Professor Smythe

“Philosophy directs us to bear evils with patience and fortitude,
because they are inevitable; but Christianity gives us consolation
under sufferings, by assuring us that they are but the discipline
of a Parent who loveth while he chastiseth, and that they are but
for a moment, when compared with eternity. The Christian’s Hope
has made him whom it has supported rejoice under the greatest
sufferings that mortality could endure; yet Hope is but the
offspring of faith, and therefore it was necessary to make faith
the foundation of the structure of the Christian Religion, and
to assign and affix to it peculiar privileges and rewards.” MR.

Whoever reflects on the influence produced on the mind by research in
Science, will, we think, arrive at a very important conclusion.

It is true that, at the commencement, numerous worldly motives tend to
place most prominently before us the temporal advantages of scientific
Inquiry. There are distinctions of wealth, rank, position, which not
unfrequently await its successful cultivation. Then there are the
multiform applications of science in extending the enjoyments, in
ministering to the wants, and, still better, relieving the calamities
of mankind; but when we have arrived at this, surely the acmé of its
_utilitarian_ allurements, we find there are still higher motives
engendered—that science has a still richer harvest to encourage its
onward cultivation. Nor is it too much to say, that, if cultivated
aright, the fruits may be more surely garnered than any of those
to which we have previously referred. The harvest we mean consists
of those moralizing influences which, however neglected, are never
separable from the study of Nature; which, however ordinary the
impulses with which the inquiry may have commenced, slowly overlay
it with motives and feelings which lead us to investigate Nature for
the sake of truth alone. And here, we think, first dawns upon us the
conclusion to which we have alluded: viz. that the highest attractions
of science are to be found in what we venture to term its “Religion.”

However much the influences first mentioned tend to place the more
lofty suggestions of science in temporary abeyance, there always comes
a time when the sincere inquirer begins to feel a double current of
thought. In the one, the thoughts are open, aspiring—ambitious, it
may be—public, and directed only to the laws and phenomena of Nature;
in the other, they are calm, deep, humble, silent, and _will_ turn to
the Supreme Cause. The former may foster his ambition, animate his
research, sustain his industry. The latter carry him beyond those
influences, and supplies something which they cannot give. In loving
truth for its own sake, he learns by degrees to lean little on the
worldly appreciation of labour—convinced that whatever is true, will
one day find its own way, in the time best fitted for it. We cannot
help thinking that it is the force of this double current of thought
by which that climax has been reached by some of the greatest minds;
which has exemplified the coincidence of the utmost range of human
knowledge with the most profound humility; thus rendering the highest
aspirations of science subservient to the cultivation of a principle;
inseparable, we suppose, from all Religion; but certainly one of the
most distinguishing characteristics of Christianity.

An idea, however, has arisen in some minds, that the pursuit of science
has a tendency to make men sceptical in Religion. This we believe
to be not only a demonstrable, but a dangerous error—demonstrable,
as remarkably opposed to the evidences of fact and observation; and
dangerous, as withdrawing the minds of many from the study of science,
who would be perhaps especially fitted to estimate its advantages and
enjoy its pleasures.

History, who from her ample store of testimony has so often repealed
injustice and defeated error, is no where more conclusive than on the
question before us. The study of Nature not only has no tendency to
induce a state of mind unfavorable to the reception of the truths of
Religion, but just the contrary; for the proofs of a humble and sincere
reliance on the promises of the one, have been infinitely most striking
in those who have proved themselves the most successful cultivators of
the other.

The philosopher, regarding the universe as the dwelling of the Supreme,
sees in the laws of nature, and in the powers through which he is
permitted in a degree to interpret them, only another revelation—a
Divine recognition of his high relations and destiny; and grasps
in one comprehensive idea the Word and the Works, as an integral
communication—one extended privilege to Man. He does not indeed
confound the evidences on which philosophical and religious truths
respectively repose. He knows that they rest on different _kinds_ of
testimony, which he neither strives to identify, nor misapply. He
no more expects to deduce the generalizations of science from the
Scriptures, than he does the commands of the Deity from the facts of
the natural world. Philosophy and Religion, however, are constantly
impressing similar facts. In science, we learn—and no doubt the
deepest learn it best—that “there are more things in heaven and earth
than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” Religion tells us there are many
things “past man’s understanding.” Religion and science teach us alike
that any inquiry into the positive and ultimate nature of anything
which exists, is entirely beyond our faculties; and respectively impress
on us the conviction, that our proper business is to search out the
phenomena and laws of the one, and to obey the Commandments of the other.

Philosophy is daily teaching us how little we know, as compared with
that which is unknown. Religion informs us that, at present, we see
“through a glass darkly.” Yet, at the same time, both concur in
encouraging us to believe that everything that is really required of
us, everything that is good and useful to us both here and hereafter,
are alike open to human capacity. The pursuit of science, no doubt,
establishes requisitions which are essential to the proper study of
it. A mind undisciplined by any rule; a mind taking only a conjectural
view of nature; a mind allowing fancy or imagination to usurp the
place of intellectual power; a condition which ignores the guidance of
patience, circumspection, and industry, and which seeks the explanation
of the impressions made on the senses by ingenious hypotheses made to
fit them; or which sees no order or intelligibility in anything which
it does not at once comprehend; that these and many other states of
mind _may_ tend to confound the understanding, and replace anything
rational or profitable by anything else, is _possible_ enough. But is
it not equally true of Religion? Experience has abundantly shown us the
result of Man trying to fit the mysteries of Religion to the measure
of intelligibility set up by the human intellect. There surely is no
subject on which men have become more lamentably bewildered. This,
however, is merely one of the too common examples of abuse of our
faculties; and that such men may become sceptical, whether pursuing
Science or any subject whatever, is probable. It is, in truth, “Science
falsely so called,” and has no more relation to the legitimate study of
Nature, than the most orderly formula of the mathematician has to the
wildest conjecture.

But that research in science, legitimately conducted, has any tendency
to produce what is usually intended by the term scepticism, is not only
improbable;—it is directly contradicted by the facts of experience.
So numerous are the examples of the contrary, to which we here add
the name of Abernethy, that it is difficult to select, so as not to
leave the evidence unjustifiably bald on the one hand; or to render
it superfluous even to tediousness on the other. That which confers,
however, the greatest interest on this part of the subject, is not so
much the _mass_ of testimony, not so much the _crowd_ of witnesses,
as the peculiar, yet varied, character of the august assemblage. It
is extremely significant to observe, that whilst we find amongst
the most earnest advocates of the paramount importance of Revealed
Truth, the names of the most successful students of the Truths of
Science,—so, on the other hand, no persons have laboured to impress
us with the important uses of the facts in nature with more zeal and
success than distinguished Divines. Amongst the many scientific men
who have exemplified the purifying tendencies of scientific pursuits
in promoting their reverence for Revealed Religion, it will suffice to
mention such names as Boyle, Bacon, Kepler, Newton, Locke. The latter
too reminds us that the medical profession has contributed no small
number of witnesses; of whom, Böerhaave, Linnæus, Sloane, and Haller,
are a few of the more illustrious examples. All the foregoing are men
who have explored one or more of the ample fields of Nature; some of
them, extending their views beyond the planet we inhabit, into the
whole visible universe, have come back, showing us how to understand
the necessity, and estimate the value, of Revealed Truth; converting,
it may be, in many instances, Belief (so called) into a positive Faith;
and a passive assent into an earnest and clear conviction.

But, as we have said, Divines have not been slow in contributing the
weight of their testimony to the value of natural evidence, and the
acceptable assistance afforded by a contemplation of the laws and the
mysteries of Nature. So abundant indeed are these mysteries, that
there is not a path of our progress by day, nor a waking thought by
night, that does not at times present some of them to our reflection.
Mysteries in operation so clear, that our very senses take cognizance
of them; so orderly, that when we are allowed to discover the law which
regulates them, we are at a loss which most to admire, the power, the
number, or the simplicity of its manifestations; and yet which, as to
their intrinsic nature, are so recondite as to be entirely beyond our
researches; leaving us, in fact, no faculty which can deal with them,
but faith alone. Divines have shown the value they attach to all such
facts, by the admirable application they have made of them in aiding
the cultivation of Religion—sometimes by teaching the necessity and
reasonableness of faith in the mysteries of Religion; at others, in
impressing the nature and attributes of the Supreme.

It would be easy to produce a longer roll of such men; but most
readers are acquainted with such names as Cudworth, Butler, Sturm,
Derham, Paley, Crombie, who have, in one or other sense, exemplified
the importance of natural knowledge, and the interest they took in
its cultivation. In every phase of the investigation, we meet with
fresh examples of the union of Religion with Science. Paschal and
St. Pierre are eminent illustrations. Paschal was a Divine, and an
eminent mathematician: mankind is surely under obligations to him for
his “Lettres Provinciales.” These extraordinary compositions must
have operated with uncommon force against the sophistries of the
Jesuits; and, considering the nature of the subject, it could have
been no ordinary work that could have induced Voltaire to say that
he had never read anything more humorous than the earlier letters,
or more sublime than the later. St. Pierre[80], too, should not be
passed without mention. His book is, in some points of view, one of
the most interesting works ever written: occasionally fanciful or
enthusiastic, it is a most unusually rich collection of facts and
observations. How excellently adapted it is to encourage observation
of natural phenomena! How just and philanthropic—how circumspect
and comprehensive his observations in Nature! and how excellent and
free from cant the paramount importance he impresses of Religion as a
principle, and of Christianity as the perfect supply of all that is
necessary to us in time or in eternity. Yet St. Pierre was a soldier;
and it is to our present purpose that he was a scientific man, and an
engineer. Neither should we pass unnoticed the numerous associations of
pastoral care with the observation of nature, so pleasingly exemplified
in White of Selborne, and Gilpin of the New Forest—men whose books we
count now rather by generations than editions, and which suggest to
our imagination the additional gratification which such men must have
derived to their favourite pursuits, in the continued sanction afforded
by Scripture. We would reverently point to the site first chosen as
the abode of purity and innocence; and the numerous illustrations from
nature contained in the Sacred Volume; whether in enforcing general
rules, or a special command—impressing a particular principle, or
illustrating a recondite mystery,—and especially that which is a
_remarkable and necessary combination_ of mystery with faith. For
whilst it is, as well as other mysteries, beyond our comprehension, it
commands so entire a faith in its reality, as to be, in some form or
other, instinctive and universal[81].

Mr. Abernethy, it has been stated in former editions, was, as regards
his religious tenets, a member of the Church of England: and it would
have been gratifying to have included some of those sentiments on
religious and moral matters which we now record; but, although some of
these documents had been open to our inspection before the completion
of the second edition, they were not so entirely at our disposal as
Miss Abernethy has subsequently placed them. Of these documents,
those which relate to religious and moral subjects consist, first,
of a small book on the Mind, which Abernethy published a great many
years ago, anonymously; and certain reflections, found amongst the
very few MSS. which he had preserved. Amongst these papers, there
are two which are in the form of sermons; and, although they are all
somewhat fragmentary, they are in several points of view more or less

As it appears to be an abuse of the proper business of biography
to publish every thing that an eminent man says or does, we shall
endeavour to make such selection as shall fall within its legitimate
objects—viz. as establishing some fact of importance, as illustrating
the tone and character of the man, or as placing some conclusion which
had been drawn more or less from general observation, on the more
secure basis of the sentiments he has himself recorded.


There is “more moral certainty in the greater number of instances of
those things which we believe from the deduction of reason, than of
those we believe from the action of the senses.”

Yet he would warn the students of science “from being proud of their
acquisitions; and against not believing any thing but what they learn
from the deductions of their reason, lest they _become most ignorant of
that of which they are most assured_.”

“Man at this period of the world is still ignorant of the nature of
surrounding bodies; his information must be limited as his perceptions
are limited, and this should produce humility, the proper frame of mind
for Christians.”

After saying that we have no means of forming any idea of the nature
of matter, but from the impressions we receive from it, those of
figure, divisibility, gravity, and disposition to move when impelled,
to continue in motion unless retarded, &c. &c.—in allusion to a
well-known theory, he adds: “But some have doubted whether we could be
sure even of those properties of matter of which we felt most confident
the existence were such as we conceived them to be. Certainly,” he
says, “we know nothing of what matter really is; we only know certain
properties, without being at all acquainted with the substratum or
subject, as a logician would say, which supports these properties.
Yet,” he says, “when we consider the ideas derived from external
objects, we _cannot but admire their correctness and suitability to our
present wants and state of existence_.”

“If we are ignorant of the nature of the most common object of matter,
as we call it, how can we obtain any knowledge of what we call Spirit?”
He thinks that it is only from a knowledge of ourselves that we can
derive any ideas on the subject.

“When we examine our bodies, we see an assemblage of organs formed
of what we call matter, visible to the eye and cognizable to the
touch; but, when we examine our minds, we feel that there is something
sensitive and intelligible which inhabit our bodies.” “We naturally
believe in the existence of a Supreme First Cause. We feel our own
free agency. We distinguish right and wrong. We feel as if we were
responsible for our conduct, and the belief in the existence of a
_future state seems indigenous to the mind of man_.” “We are conscious
of our existence; we remember our sensations; we compare them, judge
of them, and Will and act in consequence of such judgment.” He thinks
if we can form any notion of the actions of a Spirit, it must be
from reflections on such phenomena, and not from any hypothetical
definitions of Matter and Spirit.

Again, after insisting on the limitation of our powers, he says, “From
them we may conceive of God, that He approves what is right, and
condemns what is wrong; and that he may approve of our conduct when we
act right or wrong, according to our own ideas of rectitude or error.
We cannot conceive that God would have given us the power of judging
without deciding on the rectitude or error of our conduct in conformity
to such power or judgment. This is the sense in which I understand the
Scriptures—that God created man in His own image.”


“As the Mind takes cognizance of what is passing in the body, and in
those which surround it and directs its notions and operations in
regard to them, so we may conceive of that Great Spirit, the Soul
of the universe, that He perceives and governs all its parts. That
Creator, Supporter, and Governor of the universe, whom we are taught to
address, not only as such, but by the more endearing appellation of the
Father of our Spirits.”

In his little book on Mind, he thus lays out his plan:

“The attributes of the mind, which seem to be of a permanent nature,
are here considered as ‘properties’ (intending such as perception,
memory, &c.); those which are occasionally exerted and operate with
effort as ‘powers;’ and those which may be perceived only occasionally,
and which vary in degree or kind in different persons, as ‘qualities.’
As Reason and Will are ‘properties’ of the mind, and yet exerted as
‘powers,’ they are treated under both heads.”


“As I may not use the word in a customary sense, I think it right
to explain what I mean by ideas. When I see a beautiful prospect
illuminated by the sun, I have a _perception_ of light and shade.
When, however, I have acquired such a knowledge of light and shade
as to be able to represent on paper a spherical or many-sided body,
I think I have acquired a knowledge of light and shade beyond that
which the _mere_ remembrance of my perception would have produced. I
shall, therefore, express myself as follows: Our knowledge consists
of perceptions and deduction from them, which may be called ideas,
opinions, thoughts. In reasoning, we employ these intellectual
deductions, as we employ the perceptions of the facts themselves.”


He observes: “It does not appear that we have the power of abstracting
the mind from the consideration of any subject, except by engaging it
in some other.”


“Benevolence is necessary, because it enlarges our sphere of happiness
by rendering us participators in the happiness of others—besides
producing, by sympathy, similar feelings in others.”

In a series of propositions on the exercise of mind, he impresses the
mischief of admitting or indulging erroneous trains of thought, as
illustrated by “the fears arising from bad management in childhood,—by
persistence in vice after the gratification has ceased and the
destruction certain; and also in contributing to the production of
insanity.” Or, on the other hand, he considers the _advantage_ of
exercise in correct trains of thought; that the powers evinced by
Newton, and, in certain cases, by Johnson, to have been unattainable,
but as the result of such exercise. He enlarges on the moral effects
of habitual increase of power in diverting the mind at will to other
objects, and so subduing anger, mitigating calamity, &c.

In illustrating the intensity that recurrence of impression is apt to
give to the feelings, he says: “Benevolence indulged, leads to lasting
friendship; whilst the harbouring sensations of even trivial disgust
are too likely to develop animosity,” &c.

In speaking of the difficulty of ascertaining all the _facts_ and
_feelings_ which enter into the formation of any one’s opinions, he
says: “It ought to incline us to think modestly of our own, and pay
deference to those of others,”

The impropriety of “anything like compulsion to make men think alike
by other than _their own temperately induced convictions_ is never
more clear than in regard to religion; for the aim of Christianity is
general benevolence and individual humility—benevolence even to the
forgiveness of error. Has not this been illustrated in the highest
degree by its Supreme Author, when He said, ‘Father, forgive them;
they know not what they do?’ Does not Christianity enjoin the very
reverse of that which we are constantly pursuing, by which we excite
dissension and cultivate an arrogance incompatible with the character
of a Christian.”

He concludes one chapter thus:

If we said to others, who agree in the main points of religion, “We are
brothers, let each think as his own mind dictates,—it is probable that
all would soon think alike, because all would think without passion or

He considers the most exalted of all manifestations of divine mercy,
“the atonement of sin by the sufferings of Christ, and the promulgation
of precepts which, if practised, ensure temporal and eternal
happiness.” And, in another place, he speaks of the gratitude that
man should feel in “that his Creator has thus condescended to be his
Redeemer,” &c.

Of the Scripture precept—”To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk
humbly with thy God”—he observes, “that it contains precepts so clear
as to be intelligible to any capacity—so strikingly just as to gain
our immediate accordance—and so comprehensive as to include every
event which can occur in life,” &c. Yet he says, “it is the property of
truth, however beautiful it may appear at first sight, to seem more
and more so, in proportion as it is minutely examined.” MSS.

In deprecating pride, whether of mind, body, or estate, after
discussing the latter, he remarks on the more seductive influence of
intellectual superiority; he says: “The mind is no more ours than
the body;” that the success of intellect depends on varieties of
opportunity, qualities of mind, &c.; that all are alike given us, and
that any merit which the mind may bring, consists, not in the successes
of intellect, but in the purity of the motive by which they are guided.


“It requires great and constant reflection to prevent a man from
becoming vain, who is placed in high office. He receives such constant
deference and respect to his opinions and wishes from all around him,
such ready obedience, that he might be led to imagine he was a creature
of superior order.”

In some memoranda connected with things which had vexed him, we find:
“If justice, good will, and candour, were common, the world would be
too happy; it would not be what it now is—a state of exertion and
trial; of strenuous efforts, which contribute to the general good;
and, when efforts are unavailing, of trials which demand fortitude,
patience, and submission.” MSS.

In allusion to some preceding reflections, “It being intended to
show that the conduct enjoined by the Scriptures is the same that
philosophy should inculcate, and that the preceding considerations
would not only almost persuade, but oblige every one to be a Christian
in conduct, whatever he might be in creed.”

“To me it seems that the inspired origin of Christianity may be fairly
inferred from its wonderful adaptations to the wants and feelings of
the human mind. The Author of the Christian Religion knew the mind
of man, and all those feelings and considerations which support and
confirm him in well-doing. That feelings, to become vivid, strong, and
habitual, must be often repeated; and therefore that prayer and the
ceremonials of Religion were not only right, but due to that Power by
whose ordinances we live, and move, and have our being. How perfect a
knowledge of the human mind evince those precepts which instruct us,
distrusting our own constancy, to shun temptation and evil society. To
engage ourselves in constant and useful employment, and to suppress
the first movements of the mind, which, if continued, would urge us
with increased force and velocity to error. Human observation teaches
that the feelings of man are the source of their happiness or misery,
and the causes of their conduct. The Christian Religion operates on
our feelings, by teaching us the government of the mind, and showing
that Christianity does not consist merely in evil doing, but in evil

We here conclude the extracts which we think it necessary to submit to
the reader, and we hope that they have not been more than in keeping
with the objects we proposed to observe. In all the reasoning in his
papers, Abernethy, whether we suppose him right or wrong, is remarkably
clear and consistent. If he discourses on matter, or spirit, or any
other principle, he simply regards the phenomena they can be made
to exhibit, regardless of any opinion mankind may have formed as to
their _real_ nature. He regards our ignorance of the intrinsic nature
of matter or spirit merely as an example of our ignorance of that
which is beyond the scope of our present faculties. This, in science,
is _studying_ facts and laws, as contrasted with speculation and
conjecture; in religion, it seems to be attention to the Command and
the study of the Word, as contrasted with that of the intrinsic nature
of Him who gave it; and, in thus suggesting the legitimate path of mind
in regard to both, is at once philosophical and religious.

It would have been easy to have multiplied the analogies of science
and religion, and especially those which, in warning us before hand
of those difficulties which occur in the prosecution of science, tend
to gird us with the requisite firmness and moderation in bearing up
against, or in surmounting them. Few have cultivated science with
success, without encountering more or less of those evils which have
been so commonly opposed to the more devoted advocates of religion. So,
also, some of the most useful discoveries have been the mission of men
of obscure origin. Again, discoveries in science have frequently had
to brave distrust, ridicule, injustice, and all kinds of opposition.
It would, indeed, seem that nothing really good can in this world be
attained without sacrifice; much less truth—that best of all; and he
among us who is not prepared, in his search for the truths of Science,
to add his mite of something that the world most values, might perhaps
as well take Science as he finds it, and avoid a labour which, without
sacrifice, will be almost certainly abortive.

That Abernethy’s idea of religion was eminently practical, is every
where apparent in his reflections; yet, while he seems to have felt
that “faith, without works, is dead,” he unmistakeably evinces his
conviction as to the foundation on which he thinks _good_ works can
alone be secured.

The extracts we have made, and all Abernethy’s writings, appear to bear
witness to a marked sincerity of character. We see that, whether he
lectured at the College of Surgeons, or spoke to his pupils, who paid
him for his instructions—whether he addressed the public who joined
with the profession in establishing his eminent position—whether he
published with his name or without it; or addressed his sentiments to
his family, unheard but in the sacred precincts of home,—we find his
thoughts and his language always the same. He had no dress thoughts,
no company mind-clothing; he was always the same, simple, earnest, and
sincere. In his very earliest papers, in his lectures at College, or
in those of the Hospital, we never entirely lose sight of the golden
thread to which I have before alluded. The bulk of the discourse is
always the question that is really and properly before him; yet he
seldom concludes the argument philosophical, without glancing (and it
is in that just keeping as to be seldom more) at its ethical or its
theological relations.

“It is the duty of Criticism neither to depreciate, nor dignify
by partial representations; but to hold out the light of reason,
whatever it may discover.”


In tracing the progress of science, it is difficult to assign to each
individual his just share of merit. The evidence, always incomplete,
seldom allows us to do more than to mark the more fortunate, to whom,
as it were, the principal parts have been allotted. The exposition of
truth generally implies a previous contest with error. This may, in one
sense, be compared with military achievements. We hear of the skill and
wisdom of the General and his associate Chiefs; but little is known
of individual prowess, on the multiplication of which, after all, the
result depends.

To one who conferred so many obligations on his country and on mankind
as Abernethy, it is difficult to assign only his just share; and yet
it is desirable that nothing be ascribed to him which is doubtful or

Antecedently to Abernethy’s time, and contemporaneous with the date
of Mr. Hunter’s labours, surgery had, in the best hands, and as a
mere practical _art_, arrived at a respectable position; still,
in Abernethy’s early day, barber-surgeons were not yet extinct;
and, as he jocosely phrased it, he himself had “doffed his cap” to
barber-surgeons. There is no doubt that some of them had arrived
at a very useful knowledge. The celebrated Ambrose Paré was a
French barber-surgeon. When Abernethy entered into life, the best
representative of the regular surgery _of that day_ was Mr. Pott, who
was contemporary with the period of Mr. Hunter’s labours. Mr. Pott
was a good surgeon, an eloquent lecturer, a scholar, and a gentleman;
and he gave some surgical lectures at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. We
have perused two manuscript copies of these lectures, which are in
the library of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, and they
contain many useful and judicious observations. There are ripples
of a more humane and scientific surgery, and many parts that are
suggestive of onward study. Pott had also the good sense to perceive
the measured pretensions of his own time, and to predict advances on
it, as great as that itself was on the surgery of his predecessors:
but we do not perceive anything in Pott’s lectures in the shape of a
science. _Extensive_ generalizations we are not thinking of; we have
them _yet_ to get; but we see nothing, in the true sense of the word,
even axiomatic. There are no steps, no axioms, by which we can reach
the platform of more general propositions. In some of his operations,
the most elementary principles are either not perceived or neglected;
and, although there are general recognitions of the state of the health
influencing the so-called surgical maladies, there is no definite
principle developed. It is a recognition scarcely more than that
implied in the older surgical writers, when, if the surgical part of a
case did not go on well, they recommended the calling in of a physician.

In this state of things, John Hunter began a beautifully simple,
and, in its bearings on surgery, we may add, a new mode of inquiry.
He saw that there was much in all animals that was common, and that
there were analogies in the whole organic kingdom of nature; hence he
sought to develop, by observation of the various processes in various
animals, and their nearest analogies in vegetables also, the _true
relations_ of the phenomena observable in man. It was not that he did
that which had never been attempted before, in the abstract, but that
he undertook it with a new, a concentrated unity of purpose. He did
not employ, as it were, a different instrument to collect the rays
of light from surrounding nature; but he concentrated them into a
focus on a different object—the nature and treatment of disease. His
labours, though not permitted to endure for many years, interrupted by
indisposition, and suddenly stopped by death, were abundantly fruitful;
they enabled him to simplify much of surgery that was officious and
hurtful, and to correct many errors. He first gave a reason for this or
that proceeding, founded on actual observation of natural processes:
thus, in healing of wounds, the natural and healthy were distinguished
from unnatural and unhealthy processes, and so forth. But as Mr.
Hunter’s enlarged views taught him the the value of the _relations_
observable throughout the whole animal creation, he contemplated
_parts_ of the body only as a step to the more successful observation
of the _whole_. As before stated, he observed the phenomena exhibited
by the various organs, both separately and in connection; traced
them with elaborate circumspection, and concluded by justifying what
Abernethy said, when he observed: “Hunter proved that the whole body
sympathized with all its parts.”

Now, many of the facts which Mr. Hunter remarked in the relations
established between different parts of the body, were, in the
strictest sense, axiomatic—that is, they were exemplifications of
laws to which they were the necessary steps. Take one for example:
that the part sympathetically affected by an impression primarily
made on another part, appeared to be frequently _more disturbed_
than the part with which it had appeared to sympathize. This we now
know to be no exception, but rather the law; because the exceptions
(as we contend[82]) are explicable; but that was not then perceived.
Abernethy, however, made use of this so far as to impress the fact,
that organs might be seriously disordered without there being
_apparently_ any symptoms referable to them.

Now, Abernethy might have continued to labour as Hunter did in
collecting facts as the materials for axioms, or as elements for
future and more extensive generalization; or he might have at once
taken Mr. Hunter’s views, so far as he had gone, and, working on them
with his remarkable aptitude for perceiving the more salient and
practicable relations of facts, have applied them at once to practical
purposes; gleaning more facts as his extremely acute observation might
have enabled him on the way. He pursued, perhaps, neither course
exclusively; but the latter appeared to be the one he chiefly adopted;
and, from the more immediate fruition it affords, no doubt it was best
adapted to the existing exigencies of a practical profession.

John Hunter was a man of indefatigable industry, and exceedingly
_circumspect_ in his observance of facts. Abernethy was fagging too,
but more impulsive and not so dogged; mere facts were mere bores to
him; he panted for _practical_ relations, and was most wonderfully
quick in perceiving them. His vision was as penetrative as Hunter’s
had been circumspect and cautious. Hunter would have sifted all the
useful things out of any heap, however heterogeneous; Abernethy would
have looked through it, at once found the one jewel that it concealed,
and left the rest for the next comer. They were both most perfectly
honest and truthful, both careless of money, both enthusiastic in
science—that is, both ardent in the pursuit of truth, with that kind
of feeling which does not stop to examine the utilitarian relations
of these pursuits; but which, carried on by a continually increasing
impulse, takes the good for granted, and is impelled by the love of
truth for its own sake.

But, interesting as it is to contemplate those requisitions which, as
indispensable, are common to the successful investigators of science,
it is yet more so to observe the _distinctive_ characters of John
Hunter and John Abernethy. The former, with many ideas to tell, and
most of them new, had a difficulty in expressing himself. With more
need than any man before him for additional facilities in this way,
he had a restricted vocabulary. Again, in making use of it, his style
was seldom easy, often obscure; so that things which, when thoroughly
understood, had no feature more striking than their simplicity, were
often made to appear difficult, and by many readers, no doubt, had
often been left unexamined.

Abernethy, on the contrary, had a happy facility of expressing himself,
and a power, rarely equalled, of singling out the difficult parts
of a subject, and simplifying them down to the level of ordinary
capacities. Hunter, though not without imagination, or humour even,
had these qualities held in abeyance by the unceasing concentration
of his intellectual faculty. As Abernethy used to say, “John Hunter
was always thinking.” Abernethy, on the contrary, had an active
imagination; it always accompanied his intellect, like a young, joyous
attendant, constantly lighting up the more sombre propositions of her
grave companion with varieties of illustration. The most difficult
proposition, directly Abernethy began to fashion it, had all its
rough points taken off, and its essential features brought out clear
and orderly to the plainest intellect. John Hunter, in laying down a
series of facts having the most important influence in the formation
of a medical science (take place when it may), was not able to keep
people awake. Abernethy’s treatment of the most dry and unimportant,
kept his audience unceasingly interested. The obscurity of language
in Hunter was happily replaced, not only by an unusual ease, but by a
_curiosa felicitas_, in Abernethy. In sustained composition, Hunter was
generally difficult, often obscure; Abernethy, if not faultless, always
easy and unaffected. If his style failed sometimes in earnestness and
vigour, it was always sincere; and whilst, though not deficient in
eloquence, it asserted no special claim to that excellence, it was
always pleasing and perspicuous.

Nothing could be further from the earnest and thinking John Hunter than
anything dramatic. Abernethy had that happy variety of countenance and
manner that can be conveyed by no other term. Hunter, without being
slow, was cautious, circumspect: Abernethy, without being hasty, was
rapid, penetrative, and impulsive. Never were two minds so admirably
fitted for the heavy-armed pioneering in science, and the comparatively
light-trooped intellect which was calculated to render the first
clearing easily convertible to those practical necessities with which
the science had to deal. Accordingly we find that Abernethy very soon
extended Mr. Hunter’s views, and applied them so powerfully, as at
least to create the dawnings of a science. He showed that all processes
in the economy—and of course, therefore, those of disease—are
essentially nervous in their origin: that is to say, the nerves being
the _instruments_ through which our relations are established with
surrounding nature (however much we may, in common language, speak of
this or that feeling, this or that _organ_, or this or that part of the
body), all impressions must still be made primarily on the sensitive or
nervous system of that part; and this, of course, whether they imply
_consciousness_, or be altogether independent of it; that disturbed
nervous action was, as the case might be, either the forerunner—or the
next link in the chain of causation (i. e. the proximate cause)—of
the disease; and that therefore the relief of diseased or disordered
actions, however attempted, consisted ultimately and essentially in the
restoration of healthy nervous power, or adaptation.

This, then, is the first proposition. The next thing, and which
necessarily follows, is, that in the prevention or cure of disease, the
first object is the tranquillizing of nervous disorder.

Now, here there are many things to be regarded; for man is a moral
as well as a physical being; and the circumstances by which he
is surrounded, even the air he breathes, the moral and physical
impressions to which he is subjected, are very often not under his own
control, much less that of his medical attendant. On the other hand,
the food is, in civilized communities, very much under the influence
of his volition; and there are many circumstances which, instead of
impeding those adaptations which disorder requires, renders them
particularly easy—it frequently happening that those things which
are really best, are most easily procured. This is important; because
the next proposition is, _that the nervous system is very easily and
constantly disturbed by disorder of one or other, or of the whole
of the digestive organs_, and that therefore the tranquillizing of
disturbance in them is of the highest consequence in the treatment of
disease: _few_ propositions in _any_ science are more susceptible of
proof than the foregoing. But if this be so, we must now recollect
the full force of what we have observed with regard to relation; that
is, we must not restrict our notion of it to the general loose assent
that there is a relation in all parts of the body, and rest on the
simple admission, for example, that animals are formed in adaptation
to their habits; but we must sustain the Cuvier-like impression of the
fact, the Owen-like application of it to the phenomena; recollect
that _preconceived_ ideas of magnitude and minuteness can do nothing
but obscure or mislead; and that the relations established in the
body are constant and universal, however they may at first—as in the
case we have quoted—excite the surprise or the derision of the less
informed and less reflecting. We must take their immensely potential
power as existing _as certainly in the most trifling headache, as
in the most malignant fever_—in the smallest scratch, _as in the
most complicated compound fracture_. We have plenty of facts now to
_prove_ this; but the first plain, clear enunciation of it all, the
successful demonstration of it at the bedside, and the consequent
diminution of an enormous amount of human suffering, is the great
debt we owe to Abernethy. Mankind in general admitted that Diet
was of consequence. Nobody doubted its force as an _accessory_ in
treatment. Lactantius said: “Sis prudens ad victum sine quo cetera
remedia frustra adhibentur.” But no one had recognized the treatment
of the Digestive Organs as the essential part of the treatment of
_surgical_ diseases, nor founded it on the same comprehensive view
of its relations as addressed to organs which executed the nutritive
functions of the body on the one hand, and were the _most potential
disturbers or tranquillizers of the nervous system on the other_,
and thus for ever linked them in their practical relations with the
fact, that the essential element of disease, the _fons et origo_, is
disturbed nervous power. But, as all diseases are merely the result of
two conditions—namely, the injurious influence acting, and the body
acted on—it matters not whether the injurious influence be sudden,
violent, slow, moderate, chemical, mechanical, or what not; so the
foregoing positions affect the whole practice of medicine, and must not
be held as affecting any one part of it, but as influencing equally
both medicine and surgery.

We do trust that these few propositions will induce some to think; for,
as Abernethy used to say, lectures will never make surgeons: and we
feel equally confident that no books, no individual efforts, however
costly or sincere, will really benefit or inform any portion of the
public or the profession, except such of them as may be induced to
_think_ for themselves. They have only to recollect that, in carrying
out such principles, they must not measure their influence by their
previously conceived notions; they must encourage labour when they see
the profession willing, and not thwart them by showing that it will be
labour in vain. There will soon be science, if it is encouraged:

“Sint Mæcenates, non deerunt Flacci.”

If they are disposed to think investigation too minute to be practical,
or precision too unpleasant to be necessary, let them remember the
story of Professor Owen’s beautiful application of minute relation, and
that the distinction between a huge common quadruped and an unknown
wingless bird could alone be discovered by particulars far more minute
than they will be called on once in a hundred times to observe or
to follow. The obligation we have already noticed has in some sense
revolutionized the practice of medicine and surgery, and is no doubt
the capital debt we owe to Abernethy; but there are many others. His
application and adjustment of the operation of the trephine was a
beautiful and discriminating achievement, and would alone have been
sufficient to have raised an ordinary reputation.

His first extension of John Hunter’s operation for aneurism, shows
how ready he was—when he could do so with advantage—to enlarge the
application of that branch of our duties which he least valued—namely,
operative surgery.

His proposal to add to the treatment of the diseases of joints
the apparatus of splints, for ensuring absolute quiescence of the
affected surfaces, has saved a most incalculable number of limbs from
amputation. It here becomes necessary to repeat a remark we have made
in a former work. Sir B. Brodie recommends this plan only in the
third edition, I think, of his discriminative work on the joints, not
appearing to have been aware that Abernethy taught it for nearly thirty
years previously, about ten years of which we ourselves had repeatedly
tested its great value, and taught it, but contemporaneously from
Abernethy, in our own lectures. Indeed, so important an element is it
in the treatment of diseases of the joints, that we have never seen it
fail, when fairly applied and accompanied by a reasonable attention to
the general health, except in the following cases: First, when the
patient has been nearly worn out by disease, before being subjected to
treatment; and, secondly, where the complaint has been proved to be
accompanied by internal organic disease.

We have always thought that one of the most valuable of our obligations
to Abernethy was his lesson on fracture of the neck of the thigh bone
within the capsule of the joint. For thirty years, Sir Astley Cooper
taught, and boasted that he had taught, that this fracture could not
unite by bone; Sir Astley reasoning on the anatomy of the part _only_,
and conceiving that the neck, in its somewhat isolated position,
would be imperfectly nourished; and, seeing that, in point of fact,
this fracture _did generally_ unite by ligament only, unfortunately
adopted the foregoing idea as the _cause_ of the fact, and concluded
that bony union was impracticable. Experiments on animals—at all
times extremely fallacious, in this case singularly imperfect in the
analogy they afforded—appeared to confirm his views. Despairing of
effecting a proper union, he adopted a treatment which rendered it
impossible. Abernethy’s beautiful reasoning on the subject led him to
an opposite conclusion. It embraced certain views of Hunter’s, and some
common phenomena in other accidents where the union by ligament is
_coincident_ with _motion_ of the part. He therefore treated all cases
with a view to secure bony union; and he and many of his pupils had no
doubt but that they had seen examples of its success. Still, people
got well and were lost sight of, and therefore it was said that the
fracture was not _wholly_ within the capsule of the joint. At length
a specimen was procured from the examination of a dead body, and the
question set at rest, we believe, in the minds of every body, that
this fracture, though it require especial care to keep parts steady
and in apposition, will unite just like other fractures in the way
taught (and since proved) by Abernethy. Let those who can calculate the
number of surgeons who have been educated by these two gentlemen, and
who, for the first few years, would have almost certainly followed the
practice of their instructors, compute the number of those of the lame
who, under Providence, have walked in consequence of the clear-sighted
reasoning of Abernethy.

How the French surgeons may have been influenced by Abernethy on
this subject, I do not know. When I was first in Paris, in 1824, they
were divided; but I recollect Baron Larrey showing me a case which
he regarded as a clear example of this fracture in course of firm
consolidation, and he was well aware of the opinion of Abernethy.

The bearing which Abernethy’s acuteness of observation of the influence
of the state of the digestive organs on so-called specific poisons in
producing or maintaining diseases resembling them, opposed as it was to
the most powerful conventionalism, is a proof of his clear judgment;
and, if we mistake not, will one day prove to have been the first
ripple of a most important law in the animal economy, which will shed
a light as new on specific affections as his other principles have on
diseases in general.

His treatment of that severe malady, “lumbar abscess,” is, in our view,
a most acceptable addition to humane and successful surgery; and as
regards one of its distinctive characters, he has, as we have shown,
received the encomiums of the most distinguished of his contemporaries,
including Sir Astley Cooper.

The manner in which he applied that law which prevails in voluntary
muscles to the replacement of dislocations—namely, that muscles
under the influence of the will cannot ordinarily act long and
unremittingly—was an amendment as humane as scientific; and, whilst
it has removed from surgery a farrier-like roughness in the treatment
of dislocations, as repulsive as unnecessary, it has adjusted the
application of more sustained force, when it becomes necessary, on
principles at once humane, safe, and effectual. In short, whatever
part of surgery we consider, we should have something to say of
Abernethy—either something new in itself, or improved in application.
We find him equally patient and discriminative, wherever there is
danger; thus there is the same force and originality on the occasional
consequences on the simple operation of bleeding in the arm, and the
more serious proceeding of perforating the cranium. He is every where
acute, penetrating, discriminative, humane, and practical; so that it
is difficult which most to admire, his enlarged views in relation to
important general principles, or the pervading science and humanity
with which he invests their minutest details.

Hunter’s method of investigation was highly inductive; and, whenever he
adhered to it, the structure he has left is stable, and fit for further
superadditions. Whenever he proceeded on any preconceived notions,
or on an induction manifestly imperfect, his conclusions have, as we
think, been proved unsound. His definition of disease, as distinct
from accidental injury, is one instance which we formerly noticed in
our own works; and some of his conclusions in regard to poisons—as
mercury, for example—will not hold; but all that Abernethy made use
of, either in developing his own views or maturing their practical
applications, were sound and most careful deductions from obvious and
incontrovertible facts. Abernethy took equal care to deduce nothing
from them, or from anything of his own observations, but the most
strictly logical inferences—conclusions which were, in truth, little
more than the expression of the facts, and therefore irrefragable. He
showed that, however dissimilar in kind, nervous disturbance was the
essential element of disease; and that the removal of that disturbance
was the essential element of cure. That no mode should be neglected,
therefore, which was capable of exerting an influence on the nervous
system; but that, whether he looked at the subject as mere matter of
fact, or as assisted by the phenomena of health or disease generally,
or merely to that which was _most within our power_, no more potential
disturbers of the nervous system were to be found, than disordered
conditions of the digestive organs; and that the tranquillizing of
these must always be a leading object in our endeavours to achieve the
still greater one of tranquillizing nervous disorder.

The absurd idea that he looked chiefly to the stomach—that he thought
of nothing but blue pills or alterative doses of mercury—need scarcely
detain us. His works show, and his lectures still more, that there
was no organ in the body which had not been the object of his special
attention; in almost all cases, in advance of his time; and not
exceeded in practical value by any thing now done. We know of nothing
more valuable or clear _now_ than his paper on the skin; nothing so
advanced or important as his observations on the lungs and skin, and
the relations of these important organs; and it is unnecessary to
repeat what has been already said about the digestive organs. His
medical treatment was always very simple, and, if its more salient
object was to correct disorders of the liver, it was because he knew
that the important relations of that organ not only rendered it very
frequently the cause of many disorders, but that there could be nothing
materially wrong in the animal economy, by which it must not be more
or less affected. He carried the same clearness and definiteness of
purpose into his prescriptions, as that which characterized all his
investigations; and, indisposed to employ any means except on some
principle, used but few remedies; although he by no means wished to
deter others from having recourse to a more extended pharmacopæia. We
regret, indeed, the impossibility of doing full justice to Abernethy
in any thing less than a running commentary on the publication of his
works; but we have said enough, we trust, to show how largely the
profession and mankind are indebted to him.

Now, in these days of testimonials, what memorials have we of
Abernethy? It is true there is no monument at Westminster Abbey, and
only a bust at St. Bartholomew’s. His portrait, to be sure, given by
his pupils, hangs at St. Bartholomew’s, exalted where it can hardly be
distinctly seen, to be replaced by those of Mr. Vincent[83], and Mr.
Lawrence in his Professor’s gown! But he has still a

“Monumentum ære perennius,”

in the claim he has established to the rarely so truly earned honour of
“nihil quod non tetigit, et nihil quod tetigit, quod non ornavit;” in
the grateful hearts of many a pupil who had no other obligation to him
than his beautiful lessons; and in an improved medical Surgery, which,
though it may have in _London_ rather retrograded than otherwise since
his time, is felt more or less in its moral as well as its medical
bearings, and in a diminution of suffering and an improved practice
throughout the civilized world.

But, if Abernethy’s views are so true or so excellent as we allege that
they are, they must have _some_ relation to anything that is good in
every kind of medical or surgical treatment; and this equally, whatever
the system (so called) whence it may arise, however much of truth or
error it may contain, or however perplexingly these qualities may be
blended together. These are points on which we have yet something to
say; and as we are anxious that the public and the profession should
favour us with their attention to the very few remarks we have the
space to offer, we must have a new chapter.

[Footnote 82: See “Medicine and Surgery One Inductive Science.” 1838.]

[Footnote 83: A contemporary of the Hospital, of whom, as a practical
surgeon, Mr. Abernethy expressed a very high opinion. Until the matter
was explained, Mr. Vincent’s son was afraid that something “sneerlike”
was intended in this passage; and we were glad of an opportunity of
correcting that impression. Nothing could be farther from the intention
than anything of the kind in regard to either. But it seemed to us an
infelicitous result of the Governors probably having no better rule
for the disposition of their portraits than that which some of us are
obliged to observe in the shelves for our books—we mean the rule which
has twelve inches to the foot.]

“Quæ res neque consilium neque modum habet ullum
Eam consilio regere non potes.”

TER. Eun. Act i, Sc. i.

“Master, the thing which hath not in itself
Or measure or advice—advice can’t rule.”


A writer[84], of no ordinary judgment and discrimination, has observed,
that “it often happens in human affairs that the evil and the remedy
grow up at the same time: the remedy unnoticed, and at a distance
scarcely visible perhaps above the earth; whilst the evil may shoot
rapidly into strength, and alone catch the eye of the observer by the
immensity of its shadow; and yet,” he adds, “a future age may be able
to mark how the one declined and the other advanced, and how returning
spring seemed no longer to renew the honours of the one, while it
summoned into maturity and progress the perfection of the other.”

We know not how it may appear to the reader, but we cannot help
thinking that, in the foregoing sentence, there is a far-seeing
perception of a very leading character in human affairs. There is no
evil but which is charged with a certain degree of good. At first,
it is indeed “scarcely visible”—nay, it escapes alike the most
penetrative perception and faithful confidence, in the surpassing
working-to-good of all things around us; but so soon as the evil begins
to tell—so soon as the full flood of mischief becomes obtrusive or
remarkable,—the small ripple of some corrective principle rises into

It would be easy to illustrate the foregoing proposition from general
history, from the progress of nations, or even from the contracted
area of individual experience. But we will confine ourselves to an
illustration more directly in relation to our immediate object—namely,
the present condition and prospects of medical science.

There are, no doubt, many persons who view the present state of
Medical Science as little better than the triumphant domination of a
conjectural art, which has long obscured, and is still very imperfectly
representing, a beautiful science; and that the perception of the
true relations which it bears to such science has been veiled by the
impression that it involved some mystery from which the general public,
who were most interested in its development, were necessarily excluded.

There have been at all times individuals, perhaps, sufficiently
astute to see the real truth of the matter; but still they were
rare exceptions, and did not prevent Mystery from conferring, on
a very considerable section of people, the social advantage of a
gainful profession; that property being enhanced, of course, in that
it ministered to an ignorant public. But, even in an early stage,
correctives to an equivocally-earned advantage began to appear; for a
thing which had no character but its indefiniteness, and its apparent
facility of acquisition, obtained many followers: the supply, such
as it was, was thus so close in relation to the demand, that what in
theory seemed necessarily very gainful, in practice, on the whole,
proved anything but a lucrative profession. As contrasted with any
other, or a variety of commercial pursuits, medical men were neither so
affluent, nor always so secure of their position. Retiring competency
in well-conducted callings has, in a rich country, been rather the
rule. We fear, in the medical profession it is the exception; which,
we are apprehensive (in its bereaved dependents), contributes more
applicants for eleemosynary relief than any other.

This surely is not a state of things which can be well made worse.
Public ignorance, the _real mischief_, has, in the meantime, been
left uninformed; and any attempt to enlighten it has too often been
branded with some kind or other of corrupt motive. Public positions
have been conferred without competition—the surest test of fitness
or excellence; and the public have been further doubly barred out,
in that the chance of eliciting men of spirit and enthusiasm has
been diminished, by the first positions having been often rendered
contingent on the payment of money in the right quarter.

But all this time corrections were slowly springing up. Hundreds were
beginning, under the light of a more liberal diffusion of general
knowledge, to feel that the so-called Science of medicine and surgery
was very different from science usually so termed; and, whilst other
sciences were affording that which was definite and positive, the
juxtaposition only seemed to bring out in higher relief the prevailing
character of conjecture and uncertainty in medicine.

People began to see that, in mere human occupation, mystery is but
mystery, to whatever it is applied; and that one man can see in the
dark about as well as another; that, where all is obscure, any one
may scramble with a chance of success. Accordingly, we observe that
a state of things has gradually been rising up, which, if it do not
justify the expression of _quot medici tot empirici_, at least leads
us to deplore that, of all callings in life, no one had ever such a
legion of parasites as are represented by the hydra-headed quackeries
which infest the medical profession. Naturally enough, too, Quackery
attacked chiefly those disorders in regard to which Mystery avowed its
incapacity, or declared to be incurable; and thus, while the regular
profession made their _own limited_ knowledge the measures of the
_powers of nature_, the quacks unconsciously proceeded, _de facto_,
more philosophically, when they neither avowed nor acknowledged any
other limits than those of observation and experience.

Amongst, no doubt, innumerable failures, and, as we know, a
multiplicity of fictions, they would now and then, in acting violently
on the various organs, blunder on the last link in the chain—the
immediate cause of the disorder; and perhaps effect the removal of a
so-called incurable malady. Thus, whilst the regular profession were
making their own knowledge the _measure_ of remedial possibility, and
were reposing contentedly on the rule, they were every now and then
undermined, or tripped up, by unexplained exceptions.

It is difficult to conceive any state of things, when once observed,
more calculated to drive men to the obvious remedy that a definite
science would alone afford; nor should it be forgotten that multiform
quackeries, with mesmerism to boot, are coincident with a system which
allows _not one single appointment_, which the public are requested to
regard as implying authority, to be open to scientific competition. Of
late, many persons have begun to examine for themselves questions which
they had been wont to leave entirely to their medical adviser.

The sanitary movement has shown that more people die every year from
avoidable causes than would satisfy the yawning gulf of a severe
epidemic, or the most destructive battle. In a crowded community, many
events are daily impressing on the heads of families, besides the
expedience of avoiding unnecessary expenses, that long illnesses are
long evils; that their dearest connections are sometimes prematurely
broken; and that parts are not unfrequently found diseased which are
not suspected to be so during life. The thought will sometimes occur
whether this may have been always consequent on the _difficulty_ of
the subject, or whether it may not have been sometimes the result of
_too hasty or too restricted_ an inquiry; that not only (as the Spanish
tutor told his royal pupil of kings) do patients die “sometimes,” but
very frequently.

These and other circumstances have induced many of the public to
inquire into the reason of their faith in us; and to ask how
it happens that, whilst all other sciences are popularized and
progressing, there should be any thing so recondite in the laws
governing our own bodies as to be accessible only to comparatively few;
especially as they have begun to perceive that their interests, in
knowing such laws, is of the greatest possible importance.

Amongst various attempts to better this condition of things, the
imagination of men has been very active. Too proud to obey the
guidance, or too impatient to await the fruition, of those cautious
rules which the intellect has imposed on the one hand, and which have
been so signally rewarded (whenever observed) on the other, imagination
has set forth on airy wing, and brought home curiosities which she
called science, and observations which, because they contained _some_
of that truth of which even fancies are seldom entirely deprived,
blinded her to the perception of a much larger portion of error.

Two of these curiosities have made considerable noise, have been not a
little damaging to the pecuniary interests of the medical profession,
and have been proportionately species of El Dorados to the followers of
them. We allude to the so-called Homœopathy and Hydropathy.

Homœopathy proceeds on an axiom that diseases are cured by remedies
which excite an action similar to that of the disease itself; “_Similia
similibus curantur_.”

Our objection to this dogma is twofold, and, in the few hints we are
giving, we wish them not to be confounded.

1st. It is _not_ proven.

2nd. It is _not_ true.

Take the so-called fever. The immediate and most frequent causes of
fever are bad air, unwholesome food, mental inquietude, derangement of
the digestive organs, severe injuries. Now it is notorious that very
important agents in the cure of all fevers are good air, carefully
exact diet or temporary abstinence, and correction of disordered
functions, with utmost repose of mind and body, and so forth.

So of small-pox, one of the most instructive of all diseases. All the
things favourable to small-pox are entirely opposite to those which
conduct the patient safely through this alarming disease; and so
clearly is this the case, that, if known beforehand, its virulence can
be indefinitely moderated, so as to become a comparatively innoxious

We might go on multiplying these illustrations to almost any extent.
What, then, is the meaning of the _similia similibus curantur_? This
we will endeavour, so far as there is any truth in it, to explain. The
truth is, that Nature has but one mode, principle, or law, in dealing
with injurious influences on the body. Before we offer the few hints
we propose to do on these subjects (and we can here do no more), we
entirely repudiate that sort of abusive tone which is too generally
adopted. That never can do anybody any good. We believe both systems
to be dangerous fallacies; but, like all other things, not allowed
to be entirely uncharged with good. We shall state, as popularly as
possible, in what respect we deem them to be dangerous fallacies, and
in what we deem them to be capable of effecting some good; because it
is our object to show, in respect to both, that the good they do is
because they accidentally, as it were, chip off a small corner of the
principles of Abernethy.

Homœopathy is one of those hypotheses which show the power that a
minute portion of truth has to give currency to a large quantity of
error; and how much more powerful in the uninformed are appeals to
the imagination than to the intellect. The times are favourable to
homœopathy. To some persons, who had accustomed themselves to associate
medical attendance with short visits, long bills,—a gentleman in
black, all smiles,—and a numerous array of red bottles, homœopathy
must have addressed itself very acceptably. It could not but be welcome
to hear that all the above not very pleasing impressions could be at
once dismissed by simply swallowing the decillionth part of a grain
of some efficacious drug. Then there was the prepossession so common
in favour of mystery. How wonderful! So small a quantity! What a
powerful medicine it must be! It was as good as the fortune-telling of
the gipsies. There! take that, and then you will see what will happen
next! Then, to get released from red bottles tied over with blue or red
paper, which, if they were not infinitesimal in dose, had appeared
infinite in number, to say nothing of the wholesome repulsion of the

Besides, after the bottles, came the bill, having no doubt the
abominable character of all bills, which, by some law analogous to
gravitation, appear to enlarge in a terrifically accelerating ratio,
in proportion to their longevity; so that they fall at last with an
unexpected and a very unwelcome gravity. Then homœopathy did not
restrict itself to infinitesimal doses of medicine, but recommended
people to live plainly, to relinquish strong drinks, and, in short, to
adopt what at least seemed an approximation to a simple mode of living.
To be serious—what, then, are the objections to homœpathy?

Is there no truth, then, in the dogma, “_Similia similibus curantur_?”
We will explain. The _laws_ governing the human body have an
established mode of dealing with all injurious influences, which is
identical in principle, but infinitely varied and obscured in its
_manifestations_, in consequence of multifarious _interferences_; in
that respect, just like the laws of light or of gravitation. As we
have no opportunity of going into the subject at length, we will give
a hint or two which will enable the observing, with a moderate degree
of painstaking, to see the fallacy. You can _demonstrate_ no fallacy
in a mathematical process even, without some work; neither can you
do so in any science; so let that absence of complete demonstration
be no bar to the _investigation_ of the hints we give. All medicines
are more or less poisons; that is, they have no nutritive properties,
or these are so overbalanced by those which are injurious, that the
economy immediately institutes endeavours for their expulsion, or for
the relief of the disturbance they excite. All organs have a special
function of their own, but all can on occasions execute those of some
other organ. So, in carrying out injurious influences, organs have
peculiar relations to different forms of matter; that is, _ordinarily_.
Thus, the stomach is impatient of ipecacuanha, and substances which
we call emetics; the liver, of mercury, alcohol, fat, and saccharine
matters; and so forth. In the same way we might excite examples of
other organs which ordinarily deal with particular natural substances.
But then, by the compensating power they have, they _can_ deal with
any substance on special occasions.

Now the natural mode in which all organs deal with injurious
substances, or substances which tend to disturb them, is by pouring
forth their respective secretions; but if, when stimulated, they
have not the power to do that, then they evince, as the case may be,
disorder or disease. Thus, for example: If we desire to influence the
secretion from the liver, mercury is one of _the many things_ which
will do it. But if mercury cease to do this, it will produce disease;
and, if carried to a certain extent, of no organ _more certainly_ than
the liver. Thus, again, alcohol, in certain forms, is a very useful
medicine for the liver; yet nothing, in continuance, more notoriously
produces disease of that organ. So that it happens that all things,
which in one form disorder an organ, _may_, in another form, in greater
or more continued doses, tend to correct that disorder, by inducing
there a greater, and thus exciting stimulation of its secretions.

This is the old dogma, long before homœopathy was heard of, of one
poison driving out another. This is the way in which fat bacon, at
one period, or in one case, may be a temporary or a good stimulant of
a liver which it equally disorders in another; for as the liver is a
decarbonizing agent, as well as the lungs, so articles rich in carbon
are all stimulants of that organ; useful, _exceptionally_; invariably
disordering, if _habitual_ or _excessive_.

But if this be so, what becomes of the “_curantur_?” To that, we say
it is far from proven. Medicine hardly ever—perhaps never, _strictly
speaking_—cures; but it often materially assists in putting people
in a _curable condition_, proper for the agencies of more natural
influences. True. Well, then, may not homœopathy be good here? We
doubt it; and for this reason: Medicine, to do good, should _act_ on
the organ to which it is directed; it is itself essentially a poison,
and does well to relieve organs by which _it is expelled_; but if you
give medicine in very small doses, or so as to institute an artificial
condition of _those sentinels_, the nerves, you may _accumulate a
fearful amount of injurious influence in the system before you are
at all aware of it_. And it is the more necessary to be aware of
this in respect to homœopathy; because many of the medicines which
homœopathists employ are active poisons; as belladonna, aconite,
and so on. We have seen disturbed states of nerves, bordering on
paralysis, which were completely unintelligible, until we found that
the patient had been taking small doses of narcotic poisons. We have no
desire whatever to forestall the cool decisions of experience; but we
earnestly request the attention of the homœopathist to the foregoing
remarks; and, if he thinks there is anything in them, to peruse
the arguments on which we found the law of which we have formerly

We must in candour admit that, as far as the inquiry into all the facts
of the case go, as laid down by Hahnemann, we think the profession may
take a hint with advantage. We have long pleaded for more accuracy
in this respect; but we fear, as yet, pleaded in vain. Homœopathic
influences may be perhaps more successful. Practically, the good that
results from homœopathy, as it appears to us, may be thus stated: that
if people will leave off drinking alcohol, live plainly, and take very
little medicine, they will find that many disorders will be relieved by
this treatment alone.

For the rest, we fear that the so-called small doses are either inert,
or, if persisted in so as to produce effect, that they incur the risk
of accumulating in the system influences injurious to the economy;
which the histories of mercury, arsenic, and other poisons, show to be
nothing uncommon: and, further, that this tends to keep out of sight
the real uses and the _measured influences_ of medicine, which, in the
ordinary practice, their usual effects serve, as the case may be, to
suggest or demonstrate.

Practically, therefore, the effects of homœopathy resolve themselves,
so far as they are good, into a more or less careful diet, and small
doses of medicine; which, as we have said, is a chipping off of the
views of Abernethy.

We regret we have no space to consider the relation of homœopathy to
serious and acute diseases. We can therefore only say that the facts
which have come before us have left no doubts on our minds of its being
alike dangerous and inapplicable.

One morning, a nobleman asked his surgeon (who was representing to
him the uselessness of consulting a medical man without obeying his
injunctions) what he thought would be the effect of his going into a
hydropathic establishment? “That you would get perfectly well,” was the
reply; “for there your lordship would get plain diet and good air, and,
as I am informed, good hours; in short, the very things I recommend to
you, but which you will not adopt with any regularity.”

Hydropathy sets out, indeed, with water as its staple, and the skin as
the organ to which it chiefly addresses itself; but we imagine that the
hydropathic physician, if he sees nothing in philosophical medicine,
discovers sufficient in human nature, to prevent him from trading on so
slender a capital. There was, no doubt, in the imperfection of medical
science, a fine opening left for a scheme which proposed to rest its
merits chiefly on an organ so much neglected.

There has never been anything bordering on a proper attention to the
skin, until recently; and even now, any care commensurate with the
importance of the organ, is the exception rather than the rule. Thirty
years ago, Abernethy, when asked by a gentleman as to the probable
success of a bathing establishment, said that the profession would not
be persuaded to attend to the subject; and that, in respect to the
capital which the gentleman proposed to invest in it, he had better
keep the money in his pocket. This was said in relation to the general
importance of attention to the skin, and also in connection with
making it the portal for the introduction of medical agents generally.
Abernethy was, in fact, the first who introduced into this country
Lalonette’s method of affecting the system by mercury applied to the
skin in vapour.

Hydropathy deals with a very potent agent, and applies it to a very
powerful and important organ, the skin; and it employs in combination
the energetic influences, temperature and moisture; so that we may be
assured there will be very little that is equivocal or infinitesimal in
_its_ results; that in almost every case it must do good or harm.

But it does not limit itself to these agencies. It has
“establishments;” that is to say, pleasant rural retreats, tastefully
laid-out gardens; plain diet; often, no doubt, agreeable society;
rational amusements; and, as we understand, good hours, with abstinence
from alcohol. These are, indeed, powerful agencies in a vast variety
of diseases. So that, if hydropathy be not very scientific, it is
certainly a clever scheme; and as there are very many people who
require nothing but good air, plain living, rest from their anxious
occupations, with agreeable society,—it is very possible that many
hydropathic patients get well, by just doing that which they could not
be induced to do before.

But here comes the objection: The skin is, in the first place, only
_one_ of the organs of the body, and it is in very different conditions
in different people, and in the same people at different periods.

It has, like other organs, its mode of dealing with powerful or with
injurious influences; and _if it deal with them_ in the full force
of the natural law, it affects (and, in disease, almost uniformly)
favourably the internal organs; but, on the other hand, _if there
be interfering influences opposed to the healthy_ exhibition of the
natural law, so that the skin do not deal with the cold, or other
agencies, to which it is subjected, _as it naturally should do_, then
the cold, moisture, or other agent, increases the determination of the
blood to the internal organs, and does mischief. This it may do in one
of two ways: we have seen both. 1st. The blood driven from the surface,
increases, _pro tanto_, the quantity in the internal organs: it must
go somewhere; it can go nowhere else. Or, if cold and moisture produce
not this effect, nor be attended with a reactive determination to the
surface, there may be an _imperfect_ reaction; that is, _short_ of the
surface of the body. In the first case, you dangerously increase the
disorder of any materially affected organ; in the latter, you incur the
risk of diseased depositions; as, for example, Tumours. We here speak
from our own experience, having seen tumours of the most malignant and
cancerous character developed under circumstances in which it appeared
impossible to ascribe the immediate cause to anything but the violently
depressing influence of hydropathic treatment on the skin, with a
co-existing disordered condition of internal organs.

In one very frightful case indeed, the patient was told, when he first
stated his alarm, that the tumour was a “crisis” or reaction; as sure
enough it was; but it was the reaction of a cancerous disease, which
destroyed the patient. But, as we have said, hydropathy has many
features which obviously minister very agreeably and advantageously
to various conditions of indisposition, whilst they favour the _bonâ
fide observance_ of something like a rational diet—a point of immense
consequence, and too much neglected in regular practice. Here again
we speak from actual observation. One man allows his patient to eat
what he pleases. An eminent physician replied to a patient who, as he
was leaving the room, asked what he should do about his diet, “Oh, I
leave that to yourself;” showing, as we think, a better knowledge of
human nature than of his profession. Another restricts his patient to
“anything light.” Others see no harm in patients eating three or four
things at dinner, “provided they are wholesome;” thus rendering the
solution of many a question in serious cases three or four times, of
course, as difficult. Now we do not require the elaborate apparatus
of a hydropathic establishment to cure disorders, after such loose
practice as this; and we do protest against the assertion that any such
treatment can be called, as we have sometimes heard it, “Abernethy’s
plan, attention to diet,” and so forth.

So far from anything _less_ than the beautifully simple views held
out by Abernethy being necessary, we trust that we have, some of us,
arrived, as we ought to do, at several improvements. But people will
confound a _plain_ diet, or a select diet, with a _starving_ diet, and,
hating restrictions altogether, naturally prefer a physician who is
good-natured and assenting; still this assentation is being visited, we
think, with a justly retributive reaction.

Hydropathy, in many points, no doubt, tends to excite attention to
the real desiderata; but it is nevertheless imperfect and dangerous,
because evidently charged with a capital error. It entirely fails in
that comprehensive view of the relations which exists in all animals
between the various organs; and on a sustained recollection and
examination of which, rests the safe treatment of _any one_ of them. It
is, therefore, unsafe and unscientific. Again, it is illogical, because
it proceeds, as regard the skin, on the suppressed premise, that it
will obtain a natural reaction; a thing, in a very large number of
cases, and those of the most serious kind, seldom to be calculated on.

It is quite clear, therefore, that, so far as hydropathy does good, it
effects it by the institution of diet, abstinence from alcohol, country
air, exercise, agreeable society, and, _we_ will suppose, in some
cases, appropriate care of the surface; all of which are, in a general
sense, beneficial to the nervous system and the digestive organs—the
points insisted on by Abernethy.

So long as the Public are not better informed, and until medicine
is more strictly cultivated as a science, they will necessarily be
governed by the first impression on their feelings; and so long as
this is the case, fallacies can never be exposed, except by the severe
lessons of experience. To hope to reason successfully with those whose
feelings induce them to adopt that which they decline to examine with
their intellect, is madness, and is just what Terence says of some
other feelings:

“Nihilo plus agas
Quam si des operam ut cum ratione insanias.”

But, although, therefore, we are neither hydropathists nor
homœopathists, we begin to see, in the very success of these things,
some good; and that the “great shadow of the evil” of a conjectural
science will one day be replaced by another example of the triumph of
an inductive philosophy; that the retiring confidence of the public
will induce in us a more earnest and successful effort to give them
a more definite science; and that, as Professor Smythe says, the
“returning spring will no longer renew the honours of the one,” whilst
it will gradually evolve the development of the other.

The efforts, too, which the profession are already making, though,
as we humbly consider, not in the right direction, will certainly
arrive in time at a path that is more auspicious. When we see the
hydropathist looking so much to the skin, homœopathy leading people to
think of _quantities_ of medicine; when, in the regular profession, we
see one man restricting his views to one organ, another to another,
a third thinking that _everything_ can be learnt only by examination
of the dead, thus confounding morbid anatomy with pathology—a fourth
_restricting_ his labours to the microscope, as if the discovery of
laws depended rather on the enlargement of sensual objects than on the
improvement of _intellectual_ vision; still we cannot but perceive
that these isolated labours, if _once concentrated by unity of purpose
and combined action_, would be shadowing forth the outline of a really
inductive inquiry.

Hydropathy and homœopathy are making powerful uses, too, of the
_argumenta ad crumenam_. Their professors are amassing very large sums
of money, and that is an influence which will in time probably generate
exertions in favour of a more definite science. Still, Medicine and
Surgery cannot be formed into a science so long as men consider it
impossible; nor can there be any material advance, if they will persist
in measuring the remedial processes of nature by their present power
of educing them—a presumption obviously infinitely greater than any
in which the veriest quack ever dared to indulge. Well did Lord Bacon
see the real difficulties of establishing the dominion of an inductive
philosophy, when he laboured so much in the first place to destroy the
influence of preconceived opinions—idols, as he justly called them.

You cannot, of course, write truth on a page already filled with
conjecture. Nevertheless, mankind seem gradually exhausting the
resources of Error: many of her paths have been trodden, and their
misleading lures discovered; and by and by that of Truth will be
well-nigh the only one left untried. In the meantime, we fear the
science is nearly good enough for the age. The difficulty of advance
is founded deeply in the principles of human nature. People know that
there are physical laws as well as moral laws, and they may rely on
it that disobedience and disease, sin and death, are as indissolubly
bound up with infractions of the one as well as the other.

It is true there are many who have (however unconsciously) discovered
that the pleasures procured by the abuses of our appetites, are a
cheat; and that permanent good is only attained by obeying those laws
which were clearly made for our happiness.

Error has, indeed, long darkened the horizon of medical science; and,
albeit, there have been lightning—like coruscations of genius—from
time to time; still they have passed away, and left the atmosphere as
dark as before. At length, however, there has arisen, we hope, a small,
but steady, light, which is gradually diffusing itself through the
mists of Error; and which, when it shall have gained a very little more
power, it will succeed in dispelling.

Then, we trust, Medicine will be seen in the graceful form in which
she exists in nature; as a Science which will enable us to administer
the physical laws in harmony with that moral code over which her
elder sister presides; but, whenever this shall happen, Surgery will
recognize, as the earliest gleams of light shed on her paths of
inquiry, in aid of the progress of science and the welfare of mankind,
the honoured contributions of John Hunter and John Abernethy.

“Eheu fugaces Postume Postume
Labuntur anni: nec pietas moram
Rugis et instanti senectæ
Adferet, indomitæque morti.”


“How swiftly glide our flying years,
Alas! nor piety, nor tears,
Can stop the fleeting day;
Deep-furrow’d wrinkles, frosting age,
And Death’s unconquerable rage,
Are strangers to delay.”


We have already observed that Abernethy had begun to feel the wear and
tear of an anxious and active life, when, after a tenure of office
for twenty-eight years as assistant, he was appointed surgeon to St.
Bartholomew’s Hospital. After a few years, he took a house at Enfield,
where he occasionally went at leisure hours, on Wednesday and Saturday;
and, as the Spring Course of Lectures came near to a conclusion, and
in the summer, sometimes on other afternoons. At this season, he had
been accustomed to doff the black knee-breeches, silk stockings, and
shoes, sometimes with, sometimes without, short gaiters, and refresh
one’s rural recollections with drab kerseymeres and top-boots; in which
costume he would at that season not unfrequently come down to lecture.
He was fond of riding, and had a favourite mare he called Jenny; and
many a time have we seen her jogging along on a fine summer afternoon,
and her master looking as happy as any schoolboy that he was escaping
from the botherations of Bedford Row and the smoke of London. Jenny was
a favourite mare, which Abernethy had for nearly twenty-five years. She
was a great pet, and her excellent qualities had been associated with
almost every little excursion of relaxation or pleasure. All things,
however, must have an end. At last, the poor animal became affected
with a kind of rheumatism, attended with much suffering. After various
hesitations, the pain of which those who are fond of animals can very
well understand, the order was given that she should be destroyed. This
took place in the stables behind Bedford Row. The family were all in
one apartment, except Mr. Abernethy, who was heard pacing up and down
his private room. A short pause, and the coachman is seen running from
the stable to say that Jenny was no more. One of his daughters ran to
Mr. Abernethy’s room to say, “it is all over, papa.” “Good girl,” said
he, patting her head, “to come and tell me so soon.” He is said to have
suffered greatly on this occasion.

Some years before this, he met with what might have been a serious
accident: in stooping forward, his horse threw up his head and struck
him a violent blow on the forehead and nose; as Mr. Abernethy first
thought, breaking the bones of the latter. He rode up a gateway, and,
having dismounted, was endeavouring to adjust the bruise and staunch
the blood, when some people ran to assist him, and, as he said, very
kindly asked him if they should fetch him a doctor; “but,” said
Abernethy, “I told them I thought they had better fetch me a hackney
coach,” which they accordingly did. He was conveyed home, and in a
short time recovered from the accident.

His taking the house at Enfield was probably a prudent measure; he
seemed to enjoy it very much, and especially in getting a quiet friend
or two down on a Saturday to stay over till the Monday; amongst whom, a
very favourite visitor was our respected friend Mr. Clift, of whom we
have already spoken. Abernethy had always, however, had what he used
aptly enough to term a fidgetty nervous system. From early life he had
been annoyed by a particularly irritable heart. The first time he ever
suffered materially from it was while he was yet a young man. He had
been exceedingly depressed by the death of a patient in whose case he
had been much interested, and his heart became alarmingly violent and
disordered in its action. He could not sleep at night, and sometimes
in the day it would beat so violently as to shake his waistcoat. He
was afterwards subject to fugitive returns of this complaint, and few,
unless by experience, know how distressing such attacks are.

We suspect that surgeons are more frequently thus affected than is
generally supposed. A cold, half-brutal indifference is one thing, but
a calm and humane self-possession in many of our duties is another,
and, as we saw in Cheselden, not obtained always without some cost;
the effects of this sometimes appear only when the causes have ceased
to recur, or are forgotten. A lively sensibility to impressions was
natural to Abernethy; but this susceptibility had been increased by
the well-known influence of the air and excitement of crowded cities
on people who are engaged in much mental exertion. His physical
organization, easily susceptible of disturbance, did not always shake
it off again very readily. At one period he suffered an unusually long
time from the consequences of a wound in dissection.

These not uncommon accidents occur perhaps a hundred or a thousand
times without being followed by any material results; but, if they
happen in disordered conditions of health, either of mind or body,
they are sometimes serious affairs, and usually of a more or less
active kind—that is, soon terminating in death or recovery. Not so in
Abernethy. The complaint went through various phases, so that it was
nearly three years, he used to tell us, before he fairly and finally
got rid of the effects of it. One of the most difficult things for a
man so actively engaged in a profession in London as was Abernethy,
is to get the requisite quantity of exercise; whilst the great mental
exertion which characterizes a London, as distinguished from almost any
other kind of life, requires that the digestive organs should be “up
to” pretty good living.

Then, again, Abernethy lived in the days of port wine; when every
man had something to say of the sample his hospitality produced of
that popular beverage. Abernethy, who was never intemperate, was very
hospitable, and always selected the finest port wine he could get,
which, as being generally full and powerful, was for him perhaps the
least fitted.

Mr. Lloyd, of Fleet Street, who was one of the old-fashioned family
wine-merchants, and one of the best men of his day, was the purveyor
of his Falernian; never was there a more correct application of
nomenclature than that which gave to him the title, by which he was
best known, of “Honest John Lloyd.” He was one of the kindest-hearted
men I ever knew: he had a great regard for Mr. Abernethy; and was
treated himself by almost everybody as an intimate friend. One day I
went there just as Abernethy had left. “Well,” says Mr. Lloyd, “what
a funny man your master is!” “Who?” said I. “Why, Mr. Abernethy. He
has just been here, and paid me for a pipe of wine; and threw down a
handful of notes and pieces of papers with fees. I wanted him to stop
to see if they were right, ‘for,’ said I, ‘some of these fees may be
more than you think, perhaps.’ ‘Never mind,’ said he; ‘I can’t stop;
you have them as I took them,’ and hastily went his way.”

Sedentary habits, however, as people now begin to find, do not
harmonize well with great mental exertion, or constant and anxious
occupation. In 1817, Abernethy felt his combined duties as surgeon to
the hospital, as lecturer there, and also at the College, becoming too
onerous, and therefore in that year resigned the Professorship. On this
occasion, the Council sent him the following unanimous expression of
their appreciation of his services.

“At the Court of Assistants of the Royal College of Surgeons in
London, holden at the College on the 15th day of July, 1817;

“Resolved unanimously:

“That the thanks of this Court be presented to John Abernethy,
Esq. for the series of Lectures delivered by him in the theatre
of this College, in the years 1814, 1815, 1816, 1817, with
distinguished energy and perspicuity, by which he has elucidated
the physiological and pathological opinions of John Hunter,
explained his design in the formation of the Hunterian Collection,
illustrated the principles of surgery, and thereby has highly
conduced to the improvement of anatomical and physiological
knowledge, the art and science of surgery, and to the promotion of
the honour of the College.”

This seems to have gratified him, as, under all circumstances, we can
readily understand it might do; and he accordingly replied to it as


“Sir and Gentlemen,

“To obtain the good opinion of others, is a universal object of
human actions; and we often strive to acquire it by circuitous
and absurd means; but to obtain the approbation of eminent and
judicious characters, by pursuing the direct path of professional
duty, is the most gratifying mode of seeking and receiving this
object of general ambition.

“I have ventured to premise these observations, to show you,
gentlemen, that I do not write inconsiderately, or merely as a
matter of form, when I thus return you my warmest thanks for the
distinguished honour you have conferred on me by your public
approbation of my _endeavours_[86] to discharge the duties of an
arduous office, to which I was elected through your kindness and

“I have the honour to remain,
“Sir and Gentlemen,
“Your very grateful and obedient servant,

We insert in this place a letter which he wrote about this time to Sir
William Blizard; because it shows two things which are characteristic:
the one, how constant he was in not allowing any considerations to
interfere with the lectures; and the other, the endurance of his old
attachment to Sir William Blizard. It is an apology for not having been
present at the Council.

“Dear Sir William,

“I was yesterday desired to see a patient residing seven or eight
miles from London. I could not go that day, for it was lecture
evening; I cannot go to-morrow for the same reason; consequently I
must go this evening. I hope you will consider these circumstances
as an apology for my _absence_ from the Board.

“If you cite my example as one misleading future Professors, be so
good as to remember that I retired, leaving the task which I had
undertaken incomplete, wherefore it became necessary to _explain
publicly_ to an indulgent audience my _motives_ for resigning the

“I remain, dear Sir William,
“Yours unremittingly,

Abernethy had at various periods of his life been subject to an
inflammatory sore throat of a very active kind, which would on some
days impede so as almost to prevent his swallowing, and then suddenly
terminate in abscess, leaving him perfectly well again. He was young
when these sorts of attack began; for in his lectures he used to speak
of one of them having subsided only the night before he had some
lectures to deliver before the Council of the College, when they were
accustomed to meet in the Old Bailey.

As he advanced in life, the disposition to disorder of the digestive
organs, which had hitherto shown a tendency to terminate in
inflammation of the mucous membrane of the throat, began to affect
other structures; and he became teazed and subsequently greatly
tortured by rheumatism. The disorder so termed (a kind of general name
for various conditions of disorder very different from each other, and
which occasionally affect, not only joints, but other structures) is
in many cases, as we all know, extremely painful; and is never more
excruciating than when muscular parts thus conditioned are affected by
spasm. These spasms were a source of much acute suffering to Abernethy.
His constant occupations gave him no opportunity of relieving himself
from work, except there was that accommodation of indisposition to
convenient times, which of course seldom happens.

In the early parts of his life, Abernethy, when he was out of health,
would take the first opportunity which his occupations allowed of going
a little way into the country; and there, by diet, and amusing himself
by reading and exercise, he would soon get well. But as he advanced
in life, he was not so ready to attend to himself as perhaps he ought
to have been. Besides, he would occasionally do things which incurred
unnecessary risks, which we ourselves have sometimes ventured to
mention to him.

Living, at the time to which we are now alluding, in Ely Place, and
attending his lectures long after we had commenced practice, we
frequently walked down with him to lecture; sometimes in the rain,
when we used to think his knee-breeches and silk stockings looked most
uncomfortable. Besides this, he was very careless about his umbrella;
I never recollect him on such occasions calling a coach, and I hardly
ever knew him come down to his evening lecture in his carriage. He
generally came to the two-o’clock lecture some minutes before the time;
and, as he often complained of cold feet, he would stand opposite one
of the flue openings in the Museum. One day, I ventured to suggest to
him that the transition of temperature to the cold place he occupied in
the theatre rendered this hardly prudent, when he said, “Ay!” and moved
away. Though temperate, without being very particular in his diet,
these other imprudences were unfortunate; because we saw him, every
year almost, becoming troubled more and more by his painful visitor.
The time, however, was now arriving when he was about to resign the
Surgeoncy of the hospital.

We have seen that, when elected to that appointment, he had been no
less than twenty-eight years assistant surgeon; he, however, took no
pains to indemnify himself for this long and profitless tenure of
a subordinate post; but, mindful of what he had himself suffered,
immediately on his appointment he did the best he could at once to
provide against others being subjected to such an unrequited service.
He accordingly, on his election, addressed a letter to the Governors of
the Hospital, of which, when the first edition went to press, we had
no copy. As we then stated, our friend, Mr. E. A. Lloyd, a friend and
favourite pupil of Abernethy’s, had found one, and kindly laid it aside
for us; but he unfortunately again mislaid it; and there is no copy of
it on the books of the hospital. Subsequently, Mr. Pettigrew has most
kindly sent us a volume containing the letter in question. To us it is
a very interesting document; but as we had already mentioned the most
important fact in it, we have not thought it necessary to reprint the
letter. We must not fail to repeat publicly our thanks to Mr. Pettigrew
for his kind assistance.

The object of the letter was to recommend some alteration in the
arrangement of the duties of the surgeons of the hospital; and, amongst
other things, that they should resign at the age of sixty, with a
retiring salary. Nothing could, we think, be more just or considerate
than such a proposal; and it came very well from Abernethy, who had
just stepped into the lucrative appointment. The proposal, however,
was not acted upon; and it would appear that his successors, however
much they may have at the time approved of the precept, have not been
in haste to follow the example. There is little doubt that Abernethy’s
proposal was as just and considerate of the interests of all parties,
as it was in favour of those of science. We cannot think that any one,
who considers the whole subject without prejudice, will arrive at any
other conclusion.

The absence, however, of any law on the subject, made no difference
to Abernethy; he had expressed his own intention of resigning at
the age of sixty; and when that time arrived, he accordingly did
so. The Governors, however, would not, on that occasion, accept his
resignation, but requested him to continue. This he did for about
another year, when, in 1827—having been elected in 1815,—he finally
resigned the hospital, in the following letter, addressed to the
President of the Hospital:

“St. Bartholomew’s Hospital,
“July 24, 1827.

“Finding myself incompetent to discharge the duties of surgeon to
your Hospital in a satisfactory manner, and having led my junior
to believe that I should resign my office at a certain period of
my life, I hereby tender my resignation accordingly. At the same
time, I beg leave to assure the Governors of my gratitude for their
appointment to the offices which I have held under them, and for
the good opinion and confidence which they have manifested towards
me. I annex a draft for £100 for the use of the Hospital.

“I am, dear Sir,
“Your obedient servant,

“To Rowland Stephenson, Esq.”

At the next meeting of the “Court” of Governors, it was proposed by Dr.
Latham, seconded by Mr. Wells, and unanimously resolved:

“That this Court accept, with great regret, the resignation of Mr.
Abernethy as one of its Surgeons, an office which he has discharged
with consummate ability for forty years; and the Court offers him
their best, their most unanimous, and warmest thanks for his very
long and important services.

“July 25, 1827.”

There is something significant in this vote of thanks, merging his long
period of assistant surgeon in the general expression of his services
as surgeon. It is very suggestive of the influence which had been felt
from the presence of his master mind, although so long in a position
which necessarily restricted its useful energies in regard to hospital
matters. We have little doubt that, had Abernethy become surgeon to the
hospital at a time of life when his physical energies were unimpaired,
he would have suggested many improvements on the system; but, with
little real power in this respect, and with men who were opposed to
him, he was just the last man in the world to commence a crusade
against the opinions of those with whom he was associated. The moment
he became surgeon, we see him endeavouring to remove an evil from which
he had greatly suffered, and which is obviously a most undesirable
state of things; namely, that men should so often arrive at a post
in which their active energies are most required, at a time of life
when those energies have been, perhaps, necessarily addressed to other
objects, have become weary with hope deferred, or already on the wane.

He was, also, very averse to so spacious a portion of the hospital
being devoted to the festive meetings of the Governors; and, on showing
it, would sometimes go so far as to say—”Ay, this is what I call the
useless portion of the hospital.” He continued to lecture another year,
when he resigned the lectures; and, in 1829, his appointment at the
College of Surgeons also.

In May, 1829, he wrote to Mr. Belfour, the Secretary of the College of
Surgeons (whose politeness and attention in facilitating our inquiries
at the College we are happy thus publicly to acknowledge), as follows:

“My dear Sir,

“Early in April, the thermometer was above 70°, and I had so
violent a relapse of rheumatism, that I have not been able (nor
am I now able) to leave this place since that time. Apologize to
the President, therefore, for my non-attendance on Monday. _Entre
nous_: as I think I shall not be able to perform the duties of
those situations which I now hold at the College, I think of
resigning them; yet I will not decide till I have talked with
Clift[87] upon it. If he could come down this or the following
Saturday, I should be glad to see him.

“I remain, my dear Sir,
“Yours very sincerely,

“Enfield, May 21.
“To Edmund Belfour, Esq.”

He accordingly, in July of 1829, resigned his seat at the Court of
Examiners, when the following Memorial was sent him by the Court of

“At the College, at the Court holden on Friday, the 17th of July,

“Present: Mr. Thomas, President; Mr. Headington, Mr. Keate,
Vice-Presidents; Sir William Blizard, Mr. Lynn, Sir A. Cooper,
Bart., Sir A. Carlisle, Mr. Vincent, and Mr. Guthrie:

“Resolved, that the following Memorial be entered in the minutes of
this Court:

“Conscious of having been enlightened by the scientific labours
of Mr. Abernethy; convinced that teachers of anatomy, physiology,
and of surgery (and consequently their pupils), have derived
most important information from these sources of knowledge; and
impressed that the healing art has been eminently advanced by the
writings of that excellent individual; the Members of the Court
of Examiners lament the tendered resignation of an associate
so endowed, and whose conduct in the Court has always been so

“Resolved also, that a copy of the foregoing Memorial be delivered
by the Secretary to Mr. Abernethy.”

He had by this time become a great sufferer—walked very lamely; and
this difficulty, interfering more than ever with his exercise, no doubt
tended to make matters worse. He consulted nobody, I believe, but his
old friend Dr. Roberts, of St. Bartholomew’s. He was induced to go for
some time into the country; and on his return, hearing that he was
again in Bedford Row, and not having seen him for some time, I called
on him one morning, about eleven o’clock.

I knew that he had been very ill; but I was not in the least prepared
to see him so altered. When I was shown into his room, I was so
struck with his appearance, that it was with difficulty I concealed
the emotion it occasioned; but I felt happy in observing that I had

He appeared, all at once as it were, to have become a very old man;
he was much thinner; his features appeared shrunk. He had always
before worn a good deal of powder; but his hair, which used to hang
rather thickly over his ears, was now thin, and, as it appeared to me,
silvered by age and suffering.

There was the same expressive eye which I had so often seen lit up
by mirth or humour, or animated by some more impassioned feeling,
looking as penetrating and intellectual as ever, but with a calmness
and languor which seemed to tell of continued pain, and which I had
never seen before. He was sitting at a table, on a sort of stool, as
it appeared to me, and had been seeing patients, and there were still
several waiting to see him. On asking him how he was, his reply was
very striking.

It was indeed the same voice which I had so often listened to with
pleasure; but the tone was exceedingly changed. It was the subdued
character which is expressive of recent suffering, and sounded to me
most mournfully. “Ay,” say he, “this is very kind of you—very kind
indeed!” And he somewhat distressed me by repeating this several times,
so that I hardly knew what to reply. He said he was better, and that he
could now walk pretty fairly again, “as,” said he, “you shall see.”

He accordingly slowly dismounted from his seat, and, with the aid of
two sticks, began to walk; but it was a melancholy sight to me. I had
never seen him nearly so lame before.

I asked him what he was going to do. He said he was going to Enfield
on the morrow, and that he did not think he should return. I suggested
that he might possibly try a drier air with more advantage; that I
feared Enfield might be a little low and damp, and not, possibly, the
best place for him. “Well,” he said, “anything is better than this.”
I very shortly after took my leave; not sorry to be again alone; for
I felt considerably depressed by the unexpected impressions I had
received from this interview. It was too plain that his powers were
rapidly waning. He went to Enfield on the following day (a Wednesday, I
think), and never returned again to practice. He lingered about another
year, during which time I once went to see him, when I found him
something better. He was able to see his friends occasionally, and at
times seemed to rally. In the spring, however, of 1831, he gradually
got weaker, and died on the 20th of April in that year.

He perfectly retained his consciousness to the last, and died as
tranquilly as possible. In exhausted conditions of the body, persons
will sometimes linger much longer than the medical attendant had
considered possible; in other cases, the flickering lamp becomes
extinguished many days before they had been apprehensive of immediate
danger. The latter was the case with Mr. Abernethy. Dr. Roberts had
just been to see him; and the family, who scarcely ever left him,
had followed the Doctor down into the dining room, anxious to hear
his report. This, although it gave them no hope as to the ultimate
result, expressed no apprehension of immediate danger. On returning to
Mr. Abernethy, but a few minutes had elapsed when he gently laid his
head back and expired; but with such entire absence of any struggle,
alteration of countenance, or other indication, that for a short time
it was difficult to realize the fact that he was no more. His body
was not examined; but, from the history and symptoms of his case,
there could be little doubt that there would have been found organic
changes, in which the valvular structures of the heart had more or less

He was buried in the parish church of Enfield. The funeral was a
private one; and there is a plain tablet on the wall over his vault,
with the following inscription:

H. S. E.

APRILIS DIE 20, A. D. 1831, ÆTATIS SUÆ 67.

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