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ancient relic, now comfortably deposited in the College of Physicians. But, although, in some particulars, “The Gold-headed Cane” resembles the present work, and is interesting as far as it goes, it does not fill up that hiatus in medical literature to which Dr. Johnson alludes.
Adopting his suggestion, the author has endeavoured in the following pages to supply this desideratum; and although he was conscious that it was no easy undertaking, he fearlessly commenced the work, with a fixed determination to permit no personal consideration, however pressing, to prevent his making it as complete as his humble abilities and laborious exertions could possibly render it.
The formidable nature of the undertaking, however, might have deterred him from its prosecution, had he not previously collected much of the matériel necessary for its basis. Intending to publish a work, entitled “Curiosities of Medical Literature," he brought together many of the facts and illustrations contained in these pages;
but just as his plan was fully matured, it was frustrated by the appearance of a book under a somewhat similar title ; the author, therefore, determined at once to demolish the fabric he was erecting, and by mingling much new matter with the old materials, to mould the book into its present form.
That the reader may be enabled to form some notion of the author's difficulties, and of the ground over which
he has travelled, in his long and tiring journey, culling sweets from many a flower—it is only necessary to state that the facts and illustrations now brought together, were scattered through four hundred volumes !
The preliminary chapter was written for the purpose of demonstrating the antiquity of the science of medicine, and to defend its professors from certain calumnies which had been levelled against them by unprincipled and ignorant men, ever ready to depreciate in public estimation the highly honourable members of a learned and useful profession.
In the chapter on the “Early Struggles of Eminent Phy. sicians," the Author has brought forward several instances of men who have had to contend in early life with difficulties and disappointments of no ordinary character, but who afterwards attained to very high eminence in their respective departments of medical science; and it is hoped that its perusal will encourage and elevate the drooping hopes of many who may, perhaps, at this moment be struggling, nearly heart-broken, with adversity.
The men who commence their career under the most favourable auspices, and with the most flattering prospects of success, do not always obtain the eminence they seek. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
There is a certain ordeal which all men must undergo in their passage through life; and it is very
questionable whether he succeeds the best who commences under the most apparently advantageous circumstances. There is such a thing as a man depending too much upon his means, and too little upon himself-small certainties, it has been observed, are often the ruin of men.
A celebrated English judge, on being asked what contributed most to success at the bar, replied, “Some succeed by great talent, some by high connexions, some by a miracle, but the majority by commencing without a shilling."
The chapter on the “ Art of Getting a Practice," must be read in the spirit in which it is written. It is a satire on the stratagems and unprofessional conduct of a certain class of practitioners, anxious to advance their interests, and not over-scrupulous of the means they resort to, in order to effect their purposes.
The letter from Dr. Mead to a brother physician, is condensed from a rare and valuable tract, deposited in the library of the British Museum ; and is interesting as conveying to us some idea of the artifices which, even in his day, the learned author considered necessary to secure popularity and success.
Nothing need be said concerning those portions of the work devoted to the Lives of Medical Poets,-Eccentric Men,-Chronicles of Warwick Hall, &c., as they will best speak for themselves.
The author at first intended to give a more minute account of the lives of the many eminent Physicians and Surgeons whose names are mentioned; but he knew if he did so, that it would render the work a dry biography rather than a series of light sketches, and he would have been compelled to exclude much interesting matter, in order to make room for the necessary dates and statistical details ; but he hopes that the references which are here made to the most remarkable characteristics, and most striking peculiarities, of each individual, will give satisfaction to their admirers, and pleasure and profit to the reader.
“The great end of biography,” says Dr. Paris, in his life of Sir Humphrey Davy, “is not to be found, as some would seem to imagine, in a series of dates, or in a collection of anecdotes and table-talk, which, instead of lighting up and vivifying the features, hang as a cloud of dust upon the portrait; but it is to be found in the analysis of human genius, and in the development of those elements of the mind, to whose varied combinations, and nicely-adjusted proportions, the mental habits and intellectual peculiarities of distinguished men may be readily referred."*
For the Sketches of Living Men, the author feels that
* Page 41.
some explanation is necessary. He would have hesitated in making any allusion whatever to existing characters, had this been the first production in which such a reference was deemed necessary.
But he felt little or no delicacy in sketching the portraits of men who still adorn the walks of life, when he perceived that their lives had already been noticed in several of the public periodicals.
It is much to be regretted that the biography of eminent men should be commonly so long deferred, either from indolence or motives of fear or delicacy, for by so doing their most prominent features are forgotten; and unless they have communicated the results of their researches to the world, much that is valuable must be lost, while the memory, incapable of recalling what had never been deeply impressed, admits those fabulous conceits which are so frequently found clinging to the heels of truth.
There is, perhaps, in the history of every man, much that he desires to screen from public observation ; and no honourable person would wish to pander to the vulgar appetite of those who prey on the failings of their fellows, and drag from its hiding-place that which, with studious art, had been concealed. There are, however, many brilliant examples of virtue, honour, and great intellectual superiority, which nothing but false delicacy could wish to hide from observation and from praise.