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LECTURES DELIVERED AT THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS OF LONDON.
Mr. Abernethy had, originally, as I have already intimated, an innate lecturing propensity; and, although his ambition to shine before a fashionable audience gave place to the purer and better motive of delivering useful lectures to Hospital-pupils, yet he would not have disliked delivering a popular course of lectures on anatomy and physiology at the Royal Institution. Some communication, of which I was myself the medium, did, in fact, pass between Sir H.Davy and him, upon the subject; but the scheme never took effect, and his subsequent lectures in the more appropriate arena of the "Royal College of Surgeons of London " have left us nothing to regret on this account. To these I now come.*
Abernethy entertained a very high opinion of the late Sir William Blizzard, who was his earliest professional instructor, and his predecessor in the office of Professor of Anatomy and Surgery to the College; and in recording Sir William's words, as quoted by him, in his first lecture from the chair, I shall put upon record the feelings of his own breast towards that more familiar class of pupils to whose minds he was always anxious to give a good moral as well as professional impulse :—" Let your search after truth be eager and instant. Be wary in admitting propositions to be facts before you have submitted them to the strictest examination. If, after this, you believe them to be true, never disregard or forget any one of them, however unimportant it may at the time appear. Should you perceive truths to be important, make them motives of action; let them serve as springs to your conduct." He further contrived by various means to excite a degree of enthusiasm in his pupils: he cautioned them never to tarnish their professional character by disingenuous conduct, or by anything that wore even the semblance of dishonour; and he caused the sentiment of the philanthropic Chremes, in the Heautontimorumenos of Terence, to be inscribed on the walls of the Surgery of the Hospital.
* The lectures to which I allude are —
1. An Inquiry into the probability and rationality of Mr. Hunter's Theory of Life, being the subject of the first two Anatomical Lectures, delivered before the Royal College of Surgeons of London.—London, Longman and Co., 1814.
2. Seven Physiological Lectures, exhibiting a general view of Mr. Hunter's Physiology,and of his researches in Comparative Anatomy.—London, Longman and Co., 1817.
3. The Hunterian Oration, for the year 1819.—London, Longman and Co., 1819.
4. Reflections on Gall and Spurzheim's System of Physiognomy and Phrenology.—London, Longman and Co., 1821.
"Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto."
"We have indeed," continues Abernethy, "need to seek truth; feel its importance; and act as the dictates of reason direct. By exercising the powers of our minds in the attainment of medical knowledge, we learn, and may improve, a science of the greatest public utility. We have need of enthusiasm, or some strong incentive, to induce us to spend our nights in study, and our days in the disgusting and health-destroying avocations of the dissecting-room; or in that careful and distressing observation of human diseases and infirmities which alone can enable us to understand, alleviate, or remove them; for upon no other terms can we be considered as real students of our profession. We have need of some powerful inducement, exclusively of the expectation of fame or emolument; for, unfortunately, a man may attain a considerable share of public reputation and practice without undertaking the labours I have mentioned, without being a real student of his profession. I place before you the most animating incentive I know of, to labour to acquire professional knowledge. You will, by such conduct, possess yourselves of the enviable power of being extensively useful to your fellow-creatures, in a way the most necessary to their wants, and most interesting to their feelings. You will be enabled to confer that which sick kings would fondly purchase with their diadems; that which wealth cannot command, nor state nor rank bestow. You will be able to alleviate or remove disease, the most insupportable of human afflictions, and thereby give health, the most invaluable of human blessings.
"In nulla re proprius ad deos homines accedunt quam salutem hominibus dando.
None to their Maker nearer access gain,
"In surveying the great chain of living beings, we find life connected with a vast variety of organization, yet exercising the same functions in each; a circumstance from which we may naturally conclude that life does not depend on organization. Mr. Hunter, who so patiently and accurately examined the different links of the great chain, which seems to connect even man with the common matter of the universe, was of this opinion. In speaking of the properties of life, it is something, he says, 'that prevents the chemical decomposition to which dead vegetable and animal matter is so prone; that regulates the temperature of the bodies it inhabits, and is the cause of the actions we observe in them. All these circumstances, though deduced from an extensive contemplation of the subject, may, however, be legitimately drawn from observations made on the egg. A living egg does not putrefy under circumstances that would rapidly produce that change in a dead one. The former resists a degree of cold that would freeze the latter; and when subjected to the genial warmth of incubation, the matter of it begins to move, or to be moved, so as to build up the curious structure of the young animal.' The opinions of Mr. Hunter deserve, at least, to be respectively and attentively considered. That he was a man of genius, observes Mr. Abernethy, according to the beautiful definition of that quality, given by Dr. Johnson; that he possessed the power of mind that collects, combines, amplifies, and animates; that energy, without which judgment is cold, and knowledge is inert, cannot be doubted by any one who has carefully considered his writings. That
he was a man of uncommon industry, by which he collected abundance of facts, will be admitted by every one who has even beheld his museum. That he was a man of constant and deep reflection, is equally apparent."— (Lect. i. 19.)
Mr. Abernethy next discusses the phenomena of electricity; and from the ascertained fact that there exists, in connection with all visible matter, an invisible agent of such astonishing power that under its influence all nature seems to tremble; that it is electricity which causes the whirlwind and the waterspout, as well as volcanic eruptions; whilst, with its sharp and sulphureous bolt, it splits the unwedgeable and gnarled oak. He infers that the movements of animal, and all organized matter, very probably depend upon the presence of some such invisible principle; at the same time, he distinctly says, that he does not mean to assert that electricity is life. Nevertheless, from his opinions appearing to have some such tendency, he exposed himself to the severe animadversions of the materialists of that day, who did not fail to take advantage of any ambiguity in an argument, tending to establish the doctrine of a distinct vital principle of a subtil invisible nature, whether identical with electricity or not; being well aware that it was Abernethy's purpose to conduct them onward, to the still more important doctrine of the immateriality of the soul.
Sir Humphry Davy, to whose investigations Abernethy refers, as confirming his own opinions, was too clear-sighted to mistake a material agent, however subtile, mobile, uni