Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

and wisdom of the Creator from the wonderful fabrick of the human body; and confutes all those idle reasoners, who pretend to explain the formation of parts, or the animal operations, to which he proves that Art can produce nothing equal, nor any thing parallel. One instance I shall mention, which is produced by him, of the vanity of any attempt to rival the work of God. Nothing is more boasted by the admirers of chemistry, than that they can, by artificial heats and digestion, imitate the productions of Nature. “Let all these heroes of science meet together,” says Boerhaave; 6 let them take bread and wine, the food that forms the blood of man, and by assimilation contributes to the growth of the body: let them try all their arts, they shall not be able from these materials to produce a single drop of blood. So much is the most common act of Nature beyond the utmost efforts of the most extended Science !"

From this time Boerhaave lived with less public employment indeed, but not an idle or an useless life ; for, besides his hours spent in instructing his scholars, a great part of his time was taken up by patients which came, when the distemper would admit it, from all parts of Europe to consult him, or by letters which, in more urgent cases, were continually sent, to inquire his opinion, and ask his advice.

Of his sagacity, and the wonderful penetration with which he often discovered and described, at the first sight of a patient, such distempers as betray themselves by no symptoms to common eyes, such wonderful relations have been spread over the world, as, though attested beyond doubt, can scarcely be credited. I mention none of them,

[ocr errors]

because I have no opportunity of collecting testimonies, or distinguishing between those accounts which are well proved, and those which owe their rise to fiction and credulity.

Yet I cannot but implore, with the greatest earnestness, such as have been conversant with this great man, that they will not so far neglect the common interest of mankind, as to suffer any of these ciscumstances to be lost to posterity. Men are generally idle, and ready to satisfy themselves, and intimidate the industry of others, by calling that impossible which is only difficult. The skill to which Boerhaave attained, by a long and unwearied observation of nature, ought therefore to be transmitted in all its particulars to future ages, that his successors may be ashamed to fall below him, and that none may hereafter excuse his ignorance by pleading the impossibility of clearer knowledge.

Yet so far was this great master from presumptuous confidence in his abilities, that, in his examinations of the sick, he was remarkably circumstantial and particular. He well knew that the originals of distempers are often at a distance from their visible effects; that to conjecture, where certainty may be obtained, is either vanity or negligence; and that life is not to be sacrificed, either to an affectation of quick discernment, or of crowded practice, but may be required, if trifled away, at the hand of the physician.

About the middle of the year 1737, he felt the first approaches of that fatal illness that brought him to the grave, of which we have inserted an account, written by himself, Sept. 8, 1738, to a

friend at London*; which deserves not only to be preserved as an historical relation of the disease which deprived us of so great a man, but as a proof of his piety and resignation to the divine will.

In this last illness, which was to the last degree lingering, painful, and afflictive, his constancy and firmness did not forsake him. He neither intermitted the necessary cares of life, nor forgot the proper preparations for death. Though dejection and lowness of spirit was, as he himself tells us, part of his distemper, yet even this, in some measure, gave way to that vigour which the soul receives from a consciousness of innocence.

About three weeks before his death he received a visit at his country house from the Rev. Mr. Schultens, his intimate friend, who found him sitting without-door, with his wife, sister, and daughter : after the compliments of form, the ladies withdrew, and left them to private conversation; when Boerhaave took occasion to tell him what had been, during his illness, the chief subject of his thoughts. He had never doubted of the spiritual and immaterial nature of the soul; but declared that he had lately had a kind of experimental certainty of the distinction between corporeal and thinking substances, which mere reason and philosophy cannot afford, and opportunities of contemplating the wonderful and inexplicable union of soul and body, which nothing but long sickness can give. This he illustrated by a description of the effects which the infirmities of his body had upon his faculties, which yet they did not so oppress or vanquish, but his soul was always master of itself, and always resigned to the pleasure of its Maker.

*“ Ætas, labor, corporisque opima pinguetudo, effecerant, ante annum, ut inertibus refertum, grave, hebes, plenitudine turgens corpus, anhelum ad motus minimos,cum sensu suffocationis, pulsu mirificè anomalo, ineptum evaderet ad ullum motum. Urgebat præcipuè subsistens prorsus et intercepta respiratio ad prima somni initia, unde somnus prorsus prohibebatur, cum formidabili strangulationis molestia. Hinc hydrops pedum, crurum, femorum, scroti, præputii, et abdominis. Quæ tamen omnia sublata. Sed dolor manet in abdomine, cum anxietate summa, anhelitu suffocante, et debilitate incredibili: somno pauco, eoque vago, per somnia turbatissimo: animus vero rebus agendis impar. Cam his luctor fessus nec emergo: patienter expectans Dei jussa, quibus resigno data, quæ sola amo, et honoro unice." Orig. Edit.

He related with great concern, that once his patience so far gave way to extremity of pain, that, after having lain fifteen hours in exquisite tortures, he prayed to God that he might be set free by death.

Mr. Schultens, by way of consolation, answered, that he thought such wishes, when forced by continued and excessive torments, unavoidable in the present state of human nature; that the best men, even Job himself, were not able to refrain from such starts of impatience. This he did not deny: but said, “ He that loves God, ought to think nothing desirable but what is most pleasing to the supreme goodness.”

Such were his sentiments, and such his conduct, in this state of weakness and pain : as death approached nearer, he was so far from terror or confusion, that he seemed even less sensible of pain, and more cheerful under his torments, which continued till the 23d day of September, 1738, on

VOL. XII.

D

which he died, between four and five in the morning, in the 70th year of his age.

Thus died Boerhaave, a man formed by nature for great designs, and guided by religion in the exertion of his abilities. He was of a robust and athletic constitution of body, so hardened by early severities, and wholesome fatigue, that he was insensible of any sharpness of air, or inclemency of weather. He was tall, and remarkable for extraordinary strength. There was in his air and motion something rough and artless, but so majestic and great at the same time, that no man ever looked upon him without veneration, and a kind of tacit submission to the superiority of his genius.

The vigour and activity of his mind sparkled visibly in his eyes; nor was it ever observed that any change of his fortune, or alteration in his affairs, whether happy or unfortunate, affected his countenance.

He was always cheerful, and desirous of promoting mirth by a facetious and humorous conversation; he was never soured by calumny and detraction, nor ever thought it necessary to confute them; “for they are sparks,” said he, “which if you do not blow them, will go out of themselves.”

Yet he took care never to provoke enemies by severity of censure, for he never dwelt on the faults or defects of others, and was so far from inflaming the envy of his rivals by dwelling on his own excellencies, that he rarely mentioned himself or his writings.

He was not to be overawed or depressed by the

« ZurückWeiter »