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ART. I.-1. The Life of John Hunter, F.R.S., (prefixed to a
New Edition of his Works, by J. F. Palmer.) By Drewry
Ottley, Esq. 8vo. 1837.-pp. 197. 2. The Hunterian Oration, delivered at the Royal College of
Surgeons, February 14, 1834. By William Lawrence, F.R.S.
8vo. 1834.--pp. 50. 3. The Hunterian Oration, delivered at the Royal College of
Surgeons, February 14, 1837. By Sir Benjamin C. Brodie,
Bart., F.R.S. 8vo. 1837.-pp. 38. WE E are induced to notice the above publications, principally
on account of their containing a vindication of British science; but, independently of this, the contemplation of the highest order of genius must ever form an interesting subject to the general reader; especially where, as in the present instance, the gifted individual has surmounted those thousand impediments which obstruct the progress of ambition :
“ What rugged places lie between
Adventurous virtue's early toils
And her triumphal throne.” A new impulse has recently been given to the fame of Hunter, in consequence of the College of Surgeons having, at a considerable outlay of capital, rebuilt the Hunterian Museum, and made such arrangements for the display of its unrivalied treasures, as cannot, we venture to affirm, be equalled in any other city in Europe.
John Hunter was born in Kilbride East, Lanarkshire, in Scotland, on Feb. 14th, 1728. During his early years, he does not appear to have exhibited any presages of future genius; but, on the contrary, partly owing to the poverty of his parents, and partly to the indulgence of his mother, (he being the youngest of ten children) his education seems to have been much neglected, so that when, in 1748, he came to London to his brother, Dr. William Hunter, he was a rough untutored lad, wholly devoid of those qualities which appear requisite to take a lead in a
VOL. II.-NO. IV.
learned profession. He began, however, to show the mettle of his nature very soon, by making such progress in anatomy, as to become a public teacher in less than a twelvemonth; but his early habits still adhered to him, nor did he wholly throw them off to the end of his days. The following is the account which his biographer gives of this period of his life:
“ He was fond of company, and as he had not, like Haller, forsworn the use of wine on commencing his medical studies, though he found it necessary to do so in after life, he mixed much in the society of young men of his own standing, and joined in that sort of dissipation which men at his age, freed from restraint, are but too apt to indulge in. Here, as in graver matters, his ambition urged him to take the lead of his companions, amongst whom he went by the familiar title of • Jack Hunter.' Nor was he always very nice in the choice of his associates, but sometimes sought entertainment in the coarse broad humour to be found amid the lower ranks of society. He was employed by bis brother to cater for the dissecting-room, in the course of which employment he became a great favourite with that, certainly not too respectable, class of persons, the resurrection men; and one of the amusements in which he took especial pleasure, was to mingle with the gods in the shilling gallery, for the purpose of assisting to damn the productions of unhappy authors, an office in which he is said to have displayed peculiar tact and vigour." —
During the summer months he attended the surgical wards of the different public hospitals, and under Professor Cheselden imbibed his first lessons in that science in which he was afterwards to shine as so conspicuous an ornament. Cheselden was not only the greatest practical surgeon which this country ever produced, but he displayed a considerable taste in the fine arts ; he was fond of poetry, and an intimate friend of Pope; he had also made architecture his study, and it was from his plans that Putney Bridge, and the former Surgeons' Hall in the Old Bailey, were built. The following is a characteristic anecdote of this great man, although such feelings, in regard to operations, are much more commonly experienced by the best surgeons than is generally supposed ; and we ourselves happen to have heard, the two most eminent surgeons of the present day declare, that they have rarely undertaken any great operation, without feeling, on the preceding night, a considerable degree of inquietude.
“ Cheselden's manners were exceedingly kind and gentle, and notwithstanding the extensive practice he had enjoyed, he always, before an operation, felt sick at the thought of the pain be was about to inflict; though during its performance his coolness and presence of mind never forsook him. In alluding to this feeling, Morand relates an anecdote of a French surgeon, who, on visiting the hospital, expressed great surprise at witnessing such an evidence of weakness, as he considered it, on the part of so famous a surgeon. After the operation was over, the visitor was invited by Cheselden to accompany him to the fencing school, whither he was going to see a sparring match ; but here the tables were completely turned, for no sooner did the contest begin, than the stranger turned pale at the sight, and was obliged speedily to betake himself to the open air.”
Hunter was a great economist of time. He was above the artifice of attempting to heighten the opinion of his genius by concealing the amount of his labour. He laboured, and cared not who knew it. Four hours at night and one hour after dinner was the only refreshment which, for twenty years, he ever allotted to his body. To witness an interesting or extraordinary case he would take any trouble, or go almost any distance, without a chance of pecuniary recompense; but to the daily routine of practice he always returned unwillingly, and even when he had acquired a lucrative and extensive business, be valued it only as affording him the means of pursuing his favourite studies. This feeling he would often express to his friend Lynn, when called to see a patient, by saying, as he unwillingly laid by his dissecting instruments, “Well, Lynn, I must go and earn this d-d guinea, or I shall be sure and want it to-morrow.”
« On his arrival in London, Mr. Thomas, in company with Mr. Nicol, by whom he was to be introduced, called on Hunter, they found him dressing. Well, young gentleman,' said Hunter, when the first ceremonies of introduction were over, so you are come to town to be a surgeon ; and how long do you intend to stay ? . One year,' was the reply. “Then,' said he, “I'll tell you what, that won't do ; I've been here a great many years, and have worked hard too, and yet I don't know the principles of the art.' After some farther conversation, Mr. Thomas was directed to call again in an hour, which he did, and accompanied Hunter to the hospital, where he said to him, after the business was over, 'come to me to-morrow morning, young gentleman, and I will put you farther in the way of things ; come early in the morning, as soon after four as you can. It was summer; Mr. Thomas kept the appointment, and found Hunter, at that early hour, busily engaged in dissecting beetles.”
The following contains a useful hint to those parents who proceed on the ill-judged system of attempting to harden their children to the cold and variable climate of this country :
“Mr. Nicol, bookseller to the king, had lost five children, and his wife was in the family-way for the sixth. Hunter, in passing one day, dropped in, and asked Mr. Nicol if he intended to kill this, as he had killed all the rest of his children. Mr. N., who was a North-country: man, liad, on false principles, endeavoured to inure his children to cold and rough usage, thinking that if they could not survive this they would never live to be reared to manhood. Not understanding such a question,
therefore, he demanded of Hunter what he meant. Why,' said Hunter, do
you know what is the temperature of a hen with her callow brood ? because, if you don't, I'll tell you.' He then proceeded to explain the necessity of warmth to young animals, and convinced Mr. Nicol of the propriety of changing his plan, which he did, and with complete success."
And on another occasion, when his funds were at a low ebb, the following rather curious dialogue occurred with the same gentleman:
" Pray, George, have you got any money in your pocket ?' Mr. Nicol replied in the affirmative. Have you got five guineas, because if you have and will lend it to me, you shall go halves ?' 'Halves in what?' enquired his friend. Why halves in a magnificent tiger which is now dying in Castle-street.' Mr. Nicol lent the money, and Hunter got the tiger.”
After ten years' unexampled labour in the study of human anatomy, he turned his attention to that of animals, with a view to elucidate the general principles of physiology. His health, however, being much impaired by the intensity of his studies, he went abroad in 1760, as surgeon on the staff, and remained with the army three years. Upon his return, he settled in London, where, by pursuing his researches with unabated ardour, he at length attained the first station as physiologist and surgeon in Europe, and accumulated a museum, illustrative of the functions of life, such as has had no parallel in the world.
It may, perhaps, be necessary to mention that the “ Hunterian Oration" was established in 1813, by Dr. Baillie, the nephew, and Sir Everard Home, the brother-in-law, of Mr. Hunter, for the purpose of commemorating the fame of their departed friend, as well as of paying a passing tribute of respect to such other distinguished worthies of the profession as may have contributed during their lives to the advancement of science. Recollecting, as we do, the magnificent “ Eloges Historiques” of Baron Cuvier, delivered before the Institute of France, we are far from thinking this practice undeserving of commendation, as holding out a laudable stimulus to ambition to those who are embarked in the pursuits of science; but we are of opinion that such commemorations should only occur occasionally, and that great care should be taken that none but the most competent persons be selected to deliver these orations. At the College of Surgeons, and also at the College of Physicians, in London, the Hunterian and Harveian orations are delivered annually, by a sort of rotation among the members of the council, and hence it has happened that these institutions have in j most cases been signal failures, as it requires not only talents of a higher order than can