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lady, who had gone up to London to have an operation performed, had been sent by him to Mr. Abernethy, because my father did not think the operation necessary or proper; that Mr. Abernethy entirely agreed with him, and that the operation was not performed; that the lady had returned home, and was getting well. This gave me a notion that Abernethy must be a very good as well as a great man. I found that my father had studied under him, and his name became a sort of household word with us. Circumstances now occurred which occupied my mind in a different direction, and for some years I thought no more of Abernethy.
As long as surgery meant riding across a forest with my father, holding his horse, or, if he stopped too long, seeing if his horse rode as well as my pony, I thought it a very agreeable occupation; but when I found that it included many other things, I soon discovered there was a profession I liked much better. Some years had rolled away, when, one afternoon in October, about the year 1816, and somewhat to my own surprise, I found myself, about two o'clock, walking down Holborn Hill on my way to Mr. Abernethy's opening lecture at St. Bartholomew's. Disappointed of being able to follow the profession I had chosen, looking on the one I was about to adopt with something very much allied to repulsion, voting every thing in this world flat and unprofitable, and painfully depressed in spirits, I took my seat at the lecture.
When Mr. Abernethy entered, I was pleased with the expression of his countenance. I almost fancied that
he could have sympathized with the melancholy with which I felt oppressed. When he commenced, I listened with some attention; as he went on, I began even to feel some pleasure; as he proceeded, I found myself entertained; and before he concluded, was delighted. What an agreeable, happy man he seems! What a fine profession! What would I give now to know as much as he does! Well, I will see what I can do. In short,
I was converted.
Years again rolled on; I found myself in practice. Now I had an opportunity of proving the truth and excellence of the beautiful principles I had been taught. I found how truthful had been his representations of them. I was, however, grieved to find that his opinions and views were very much misunderstood and misrepresented, and I had very frequent opportunities of seeing how much this restricted their application and abridged their utility.
Some few years after his death, I tried to induce some one to endeavor to correct the erroneous impressions which prevailed in regard to him; but to do Abernethy full justice would require a republication of his works, with an elaborate commentary. This was a task involving too much time, labor, and expense for any individual to undertake; while any thing less, however useful or instructive to the public, must necessarily subject the author to a criticism which few are disposed to encounter..
But as it appeared to me that scruples like these stood in the way of that which was alike just to the
memory of Abernethy and useful to the public, I was resolved, at all hazards, to undertake at least a memoir myself. I shall say little of the difficulties of the task. I feel them to have been onerous, and I believe them to have been, in some respects, unexampled.
Apologies for imperfections in works which we are not obliged to write are seldom valued: the public very sensibly take a work for what it is worth, and are ultimately seldom wrong in their decision. I have only said thus much, not in deprecation of criticism so much as to show that I have not shrunk from what I deemed just and useful on account of the somewhat oppressive sense I entertain of the risk or difficulty which it involves.
The scientific reader may, I fear, think that, in endeavoring to avoid too tedious a gravity, I may sometimes have been forgetful of the dignity of biographical memoir; but in the difficulty of having to treat of subjects which, however important, are not always of the most popular kind, I have been obliged sometimes to think of the "quid vetat ridentem." In the very delicate task of discussing subjects relating to some of my contemporaries, I have endeavored simply to do Abernethy justice; and beyond what is necessary for that purpose, have avoided any quotations or other matter calculated unnecessarily to revive or rekindle impressions which may as well be dismissed or forgotten. It may appear to some that, in my remarks on the present state of professional affairs, I may have been too free. I can only say that I have stated exactly
what I feel. I am earnestly desirous of seeing a better state of things, but I have no idea that we can materially improve that which we are afraid to examine.
I have to express my warmest thanks to several gentlemen for the readiness with which they have contributed their assistance; my most grateful acknowledgments to my respected friend, Mr. Fowler, of Datchet, and his son, Mr. Alfred Fowler, Mr. Thacker and Mr. Tummins, of Wolverhampton-three of them being old school-fellows of Abernethy's; to Mr. White, the distinguished head master of Wolverhampton School, whose acceptable services have been further enhanced by the ready kindness with which they were contributed; to Mr. Belfour, the Secretary of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Mr. Stone, the librarian, I have to express my best thanks for their kind assistance, and to the latter especially for many very acceptable contributions.
I have also to acknowledge the kind interest taken in the work by Mr. Wood, of Rochdale, Mr. Stowe, of Buckingham, old and distinguished pupils of Abernethy. My best thanks are also due to Dr. Nixon, of Antrim, not only for his own contributions, but still more for the personal trouble he was so kind as to take in relation to some particulars concerning the ancestors of Mr. Abernethy; as also to Mr. Chevasse, of Little Coldfield, for very acceptable communications; to Mr. Preston, of Norwich. I have also to express my obligation to several gentlemen whom I have consulted at various