde movement.

He who would advance even as far as Abernethy, is in danger of being
regarded as crotchety or peculiar; whilst any who should strive by
a more careful examination of his views to render their practical
application more definite and analytical, must be prepared to be looked
on simply as an enthusiast.

This has, indeed, been the case more or less in all sciences from the
earliest times. The _facts_ which conduct us to a true interpretation
of the _laws_ in obedience to which they occur, have been always before
us; the very same facts on which, as Professor Whewell[29] observes,
we have raised the stately structure of modern science. Butler[30]
had before made a similar remark. Poets too, as even the motto to
our chapter shows, have held the same sentiment; what everybody
_knows_, how few _consider_! Neither Copernicus nor Galileo altered or
invented _facts_. Those they _observed_! what they _discovered_, were
conclusions interpreting the true relations of them. Bodies fell to
the earth, and the crystal rain-drop had shown the composite nature
of light in the beautiful colours and wonderful illustrations of the
rainbow, ages before Newton discovered the true explanation of the one,
and the great law exemplified in the other.

The object of “the Book” is to set forth the great fact of the
reciprocal influence existing between the nervous system and the
digestive organs, and the power they mutually exert in the causation
and cure of diseases; and this, whether the diseases originate in
disturbance _primarily_ directed to the brain or any other portion of
the nervous system, or to the _digestive organs_; whether the result
of accident, such as mechanical injury, or other local manifestations
more commonly termed disease. In the book before us we shall find
an ample refutation of many misconstructions and misapprehensions
of Abernethy’s views; misconstructions which have tended to obscure
principles, remarkable for their simplicity and truthfulness; to
impede the beneficial application of them in a manner which has been
equally injurious to the public and the profession, and which, have
impressed on mankind a very inadequate idea of the obligations due to
the distinguished author. His views were said to be theoretical and
exaggerated, whilst they were conclusions logically deduced from facts;
and so far from the pervading power of the influences to which he
proximately attributed the causation and cure of disease having been
exaggerated, the onward study of his principles only serves, by the
discovery of more multiplied and refined applications of them, to fill
in with additional illustrations the accurate outline which he has so
truthfully drawn. He never wrests a fact to a conclusion to which it
does not legitimately lead. In virtue of that suggestive quality of his
mind (so important an aid in philosophical inquiries), he occasionally,
in all his writings, puts forth suppositions, but these only as
_questions_, the next in the order of inquiry, and these he asks of
nature alone.

Mr. Hunter had been the first in this country to make the true use of
anatomy; I mean in the sense that whilst it was no doubt the basis
of our investigation into the functions or uses of parts, still it
was only _one_ of an extensive series of inquiries. He had _examined_
the _dead_ with no purpose more earnestly, than to assist him in his
endeavours to _observe the living_; examined _parts_, that he might
better understand the whole. He had made himself familiar with the
economy of animals, and generally with the habits of organized beings,
whether animal or vegetable, that he might know their relations to each
other, and that of the _whole_ to the phenomena, habits, and laws,
of the _Human_ economy. As he neglected no source whence it had been
customary to seek for information, so, notwithstanding his fondness for
animals, he made various experiments on living creatures. But whilst
these experiments afford additional proofs of the poverty, so to speak,
of this plan of investigation, they impress on us the truth of Sir
Charles Bell’s assertion, that physiology is essentially a science of
_observation_. We have only to place Mr. Hunter’s _observations_ and
_experiments_ here referred to, in juxtaposition, in order to bring
out in high relief the great meaning and value of the one, and the
unnecessary, or inconclusive, character of the other. He also examined
the various facts presented to him in the _living_ body with unequalled
patience and circumspection.

Amongst others, he had paid particular attention to those which
exemplify that vivid, that watchful connection which exists between
various parts and organs, and by which impressions or sensations
excited in any one part are telegraphed, as it were, with the
swiftness of lightning to any or all of the organs of the body; facts
which may be observed by _anybody_, by no one better, and by few so
well, _as patients_ themselves. To take a common example: everybody
is familiar with the fact that certain disturbances of the stomach
produce pain or other annoyance in the head. Every one also knows that
in such cases there is very often no pain, and sometimes no sensation
of annoyance in the stomach; so that were it not from an innumerable
succession of such conditions, in connection with particular influences
on the stomach, we should, from the feeling of the _stomach only_,
never dream of the cause being in that organ. Now on these simple facts
hang not only the most practical of all John Hunter’s observations,
not only the most valuable of Mr. Abernethy’s, but (as far as we
can see) those relations through a philosophical examination of
which we shall still most auspiciously seek to extend our practical
knowledge of disease. We see here just that which Mr. Hunter had
asserted—namely, “that the organ _secondarily_ affected (in this case,
the head) sometimes appeared to suffer more than the organ to which the
disturbance _had first_ been directed.”

He observed also that the connection thus manifested, existed equally
between _all other parts_ and organs; that although it might be
exemplified in different forms, still the association it implied was
indisputable. He adopted the usual terms by which these phenomena had
been designated. Parts were said to _sympathize_ with each other, and
no term could be better, as it simply expressed the fact of associated
disturbance or suffering. It is true the _facts_ were not at all new;
they had always existed; nay, they had been observed and commented on
by many persons ever since the time of Hippocrates; and if I were to
mention the whole of such facts, there is scarcely one which would not
be to some one or other as familiar as a headache from disturbance of
the stomach. Mr. Hunter, however, had a kind of instinctive idea of
the yet unseen value of the clue thus afforded to the investigation of
disease; and he observed these facts with a greater attention to all
their details than any one, or all, who had preceded him.

Hunter’s observations on the subject in his lectures were extremely
numerous, and elaborate even to tediousness; Abernethy, who used to
give us a very humorous description of some of the audiences of John
Hunter on these occasions, was accustomed to say, “That the more
humorous and lively part of the audience would be tittering, the more
sober and unexcitable quietly dosing into a nap; whilst the studious
and penetrative few appeared to be seriously impressed with the value
of Mr. Hunter’s observations and inquiries.” Mr. Cline, an honoured
name in our profession, and one who, had he lived in later times, would
probably have been as distinguished in advancing science as he was for
his practical excellence, significantly expressed his impressions of
the future importance of the inquiries in which Hunter was engaged.
Addressing Mr. Clift, after one of the lectures, he said:

“Ah! Mr. Clift, we must all go to school again.”

Mr. Abernethy carefully treasured up and pondered on what he heard. He
placed himself as much as he could near Mr. Hunter; took every pains,
which his time and occupations allowed, thoroughly to understand him;
and, with his characteristic tendency to simplification, said: “Well,
what Mr. Hunter tells us, resolves itself into this: _that the whole
body sympathizes with all its parts_.”

His perceptivity, naturally rapid, was evidently employed in observing
the bearing of this axiom on the facts of disease. The digestive
organs, which, if we extend the meaning to all those engaged in
assimilating our food, compose nearly the whole viscera of the body,
could not escape his attention, nor indeed fail to be regarded in all
experimental investigations of any _one organ_. Accordingly, in his
paper on the skin and lungs, we have seen a very important application
of the relations between organs engaged in concurrent functions; we
have placed before us the physiological evidences of their being
engaged in a common function, and the sympathetic association it
rendered necessary; whence he had observed relations of great moment,
and pointed out the practical bearing they _must_ have on Consumption.
He had, however, been paying attention for some time to the digestive
functions, when his intimate friend, Mr. Boodle, of Ongar in Essex,
gave a fresh stimulus to his exertions. This gentleman requested him
to investigate the functions and conditions of the liver in various
nervous diseases, as also in certain affections of the lungs, which
had appeared to him, Mr. Boodle, to originate in the former organ.
Mr. Abernethy says: “I soon perceived that the subject was of the
highest consequence in the practice _of surgery_; for local diseases
disturb the functions of the digestive organs, and, conversely, a
deranged state of those organs, either occurring in consequence of such
sympathy, or _existing previously_, materially affects the progress of
_local complaints_.”

At the very commencement, he hits on a great cause of evil, and
boldly assails one of the most mischievous of all conventionalisms.
“The division of medicine and surgery,” he observes, “is mischievous,
as directing the attention of the two orders of practitioners too
exclusively to the diseases usually allotted to them.” There is indeed
no exaggerating the evils of that partial mode of investigation to
which such a custom almost necessarily leads. We fall into error, not
because of the difficulty of the subject, but because we never can, by
looking _at one set of diseased processes only_, learn the whole of
the facts belonging to the subject. It was just this that prevented
Fordyce from arriving at correct views of fever. Nothing could be
more excellent than the way he _began_ to consider it; but he hardly
begins, before he tells us that he intends to exclude those febrile
affections which fall under the care of surgeons. In doing this, he
at once abandoned a series of facts which are absolutely essential
to the investigation. It must be obvious, on a moment’s reflection,
that, if a particular condition of a part have a relation to the whole
body, the study of one without the other, or even if both be taken
up by different persons, nothing but the most imperfect views can
result. A jury, still more a judge, might in some cases guess from
partial evidence the issue of a legal investigation; but who ever
heard of either determining beforehand to examine a portion only of
that evidence? Yet it is not too much to say, that hardly any legal
question can be so recondite as many inquiries in physiology. The
nature of the case is always more or less obscured by a number and
variety of interfering circumstances. Diseases may be regarded, in
fact, as nothing more than natural laws, developed under _more or less
complicated circumstances of interference_.

Lord Bacon had warned all investigators of Nature of the danger of
attending only to a portion of the facts; it had been one of the great
bars to progress of knowledge in general. I regret to say that it still
continues the bane of _almost all medical inquiries_.

Abernethy’s inference in relation to this mutilated sort of
investigation is too true, when he observes that “the connection of all
local diseases with the state of the constitution has obtained little
notice;” whereas the truth is, that “no part of an animal body can be
considerably disordered without affecting the whole system.” Now here
Mr. Abernethy claims—what? Simply this: he claims for _function_—that
is, _the various offices fulfilled_ by the several parts and organs of
the body—that which Cuvier has so beautifully insisted on, and which
our own Owen has so instructively exemplified in regard to _structure
or formation_; namely, a _necessary relation_ between the whole and all
its parts.

In speaking of affections of the nervous system, Abernethy observes
that the brain may be affected by the part injured, and that _then_
it may affect the various organs by a “reflected” operation; but that
whatever _may be the mode_ (thus carefully separating the opinion from
the fact), “the fact is indisputable.” He adds that it may affect
some organs more than others, and thus give a character or name to a
disease. For example, it might affect the liver, we will say, when the
name which would be given would probably be expressive of what was a
secondary circumstance—namely, a disturbance of the liver. This does
not so frequently happen, perhaps, nor so mischievously in relation to
local injuries; but in other cases it is the cause of a great deal of
erroneous and misleading nomenclature.

As we have seen, it often occurs that when the organs of the body
are disordered, the more salient “symptoms,” perhaps the _whole_ of
those _observed_, are referred to a secondarily affected organ, and
the disease is named from that circumstance. The too frequent result
is, that attention is exclusively directed to that organ, whilst the
_cause_, being elsewhere, and where there _are no symptoms_, wholly
escapes observation.

This is a very important branch of inquiry; and as it closely connects
what Abernethy left us with what appears to us to be one of the next
things to be clearly made out, we will endeavour to illustrate it.

Suppose a person meet with a severe injury, a cut, bruise, fracture,
or any thing that we have seen a hundred times before, and, instead
of being succeeded by the _usual_ processes of repair, it be followed
by some others: the simple expression of the fact is, that something
has interfered with the _usual_ mode and progress of repair; and as
former experience has shown us that there was nothing in the nature of
the injury to account for this, we are naturally led to look for the
explanation of it in the state of the individual. But if the unusual
appearance be one which we have agreed to call “Erysipelas,” and we
are accustomed to see long papers written upon this appearance as a
_distinct disease_, we acquire a tendency, as every day’s experience
shows, to regard it as a kind of abstraction, or as an entity;
something composed of precise and definite relations, contained in
that particular description of case. Yet these relations may not be
in any two successive cases exactly alike. Again, all of them may be
subordinate to some more general character, probably a relation without
which we cannot readily explain the phenomena; but at which we cannot
arrive, because we have not comprehended a sufficient number of facts
in our inquiry to include it.

“Erysipelas” is nothing more than a natural law obscured; because,
as we have just hinted, it is developed under circumstances of
interference (from disordered conditions of the economy) which distort
the natural features of the law, modify its effects, or which may
prevent altogether its full development. But now, if we study the
means afforded by the various links _which other varieties of disease_
furnish, the ascertainment of the real relations becomes comparatively
_easy_; and we find that, whilst there are certain general relations
which belong to all cases, there are certain others which may in a
given number in succession be identical; or in no two exactly the same.

Partial investigations, leading, of course, to erroneous views, are
sure to entail on us a defective nomenclature; and then the two do very
materially contribute to continue the fallacies of each other. We may
have an affection of a lung, perhaps; the cause may not be in the chest
at all, although the lung may be inflamed or otherwise affected; but
we call it Pneumonia, or Pleuritis, or some other name which _simply
refers to what is happening to the part_; but all such names have
reference only to effects; they are extremely defective therefore, as
comprehending only a portion of the _nature_, and having no reference
whatever to the _seat_, of the _cause_ of the malady. The consequences
of all this may not be _necessarily_ mischievous; but they are so
lamentably common, as to continue to form a very large share of the
routine practice. The cause is elsewhere; but the remedies are directed
to the chest—that is, they are, in such cases, applied to effects,
not causes. If we must retain names so defective, it would be very
practicable to combine them with something which should indicate that
we had, at least, _looked_ for the cause. This would, at all events,
encourage a habit of looking beyond mere symptoms, and carry us at
least one link higher up the chain of causation.

Abernethy, in demonstrating the connection between local disease, or
injury, and general disturbance, judiciously takes cases where the
relation was most unequivocal; that is, where the local disturbance
consisted of a mechanical injury; such as in a gentleman who had
undergone an operation—in another who had met with a bad fracture
of his leg. In order to amplify his illustrations of the connection
between the brain and all parts with the digestive organs, he draws
them from all sorts of sources—from diseases the most severe and
dangerous, as well as from affections which are regarded as most common
or trivial—from the last stages of cancer and serious diseases of the
loins, to the common disturbances of teething in children—sources
which, from their apparent _dissimilarity_, confer, of course, the
strongest force on testimony in _which they combine_.

His delineation of the features by which disorders of the digestive
organs may be generally detected, is remarkably simple, clear, and

Every word has the inestimable value also of being alike intelligible
to the public and the profession. His statement is interspersed
with remarks of great value, which, we trust, have not passed away
altogether unimproved: such as, that he had observed disorder of the
digestive organs produce states of health “similar to those” said to
be characteristic of the absorption of particular poisons—a most
recondite subject; but one, the obscurity of which has entirely, as
we think, resulted from the determination to regard the diseases to
which it refers as _abstractions_, and to investigate them under the
impenetrable shadow of _preconceived_ opinions.

Almost all his remarks have received more or less confirmation from
the experience of the whole civilized world. There are few things
in his observations more interesting than the emphatic way in which
they ignore the vulgar impression that he referred all diseases to
the stomach. In the whole round of scientific literature, it would be
difficult to find, in the same space, so complete or comprehensive a
view of _all_ those which we usually term the digestive organs.

Abernethy was very far from any such narrow views; whilst, in regard
to other organs, to which some of our most distinguished men had
paid particular attention, it is not too much to say, that, more
clear and precise than Curry, and equally careful with Hunter, not
less painstaking than our excellent Prout, he is more _practically_
penetrating and comprehensive on this subject than any of them. But as
to the charge of exclusive reference to the stomach, we shall easily
see there was no foundation for it.

In speaking of the reciprocal affections of the brain and the digestive
organs, he says: “The stomach is said to be chiefly concerned in
producing these effects; but the cause of the sympathetic affection is
probably more general.” Page 48. He then goes on to exemplify causes
acting on the _Liver_, and so forth. Page 49.

He distinctly contends that _other_ of the chylopoetic organs may
disturb the brain as well as the stomach. Again, at page 52, he
repeats a similar opinion, and especially adds, that when the
alimentary canal _is_ affected, we can never be sure that it is
_primarily so_.

He also says, at page 53, that, in some cases, the disorder of the
digestive organs is dependent on disease of the brain.

I have alluded to these passages, because nothing is more unjust
to Abernethy than to suppose that he attributed everything to the
stomach, or restricted his attention to that or any other organ. Such
a misapprehension also tends indefinitely to impede the practical
application of his principles, and to deprive us of the advantages
which are so constantly derivable from them.

This is so important, that it may be useful to consider a little the
circumstances which may have thus misled the public, and we fear, not
unfrequently, the profession also, in the interpretation of Abernethy’s

In conducting the treatment of diseases of the digestive organs,
whatever organ we may desire to influence, either by inducing
tranquillity of the nervous system, or by the selection of food
appropriate to the actual condition of the organ specially affected,
the stomach is necessarily a primary consideration.

The reasons for this are sufficiently obvious, but have not perhaps
been always adequately regarded. Digestion is, on the whole, a
manufacture, so to speak, of a raw material (food) into a fluid
(blood), which is to be absolutely adapted to purposes for which it is
designed. This is effected not by one, but by several organs, which
each produce their respective changes in the materials submitted to
them. If we desire, therefore, to adapt the work to any organ which is
engaged in this process, however remote it may be from the stomach,
which, with the teeth and other auxiliaries, execute the _first_
process in the manufacture, it is quite clear that we must begin with
the _first process_ to which we subject the said raw material or
food. Say that in a machine for the manufacture of cloth the spinning
apparatus were out of order, we must begin by giving out a less
quantity of wool to the carding machine, or whatever represented the
first process; because, having once delivered the wrong quantity or
quality, we have no means of recalling it, and we should only still
further derange the defective machinery.

So in the body; the liver, kidney, and other organs, not excepting the
lungs and skin; their work must all bear relation to the quantity or
quality of raw material, whether their function be the manufacture of
the new product, or the rejection of that which is useless. So that
supposing there were no other reason, no other than this mechanical
relation (which is very far from the real state of the case), still we
must _de facto_ begin with the stomach, even where we entertain _no
idea of any_ special derangement of that organ. The stomach, however,
is very important in another sense, and has a power of indicating the
necessity of attention to those points which I have endeavoured to
illustrate by the homely similitude of a manufacture.

Wherever impressions _first_ act on the body, nature has placed a most
vigilant guard. This is variously managed in different cases; the
result is the same, and, as it would appear, the final cause also. In
the eye, there is the most beautiful contrivance for moderating the
ingress of light, as also any abrupt increase of intensity. Fringed
curtains are provided which can close with electrical celerity. Again,
the aperture by which light is finally admitted into the eye is vividly
contractile or expansive, as the occasion may require; then again
there are various media of different densities, through the influence
of which even the velocity of light undergoes practical retardation
by repeated refractions; and lastly, there are powers of sensual
adaptation in the nerve with which the light is ultimately brought in
contact, more wonderful than all.

The ear, being likewise a portal for external impressions, is guarded
with equal care. Not a single vibration of air can ever reach the nerve
of the ear with the crude intensity (if I may use the expression) with
which it is generated. Passing over preliminary apparatus, by which
the vibrations of air are first collected, the impressions of sound
are first received on the parchment of a little drum, which parchment
can be relaxed or tightened with the quickness of thought, so as to
modify the force of the impression. This impression is then, by means
of a little chain of bones, conveyed across the drum, which is filled
with air. It then reaches a portion of the ear in which are found very
curious cavities and canals, of various forms, and taking different
directions, and which, from the curious and complex arrangement of
the whole, is not inappropriately called the labyrinth. This is the
mysterious seat of those nerves which convey impressions to the brain.
There is, however, here, an arrangement more exquisite than any we have
yet mentioned.

In these cavities and canals, which are themselves so small as to be
not unfit objects for magnifying glasses, there are corresponding
delicate sacs and tubes, and these are filled with a limpid fluid.
On this delicate apparatus, so exquisitely calculated to modify any
undue force of impression, the sensitive extremities of the auditory
nerves are spread out, which convey impressions to the brain. We
see, therefore, how carefully these portals of the body are guarded;
arrangements equally conservative prevail throughout. We might show a
similarly exquisite arrangement in the laws governing the mind; but
that is not our present object. We have seen hitherto that, beautiful
as the arrangement is for securing us against painful impressions, it
has been in a great degree mechanical.

The stomach, however, is the portal to a vast series of important
organs, and is protected by a phalanx of sentinels, endowed with powers
proportioned to the importance of the organ which they guard. There
is little that falls within any idea which we can express by the term
mechanical; everything is subjected to an examination essentially
sentient; to powers residing in the nerves; the _laws_ and _operations_
of which, we can with proper attention trace out, but which exhibit
powers demonstrative of an intensity and refinement of which our
limited perceptions scarcely enable us to form a definite idea.

First, there is the olfactory nerve, between which and the stomach
there is the most vivid sympathy.

Until our tastes become vitiated, the stomach seldom admits anything
of which the nose reports unfavourably. The sense of smell, even in
the somewhat measured power possessed by man, is capable of detecting
forms of matter so subtle as to be beyond our powers of imagination.
Nothing which so plainly deals with “matter” impresses more strongly
the immense range which must exist between the chemistry of life and
that of the laboratory. We all know the extraordinary powers of musk.
I have myself a small mass of odorous matter (a Goa ball) which, from
the circumstances under which it came into my possession, must have
been emitting the odour for little less than a century. It has been
exposed to air, is covered by a film of gold (I believe), is in no
respect visibly changed, and for the last thirty years not detectably
in weight; yet at this moment it emits as strong an odour of musk as
ever. How exquisitely subtle must be the matter thus emitted; or how
still more wonderful if it merely so modifies the atoms of air in its
neighbourhood as to produce odour. We have no intellectual powers which
enable us to realize a conception of such infinite tenuity of matter;
yet the sense of smell instantly detects its presence.

Next come the nerves of the tongue; and here again, in natural
conditions, there is a constant harmony between them and the
stomach—that to which the taste readily gives admission being, in
_undisturbed_ conditions of the economy, some guarantee that it is
innoxious; but what these _functions are to the stomach_, the stomach
is _to the other organs_. In the first place, in natural conditions
it usually at once rejects any noxious material which, from being
disguised, or from any other circumstances, may have eluded the
vigilance of the sentinels I have mentioned; but it has a vivid
sympathy with every organ in the body. If anything deleterious be once
admitted, it has to go through various processes, which may render it
a source of indefinite disturbance; therefore, if any organ in the
series of the blood-manufacture be materially disturbed—that is, so as
to be disabled—the stomach usually refuses food; because there is no
other way of stopping the mischief. Illustrations of this occur in many
disorders of the kidney, in many affections of the alimentary canal, as
also of the liver, and other parts.

No doubt the stomach is therefore a most important organ; but to
suppose that it is therefore always the seat of disorder, is not only
a most mischievous error, but a complete blind to its most beautiful
and instructive relations; and as opposite to Mr. Abernethy’s views as
the most narrow can be to the most comprehensive. Proceeding with his
illustrations, Mr. Abernethy cites a number of most instructive cases,
such as palsy and other affections of most serious character, which
too often result either from organic disease of some organ, or from
mechanical pressure on the brain or spinal marrow, but which in the
cases cited depend on disorder of the digestive organs.

It is impossible to exaggerate the interest or importance of these
cases; not only from the fact that they almost certainly would have
led to organic disease, but also for the value of that practical
discrimination which they exemplify. Again, the very treatment which
would have been proper, which had sometimes been begun, and which
was not inappropriate to cases of _organic_ disease, with which the
symptoms were in part identical, would have inevitably, in the cases
in question, only served to exasperate the very conditions they were
designed to relieve, and to hasten those processes against which they
were intended to guard.

No one can understand the force of these cases, without recollecting
the intense difficulty of ascertaining that point at which disorder
ceases to be merely functional, and at which organic disease begins.
This is of all things the most difficult to determine in the whole
circle of physiological or pathological inquiry.

The _symptoms alone_ are absolutely useless in any case of real
difficulty. Of that Abernethy was well aware, and he did much to guard
us against the error into which a reliance on them was calculated to
lead. He knew that organs which were diseased would sometimes afford
indications not distinguishable from those of health; and that,
conversely, organs essentially sound would sometimes only afford those
signs which were indicative of disorder. We have, we trust, made some
little progress in this very difficult branch of inquiry; and although
it is true that organic disease not unfrequently escapes detection
during life, yet, so far as we have observed, it is only in those cases
in which there is, notwithstanding the daily lessons of experience,
an _improper reliance_ on what are called the symptoms. We assert,
without the least hesitation, that organic diseases should seldom
elude detection where the investigation is sufficiently comprehensive;
but it must include _all the facts_ of the case, the early history,
and such circumstances which, however remote, have been over and over
again proved to be capable of exerting an influence on the body; an
investigation which, however vainly pleaded for in medical science,
however regarded as too exacting, involves nothing more in principle
than is required as a matter of course _in all other_ scientific

When these conditions are observed, it is very rarely that we cannot
detect organic affections in organs in which there may be no _present_
symptoms. In relation to the _extent_ to which they may be affected,
it is true we have yet much to learn; still, if cases be judged of not
by the history _merely_, nor by the symptoms _merely_, but by both
in conjunction, and if to these be added a careful observation of
the _amount_ of work that the organs are separately or collectively
doing, as _compared with their natural proportions_; together with
a careful estimate of that which the actions of any visible disease
may be eliminating from the body; then, indeed, we have good ground
for hope that means will be opened to us of distinguishing more
accurately various states of the system; and additional principles and
powers disclosed of readjusting the disturbed balance of the various
functions, which is the essential element of disease.

[Footnote 29: “History of the Inductive Sciences.”]

[Footnote 30: Butler’s “Analogy.”]

Continue Reading


“Utiliumque sagax rerum.”


In estimating the practical penetration and clear judgment of
Abernethy, it was almost necessary to see him placed by the side of
other men.

His mind was so quick at perceiving the difficulties which lay around
any subject, that it appeared to radiate on the most difficult, a
luminosity that made it comparatively easy, by at least putting that
which, to ordinary minds, might have been a confused puzzle, into the
shape of an easy, definite, and intelligible proposition.

It was immaterial whether the difficulties were such as could be
overcome, or whether they were in part insurmountable; both were
clearly placed before you; and whilst the work of the quickest mind was
facilitated, the slowest had the great assistance of seeing clearly
what it had to do.

All this was done by Abernethy in a manner so little suggestive of
effort, that, like his lecturing, it was so apparently easy, that one
wondered how it happened that nobody could ever do it so well.

But when we saw him placed in juxtaposition with other men, these
peculiarities, which, from the easy manner in which they were
exhibited, we had perhaps estimated but lightly, were thrown into high
relief, and by contrast showed the superiority of his powers.

The second series of Essays he had dedicated to his old master, Sir
Charles Blicke. The third, the subject of our present consideration,
he inscribed to his early instructor in anatomy, Sir W. Blizard. The
dedication is straightforward and grateful.

The first paper of the series is interesting in two points of view.
First, it was an important improvement in the management of a difficult
form of a very serious class of accidents—”Injuries of the Head;”
and secondly, it derives a peculiar interest from the parallelism it
suggests between Abernethy and one of the most distinguished surgeons
of France, the celebrated Pierre Joseph Desault—a parallelism
honourable to both, yet remarkably instructive as to the superior
discriminative powers of Abernethy. Desault’s pupil, Bichat, himself
one of the most accomplished anatomists of his time, has left an
eloquent eulogium on Desault, which, although somewhat florid, is
by no means above his merits. He says he was the father of Surgical
Anatomy in France; and certainly few men evinced more sagacity, in that
immediate application of a fact to practical purposes which constitutes
art, than Desault.

Bichat, in his glowing analysis of Desault’s character, amongst
other things in relation to his study of the profession, observes
of him that “Un esprit profond et réfléchi, ardent à entreprendre,
opiniâtre à continuer, le disposa de bonne heure à surmonter des
dégoûts qui précédent, et les difficultés qui accompagnent son étude.
A cet âge où l’âme encore fermée à la réflexion semble ne s’ouvrir
qu’au plaisir, apprendre fut son premier besoin—savoir sa première
jouissance—devancer les autres sa première passion[23].”

A quick and clear perception, for the most part untrammelled by
preconceived opinions, led Desault to a vivid appreciation of the
immediate results of surgical proceedings; and as these were definite,
successful, doubtful, or abortive, he either persevered with a
characteristic tenacity of purpose, or at once and for ever abandoned
them. He was remarkably happy in his selection and appreciation of the
mechanical parts of surgery; and his quick perception disclosed to him
several useful points in practice which depend on the more important
truths of medical surgery.

Now _almost_ all this, as applied to the active portion of Abernethy’s
life, is equally true of both. But Desault was by no means so deep
or so original a thinker as Abernethy. Like Abernethy, he was clear
and penetrative; but he did not see nearly so far, nor were his views
nearly as comprehensive. Desault was quick at detecting an error
in practice, and in sensibly rejecting it. Abernethy would unfold
it, examine it, and, by his talents, convert the very defect into
usefulness. Desault had by no means, in the same degree, that power
of reflection, that suggestive faculty, which, in endeavouring to
interpret the meaning of phenomena, can point out the true question
which it is desired to ask of nature, as well as the mode of inquiry.

All this, and much more, was strikingly developed in Abernethy. The
paper before us involves a subject which had engaged the attention
both of Abernethy and Desault. They had met with the same difficulty;
and the practical solution of it which each obtained, though somewhat
different, was extremely characteristic. We will try to make this
intelligible. In severe injuries in which the cranium is broken, it
frequently happens that a portion of bone is so displaced that it
presses on the brain. The consequence of this, in _many cases_, is a
train of symptoms sufficiently alarming in themselves, but the actual
cause of which many circumstances sometimes concur to complicate or

The same forces which produce the accident not unfrequently involve a
violent shock to the whole body. Sometimes fracture or other injury of
other parts. Sometimes the patient is deeply intoxicated. Then, again,
patients are presented to the surgeon, in different cases, at extremely
different intervals after the reception of the injury; so that a case
may wear a very different aspect according to period or the phase at
which it is first brought under his observation.

These and many other circumstances give rise to various modifications
of the symptoms, and, _under some complications_, constitute a class
of cases which yield to none in importance or difficulty. There is
something in the idea of a piece of bone pressing on the brain, which
instinctively suggests the expediency of raising it to the natural
level. This is, in fact, the object of what is called “trepanning;” or,
as we generally term it, “trephining.”

The operation is very simple; it consists in carefully perforating the
cranium, and then, by means of an instrument adapted for that purpose,
restoring the piece of bone, which has been depressed, to its natural
level. In many instances, the proceeding was very successful; but in
many others, the cases terminated unfavourably. From what has been
already hinted, it is clear that, in many injuries of the head, this
trephining must have been unnecessary; in others, inapplicable; and in
both (as adding to the injury), mischievous. Still, surgeons went on as
before; so that, in a large class of injuries of the head, there was
(if the bone was depressed) an almost uniform recourse to the trephine.

Again, in cases where it did not immediately appear that the bone was
depressed, too often very unnecessary explorative operations were
undertaken to determine that circumstance. In short, there was too
much of analogy between the matter-of-course adoption of the trephine
in severe injuries of the cranium, and that which we have noticed in
regard to bleeding in more ordinary accidents.

For correcting the abuse of this very serious operation, we are under
great obligations to Abernethy and Desault; and we couple these
illustrious names together on this occasion, because, although the
amount of our obligation to Abernethy is much the greater, we would not
willingly omit the justice due to Desault.

Desault may have been said to have given the first blow, which so often
determines the ultimate fate of a mischievous conventionalism—that blow
which _compels the consideration_ of its claims on our common sense.

Desault had become extremely disgusted with the results of the
operation of the trephine in his hands at the Hôtel Dieu; and, on
consideration, although, as it would seem from Bichat’s edition of his
works, he did not in theory absolutely ignore the occasional propriety
of the operation, he practically for ever abandoned it; thus at once
cutting the knot he felt it difficult or impracticable to unravel. As
this was many years before his death, the principal argument on which
he supported the relinquishment of the operation was simply that his
success in the treatment of injuries of the head had been much greater
since he had altogether laid it aside.

This is eminently characteristic of what people call “a practical man;”
but, after all, it is not very sound reasoning. Now, here it was that
the discriminative excellence of Abernethy began to tell.

In the first place, he observed that the raising of the bone could
only be necessary _where it produced symptoms_. He also observed
that experience had recorded certain cases in which, notwithstanding
that the bone had been depressed, the patients had recovered without
any operation. Then again he thought it not improbable that, where
the depression was slight, even though some symptoms might at first
arise, yet, if we were not too precipitate, we might find that they
would again subside, and thus so serious an operation be rendered
unnecessary. These and similar reasonings led him to recommend a more
cautious practice, and to refrain from trephining, even where the bone
_was depressed_, except on conditions which referred to the general
effects of pressure _on the brain_, rather than to the abstract fact of
depression of the bone.

He did not stop here; but having thus placed restrictions on the use of
the trephine, where it had been too indiscriminately employed, he then
describes the practice which is to be pursued where the pressure is
produced from _effusion_ on the brain.

Although, in laying down the rules to be observed in such cases,
there is much of painful uncertainty as to the existence of
effused blood, the site it may occupy, and other circumstances of
embarrassment,—still the rules he proposes in relation to the
avoidance of large vessels, the condition of the bone as indicative
of the actual state of the parts beneath it, &c. are all clearly and
beautifully stated, as deducible from the anatomical and vascular
relations of the parts. The result of all this discrimination is, that
the trephine is seldom employed, whilst the treatment of the various
injuries of the head is much more successfully conducted.

He next proceeds to consider the distinction between those cases in
which the brain has been _shaken_ merely (concussion), and those where
it has been subjected to mechanical pressure. There are two points in
this part of the paper of great interest to the practical surgeon: the
one in which he treats of the distinction of the two cases; the other,
in which he marshals the discordant practices of different surgeons in
cases of concussion, and defines the proper phase of the case in which
we may make them respectively applicable. When, for example, we may by
warmth maintain, or even by cautious stimulation excite, the depressed
powers; or, by judicious abstinence from either, avoid provoking too
violent reaction; and, lastly, how we should combat the latter, if it
unfortunately supervene.

His Remarks on the Assistance to be derived from the consideration
of the Phenomena of Apoplexy, his reference to the cases which had
occurred in the practice of other surgeons, and the observations he
makes on the lamentable _omission of facts in the record of cases_, are
all worthy of profound attention. Equally excellent is the ingenuity
with which he attempts the distinction between the cases of concussion,
and compression, of the brain. His endeavour to discriminate the cases
in which the effusion, or inflammatory action, respectively, affect
one or other membrane, is also extremely sagacious and characteristic.
Whether we consider all or any of these features in the paper before
us; or, lastly, that triumph of science and humanity with which he has
so defined the limits of a dangerous operation, as to have achieved a
comparative abandonment of it; we think most surgeons will be inclined
to regard this essay as one of his happiest contributions to the
improvement of practical science.

In 1804, he added some cases in illustration of the views unfolded
in this paper; and one case which appeared to be exceptional, with
what he considered to be its appropriate explanation. He also gives
an interesting case of a suicide, in whom he had tied the carotid
artery, and in whom the operation was followed by an inflammatory
state of the brain. Here, again, his quick perception suggested to him
the significant idea that _similar_ conditions of brain might result
from _different_ and even _opposite_ states of the circulation—a
conclusion now, I believe, well established; one of great practical
importance; and one for which, so far as I know, we are greatly
indebted to the observations of Dr. Marshall Hall on blood-letting.
In this case, Abernethy eulogizes the plan recommended by Desault, of
feeding a patient by a tube introduced through the left nostril. In
concluding this remarkable paper, which shows how much a great mind may
extract from common subjects—

“Tantum de medio sumptis accedit honoris”—

we quote one remark, which impresses the importance of a requisition,
the essential basis of all scientific inquiries—namely, a careful
collection of facts.

“In proportion as we advance in knowledge,” says Mr. Abernethy, “we
are led to record many circumstances in the progress of the disorder
which had before passed without notice, but which, if known and duly
attended to, would clearly point out to us the nature and remedy of the
complaint. Hence the records of former cases are of much less value, as
the symptoms about which we are _now anxious to inquire_, have in them
_been entirely overlooked_.”

[Footnote 23: Bichat, Eloge de Desault. Œuvres.]

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your
philosophy, Horatio,” is a sentiment which, in some form or other,
occurs to the most uninformed peasant, and to the most profound

The very small difference between the acquisitions of the two, however
marvellous when viewed abstractedly, sinks into nothing when compared
to the secrets of nature which yet remain unexplored. This comparison
is the true source of that humility which, while it adds dignity to
the acquirements of intellect, is the foundation on which we may most
securely rest the hope of increasing possessions.

The intellectual vision of the wisest man confines him to a very small
area, when compared with the boundless realms of nature. There are,
indeed, a number of objects within the range of his perceptions whose
nature and relations he has the power of examining; but there are also
a multitude of others which, from their dimly sketched outline, he
feels to be beyond the bounds assigned to his limited faculties.

One of the most curious things in animals is the rigidity or stiffness
of their muscles after death. It is, as it were, the last effort of
the living principle. This phenomenon may be indefinitely modified
by particular states, by lightning, by poison, and other peculiar
conditions, induced by the manner and the period at which the death may
have occurred; and in all cases it continues but for a short time. It
is the last exercise of that power which resides in muscles or flesh,
of contracting, and thus moving the various parts to which it is
attached. In a very large sense, this power is under the dominion of
the will, and enables animals to move as their instincts or their wants

Now it is a curious thing to think that this power can be excited after
death, by placing the parts between two pieces of metal, or galvanizing
them; so called after the name of the discoverer, Galvani.

It is difficult, at this day, to imagine the astonishment of the wife
of Galvani, or his pupil, when first they observed the leg of a dead
frog thrown into convulsions on being touched by a piece of metal.
Such, however, was the apparently simple origin of a long series
of wonderful discoveries. It has been well observed, however, that
“discoveries, apparently the result of accident, always imply the
exercise of profound thought.” And this was no less the case in respect
to galvanism. A fact, which, but for the mention of it to Galvani by
his wife, might have passed unobserved, was, by the scarcely less than
creative power of mind, improved into a most important branch of human

Ignorant as men still remain of the _intrinsic nature_ of the principle
or power which gives rise to the phenomenon, the observation and study
of _its laws_ and _operations_ have led to discoveries which, in their
value, their importance, and their surprising character, yield to no
other yet achieved.

Abernethy, who, at this laborious period of his life, had his
observation directed everywhere, made some experiments on this power
(galvanism), in its relations to the muscles of frogs.

His object seems to have been as follows: Fontana (a celebrated
physiologist, born in the Tyrol about 1734) had showed that a muscle
which could no longer be excited to contract under water, might be
excited anew, if taken out of the water, and exposed for some time
to air. This observation had suggested the idea that air was in some
way or other conducive to this “irritability,” as it was termed. Dr.
Girtanner had also endeavoured to prove that the irritability depended
on the oxygen taken into the blood during respiration; and further,
that it was in a direct ratio to the quantity of oxygen respired—”an
opinion which some writers in this country seem disposed to adopt.”

Abernethy doubted the soundness of such a view, and he accordingly
instituted some experiments, in the hope that if he could not
absolutely determine the question, he might throw some light on it. His
experiments were very numerous, but he published only a few of them. We
will give one or two. “_Having killed a frog_ (for he properly objected
to experiments on _living_ animals), he experimented on the muscles
of two legs; one was put into a bottle containing oxygen gas procured
from manganese, and which was very pure; the other into a bottle
containing atmospheric air; the quantity in each bottle was about six
ounces by measure; the limbs were supported in the gases, and wholly
surrounded by them. After five hours, the muscles had nearly ceased to
act in both limbs; those, however, of the thigh belonging to that limb
inclosed in the _common air_ acted more vividly than the others, but
in a little time even these could no longer be excited. Upon comparing
the limbs afterwards, the muscles of that limb which had been exposed
to the oxygen gas were evidently the most flabby. Several other trials
were made with a similar result;” whence he observes: “I am disposed
to conclude that oxygenous gas has _no greater power_ of supporting
the irritability of parts _separated_ from the animal than the common

In some of his experiments the limbs continued to be excitable after
eighteen hours, but with little difference in the two gases.

He next made several experiments, by placing the limbs of frogs
in _nitrogen_ and _hydrogen_: the limbs in nitrogen lost their
irritability in about _two hours and a half_; those in hydrogen, in
about _four_ hours.

Experiments then follow which consisted in placing other limbs in
carbonic acid and nitrous gases respectively; when he found that in
both cases the muscles ceased to act in an hour and a half.

He also placed limbs in carburetted hydrogen, and found that they
ceased to act after the same period. In other experiments, he found the
correctness of Fontana’s results; viz. that limbs placed under water,
and which had lost their irritability, had for a time recovered it by
exposure to air and moisture.

Perhaps the most interesting of the whole series are those in which he
compared the results obtained _in vacuo_ and atmospheric air. He says:
“I put one prepared limb of a frog under the exhausted receiver of an
air-pump; it lay on a plate of glass, supported by a cup; zinc was
placed beneath the thigh, and gold under the leg; and, by means of a
probe passing through a collar of leather, I could touch both metals,
so as to excite the muscles to contraction. This I did occasionally,
and found the limb capable of excitement for twenty-two hours. The
corresponding limb, which was left exposed to the atmosphere, also
contracted at the end of that time; so that it was doubtful which of
them retained their powers in the greater degree. The same experiment
was repeated several times, with results so nearly alike, that I am
inclined to believe _irritability_ continues very little longer in
common air than it does in the exhausted receiver of an air-pump.

“I have frequently produced numerous contractions in the limbs of frogs
inclosed in azotic, hydrogenous, and other gases; which likewise tend
to show that the cause of irritability does _not depend on oxygen_ for
its power of action.”

He then remarks that, notwithstanding the great importance of oxygen,
he thinks it has been overrated; for, says he, “Different tribes of
animals partake of it in different degrees; and those who have the
least of it are far _from being the least vivacious_.”

He here reasons on premises which were then universally admitted, and
which form at present a portion of many very questionable impressions
in relation to respiration.

We mention one: “that fish, frogs, &c., breathe less oxygen than
warm-blooded animals.” But whilst, in respect to the frog, there are
many conditions relating to the skin to be considered before we can
admit this proposition, we hold it to be _demonstrable_ that fish
breathe more oxygen than most other animals; due attention not having
been paid to the enormous proportion of oxygen in the air found in
water; being in fact, about, one-third. In his concluding remarks, he
says, that as regards nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbonic acid, it only
shows what we knew before: that they are injurious to life, and that
oxygen is not more beneficial than common air. The experiments “showing
the long continuance of life and action in muscles in an exhausted
receiver, he considers worthy of notice, as tending to show that the
cause of irritability in muscles, when once formed, does not require
the assistance of external matter.”

Lastly, he gives an experiment on the blood (which shows how he was
working in every direction), in aid of the opinion that the blood
derives its scarlet colour from the action of oxygen. “I took the
coagulum of venous blood left in a basin after bleeding, and, turning
it bottom upwards, waited till its surface had become of a scarlet
colour. I then took slices of this surface, and similar slices of the
interior part of the coagulum, which had a very dark appearance, and
exposed them repeatedly to azotic and nitrous gases. The scarlet colour
gradually faded upon such exposure; and the azotic gas being afterwards
examined, was found to contain oxygen, while nitrous gas was much
diminished, doubtless by combining with the same principle. The gases
to which the dark-coloured blood was exposed underwent no change in
this experiment. That blood takes oxygen from the air, when it becomes
florid, will not, I suppose, be denied, and the experiment I have
related shows that it will again part with it, though slowly, without
_any alteration in its temperature_.”

The principal interest, as we think, of this paper on “Irritability,”
is the evidence it affords of his determination to keep his mind
free from preconceived notions on a subject which was at that time
calculated to mislead him; especially as he then participated in the
general impression that the Oxygen was “the great source of animal
heat;” a view which he afterwards, and as we think for excellent
reasons, mistrusted.

This view has been revived, but, as far as we know, in no very
philosophical spirit. Whilst we would respect the opinions of men,
we can only reason on the paramount authority of nature; and we
see increasing ground to believe that he who would leave out of
physiological inquiries so large a portion of the necessary induction
as the phenomena of disease, no matter what be his authority, will
only add to the number of those who have shown that, the moment we
neglect the most comprehensive search for facts of which our knowledge
admits, we fall into error. Mr. Hunter has recorded his opinion of the
impossibility of obtaining a knowledge of functions without considering
the phenomena of disease; and all experience hitherto has tended to
give this observation the validity of an axiom.

“Know, Nature’s children all divide her care;
The fur that warms a monarch warmed a bear.”


In the foregoing experiments, the reader will have observed the
significant words, “having killed a frog”—Abernethy not approving
of experiments on living animals. When we reflect for a moment on
the thousands of dreadful experiments which have been made on living
animals, and the utter inconclusiveness of them for any useful purpose,
there are, amongst the numerous errors by which so many philosophical
inquiries have been delayed or defeated, few that are more lamentable.

This mode of investigation has not, so far as we can see, produced _any
one useful discovery_; whilst it has tended to obscure, by all that is
disgusting and repulsive, the true mode of cultivating a most alluring

But as we write, however humbly, as physiologists, and may be regarded
as advocating the claims and attractions of that science with something
of the _esprit de métier_, rather than in the cautious spirit which
should characterize a philosophical discussion,—let us for one moment
consider the claims of physiology on the attention of mankind.

Physiology has for its object the investigation of the functions and
relations of the whole organic kingdom (the vegetable and animal
creation), and cannot be successfully cultivated without consulting the
phenomena in both these kingdoms of nature.

The branch of physiology most interesting to the medical philosopher
is that which deals with the functions of animals in general, and of
man in particular. The special interest to the medical philosopher
is therefore obvious: let us just glance at its more general claims.
Linnæus said that the world was one vast museum; and it illustrates the
nature and attributes of the Deity.

But how? In the first place, by the numerous evidences it _everywhere_
presents, even to our finite capacities, of design, wisdom, and
power; and further, of the Unity of that power. But, to our finite
perceptions, it does not _everywhere_ present evidences of love, mercy,
and parental care. Not because they may not exist universally, but
because our faculties do not allow us to connect these ideas with any
but “sentient beings.”

This alone renders physiology one of the most elevating of all human
studies—most general in its application—most comprehensive in the
attributes it unfolds to us, and therefore most refining to our moral

Although, therefore, we would claim the _special_ theological evidences
of physiology, as the distinguishing excellence of this science, it
is not less commanding as regard the evidences which it affords in
_common_ with other parts of the Creation.

In animals, we see not less indications of design, wisdom, power,
and beauty, than elsewhere; but we _also_ see a provision for their
wants and comforts, of such a kind as leaves no room for doubting
that both have been the objects of design. We need not here go into
the multiplied proofs of this proposition. _A priori_, then, it would
seem very unlikely that a mode of investigating the functions of
animals would be productive, which begins by ignoring one of their most
striking relations.

This, too, at once suggests the moral question, Is it right? There
is no necessity, for our present purpose, to moot that question. We
have, over and over again, challenged investigation; but the case is
too clear to admit of discussion. Again, although we humbly submit
that the moral bearing of philosophical questions must always be a
legitimate subject of inquiry, yet it is inexpedient to introduce that
question where it is not required. The questions whether the progress
of physiology has been _accelerated_ by experiments on living animals,
or whether the _treatment of diseases_ has been improved by that mode
of inquiry, or whether it has _tended to mislead people_ into erroneous
and mischievous views, are all things that admit of proof entirely
independent of moral considerations. Now we should be sorry to appear
to undervalue that which we most highly prize, or to represent that to
be irrelevant which is, in all subjects, the great consideration; but
it is wise to take the ground chosen by those who argue in support of a
fallacy; not that which they would ignore, or regard as disputable.

As we have already observed, we think it demonstrable that experiments
on living animals, _involving cruelty_, have been entirely
unproductive, whilst they have tended to mislead more than any other
mode of investigation whatever. Many years since, we corrected some
very extraordinary mis-statements in regard to the experiments of
Orfila, Sir Charles Bell, and others, which could only be accounted
for by a want of attention to the works from which they were selected;
for it is curious to observe that (though different in kind) the
most conclusive evidence of the erroneous value attributed to the
experiments is furnished by the distinguished authors themselves.

Orfila wished to know what would be the effect of various poisons on
the animal economy. He therefore set to work as follows:—He opened
the gullet of a living animal, put in the poison, and then tied the
tube; and this to ascertain how the stomach dealt with substances of
this kind taken into that organ. Now there have been, unfortunately,
too many instances afforded, by accidents and by suicides, of these
very things in the human subject; presenting us with a series of facts,
deplorable enough, it is true, but which, regarded merely as grounds of
philosophical inquiry, are comparatively free from objection; whilst
the experiments made by Orfila on his tortured animals are obviously
loaded with all the elements of fallacy. It is surely not necessary to
urge, as one of these, so serious a preliminary as placing a ligature
on the gullet. We say nothing of the horrible cries that Orfila
describes these animals as uttering; but surely, if the object had
been to interfere with and obscure the processes of nature by every
conceivable ingenuity, one could not have imagined any conditions
better calculated for this purpose.

Sir Charles Bell was a physiologist who distinguished himself by a
really important discovery; and it has been cited as an example of the
successful application of the mode of inquiry in question. This is
entirely an error. Whoever will read his book, will at once perceive
the truth of that which he himself judiciously observes; namely, that
physiology is much more a science of observation than experiment. As
to the influence of experiments on animals, in his own discoveries,
we have the best possible authority for denying it; viz. Sir Charles
Bell himself. He states very clearly the object with which he was
_reluctantly_ induced to make some experiments. They had, in fact,
nothing to do with his _discovery_. They were made in reluctant
concession to the slowly-paced perceptions of others.

This he had the manliness to acknowledge, and the benevolence to
regret. In short, examine what series of such experiments we may, we
always find them either wholly unproductive, or, if they appear to
prove anything of value, it is always something that is much more
_logically_ deducible from sources altogether unobjectionable. But if
this be so, is there no mischief in unproductive modes of inquiry?
Again—putting aside the brutalizing tendency of such practices as
part of the moral question—Is life so long? Is Science so easy? Is
Physiology, and especially the deplorably halt condition of Medical
Science, in such a state that we can afford to waste time in _vicious
modes_ of inquiry? We think not. Is there nothing mischievous in our
endeavour to obtain by the evidence of sense (the eye) that insight
into nature which Lord Bacon has so emphatically warned us is the
office of higher—in fact, of our intellectual—perceptions? If we
are not allowed to indulge in feelings of disgust and abhorrence at
all that is revolting to common sense, and our best and kindliest
sentiments, can we read, without distrust, of experiments which so
disgust by their nature that we know not how to describe them; or which
are so revolting, from their cruelty, that the mind recoils from the
contemplation of them? Is it possible to read many of the experiments
of Spallanzani[24], without feeling the same disgust that Abernethy
used to express in regard to them; or to read of opening animals alive,
dividing them with instruments, breaking their bones, or running
red-hot wires into their cavities, without feeling (if, indeed, any
thing better is to be regarded as merely “mawkish sentimentality”) that
at least valuable time has been wasted in pursuits which have been
brutalizing and unproductive?

In a review of a Biography of Sir Astley Cooper, in the “Quarterly,”
an experiment there described was characterized by the writer as
“Hellish.” We have no desire whatever to use unnecessarily strong
terms; nor do we think that the one above mentioned was too strong
for the case to which it referred; but we think that this extremely
fallacious mode of investigation will be most quickly abandoned, by
meeting fairly and in a mild and moderate spirit any allegations in its
favour. Dr. Hull, of Norwich, and several other eminent persons, have
expressed their dissent from this mode of inquiry.

Sir Isaac Newton considered cruelty to animals a violation of Christian

For our part, we have several times stated _our willingness to discuss_
any class of experiments which may be selected; for, although we may
not express ourselves so well as a late writer in the “Quarterly,”
yet to our minds heaven and hell do not present an idea of greater
contrast than that afforded by the notion—that laws which govern the
whole animal kingdom, and which present, at every moment, accumulating
evidences of goodness and mercy, should be auspiciously sought, much
less have their nature and relations developed, by torture of those
very objects for whom such benevolent provisions have been designed.
We have paid some attention to this subject; and it is very curious to
remark, that observations or experiments, when they cease to be cruel,
become instructive.

Indeed, if we reflect for a moment, we shall see that it must be so.
If we desire to know the actual nature of any living being, it must be
as if we were ourselves unseen—that is, that the animal may be in a
_perfectly_ undisturbed condition. The moment we _lose_ this, elements
of interference immediately arise and fog our reasoning; and the more
refined the inquiry, the more the avoidance of disturbance becomes
essential: in fact, the utmost success in obtaining the conditions
_philosophically_ necessary, depends on maintaining as nearly as
possible the natural condition—that is, the comfort of the animal; so
that the conditions necessary on philosophical grounds, and those which
we regard as still more important after all, coincide.

In every path of life, there are unpleasant duties; and it might
have happened that the functions of animals could only have been
investigated by the means we would repudiate: but the simple truth is,
that it is demonstrably otherwise.

Abernethy had a decided objection to experiments involving cruelty.
He never made any himself that could fairly be so called; and he
never alludes to the subject without some remark tending to show his
disapproval of them. Nor is it, in our view, any disparagement that
his benevolent feelings were largely influential in governing his
opinions on this subject. He began his researches, with the ability
and inclination to investigate Life under every phase, at a time
when no one had begun, so far as we know, to question this mode of
investigation. But, whilst he left no other untried, he only recognized
experimenting on living animals so far as to show that his benevolence
could be sufficiently discriminative to select experiments where the
existence of suffering was doubtful, and that the doubt alone was
sufficient to induce him to abandon the pursuit.

We are sorry to dismiss a subject of so great importance, both in a
moral and physiological point of view, with what we feel to be so
meagre a discussion. But it would require more than our whole space
to examine the many thousand torturing experiments, and expose the
uselessness and _fallacies_ which they exemplify. We have elsewhere
discussed the subject somewhat more at large[26]: here we have only
the opportunity of just touching on it. The greatest respect we can pay
the memory of a great man, is to apply carefully any principles which
he may have left sufficiently matured for practical purposes; and so to
treat those of which he may have only _given us hints, or elementary
suggestions_[27], as shall most searchingly examine their nature and
claims to further development and cultivation. If every opportunity is
not sufficient to do this in full, we must comfort ourselves with the
hope that, where there is not ability to produce conviction, there may
appear sincerity of purpose sufficient to suggest what is even more
valuable, “patient inquiry.”

This is a duty we owe to every subject on which we venture to form any
opinion, either in the study or the practice of our profession; and we
have the utmost confidence that the scientific investigation and the
moral argument will be found to coincide.

“Heaven’s attribute is universal care,
And man’s prerogative to rule, but spare.”

[Footnote 24: See the extracts from his Lectures at the College, in
this volume.]

[Footnote 25: See Life by Brewster, 2 vols. 8vo.]

[Footnote 26: Remarks on Vivisection in relation to Physiological
Investigation. T. Hatchard, 1847.]

[Footnote 27: See Extracts from Lectures, _infra_.]

Continue Reading


“L’art (de délicatesse) consiste à ne pas tout dire sur certains
sujets, à glisser dessus plutôt que d’y appuyer; en un mot, à en
laisser penser aux autres plutôt que l’on n’en dit.”—BOUHOURS.

One of the most beautiful poems in the English language, perhaps,
is Armstrong’s “Art of Health.” Whether it be that the title is
uninviting, or from some other cause, I know not, but it is very
little read; yet scarcely any one who has read it, has done so without
pleasure. Besides containing many admirable and valuable instructions,
it shows how an ordinary, and to many even a repulsive, subject can be
treated with such discretion, taste, and even elegance, as to render it
pleasing and attractive.

Such a writer could have conveyed, even in prose, explanations of
disease so as to interest and instruct his readers. With no such power,
we are almost inclined to regret the impossibility of doing Abernethy
justice, without saying something of nearly all his works. If, however,
in so doing, we make one more step towards familiarizing the public
with matters which affect their best interests, we shall not regret
any labour which this, the most difficult part of our task, may have

We so usually connect pain with disease, that, in our haste, we are
apt to imagine that it is not merely the worst feature, but the only
sign of it. “I am very well, I am in no pain whatever,” is a common
expression, and yet a person may be irremediably stricken, without
suffering any pain. Pain is, in fact, often the best possible monitor,
and has saved many thousands of lives by the necessity it has imposed
of observing what is the best of all remedies, in a large class of
cases. Amongst hundreds of examples, we might cite several affections
of joints, wherein pain alone has sometimes exacted the observance of
that which surgeons were a long time before they had learned the full
advantage of; and which, when they had been taught it by Abernethy,
they have often failed, with all their endeavours, to accomplish, but
which, when efficiently secured, is of more consequence than any one
other remedy; we mean “_absolute repose_” There are plenty of diseases
marked by little or no pain, or which, at all events, are not painful;
but they are amongst the most fatal and insidious of human maladies.
Let us commence the record of some of the numerous improvements we owe
to the genius of Abernethy, by mentioning one of them.

We have, too many of us probably, observed something like the
following, on the assembling of a family of a morning: the usual
greetings interchanged, and that cheerful meal, breakfast, fairly
begun, our attention has been directed to some fine, comely, perhaps
beautiful girl, who, to the hilarious spirits of her laughing sisters,
has only contributed a somewhat languid smile. We may, perhaps, have
remarked that she is a little more spoken to by her mother than
any other of the family circle; we may, too, have observed a tone
compounded of confidence and gentleness, somewhat different from that
addressed to her sisters. Still, though less hilarious than the rest,
she has chatted away with considerable cheerfulness; she has, however,
a languor in her manner, which but for the surrounding contrast, might
not have occurred to us. On rising from the breakfast-table, we observe
that her gait is peculiar. She is not exactly lame; but her step has
something between firmness and faltering, that seems to indicate more
effort or less power.

Poor girl! she is about to have, if she have it not already, a stealthy
and hitherto almost painless disease; stealthy, because it is so far
a comparatively painless malady. Deep in the loins there has been the
smouldering fire of disease, which is to result in what is called
“Lumbar abscess.” This grievous malady, which in _many instances_
begins not less insidiously than I have mentioned, is found on inquiry
not to have been _wholly_ without some of those premonitory signs
which, in obedience to the beneficent laws of the animal economy,
almost invariably precede even the most insidious malady. Inquiry
generally elicits that, however little complained of, there has been at
times more or less of uneasiness, if not pain, felt in the loins; that
it has not been so much lately; but that it has become less in force or
frequency, since the appearance of some swelling, which may be in the
loins, or some other part, lower or more or less distant.

It is a malady very commonly connected with diseased spine, but
frequently without any such complication; and it is curious that
Mr. Abernethy at first met with as many as, I think, eight cases in
succession, which were not complicated with any disease of the spine.
Under any circumstances, it is a serious malady, and usually, when
the collection bursts, or is opened, severe constitutional symptoms
supervene, which, though not without exceptions, gradually usher in
what Armstrong calls

“The slow minings of the hectic fire,”

and destroy the patient.

Now, Mr. Abernethy’s plan was intended to prevent this last and dreaded
issue. The chief points of excellence in his recommendations are—

First, the emphatic recognition of the constitutional origin and nature
of the malady;

Secondly, the consequent necessity of a greater attention to the
general health of the patient;

And lastly, if it could not be dispersed, to relieve the interior of
its contents, so that its extensive surface should never be exposed.

The mode of proceeding was extremely simple, and there is no doubt that
a great many lives have been saved by the practice thus recommended. I
have heard, however, that some surgeons think the merits of the plan
overrated, which I can only suppose explicable on the ground that it
has been imperfectly followed out; and I am the more disposed to this
view, because nothing can be more _entirely opposed_ to Mr. Abernethy’s
principles and intentions, than the treatment of many cases _said to
have been treated_ after Mr. Abernethy’s plan.

As a considerable number of families have really a painful interest
in this question, I will, at the risk of being a little professional,
state what has occurred under my own observation, in explanation of
the apparent discrepancy. My own experience obliges me to coincide
with those authorities on this subject, who, approving Mr. Abernethy’s
practice, adopted it. Amongst a host of eminent men, I will mention
only two, Sir Astley Cooper, and a scarcely less eminent authority, Mr.
Samuel Cooper, the laborious and distinguished author of the “Surgical
Dictionary,” who observes that Mr. Abernethy’s plan deserves “infinite
praise.” Sir Astley Cooper, too, in speaking of a very dangerous period
of the case to which Mr. Abernethy’s plan has an important relation,
says: “We should adopt the plan suggested by Mr. Abernethy, as it is
the best ever invented by any surgeon.” The apparent discrepancy in the
results of the experience of different surgeons, is rather a matter of
degree, and admits of easy explanation.

The feature whence the disease derives its name is merely a partial
exposition of an exceedingly deranged state of the whole economy, not
unfrequently complicated with organic disease. Although Mr. Abernethy’s
paper shows that even these cases are not necessarily fatal, still, in
general, such will sooner or later terminate unfavourably under any
treatment; but, in many others, the explanation which I first suggested
has been a satisfactory solution of the failure: viz. that the
principle on which Abernethy proceeded has not been seized, and that
therefore the treatment has involved direct violations of it. In some,
the local relief has been by no means conducted with the observance of
those conditions which Mr. Abernethy has enjoined. In others, there has
not been even any reasonable approximation to that careful attention to
the general health which is the necessary basis of the plan.

Another point, which has in some cases impeded the adoption of the
practice, is the increased responsibility it seems to involve. If a
surgeon is to be mistrusted and charged with either, the “laisser
mourir” is much less injurious to him than the “tuer.” What we mean is
this: Everything sometimes is going on well, until the opening of the
deposited fluid. If it be left to open by the ordinary processes of
nature, the subsequent symptoms are properly enough ascribed to the
usual course of the disease; but if the surgeon has interfered, and,
from any circumstances whatever, the opening does not heal, or bursts
soon after from some slight accident (which has now and then happened),
the surgeon is blamed. The only remedy for this, is to impress the
necessary caution: repose of the part, and so forth.

There is, however, a third point, of great practical consequence,
on which Mr. Abernethy has been misunderstood. I allude to the
local condition under which the puncture should be made. When,
notwithstanding our persevering observance of all measures calculated
to repress the diseased actions, or to procure the absorption of the
deposited fluid, we perceive it to be increasing or approaching the
surface, _then, before any inflammation_ of the skin has taken place,
it should be discharged.

In many cases, _this_ opening has been delayed until the skin _has
become inflamed_, or much attenuated. Now this risks the accomplishment
of an object which it is a material point with Mr. Abernethy to
secure—namely, the _immediate healing_ of the puncture.

On this point, even so good an authority as Sir Astley Cooper has given
a misdirection. “Let the abscess proceed,” says Sir Astley, “until you
observe a blush or redness on the skin, and then adopt Mr. Abernethy’s
plan.” Now this direction does not absolutely prohibit the opening
of the cyst with the object which Mr. Abernethy had in view; but, as
before stated, it deprives us of _one most desirable condition_. To
settle this point, we quote Mr. Abernethy’s own words. In discussing
the point of time at which the opening should be made, he asks: “Are
we to wait until evident _signs of inflammation_ appear? I think not.”
Accordingly, in a case where the surface had become red, we find he
took care to _avoid_ opening it _at that part_; because it risked the
security of at once healing the puncture.

The truth is, that the _whole_ of the plan is most valuable; but it
must be carefully followed _in its integrity_; and that this may be
done, the principles on which it is founded must be constantly kept
in mind. These are—the improvement of the general health, with the
view of arresting the action of disease, and producing the absorption
of the morbid secretion. This failing, to puncture the abscess, so as
to secure the discharge of its contents without the admission of air,
and on conditions calculated to _ensure_ the immediate healing of the
wound; then to favour the approximation of the sides of the cavity, by
relieving it of its contents, by puncturing it anew, _before_ it shall
have become so much distended.

Another misapprehension has arisen with regard to Mr. Abernethy’s
object in excluding air; and unnecessary pains have been taken to
show that the presence of air is not injurious to living surfaces.
It was not from any apprehension of this kind that he was anxious to
exclude the air; but from the tendency that the _presence of air_ had
to favour the _putrefactive decomposition_ of the new secretion. We
must not omit to mention the origin of this instructive paper, as it is
highly characteristic of Abernethy’s acuteness of observation, and his
promptitude in the practical application of it.

A lumbar abscess had been opened by caustic, and when the eschar had
nearly separated, the cyst was partly emptied; the sides of the cavity
collapsing on the imperfectly separated eschar, the opening was closed,
and _none of the usual constitutional disturbance followed_. When,
however, the eschar, finally separating, exposed the cyst,—within
twelve hours, the usual dreaded disturbance of the system supervened.
Abernethy took the hint thus disclosed to him, and produced the
improvement, of the merits of which we have endeavoured to give a brief

“It is madness and a contradiction to expect that things which were
never yet performed should be effected, except by means hitherto
untried.”—BACON, NOV. ORG. APH. 6.

When we consider the object which the distinguished Author had in view,
in the immortal Work whence we have taken the foregoing simple but
instructive aphorism, we cannot but perceive how highly suggestive it
is to those engaged in scientific researches, or how necessary to be
borne in mind by those who are really aware of the present state of
Medicine and Surgery, and desirous of seeing them become a definite
science. Nor does it appear inappropriate to the consideration of
Abernethy’s experimental inquiries into the functions of the skin
and lungs. An _extended_ investigation—of which his paper on these
subjects contains an excellent type, and is in part a practical
application—would be a great step towards the creation of a real
science, and would certainly fall within the “means untried” of Lord

Although the latter part of the last century, and the first half of
the present, have been very remarkable for the number of distinguished
men who have flourished during that period, in almost every branch of
knowledge; yet neither the bar nor the senate, neither literature nor
any of the sciences, can boast of greater men, nor lay claim to more
positive improvement, than Chemistry.

If we only consider that interval between the discovery of oxygen by
Priestley, in 1774, and the conclusion of Sir Humphrey Davy’s labours,
Chemistry almost seems like a new science; and it continues to advance
with such rapidity, and is daily opening out so many new questions,
that the most accomplished chemist of one year is never sure how much
he may have to learn the next; nor, unless he reasons with great
caution, how much he may have to _un_learn.

To a physiologist, who requires assistance _from all branches of
science_, Chemistry must always be an interesting study. When we lay
aside all speculations as to what is the abstract nature of Life, and
study that which is the proper object of philosophy—that to which it
seems the faculties of man are limited—namely, the _laws_ in obedience
to which the phenomena in nature occur; and apply the knowledge thus
obtained to the occurrences which take place in the human body; we
soon discover that, whatever the abstraction “Life” may be, we live
proximately, in virtue of certain changes in various forms of matter;
as food, air, the various constituents of our bodies, &c.; and that
these consist of multiplied separations and rearrangements of their
respective elements, which it is the special province of Chemistry to

If we investigate the changes of the living, or the structure of the
dead, with these objects,—we shall be in no danger of perverting
Chemistry to purposes to which it is inapplicable. When, however, we
proceed a step further, and seek to give a _chemical expression_ to
various uses and relations of different parts of the body, the greatest
caution is required.

In the first place, in a machinery which is a practical application of
a great _many_ sciences, it is to the last degree improbable that they
can be expressed by any _one_.

Again, to estimate the true meaning—the physiological interpretation
of many changes which might be in their proximate sense chemical,—a
greater familiarity with the phenomena of _disease_ is necessary than
_usually_ falls within the inquiries of _the most scientific chemist_.

To a person acquainted only with the ordinary phenomena of health,
or who is not even something also of a philosophical pathologist,
Chemistry is for ever suggesting tempting analogies, which are
constantly tending to mislead him to conclusions on insufficient data;
and to examine and rest too much on the _chemical_ facts deducible
from one or other function, without sufficiently attending to the
_physiological_ relations of that function with _all_ others.

In fact, for want of due caution, or it may be of a sufficient range
of information, the assistance which Chemistry has hitherto rendered
to Physiology has been attended with so many assumptions, that it is
extremely difficult to say on which side the balance lies—of advantage
or error. We are aware that at this moment there is a contrary
feeling—a kind of _furore_ for _chemical_ solutions of _physiological_
phenomena. We believe the caution we venture on suggesting was never
more necessary.

The discovery of oxygen gas by Priestley, not only gave a great
impetus to chemical inquiries, but affected Physiology in a very
remarkable manner; when it was found that the _more obvious_ phenomena
of all cases of ordinary burning—lamps, candles, and fires of every
kind—consisted mainly of the chemical union of charcoal and oxygen
(carbonic acid); and again, when it was discovered that animals, in
breathing, somehow or other produced a similar change, one may conceive
how ready every one was to cry, “I have found it. The heat of animals
is nothing more than combustion! We inhale oxygen; we breathe out
carbonic acid; the thing is plain. This is _the_ cause of animal heat!”

It has always struck us as a curious thing that _chemists_ should
have attached such a dominant influence, in the production of heat
in animals, to the union of carbon and oxygen; because nobody is
necessarily so familiar as they are with the fact that the evolution
of heat is not at all _peculiar_ to the union of these bodies, but is
a circumstance common to all changes of every kind, in all forms of
matter—there always being either the absorption or the evolution of

There is no doubt that the analogy is very striking between the changes
which _appear_ to be wrought in respiration, and those which take
place in ordinary combustion. A very little consideration, however,
shows that the idea that respiration is the cause of animal heat, or
that it is due to any other change of oxygen merely, is not only an
assumption, but in the highest degree doubtful. In the first place, the
carbonic acid thrown out when we expire, is certainly _not_ made by
the immediate union of the oxygen inspired with the charcoal expired;
secondly, nothing is so obvious that in respiration there is an immense
quantity of heat _thrown out_ of the body. But as it is very desirable
that the subject of this paper of Abernethy’s on the Skin and Lungs
should be understood, we will give the reader a simple view of the
nature of these important organs; and as one (functionally considered)
is as much a breathing organ as the other, we will say a few words
first of the lungs.

In all animals[19], the blood, or other fluid in which the elements of
nutrition are sent to all parts, is exposed to the action of the air;
and this is what we call breathing or respiration; and the exposing
of the blood to air is so arranged that both fluids are in _more or
less_ rapid motion. The staple constituents of the air, so to speak,
are about one-fifth oxygen and four-fifths nitrogen gases, with about
two parts perhaps in a thousand of carbonic acid; and although, as we
too well know, the air is occasionally polluted by many _additions_,
yet, whether we take air from the top of Mont Blanc, or a cellar in
London, the _staple_ principles of oxygen and nitrogen have their
proportions unchanged. The air breathed by animals who live in the
water is somewhat differently constituted; the proportion of _oxygen_
is considerably _greater_, probably about as much as one-third or
thirty-two parts in one hundred; so that fish breathe a more _highly
oxygenated_ air than we do.

Now it is found that, when we inhale the air of the atmosphere (that
is to say, one-fifth oxygen and four-fifths nitrogen), we expire some
oxygen, some carbonic acid, and some nitrogen also; and to ascertain
the _actual changes_ which took place, was the object of Abernethy’s

The subject is one of great interest to the public; and, in justice to
Abernethy, we should remark (that which perhaps a few more years may
render it more important to record), that this essay was written more
than half a century ago—1793.

Thousands die every year of affections of the lungs; and many diseases
of these organs, if not in their nature incurable, have too generally
in practice proved to be so. There are not wanting, however, many
persons who ascribe these mournful results, not so much to the abstract
difficulty of the case, as to imperfect and erroneous views of the
functions and relations of these important organs; and who entertain
the opinion that the investigation of the subject has been, either from
preconceived notions, from a too limited view of the phenomena, or from
some other cause, so infelicitously conducted, that the conclusions
arrived at have been either merely assumptions, extremely doubtful, or
absolutely erroneous.

It is sufficiently obvious that if we are ignorant of the use of any
part of a machine, it must be the most unlikely thing in the world that
we should know how to set about repairing it when it is out of order;
and the matter must be still worse, if we should happen to ascribe to
certain parts of it purposes different or contrary to that which they
as really fulfil. So, in an animal, if we are ignorant of the use and
relations of any organ, it is very improbable that we can understand
the nature of its disorders, or treat them in any case successfully,
except by the merest accident, which, though it may waken us up to a
sense of our ignorance, leaves us so blind to the causes of our success
that we have no power of repeating it.

Now this is pretty much the actual state of affairs in respect to
diseases of the lungs. No investigation of any organ is worth anything,
unless it include its relations with other organs in the same machine.

What should we ever learn by looking at the mainspring of a watch,
apart from the general machinery to which it belongs? Though we should
look for ever, and employ a microscope to boot, it is clear we should
never arrive at the perception of its true relations.

Abernethy’s inquiry derived great interest from the investigation of
the skin by which it was preceded, and which seems to have formed
his primary object. A few words on this wonderful organ may help the
unprofessional reader to form some estimate of its relations and
importance. As, in all animals, it is the surface in immediate contact
with external influences—the first which attracts our notice—the
first which we instinctively interrogate as to the state of the animal,
so it is of all others the first which presents to us the evidence of
design and adaptation. We tell the climate an animal inhabits, with
moderate certainty, by looking at the skin; and if we occasionally
meet with apparent exceptions, further examination usually shows that
they exemplify the more strikingly the unity of plan. Thus we may
find animals who inhabit _hot_ regions furnished with a somewhat warm
covering of the skin; as the tiger, for example: but when we examine
the eye, and inquire into the habits of the animal, we find that he
preys or feeds at night, when the atmosphere is charged with damp and

We know that the animals whence we obtain our furs inhabit cold
regions. The changes in the same animal are not less instructive.
Animals placed in certain circumstances, in which they require
greater warmth, have increase of covering, and _vice versâ_. Again,
the tendency to become white, in those inhabiting cold regions, is
a very interesting adaptation, although I am not aware that it has
been satisfactorily explained. Two things, however, are certain: that
they are placed in different circumstances as regards the relation
to heat, and would reflect a great quantity of light, which, in its
intensity in snowy regions, might be prejudicial, as there is no doubt
of the influence of this principle in animals. Again, it is a very
common arrangement that animals should take the colour of the ground
they occupy; and this is sometimes very curiously exemplified. I have
observed in the common hunting-spiders which inhabit some palings in
a garden in the country, that they are of different shades, but they
all more or less resemble that part of the old paling on which they
are found. Those which we see on the ground are generally of some dark
colour. Birds exemplify in a very remarkable manner the adaptation
of their external coverings to the requisitions which their habits
establish. All animals may be said to be surrounded by an atmosphere of
their own, and they are not therefore, strictly speaking, in contact
with the atmosphere; but when they are exposed to air in motion, this
stratum is blown aside, and the atmosphere is brought in contact with
the surface. Its refrigerating influence is now felt; and, just as a
boy cools his broth by blowing on it, a fresh stratum of cold air is
constantly brought to the surface.

The power of resisting or limiting this refrigerating influence is
somewhat differently conferred in different animals: in the healthy
human subject, by increased activity of the vessels of the skin, which
induces greater heat. Birds, in their rapid flight, and especially in
the more elevated regions of the atmosphere, are exposed to intensely
refrigerating influences. These are met by the surface being clothed
first by fine feathers, the worst of all conductors of heat, and these
are overlapped, where they meet the atmosphere, in such a way that the
bad-conducting property of the feathers is increased by the mechanical
arrangement of them. Again, the respiration of birds, which (_as we
contend_) is a refrigerating process, is very restricted; although,
for want of due consideration of all the circumstances, and especially
of certain analogies afforded by insects, very opposite views have
been entertained. Domestic animals (birds inclusive) impressively
suggest the refined adaptation of colour even, of the whole surface,
to the altered position of the individual. Nothing is more striking
than the general uniformity of colour in wild animals—few things
more familiar than their infinitely varied hues when domesticated.
Now it is certain that these differences have a meaning, and that
their relations are important; but when we extend these thoughts from
the coverings of animals to the consideration of surface, whether of
animals or vegetables, what wonderful things occur to us. Every variety
of colouring which we observe in domestic animals, every spot on an
insect’s wing, every pencilling on a a flower, places the individual in
a different relation, so far, to light, heat, and other powerful agents
in nature.

Or if we look from another point of view—we cannot walk by a hedge-row
in summer without observing how very small the differences of light and
aspect are, which seem on the same soil to confer on the same species
of flowers such numerous varieties of colour. I have most frequently
observed this in the common cranes-bill, or wild geranium.

In order to estimate correctly the value of these surfaces to the
animal or vegetable, it is obviously of great importance to us to know
what they do; and if they give off any thing, to ascertain its nature.
That either animal or vegetable may be healthy, the processes of
nature, whatever they are, must be carried on; and we may be assured,
that the fragrance of the rose is just as necessary an exhalation
_from_ the plant, as it is an agreeable impression _to_ us.

But all animals may be said to breathe quite as much by their skin as
by their lungs. Leaves, too, are the breathing surfaces of vegetables;
and, therefore, to ascertain the facts in the one, without inquiring
into those observable in the other, would be likely to fog our
reasoning and falsify our conclusions. The first impression we obtain
from all animals is from external form and appearance—from, in fact,
its outward covering. It was the first organ to which Abernethy devoted
his most particular attention; and here again his investigations show
how little those knew of his mind who imagined that his thoughts were
restricted to any one set of organs.

In whatever light we view it, the skin is, in all animals, a most
important organ; and so much so, as—drolly enough—with the exception
of the human subject, to have been long popularly so considered. Yet
so imperfect have been the investigation of its functions, that we are
at this moment chiefly indebted to the early experiments of Abernethy
for what we know that is positive on the subject. The original
experiments of Sanctorius were quantitative and, as general truths, of
sufficient importance to have excited more attention. Cruikshank’s were
highly acceptable; but they were less numerous and less varied than
those of Abernethy; whilst the labours of Edwards, though exhibiting
great industry and zeal, were by no means so conclusive as those of
Abernethy. Edwards’ experiments served to strengthen and confirm, by
the analogy afforded by other animals, conclusions drawn by Abernethy
from the more secure premises furnished by the _observation_ of
corresponding functions in man.

Mr. Abernethy’s inquiry was first directed to ascertain what the skin
actually gave off from the body; and secondly, what changes took
place in the air which we draw into the lungs (inspiration). We will
endeavour to give some idea of these experiments. They were very
simple—they involved no cruelty, like those of Edwards—and they were
many of them such as the public might repeat without difficulty.

Very useful would it be, if persons who have leisure would sometimes
engage in physiological inquiries. They would find them to be extremely
interesting; and a series of facts would be easily collected, from
which the physiologist might obtain the most valuable information,
but which, engaged as most of us are in applying physiology to
the correction of disordered functions, we can seldom collect for
ourselves, except in a few hours stolen from those occupied in an
arduous profession, and perhaps by the sacrifice of paramount duties.

Mr. Abernethy’s experiments were very numerous, and commenced in the
summer of 1791; but the winter’s cold obliging him to desist, they were
renewed in the spring of 1792. Having referred to the experiments of
Ingenhous and Cruikshank, together with an allusion to a paper (not
then made public) by Lavoisier, he proceeds to describe his own.

Having a trough containing a large quantity of quicksilver, he filled
a glass jar (sufficiently capacious to contain his hand and wrist)
with that metal. He inverted it into the trough in the usual way of
proceeding in collecting gases. He fixed the glass jar in a sloping
position, that he might introduce his hand the more readily beneath
the quicksilver. In this way, whatever was given off from the skin of
the hand, rising through the quicksilver to the top of the glass, and
of course displacing a proportionate quantity of quicksilver, could be
made the subject of analysis.

He describes his first experiment as follows: “I held my hand ten
minutes in the jar beneath the surface of the quicksilver, and
frequently moved it in that situation, in order to detach any
atmospheric air that might accidentally adhere to it, and afterwards
introduced it into the inverted jar. The quicksilver _soon acquired_ a
degree of warmth which rendered it not unpleasant. Minute air-bubbles
ascended to the top of the quicksilver, more speedily in the beginning
of the experiment, more tardily towards the conclusion. After an hour
had elapsed, I withdrew my hand; the bubbles of air, which now appeared
on the top of the quicksilver, were, I suppose, in bulk equal to one
scruple of water.

“In _sixteen hours_, I collected a half-once measure of air, which
makes fifteen grains the average product of an hour. No kind of
moisture appeared on the surface of the quicksilver. Some sucking-paper
was put up, which was withdrawn unmoistened. My hand was always damp
when taken out of the quicksilver. Whatever aqueous perspiration was
produced, adhered to its surface, whilst the aeriform ascended to
the top of the jar. To the air I had thus collected, I threw up some
lime-water[20], when about two thirds of it were rapidly absorbed;
to the remainder, I added a bubble of nitrous gas[21]; but could not
discover any red fumes, nor any diminution of the quantity. I repeated
this experiment six times, with similar though not uniform results. I
believe it will be found that the air perspired consists of carbonic
acid gas, or fixed air, a little more than two thirds; of nitrogenous
gas, a little less than one-third. In one experiment, the nitrogen made
only one-fourth part of the air collected; in another, I thought it
exceeded one-third.”

He then made a series of experiments of the same kind, but substituting
water for the quicksilver, sometimes heating himself previously by
exercise. The results of these were not materially different from
those in which he held his hand in quicksilver; but they are less
clear, because the carbonic acid gas given off seemed absorbed by the
water. In the next series of experiments, he held his hand and arm
in atmospheric air. In this case, he found that, in addition to the
giving off of carbonic acid, a portion of the oxygen of the air became
absorbed. This is exactly what happens in the lungs. Now, as the
carbonic acid, when given off, is in both cases coincident with the
disappearance of oxygen, and as carbonic acid is composed of oxygen
and carbon, it _had been_ usually conceived that the oxygen taken in,
contributed to form the carbonic acid given off; and the idea is still
entertained very generally.

The experiments of Abernethy, however, presently to be adverted to, in
regard to the skin; and those of Edwards, long after, in regard to the
lungs; satisfactorily prove, we think, that the carbonic acid is not
_at all derived_ in the manner supposed[22].

To test this matter, Mr. Abernethy confined his hand and arm in various
gases containing _no oxygen_—as hydrogen, and then in nitrogen; but he
found the carbonic acid gas _still given_ off as before. He then placed
his hand in a gas (nitrous oxide) _containing_ oxygen; and lastly, in
oxygen itself, to see if it _increased_, or otherwise affected the
elimination of carbonic acid; but in neither of those experiments was
the carbonic acid thrown off, _increased_, or in any way affected by it.

In a subsequent part of the paper, he remarks on the idea that
physiologists entertained of the carbonic acid given off by the lungs
being made by the oxygen inspired; but he says, very justly, that the
quantity of oxygen is too small for the formation of so much carbonic
acid gas as we find given out by those bodies; and that his experiments
on the skin clearly prove that the exhaling vessels of the skin emit
carbonic acid in a state of _complete formation_; and then adds, what
it is difficult to estimate the merits of, without recollecting that it
was said half a century ago (and before the experiments of Edwards),
“and, doubtless, those of the lungs perform a similar office.”

This is one of those bold, and, we believe, successful reasonings
from analogy which were very characteristic of Abernethy. The truth
is, that even the experiments of Edwards, some of which were, a long
time since, repeated by ourselves, with the same results, are not, I
conceive, so conclusive as the analogy of Abernethy. It is true, they
consisted of placing frogs and other animals in gases not containing
oxygen, when it was found, notwithstanding, that there was _no_
diminution in the quantity of the carbonic acid produced, and which
therefore could not have been compounded of any oxygen in the gas. But
even here many possible sources of fallacy suggest themselves. The
previous expulsion _of all_ the oxygen from the animal is obviously a
matter of uncertainty. There are, besides, those sources of fallacy
which are inseparable in some form or other from all experiments on
animals which disturb their natural habits, especially when these
disturbances are so great as to amount to suffering. From all such
experiments Abernethy _instinctively_ shrunk. His repulsion to them
seems not to have rendered it necessary to him to have shown that
they were as _physiologically inconclusive_ as they were morally
questionable. At all events, his present experiments were not obscured
by any such sources of fallacy.

Still the idea of the carbonic acid exhaled by the lungs, being made up
of the union of the carbon exhaled with the oxygen taken in, continued
to be very extensively entertained. We can only say that to us it seems
entirely a child of the imagination; what Horace calls

“Mentis gratissimus error;”

and shows not only how few people can find leisure to investigate, but
how few venture to observe or think for themselves. Abernethy also
experimented by holding his hand in carbonic acid, when he found that
in about nine hours, three ounces, by measure, of carbonic acid were
absorbed by the skin; and in the remaining gas, a considerable quantity
of other gas which had been given off, which appeared to be nitrogen.

Desirous of ascertaining the quantity of carbonic acid gas given off by
his hand, in different gases in a single hour, he introduced his hand
into various gases. In the experiment with

Nitrous oxide, there came off 6
Hydrogen 4
Atmospheric air 3

The test for the carbonic acid was, as before, in all cases,
lime-water. He also found that the skin absorbed oxygen much more
readily than most other gases. One remarkable experiment we will
notice, to show how laborious all these investigations were, and for
the interesting nature of the result. He placed his hand alternately in
vessels containing each twenty-four ounces, by measure, of nitrogen and
oxygen gases. After eight hours’ exposure in each, two-thirds of the
oxygen had disappeared, whereas only _one twentieth_ of the nitrogen
was absorbed. Indeed, there is no one feature of these experiments
perhaps more interesting than those which suggest the stronger aptitude
of the skin to absorb oxygen in comparison with other gases. For
example, Abernethy found that the skin absorbed, by measure,

Of oxygen gas, in eight hours 8
Of nitrous gas, in five hours 3
Of hydrogen, in five hours 1-1/2
Of nitrogen, in eight hours 1

Mr. Abernethy then made some experiments on his own lungs, after the
manner that Mr. Cruikshank had done, to find the quantity of _water_
exhaled, by breathing into glass jars filled with and inverted in
quicksilver, and by other methods, and also to ascertain the change
produced in the air by respiration. These are all interesting; but we
can only give general results, referring to the work itself, as full of
material for thought and future observation. He considered that, on the
whole, the change in the air was, that in one hundred parts, consisting

Nitrogen 80
Oxygen 18
Carbonic acid 2

about _three_ parts of the oxygen were absorbed, whilst about _twelve_
parts of carbonic acid were exhaled, the nitrogen being little altered,
or even receiving some small addition. The quantity of _inspired_
oxygen which disappeared varied in different experiments, probably
depending on the depths of the inspiration, and the duration between
it and the following expiration—the time, in fact, during which it
was retained in the lungs. The smallest quantity which disappeared was
one-twelfth; the largest, one-sixth. The moisture (water) exhaled, he
found to be about three drachms in an hour.

These experiments, for the particulars of which we must refer to the
book itself, contain a calculation of the extent of surface of the
body, which he estimates at about two thousand seven hundred square
inches—that is, about thirty-eight times that of the hand and wrist,
on which he experimented. Thus, if we multiply any of the results he
obtained by thirty-eight, we shall obtain some idea of the prodigious
power of this wonderful organ, and of the vast influence which its
various conditions must exert on the whole animal economy. The whole
of the experiments in the paper are just as interesting as ever,
and would, we are well persuaded, be found amply to repay further

They exemplify in every line his clearness of thought, and his care in
deducing no other conclusion from the premises than that which they
logically justify. The observations which he has annexed to his paper
also are just, and of great practical value; they discuss the bearing
that the whole has to the relation which exists between the skin and
lungs, and the influence of this on the causes of that fell destroyer,
popularly known under the title of Consumption.

They are a portion of that investigation of relation between various
organs, on which anything like the formation of a definite and
practical science must ultimately depend. We shall endeavour, in the
sequel, to explain the ulterior consequences which necessarily arise
out of such considerations, when they are duly followed out. We shall
endeavour to point out the share they had, in conjunction with other
considerations, in leading to those beautiful and simple principles
which Mr. Abernethy was led more especially to advocate; and show how
far _he_ went, as describing the starting point of those who have
endeavoured at a fuller development of the consequences of his views.

He remarks, justly enough, on the determination to the lungs consequent
on the repression of the surface, and the necessary _additional duty
thrown on those_ important organs engaged in a common function with
the skin, where the duty of the latter is not performed; and on
the elements thus supplied for disease, _especially_ in persons of
restricted chest; relations, _be it remembered_, which exist between
the various other organs of the economy, and which exemplify in a
single case truly, what has been, we trust, since shown in regard
to organs generally; how the organ, which may be the seat of the
_disease_, _may not be_ the seat of the original _cause_, but really
a secondarily affected organ—a hint which, when followed out, is of
_immense practical importance_.

The skin is by no means the only organ which has a community of
function with the lungs, or through which these important parts become
affected; but if this be so, and diseases of the lungs be treated
as an _integral thing_, it requires no great penetration to see how
diseases so handled must be incurable; since the real cause may never
be ministered to.

Again, if a case should be successfully treated, by means which
afford all possible relief to the _lungs_, whilst the _primarily
affected_ organ is also properly treated, it by no means follows that
the treatment should be the same in _every case_; for the primarily
affected organ may be different in different cases. There is, in fact,
no organ of the body which, when subjected to disordering influences,
may not _secondarily_ affect the lungs.

The liver is especially apt to affect them. It is engaged, like the
lungs, in throwing off large quantities of carbon or charcoal from the
system, and has been not very improperly termed the “abdominal lung.”
It is constantly also sending through the medium of the heart a large
quantity of blood to the lungs. Now, if this blood have not the proper
quantity of carbon extracted from it by the liver, or if even the blood
be excessive in quantity, why the lungs must have more to do; and many
diseased lungs have been produced in this manner in cases where the
chest has been well formed.

There are, however, many intimate relations between organs which do not
depend on mere community of function. It is very important that the
public should have clear views on this subject; and if they would only
give a little of that attention which they so often bestow on things
infinitely more difficult, there is no doubt many lives would be saved
that are irremediably damaged, as Abernethy says, sometimes even before
any symptoms have suggested that there is anything the matter.

But if there be a shadow of truth in Mr. Abernethy’s views, and still
more in those extensions of them to which they have naturally led, we
may learn how necessary is that discrimination which traces disease to
_primarily_ affected organs; and how little success we may expect by
treating the lungs, as the integral seat of disease, by specifics, or
such remedies as tar, naphtha, cod-liver oil, various gases, &c. which
come in and go out of fashion in a manner sufficiently significant of
the claims they can have in a scientific point of view.

Mr. Abernethy also remarks on the comparatively restricted influence
of scrofula in constituting consumption. “At one time,” he observes,
“I examined the bodies of many people who died of consumption.” After
describing other appearances which he found, he says, “the greater
number were bestudded with larger or smaller tubercles, or _made
uniformly dense_ (consolidated).” He says, this disease (consolidation)
is _very insidious_, that it is often established beyond the
possibility of removal before it is suspected; but, he says, he thinks
it might be known, for the capacity of the lungs is diminished; and
suggests that this should be tested, by allowing a suspected case to
_breathe into a glass vessel over water_, by which the quantity of air
they can receive is rendered perceptible.

His remarks, too, on the treatment are highly interesting and
discriminative, and will not only well repay attentive perusal, but
that study which is necessary to the perception of their full force and
beauty. When we have to sum up the various influences of the views of
Abernethy, we may probably find space for a few facts on that which
they exert on the treatment of the lungs and skin; and this not merely
as affecting the health in general, but also complexion, and other
conditions of these curious and important organs.

We are unwilling to dismiss this paper without directing attention
to the illustration it affords of the erroneous views of those who
imagine that Abernethy’s investigations were confined to the digestive
organs, and still less, of course, to one of them (the stomach). It
would, on the contrary, be difficult to find any paper on physiology
so comprehensive in its views, so simple and clear as to its object,
so cautious and logical in its reasonings, so free from any bias,
or with so little reference, either directly or indirectly, to what
are usually understood by the digestive organs. On the other hand,
it is an investigation which (as regards the relation which exists
between two organs having a common function) is an exact type of what
physiological investigation should be. For we have only to extend the
idea of a relation which exists between _two_ organs, to those which
exist between _all_ organs; to regard as their _combined_ functions,
the sustentation of the life and health of the individual, just as we
have been regarding respiration, the common function of the skin and
lungs; and we thus arrive at what must be the basis of any sound or
comprehensive inquiry into the true relations of the various parts of
the economy; by which alone we can interpret the phenomena of health
and disease.

Moreover—however presumptuous the assertion may appear on the one
hand, or however humiliating the view it implies of the present
state of medicine as a science on the other—we must regard this
investigation, in every philosophical sense of the term, as still among
the “means untried” of the illustrious author whose words we have
ventured to place at the head of this chapter.

[Footnote 19: This statement does not hold in regard to Entozoa (animals
living in the bodies of others), or at all events is not proved.]

[Footnote 20: The test for carbonic acid.]

[Footnote 21: A test for the presence of oxygen.]

[Footnote 22: It is in this paper that he uses the significant
expression “ventilating the blood,” which looks as if the refrigerating
effect of respiration—and which we have endeavoured to show is the
real, though perhaps not sole, purpose of it—had not wholly escaped
his notice.]

“Quis talia fando
Temperet a lachrymis.”


Perhaps, of all known torments, there is none that can be compared,
either in intensity or duration, with that curious disease which has
been called Tic Doloreux. Like the term Neuralgia, it is merely a hard
word to express a violent pain in a nerve. Conventionally, the term
neuralgia, or nerve-pain, is generally used to express a case where
the suffering is of a more or less diffused character. The term “tic”
is more usually applied in cases where the seat of pain is found in
some superficial nerve. Neither term has much claim to the character of
scientific nomenclature; they are merely equivalent to saying that we
know very little of the matter. This obscurity, however, may be soon
lessened, if not entirely cleared, by any one who will go to work in
the way suggested by Mr. Abernethy’s principles, and in which, to a
certain point, they will conduct him. He must, however, recollect that
the pain, though a most distressing symptom, is still a _symptom_, and
not the _disease_ which gives rise to it.

This disease teaches us how beneficently framed we are in relation to
all around us; and how small a deviation from a healthy condition of
our sensations converts all usual sources of pleasure into so many
elements of agony. The breeze, of late so grateful and refreshing,
may produce more suffering than would be excited by the most
intensely-heated furnace. In other cases, the cool spring, or the
most delicious fruit, become causes of torture. We should exceed
all reasonable limits if we were to enumerate all the usual sources
of pleasure which, in different cases, are converted into so many
instruments of suffering.

Tic doloreux is indeed a horrible malady; but one which, when properly
considered, becomes very instructive. It admirably illustrates
the views of Abernethy; and how ready he was to concede all that
examination of the views of others which modesty and common sense
require, as well as how superior his own were, both in philosophical
acumen and practical value; first examining the views of others, and
finding them defective, he, with the true philosophical spirit which
first discovers what is wrong—

“Primus gradus est sapientiæ falso intelligere,”

then proceeds to develop his own.

The nerves are the organs from which we receive all our impressions
from without; and when their ordinary sensibility is thus morbidly
augmented, we may be persuaded that there is _something_ very wrong

The tic doloreux is one of the examples showing how cautious and
circumspect, and how modest withal, Abernethy was in advancing to his
own comprehensive views of disease; and how entirely antithetical the
method he pursued in arriving at them was to that which attempts to cut
the knot of difficulty by gratuitous hypotheses.

When this disease first began to attract attention, it was suggested
that it might be cured by the division of the nerve. The phenomena
of the nervous system afforded abundant grounds for mistrusting the
soundness of this view. The tendency, however, to confound the more
salient symptom of a disease with its intrinsic nature, caused such
phenomena to be overlooked or little considered; and the consequence
was, that where the nerve was divided, the treatment was sometimes
entirely confined to that proceeding.

In the end, the operation disappointed expectation; and that which
careful reasoning might have predicted as probable, was left to be
determined by experiment, In some cases, circumstances concurred to
produce temporary relief; but on the whole the operation was a failure.

In the case he here published, Abernethy removed a little bit of
nerve from a lady’s finger. As she had suffered severely, and he was
anxious to give her more permanent relief, he did not rest satisfied
with merely dividing the nerve. For about nine months the lady was in
comparative ease; but then the sensation returned. He remarks on the
interest attached to this return of sensation, and observes on the
analogy it suggests between the supply of blood, and that of nervous
power. For if the vessels conveying the former be tied or obstructed,
the supply is gradually restored through collateral channels. The
return of the nervous functions, after the removal of a portion of the
nerve, seemed to favour that view of the nervous system which regarded
as the proximate cause of the phenomena some subtle principle or other,
like electricity or magnetism, or some analogous power, of which the
nerves might be the conductors.

Perhaps the most interesting fact of this case, however, was the
significant bearing it had on those views which he was beginning
to deduce from a multitude of other sources. The fact being, that
when the lady died, which she did about four years afterwards, _she
died of disordered digestive organs_. Showing, therefore, at least,
the coincidence of the most severe form of nervous disturbance with
disorder of these important functions.

We shall see, by and by, that Mr. Abernethy made this and other cases
the instruments of much future good; but as we shall not be able to
digress from that Summary of our obligations, which we shall then be
employed in taking, we will add a few words here in aid of removing
that difficulty which some people have in understanding how such
dreadful pain can result from any organ in the interior of the body,
where no pain is felt at all. In order to do this, it is only necessary
to have a clear general notion of the nervous system. If you could
take away everything but the nerves, you would have the brain, spinal
marrow, and certain knot-like pieces of nervous substance (ganglions,
as we term them) from which myriads of cords proceeded, varying in size
from the smallest imaginable filaments up to moderate sized cords; the
ends of the delicate filaments terminating in the various organs and
on the surface of the body; millions of messengers of the most extreme
sensibility, by which impressions are telegraphed with the swiftness of
lightning between all parts of the body. There is, however, a habit or
rule which is ordinarily observed, and that is one of the most curious
things in the whole range of physiology—namely, that the immediate
cause of our recognition of sensation is never in the part itself,
but the action is constantly transferred to the extremity of the
nerve. When you strike the ulnar nerve at the elbow (popularly termed,
sometimes, the funny-bone), you feel it in the fingers to which its
branches are distributed.

If you place your finger in cold or warm water, the action that makes
you feel it is in the brain; and we infer this, because if we divide
the communication between the brain and the finger, you no longer
feel the sensation. Now, bearing this in mind, you easily understand
how anything disturbing the nerves of any internal organ may produce
pain in some distant branch; and that this is really so, many cases
of tic doloreux have furnished conclusive and triumphant proofs. Now,
as to _why_ it should be seated in this or that particular site, is
a question of extreme difficulty; as also in what organ the primary
disturbance is seated, supposing it to have been in any of them. The
former, I believe, is a question we have yet been unable to solve; the
_latter_ may usually be accomplished, _if sufficient pains be taken_.

Abernethy, in his lectures on this subject, when observing on the
inefficiency of this division of the nerve—which was ministering to
effects only—was accustomed to remark, with that peculiar archness of
expression which his pupils must so well remember: “I wonder that it
never entered into the head of some wise booby or other to divide the
nerve going to a gouty man’s toe.” This was a very characteristic mode
of terminating a discussion of any point which he wished to impress on
the memory of the pupil.



In these days of improved statistical inquiry, it would be a curious
document which should give us the comparative number of persons who are
now bled, and that of only fifty years ago; and whilst it would present
very instructive data as to the progress of medical science, it would
give also some significant hints as to the relations of fashionable
remedies. First, almost every barber was a bleeder; and within my own
recollection, a lady, who for any serious ailment consulted the most
eminent physician in the neighbourhood in which she lived, would allow
no one to bleed her but the barber.

Formerly, multitudes of people lost a little blood every “spring and
fall.” Accidents of all kinds afforded a fine opportunity for bleeding.
The papers announced accidents generally by the usual—”It is with
regret that we learn that Sir Harry —— was thrown from his horse
in the Park. It was feared that the honourable baronet had sustained
serious injury; but, fortunately, Mr. Sharpe was on the spot, so that
the patient was immediately bled. He was conveyed home, and we rejoice
to hear that he is doing well. The accident, which it had been feared
was a fracture, proved to be only a ‘dislocation.'”

The questions in regard to bleeding were said to be—who, when, and
how much (_quis, quando, quantum?_); but, to our minds, Aretæus
has a better saying: “When bleeding is required, there is need
of deliberation (_cum sanguinem detrahere oportet, deliberatione
indiget_).” We like this better; because, in addition to the little
words quoted above, it suggests another, more important than
either—namely, _cur?_ why—on many occasions, a favourite inquiry of

We recollect a surgeon being called to a gentleman who was taken
ill suddenly, and he found two or three servants and the medical
attendant struggling very vigorously with the patient. Whilst this
was continuing, the first question put to the surgeon by the medical
attendant was:

“Shall I bleed him, Sir?”

“Why should you desire to bleed him?”

“Oh! exactly; you prefer cupping?”

“Why should he be cupped?”

“Then shall I apply some leeches?”

This, too, was declined; in short, it never seemed to have occurred
that neither might be necessary, still less that either might therefore
do mischief.

It is the most curious thing to see the force of a well-grown
conventionalism. As long as it led to moderately bleeding plethoric
baronets in recent accidents, no great harm would have been done;
but the frequency in other cases, in which bleeding was instituted
with “apparent impunity,” was too commonly construed into “bleeding
with advantage,” until the practice became so indiscriminate as to be
extensively injurious. _Now_, comparatively, few persons are bled; and
some few years ago I had a curious illustration of it.

In a large institution, relieving several thousand patients annually,
and in which, a very few years before, scarcely a day passed without
several persons having been bled; nearly a month elapsed without a
single bleeding having been prescribed by either of the three medical

No doubt many persons are still bled without any very satisfactory
reason; but we believe that the abuse of bleeding is much diminished,
and that the practice is much more discriminate and judicious. From
this, and perhaps other causes, a very important class of cases which
engaged the attention of Abernethy, as it had that of Hunter before
him, is become comparatively infrequent. When bleeding, however, was
practised, with as little idea of its importance as some other of the
barber-surgeon’s ministrations, on all sorts of people, and in all
sorts of disturbed states of health, and probably with no attention at
all to the principles which should alike guide the treatment of the
largest or the smallest wound; this little operation was frequently
followed by inflammation of the vein, nerve, or other contiguous
structures. These cases were, most of them, more or less serious, often
dangerous, and occasionally fatal.

Taking up the subject where it had been left by Mr. Hunter, Abernethy
refers to the cases published in the two volumes of the “Medical
Communications,” by Mr. Colly of Torrington, and by Mr. Wilson, and
then proceeds to give some of his own. It is in this paper that he
first moots two questions which have since grown into importance, by an
extension of some of the practices to which they refer. We allude to
the division of fasciæ, and tendinous structures, and also of nerves in
states of disease or disorder.

In many cases we see, in the application of such measures, how much
that clear and quick-sighted discrimination is required which so
eminently distinguished Abernethy. He, however, only _mooted_ these
questions at that time; for he observes that he had not had sufficient
experience to give an opinion. The chief value of the paper _now_ is,
the good sense with which it inculcates a more careful and cleanly
performance of bleeding; a more scientific treatment of the puncture,
by neatly bringing its edges into apposition, and by keeping the _arm
quiet_ until it has healed. Neglect of these cautions in disordered
states of constitution, had no doubt been not infrequently accessory
to the production of some of the serious consequences against which it
is the object of this paper to guard. I need scarcely observe that the
whole subject is important, and should be thoroughly studied by the
young surgeon.

In 1793, Abernethy, by his writings and his lectures, seems to have
created a general impression that he was a man of no ordinary talent.
His papers on Animal Matter, and still more his Essay on the functions
of the Skin and Lungs, had shown that he was no longer to be regarded
merely in the light of a rising surgeon, but as one laying claim to the
additional distinction of a philosophical physiologist. The subject (of
the skin and lungs) had engaged the attention of Böerhaave a long time
before; Cruikshank also, and other very able men, had followed in the
same wake of investigation; therefore there was an opportunity of that
test which comparison alone affords. Abernethy was, in fact, regarded
at this time more in the light of a rising man, than merely a promising
surgeon. He now moved from St. Mary Axe (as I am informed), and took a
house in St. Mildred’s Court, in the Poultry.

Sir Charles Blicke had moved to Billiter Square. I find, by the
rate-books, which Mr. B. L. Jones was so good as to inspect for me,
that this was in April, 1793. He could hardly fail at this time to have
had a very acceptable portion of practice, although we apprehend it was
not as yet extensive. His reputation was, however, fast increasing,
which the attention paid to his opinion at the hospital at this time
must have materially accelerated.

Certainly not later than 1795, there were very few cases of doubt
or difficulty, in which (independently of that participation in the
consultation at the hospital common to all the medical officers) there
was not especial value and influence attached to his opinion; and I
have heard a pupil of that day assert, that in cases of real doubt
and difficulty, there was nothing more beautiful in itself, nor more
characteristic of Abernethy, than the masterly way in which he would
analyze a case, bring the practical points before his colleagues, and
at the same time suggest the course he preferred. As, from his other
occupations, it would often happen that some consultation might be
pending whilst he was engaged at the theatre or in the museum, it would
often happen that a consultation would terminate for the time by some one
observing: “Well, we will see what Mr. Abernethy says on the subject.”

In 1796, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, his old preceptor,
Sir William Blizard, being one of those who signed the proposal
for his election. He only contributed one paper after this to the
“Philosophical Transactions.” After his death, the Duke of Sussex
pronounced a very well-deserved eulogium, of which a copy will be found
in another part of this volume. He had not been idle, however; but, in
1797, published the third part of the “Physiological Essays,” which we
will consider in the next place.

Continue Reading

The same earth nourishes

“There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than
gratitude. Were there no positive command which enjoined it, nor
any recompense laid up for it hereafter, a generous mind would
indulge in it, for the natural gratification which accompanies

Sir William Blizard was an eminent surgeon and an enthusiastic student
of the profession, as studied in his day. He had a certain bluntness
of manner, which was not unkind neither. He was very straightforward,
which Abernethy liked; and he had nothing of a mercenary disposition,
which Abernethy held in abhorrence. He was a kind of man very likely to
excite in one of Abernethy’s tone of mind many agreeable impressions.
He early perceived the talents, and was probably the first to encourage
the industry, of his distinguished pupil. Enthusiastic himself, he had
the power of communicating a similar feeling to many of his pupils; and
he appears to have contributed one of those impulses to Abernethy which
are from time to time necessary to sustain the pursuit of an arduous

Some men seem to like anatomy for its own sake; examinations of
structure merely, by dissection, or the microscope, have a kind of
intrinsic charm for them. This was not the case with Abernethy. _Mere_
anatomy had few charms for him. He regarded it in its true light, as a
means to an end; as the basis on which he could alone found, not only
the more common or handicraft duties of surgery, but also those higher
views which aim at developing the uses and relations of the various
organs; and in this way to ascertain what the processes of nature are
in the preservation of health and the _conduct of disease_; in short, a
knowledge of what he called physio-pathology.

Sir William, therefore, in exciting Abernethy’s enthusiasm at this
time, was probably of great service. He was thus impelled to pursue the
study of anatomy, which perhaps might otherwise have failed to interest
him sufficiently, whilst his attention was by no means diverted from
the real purposes of that study. On the contrary, he always saw
anatomy, as it were, through a physiological medium. This threw a
pleasure into his anatomical pursuits, and was _one_ of the means by
which, in his own lectures, he contrived to impart an interest to the
driest parts of our studies.

Many years afterwards, he was fond of illustrating the true relations
of anatomy and physiology, and at the same time contrasting the
attractions of the one with the comparatively repulsive requisitions of
the other, by saying, with Dr. Barclay, of Edinburgh, that “he never
would have wedded himself to so ugly a witch (anatomy), but for the
dower she brought him (physiology).” The impressions which he derived
from Sir William Blizard were deep and durable. More than thirty years
after, when he himself was at the zenith of his career, we find his
grateful feeling towards Sir William still glowing warm as ever. He
seems to have considered the expression of it as the most appropriate
opening to the first of the beautiful lectures which he delivered at
the College of Surgeons in 1814. It must have been a moment of no small
gratification to Sir William, who was present, now venerable with age,
to have found that the honourable course of his own younger days, and
the purity and excellence of his precepts, had all been garnered up
in the heart of his grateful and most distinguished pupil. Nor could
the evidence of it be well made more striking than when heralded forth
before an audience composed of the most venerable and experienced, as
well as of the most rising members of the profession; and, to crown the
whole, with an eloquence at once modest and emotional, impressive of
the depth and sincerity with which the eulogium was delivered.

It is difficult to imagine a scene more moving to the master, more
gratifying to the pupil, or more honourable to both. As the style
was very characteristic, we select a few passages. He commences the
lecture by saying, of Sir William Blizard, that “he was my earliest
instructor in anatomy and surgery, and I am greatly indebted to him
for much valuable information. My warmest thanks are also due to him
for the _interest he excited in my mind towards these studies_, and
for his excellent advice. ‘Let your search after truth,’ he would say,
‘be eager and constant. Be wary in admitting propositions to be facts,
before you have submitted them to the strictest examination. If, after
this, you believe them to be true, never disregard or forget _any
one_ of them, however unimportant it may at the time appear. Should
you perceive truths to be important, make them motives of action. Let
them serve as springs to your conduct. If we _neglect to draw such
inferences_, or to act in conformity with them, we fail in essential
duties!'” Again, in remarking how Sir William excited his enthusiasm by
the _beau-idéal_ which he drew of the medical character, Mr. Abernethy
observed: “I cannot tell you how splendid and brilliant he made it
appear; and then he cautioned us _never_ to tarnish its lustre by any
disingenuous conduct, or by anything that bore even the _semblance_
of dishonour.” Abernethy, then proceeding in a strain, warm, yet
apologetic (Sir William being present), at length concluded his public
thanks to his venerable instructor, by saying, “what I have now stated
is a tribute due from me to him; and I pay it on the present occasion
in the _hope_ that the same precepts and motives may have the same
effects on the junior part of my audience as they were accustomed, in
general, to have on the pupils of Sir William Blizard.”[14]

Abernethy then proceeded to advocate similar lofty views of the nature
and duties of our profession in the following manner: “That which
most dignifies man, is the cultivation of those qualities which most
distinguish him from the brute creation. We should indeed seek truth
for its importance, and act as the dictates of reason direct us. By
exercising our minds in the attainment of medical knowledge, we may
improve a science of great public utility. We have need of enthusiasm,
or of some strong incentive, to induce us to spend our nights in study,
and our days in the disgusting and health-destroying duties of the
dissecting-room, or in that careful and distressing observation of
human diseases and infirmities which can alone enable us to alleviate
or remove them; some powerful inducement,” he adds, “exclusive of fame
or emolument (for, unfortunately, a man may attain a considerable
share of reputation and _practice, without being a real student of his
profession_). I place before you the most animating incentive I know
of—that is, the enviable power of being extensively useful to your
fellow-creatures. You will be able to confer that which sick kings
would fondly purchase with their diadems, which wealth cannot command,
nor state nor rank bestow:—to alleviate or remove disease, the most
insupportable of human afflictions; and thereby give health, the most
invaluable of human blessings.”

When Abernethy entered the London Hospital, he soon gave proofs that
Sir William’s lessons were not unfruitful. He was early employed to
prepare the subject for lecture. Anatomy is usually taught by combining
three plans.

In one, the various structures—muscles, vessels, nerves, &c.—are
exposed, by the removal of their covering and connecting-tissues,
and so displayed as to be clear and distinct. This is “dissecting
for lecture;” and it is the duty of the lecturer to describe the
connections and immediate uses of the parts so displayed.

The body is then laid on a clean table, covered with a white cloth,
and everything is ready. There is some difference in these matters in
different hands; but attention to order and cleanliness goes a long way
in facilitating anatomical pursuits. To many there may be much that
is disagreeable in anatomy; but we are persuaded that a coarse and
vulgar inattention to decency has often alone rendered it disgusting or

The other plan is not materially different from the foregoing,
excepting that it is generally done by the anatomical
assistant—technically, the “demonstrator.” The parts, having been
somewhat exposed, are left, as much as is consistent with clearness,
in their natural and _relative_ positions; and the vessels, nerves,
muscles, &c. which have been for the most part described _separately_
by the lecturer, are now “demonstrated” (as the phrase is) _together_.
The relative positions of all parts are thus more especially impressed
on the student. In these “demonstrations” there is the same attention
to covering the body with a cloth, &c. as in the lecture.

Lastly, the pupil is required to make out the parts by dissecting them
himself, with such occasional assistance as may be at first necessary,
and which is given by the demonstrator, who attends in the room for
that purpose.

Now these duties (the lecture only excepted) were early performed by
Abernethy. We may safely infer from this, that he was distinguished by
his industry and zeal in the pursuit of knowledge, and that he began
thus early to cultivate that power of communicating what he knew to
others; in the exercise of which he ultimately acquired a success, a
_curiosa felicitas_, in which he excelled all his contemporaries. That
special qualifications were already discernible, we may infer from the
post he occupied being invariably filled by a pupil of the hospital
to which the school belongs; whereas Mr. Abernethy was an apprentice
of a surgeon of St. Bartholomew’s. On the testimony of a contemporary
and fellow-student, Mr. W. W. Cox, late of Wolverhampton, we learn
that he began to individualize himself very early. That, at the London
Hospital, “he was for the most part reserved, seldom associating with
any of the other students, but sitting in some place or corner by
himself, diligently intent on the business of the lecture.” Sir William
Blizard is known to have felt proud of him, and to have soon indulged
in great expectations from his character and talents.

I have already observed that Abernethy had the advantage of attending
also the Surgical Lectures of Mr. Pott, at St. Bartholomew’s. Mr. Pott
was a gentleman, a scholar, and a good writer, and seems to have been
a spirited and attractive lecturer. In an oration delivered by Sir
William Blizard, in 1815, it is said that “it was difficult to give
an idea of the elegance of his language, the animation of his manner,
or the perceptive force or effect of his truths and his doctrines”—a
character which is by no means inconsistent with Mr. Pott’s more
sustained compositions.

Such opportunities were not lost on Abernethy. He soon became possessed
of what was known in the ordinary business of anatomy and surgery. His
diligence too had afforded him an opportunity of testing those powers
of communicating what he knew, to which I have just alluded. As an
apprentice of a surgeon of Bartholomew’s, his views were directed to
that hospital; and it was not long before the resignation of Mr. Pott,
and the appointment of Sir Charles Blicke, who was assistant surgeon,
to succeed him, opened to Abernethy an arena in which he might further
mature his peculiar aptitude for _teaching_ his profession. This had
been, as we learn from his own testimony, an early object of his
ambition, and one for which he had already begun to educate himself at
the London Hospital.

[Footnote 14: Sir William was a good surgeon and an excellent man. He
was born at Barnes, in Surrey, and practised his profession until his
death, which took place at the advanced age of ninety-three. One of his
eyes was affected with cataract, which was removed by operation when
he was ninety-one. He was enthusiastically fond of his profession, and
was chiefly remarkable for his zealous observance of its honourable
practice, and his indifference to lucre. He died in 1835.]

“Terra salutiferas herbas eademque nocentes
Nutrit, et urticæ proxima sæpe rosa est.”[15]


A large London Hospital is (if we may be excused the Hibernianism, as
Mr. Abernethy used to call it) a large microcosm. There is little in
human nature, of which an observant eye may not here find types or
realities. Hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, solace and suffering,
are here strangely intermingled. General benevolence, with special
exceptions. There is no human good without its shadow of evil; even
the benevolent must take care. Impatient sensibility is much nearer
a heartless indifference than people generally imagine. The rose,
Charity, must take care of the nettle, Temper. The man who is chary or
chafed, in yielding that sympathy which philosophy and feeling require,
must beware lest he degenerate into a brute.

One of the brightest points in Abernethy’s character, was, that,
however he might sometimes forget the courtesy due to his private
patients, he was never unkind to those whom charity had confided to his
care. One morning, leaving home for the hospital, when some one was
desirous of detaining him, he said: “Private patients, if they do not
like me, can go elsewhere; but the poor devils in the hospital I am
bound to take care of.”

But to the hospital. Here we find some that have had the best this
world can give—some who have known little but misery: the many no
doubt lie between; but all come upon the same errand. Disease is a
great leveller. There all flock, as to Addison’s Mountain of Miseries,
to get rid of their respective burthens, or to effect such exchanges as
benevolence may have to offer, or the grave can alone supply. Our large
hospitals have a most efficient “_matériel_;” the accommodations are
extensive, the revenues princely. St. Bartholomew’s, for example, has
a revenue of between twenty and thirty thousand pounds a year, and is
capable of receiving six hundred patients.

As regards what is mechanically or physically necessary to the comfort
of the inmates, the ample appliances of our large hospitals leave
little or nothing to be desired. There is every facility for the
execution of the duties, that convenient space and orderly arrangement
can suggest; in short, everything, in the general sense of the word,
that money can procure. Then there are governors, whose hearts are as
open as their purses, whose names are recorded in gold letters, as the
more recent or current contributors to the funds of the establishment,
and who rejoice in the occasional Saturnalia of venison and turtle; all
duties or customs which may be observed, with the gratifying reflection
that they are taking the thorns out of the feet of the afflicted;
provided only that they do not involve forgetfulness of other duties,
the neglect of which may plant a few in their own. The governors
determine the election of the medical men, to whom the welfare of the
patients and the interests of science are to be entrusted.

We have said that money cannot procure all things, and one of these
is mind—a remark requiring some qualification certainly; but this
we must refer to a subsequent chapter. Minds such as Abernethy’s are
not to be found every day; and, notwithstanding the sumptuous bill
of fare we have already glanced at, there are many things in a large
London Hospital yet to be desired—defects which, though it need no
great penetration to discover, may, for aught we know, require public
attention, a _Government altogether better informed_ as to the actual
defects in medical science, and the plastic hand of power, to supply.

Abernethy was elected assistant surgeon of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital,
July 15th, 1787. Sir Charles Blicke, an assistant surgeon, had been
appointed to the surgeoncy vacant by the resignation of Mr. Pott,
and Abernethy succeeded to the assistant surgeoncy thus vacated. The
election was contested by two or three other candidates; amongst the
rest, by Mr. Heaviside. This gentleman was an eminent surgeon, and a
gentlemanly, facetious, and agreeable companion. He was originally in
the Guards, and practised in London many years with great credit and
respectability. He was fond of science, and expended considerable sums
in the formation of an interesting museum. In the earlier part of his
life, he gave conversaziones, which were attended by great numbers both
of the scientific and fashionable.

He lived in a day when, if a gentleman felt himself insulted, he had
at least the satisfaction of being relieved from his sensibility by
having his brains blown out in a duel—professionally speaking, by a
kind of “operative surgery;” viz. the demolition of the organ in which
the troublesome faculty resided. Mr. Heaviside, in his professional
capacity, is said to have attended more duels than any other surgeon
of his time. This gentleman, albeit not unused to one kind of contest,
retired from that at the hospital; which then lay between Mr. Jones and
Mr. Abernethy—the former polling twenty-nine, the latter fifty-three

This was an important epoch in the life of Abernethy. It is difficult
to adjust the influence which it ultimately exerted, for good or
evil, on his future prospects and happiness, or on his relations to
science. The hospital had thus secured a man of extraordinary talent,
it is true, and in spite of a system which indefinitely narrows the
field of choice; but then the same “system” (which we shall by and
by describe) kept Abernethy, as regards the hospital, for no less a
term than twenty-eight years, in a position which, although it did not
exclude him altogether from the field of observation it afforded, did
much to restrict his cultivation of it. His talents for observation,
nevertheless, and the estimation in which he was soon held, no doubt
enabled him, to a certain extent, to bring many of his views to the
test of practice. Still, as an assistant surgeon, except in the absence
of his chief, he had officially nothing to do; whatever cases he
conducted, were only by sufferance of his senior.

To a man of his ability, this was a false and miserably cramped
position; one, in fact, much better calculated for detecting faults,
than for developing the best mode of amending them. As assistant
surgeon, he had no emolument from the hospital: he had, therefore, a
very reasonable inducement to set about doing that for which he felt
himself especially fitted, and to which he had early directed his
attention—namely, to teach his profession. The event showed that
he had by no means miscalculated his powers. These proved well-nigh
unrivalled. The appointment to St. Bartholomew’s, besides other
advantages, gave him an opportunity of lecturing with the _prestige_
usually afforded by connection with a large hospital. He did not,
however, at first give his lectures at the hospital, but delivered them
in Bartholomew Close.

There was at this time, in fact, no school, properly so called, at St.
Bartholomew’s. Mr. Pott had been accustomed to give about twenty-four
lectures, which, as short practical discourses, were first-rate for
that period; but there were no other lectures, not even on anatomy;
which are essentially the basis of a medical school.

Dr. Marshall, who was a very remarkable man, and no less eminent for
his general ability than for his professional acquirements, was at this
time giving anatomical lectures, at his house, in Bartlett’s Buildings,
Holborn. In a biographical notice of him, in the “Gentleman’s
Magazine,” in which we read that he was giving lectures about the year
1787, it is incidentally remarked, that “in all probability he derived
little support from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital; for that recently an
ingenious young gentleman, Mr. Abernethy, had begun to give lectures in
the neighbourhood.”

Abernethy, who seems to have been always seeking information, certainly
attended some of Marshall’s lectures; because he would occasionally
refer to anecdotes he had heard there. He had thus listened to most
of the best lecturers of his day—Sir William Blizard, Dr. Maclaurin,
Mr. Pott, and Dr. Marshall. To the experience which he had thus
acquired, and with the early intention of applying it, he added a
remarkable natural capacity for communicating his ideas to others. We
thus begin to perceive his _early cultivation_ of that aptitude for
lecturing which no doubt greatly contributed to the excellence which he
ultimately achieved in that mode of instruction.

We desire to impress this feature in his education, because by and by
it will, with other things, assist us in a rather difficult task: that
is, an attempt to analyze the means by which he obtained such a power
over his audience. He thus became a teacher at the age of twenty-three,
at a large hospital where he was about to commence a school, of which
he would be at first the sole support. This necessarily involved a
fearful amount of labour, for an organization, active and energetic,
but by no means of great physical power.

Labour, to be sure, is the stuff that life is made of; but then, in
a fine organization like Abernethy’s, it should be directed with
economy of power, and in application to the highest purposes. Such an
organization should, if possible, have been relieved from the drudgery
which lies within the sphere of more ordinary capacity. Ready as we
are, then, to congratulate the young philosopher, about to display his
powers on a field where he was so successful, still misgivings creep in
which restrain, or at least moderate, our enthusiasm. Unusual ability,
no doubt, allows men to anticipate the order which, as the rule, Nature
seems to have assigned to the pursuits of intellect; but we must not
suffer ourselves to be blinded to the rule, by the frequency of the
exception. Youth is the time for _acquiring_ knowledge; and, although
there is no reason why the fruits may not be imparted to others as fast
as they are gathered, still, when the larger space of a man’s time at
twenty-three is devoted to _teaching_ merely, it may reasonably be
doubted whether it be such a disposition of it as is best calculated
to economise his power, or develop the maximum of its influence, in
_extending_ the science to which it is devoted.

John Hunter declined undertaking to teach anatomy at forty (1768),
because it would have “_engaged his attention too much_ to admit
of that general attention to his profession; to forming habits and
established modes of thinking, which he thought necessary.” In
Abernethy’s after life, we think we saw a good deal of the wear and
tear that early and diversified labour had impressed on his physical
organization. In advancing life, the natural desire for ease, if not
carefully guarded, may not be without its perils; but precocious
labour, stinted rest, and the malaria of large cities, crowded
hospitals, and filthy dissecting rooms, too certainly bring on a train
of evils, not less grave because more distant.

We shall have to revert to these points when, in conclusion, we
consider the variety and importance of his contributions to the science
of his profession, and why they were not still more numerous. The
latter, though perhaps the less grateful, is by no means the least
useful portion of biographical analysis.

Commencing his lectures in Bartholomew Close, they soon seem to have
attracted notice. The anatomical courses, which were always on a
similar plan, were very skilfully framed to interest and instruct the
students. The arrangement of the matter was such, that the dry details
of anatomy were lighted up by a description, not only of the purposes
served by the various parts, but by as much as could be conveniently
included of the diseases or accidents to which they were subject;
and thus the juxtaposition of the structure, function, and diseases,
naturally tended to impress the whole.

Diseases of more general site, and which therefore did not fall
conveniently under discussion in describing any one part, were reserved
for a separate course of lectures. It was in this course that he more
fully developed those general principles on which his reputation more
especially rests. Of his inimitable manner we shall speak hereafter.

He was one of the first who insisted on the great importance of
Comparative Anatomy, in studying the uses of the several parts of the
human body. Were it not for the comparison of the relations of various
parts in different animals, we should be continually the victims of
hypotheses, which the juxtaposition or other characters of organs in
any _one_ animal are constantly suggesting. Here necessity compels the
observance of that rule of inductive philosophy, which seeks not for
the true relation of any one thing in _itself_, but from _universals_,
from uses and application which are common to _other_ things. In
one case nature makes that luminously clear, which is only dimly
shadowed forth in another; and in seeing organs under every conceivable
variety of circumstance, we learn to estimate at their full value
characteristics which are common to and inseparable from all—the only
point whence we can securely deduce their real uses in the animal
economy. Of this, Abernethy early saw and inculcated the advantages.

As it was impossible to combine anything like a comprehensive study of
a vast science in the same course with lectures on human Anatomy, he
was accustomed, at the conclusion of the course, to devote a lecture
or two to select illustrations of this important subject. This he
ultimately relinquished, the universal admission of the fact rendering
it no longer necessary.

We shall have occasion, by and by, to record the circumstances
under which one of the most important steps was taken for securing
the interests of Comparative Anatomy in this country—a proceeding
in a great degree owing to the good sense and personal influence
of Abernethy, and exemplifying, in the admirable fitness of the
individual[16], the penetrative perception of character which
distinguished his early Preceptor in Anatomy.

We have little doubt that we have now entered on the most laborious
part of Abernethy’s life, and that, during this and some succeeding
years, his exertions were so great and unremitting, as to have laid the
foundation of those ailments which, at a comparatively early period of
life, began to embitter its enjoyment, and to strew the onward path
with the elements of decay and suffering.

He lectured himself on anatomy, physiology, and pathology, besides
surgery—subjects which are now usually divided between three or four
teachers. There is abundant evidence that he was an attentive observer
of what was going on in the hospital. He was assiduous in visiting most
places where any information was to be obtained. We find him attending
Mr. Hunter’s lectures, and constantly meditating on what he heard
there; thus seeking opportunities of making himself more and more
familiar with those opinions which, in his view, on most of the points
to _which_ they related, _were_ definite—cautiously deduced—not
always clear, perhaps; but, when understood, truthful.

He endeavoured further to mature an accurate perception of Mr.
Hunter’s views, by seeking private conferences with him; and Hunter
kindly afforded him facilities for so doing. We have Abernethy’s
own acknowledgment of this, coupled with his regret that he could
not more frequently avail himself of them. Indeed, when we consider
that Abernethy lived at this time in St. Mary Axe, or in Mildred’s
Court in the Poultry,—that he was lecturing on the sciences I have
mentioned,—that he was observant of cases at the hospital (a very
timeful occupation),—and consider the distance between these points
and Mr. Hunter’s residence in Leicester Square, or his school in
Windmill Street,—we see there could not be much time to spare. It was
not, however, merely during the time at which he was delivering his
lectures that he was thus actively employed. We have, not unfrequently,
evidence that he was often at the hospital late in the day, in the most
leisure season of the year, when perhaps his senior had, during his
absence in the summer, confided the patients to his care.

We used to get, occasionally, such passages as these in the lectures:
“One summer evening, as I was crossing the Square of the hospital,
a student came running to me,” &c. Very significant of continued
attention during the summer or leisure season—he not being, be it
remembered, other than an assistant-surgeon, and not, therefore,
necessarily having duties at the hospital.

At this period, it was a common practice with him to rise as early as
four in the morning. He would sometimes go away into the country, that
he might read, more free from interruption. He also instituted various
experiments, some of which we shall have shortly to notice, for the
philosophical spirit in which they were conducted. His visit to France
must have been made about this time, when the celebrated Desault was
at the height of his reputation. His stay could not have been long, in
all probability; but we have evidence showing how quickly he perceived,
amidst the success of Desault, the more important defects of the
hospital—the Hôtel Dieu—to which he was _chirurgien-en-chef_, and the
influence exerted by them on his practice.

As we shall be obliged again to mention Desault in connection with a
material item in the catalogue of our obligations to Abernethy, we
postpone for the present any further remarks on that distinguished
French surgeon.

Abernethy now continued actively engaged in the study and teaching
of his profession. The most remarkable circumstance at this time of
his life, and for several years, was his peculiar diffidence—an
unconquerable shyness, a difficulty in commanding at pleasure that
self-possession which was necessary to open his lecture. Everything
connected with his lectures is of importance to those who may be
engaged in this mode of teaching, or who may desire to excel in it. No
man ever attained to excellence more varied or attractive; yet many
years elapsed before he had overcome the difficulty to which I have

An old student, who attended his lectures, not earlier than 1795, told
me that he recollected several occasions on which, before beginning
the lecture, he had left the theatre for a time, to collect himself
sufficiently to begin his discourse. On these occasions, a tumult
of applause seemed only to increase the difficulty. The lecture
once commenced, I have no evidence of his having exhibited further
embarrassment. He seems early to have attained that happy manner
which, though no doubt greatly aided by his peculiar and in some sense
dramatic talent, there is every reason to believe had been carefully
cultivated by study and observation.

His lectures continuing to attract a larger and larger class, the
accommodation became inadequate for the increased number of students.
The governors of St. Bartholomew’s, therefore, in 1790, determined on
building a regular theatre within the hospital. It was completed in
1791, and Abernethy gave his October courses of anatomy, physiology,
and surgery of that year in the new theatre. He had thus become the
founder of the School of St. Bartholomew’s, which, for the approaches
it made towards giving a more scientific phase to the practice of
Surgery, was certainly superior to any other.

In expressing this opinion, we except, of course, John Hunter’s
lectures, for the short time that they were contemporaneous with those
of Mr. Abernethy; John Hunter dying, as we have said, in 1793. As St.
Bartholomew’s Hospital was our own Alma Mater, we may, perhaps, speak
with a fallible partiality; but we think not. We are far from being
blind to the faults which Bartholomew’s has, in common with other
schools; and, we believe, regret as much as anybody can do, that the
arrangements of our hospitals, excellent as in many respects they are,
should still so defectively supply many of the requisitions which the
interests of science demand. Some of these defects we may endeavour to
point out in their proper place. We shall now leave the subject of Mr.
Abernethy and his lectures, and begin to consider some of his earlier
efforts at authorship, sketch the objects he had in view, and the mode
of investigation.

[Footnote 15: “The same earth nourishes both wholesome and noxious
plants, and the nettle is often next the rose.”]

[Footnote 16: Professor Owen.]

“All things are but altered, nothing dies,
And here or there the unbodied spirit flies.”


The most universal character impressed on all created things that sense
allows us to recognize, or philosophical inquiry to demonstrate, is

While nothing is more certain, few things pass less observed; or, when
first announced, more stagger conviction.

An old man sees the yew-tree of his boyish days apparently the same.
Gilpin tells us “eight hundred years is no great age for an oak[17]!”

The cliff which we left “beetling” seems to beetle still; mountains
appear to be everlasting; yet, were seas and rivers to disclose even
a small part of their mission, the Danube or the Volga might tell
of millions of tons of soil carried from higher levels to the Black
Sea and the Caspian. Animals, too, are mighty agents in recording
the mutability of the matter of the universe. Coral Reefs, never
spoken of in smaller terms than miles and fathoms, are the vast ocean
structures of countless millions of animalcules, which serve, as it
were, to link together the two great kingdoms of organic nature—the
animal and vegetable creation. The microscopic geologist informs us of
whole strata, well-nigh entirely composed of the silicified skeletons
of insects. Sir Charles Lyell further impresses on us the reality
of continual change, by referring (and, as it would appear, with
increasing probability) even the stupendous changes demonstrated by
geology to the agency of causes still in operation.

Animals, however, besides the curious structures which they combine to
contribute, are individually undergoing constant change. Man is not
only no exception, but he is a “glaring” example.

The whole human race are in hourly progress of mutation. “In the midst
of life we are in death,” is a truth to which physiology yields its
tribute of illustration. Every moment we are having the old particles
of our bodies silently taken away, and new materials as silently laid
down. Surrounding influences, as air, moisture, temperature, &c. which,
during life, are necessary to existence—the moment the breath leaves
us, proceed to resolve the body into the elements of which it was
composed. In all cases, change may be regarded as the combined result
of two forces: the force acting, and the body acted on—that is to say,
of certain external agents and certain forces inherent in the thing

Animals are no exceptions to this view, and diseases are amongst a
multitude of other exemplifications of it; but, in order to distinguish
these more clearly, it is desirable that we should be familiar with
those more ordinary changes in the body which are constantly going on;
and to some of these were Abernethy’s early investigations directed.

In proceeding to give some account of his works, we must be necessarily
more brief than a scientific analysis would require.

To do him full justice, it would be necessary to republish his
writings, with appropriate commentaries. We shall hope, however, to do
enough to relieve his memory from some of the numerous misconceptions
of his principles and opinions; and to endeavour to show his claims to
the respect and gratitude of posterity.

In everything Abernethy did, we find evidence of the acuteness of his
mind, and his general qualifications for philosophical research.

His lectures had gradually attracted an increasing number of students;
and he seems, about 1791, to have been desirous of prefacing his
lectures on Anatomy by discussing the general composition of Animal

The rapid advance of chemistry had given a great impetus to this kind
of investigation. Abernethy was not only well up in the chemistry
of the day, but also not unskilled in the manipulatory application
of it; and he felt interested in observing the great diversity of
substances which appeared to be made up of similar elements. Boyle has
recorded a vast number of facts, many of which would even now well
repay a thoughtful revision; and Fordyce was certainly one of our most
philosophical physicians.

Boyle had grown vegetables in water and air only, and found they
produced woody fibre. Fordyce found that gold fish, placed under
similar conditions, not only lived, but _grew_. Abernethy’s experiments
had for their object to inquire how far organized bodies (animals and
vegetables) were capable of deriving their various structures from
similar simple elements.

He grew vegetables on flannel, wetted from time to time with distilled
water; and then, analyzing them, compared the results with those of the
analysis of vegetables grown in the ordinary manner.

Other curious experiments consisted in pouring concentrated acids on
vegetable structures, with a view to dissolve any alkali or iron which
they might contain, and then analyzing the vegetables so treated.

He now found, in the burnt vegetable, lime, iron, &c. which, had they
been free to combine, should have been taken up by the acid to which he
had subjected the vegetable before he analyzed it; but he found neither
in the _acid_, whilst both were discovered in the _vegetables_.

He also inquired whether tadpoles and leeches would live when kept only
in distilled water, with the admission of air. For example, he placed
twelve leeches in two gallons of distilled water, They weighed, in
all, twelve scruples. In three months, two had died, but the remaining
ten weighed twelve scruples, showing that they had _grown_. He next
inquired whether vegetables, grown in air and distilled water, would
admit of further conversion into the structure of animals; and, for
this purpose, he fed rabbits on vegetables so reared. His rabbits
appear to have eaten about six plates at a meal of young cabbages thus
reared on flannel wetted with distilled water.

He also experimented on eggs, both before and at the time of incubation.

He wished to ascertain the quantity of lime in the chicken and the egg,
respectively; and whether any of the lime was absorbed from the shell,
which it appeared not to be.

It is curious to observe the time and labour he gave to these
experiments; they evince a very perfect knowledge of the chemistry
necessary; whilst the circumstances calculated to interfere with or
obscure the conclusions from them are judiciously and clearly stated.

Many of his remarks, as well as the ingenious suggestions with which
they are interspersed, exemplify the caution with which he reasoned.
In speaking of his experiments on leeches and tadpoles, many of which
latter had become perfectly developed frogs, he says: “The experiments
which I made on this plan (in vessels of distilled water, covered
with linen) were made in the summer, when to prevent vegetation was
impossible; and, on the other hand, when the vessels were covered over,
even leeches died. In the winter, vegetation might cease; but then the
torpid state of the animals would render the experiments inconclusive.”

He reduced an equal number of eggs and chickens (at the time of
incubation) to ashes; sometimes in crucibles, sometimes in retorts. On
the ashes he poured some distilled water, and ascertained the salts
(as lime, &c.) contained in them. In some experiments, the quantity of
these found in the ashes of the chickens greatly exceeded that found in
the ashes of the eggs. In other experiments, the quantities were equal.

In some of his experiments, after using the best chemical tests for
detecting iron, lime, and the salts, and then washing the residue with
distilled water, he burnt it in a crucible, and found more lime and
iron; on which he makes the following remarks, which suggest what we
apprehend, even at this time, is a very necessary caution:

“This circumstance proves to me that the substances found in the
ashes of burnt animal matter do not formally exist in the mass before
its destruction, but are only new distributions of the same ultimate
particles which, under their former mode of arrangement, made the
animal substance; but which, being driven asunder by the repulsive
power of fire, are left at liberty to form other modifications of
matter.” Page 97. Just what happens when animal matter is burned, in
the formation of ammonia, by the union of the nitrogen and hydrogen
then set free.

He investigated, also, the question of how far the results of the
decomposition of animal matter would be identical, if the analyses
were conducted by heat, or by putrefactive decomposition. In this
experiment, he selected blood; and he found that blood which had been
allowed to putrify yielded _a much larger quantity_ of iron and lime.

The whole of the experiments are very suggestive, and full of thought;
and not only indicate very forward views of the elementary constitution
of organic and inorganic matter, but also moot questions which have
not lost any of their interest by the most recent investigations. He
concludes by observing that he had undertaken these experiments for the
reasons already assigned, and because he had imbibed the idea that the
_ultimate particles of matter were the same_.

He remarks that the progress of chemistry had not been applied, in
every respect, to the best purpose; that men’s views were becoming
_contracted_ by being directed to _individual_ objects; and that they
had ceased to contemplate the beautiful and extensive subject of matter
and its combinations; and he complains that even Fourcroi, Lavoisier,
and Chaptal, either avoid the subject, or do not sufficiently consider
it. We must recollect this was said before Sir H. Davy had made his
splendid discoveries. Abernethy, after observing that he hopes his
experiments will induce others to investigate the subject, concludes

“I know not any thought that, on contemplation, can so delight the mind
with admiration of the simplicity and power evident in the operations
of the Creator, as the consideration that, by different arrangement and
motion of singular atoms, He has produced that variety of substances
found in the world, and which are so conducive to the wants and
gratification of the creatures who inhabit it.”



“Mors sola fatetur
Quantula sint hominum corpuscula.”


Amongst a multitude of examples, which teach us how little we can
infer the importance of anything in nature from its size, or other
impressions which it may convey to mere sense, we might adduce the
wonderful little tubes, certain relations of which were the objects of
this paper. Those constant mutations in animal bodies which are every
moment in progress, are, in great part, due to a very curious order
of vessels, of such extreme minuteness and tenuity, that, being in
the dead animal usually empty and transparent, they are very commonly
invisible, and thus long eluded discovery. There is one situation,
however, in which circumstances combine to expose them to observation.
Transparent though they be, they are here usually rendered visible;
first, by being loaded with a milk-like fluid; and secondly, by being
placed between the folds of a membrane, itself beautifully transparent
(the mesentery). This fluid they have just taken up from the digestive
surfaces on which their mouths open, and they are now carrying it off
to pour it into the blood-vessels, that it may be added to the general
stock of the circulation.

In the situation above mentioned they were at length discovered,
about the commencement of the 17th century. Every thing destined to
support the body with new material, as well as the old, which is to be
taken away, must first be sucked up by the myriads of inconceivably
minute mouths of these vessels, which, from their office, are called
the _absorbents_. These absorbents may therefore be regarded as the
sentinels of the body. They are very sensitive and excitable; but,
besides this, there are placed in the course of their journey, from the
surfaces whence they bring their contents, and the blood-vessels to
which they are carrying them, a number of _douaniers_, or custom-house
officers (the glands, or kernels, as they are popularly called),
whereby, as we have every reason to believe, the fluids they are
importing are subjected to rigid examination; and, if found to be
injurious, to some modification, tending to render them more fit for
admission into the system.

If the contents are very irritating, these vigilant guards—these
kernels—become very painfully affected, and sometimes inflammation is
set up, sufficient even to destroy the part; as if, faithful to their
trust, they perished themselves, rather than give entrance to anything
injurious to the body.

We should never advance, however, in our story, if we were to tell all
the interesting peculiarities of these curious vessels.

When first discovered, and the office assigned to them could no longer
be disputed, the general distribution of them was still doubted. As
it was usual to render them visible by filling them with quicksilver,
so, with a kind of reasoning which has too often characterized mere
anatomical research, when they could not be made visible, it became the
fashion to doubt their existence. Amongst other structures, Bone was
formerly one in regard to which people found a difficulty. How could
such delicate vessels exist in such an apparently dense structure? But
Mr. Abernethy, who, like Bacon, had always opposed mere eye-reasoning,
used to observe, with equal simplicity and good sense, that, for his
part, he could see no more difficulty in an absorbent taking up a
particle of bone, than he could in comprehending how a vessel could
lay it down, which nobody doubted. We now know that bone is not only
supplied with all the vessels which characterize a living structure,
but so liberally, that, in comparison with some other structures of the
body, we regard it as a part of high organization.

Nevertheless, the extreme minuteness and transparency of these
absorbent vessels naturally led persons to regard with considerable
interest any magnified view of them, such as that afforded by
larger animals. In the paper before us, which was published in the
“Philosophical Transactions” for 1793, Mr. Abernethy gives the account
of his examination of the absorbents in a whale; and his object was
to help to determine a question long agitated, whether the glands or
kernels were composed of cells, or whether they were merely multiplied
convolutions of vessels. He selected the absorbents from the situation
to which I have already referred. He threw into the arteries which
carry blood to nourish the gland, a red solution containing wax, which
of course became solid on cooling; and into the veins which return the
blood from all parts, a similar solution, only coloured yellow. He
filled the absorbents with quicksilver.

He found, in filling the absorbents, that wherever the quicksilver
arrived at a gland, there was a hesitation—its course became retarded,
and that this retardation was longest at those glands which were
_nearest the source_ whence the vessels had drawn their contents, viz.
the alimentary canal: as if the surfaces over which the fluid had to
pass were more multiplied where most _necessary_, or, recurring to
our metaphor, as if the more strict _douanier_ had been placed on the
frontier. He says that he found that some of the absorbents went _over_
the glands, whilst others _penetrated_ these bodies. That he found that
the melted wax which he had thrown into the vessels had formed round
nodules of various sizes. He then extended his examination of these
vessels to those of horses and other large animals; and the result of
his investigation was, that it inclined him to the conclusion that the
glands were _not merely_ made up of convolutions of vessels, but were
of _a really cellular structure_.

The paper is very modestly put forth, and he concludes it by observing
that he offers it merely for the facts which it contains, and not as
justifying any _final_ conclusion; but “as all our knowledge of the
absorbents,” he continues, “seems to have been acquired by fragments,
I am anxious to add my mite to our general stock of information on the

It may not be uninteresting to some unprofessional readers to know
that the glands here alluded to are the organs which are so seriously
diseased in those lamentable conditions popularly expressed, I believe,
by the term mesenteric disease, or disease of the mesentery.




“The Universal Cause
Acts to one end, but acts by various laws.”


However paradoxical it may appear, it is not the less true, that
nothing more teachingly impresses the inquirer into nature with the
_actual_ presence of general laws than the _apparent_ exceptions to
them. Finite capacities in dealing with the Infinite must of course
encounter multitudes of facts, the meaning of which they cannot
interpret—portions of the Divine Government, as Butler has said, which
they do not as yet understand.

In philosophical investigations, these are properly regarded as facts
which, in the present state of knowledge, cannot be made to fall under
any of our very limited generalizations.

At one period, departures from the ordinary structure or form in
animals were simply regarded as unintelligible abstractions, and
no more philosophical expression was given to them than “Lusus
Naturæ”—sports of Nature. Progressive science, however, has thrown
considerable light on such phenomena, and invested many of them with a
new interest.

Physiologists have not arrived at the explanation of all such facts;
but much has been done by comparative anatomy to show that many of them
are merely arrests of development, and cases of interference with the
ordinary law.

That, in fact, they show the mutual harmony and connection of the
laws of nature to be such, that the development of any one law implies
the concurrence, so to speak, of some other, just as the successful
incubation of an egg, or any other familiar fact, implies the presence
of certain conditions. We cannot boil a drop of water without the
concurrence of various laws: we say it boils ordinarily at 212° of
Fahrenheit; but how many conditions this involves!

Until understood, how few could have guessed that mechanical pressure
could have so modified the degree of heat necessary, as to exalt it
to more than double, or reduce it to less than half; and again, how
few would have looked for the force which, under common circumstances,
governed the point at which water was thus converted into steam, in
the pressure of the atmosphere; yet so mutually influential are these
conditions—namely, heat and a certain pressure in modifying this
change of form or matter—that some of Faraday’s most interesting
results in experimental chemistry (we allude to his reducing several
gaseous bodies to the liquid form) were obtained by _abstracting_ heat
and increasing pressure.

It is of very great consequence to remember these interferences in
relation to disease, because most diseases may be regarded as examples
of them. Considered as “abstract wholes,” as entities—diseases are
necessarily unintelligible: but when looked at as natural processes
obscured by interferences (if the inquiry be conducted with strict
observance of those principles which are essential in all philosophical
researches), they either at once become intelligible, or, at least, as
open to investigation as any other facts in natural philosophy.

When we investigate the laws of nature with a view to the development
of the sublime objects of natural theology, the concurrence of the
various conditions, necessary to the most ordinary phenomenon, inclose
the most irresistible proofs, from natural evidence, of the Unity of
the Creator.

Regarded in the light of facts which we as yet may not be able to
generalise, the cases here recorded by Abernethy are very interesting;
although it is to be regretted that both cases were bodies brought in
for dissection, in times when the circumstances baffled, if they did
not forbid, any inquiry into the histories of them. It is lamentable to
think of the state of the law with respect to Anatomy at that time.

Any surgeon who was convicted of _mala praxis_, resulting from
ignorance of Anatomy, was severely fined, perhaps ruined; and yet so
entirely unprovided were the profession with any _legitimate_ means of
studying Anatomy, that they could only be obtained by a connivance at
practices the most demoralizing and revolting.

Bodies were, in fact, chiefly obtained by the nightly maraudings of a
set of men, who, uninfluenced alike by the repulsions of instinct or
the terrors of law, made their living by the plunder of grave-yards.

Many a tale of horror, no doubt, might be told on this subject.

Graves were very commonly watched; and severe nocturnal conflicts
occurred, which were conducted in a deadly spirit, not difficult to
imagine. We believe all this has passed away; there is no necessity now
for such revolting horrors. The public began to _think_ for themselves,
the _real remedy_ for abuses. But to our cases. Both were curious; the
one was the body of a boy, who did not appear to have been imperfectly
nourished, but in whom the alimentary canal was found to be less than
one-fourth of its natural length, and in which also the relative length
of its two grand divisions was reversed. The smaller in diameter,
usually very much the longer, was so unnaturally short, as not to
exceed in length more than one half of the more capacious but normally
shorter division of the canal.

The other case presented a no less curious departure from the ordinary
arrangement of parts than a reversed position of the heart; which,
instead of being placed with its point as usual on the left side, was
found to have that part situated on the right. In the natural condition
of things, there is a difference on the two sides of the body, in the
manner in which the large vessels are given off to supply the head and
upper extremities. These differences existed, but were reversed; the
arrangement of vessels ordinarily found on the right, being here on
the left side, and _vice versâ_.

In all this, there would be nothing to prevent the heart from pumping
the blood to all parts in the natural way. But another very singular
arrangement was found in relation to the liver. To the unprofessional
reader we should observe, that usually, whilst all other things are
made, or secreted as we term it, from the purer or arterial blood; in
the _human body_, the Bile is secreted from a vein which enters the
liver for that purpose.

Now, in the case before us, this great vein never entered the liver at
all; so that here the bile was separated, like other animal fluids, by
the arteries. The arteries going to the liver were found much larger
than usual.

Mr. Abernethy examined the bile by submitting it to various tests; and
comparing the results with those obtained from ordinary bile, he found
them to be the same. His remarks are, as usual, ingenious and to the
point, and very characteristic of the penetrative perception with which
he seized on the proximate and practical relations of facts. “When we
see the unusual circumstance,” says he, “of secretion taking place
from a _vein_[18], we are apt to conclude that the properties of such
a secretion require that it should be made from venous blood. But, in
this case, we see that bile could be prepared from _arterial_ blood;
and we are led, therefore, so far to modify our conclusion as to infer,
not that venous blood is _necessary_, but that it can be made to answer
the purpose.”

We must not omit that these remarks are supported by comparative
anatomy. As we descend in the scale of creation from the more
complicated organizations to those which are more simple in their
structure or their relations, the arrangement which I have stated as
usual in man no longer obtains, but the bile is secreted from the
arteries as the other fluids of the animal—showing, in fact, that the
inference drawn by Abernethy was the legitimate conclusion.

Since the discovery of this case, one or two others have been observed;
and the opinions of several eminent men, in relation to the bearing
such cases have on the ordinary sources of bile, are described in
Mr. Kiernan’s interesting paper on the Anatomy and Physiology of the
Liver, in the “Philosophical Transactions.” It is very interesting,
particularly to a professional reader, to peruse that discussion, in
order to estimate Mr. Abernethy’s comparatively simple, ready, and, as
it would seem, correct view of the subject.

One other thing we learn from these cases—the extreme importance of
examining bodies whilst their histories and symptoms can be recorded.
It might have been highly useful to science, had the histories of these
cases been known; and the circumstance should be mentioned, as, in some
measure, tending to counterbalance in the public that not unnatural
but (as regards their real interest) not less to be lamented aversion
to the inspection of the dead—a branch only, it is true, but a very
important one of physiological inquiry. It is the only means of which
we can have the comfort of knowing that, however unable we may have
been to arrest disease, we were at least right in the seat we had
assigned to it; but it is infinitely more valuable in disclosing to us
affections of organs which _had given no sign_, and in thus impressing
on us the necessity of taking a wider range in our investigations, and
comprehending in them all _those injurious influences_ which have, _at
various periods_, acted on the body; for we _thus_ obtain an insight
into the nature of disease which _no mere present symptoms_ can ever
afford us.

The repulsions which the public have to overcome are admitted; but let
us not, in common justice, forget those sacrifices of time, labour,
and too often of health also, which are made by the profession. Nor is
it immaterial to mention that it is a service for which they seldom
receive any remuneration, the only incentive being one which, if it
excite no sympathy, is at least entitled to respect—namely, the desire
to improve their knowledge of their profession. There is no doubt of
the deep and common interest which the public and the profession have
in this question; and it is from that conviction that I have ventured
on these few remarks. Abernethy, when he introduced any subject in his
lectures, was accustomed to say at once all that he intended to remark
on it. I beg, in the foregoing observations, to follow his example,
which I trust the reader will accept as an apology for the digression.

[Footnote 17: “Forest Scenery.”]

[Footnote 18: The ordinary plan in respect to bile in the _human_

Continue Reading

In practice

A retrospect of the history of human knowledge offers to our
contemplation few things of deeper interest than the evidence it so
repeatedly affords of some great law which regulates the gradual
development of truth, and determines the Progress of Discovery.

Although knowledge has, at times, appeared to exhibit something of
uniformity in its advances, yet it cannot have escaped the least
observant that, as a whole, the Progress of Science has been marked by
very variable activity—at one time, marvellously rapid; at another,
indefinitely slow; now merged in darkness or obscurity; and now blazing
forth with meridian splendour.

We observe a series of epochs divided by intervals of great apparent
irregularity—intervals which we can neither calculate nor explain; but
which, nevertheless, exhibit a periodicity, which the very irregularity
serves to render striking and impressive.

We may remark, also, a peculiar fitness in the minds of those to whom
the enunciation of truth has been successively entrusted: a fitness,
not merely for the tasks which have been assigned to each, as the
special mission of the individual, but also in the relations of
different minds to each other. This adaptation to ends which individual
minds have unconsciously combined to accomplish, might be illustrated
by many examples, from the earliest records of antiquity, down to
our own times. This would be incompatible with our present purpose.
We will therefore only refer to one or two illustrations, which, as
being familiar, will serve to show what we mean, and to lead us, not
unnaturally, to our more immediate object.

We cannot contemplate men like Bacon, Galileo, and Kepler, for example,
without feeling how auspicious the precession of such minds must have
been to the development of the genius of Newton[1]. Newton was born
the same year that Galileo died. There is something very interesting
and significant too in the peculiar powers of Kepler. Prolific in
suggestion, great in mathematical ability, elaborate in analysis, and
singularly truthful in spirit, Kepler exemplified two things. These,
though very distinct from each other, were both equally instructive;
both alike suggestive of the link he represented in the chain of
progress. In the laws he discovered, he showed the harvest seldom
withheld from the earnest search for truth; but the enormous labour of
the mode in which he conducted his researches, as well as the limits
prescribed to his discoveries, exemplify the evils which, even in a man
of the greatest power, result from proceeding too much on hypothesis.
Now it is interesting to remember that this was coincident with the
dawning of that glorious light, the Inductive philosophy of Bacon, and
shortly succeeded by the splendid generalization of Newton.

In like manner, if we think of the discoveries of Sir Humphrey
Davy—their nature and relations to physiology as well as
chemistry,—we see how much there might have been that was preparatory,
and, to a mind like Davy’s, suggestive, in the investigations of
preceding and contemporaneous philosophers. Priestly had discovered
oxygen gas; Galvani and Volta had shown those remarkable phenomena
which constitute that important branch of knowledge, “Voltaic
electricity;” Berzelius had effected the decomposition of certain salts
by the Voltaic pile; and Lavoisier had even predicted as _probable_
what Davy was destined to demonstrate[3]

In medical science, few things have been more talked of than the
discovery of the circulation of the blood. Now it is curious to observe
that every fact essential to the demonstration of it had been made
out by previous investigators[4] but no one had deduced from them the
discovery of the circulation until Harvey, although it was a conclusion
scarcely more important than obvious.

There is surely something very encouraging in the reflection, that
the advance of knowledge thus results from the accumulated labours of
successive minds. It suggests, that however unequally the honours may
appear to be distributed—however humble, in our eyes, the function of
those who unconsciously prepare the way to great discoveries,—still
it may involve a duty no less important than the more lofty mission
of enunciating them. The importance of a man’s mission can never be
estimated by human judgment. We can never know the mission; still less
its relations to the power, or the temptations by which that power has
been assailed. The most humble may here often approach as nearly to his
duty, as the most gifted may have fallen short of it. Our faculties
cannot penetrate the matter. We often see men placed in positions for
which they appear wholly unfitted—men who seem to be bars to that
progress which we should fancy it their duty to promote. Again, we
observe that almost all great discoveries have to encounter opposition,
persecution, obloquy, or derision; and when they are established, a
host of claimants rise up to dispute the property with the rightful
owner. A man who is in earnest cares little for these things. They may
at times discourage and disappoint him; but they only strengthen his
faith, that a day will come when an unerring justice will accord to
every useful improvement its proper place and distinction.

Humanly speaking, we naturally ascribe discoveries to those who have
practically demonstrated them; but when we examine all the clues
which have been furnished by previous observers, we frequently have
misgivings as to the justice of our decisions. In our admiration of
the successful labour of the recent inquirer, we sometimes forget the
patient industry of the early pioneer. With regard to those laws which
govern the human body, we cannot suppose that the development of them
can be destined to progress on any plan less determined than other
branches of human inquiry. But in all laws of nature we know that
there are interferences which, until explained, serve to obscure or
altogether to conceal the law from our view.

In relation to the Physiological laws, these interferences are very
numerous. 1st. Many are furnished by the physical laws; many more
arise from the connection of the physiological with the moral laws,
and especially from the abuse of (a responsible) volition. These
interferences, however, when their nature is clearly developed,
beautifully illustrate the laws they at first obscured; for the common
characters of subjects, in which the law is usually exemplified, are
brought out into higher relief by the very diversities in the midst of
which they occur. The progress of mankind towards a popular familiarity
with this fact, is necessarily slow; but still we think it plainly
perceptible. An individual life, indeed, however distinguished,
represents a mere point in time; it affords little scope for
considering, much less for estimating, as they occur, the true meaning
of various events, which nevertheless ultimately prove to have had
important influence on the progress of knowledge.

These are world-wide things, which we must survey as the geologist does
the facts concerning which he inquires. We must endeavour to combine,
in one view, facts over which long periods of time may have rolled
away, with such as are still passing around us. This will frequently
suggest designs and relations altogether unobservable by the mere
abstract inquirer. In the course of the following pages, a further
opportunity may occur for a few remarks on such views; the elaborate
discussion of the subject would be altogether beyond our present

It will be our endeavour to point out the position occupied by
Abernethy, in that (as we trust) gradually dawning science, to a
particular phase of which our object and our limits will alike restrict
our attention. We mean that period when Surgery, having approached to
something like a zenith as a mere practical _art_, began to exhibit,
by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, some faint characters of
science—a shadowy commencement of a metamorphose, which we believe
promises to convert (though we fear at a period yet distant) a
monstrous hybrid of mystery and conjecture into the symmetrical beauty
of an Inductive science—a science based on axioms and laws which are
constantly exerting a powerful influence on the social progress and the
health of nations.

In considering Hunter and Abernethy, we shall see not only a remarkable
adaptation for the tasks in which they were respectively engaged,
but also how the peculiar defects of the one were supplied by the
characteristic excellences of the other. We shall see that they
cooperated in laying open clear and definite objects; and that, though
their modes of inquiry were far from fulfilling the requisitions of
an Inductive science, they were eminently calculated to suggest the
convenience, and impress the necessity of it.

We no sooner begin to inquire with clear and definite purpose, than we
are led to the means necessary for the attainment of it.

Abernethy himself, in speaking of the ordinary resources of daily
practice, used to say: “If a man has a clear idea of what he desires to
do, he will seldom fail in selecting the proper means of accomplishing

So, in gathering the materials for building up a science, the first
thing is, to be clear as to those things in which it is deficient. This
once determined, all may lend assistance; and this very division of
labour, when directed with definite purpose, may render even men most
addicted to narrow and partial inquiries, contributors to a great and
common object.

In this way, those blows and discouragements so common in the infancy
of science, which test our motives and try our patience, may prove
tolerable when distributed over the many, instead of proving, as is too
common, depressing or destructive when bearing only on the efforts of
the few.

If we desire to shorten this labour, we need scarcely say there is no
way of doing it but by the adoption of that mode of proceeding to which
every other branch of science owes its present position.

I mean the rigid suspension of all hypotheses, setting to work by
collecting _all_ the facts in relation to the subject, and dealing with
them in strict compliance with the precepts of common sense—or, what
is the same thing, Inductive philosophy.

This will soon show us the just amount of the debt we owe to Hunter
and Abernethy; and, in leading us onwards, instructively point out why
these great men did not farther increase our obligations.

We shall see how the industry and circumspection of the Argus-eyed
Hunter, as Abernethy used to call him, enabled him to unfold a legend
in nature, which he had neither length of days, sufficient opportunity,
nor perhaps aptitude, wholly to decipher; and how far it was developed
into practical usefulness by the penetrative sagacity and happy genius
of Abernethy; which, like light in darkness, guides and sustains
immediate research, and animates and encourages onward inquiry. To
appreciate Abernethy, however, it is necessary that the public should
have correct views at _least_ of the _general_ nature and objects of
Medical Science.

The public have not only a very real interest in acquiring a sound
common-sense view of the objects of medicine and surgery, but a far
deeper interest than it is possible for any one medical man to have,
merely as such, or all medical men put together. This may, for the
moment, appear startling to those who have not been compelled to
consider the subject; but the reader may glean even from this volume,
that so long as life or health, or even money, has value, the remark
is strictly true. From all sides mankind have hitherto imbibed little
but error. They have been taught or induced to believe that the only
objects of medicine and surgery are to prevent or relieve diseases
and accidents by the astute employment of drugs, or by certain adroit
manipulatory or mechanical proceedings, and _par excellence_ by
“operations.” Now here is a great mistake—an idea so far from true,
that nothing can more delusively define, or more entirely conceal, the
higher objects of the science.

The direct contrary of the proposition would be nearer the truth. It
would be _more_ correct to say that the object was to relieve diseases
and accidents by removing all interferences with the reparative powers
of nature; and that this was accomplished more perfectly in proportion
as we were enabled to _dispense_ with the employment of drugs, or the
performance of operations.

The making the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear,
were chosen amongst the appropriate symbols of a Divine Mission; and
we need scarcely observe, that, in the restricted sphere of human
capacity, this is a portion of the mission of every conscientious

We may well, therefore, be dissatisfied with the narrow, not to say
degrading, definition of our duties too generally entertained; but, on
the other hand, if we would realize our claims to these higher views
of our calling, and enlarge the sphere of its practical usefulness,
we should recollect there is only one way of attaining that object;
and that is, by the applied interpretation of those symbols, no less
miraculous, no less certain manifestations of Divine Power, the “Laws
of Nature.” To name a science from something not essential to it, is
like naming a class of animals from some exceptional peculiarity in an
individual. It is as if we would infer the mission of the ocean wave
from the scum sometimes seen on its surface; or the purposes served by
a feather, from the use we make of it in writing, rather than from its
common character of levity and toughness; as if we treated an exception
as a rule, or any other manifest absurdity.

We have no opportunity of entering more fully into this important
distinction of the more lofty objects of our profession, as contrasted
with those usually assigned to it; we must therefore rest satisfied in
having awakened the reader’s attention to the subject, and proceed to
the more ordinary objects of Biographical Memoir.

John Abernethy was born in London, in the parish of St. Stephen’s,
Coleman Street, on the 3rd of April, 1764, exactly one year after
John Hunter settled in London. It is also interesting to remark, that
Abernethy’s first work, his “Surgical and Physiological Essays”—Part
I—was published the same year that Hunter died, 1793; so that, whilst
his birth occurred nearly at the same time as the commencement of the
more sustained investigations of Hunter, his opening contribution to
science was coincident with the close of the labours of his illustrious
friend and predecessor.

The Abernethy family in their origin were possibly Scotch, and formed
one of those numerous inter-migrations between Scotland and the north
of Ireland, which, after lapse of time, frequently render it difficult
to trace the original stock. There seems little doubt they had resided
for some generations in Ireland. John Abernethy, who was the pastor of
a Coleraine congregation, in 1688, was an eminent Protestant dissenting
minister, and the father of one still more distinguished. The son (also
named John) had been for some time pastor of the old congregation
of Antrim, whence he removed to Dublin about the year 1733, to take
charge of the Wood Street, now Strand Street, Dublin. He is the author
of several volumes of sermons, which are not a little remarkable for
clearness of thought, and the earnestness of purpose, with which
they inculcate practical piety. He had a son who was a merchant, who
subsequently removed to London, and traded under the firm of Abernethy
and Donaldson, in Rood Lane, Fenchurch Street. This gentleman married
a lady whose name was Elizabeth Weir, daughter of Henry and Margaret
Weir, of the town of Antrim, and they had two sons and three daughters.

James[5], the elder brother, was also in business as a merchant, and
died about the year 1823. He was a man of considerable talent, spoke
with an accent suggestive of an Irish origin, and was remarkable for
his admiration and critical familiarity with our immortal Shakspeare.
He was probably born before his father left Ireland. John, the second
son, the subject of our Memoir, was, as we have already said, born in
London. The register of his christening at St. Stephen’s is as follows:

{ 1765.
Abernethy { John, son of
{ John and Elizabeth,
{ April, 24.

This register would suggest that he was born a year later than I
have stated. I have, however, preferred 1764, as the year adopted by
his family; for although a man’s birth is an occurrence respecting
the date of which he is not the very best authority, he usually gets
his information from those who are. Besides, it was no uncommon
thing at that time to defer the christening of children for a much
longer period. The education of his early childhood was, most likely,
altogether conducted at home; but it is certain that, while yet very
young, he was sent to the Grammar School at Wolverhampton. Here he
received the principal part of his education; and though the records
are somewhat meagre, yet they tend to show that at an early age he
manifested abilities, both general and peculiar, which were indicative
of no ordinary mind; and which, though they do not necessarily
prefigure the future eminence at which he arrived, were sufficiently
suggestive of the probability that, whatever his career might be, he
would occupy a distinguished position.

[Footnote 1:

Born. Died.
Galileo 1564 1642.
Kepler 1571 1630.
Bacon 1561 1626.
Newton 1642[2] 1727.]

[Footnote 2: The same year that Galileo died.]

[Footnote 3:

Born. Died.
Priestly 1733 1804.
Galvani 1737 1798.
Volta 1745 1826.
Lavoisier 1743 1794.
Crauford 1749 1795.
Hunter 1728 1793.
Davy 1778 1829.]

[Footnote 4: The valvular contrivances in the veins and heart, which
showed that the blood could move in only one direction, had been either
observed, described, or their effects respectively remarked on, by Paul,
Sylvius, Michael Servetus, Realdus Columbus, Andreas Cesalpinus, and
especially by Fabricius ab Aquapendente, of whom Harvey was a pupil.]

[Footnote 5: In a polite letter which I recently received from a
distinguished pupil of Abernethy’s (Dr. Butter, of Plymouth), I find
that James Abernethy died of apoplexy, at Plymouth.]

“Ah, happy hills! ah, pleasing shade!
Ah, fields beloved in vain,
Where once my careless childhood stray’d,
A stranger yet to pain.”


Mankind naturally feel an interest in the boyhood of men of genius;
but it often happens that very little attention is paid to early
indications; and, when observed, it is certain that they are often
interpreted very falsely.

Nothing more emphatically suggests how much we have to learn on this
subject, than the obscurity which so often hangs over the earlier years
of distinguished men. At school, a number of variable organizations
are subjected to very much the same influences; the necessity for
generalization affords little opportunity for individual analysis. The
main road is broad and familiar; there is no time for indulging in
bye-paths, even should the master have the penetration to perceive,
in individual cases, the expediency of such selection. Hence the
quickening of those impulses, on which the development of character
so much depends, is greatly a matter of uncertainty. The moment boys
leave school, on the contrary, this uniformity of external influences
is replaced by an interminable diversity; at home, scarcely two boys
being subjected to exactly the same. Thus, in many instances, it would
be easier to deduce the character of the boy from the man, than to have
predicted the man from the boy. The evidences of the one are present to
us, those of the other may have been entirely unelicited, unobserved,
or forgotten.

We cannot wonder, then, that expectation should have been so often
disappointed in the boy, or that excellences little dreamt of should
have been developed in the man.

Dryden, who, regarded in the triple capacity of poet, prose-writer,
and critic, is hardly second to any English author, took no honour at
the University. Swift, perhaps our best writer of pure English, whose
talents proved scarcely less versatile and extraordinary than they
had appeared restricted and deficient, was “plucked” for his degree,
in Dublin, and only obtained his recommendation to Oxford “_speciali
gratia_” as it was termed. The phrase, however, being obviously
equivocal, and used only in the bad sense at Dublin, was, fortunately
for Swift, interpreted in a good sense at Oxford—a misapprehension
which Swift, of course, was at no pains to remove.

Sheridan was remarkable for his readiness, his invention, and his
wit; as a writer, he showed considerable powers of sustained thought
also. He had an habitual eloquence, and, on one occasion, delivered
an oration before one of the most distinguished audiences that the
world ever saw[6], with an effect that seems to have rivalled the most
successful efforts of Cicero, or even Demosthenes. Yet he had shown so
little capacity as a boy, that he was presented to a tutor by his own
mother with the complimentary accompaniment that he was an incorrigible

Some boys live on encouragement, others seem to work best “up stream.”
Niebuhr, the traveller, the father of a son no less illustrious, with
anything but an originally acute mind, seems to have overcome every
disadvantage which the almost constant absence of opportunity could
combine. Those who are curious in such matters might easily multiply
examples of the foregoing description, and add others where—as in
the case of Galileo, Newton, Wren, and many others—the predictions
suggested by early physical organization proved as erroneous as the
intellectual indications to which we have just adverted.

The truth is, we have a great deal to learn on the subject of mind,
although there is no want of materials for instruction. Medicine and
surgery are not the only branches of knowledge which require the aid of
strictly inductive inquiry. In all, the materials (facts) are abundant.

In Abernethy there was a polarity of character, an individuality,
a positiveness of type, which would have made the boy a tolerably
intelligible outline of the future man. The evidence is imperfect; it
is chiefly drawn from the recollections of a living few, who, though
living, have become the men of former days; but still the evidence all
inclines one way.

We can quite imagine a little boy, “careless in his dress, not
slovenly,” with his hands in his pockets, some morning about the year
1774, standing under the sunny side of the wall, at Wolverhampton
Grammar School[7]; his pockets containing, perhaps, a few shillings,
some halfpence, and a knife with the point broken, a pencil, together
with a tolerably accurate sketch of “Old Robertson’s” wig. This
article, as shown in an accredited portrait[8] now lying before us,
was one of those enormous bygone bushes which represented a sort of
impenetrable fence round the cranium, as if to guard the precious
material within. The said boy just finishing a story to his laughing
companions, though no sign of fun appeared in him, save a little curl
of the lip, and a smile which would creep out of the corner of his
eye in spite of him. I have had the good fortune to find no less than
three schoolfellows of Abernethy, who are still living: John Fowler,
Esq. of Datchet, a gentleman whom I have had the pleasure of knowing
for many years, and who enjoys, in honourable retirement at his country
seat, at the age of eighty-two, the perfect possession of all his
faculties; William Thacker[9], Esq. of Muchall, about two miles from
Wolverhampton, who is in his eighty-fifth year; T. Tummins, Esq. of
King Street, Wolverhampton, who is in his eighty-seventh year. To
these gentlemen, and to J. Wynn, Esq. also of Wolverhampton, I am
principally indebted for the few reminiscences I have been able to
collect of the boyish days of Abernethy.

The information which I gained from Mr. Fowler, he gave me himself; he
also kindly procured me a long letter from Mr. Wynn. The reminiscences
of Mr. Tummins and Mr. Thacker, I have obtained through the very
courteous and kind assistance of the Rev. W. White, the late[10]
distinguished head master of the Wolverhampton School.

To all of these gentlemen I cannot too strongly express my thanks,
for the prompt and kind manner in which they have replied to all the
enquiries which have been addressed to them. The following are the
principal facts which their letters contain, or the conclusions they
justify. Abernethy must have gone to Wolverhampton when very young,
probably; I should say certainly before 1774. He was brought by Dr.
Robertson from London, with another pupil, “his friend Thomas;” and
the “two Londoners” boarded with Dr. Robertson. When Mr. Fowler went
there in 1778, Abernethy was high up in the school, and ultimately got
to the head of the senior form. He must have left Wolverhampton in all
probability not later than 1778, because Dr. Robertson resigned the
head mastership in that year; and we know that in the following (1779),
when he was fifteen, Abernethy was apprenticed to Sir Charles Blicke.

Mr. Thacker says he was very studious, clever, a good scholar,
humorous, but very passionate. Mr. Tummins, Mr. Thacker says, knew
Abernethy well. Abernethy used to go and dine frequently with Mr.
Tummins’s father. Mr. Tummins says “Abernethy was a sharp boy, a very
sharp boy, and a very passionate one too. Dr. Robertson,” he says, “was
also a very passionate man.”

One day, Abernethy had to “do” some Greek Testament; and it appeared
that he set off very glibly, having a “crib” in the shape of a Greek
Testament, with a Latin version on the other side. The old Doctor,
suspecting the case, discovered the crib, and the pupil was instantly
“levelled with the earth.” This _fortiter in re_ plan of carrying the
intellect by a _coup-de-main_, has, as the late head master observed,
been replaced by more refined modes of proceeding. The more energetic
plan was (however coarse and objectionable) not always unsuccessful
in implanting a certain quantity of Latin and Greek. Abernethy was a
very fair Latin scholar, and he certainly had not, at one period, a bad
knowledge of Greek also.

There are, however, many other things to be learnt besides Latin and
Greek; and it is probable that the more measured reliance on such
violent appeals, which characterizes modern education, might have
been better suited to Abernethy. To a boy who was naturally shy, and
certainly passionate, such mechanical illustrations of his duty were
likely to augment shyness into distrust, and to exacerbate an excitable
_temper_ into an irritable _disposition_.

Abernethy, in chatting over matters, was accustomed jocularly to
observe that, for his part, he thought his mind had, on some subjects,
what he called a “_punctum saturationis_;” so that “if you put anything
more into his head, you pushed something out.” If so, we may readily
conceive that this plan of forcing in the Greek, might have forced out
an equivalent quantity of patience or self-possession. It is difficult
to imagine anything less appropriate to a disposition like Abernethy’s
than the discipline in question. It was, in fact, calculated to create
those very infirmities of character which it is the object of education
to correct or remove.

It seems that neither writing nor arithmetic were taught in the
school; and “Tummins and Abernethy” used to go to learn these matters
at the school of a Miss Ready, in King Street, Wolverhampton. This
lady appears to have had, like Dr. Robertson, a high opinion of what
the profession usually term “local applications” in the conduct of
education. Many years afterwards, she called upon Mr. Abernethy. He was
then in full practice in London. He received her with the greatest
kindness, begged her to come and dine with him as often as she could
while she stayed in London; and, introducing her to Mrs. Abernethy,
said: “I beg to introduce to you a lady who has boxed my years many a

Had Miss Ready, however, heard us call in question the necessity
of this association of boxing ears and quill-driving, she would
probably have retorted on us, that few men wrote so good a hand as
John Abernethy. It is certain that, _brusque_ as the discipline might
have been, or ill-suited to the disposition of Abernethy, it did not
interfere with the happiness of his schoolboy life. He always looked
back to his days at Wolverhampton with peculiar pleasure, and seemed to
regard every association with the place with affectionate remembrance.

Mr. Wynn observes, in his letter: “About twenty years ago I accompanied
a patient to Mr. Abernethy. After prescribing, he said, ‘let me see
you again in about a week,’ ‘We cannot, for we are returning into the
country.’ ‘Why, where do you live?’ ‘Wolverhampton.’ ‘Wolverhampton?
Why, I went to school there. Come, sit down, and tell me who’s alive
and who’s dead.’ After running over the names of some of the old
families, their health, circumstances, &c. he wished us good morning,
saying, ‘Ah! I cannot forget Wolverhampton!'”

Mr. Thacker’s note I subjoin, written in a good firm hand, at

“Muchall, near Wolverhampton,
“May 17, 1852.


“As a boy, I remember John Abernethy and William Thomas coming
from London to board with, and as scholars to, Dr. Robertson, the
head master of the Wolverhampton School, in which there were two
masters, both clergymen. We were formed into several classes, in
which John Abernethy, William Thomas, Walter Acton Mosely, and
myself, formed one. Abernethy took the head or top of the class;
but the boys used to change places in the classes according to
their proficiency; but I do not recollect that Abernethy ever took
a third place in the class. So also in his sports, he usually made
a strong side, for he was remarkably quick and active, and soon
learned a new game. He had but one fault that I knew of—he was
rather hasty and impetuous in his manner, but it was soon over and

“The ‘Doctor,’ as we used to call him (Robertson), had a daughter
grown up, and she used to hear the boarders in the house read
plays before her father, in which, in particular passages, she
showed where the emphasis should be laid, and how to pronounce the
same properly; this occasioned the use of the play of ‘Cato,’ and
originated the boys’ performance of that play in the school-room
before their fathers and friends. I do not remember the part that
Abernethy took in that play. I have applied to Mr. Tummins of
Wolverhampton, but his memory does not supply information. He knew
Mr. Abernethy well.

“If I recollect any others of my schoolfellows who knew him, I will
apply to them for information, and communicate the same to you

“I am, Sir,
“Your obedient servant,

“To George Macilwain, Esq.”

We learn from another reminiscent, that in the play at Wolverhampton
Abernethy took a “principal part.” He certainly had a good deal of
dramatic talent, in the highest sense of the word; and, as will be seen
in the sequel, could light up a story with rich humour, or clothe it
with pathos, as suited the occasion, with equal facility. Scanty as
they are, there is much in these school reminiscences significant of
his future character.

As we have observed, Abernethy left Wolverhampton in 1778. He was
then head of the school, a quick, clever boy, and more that an
average scholar. He returned to London, that world of hopes, fears,
and anxieties; that spacious arena, on which all are desirous of
entering as competitors who are ambitious of professional or commercial

[Footnote 6: We allude to his first speech on the trial of Warren

[Footnote 7: Wolverhampton School, founded by Sir Stephen Jermyn,
Alderman and Knight of the City of London, in the reign of Henry
VIII, for the “Instruction of youth in morals and learning.” Many
distinguished men were educated at the School; as Abernethy; Mr. Tork,
fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge; Sir William Congreve; and others.]

[Footnote 8: Kindly sent us by Mr. Fowler, of Datchet.]

[Footnote 9: This gentleman died last year. He had retired to his seat
at Muchall, from Wolverhampton, where he had practised as a solicitor
of great eminence and respectability.]

[Footnote 10: Since the last edition, I have to regret the death of
this gentleman. He was an excellent man, a good mathematician, and an
accomplished scholar. He graduated at Cambridge, and took honors in

“Nunquam ita quisquam bene subductâ ratione ad vitam fuit
Quin res, ætas, usus, semper aliquid apportet novi
Aliquid moneat; ut illâ quæ te scire credas, nescias:
Et quæ tibi putâris primâ, in experiundo repudias.”

TER. AD. A. 5, SC. 4.

“Never did man lay down so fair a plan,
So wise a rule of life, but fortune, age,
Or long experience made some change in it,
And taught him that those things he thought he knew,
He did not know, and what he held as best
In practice, he threw by.”


Circumstances, in themselves apparently unimportant, often determine
the selection of a profession. Few boys can do exactly what they
please, and the _pros_ and _cons_ are seldom placed before them in
a way to assist them in determining the just value of the reasons
on which their choice may have proceeded. They are not, indeed,
unfrequently dealt with as if, whilst not incompetent to make choice of
a profession, they were held incapable of weighing the circumstances by
which alone such choice could be judiciously directed. The absurdity
of this appears, when we think a moment of what it involves, which is
nothing less than expecting them to do what is impossible; viz. to
form an opinion on a subject when the main facts in relation to it are
withheld from them. Be this as it may, every day shows us that men are
too frequently dissatisfied with the profession which they follow. The
question of our boyhood recollections—

“Qui fit Mæcenas ut nemo quam sibi sortem,
Seu ratio dederit seu fors objecerit, illâ,
Contentus vivat?”[11]

is just as applicable as ever; and although human nature has almost
everything ascribed to its natural infirmities, yet it appears quite as
sensible, and not a whit less humble, to conclude, that paths chosen
without consideration naturally lead to disappointment. The evil, like
most others, carries with it the elements of self correction.

Parents are slow to encourage their children to select paths which they
themselves have trodden with regret. This tends to distribute their
professions to other families. Mutual interchanges of this kind serve
to protect the interests of society, by, in some degree, limiting the
number of cases in which men have failed to select the pursuits best
adapted to them.

In almost all pursuits of life, success is determined, much more than
many are disposed to imagine, by the homely qualities of steadiness and
industry. We are apt—and sometimes not improperly—to ascribe peculiar
_excellence_ to peculiar powers. Yet the more insight we obtain into
the histories of men, the more we perceive how constantly the most
brilliant have been aided by the more homely qualifications to which we
have adverted.

No doubt some minds are so constituted as to be moderately certain
of success or distinction in almost any pursuit to which they might
have been directed; and we are disposed to think that Abernethy’s was
a mind of that order; but there is abundant evidence to show that
his talents were at least equalled by his industry. One paper of
his, which contains a beautiful and discriminative adjustment of a
difficult point of practice in Injuries of the Head—which contains no
intrinsic evidence of such industry—was not published until after he
had attended to every serious injury of the head in a large hospital
for almost twenty years; besides examining the bodies of all the
fatal cases. Nor can we estimate this industry properly, without
recollecting that all this time he was only an _assistant surgeon_,
whose duties, for the _most_ part, neither required nor _permitted_ him
to do more than to _observe_ the treatment; and that, therefore, the
whole of this industry was simply in the character of a student of his
profession[12]. All biography is full of this kind of evidence; and
art, as well as science, furnishes its contribution. Who could have
imagined that the peculiar, chaste composition, the easy and graceful
touch of Sir Augustus Callcott, could have owed so much to industry
as it undoubtedly must have done? It is known, for example, that he
made no less than forty different sketches in the composition of one
picture. We allude to his “Rochester.” Had Abernethy been allowed to
choose his profession, he, no doubt, would have selected the Bar. It
is impossible to reflect on the various powers he evinced, without
feeling that, had he followed the law, he would have arrived at a very
distinguished position. “Had my father let me be a lawyer,” he would
say, “I should have known every Act of Parliament by heart.” This,
though no doubt intended as a mere figure of speech, was not so far
from possibility as might be imagined, for it referred to one of his
most striking characteristics; viz. a memory alike marvellously ready,
capacious, and retentive—qualities common enough separately, but rare
in powerful combination.

We may have opportunities by and by, perhaps, of further illustrating
it. We will give one anecdote here. A gentleman, dining with him on a
birthday of Mrs. Abernethy’s, had composed a long copy of verses in
honour of the occasion, which he repeated to the family circle after
dinner. “Ah!” said Abernethy, smiling, “that is a good joke, now, your
pretending to have written those verses.” His friend simply rejoined,
that, such as they were, they were certainly his own. After a little
good-natured bantering, his friend began to evince something like
annoyance at Abernethy’s apparent incredulity; so, thinking it was
time to finish the joke, “Why,” said Abernethy, “I know those verses
very well, and could say them by heart[13].” His friend declared it
to be impossible; when Abernethy immediately repeated them throughout
correctly, and with the greatest apparent ease. To return. However
useful this quality might have been at the Bar, Abernethy was destined
to another course of life—a pathway more in need, perhaps, of that
light which his higher qualifications enabled him to throw over it,
and which “his position” “in time” afforded him an opportunity of
doing just when it seemed most required. He probably thus became, both
during life and prospectively, the instrument of greater good to his
fellow-creatures than he would have been in any other station whatever.

I have not been able to discover what the particular circumstances were
which determined his choice of the medical profession. It is probable
that they were not very peculiar. A boy thwarted in his choice of a
profession, is generally somewhat indifferent as to the course which
is next presented to him; besides, as his views would not have been
opposed but for some good reason, a warm and affectionate disposition
would induce him to favour any suggestion from his parents. Sir Charles
Blicke was a surgeon in large practice; he lived at that time in
Mildred’s Court, and Abernethy’s father was a near neighbour, probably
in Coleman Street.

Abernethy had shown himself a clever boy, a good scholar; and he was
at the top of Wolverhampton School before he was fifteen. Sir Charles
Blicke was quick-sighted, and would easily discover that Abernethy was
a “sharp boy.” All that Abernethy probably knew of Sir Charles, was,
that he rode about in his carriage, saw a good many people, and took a
good many fees, all of which, though perhaps presenting no particular
attractions for Abernethy, made a _primâ facie_ case, which was not
repulsive. Accordingly, in the year 1779, being then fifteen years of
age, he became bound an apprentice to Sir Charles, and, probably, for
about five years.

This first step, this apprenticing, has a questionable tendency as
regards the interests of the public and the profession. It exerts,
also, a considerable influence on the character and disposition of
the boy, which we must by and by consider. It is a mode of proceeding
which, we fear, has done not a little to impede the progress of
surgery as a science, and to maintain that handicraft idea of it
suggested by the etymology of the word. Where one man strikes out a
new path, thousands follow the beaten track. A boy, with his mind
ill-prepared, having no _definite_ ideas of the nature and objects of
scientific inquiries, and almost certainly uninstructed as to the rules
to be observed in conducting them—knowing neither any distinction
between an art and a science—a boy thus conditioned is bound for a
certain number of _years_! to a man of whom he knows little, and to
a profession of which he knows nothing. He takes his ideas and his
tone from his master; or, if these be repulsive to him, he _probably
adopts an opposite extreme_. If the master practise his profession
merely as an art, he furnishes his pupil with little more than a string
of conventionalisms; of which, if the pupil has talent enough to do
anything for himself, he is tolerably certain to have a great deal to

We believe the system is in course of improvement; it is high time it
was put an end to altogether. Apprenticeships might not have been an
inauspicious mode of going to work in former times, when there existed
barber-surgeons. This alliance of surgery and shaving, to say nothing
of the numerous other qualifications with which they were sometimes
associated, might conceivably enough have furnished some pretext for
apprenticeships; since Dickey Gossip’s definition of

“Shaving and tooth-drawing,
Bleeding, cabbaging, and sawing,”

was by no means always sufficiently comprehensive to include the
multifarious accomplishments of “the doctor.” I have myself seen,
in a distant part of this island, within twenty-five years, chemist,
druggist, surgeon, apothecary, and the significant &c. followed by the
hatter, hosier, and linen-draper, in one establishment; but as we shall
have to discuss this subject more fully in relation to Abernethy in
another place, we may proceed.

Sir Charles Blicke had a large and lucrative practice. He had the
character of taking care to be well remunerated for his services. He
amassed a considerable fortune; but we incline to think that the ideas
of the profession which Abernethy derived from his experience of his
apprenticeship were not very favourable. The astute, business-like mode
of carrying on the profession, which seems to have characterized Sir
Charles Blicke’s practice, could have had few charms for Abernethy.
Mere money-making had never at any time much attraction for him, and,
at that period of his life, probably none at all; whilst the measured
pretensions of surgery to anything like a science could hardly have
been, at times, otherwise than repulsive.

The tone in which he usually spoke of Sir Charles’s practice did not
convey a very favourable idea of the impression which it had left on
him. In relating a case, he would say: “Sir Charles was at his house
in the country, where he was always on the look out for patients.” On
another occasion, speaking of patients becoming faint under peculiar
circumstances, he observed: “When I was an apprentice, my master used
to say: ‘Oh, Sir! you are faint; pray drink some of this water.’ And
what do you think was the effect of his putting cold water into a man’s
stomach under these circumstances? Why, of course, that it was often
rejected in his face.”

Sir Charles’s manipulatory and operative proceedings seem, however, to
have represented a tolerably adroit adoption of the prevailing modes of
practice; while his medical surgery consisted chiefly of the empirical
employment of such remedies as he had found most frequently successful,
or, at all events, somehow or other associated with a successful issue;
with the usual absence of any investigation of the cause of either
success or failure. By a mind like Abernethy’s, this sort of routine
would be very soon acquired, and, in a short time, estimated at its
real value. Still, while a clear head is all that is necessary to the
reception of what may be positive and truthful, it requires a vivid
perception and a cultivated understanding to detect error. Many things,
however, would creep out in Abernethy’s lectures, showing that, young
as he was, even during his apprenticeship, he was not only a real
student, but he had begun to think for himself.

He mentions a case of “Locked-jaw,” that occurred as early as 1780 (the
first year of his apprenticeship), which he appears to have noted with
great accuracy. He mentions the medicine that was given to the man, the
unusually large doses, and, lastly, the enormous quantity of it which
was found in the stomach after death. It was opium, and amounted to
many drachms.

We also find him engaged in inquiries involving much more extended
views than were in that day _generally_ associated with the study of
_surgery_. He very early participated in those researches which had for
their object to determine the relation of the digestive functions to
one of the most recondite affections of an extremely important organ
(the kidney).

“When I was a boy,” said he, “I half ruined myself in buying oranges
and other things, to ascertain the effects of different kinds of diet
in this disease.”

The same researches show how early also he began to perceive the
importance of chemistry in investigating the functions of different
organs, and in _aiding_, generally, physiological researches. We have
heard a contemporary and a lecturer on chemistry attest Abernethy’s
proficiency in that science. As his investigations proceeded, he
had the still higher merit of taking _just and sober views_ of the
relations of chemistry to physiological science.

We mean that whilst he fully recognized the importance of it, he
entirely avoided that _exclusive_ reliance on it which is too often
created by some of the more striking demonstrations of chemical
science; that one—idea—tendency, which unconsciously wrests it to the
solution of phenomena which, in the _present state_ of our knowledge,
it is wholly inadequate to explain. We have alluded to the foregoing
facts touching the impressions derived from his apprenticeship, and
his early disposition for philosophical research, because both will be
found to have relations to his subsequent labours and peculiarities.
Diligent as he was, we suspect he found, during his apprenticeship,
little of those attractions which make labour and industry sources of
happiness and pleasure.

As a matter of course, he would have been allowed to attend any
lectures which were given at the hospital to which Sir Charles Blicke
was surgeon (St. Bartholomew’s), and this would bring him in contact
with Mr. Pott, who delivered a certain number of surgical lectures

There were no _courses_ of anatomical lectures given at St.
Bartholomew’s at that period; but anatomical lectures were delivered
regularly at the London Hospital, by Dr. Maclaurin and Sir William
Blizard, and afterwards by Sir William Blizard alone. As Sir Charles
Blicke lived in Mildred’s Court and subsequently in Billiter Square,
Abernethy would be about equidistant from the two hospitals, both of
which he attended. We incline to think that it was in attending these
lectures, and perhaps especially those of Sir William Blizard, that he
first found those awakening impulses which excited in him a real love
for his profession.

It was about this time, we think, that he began to have more enlarged
ideas of the nature and objects of surgical science; a state of mind
calculated to enable him to thoroughly understand and appreciate Mr.
Hunter, and to deduce from the principles which he was shadowing forth,
those relations and consequences which we shall endeavour popularly to
explain; principles which, though originally directed to the treatment
of so-called surgical maladies, were found equally to affect the
practice of medicine.

[Footnote 11: “How happens it, Mæcenas, that no one is content with his
condition, whether reason gave it him, or chance threw it in his way?”]

[Footnote 12: The assistant-surgeons at that period having no
_in_-patients under their care, except in the absence, or by
permission, of their chiefs.]

[Footnote 13: A public journalist was inclined to give this anecdote
to another person. We then stated that we had it on the authority of a
gentleman who was present. Such power of memory, though _rare_, is not
_singular_; other examples have fallen within our own observation.]

Continue Reading


AFTER a mile or so, the riders slackened speed, and kept an easy pace
thereafter till they were near the town. Two or three times they had
made a momentary halt to listen, but had heard nothing to indicate that
they were followed. Everell had frequently asked Georgiana how she did,
and she had declared, “Very well.” He now inquired whether she could
travel much farther without stopping to rest, and begged her to be
perfectly honest in her reply. She assured him she was equal to a dozen
miles, at least.

“Then it is a question,” said he, “whether we should stay a few hours at
the place we are coming to, or go on to the next town southward. I
conceive we have naught to fear from your uncle. As for Thornby, I know
not. He may desire that nothing of all this shall become known; on the
other hand, his wrath may outweigh his vanity. ’Tis not likely his men
would give chase so far without his commands. The clerk would certainly
go to consult him before ordering a long pursuit, and Thornby’s first
care would be to get himself liberated from the closet. No doubt all
depends on his state of feeling at that moment. Were Jeremiah Filson
still a factor in the case, I should count on pursuit. Men of that
persistent sort, having once set themselves a task, are not to be thrown
off, however slight be the gain or the motive. They know how to make
such as Thornby the servants of their wills. But without Filson’s egging
on, I doubt if Thornby or his clerk will give themselves much trouble
concerning us. Your uncle, I think, will find means to dissuade them. In
any case, we have a fair start, so that if you feel the least fatigue or
discomfort, sweet,—And yet, ’twould go hard to lose all, after coming
off so well hitherto. Certainly Thornby will be in a great fury:—to be
locked in his own closet, after being robbed of you and of his power
over your uncle! At first he will be for revenge at any cost. And who
knows but he may linger in that mind? He may make it a great matter,
inform the sheriff of the county, and raise a general hue and cry. ’Tis
a possibility we must reckon with. Our only security against it is a
long start at the outset. And yet you’ve already undergone too much
to-night. Perhaps two or three hours of rest—But, devil take it, Filson
has been at this town!—’twas here you warned me of him. No doubt he has
left accounts of me. I may be recognized if I show my face at any house.
But, if we pass through the town in this darkness—”

He was going on to consider the alternatives further, but Georgiana,
having waited in vain for a pause, now interrupted with the most
positive assertion that she would not think of stopping at the town they
were about to enter. So they walked their horses through such of its
narrow streets as lay in their route, and were soon upon the open road
again, having encountered no light nor other sign of life. They improved
their speed, and, having passed the spot where Everell had taken leave
of Roughwood a fortnight before,—though its location could not be
certified in the darkness,—arrived at another town of silent streets
wherein no lamp or candle relieved the night. By their own lantern, the
lovers were enabled to inspect the house-fronts, and to select what
appeared to be the chief inn of the place. After much imperative calling
for the landlord, Everell was answered by a half-dressed man, of whom he
demanded accommodations in the tone of authority that had imposed upon
the servants at Thornby Hall. Here, as there, it availed, and, as soon
as the travellers were admitted, Everell curtly explained that the lady
had met with an accident; he added, carelessly, that they had come from
the South.

The half-dressed man proving to be the landlord, Everell bespoke a
chaise and fresh horses for an early hour in the morning; and, as there
was only one sleeping-room available, saw Georgiana conducted thereto;
after which he made his own bed, with the aid of his cloak, on a settle
in the bar-parlour. He passed the night in a half-sleep, ready to take
alarm at any sound of later arrivals. In the morning, when the time set
for departure was near, he summoned a maid and was about to send her to
Georgiana, when that lady herself appeared on the stairs. She was quite
ready to travel, having interviewed the innkeeper’s wife, and acquired a
hat, a mantle, and some other articles, all in a fair state of
preservation, in exchange for one of her rings.

Everell complimented her upon this timely regard for appearances while
travelling by daylight, and declared that no other woman in England
could look as well in the costliest finery as Georgiana did in the
second-hand wardrobe of a country landlady. Georgiana was pleased at
this; but not entirely so, until he added that she should supply herself
in better accordance with her own taste at the first opportunity. He
then handed her into the chaise, entrusted to the landlord the
despatching of the horses and pistols to Foxwell, and gave directions to
the postilion. Hearing these, the innkeeper was much puzzled, for
Everell had designedly given him the impression that the journey of the
couple was Northward. Ere he could scratch a probable solution of the
problem into his head, the chaise was rattling away.

The freshness of the morning had its effect upon the lovers at first;
but Everell soon perceived that Georgiana was pale and languid. He urged
her to try to sleep, and offered his shoulder as a pillow. She, on her
side, observed that his voice was quite hoarse, and insisted upon
arranging his cloak so that he, too, could rest. Presently, in spite of
herself, her eyes closed. He pillowed her head as he had suggested, and
softly kissed her hair. The next fact of which he was distinctly
conscious was that the chaise had stopped before a roadside inn, and the
postilion was telling him that here was a good place at which to
breakfast. Glad to find, on inquiry, how many hours and miles they had
got rid of in sleep, Everell awakened Georgiana, and they were regaled
with bread, cheese, and fried bacon. They were now quite cured of
fatigue, though Everell’s hoarseness was increased.

The journey was resumed. A few towns and many villages were left behind.
Finally, at the end of a stage, Everell thought the time of changing
horses might safely be utilized in visiting some shops near the
posting-inn. When the travellers returned with their purchases, their
new conveyance was ready. They set out immediately, putting off dinner
to the late afternoon rather than make a longer stop at present. As they
drove out of the yard into the street, Georgiana uttered a quick “Oh!”
and drew back from the chaise window, at the same time laying her hand
on Everell’s breast to make him do likewise.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“The man on horseback,” she replied; “don’t look out! ’Tis Jeremiah

“Impossible! I left him as good as dead. You are mistaken, sweet. How
could you know him?—you have scarcely seen him.”

“I saw him well enough at Thornby Hall last night; and this I am certain
was he. He was riding up the street; there was another horseman with
him. He looked tired, and the horses seemed fagged. ’Twas he, I could
swear,—the same clothes.”

“Then the dog must have feigned, last night, to save himself from a
_coup de grace_. Did he see us, I wonder?”

“He didn’t appear to. He was looking at the houses, I thought.”

“Looking for the inn, probably. Well, if he stops there, he will inquire
for us. If not, he is close behind us. In either case, he is on our
track. Thank heaven, we are almost out of the town.”—The new postilion,
as soon as the chaise was safe in the street, had whipped up his horses
to a gallop, in order to make the showy start affected by artists in his
craft.—“Filson’s experience last night has given him a respect for my
sword,” Everell went on; “he will not dare come within reach of it
himself. I at least pinked his other ear, as I promised to. He will now
act with caution; will attempt to hunt me down without showing himself,
and, if he finds me tarrying anywhere, will apply to the local
authorities. He will be no less dangerous for proceeding in that way—he
will be the more so, rather. We shall not dare stop long anywhere. We
had best take our meals at solitary country inns, where he cannot come
up unperceived, nor set the authorities upon me without time and
trouble. We must travel night and day till we are safe: to sleep at an
inn would give him his opportunity. I see ’tis possible for you to sleep
as we go. So then, barring accident, we shall doubtless keep our lead to
the end, if he hangs on so far.”

“But if we are delayed at the posting-houses?” said Georgiana.
“Sometimes one cannot get horses immediately.”

“Ay, there is one danger,” Everell replied. “But we must gain such a
distance that we may lose time and yet be away before he can steal upon
us; or at least before he can bring officers about us. We must not tarry
long in a garrison town. Military officers would be too ready to act
upon information in such a case as mine. He cannot get the civil powers
to move so quickly. Well, we must keep our lead. In the country he will
not venture too close upon our heels. We are out of the town, at last. I
wonder if he stopped at that inn.”

Everell thrust his head out of the side window and looked back. Nobody
was following. He then called to the driver, and gave instructions in
regard to the pace of travel, hinting at the reward in store for
obedience. The lad was so compliant, the horses so fresh, that in due
time Everell thought a pause might be made for dinner without much risk
of their being overtaken. At the next suitable house of refreshment he
ordered a halt, somewhat to the disapproval of the postilion, who would
have preferred to stop at an inn of his own suggesting. Everell chose
this, however, because it had as neighbours only two or three brick
houses and a half-dozen thatched cottages, all looking drowsy behind
ragged hedges, while its chief window commanded a view of the road over
which the fugitives had come.

They caused a table to be placed at the window, and there, on a soiled
cloth, were served with boiled eggs, cold bacon, and bread, by the
frowsy woman who had taken the order, set the table, and done the
cooking. But the eggs were fresh, and the bacon good, so that little was
left on the table when the travellers rose from it. The postilion had
evidently found the ale, bread, and cheese better than he had expected;
and the horses apparently had nothing to complain of in their
refreshment. At all events, the journey was resumed in good spirits,
and, as no sign of Filson had appeared upon the stretch of road in
sight, the lovers began to feel more secure. Georgiana now recalled
Filson’s jaded appearance. Perhaps, as on a former occasion, he had
yielded to the dictates of tired nature: perhaps he had thrown over the
pursuit, and was merely bound for London. As for the horseman with him,
that might have been a postboy or a casual fellow traveller. While their
own chaise went rolling along at good speed, the lovers felt hope
increase within them. Nevertheless, they were still determined to go on
by night.

Dusk had risen—or, rather, fallen, to be accurate in spite of the
poets—when they arrived at the place where they would have to obtain the
horses and vehicle for their night journey. It was a small town, with a
High Street enlivened by the humbler inhabitants strolling up and down
in the light from the shop windows. A lamp hung over the entrance to the
principal inn. As soon as the chaise was in the yard, Everell called for
a fresh conveyance.

The landlord was very sorry, but there were no horses. How soon would
there be any? Certainly not that night: he wouldn’t send out tired
cattle, not for love or money. Would there be a stage-coach, or even a
carrier’s wagon? Not before morning. Everell turned to the postilion,
who was now busy with his own fagged horses. No, sir; this was as far as
he dared go: he knew his orders; his cattle were done for, and _he_ was
done for, and he wouldn’t let his beasts go another mile, not for love
or money or the King himself.

“Mind how you speak of the King, booby,” a voice broke in, pertly; and
Everell, looking around, saw three or four trim young fellows at the
taproom door, all in red coats.

“Soldiers in town?” said Everell to the landlord.

“Yes, your Honour; two companies waiting orders. You’d ’a’ had the
pleasure of meeting the officers at dinner if you’d come a little
sooner, but now they be all gone to a ball at a gentleman’s house in the
neighbourhood. Most of them lodge here; but I have a very good room
left, at your Honour’s service.”

“I don’t want a room. I want horses. Where can I get them? Is there no
other place in the town?”

The landlord shook his head sadly; but one of the soldiers said:
“There’s a house across the way, sir,—the Red Swan. I’m not sure you can
get horses there, but ’tis there or nowhere if this house can’t supply

Everell thanked the man, pressed a shilling into his hand, settled with
his own postilion, and had his luggage carried before himself and
Georgiana to the Red Swan. This was a smaller house than the one they
had left. It had no driveway through the middle; the entrance to the
yard was by a side lane. The travellers, entering by the front door,
found a corridor leading to the bar—and to the landlady. Could one hire
horses and some sort of light vehicle? Yes, to be sure; but not that
night: all the horses and carriages in the town were taking people to
the ball a few miles out. Everell looked blankly at Georgiana. The
landlady could offer his Honour the best rooms in the house. On the
morrow there would be horses a-plenty. They would be returning from the
ball by midnight.

“Ah, then, if we wait till midnight, we may have the first horses that
come in?” said Everell.

The landlady was not sure. She would have to ask John, who was now
driving to the ball. When he returned with his horses, he might be
willing; the cattle would be fresh enough, but John might not be. At
this, Everell spoke so eloquently, despite his hoarseness, of rewards
and of his confidence in the landlady’s ability to influence John if she
would, and Georgiana supported him with such sweetly anxious looks, that
the good woman thought she could almost certainly promise a conveyance
and John’s attendance at midnight or thereabouts. As for the intervening
time, it was decided that Georgiana should lie down dressed, while
Everell should remain on the alert. He saw her to the door of a room at
the head of the stairs, and returned to caution the landlady against
acknowledging their presence to possible inquirers. He relied on the
woman’s good-will and evident belief that they were an eloping pair
fearful only of parental discovery. He then went by a rear door to
stretch his legs in the inn yard, which he thought to find deserted.

The yard was for the most part in darkness, its only light being that of
a lantern hung against the gate-post. To Everell’s surprise, a pair of
horses attached to a post-chaise were feeding under the care of a small
boy. Everell was promptly inquisitive, but the undersized hostler had no
gift of communication, and could say no more than that the chaise had
arrived awhile ago and would be going on pretty soon. Everell returned
to the landlady.

“Oh, ay,” she said, in reply to his remark about the horses. “They
belong to a gentleman with a toothache, who stops only long enough for

“You didn’t mention him before.”

“Why, sir, from his coming to this house instead of t’other, and from
his ordering a private room to sup in, I took it he’d rather nothing was
said of his being here. But, come to think of it, he might want to keep
out of sight because of his face being swollen up—’tis all tied round
with a yankerchief. Yet that wouldn’t account for his having his
postilion eat in the same room with him, would it, sir? It looks as how
he was afeard the man would say too much if let eat in the kitching.
Well, I hope as I’ve done him no harm by what I’ve told your Honour.”

“Not in the least. I wish I had his horses. I would even accept his
toothache, if I could have the horses with it.”

He entered the small public parlour, and dropped into a chair at the
head of the long table. He had the room to himself, and could flee to
the darkness of the yard if anybody intruded. Leaning forward with his
elbows on the table, he lapsed into a drowsy state which seemed, in the
circumstances, the state best calculated to cheat the time. He had
remained therein for more than half an hour, when his ears, on the
alert, informed him of a soft step outside the room. He rose, and beheld
Georgiana in the half-open doorway. Finger on lip, she approached and

“I have seen him. I think he knows we are here.”

“Who?” asked Everell.

“Filson. I happened to look out of my window—”

“Impossible! He couldn’t have followed so close.”

“He must have gained upon us toward nightfall, and arrived at the inn
across the way a little while ago. I happened to glance out of my window
just now—not putting my head out, but looking through the glass—and I
saw four men standing under the lamp before that inn—the lamp over the
entrance. Three of them were the soldiers we saw in the yard. The other
was Filson. He was talking with the soldiers, and he and they were
looking at this house. I am sure they were telling him we had come

“Did they see you?”

“I think not. They weren’t looking at my window when I first saw them,
and after that I watched from behind the curtain.”

“Well, then, he knows we are here. The fellow who carried our luggage
across would have told the soldiers we failed to get horses. I should
have taken some pains to cover our track. We are too easily described. I
might have known Filson would inquire before even entering the inn; his
fear of coming suddenly within reach of my sword would make him do that.
Well, the evil is done. What steps will the fellow take?—that is the
question. Fortunately, those soldiers can do nothing without orders, and
their officers have gone to the ball.”

“But hear me through,” said Georgiana. “After they had talked a minute
or so, Filson and one of the soldiers walked up the street, so fast that
I soon lost sight of them. The other two soldiers remained—to watch this
house, perhaps. And then I came to tell you.”

“H’m! Without doubt Filson has gone in quest of somebody in authority.
We must be gone from this house, at all events. Filson may return—who
knows how soon?—may return with a gang of constables or a file of
soldiers. Come, we must leave this inn, at least.”

“But those two are watching: they will see us go.”

“We’ll go through the yard. It opens to a lane, which may have two
entrances—else we must find some back way, or scale a wall, if need be.
Come; I’ll see the landlady as we go.”

“Oh, heaven! In the passage—footsteps—of men!”

Everell listened a moment, his hand on his sword-hilt. “Nay, ’tis all
well. Two men walking from the stairs to the yard: they are a guest and
his postilion. ’Tis a gentleman with a toothache. The landlady has been
telling me of him. I would to heaven—Ah, perhaps—Come, sweet! come!”

Seizing her hand, Everell led her swiftly from the room, along the
passage, and through a back door, to the yard.

The forms of the strange gentleman, the postilion, and the small hostler
were dimly visible at the darker side of the chaise. The postilion was
evidently about to light his lamps. Everell left Georgiana standing in a
shadowed corner by the house door, and advanced to the other gentleman,
keeping as much in the darkness as he. The stranger’s head presented a
very bulky appearance, thanks not only to the handkerchief encircling
it, but also to its being thickly muffled up to the mouth. His hat,
moreover, was drawn down to his eyes. So, indeed, was Everell’s.

“Sir,” began Everell, inwardly cursing the hoarseness that prevented a
more ingratiating tone, “pardon the intrusion of one who means no
offence. ’Tis a matter of life and death that moves me, a stranger, to
address you as I do. There is also a lady whose fortunes are at stake.
’Tis of the first importance that we leave this place immediately. We
have not been able to obtain horses. Seeing you about to depart alone, I
am impelled to throw myself on your generosity. Will you take us as
passengers, to the next town, at least? If you will take the lady in the
chaise, I can sit on the bar in front. The postilion shall be well

“Why, sir,” replied the other, in a thick voice, the more indistinct
from his much muffled condition, “if you are travelling in my

“Southward,” said Everell, eagerly.

“I am sorry, then, for I am going North.”

“North? What ill fortune! For an instant I thought myself happy.
North!—but surely, sir, your necessity for going on at once is not as
great as ours: it cannot be. If you knew the case—the lady is waiting
yonder in the darkness, trembling with anxiety as to our fate. Our whole
future, sir, hangs upon the next few minutes. Dare I ask you—nay, dare I
refrain from asking you—to resign this conveyance to us? There will be
another available at midnight. Your business certainly is not so

“My business, sir, is as urgent as any can be. It has the first claim on
me, much as I would fain serve you. I dare not lose an hour.”

“But, good heaven, sir, have I not told you my affair is one of life or

“And so is mine,” said the strange gentleman, stepping back to be out of
range of the chaise-lamp, which the postilion had now lighted.

Everell followed into the darker gloom, pleading desperately: “But
consider, sir, my case concerns the happiness of a woman.”

“Mine concerns the safety of a man.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Everell, maddened at the other’s phlegmatic
brevity of speech. “To see these horses ready for the road, to need them
as I do, to know how she must suffer if I—Sir, I entreat you: I must
have these horses: I demand them in the sacred name of love.”

“I require them in the sacred interest of friendship,” was the answer.

“Friendship!” laughed Everell, scornfully. “The love of man and woman—do
you know what that is?”

“None knows better; but at present I serve the friendship of man for
man. One task at a time. Were I not entered upon this, I would do much
to oblige you. I can only wish you better fortune than you expect;
and—good night.” With that the stranger went toward the chaise, all
being now ready for departure.

“Not yet good night, either!” cried Everell, stepping into the other’s
way. “’Tis a rude thing I do, but necessity compels me. If your mission
is all to you, mine is all to me. Let our swords decide for us—I see you
wear one.”

“I wear one,” said the gentleman, patiently, “but I had rather not draw
it now.”

“You had rather be commanded, then,” said Everell, drawing his own. “You
have a toothache, I hear. A gentleman with a toothache ought not to
travel at night. For your own good, I must forbid you.”

“And you have a bad cold, as your voice betrays. A gentleman with a bad
cold ought still less to travel at night.” And the stranger now calmly
drew. “Make way, sir, if you please.”

“Stand back, sir,” replied Everell, “till I call the lady to enter the

The stranger’s retort to this was a sword-thrust at Everell’s groin.
Though the men were in too great darkness to distinguish faces, a
certain sense he had acquired by much training enabled Everell to parry
this attack. When he returned the thrust, his adversary showed an equal
instinct for judging the movements of a barely visible weapon. Several
passes were exchanged, to the great affright of Georgiana, who could
only make out the moving forms in the gloom and hear the clashing of the
steel. She had the presence of mind to close the house door, lest the
sound might bring other spectators. As for the postilion and the boy,
they stood astonished at a safe distance, not daring to raise an alarm
for fear of incurring the vengeance of the combatants. The fight was hot
and equally maintained. Unexpectedly Everell struck his left hand
against the chaise door. For greater safety of movement, he stepped back
a few paces, and so came, without thought, into the lamplight.

The other gentleman, in the act of following, uttered a cry of surprise,
and held his sword motionless. The voice was quite different from that
he had previously used.

“Eh!—who are you?” exclaimed Everell, lowering his own weapon.

The stranger advanced into the light, pulling down his muffler.

“Roughwood!” cried Everell, springing forward to embrace the man he had
just been trying to wound.

“H’sh!” warned the other, cautious as ever.

“Good heaven!—if we had killed each other!”

“We should have been served right for not knowing each other. But till
this moment I didn’t rightly see you. Your husky voice deceived me: I
should never have thought it your voice.”

“’Tis the best voice I can muster at present. But _you_ seem to have two

“The other was put on—like the muffler, handkerchief, and toothache. I
was recognized on my way South after leaving you; and now, coming back
through the same country—”

“But why coming back? I supposed you safe in France.”

“I saw her whom I wished to see; but I could not persuade myself to sail
without you, or knowledge of you. As days passed and you arrived not—In
short, I feared your rash resolve had got you into trouble—”

“And you were coming to my aid! Dear Roughwood!”

“But we lose time. You spoke of a lady.”

“You will recognize her,” said Everell, and hastened to conduct
Georgiana into the light. Leaving her and Roughwood to mutual surprise
and explanation, he returned to the bar of the inn, and, having overcome
the landlady’s refusal of payment, possessed himself of his and
Georgiana’s luggage. When he reappeared in the yard, his friend had
already handed the young lady into the chaise, and was giving directions
to the postilion. Everell was for Roughwood’s taking the place beside
Georgiana, but that gentleman cut short all dispute by mounting the bar
in front and allowing Everell ten seconds in which to enter the chaise.
Before less time had passed, Everell was seated at his Georgiana’s side,
her hand was stealing into his, the hostler had closed the door of the
chaise, and the postilion had given the word of starting. He drove
carefully out through the gate with the solitary lamp, slowly on through
the lane to the street, and then for the open road southward, the horses
getting up speed at the crack of the whip.

“And so, Jeremiah Filson,” said Everell, as the lights of the houses
ceased and the night lay blue and misty over the fields, “we have left
you behind once more.”

Thanks to the careful arrangements of Roughwood, no time was lost on the
rest of the journey, day or night, and the lovers never saw Jeremiah
Filson again. A man answering to his description arrived a day late at
the fishing village from which they had set sail; and lingered for a
week or more, questioning the inhabitants, and often, from the highest
cliffs, gazing far out to sea with a puzzled expression. This they
learned from Roughwood’s future wife, when she and her brother came to
them in Paris.

From Prudence, for whom Georgiana sent as soon as she conveniently
could, the lovers—for lovers they remained after marriage and through
life—heard the latest news of Foxwell Court and Thornby Hall. Mr.
Foxwell had come to a better understanding with his neighbour Thornby,
so that the pair now frequently got drunk together at one or the other’s
table; they spent considerable time at cards, with results apparently to
Foxwell’s satisfaction; and it was settled that he should lend the
distinction of his presence to the Squire’s approaching nuptials. For
the Squire, as if to show the depth of disappointed love by an urgent
need of consolation, had suddenly—and successfully—resolved to marry
Sukey Marvell.

Continue Reading


LEFT alone in the dining-room, Foxwell first indulged in a momentary
smile of satisfaction, as who should say, “For once has circumstance
been kind to me;” and then, setting himself to the task yet remaining,
he opened the library door, and called Everell.

The young man came without delay; looked swiftly around the room, and
then at Foxwell with eyes that said, “She is not here!”

“She has gone to her room,” said Foxwell, very quietly. “I have granted
her request: you are to go free.”

“Go free!”

“At her solicitation, and solely for her sake. For her sake, then, and
for mine, too, if you consider not your own, I beg you will be secret in
your departure—and above all, speedy. You must be especially on your
guard against Jeremiah Filson, who still lodges at the public-house in
the village yonder. Were I in your place, I wouldn’t pass through the
village, I would go to Burndale and take conveyance there. But however
you proceed, though I may seem inhospitable to urge it, you should set
out immediately. You have money, I believe: if not, my purse—though I
could wish it better lined—”

“Nay, a thousand thanks, but I have enough. As to this release, I know
not what to say: I never would have asked it—”

“But you must accept it, for the sake of her who did ask it. I well know
you would have stood to our compact. Stay not for protestations or
thanks: the sooner you are gone, the better for us all.”

“But ’tis not yet ten o’clock.”

“Good heaven, sir, does it not follow that our agreement is annulled by
your release if you accept it?—and your duty to her leaves you no choice
but to accept. Will you stand upon an hour or two, when you’ve had near
full benefit of the bargain for nothing, as it turns out?”

“You are right,” said Everell, with humility. “I will go as soon as I
have said farewell to her.”

“But, my dear sir, that very ordeal is one you must spare her. Do you
not see how the case stands? She was in great terror lest you should be
given up: relieved upon that point, she asks no more. She is content
with having gained your life: in that mood, she is willing to forego
another meeting. It would only start her grief afresh: for that reason,
I advised her to go to her room. As you value her peace, you must depart
without seeing her.”

“Depart without seeing her!” Everell looked wistfully toward the hall,
through which she must have passed to reach her apartments. He fetched a
long and tremulous sigh; then bethought him of the miniature, and,
taking it out, stood gazing on it with moist eyes. He gently kissed it,
and replaced it in his pocket. “Well, sir, heaven knows I wouldn’t cause
her fresh grief. But this I may ask—nay, must know:—when shall I be
permitted to see her again?”

“’Tis not in my power to answer, your own future being unknown to me.
Certainly you mustn’t see her during your present stay in England—which,
if you are wise, you will devote entirely to getting out of England. As
to the future more distant, all depends upon how matters shape

“At least, then, I may hope! She will be true, I know. There will be an
amnesty some day, and I may return to England without danger. In the
meantime, you—and she—may be coming to France. I will write to her from

“And not till you have arrived there, I trust. Until your safety is
assured, any communication from you must give a new edge to her anxiety.
But I demand no promises.” Foxwell intended to expedite the marriage:
once his purposes were secured, Georgiana’s conduct would be Thornby’s
affair. Now that her consent had been obtained, haste was possible.
Meanwhile, he could intercept any letter that came by regular post.
Therefore, ’twas better not to force Everell to secret means of

“Then, sir,” said Everell, with a wan attempt at a smile, “as you demand
no promises, I will make none. On the hope of meeting her again, in
safer times, I shall live. In that hope, I must go. Tell her—” he paused
a moment, but his thoughts were in a tumult—“Nay, words are too feeble!
I thank her, not for my life, which is hers to use as she will; but for
her love, which gives my life all its value. Adieu, sir!—no more!”

With that, he hastened abruptly, half-blindly, to the hall; and thence
to his chamber, where he donned his sword, hat, cloak, and riding-boots.
He threw his few other belongings into the bag, made sure his money was
safe in pocket, and returned to the hall, thinking to leave by way of
the courtyard and thus soonest gain the road. There was the darkness for
his safety, and the whirl of his thoughts to speed him on to Burndale,
where he could knock up some innkeeper, and take horse for the South at

Caleb and another servant, charged by Foxwell to attend the departing
guest to the gate, were at the door. Everell handed each a coin, and the
second man ran ahead to open the gate. Everell was following across the
dark courtyard, when he bethought him of the services of Prudence. He
turned back to the light of the open doorway, selected a gold piece, and
asked Caleb to convey it to the maid.

“If it please your Honour, sir, asking your pardon, may I call Miss
Prudence to receive it herself?” said Caleb; “’twill take but a minute.”

Perceiving that the valet was averse to the trust, Everell acquiesced.
The idea then came to him that he might utilize the brief delay by
writing a message of farewell to Georgiana: there could be no objection
to a few written words of love and faith, which Prudence might deliver
at a suitable time. Everell strode into the dining-room.

Nobody else was there, for Foxwell had returned to the drawing-room to
pen a letter which should accompany Georgiana’s to Thornby. He had begun
to apologize to Rashleigh and Mrs. Winter for the long trial he had put
upon their patience.

“You might at least have left the door ajar, that we could have heard
your fine scenes yonder,” said Mrs. Winter.

“So I might have done, I own,” replied Foxwell.

“Yes; as you didn’t, we thought ourselves justified in listening at the

“We?” exclaimed Rashleigh, in protest.

“Well, if you didn’t listen, Rashleigh, you certainly didn’t stop my
telling you what I heard.”

“Then you know what has happened?” queried Foxwell.

“I could make a good guess at the general event,” answered the lady.
“The rebel goes free, and pretty Georgiana marries for love.”

“For love!” said Foxwell. “Hardly so, I fear.”

“Certainly. For love of one man, she marries another. ’Tis often
done—especially in France. ’Tis a plan that has its beauties.”

“I’m afraid Georgiana is too English to see its beauties,” said
Rashleigh, as Foxwell sat down to write his letter.

Return we to another writer, in the adjoining room. Everell had found
the book from which Georgiana had been reading to him, which he had
dropped in going to support her when she seemed about to faint. He had
scarce begun to pencil his message on a blank leaf, when Prudence looked
in at the door.

“Oh, ’tis here your honour is, sir; and sure I’m sorry you’re going away
so suddent,” she said, advancing. “When Caleb told me just now, I
couldn’t believe my ears, and I wouldn’t yet, neither, if I didn’t see
your cloak and bag, more’s the pity.”

“Yes, I am going,” said Everell, handing her the reward of merit.

“Oh lor, sir, what princely generosity! I’m sure I aren’t no ways
deserving of such! It reely breaks my heart, begging your Honour’s
pardon, to see how things have come about. After all that’s took place
this past week, to hear of this marriage—’tis enough to make one think
of witchcraft—”

“This marriage? What marriage?—whose?”

“Why, this here marriage, in course. Bean’t that what sends your Honour
away all of a suddent at such a time o’ night?”

“Whose marriage? Speak, Prudence!—in a word, whose?”

“Why, mistress’s marriage, to be sure. Whose else in the world—”

“Mistress’s mar—! What mistress?”

“Mistress Georgiana Foxwell, in course: I don’t own to no other
mistress, I’m sure.” The maid drew back from Everell, wondering if the
loss of his sweetheart had affected his wits.

“Mistress Georgiana! Are you mad, Prudence? What do you mean?”

“Mad, sir? Not me! I scorn the word. ’Tis my betters I takes to be mad,
to go and make a match of it with a gentleman she’s scarce set eyes on,
be he ever so rich.”

“What gentleman do you speak of? Truly I think you _are_ mad.”

“I’m a-speaking of Squire Thornby, sir, who but he? Sure then, haven’t
they told your Honour?”

“Squire Thornby?” repeated Everell, with but vague recollection of the
little he had heard of that person. “A neighbour of Mr. Foxwell’s, isn’t

“Yes, with a large estate, I’ve heard say. ’Tis all I know of him,
barring they’ve arranged he shall marry my mistress; though that’s quite
enough, heavens knows, and you could have knocked me down with a feather
when I heard as much.”

“But ’tis impossible! They little know her: let them arrange as they
will, she will never consent.”

“Indeed, sir, but that’s the strangest part of it; for didn’t I hear her
consent in this very room, with these ears, not ten minutes ago? ‘Excep’
Squire Thornby’s proposal of marriage,’ them was her uncle’s words, and
she said yes, and Lady Strange is with her now, a-tellin’ how
adventidjus a match ’twill be. And if you think a poor waiting-woman’s
word can’t be took, you’re free to go and ask for yourself.”

“Marry Squire Thornby!—after all that has passed—her grief at my
going—her appeal for my life! It can’t be; I’ll not believe it, unless
she tells me.”

He went swiftly from the room, and ran up the stairs. Before he had time
to reflect upon the impulse he obeyed, he was on the landing outside her
antechamber, calling through the closed door:

“Georgiana!—my love! Come and deny this slander! Come, let me hear the

The door opened, and Georgiana appeared, pale and sorrow-stricken. Lady
Strange was at her side, with a gently restraining touch upon her arm.
But Everell seized the girl’s hand and led her down the stairs, partly
as if he claimed her from any other’s possession, and partly that he
might see her face in the better light of the hall below. “Sweet, what
blundering tale is this?” he asked, as they descended;—“of a marriage
with Squire Thornby, and that you have given your consent?”

Georgiana was silent, with averted glance.

“Why don’t you answer?” he said, as they reached the foot of the stairs.

She lifted her eyes to his, but could not bring her lips to frame a

“What!” he exclaimed; “’tis true, then? Oh!”

His cry was like that of sharp pain; he dropped her hand, and walked a
few steps from her. “Who would have believed it?” he said, plaintively;
“I would have staked my soul upon it that you loved me.”

“Loved you!” she said, in a faint whisper.

“But what can it mean, then?” he asked, touched alike by her words and
her look. “Surely you don’t put wealth and convenience before love? Do
you fear I may never come back to you? And to give your consent at such
a time—but ten minutes ago, the maid says! Why, you had just been
pleading for my life.—Ah! now I understand!—blind fool that I’ve been,
not to see at once! forgive me, dearest love! ’Tis your uncle’s doing:
he has sold you my life for your consent to the marriage!” With that,
Everell grasped her hand, and started toward the dining-room.

“Hush, Everell!” said Georgiana, fearful lest all might be undone; “go,
for heaven’s sake, for my sake, ere it be too late!”

Fortunately Caleb had stepped out to the courtyard to gossip with his
fellow servant who had opened the gate, and, as the house door was but
slightly ajar, there were no witnesses to what was passing in the hall,
save Lady Strange and Prudence, who had both followed down the stairs.
Holding back from the dining-room door, Georgiana still begged Everell
to go.

“Go, on those terms?” he said. “Not I! Rather die the worst of deaths.
Let you marry another? I’ll give myself up first!”

“Nay, Everell—my love—I implore—on my knees! Must I plead with you as I
pleaded with my uncle? You should know I cannot endure the thought of
your death. Only that you live, that is enough! Go, I beseech!—let not
my sacrifice be in vain.”

“You sha’n’t make the sacrifice,” he said, fiercely.

“’Tis made already: my uncle has my promise.”

“Your uncle!—where is he?” And Everell strode into the dining-room,
followed by the three women. Before he had time to reach the
drawing-room door, it was opened from the other side, and Everell had no
farther to go to meet Foxwell, who had heard the young man’s loud-spoken
words. At sight of Georgiana, her uncle made an ejaculation, and
advanced toward Everell with a resentful look: he held in one hand a
pen, in the other the letter which the sound of Everell’s voice had
interrupted; and this time both Mrs. Winter and Rashleigh took the
liberty of intruding upon the scene.

“Ah, you come in good time!” cried Everell. “I refuse my liberty at the
price you set. She shall not marry another to save me.”

“’Tis too late, sir,” said Foxwell, with forced quietness; “she has
already bound herself by her promise.”

“Then give her back her promise, as I give myself back to you!”

“Pardon me, but you have no part in the covenant: ’tis between my niece
and myself—your liberty for her promise. Even were she inclined to
cancel the agreement, she cannot do so now: I have given your liberty,
have performed my part: she is bound by her promise.”

“You see ’tis too late, Everell,” said Georgiana, in whom every other
feeling yielded to anxiety for his safety; “you cannot mend matters now.
Save yourself—at least that!—for my sake!”

For a moment her lover was thoughtful. He threw back his cloak at both
shoulders, so that it hung behind him. To enforce her plea, Georgiana
laid her hand upon his arm: she stepped forward so that she now stood
beside him.

“But _I_ am not bound by her promise,” said Everell to Foxwell.

“You are no longer bound by anything, sir, to me,” Foxwell replied. “If
you insist upon staying in this neighbourhood, ’tis at your own peril.
And I warrant you ’twill avail nothing: I shall see that my niece
neither leaves her apartments, nor communicates with any one outside
them, until her marriage; you force me to that use of my authority.”

Before Everell could answer, a voice was heard in the hall doorway
behind him—Caleb’s voice, addressed to Foxwell: “Please, your Honour,
Joseph has the horse ready, sir.”

The word “horse” shot through the confusion of Everell’s thoughts.

“Tell Joseph to wait,” said Foxwell, glancing at the unfinished letter
in his hand. Everell heard Caleb walk away through the hall to the house
door. He knew there was a mounting-block at the side of that door: would
Joseph let the horse wait there, or walk it up and down the courtyard?
“And now again, Mr. Everell,” resumed Foxwell, “I bid you farewell; and
I beg that this leave-taking may be final.”

Everell drew a deep breath; then replied: “I am willing it shall be
final, sir. But one word before I go. I have pondered what you have
said: ’tis clear I am no longer bound to you by any obligation: as for
your niece, I am not bound by her promise.”

“I grant you,” replied Foxwell, “’tis for her alone to keep that.”

“But if I should prevent her keeping it?”

“’Tis not possible; or, if so, not to a man of honour.”

“Why not, pray? I am answerable only for my own promises. She is bound
by hers, and will keep it—if she can. But if I prevent her, by force,
she’ll not be to blame for that. There will be no breach of honour

“I must end this, sir.—To cross another’s promise is no better than to
break one’s own—”

“Not in this case, sir,” replied Everell, his voice rising in spite of
himself, as his heart rose to the wild attempt he was about to
make—rashness had brought him to this pass, let rashness bring him
out!—“not in this case, for the promise concerns me, yet I was not
consulted in its making—there’s reason for you! As for possibility,
let’s put it to the test! Prevent her? Yes!” He had half-drawn his
sword, but he quickly slid it back; flung his arms around Georgiana’s
waist, and, lifting her high, made a dash for the hall, passing between
Lady Strange and Prudence on the way; ran on out to the courtyard,
where, by a lantern in Joseph’s hand, he saw the horse at the
mounting-block; thanks to which, he gained the saddle in two steps, with
the slight form of Georgiana still in his arms; jerked the bridle from
Joseph’s hold ere the groom or the two other servants knew what was
happening; applied the spurs, and was off at a gallop through the open
gateway before Foxwell had got as far as to the house door in pursuit.

Foxwell had lost no more time through sheer astonishment than most men
would have lost. But, as he started to go after Everell, the maid
Prudence also started, apparently upon the impulse of concern for her
mistress: being nearer the doorway, she arrived first; tripped at the
threshold, and dropped on all fours, filling up the opening so that
Foxwell was delayed for some seconds ere he could pass to the hall. He
had hope that the servants about the house door would stop the fugitive;
but they were taken by surprise, they knew that Everell was to leave,
and they did not know for what purpose the horse had been got ready. So
now the lover, with his prize in his arms, was galloping away in the
darkness. Foxwell ordered two horses saddled, and sent Caleb to listen
as to which direction the fugitive was taking.

FOR the first few moments, Everell left matters to the horse, merely
keeping the rein in hand while he adjusted his burden so that Georgiana
might be as free from discomfort as necessity allowed. He dared not
trust to placing her behind him, as if she had been a consenting partner
in his flight. For the time being, she must remain prisoned between his
arms. He worked his body as far back on the horse as agreed with his
sure control of the animal, thus giving Georgiana the benefit of the
saddle: he could dispense with stirrups. The horse plunged wildly down
the slope, finding the unbarred opening at the bottom rather by its own
sense than by Everell’s guidance.

The sky was black with clouds, but by the time he had thus gained the
road, the young gentleman had become sufficiently used to the darkness
to make out something of his way ahead. He was at an instant’s
hesitation as to which way he should turn. Remembering that Foxwell had
advised him to go by Burndale, and might suppose this advice taken, he
decided for the other—in itself less safe—direction. So he reined his
steed toward the village, as was presently advertised to the listening
Caleb by the thump of hoofs on the bridge. At the entrance to the
village, there was again choice of two ways. The road ahead, passing the
public-house, led to the town at which Everell had first met Georgiana.
As he now recalled, it passed in sight of Thornby Hall. The other road,
turning off at the right and skirting the churchyard, eventually arrived
at the great highway for London some miles farther south than the first
road: so the ale-house keeper had told Everell. For more than one
reason, then, it seemed preferable. The ale-house keeper had not
mentioned, however, that this road was in great part little used and
much neglected; nor did it occur to Everell at the moment that some such
consideration must have made the Foxwells use the other road in
returning from the South.

The young man, then, turned to the right, and, passing the church,
quickly left the village behind. He had not met a soul, nor heard a
human sound: doubtless people kept within doors on account of the
nipping air; as for noise, most of the habitual producers thereof were
probably at the ale-house. Presently the way bent to the left, and
seemed for awhile to run nearly parallel to the other road. Everell felt
Georgiana shiver slightly in his arms. He stopped his horse, and,
hearing no sound as of anybody in pursuit, he undid his cloak and
contrived to wrap it around her. He then set forward again, though at a
less mad pace.

In all this time Georgiana had not uttered a word; nor Everell to her,
his only exclamations having been addressed to the horse. What were her
feelings? We know that she was being carried away by force, in a dress
certainly not designed for travel on a cold and dark night, and without
bag or baggage; carried away on horseback, without her consent, by a
reckless young gentleman whose neck was now doubly in danger—nay, trebly
so, for at that time abduction and horse-stealing were both hanging
matters, no less than treason; carried away by sheer strength of arm,
even as any Sabine or other woman who ever underwent the experience of
marriage by capture; carried away unceremoniously and suddenly—but by
the man she loved! Was she entirely shocked, indignant, and terrified?
Let us leave it to the imagination of other young ladies of her age—and
perhaps of young ladies a few years older. Whatever Georgiana’s feelings
may have been, they were constantly mingled with the questions, “What
next? Where now? What is he going to do?”

Everell was proposing to himself that same riddle. He wondered what he
_was_ going to do. For the present, the only thing was to push on. Not
until a considerable distance lay between him and Foxwell Court would he
dare seek shelter. How long could Georgiana endure the cold and fatigue?
How long could the horse travel? No doubt a stop must needs be made
during the night, at some village inn or farmhouse, where a plausible
story would have to be told in order to account for their situation and
to obtain admittance—a story of the lady being robbed and left for dead
by the roadside, and found there by her present custodian; or some such
tale. Would Georgiana deny his account, and seek to frustrate him, as in
honesty she ought to do? He must prevent that by dire threats, must
enforce her to silence upon penalties of wholesale disaster, so that she
must feel bound by every womanly fear, by conscience itself, to avert
the greater evil of tragedy to all concerned, by obeying his commands.
She must be in terror of him, and of the consequences of resisting his
will. If he frightened and offended her, he must hope to make his peace
and atonement later. Would she really need such thorough intimidation?
would not mere formal compulsion suffice—such as might serve as a
woman’s excuse for not making the protest that strict duty required? He
could not be sure, and he dared not ask her: he resolved to take no
risks; she should have ample reason to feel justified in non-resistance.
But should all his commands and menaces not avail?—would he make good
his threats? He knew not: so far, he could only hope the occasion would
not arise.

So much for his course with regard to Georgiana’s possible opposition.
Wherever they should stop, he would allow her no chance of speaking to
anybody out of his presence: when she slept, not even a maid should have
access to her room, and he himself would rest outside her door, with the
key in his pocket. At the first town they should enter on the morrow, he
would take measures to supply her with the necessaries she now lacked;
he would have to provide a few things for himself also, for he had left
his cloak-bag at Foxwell Court. At the same town, he would abandon the
horse, and hire a post-chaise for the continuance of their journey. His
ultimate aim must be, to reach the small seaport to which Roughwood had
gone before him, and thence be conveyed with Georgiana to France.
Whether circumstances would permit him to make her his wife on their
Southward journey, he could not know; if not, the ceremony should be his
first concern upon setting foot in France.

So the future took general form in his thoughts as he rode. But
meanwhile, only the first step had been made. A thousand difficulties, a
thousand dangers, stood in the way. He saw himself at the beginning of a
long and toilsome business, which would make incessant demands upon his
wit, resolution, and endurance. He could allow himself little time for
rest. All depended upon his retaining the start he had gained; upon his
keeping ever ahead of the pursuit that would be made, and of the news
which, spreading in all directions, would follow close upon his heels.
He now thanked his impulse for having led him into this road. If Foxwell
had set out as soon as horse could be saddled, he must lose much time by
taking the wrong road, which Everell, still hearing nothing behind,
assumed that he would surely do.

But this advantage, if it really existed, might be more than offset ere
all was done. A sudden sharp sense of this caused Everell to urge the
horse to its former pace. The animal responded readily enough; sped most
gallantly for a furlong or so; then, without any warning, stumbled upon
its knees, almost throwing the riders. It rose trembling, and started to
go on—but with a limp that made Everell’s heart sink within him.

“Curse upon the bad road! The horse is lamed—hopelessly! Poor beast!
brave fellow, he would bear us still in spite of his pain! Well, he can
serve us no more to-night! There’s nothing for it but going afoot till I
can get another mount.”

He lifted Georgiana from the saddle, threw his leg over it, and slid
with her to the ground. For a few moments he let her stand, but kept one
arm around her, while he looked up and down the road in search of a
habitation. But the darkness baffled him. He remembered having passed a
few scattered cottages, but the nearest was a good way back. He was
likely to find a house sooner by going ahead, which seemed on other
accounts the better course. As for the poor steed, Everell was first of
a mind to leave it to its will; but he feared it might thus serve to
inform his pursuers of his enforced delay in the neighbourhood, and
cause more particular search to be made near at hand. Retaining the
halter in his grasp, and taking up Georgiana so as to carry her as one
carries a child in long clothes, he started forward. He hoped he might
discover a house before the young lady’s weight became too much for him;
in other case, he must subject her lightly shod feet to contact with the
rough road. Fortunately, he soon beheld a light, which by its steadiness
and position he judged to belong to a house not far ahead, on higher
ground, a little way back from the left-hand side of the road. Everell
stopped, and again set Georgiana on her feet.

“Do you know whose house that is?” he asked, curtly.

“No,” she replied, in the lowest audible voice.

“Good,” said he. “From its situation I think it may be a gentleman’s. At
all events, I intend to borrow a horse there—perhaps a pair of horses,
or—who knows?—a chaise and pair. I shall tell what story I see fit; and
you will say nothing—or at most a mere yes or no to confirm my account.
You are under my compulsion, which I am ready to enforce by desperate
acts. Remember, my life is not worth a farthing, in the eye of the law;
nothing more that I may do can add to the fate I have already incurred;
so if all’s lost I’m determined to stop at nothing. I warn you then,
once and for all, attempt not to thwart me in the slightest matter,
unless you wish to bring down such a catastrophe as you dare not even
imagine. You are not to quit my side unless at my command. It may be,
your face is known to the people we shall see in that house: you must
have been closely observed the day you appeared at church. So I must bid
you take your neckerchief and veil your face with it—I’ll tie it myself
when you have it arranged. And you will on no account remove it—nor the
cloak, either, which hides your figure. For all this concealment and
silence, I shall contrive to account. All depends on whom I have to deal
with yonder; till I see what manner of person, I know not what tale I
must invent. Whatever you find it, you will support it by silence and
obedience. Bear in mind, you are not your own mistress: you are under my
enforcement. If evil come of your obedience, the consequences will be
upon my head; but ’tis nothing to the evil that will come if you
disobey. So beware, then, of causing such disaster as I will not even
speak of!”

He then fastened behind her head the neck-handkerchief, which she had
already begun, with slow and trembling fingers, to adjust over her face.
Taking this compliance as a sign of submission, he next arranged his
cloak more carefully around her, clasped her once more in his arms, and
walked on, leading the horse, till he arrived at a small cottage which
manifestly served as lodge to the house from which the light shone. The
gate was closed, but from between its tall pickets Everell could make
out an avenue of tall trees leading up to the mansion. He knocked and
halloed, and presently a man, half-dressed, carrying a lantern, came out
of the lodge and inspected him through the gate.

It occurred to Everell that he had best speak, at this stage, as if he
were a friend, or at least an acquaintance, of the master of the house:
he was thus more likely to obtain prompt admittance, and, secondly, he
might thus better secure the gatekeeper against betraying him to the
inquiries of pursuers. Upon this later point, moreover, he took a grain
of comfort from the fact that Foxwell was not liked by the gentry in the

“Is your master at home?” he said. “We have met with an accident. Pray
do not keep us waiting in the cold—the lady is shivering. We have had to
leave a horse behind, and this one is quite lame. ’Tis lucky we were so
near a friend’s. Come, my good fellow, open quickly!—this lady must be
got indoors—your master is at home, isn’t he?”

“Yes, sir, he’s at home,” said the fellow, and dubiously scratched his
head. “As to opening the gate at this time of night, why, if your Honour
will but let me take your name to master, I make no doubt—”

“Rascal! Dare you think of keeping us here to freeze? Names, say
you?—dog, if you but knew our names!—knew whom you are delaying!—or if
your master knew! Open at once, I command you, and lead us to your
master, or bitterly you’ll rue it!”

The imperiousness of the manner exceeded even that of the words. The
man, convinced that the speaker was some great person whom his master
would be fearful of offending, opened the gate with much bowing and

“Now shut the gate,” ordered Everell, when he and his company had
entered. “And if any one comes inquiring for a lady and gentleman on
horseback, say you know nothing of them. Remember that. And have the
horse taken care of.”

Emphasizing his commands with a coin, and letting Georgiana walk beside
him, Everell proceeded up the avenue, the gatekeeper leading the horse.
The mansion proved to be a large house in the square-built style
nowadays called Georgian. Arriving before the great central door, the
guide summoned a rustic-looking footman, to whom he resigned the
visitors with a whispered recommendation that caused them to be received
with as much respect as surprise. Their appearance was indeed sufficient
cause for the latter, Everell still having an arm clasped around
Georgiana in her masculine cloak and improvised veil.

They found themselves in a dimly lighted hall, at the farther end of
which was a door matching that by which they had entered. There was the
stairway usual to such houses, beginning along one side of the hall,
crossing at the end, and finishing the ascent along the other side in
the return direction. Having closed the door, the servant asked by what
name he might announce my lord and her ladyship to his master.

“Tell him a gentleman and lady,” said Everell, “who are in great haste,
and will not trouble him long.”

“A gentleman and lady, sir,” repeated the servant, obediently. “Begging
your lordship’s pardon, but master, being in his cups, may wish to
know—I mean to say, master is main hard to draw from his comforts at
this time o’ night—though I dare say when I tell him you be friends of

“Friends? Certainly—unless I am mistaken as to the house. But that’s
easily set right:—who is your master?”

“Squire Thornby, sir; and this house is Thornby Hall.”

From Everell’s look, the servant concluded that the gentleman probably
_was_ mistaken as to the house.

“But how can that be?” cried Everell. “Thornby Hall is on the other

“’Tis on both roads, so to speak, sir. The two run near together just
hereaways; the house looks on each. There’s two gates, you know, sir,
and two lodges; the gardener lives in one, and Jenkins in t’other.”

Everell took a moment’s thought. Resolution appeared on his face.

“’Tis just as well,” he said. “Mr. Thornby is known to me by reputation.
Tell him I am here, and must needs beg he will see me without delay.”

This was spoken with such an air that the servant conceived it best to
carry the message at once, without a second attempt to elicit the
speaker’s name. As soon as the man was gone, Everell said to Georgiana:

“I must brave it out with this Squire Thornby, there’s nothing else for
it. We must have horses, and soon: ’twere folly to go on afoot, heaven
knows how far, till we found another house. As well solicit this
gentleman’s help as another’s—’tis all one, he may be no harder to
persuade. He has never seen me, and now he shall not see you. Take good
heed you don’t show your face, nor shift the cloak, nor let your voice
be heard: or ’twill go ill, I promise you.”

Georgiana made no answer, nor gave any sign of existence save to draw a
long breath. Was it of helpless resignation to the compulsion she was
under? was it to brace herself for resistance to that compulsion? or to
steady herself against anxiety as to the outcome? Did she really see
through his show of dark threat? Was her scrupulosity of conscience so
great, that so much intimidation was required to keep her from opposing
her abductor, in the interests alike of her given promise and of
maidenly propriety? Oh, woman, woman!—

The footman returned with word that his master would attend upon the
visitors in a minute; and showed them into a large room, which appeared,
by the candles he lighted, to be devoted to the exercise of his master’s
functions as justice of the peace. Near one end was a large table
whereon were an inkstand, pens, and a few weighty-looking books. The
walls were paneled in oak, and the bare floor was of the same wood.
There were two armchairs drawn up to the table, and two before the
fireplace, while oak settles stood against the wall. The servant fanned
the smouldering fire into a blaze, put on a fresh log, and left the

Everell had been looking at a door in the side of the room, near the
table. It was slightly ajar, and its key was in place,—two indications
that it sheltered no secret. As soon as he and Georgiana were alone,
Everell led her hastily to it, and, throwing it open, discovered a large
closet containing a disorderly array of shabby cloaks, wigs, whips, hats
and such, on pegs; and old record books piled in a corner.

“’Tis none so roomy, but ’twill do at a pinch,” said Everell. “I think
it best you should be out of sight altogether, miss. I can tell my story
better. I must command you to enter.” And he gently pushed her into the
closet. “Do not dare to cry out; and when I open the door to fetch you,
be veiled, cloaked, and silent, as you are now. Remember!—or injury will
be done.—Stay, those books will serve you to sit on—you will be tired
standing.” He guided her to the pile of old volumes, and then came out
of the closet, and locked the door. The key, long unused save as a door
handle, turned hardly, and he had difficulty in getting it from the lock
in order to pocket it. As he was in the act of drawing it out, a heavy
step made him glance around. He beheld a robust-looking man with a red
face, who stood regarding him with pugnacious astonishment.

“Your servant, sir,” said Everell, with an easy bow. “Mr. Thornby, I

“That’s my name, sir,” said the Squire, bluntly. “Might I ask what
you’re doing at that there closet door, sir?”

“Closet door, sir?” repeated Everell, lightly.

“Only locking it, sir,—that’s all.” And he held up the key as evidence
of the truth of his assertion.

“And perhaps I have a right to know what the devil you’re a-locking it
for? Who asked you for to lock my doors, sir? Ecod, I must say this is
rare manners in a stranger. I don’t remember as how I ever had the
honour of seeing your face afore, sir.”

“’Tis quite true we have never met before, sir. The loss has been mine,”
said Everell, resting upon courtesy till he could see how best to deal
with his man. At the same time, he carelessly pocketed the key.

“Are you trying to put a game on me, sir?” said Thornby, wrathfully.
Though he had evidently been called from his bottle, he was in full
possession both of his legs and of his usual wits. “Look ye, ’tis mighty
suspicious, poking your nose into my closets. I have a shrewd guess what
you came into my house for—passing yourself off as a lord to my fool
servants. And the lady?—I don’t see any lady here!—ecod, perhaps she’s
poking her nose into the silver closet! Hey, Jabez, the plate!” With
that, the Squire started for the door by which he had entered.

“Nay, sir, you wrong us!” cried Everell, striding to intercept him. “The
lady is in that closet—I took the liberty—she desires not to be seen.
Upon my honour, sir, we had no purpose in entering your house but to ask
your aid.”

Thornby, having been stayed by Everell’s first declaration, gazed at the
closet and then at the young gentleman. “But what the devil does the
lady please to hide in a closet for?”

“She desires not to be seen, as I tell you. ’Twas the nearest place of
concealment. I locked the door lest you might open it before I could

“And why doesn’t she desire to be seen? ’Tis the first of her sex
afflicted that way, as ever I heard on. Is there aught the matter wi’
her looks? Ecod, what o’ that? There’s a plenty in the same boat amongst
the she-folk hereabouts. There’s only one beauty in these four parishes,
if I be any judge.”

“’Tis for no such reason,” said Everell, with a smile, as he began to
see his way. “Sir, I perceive you’re a blunt, outspoken gentleman, given
to plain dealing yourself, and no doubt preferring it in others. I’m
resolved to throw myself on your confidence, as far as I think safe, and
tell you my story, or as much as I dare. Perhaps then your
fellow-feeling—for your words imply a gallant sense of beauty in the
tender sex—may impel you to assist me.”

“H’m!” ejaculated the Squire, dubiously, though his relaxed countenance
showed him to be decidedly mollified. “Perhaps—and then again, perhaps
not. Let’s hear your story, howsomever. ’Tis all devilish curious—the
lady desiring not to be seen, and the rest of it. Please to take this
here chair.” The Squire moved an armchair from what was evidently the
clerk’s place to where it faced across the table to the seat of
judgment. He then went around and assumed the latter, having meanwhile
rung for a servant. “And just to be on the safe side,” he added, “in
case it _is_ a game you’re a-trying on, I’ll be prepared.” He drew a
bunch of small keys from his pocket, opened a drawer in his side of the
table, and fetched out a pair of pistols, which he laid before him; he
then closed the drawer, all but a few inches. “Yes, sir, I keep ’em
always loaded,” he said, as he looked to the priming. “I’m a blunt,
outspoken man, as you observe, and I take my precautions.”

“I have no right to complain, sir,” said Everell, who sat with his face
to the Squire, and his back to the door of the apartment; “a stranger
intruding at this hour of the night must take what reception he finds.”

“Very well said, sir. And at the same time I’ll show you as I know how
to treat a gentleman, too, in case you be one.—Jabez,” for the servant
had now entered, “tell Bartholomew to fetch a bottle of what I’ve been
drinking. And tell the gentlemen at table—no, they bean’t gentlemen
neither, and damn me if I’ll call ’em so!—tell ’em to make the best of
it without me, I’ll be with ’em when I see fit.—A man is hard put to it
for proper company sometimes, sir,” he explained, when Jabez had gone.
“Though if some beggarly attorney, or worse, can do justice to his
bottle, and tell a good tale or so, talk intelligently of dogs and
horses, and listen with respect to his betters, why, some things may be
winked at.”

It was manifestly Thornby’s wish to postpone matters till the wine came;
so Everell answered in the strain he thought likely to command the
other’s favour. Bartholomew presently appeared with bottle and glasses,
observed the pistols with mild wonder, and retired.

“Now, sir,” said Thornby, “we’ll drink the lady’s health, and then for
your business. Nay, don’t trouble yourself to reach; keep to your own
side of the table.” And the Squire pushed bottle and glass to Everell’s
hands, preferring that these should not come too close to the pistols.
“The lady’s health, as I said. Shall we have her name, sir?”

“Not at present, if you’ll excuse me.”

“As you please. Health of the fair unknown in the closet—eh?”

“The fair unknown in the closet,” said Everell, and the glasses went to
the lips.

“And now, by the Lord,” said the Squire, “you shall return the
compliment. I’ve drunk to your fair companion: you shall drink to a lady
of my proposing.”

“With all my heart,” replied Everell, and dissembled his impatience
while the glasses were filled anew.

“Yes, sir,” said Thornby, “a lady of my proposing: the beauty of the
four parishes—nay, the beauty of the county—damme, I may as well say the
beauty of England! I’ll give her name, too: there’s no reason, as I know
of, for to keep it back. To Miss Georgiana Foxwell!”

“Miss Georgiana Foxwell,” echoed Everell, wondering, as he drank,
whether she could hear herself thus twice honoured in so short a time.

“I suppose you never saw that young lady I proposed, sir,” said Thornby,
as he put down his glass and resumed his seat, for the toasts had been
drunk standing.

“I am a stranger in this part of England, sir,” Everell answered.

“I take you for a town-bred man. Maybe, then, you’ve met an uncle of
hers in London aforetime—one Mr. Robert Foxwell?”

“I _have_ met a Mr. Robert Foxwell—but I cannot truly say I know much of

“The less the better, if truth must be told; he’s a damned supercilious
fop! A rogue, too. He hates me like poison, but, for all that, he’ll let
me marry his niece.”

“How so, if he hates you?”

“Because,” said Thornby, tapping the drawer of the table with his
fingers, “I have that in my possession which makes him consider my
wishes. Yes, sir,” and he thrust his hand carelessly into the drawer,
till Everell heard a rustle of papers, “I hold the means of keeping Mr.
Robert Foxwell in his place. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s
hear your petition, friend; and you might begin with your name, which I
don’t remember as how you’ve yet mentioned.”

“I would rather finish than begin with it,” said Everell, “if, when
you’ve heard me, you still require it. You may not wish in the future to
admit having helped me: if you remain ignorant of my name, you can never
be sure.”

“’Tis by no means certain that I _shall_ help you,” declared the Squire,

“I have good hopes of you,” said Everell. “Frankly, sir, I am running
away with that lady.” Thornby stared and blinked; finally threw back his
head and laughed loudly. “Oho, that’s how the wind sits, eh? Ecod, I
might ’a’ guessed as much.”

“You are a man of spirit, with an eye for beauty,” Everell went on
rapidly: “therefore you will not blame me. I love her, she loves me; but
her nearest relation wishes her to marry another—one whom she does not

“Devil take her nearest relation!” said Thornby.

“Amen! He has so worked upon her mind, by threats of ill consequences to
me, as to obtain her consent to marry this other gentleman, much against
the dictates of her heart. She is a lady who, having once given her
promise, would fulfil it: she was thus barred from eloping with me of
her own will. What then was I to do?”

“Ecod, sir,” Thornby replied, heartily, “you was to take matters in
hand, and carry her away, of _your_ own will!”

“Precisely what I have done, sir! I knew I could rely upon your
approval.—Well, sir, I seized her under her guardian’s very nose, set
her upon a horse that stood waiting, mounted behind her, and was away at
a gallop before anybody had the wit to stop me. I made what speed I
could, over roads unknown to me; how far we have ridden, what adventures
we have had, I beg you will excuse me from relating. So far, no pursuit
has come within sight or hearing: though, if her relation was prompt, he
need have lost no time but to saddle his horses. Our own beast, which
kind fortune had placed ready to my hand, at last broke down; but within
a short distance of your gate, which I take as another circumstance of
fortune’s favour.”

“That’s as how it may be,” said the Squire, who had followed the lover’s
recital with lively interest. “But first I’d give something to know who
’tis you’ve—ha, ha!—carried off. Ecod, perhaps ’tisn’t the first time a
woman has been carried off against her will but not against her wish!
Who is it, man?—come, who is the lady?”

“I beg you will not insist upon knowing just now. Doubtless the news
will travel all too soon. Meanwhile I would have your help without a
scruple. Should you be acquainted with her family, you might feel bound
to cross my purpose.”

Thornby, after a moment’s thought, admitted there was something in that.
Still, “I wonder who it can be:—how far do you say you’ve rid?”

“I do not say,” replied Everell, smiling.

“There’s Miss Hollowfield,” mused Thornby, aloud; “her grandfather’d be
opposed to a stripling like you—but nobody’d run away with such a face
as hers. And there’s Miss Marvell—why, I’ll wager ’tis Dick Birch they
want to marry her to. Sukey Marvell, that’s who ’tis.”

“I must not tell,” said Everell, shaking his head.

“Yes, ’tis Sukey,” declared Thornby: “well, she’s not as bad as t’other.
And old Dick Birch, I’ll be glad to see him done out of her!—damned
coxcomb! serves him right for the trick he played me at York races. Oh,
I’ll have the laugh on Dick next time we meet!—I’ll have him here for
some shooting, a-purpose. Ha, ha! These conceited fellows think they can
marry any pretty girl they set their minds on. Well, young sir, I wish
you joy. I’ve owed Dick Birch a grudge these many months.”

“The favour I have to ask,” said Everell, “is the loan of a chaise, with
horses and a man, to the nearest town from which I can travel on by

“Why, damn me, that’s not so much to ask, neither,” said Thornby, still
vastly good-humoured over the discomfiture of Dick Birch.

“I thank you from my heart. And, as every minute counts, I hope I may be
set on my way as soon as possible.”

“H’m!—many a man, sir, would think twice afore sending out his
horses—but I don’t want to spoil sport. In for a penny, in for a pound.
I’ll give orders; and meanwhile my housekeeper can show Sukey to the
guest-chamber—she may like to make herself trim in front of a glass—you
know the ways o’ that sex—while the horses are being put to.”

“A thousand thanks, but I daren’t allow the lady so far out of my
control. She may be shown to a room, if she will; but the room must have
but one door, and I must wait outside that door. Pray bear in mind, she
is travelling under compulsion.”

“Compulsion!—oh, certainly—ha, ha! I’ll send for Mrs. Jenkins, and for
old Rodge; he shall drive you—’twill need a careful man with the
horses.” Thornby, who had risen from the table, pulled the bell-cord.
“And meanwhile we’ll drink confusion to Dick Birch. Dod, to see him
bubbled out of a bride this way!—it does one’s heart good! But, man,
we’d better let Sukey out o’ that closet, now ’tis all settled. Come,
you’ve got the key: unlock, unlock.”

“But there must be a condition: you’ll not ask the lady to uncover her
face: she must still remain unknown.”

“Oh, be it so: let Sukey remain unknown; it may save me trouble, to be
sure. But let her out, let her out.”

Everell unlocked the door, and, peering in before he opened it wide, saw
that Georgiana was still cloaked and veiled. He led her forth with a
whispered “Remember!—not a word!”

“Your humble servant, ma’am,” said Thornby, bowing with all the elegance
at his command.

Before there was time for either speech or silence, a noise of steps and
voices arose outside the apartment. Thornby turned, with a look of wrath
at the interruption, toward the door. It was flung open, and a man in
cloak and riding-boots walked in, followed by a servant of his own, and
by the footman Jabez.

“To horse, Thornby! we must scour the country!” cried the newcomer as he
hastily approached. His glance now fell upon Everell and Georgiana, and
of a sudden he stopped short, with an ejaculation of surprise.

“What’s the matter, Foxwell?” inquired Thornby. “Why d’ye stare like

THORNBY’S words indicated surprise at Foxwell’s surprise. Foxwell shot a
keen glance to see if the other’s surprise was genuine. There could be
no doubt of that. This occasioned new surprise in Foxwell.

“Egad, sir,” said he, “I should think I might be pardoned for staring.
How come they to be here? It puzzles me, I own.”

“Who here?” blurted Thornby. “This gentleman and lady, d’ye mean?”

“Ay, the gentleman and lady I’ve been in search of.”

“Why, you don’t desire to stop ’em, do you? What the deuce is little Sue
Marvell to you?—and Dick Birch? Captain Marvell is no friend of yours.
Rather help these young people away, if only for the joke on Dick

“Of what are you talking?” cried Foxwell. “Can it be possible you don’t
know who these young people are?”

“I don’t know much of the gentleman,” Thornby admitted; “but the girl is
Sukey Marvell.”

“Sukey Marvell!—Sukey devil!” exclaimed Foxwell, and, striding up to
Georgiana, he snatched the handkerchief from her face. Everell had left
her standing at the end of the table, himself having moved around to
Thornby’s former place a moment earlier for a purpose of his own.
Checking an impulse to go to Georgiana’s side, he now stood between the
magisterial chair and the table. Despite all that was at stake, he was
amused at the sight of Thornby gazing with mouth wide open at the face
so unexpectedly revealed.

“It seems _you_ find reason to stare now,” said Foxwell to the Squire.
“Egad, Thornby, had they bamboozled you?”

“Mr. Thornby, I hold you to your promise,” Everell put in; “a chaise,
horses, and a man.”

“Chaise, horses, and damnation!” was the reply of Thornby, as he at last
found a voice. “I never knew ’twas _she_ you was a-running away with.
You said ’twas Sukey Marvell.”

“Pardon me, no; _you_ said ’twas Sukey Marvell. And I hold you to your


“Hold and be damned!—And Foxwell, you’ve deceived me, too. You said
you’d persuade her to have me.”

“So I have done,” asserted Foxwell, “and she has given her consent.”

“Given her consent? Then _you_ was the relation—and _I’m_ the Dick
Birch! What?—and this here stripling would ’a’ had me help to do myself
out of a bride! Oh, you shall all pay for this among you!”

“Softly, softly, Thornby,” said Foxwell. “She has promised to marry you.
Have you not, miss?”

After a brief hesitation, Georgiana uttered a reluctant “yes.”

“Then you forced the promise from her,” said Thornby.

“She gave it willingly,” returned Foxwell. “Did you not, miss?”

“Yes—willingly,” said Georgiana, in the faintest of voices.

“And yet you ran away with this here other man,” said Thornby.

“I was—carried away,” she replied, in a tone as frail as before.

“And you are still willing to marry Mr. Thornby?” said her uncle.


Thornby’s brow cleared. “Then, ecod, not much harm’s done, after all.
’Tis all well that ends well.”

Everell again put in, addressing Thornby: “She is willing to marry you,
perhaps. But ask her if she will ever love you, man.”

“Eh! Well, what about that? D’ye think you’ll ever love me, miss?”

“No, I do not, sir,” cried Georgiana, suddenly emphatic of voice. “I
shall always love this gentleman! For ever, and ever, and ever!” And she
moved toward the man of her choice.

Her manner of speech, her look of disdain, and Everell’s smile of
triumph were too much for Thornby’s savage vanity. “Then don’t flatter
yourself I’ll marry you,” he answered, with retaliatory scorn. “A
white-faced vixen, when all’s said and done! Mistress of Thornby Hall,
after this night’s business?—dod, I’m warned in time!”

“Oh, say it again!” exclaimed Georgiana, rejoiced.

“I do say it again! Ecod, I know my value!”

“I am freed of my promise!” she cried.

“Ay,” said Thornby, with a swelling wrath which had to be discharged
upon somebody, “and your blundering uncle may go whistle.—You shall
answer for this, Foxwell, d’ye hear? I’ll see to that. ’Tis all along o’
your mismanagement. But I’ll be quits wi’ ye. I’ll make use o’ that
there letter!—rat me but I will!”

“You are quite unreasonable, Thornby,” said Foxwell, patiently, and,
turning to his attendant, “Joseph, wait without.”

Joseph left the room, whereupon Thornby had the grace to order his own
servant to be off; so that the four principals were left alone. Foxwell
made sure that the door was closed against espial, and thrust into the
keyhole a part of the handkerchief he had taken from Georgiana. He then
returned to Thornby, who had meanwhile been fuming and pacing the floor.

“You have cause for anger, I admit,” said Foxwell; “but you are bound to
own I have done my part.”

“Don’t talk to me, sir,” roared Thornby. “I’ll make you smart afore I’ve
done! See if I don’t!”

Foxwell’s own temper gave way. He had been put to much exercise of
self-command this evening, and had scarce yet regained his bodily
composure after his ride. Of a sudden, now, his face darkened. “Then by
heaven I’ll not smart alone! You shall suffer, miss,—and your lover,
too! Let all come out. You say you know little of this young gentleman,
Thornby. Would you know more?—who he is, _what_ he is?”

“Uncle, you will not!” entreated Georgiana. “With my promise I bought
your silence—remember that!—and I have not broken my promise. ’Tis Mr.
Thornby has released me.”

“Very well. Let us stick to promises, by all means! But I have your
Romeo upon other grounds.—Before you as a justice of the peace, Mr.
Thornby, I charge this gentleman with the abduction of my niece.—That,
too, is a hanging matter, miss.”

“Not so, Mr. Thornby,” cried Georgiana; “for, now that I am free, I go
with this gentleman of my own consent. ’Tis not abduction, ’tis on my
part a voluntary flight.”

“You forget you are not yet your own mistress,” said Foxwell. “Besides,
the abduction has been committed. Moreover, Thornby, the gentleman has
appropriated to himself a horse of mine. I demand of you to act upon
these charges.”

Thornby underwent a sudden accession of magisterial dignity. “I know my
office, Mr. Foxwell. Nobody has ever accused me of failing there.
Sir,”—this to Everell,—“when the case is put to me in that form, I must
do as my commission requires. I must needs hold you for a hearing.—I’ll
send for my clerk, Foxwell; I left him at the table, but I dare say he’s
still sober enough for what’s to be done.” Relapsing then into his more
usual puerility, he added, “Dod, such impudent young strangers sha’n’t
carry off our ladies with impunity, neither!”

Georgiana had hastened to Everell’s side. “Oh, save yourself _now_,” she
besought him in a whisper.

“Not without you, sweet.—Gentlemen,” he cried, in time to stop Thornby’s
movement toward the door, “one word. I am in a desperate position.
Abduction, horse-stealing, the other business,—any one of them is the
price of a halter. With but one life to lose, then, what is a crime or
two more? ’Tis but getting the more value for my neck.” He took up the
pistols left on the table by Thornby, who had lost all thought of them
on being convinced of Everell’s honesty. Dexterously cocking them as he
spoke, the young man went on: “If I must die, be sure that one or both
of you shall go before me—’tis fair precedence, _cedant arma togæ_! But
first I will have one more venture for my life—and for my love.” By this
time, he had each of the gentlemen in line with a different pistol. “Mr.
Thornby, move or call out, at your peril. Mr. Foxwell, the same to you;
and this also: I think I can persuade you to withdraw your charges, and,
furthermore, to lend me the horses that brought you and your man to this

Foxwell’s only weapon at the moment was his sword; he had left his
pistols outside in the holsters, thinking to spend but a minute in
Thornby Hall and foreseeing no need of them there. He perceived from
Everell’s manner of handling the pistols that the young man was of
perfect assurance in their use. The same circumstance found speedy way
to the mind of Thornby, who was unarmed. So the two gentlemen stood as
they were requested. Foxwell, for want of a better temporizing answer,
feigned to yield with a good grace, saying: “You present so strong an
argument, that I know not how to oppose you.”

“I fear if the pistol were my only argument,” said Everell, calmly, “my
victory would end as soon as my back was turned. I will try an argument
that may have more lasting effect. Miss Foxwell, I must bid you pull out
this drawer of the table,—stay where you are, Mr. Thornby!—which the
owner has carelessly left open.” Everell moved a step to the side,
giving Georgiana closer access to the drawer. She obeyed in wonder, for
she had overheard little of the talk while she was in the closet, and
nothing of Thornby’s allusion to that in the drawer which gave the power
of keeping Mr. Robert Foxwell in his place. Everell now told her to
empty the contents of the drawer upon the table, and to spread them out
so that each document might be seen. “Not a step, Mr. Thornby! You, Mr.
Foxwell, come near enough to see if there be anything of interest to
you. That will do—no farther! Look carefully.”

Foxwell’s keen eye had already begun to range the various papers as they
lay separately exposed. Suddenly he uttered a quick “Ah!” and stepped
forward, reaching out. Everell checked him by a sharp “Back!” and a
movement of the pistol; then followed with his glance the line of the
extended arm.

“Miss Foxwell,” said Everell, “be good enough to take up the paper your
uncle reached for. ’Twill be one of those three the shadow falls
athwart,—the shadow of the wine-bottle;—ay, those.—Don’t move, Mr.
Thornby.—Open them out, Georgiana, and hold them where I can see. H’m;
apparently a legal document concerning one William Hardy. The next,
please: ‘a new cure for the glanders.’ The other: a letter signed ‘R.
Foxwell.’—Back, Mr. Foxwell. Is that all you see here of importance to
you?—Mr. Thornby, if you take a step toward the door—! Is that all, Mr.
Foxwell? I will not read it unless I am forced to.”

“That is all,” replied Foxwell, “and ’tis something Mr. Thornby has no
right to possess. I ask you, as a man of honour, to restore it to me.”

“In proper time, sir. Meanwhile, Miss Foxwell, fold the paper as it was,
and place it in my waistcoat pocket.—’Tis well done; though I dare not
thank you, for you do this under compulsion.”

“By the Lord, sir,” Thornby burst out at last, “this here’s robbery,
sir!—rank robbery under arms! You may carry it off for the moment—I’m
not moving, I’m only warning you, for your own good—but this sort of
thing is bound to end in a halter, sir.”

“Possibly; but, as I have said, a crime or two more can make no
difference to a man in my situation. You were kind enough to tell me
that in this drawer was the means of making Mr. Foxwell consider your
wishes. Let us see if it will make him consider mine. Mr. Foxwell,
whatever the document contains, I’m not like to use it against
Georgiana’s kinsman. But if I am taken prisoner here, ’twill no doubt
fall into Mr. Thornby’s hands again. Your interest, then, lies in my

“Damn Foxwell’s interest!” broke in Thornby. “I’m the man to bargain
with. If you restore that letter and them pistols—’tis my property, that
letter, for all he says; mine, bought and paid for, as I can prove by
Jeremiah Filson—”

This name, in relation to the letter, was another surprise to Foxwell.
But ere Thornby could proceed farther, Everell commanded silence.

“You are very good, Mr. Thornby, but I will not bargain with you. I will
forego the chaise and horses, release you from your promise,—on
condition of your entering that closet. Come, I mean it. You shall be
let out in good time. ’Tis no such bad place—the lady suffered no harm
there. Into the closet, if you please. I’ll return your pistols—by and
by.” Everell, while speaking, had come around the end of the table, and
was now threatening Thornby with both pistols at close quarters. “Into
the closet, sir! By heaven, don’t try my patience!—a man who may be
hanged three times over doesn’t balk at the chance of a fourth. In, in!”

Slowly retreating from the weapons as they were thrust almost into his
face, Thornby backed into the closet, glaring futile wrath.

“’Tis well,” said Everell; “if you keep silence there, I engage not to
fire through the door.” Having put one pistol in his coat pocket, he
locked the door and repocketed the key. He turned now to Foxwell, who
had been pondering. “I must borrow your horses, sir, to the first
posting-place. I will send them back from there, with these pistols and
this key. You can then release this gentleman, if he be not freed by
other means before that;—he will soon begin to make himself heard. I
think you will now see fit to speed my parting; for, look you, if I am
taken in my flight, Heaven knows whose hands this letter may fall into.”

“And if you are not taken?” inquired Foxwell.

“I will not read it, nor let anybody else read it; and will send it to
you from France as soon as I am married to your niece. Regarding that
matter, I will only say now that I am a man of honour, of good family,
and some fortune.—I must still carry you off, sweet. ’Tis the one safe
course, despite the dangers and discomforts you must share.”

“Better the dangers and discomforts with you, than the anxieties if I
were left behind,” said Georgiana.

“Then, Mr. Foxwell, may I beg you to conduct us to the horses?—your
servant might dispute our taking them.”

Everell had now put the second pistol into the opposite coat pocket,
believing that the letter gave him sufficient control over Foxwell’s
actions. But he kept his hand upon his sword-hilt, intending that
Foxwell should walk in front of him to the horses.

“A moment, pray,” said Foxwell. “Consider the legal position I shall be
left in if I assist you. It does not suit me to fly the country, as it
does you.”

“Who will trouble you on that score? Certainly this booby justice will
not desire to publish a matter in which he makes so poor a figure. He
knows not who I am. In what crime can he then accuse you of aiding me?
The abduction and the horse-stealing you need not pursue—you have signed
no charge, sworn to none.”

“The theft of the letter,” said Foxwell. “If I help you to escape, I
shall be accessory to that.”

“But you say he has no right to its possession. In any case, you can
show him how ridiculous he will appear. I think you run little risk; but
be that as it may, I must think of my own risk. Every moment adds to it;
and to the danger of this letter coming to wrong hands. So, if you
please, to the horses.”

A curious look was on Foxwell’s face. It was true that any struggle with
Everell in the presence of Thornby or his people might result in the
letter’s falling again into that gentleman’s hands. But there was now no
such person to interfere. A quick sword-thrust—which could be justified
as against an escaping rebel—might win the letter in a moment; Foxwell
could destroy it immediately at the fire, and make his peace with
Thornby by releasing him and showing his outrage avenged. No danger,
then, of the letter’s capture in the long journey of a fugitive, or of
Thornby’s attempting retaliation by course of law. It was all seen in an
instant. Foxwell’s sword flashed in the air, and Everell had to spring
aside to save himself.

“Ah, treacherous!” cried the young man, as his own blade leaped out.

Foxwell’s second thrust came with surprising swiftness, but was fairly
met; and the two swords darted and clashed again and again. Georgiana,
with every impulse to rush between the fighters, dared not do so, and
was indeed compelled to move rapidly to keep out of their way, watching
them with fear and horror. While the noise of their quick feet, their
loud breathing and sharp ejaculations, and the clashing steel filled the
apartment, there came from some other part of the house a sound of
half-drunken singing. This was unheeded, even when it was evidently
approaching. Foxwell, perceiving that he had counted too much upon the
suddenness and sureness of his attack, and feeling that he was entitled
to little mercy if he lost, fought with the impetuosity of desperation.
His arm at length grew heavy; and Everell, who on his side used a
concentration of faculties worthy of the issue at stake, found opening
for a lunge that pinked the other’s forearm, causing him to lower his
hand with a cry of chagrin. The next instant the young man struck the
weapon from Foxwell’s weakened grasp, sending it flying to the door;
which at that moment opened, letting in two men who walked arm in arm
and bawled a bacchanalian song.

From their dress and appearance, it was evident that these newcomers
were Mr. Thornby’s table companions, doubtless come in search of him.
One of them, a short, heavy-set person with a wig awry, was plainly very
drunk indeed. The other, a slim, prudent-looking fellow, seemed in good
command of his senses. This man, having nearly tripped over the sword,
picked it up, and looked with astonishment at those in the room.

“Eh!” he exclaimed. “My Jacobite, by all that’s holy! Here’s
providential work! Call your men, Mr. Potkin.”

The stout little man pulled himself together, blinked at Everell, and
then bolted from the room. “The justice’s clerk, gone to bring varlets
of the law,” thought Everell, who stood regaining his breath. Foxwell
withdrew panting to the other side of the table, dropped into Thornby’s
chair, and began pulling up his sleeve to examine his wound. Filson put
himself on guard with the sword before the doorway, with the manifest
intention of disputing Everell’s escape from the room till help should
come. Perhaps the courage of wine, the excitement of beholding his
quarry at last, or the sight of Everell’s winded condition, emboldened
the man: at any rate, he showed resolution, and his manner with the
sword was that of some practice in fencing—not a surprising thing at a
time when gentlemen’s gentlemen imitated the accomplishments of their

“What! you menace me!” cried Everell; “then be careful of your other
ear, hound!” With this he rushed upon Filson, thrusting along the side
of the latter’s head, and running the point through the wig, though not
touching the ear.

Filson turned pale, but made a pass, which was narrowly avoided. Everell
gave a second lunge, and this time the weapon pierced the somewhat
extended auricular shell.

“Help! help, Mr. Foxwell!” shouted Filson, clapping one hand to the
injured ear, but still wielding his sword against Everell.

“Call for help to those who buy letters from you, cur,” replied Foxwell,
scarce looking up from his task of binding his arm with a handkerchief,
a business performed by his left hand with the aid of his teeth.
Georgiana had looked an offer of assistance, which her uncle had
repelled. Her attention instantly returned to her lover.

On hearing Foxwell’s answer, Filson shrank back; but Everell pressed him
close, parried a desperate lunge, and sent a swift long thrust for the
region of the heart. Filson dropped like a log, and lay as still as one,
a result somewhat unexpected by Everell, to whom the resistance had
seemed only that of the man’s loose coat.

“Come!” cried Everell, and, while Georgiana hastened to his side, he
added to her uncle: “All that I said awhile ago still holds true. I wish
you good night.” He then led Georgiana around the prostrate body of
Filson, and through the doorway. Just outside in the hallway stood
Joseph and the footman, who had been attracted by the noise to peer into
the room, which as yet they dared not re-enter. Everell waved them aside
with his sword, and the lovers quickly passed. The two men, not knowing
what to do, again looked into the room, Joseph expectant of his master’s
orders, and the footman wondering at the disappearance of Thornby.
Nobody else was in the hall, and Everell and Georgiana were in a moment
at the door opposite that by which they had entered the house. It was
not fastened. Throwing it open, Everell found that he was right in what,
from his present knowledge of the roads and gates, he had
assumed,—namely, that Foxwell’s horses were waiting at this entrance.
They were in charge of a boy who evidently belonged to Thornby Hall,
perhaps to the gate-lodge. On the door-step was a lantern.

Everell sheathed his sword, and said, quietly, to the boy: “We are to
use Mr. Foxwell’s horses, my good lad.” He coolly helped Georgiana into
the saddle, mounted the other horse, and bade the boy hand him the
lantern. The lad, ignorant of Foxwell’s purposes and of the fighting in
the house, and obedient by habit, complied. “Now run before, and you
shall receive a crown at the gate,” said Everell, grasping Georgiana’s
rein and his own. He was at the same time wondering to what part of the
house or vicinity the clerk had gone for his forces. He trusted that
Foxwell would now see his interest in passively aiding the flight, and
would find means to keep Joseph and Thornby’s servant from interfering
or giving alarm.

In this he was not deceived. Foxwell saw all chance gone of obtaining
the letter by force of his own; and now feared that, if taken by
Thornby’s men, Everell would rather entrust it to them than suffer
Foxwell to possess it after what had occurred.

Foxwell, therefore, upon noticing the two servants at the doorway,
called Joseph to assist in binding his wound. He then assigned the
footman to the impossible task of prizing open the door of Thornby’s
prison with a poker. This apparent concern for Thornby’s comfort was
partly for the future conciliation of that gentleman; and Foxwell
intended to employ his wound to the same end, on the ground that he had
received it in the Squire’s interest. As he sat thinking the matter out,
and watching Joseph’s bungling attempts to fasten a bandage, Foxwell
heard a loud tramping, as of several heavy feet, in the hall.

“The men whom the clerk went to fetch,” thought he; and, without turning
his head, considered how he might delay them with perfect safety to
himself. But, just as they seemed about to enter the room, there was a
brief pause in their movements; and then they were heard rushing away
and out of the hall. It was as if they had learned at the very threshold
that the person they sought was gone elsewhere. Foxwell turned his eyes
upon the doorway, near which Filson had fallen. To his amazement, the
body of that rascal was not to be seen. This enabled Foxwell to account
for the movements of the justice’s men: the knave had yet life enough to
crawl out and indicate the way the fugitive had taken. The trampling of
the men in the hall, the footman’s noise with the poker, and certain
incoherent words of inquiry and command which Thornby had begun to shout
from his closet, had covered the sound of Filson’s exit.

Meanwhile, Everell and Georgiana had ridden down a driveway of
considerable length, following close upon the heels of the boy, whom the
lantern enabled them to keep in sight. The gate had swung to after
Foxwell’s entrance. As the lad went to open it, and Everell put his hand
in his pocket for the promised crown, there came a noise of men issuing
from the house they had left, followed by a cry: “Stop them! gate, ho!
let nobody pass!”

The boy gave a startled look at the riders, and stood hesitating.
Everell, who had been holding the lantern high so as to see the way,
quickly handed it to Georgiana; drew one of the pistols from his pocket,
pointed it at the lad’s head, and, at the same time offering the crown
piece with his left hand, said: “Lead or silver, which?”


The boy, whose mind had probably never worked so rapidly in his life
before, flung the gate open. Men were now heard running toward them from
the top of the driveway. Everell threw the coin at the boy, and the
horses dashed forward. Once in the road, the lovers turned to the right,
thus aiming for the town wherein they had first met. Everell put away
the pistol, but allowed Georgiana, at her own suggestion, to retain
possession of the lantern, that he might be the readier with his
weapons, should occasion arise. Of this there was not much immediate
likelihood, for, now that the gate was passed, Thornby’s men must needs
resort to horses if they meant to give chase.

“Do you ride well, sweet?” Everell called to Georgiana, as they galloped
along the road.

“Well enough,” she replied, as cheerily as she could.

He now observed, for the first time, that she was riding man-fashion;
his cloak, which she still wore, enabling her to do so with less loss in
appearance than addition of safety.

“You will not soon forget the night of your abduction,” said he, gaily.

She reminded him it was no longer an abduction, but a flight on her part
as well as his. And both of them, though they said nothing, wondered
what would be the end of it.

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