An old and respected pupil

“It is as much commendation as any man can bear, to own him
excellent; all beyond it is idolatry.”—DRYDEN.

It has been stated by an acute observer that it was impossible for
any man to be with Abernethy, even for a short time, without feeling
that he was in communion with no common mind; and it was just, I
think, the first effect he produced. In person, he was of middle
stature, and well proportioned for strength and activity. He had a most
interesting countenance; it combined the character of a philosopher and
a philanthropist, lighted up by cheerfulness and humour. It was not
that his features were particularly well formed or handsome, though
there was not a bad one in the whole countenance; but the harmony of
composition (if we may be allowed the expression) was so perfect.

A sufficiently high and ample forehead towered over two of the most
observant and expressive eyes I almost ever saw. People differ about
colour; they appeared to me always of a greyish-blue, and were
characterized as the rule by a mirthful yet piercing expression, from
which an overlaying of benevolence was seldom wanting; yet, as we have
before observed, they would sometimes launch forth gleams of humour,
anger, or pathos, as the case might be, which were such as the term
dramatic can alone convey.

There was another expression of his eye which was very characteristic;
it was when his benevolence was excited without the means of gratifying
it, as would sometimes happen in the case of hospital patients, for
whom he wanted good air, and things which their position did not
allow them to procure. He would in this case step a pace or two from
the bed, throw his head a little aside, and, talking to the dresser,
exhibit an expression of deep feeling which was extremely peculiar; it
was a mixture of suffering, of impatience, and sympathy; but the force
which the scene drew from the dramatic character of his expressive
countenance is entirely lost in the mere relation. If, at such times,
he gave utterance to a few words, they were always extremely touching
and expressive. On an occasion, for example, like the following, these
characters were combined. A woman came into the hospital to have an
operation performed; and Abernethy, as was his invariable custom, took
some time to get her health into a more favourable condition. When the
day for the operation was at hand, the dresser informed him that she
was about to quit the hospital.

“Why, my good woman,” said Abernethy, “what a fool you must be to come
here to have an operation performed; and now, just as you are in a fit
state for it, to go out again.” Somebody here whispered to him that her
father in the country “was dying.” With a burst of indignation, his
eyes flashing fire, he turned to the dresser, and said: “You fool, why
did you not tell me this before?” Then, after a moment or two looking
at the patient, he went from the foot up to the side of the bed, and
said in the kindest tone possible: “Yes, my good woman, you shall go
out immediately; you may come back again when you please, and I will
take all the care I can of you.”

Now there was nothing in all this, perhaps; but his manner gave it
immense force. And I remember one of the old pupils saying to me: “How
kind he was to that woman; upon my soul, I could hardly help crying.”

Abernethy exemplified a very rare and powerful combination of
intellectual qualities. He had a perception of the facts of a subject
at once rapid, penetrating, and comprehensive, and a power of analysis
which immediately elicited those relations which were most important to
the immediate objects of the investigation; a power, of course, of the
utmost value in a practical profession.

This faculty was never more marvellously displayed than sometimes in
doubtful or difficult cases; and this had been always a striking
excellence in him, even when a young man. I recollect hearing my
father say, that to see Abernethy to advantage, you must observe him
when roused by some difficulty, and in a case where other men were
at fault, or puzzled. It was just so; his penetrating mind seemed to
remove to either side at once what was foreign or doubtful, and go
straight to the point with which alone he had to grapple. Allied to
this, if not part of it, was that suggestive power which he possessed
in so remarkable a degree, and which by a kind of intuition seemed
to single out those pertinent relations and inquiries which the
judgment is to examine, and reject, or approve, as the case may be; a
faculty absolutely necessary to success in endeavours at extending the
boundaries of a science. He was thus sometimes enabled, as has been
shown, to convert facts to the highest purposes, in aid of practical
improvement, which, with an ordinary observer, would have passed

These qualities, combined with a memory, as we have seen, peculiarly
ready, capacious, and retentive, placed his resources at once at
hand for practical application. Then, while his quick perception of
relation always supplied him with abundant analogies, his imaginative
faculty enabled him to illustrate, enforce, and adorn them with such a
multitude and variety of illustration as seemed well-nigh inexhaustible.

Of his humour we have already spoken; but the same properties which
served him so well in more important matters were really, as it appears
to us, the foundation of much of that humour by which his conversation
was characterized—we mean his quick perception of relation, and his
marvellously retentive memory. Many of the things that he said, “told,”
not because they were original, so much as that they were ready at
hand; not because they were intrinsically good, as so apposite in
application; and, lastly, because they were further assisted by his
inimitable manner. Nevertheless, sometimes his quick perception would
be characterized by a corresponding felicity of expression. Bartleman
was an intimate friend of Abernethy’s; and those who remember the
magnificent voice and peculiarly chaste style of that celebrated
singer, will appreciate the felicity of the expression applied to him
by Abernethy, when he said, “Bartleman is an orator in music.”

Abernethy had the talent of conveying, by his manner, and apparently
without the smallest effort, that which in the drama is scarcely known
but as the result of constant and careful study. It was a manner
which no analysis of his character can convey, of which none of his
own compositions even give an adequate idea. The finest colours are
often the most fugitive. This is just the case with that heightened
expression which we term dramatic. Who can express in words the
thrilling effect that an earnest, heartfull delivery of a single phrase
has sometimes conveyed. But brilliant as these endowments were, they
were graced by moral qualities of the first order.

Quick as he was to see everything, he was necessarily rapid in his
perception of character, and would sometimes at a glance hit on the
leading influence of this always difficult assemblage of phenomena,
with the same rapidity that marked his dealings with facts which were
the more usual objects of his inquiries. But, though quick in his
perception of character, and therefore rapidly detective of faults, his
views were always tempered by generosity and good sense. Indignant at
injustice and oppression, and intolerant only of baseness or cruelty,
he was kind and charitable in his construction of more common or
excusable failings.

He loved man as his brother, and, with enlarged ideas of the duties of
benevolence, never dispensed it as a gift which it was creditable to
bestow, so much as an obligation which it would have been immoral to
have omitted. It was not that he did anything which the world calls
noble or great in giving sums of money to this or that person. There
were, indeed, plenty of instances of that sort of generosity and
benevolence, which would creep out, in spite of him, from those whom he
had benefited; and no man knew how to do it better. A gentleman, for
example, came up from the country to the school, and went to Bedford
Row, to enter the lectures. Abernethy asked him a few questions about
his intentions and his prospects, and found that his proceedings would
be little doubtful, as they were contingent on the receipt of some
funds which were uncertain. Abernethy gave him a perpetual ticket
to all his own lectures. “And what made so much impression on me,”
said the gentleman, “was, that instead of paying me less attention,
in asking me to his house, than the other pupils, if there were any
difference, he paid me rather more.” We have seen this gentleman within
a few days, and we are happy to say he has had a happy and prosperous

The benevolence, however, to which we allude, was not merely shown
in giving or remitting money; that, indeed, would be a marvellous
overcoming of the world with many people, but not with Abernethy;
his benevolence was no fitful suggestion of impulse, but a steadily
glowing principle of action, never obtrusive, but always ready when
required. It has been said, “a good man’s life is a constant prayer.”
It may be asserted that a good surgeon’s life should be a gentle
stream of benevolent sympathies, supporting and distributing the
conscientious administration of the duties of his profession. That this
really intrinsic part of his character should have been occasionally
overlaid by unkindness of manner, is, indeed, much to be regretted;
and, we believe, was subsequently deplored by no one more sincerely
than himself, and those who most loved and respected him. The faults
of ordinary acquaintances are taken as matters of course; but the
errors of those who are the objects of our respect and affection, are
always distressing. We feel them almost as a personal wrong; and, in a
character like Abernethy, where every spot on so fair a surface became
luminously evident, such defects gave one a feeling of mortification
which was at once humiliating and oppressive. But, whilst we are the
last to conceal his failings, we cannot but think he was, after all,
himself the greatest sufferer; we have no doubt they originated, at
least, in good motives, and that they have been charged, after all,
with much good.

Unfortunately, we have at all times had too many Gnathos in our
profession, too much of the

“Quidquid dicunt laudo, id rursum si negant, laudo id quoque.
Negat quis? nego. ait? aio.”

These assenting flatterers are the bane of an honest man, and, under
the name of tact and the influence of an uncompromising ambition to
get on, merge the highest duties into a mere desire to please; and,
adopting the creed of Gnatho, appropriately arrive at the same climax
as their conclusion:

“Postremo imperavi egomet mihi
Omnia assentari.”

Now, Abernethy knew this well, and detested it with a repulsion deep
and sincere. He had no knowledge of Gnathonics. He felt that he was
called on to practise a profession, the legitimate object of which
was alone achieved when it ministered to real suffering; and that
mere assentation to please patients was a prostitution of the highest
qualities of mind to the lowest purposes. If one may so say, he felt
like a painter who has a feeling for the highest department of his art,
and who could see nothing in an assenting Gnathonicism but an immoral

Neither was this without use to others; for though he looked, as the
public may be assured many others have done, on a “parcel of people
who came to him with nothing the matter,” yet even in his roughness he
was discriminate, and sometimes accomplished more good than the most
successful time-server by all his lubricity. One day, for example, a
lady took her daughter, evidently most tightly laced—a practice which
we believe mothers now are aware is mischievous, but scarcely to the
extent known to medical men. She complained of Abernethy’s rudeness to
her, as well she might; still he gave her, in a few words, a useful
lesson. “Why, madam,” said he, “do you know there are upwards of thirty
yards of bowels squeezed underneath that girdle of your daughter’s? Go
home and cut it, let Nature have fair play, and you will have no need
of my advice.”

But, if we must acknowledge and regret, as we do, his occasional
rudenesses of manner, let us also give him the credit of overcoming
these besetting impulses. In all hospitals, of course, there are
occasional vexations; but who ever saw Abernethy really unkind to
a hospital patient? Now, we cannot affirm any thing beyond our own
experience. We had, as dresser, for a considerable period, the care
of many of his patients, and we continued frequently to observe his
practice from the commencement of our pupilage, which was about a year
or a little more after his appointment as surgeon, until the close of
his hospital labours. We speak subject to correction, therefore, but
we cannot charge our memory with a single instance of unkindness to
a hospital patient; whilst we are deeply impressed by the constant
prevalence of a generally kind and unaffected sympathy with them.

The quickness with which he observed any imperfection in the execution
of his directions, was, on the contrary, the source of many a “rowing,”
as we apprehend some of his dressers well enough remember; whilst he
seldom took a dresser without making more than usual inquiries as
to his competency. In private practice, also, any case that really
required skill and discrimination was pretty sure to meet with the
attention that it deserved. This was noticed in the remarks made on
the character of Abernethy, at the time of his death, by the Duke of
Sussex, at the Royal Society, at their anniversary meeting on the 30th
of November, 1831, of which the following is a report, copied from the
books of the Society:

His Royal Highness observed that “Mr. Abernethy was one of those
pupils of John Hunter who appears the most completely to have
caught the bold and philosophical spirit of his great master. He
was the author of various works and memoirs upon physiological
and anatomical or surgical subjects, including papers which have
appeared in our Transactions. Few persons have contributed more
abundantly to the establishment of the true principles of surgery
and medical science in those cases which require that minute
criticism of the symptoms of disease, upon the proper knowledge and
study of which the perfection of medical art must mainly depend.

“As a lecturer, he was not less distinguished than as an author;
and he appears to have attained the art of fixing strongly
the attention of his hearers, not less by the just authority
of his opinions than by his ready command of apt and forcible
illustrations. He enjoyed, during many years of his life, more
than an ordinary share of public favour in the practice of
his profession; and, though not a little remarkable for the
eccentricities of his manner and an affected roughness in his
intercourse with his ordinary patients, he was generally kind and
courteous in those cases which required the full exercise of his
skill and knowledge, and also liberal in the extreme when the
infliction of poverty was superadded to those of disease.”

The high character of his benevolence was shown also in the ready
forgiveness of injuries; and he was as grateful as he was forgiving.
How constant his attachment to his early friend and teacher, Sir
William Blizard. There is something very characteristic of this, when,
in the decline of life, he writes “Yours unremittingly,” to one whose
unusually lengthened years had enabled him to witness Abernethy’s entry
into life, and, at the conclusion of the labours of his distinguished
pupil, to join with a public body in expressing the high sense
entertained of the obligations which he had conferred on science and
mankind. Few men could have been placed in positions more trying than
that in which he found himself in his controversy with Mr. Lawrence.
When the time arrived at which, in the ordinary course, that gentleman
would have been elected into the Council of the College, there was a
very strong feeling on the part of some of the members against his
admission. Abernethy, however, proposed him himself, and it was by his
casting vote that the election terminated in Mr. Lawrence’s favour.

A member of the Council having expressed his surprise that Mr.
Abernethy should propose a gentleman with whom he had had so unpleasant
a difference—”What has that to do with it?” rejoined Abernethy. Some
friends of Mr. Lawrence wished to pay that gentleman the compliment of
having his portrait drawn, and a subscription was to be entered into
for this purpose. It was suggested that it would be very desirable to
get Mr. Abernethy to allow his name to be in the list; and our friend,
Mr. Kingdon[88], with the best intentions no doubt, ventured to ask
Mr. Abernethy to put his name at _the head_ of the list. But there was
nothing of Quixotism in Abernethy. He would have been very glad to do
a kind thing to anybody; and any obstacle affecting him personally
was much more likely to be an argument in favour than otherwise. He
liked justice for its own sake; but he was circumspect as well as
penetrative. At first he seemed inclined to do it, but asked a day
to consider of it; and then wrote the following letter, into a more
particular examination of which we need not enter:


“My dear sir,

“‘_Fiat Justitia_’ is, as I flatter myself, the rule of my conduct.
At all times have I expressed my approbation and respect for
William Lawrence, on account of his professional learning, and of
his ability as a writer and public speaker. But, if I do what you
would have me, I should do much more, and be made to appear as
a leader in a scheme the object of which is indefinite; so that
persons will be at liberty to put what construction they please
upon my conduct. Being desirous of doing what you wish, I have been
for some time in a state of perplexity and hesitation.

“At length I have resolved—that since I cannot determine what
ought to be done—to follow a useful rule of professional conduct,
and to do nothing. Vexed to refuse you anything, I hope you will
still believe me,

“My dear sir,
“Your obliged and very sincere friend,

The question of how far letters are to be relied on as expositions of
character, has been much discussed.

The remarks of Dr. Johnson on the subject, in his Life of Pope, are put
with great force, and almost carry us with him; but, on reflection,
they appear too general; they do not, perhaps, get close enough to the
question in which the student in Biography is chiefly interested.

Although letters obviously afford opportunities for a variety of
affectation—and Pope seems to have seldom been quite natural—yet we
cannot think that “friendship has no tendency to produce veracity.”
But it seems impossible to generalize on the subject. We might as well
ask whether oral evidence is to be relied on. There is no one quality
that we can think of that can be said to be so universally distributed
in letters as to be safe to generalize on. Common sense tells us that
the testimony they give may be false or true. They are, like witnesses,
capable of telling truth, but having, under different circumstances,
all the characters of all other kinds of witnesses. Strictly, the
dependence one would place on them would be on the abstract probability
of that which they suggest; or as supported by any corroborative

The following is a note to his daughter, the late Mrs. Warburton,
thanking her for a watch-chain:

“Bedford Row,
“Sept. 30.

“My dear Anne,

“I am quite accablé by the liberality of the Dr. and yourself; but
I’ve been thinking that the Dr. is leading me into temptation,
and that you are spending your money for an ornament which will
never be seen, and which will only increase my apprehensions of
having my pocket picked. However, what is meant in kindness should
be received according to its design. Thus occasionally shall I
taste the old rum; though, according to the phrase of the Doctor’s
schoolfellow (who reiterated that the wine was capital), blue
ruin might have done as well. Thus also shall I wear the chain in
remembrance of a chain which attaches me to you; one forged by
Nature, and riveted by your good conduct and excellent disposition.

“I am, my dear Anne,
“Your affectionate and attached


“My dear Anne,

“Sir James, becoming a Governor, observed, he could not be both
master and servant, and therefore _must_ relinquish his labours. I
was three hours going round the hospital for the first time. It is
Sir James’s taking-in day on Thursday. The admitted patients must
be seen on Friday. I cannot leave town until Saturday, unless Mrs.
A.[89] pleases to encounter the chance of sleeping on the road. I
suppose she will have luggage; and I cannot in reason allow less
than seven hours, with a rest of two to Miss Jenny, with such
additional weight.

“I wish you had seen Dr. Powell; not that I believe he could do
aught more than your own reason would suggest, or else you should
never, with my goodwill, have gone to Southend. I know nought
of —— Could you not return by water? By engaging a suitable
vessel, the whole party might then be transported—ay, even to
Putney. I should think ten or twelve pounds well bestowed on such
a desideratum. Do not think of expense; for money cannot be put in
competition with your welfare. If you are healthy and long-lived, I
should be surprised if the children were not good and prosperous. I
say nothing about myself, because I am no Professor, although they
so nickname me.

“Yours in all events,

The following has some points of interest. The reason why merciful; the
observance of approved custom in shutting up the house; yet connecting
so much of “forms, modes, shows of grief,” as Hamlet calls them,
with the best feelings, because “she had loved you,” &c.; the gentle
tenderness with which he alludes to the excellence of the Mother;
and the graceful compliment with which he concludes; seem excellent

“My dear Anne,

“I am much concerned to tell you that your Grandmother died last
night, about nine o’clock. Death came to her unattended with pain
or terrors. It is highly probable that she neither felt uneasiness
of body or mind, from the time she was first seized with the fit.
To have lived to her age, respectably and respected, in health,
and to die without bodily or mental sufferings, is a fate which
falls but to the lot of few; so that her friends have no reason to
repine at her death; and it seems to be a merciful dispensation
of Providence. If the servant has left Putney for Radcliff, of
course the house is shut up; if not, it ought to be so. You and
the children ought also to stay within doors, and have the front
windows closed. She loved you all very much, and you ought to
love and respect her memory. To you, who are apt to indulge your
feelings too much, I must add, that it would be wrong to grieve
much for what is in reality, as I have said, a cause to rejoice.
I mean that the pains and decrepitude of age should be spared to
the Individual whose fate we mourn. I have always esteemed it
an excellence in your Mother’s character, that though she feels
acutely, yet she bears her lot in the dispensations of Providence
with a gentleness and submission which indeed serve to diminish
their severity. I trust she will do so on this occasion. You will
see her to-morrow at Putney, if not before. On all occasions, and
under every circumstance, rely on it that I remain

“Most affectionately yours,

“Bedford Row,
“Friday Morning, August, 1812.”



“The first incident worth relating happened at Cirencester. I
hobbled in haste to Mr. Lawrence’s; his dressing room was open,
and articles of apparel, &c. lay about, as if he had been lately
engaged in the (to some agreeable, to others annoying) operation
of dressing himself. His maid servant, however, sought him in
vain, even in the church-yard. She looked mysterious and alarmed.
‘Perhaps,’ said I, ‘he is gone to Mr. Warner’s.’ Sure enough there
he was, examining a shoulder said to have been dislocated; and
he would make me examine it likewise. So much time having been
lost as to the object of my visit, I had merely time to tell him
that you were at Cheltenham, and would come to see him; and he
to tell me that Mrs. Lawrence was at Malvern. The guard sounded
his tin horn in an imperative manner; the sound was repeated, and
I received a verbal reproof from the coachman for not instantly
obeying the summons. A little way out of Cirencester, on the road
to Tetbury, there is a neat and stile-ish house and grounds which
I anticipated belonged to Charles Lawrence; and my presentiment
was confirmed by a Compagnon de Voyage. Arrived at the York House,
Bath, I was shown into a bed-room which had not been dusted, as
you would think, properly since a fortnight before the fire. So,
with the fear of bugs and other blood-sucking insects, I took
up those of the papilionacious tribe belonging to Mr. Marriott,
and proceeded to his abode; approaching which, I encountered Mr.
Wood. By his recommendation, I procured apartments in a house,
as Bourdillon would say, the entirety of which could only be
obtained by persons in general. Behold me, then, sole occupant
of a spacious and well-furnished house (being No. 9, St. James’s
Square), with a garden terminating in a road, beyond which fields
only are visible, and within ken of the brow of Lansdown. The
front and back rooms communicate, and the windows of each being
open, there is perflation in excess. (Diary.) Monday. Descending
Gay Street, in my way to the bath, I called at Soden’s, and found
him in great distress, and that Hodgson had gone forth to seek
for me. Mrs. Soden is very ill, and Hodgson had come once to
see her. She has lots of medical attendants, who, to use ——’s
phrase, dovetail their opinions and practice before they prescribe
for their patient. In perambulating Bath with Mr. Hodgson, we
encountered Mr. Leifchild, who recited his case to the former,
in proof of the efficacy of diet, with the eloquence of a public
orator; and it happened to be a case in point. I scrubbed myself
for half an hour, and drank half a pint of water at the pump room;
then reascended the hill; looked in at Wilson Brown’s, whose wife
is quite well. No doubt the state of her digestive organs was the
source of her various maladies. Her father, Dr. Chichester, whom
you saw at Mr. Acres’, now resides at Cheltenham. I went with Mr.
Brown to the Riding School, thinking that if I could meet with a
kind of shooting pony, I might be tempted to get on his back. But
I escaped temptation, dined on mutton chop or chops, drank half a
pint of ale, felt quiet, dosed a little. Descended to Queen Square;
left a card for Sir George Gibbs, who is at Weymouth; called on Mr.
Gore, who had been called out to a casualty (Bath phrase); went to
the White Hart, found the coach did not come in until nine o’clock;
thinking that if I did not see Mr. Battiscombe until then, we
should both be as weary of seeing each other as of the day’s toil,
I reascended the hill, and went to bed. It was necessary that a
day should elapse, that I might tell you how time passed; so that
I have complied with your request of writing as soon as possible.
No doubt that the days will be so monotonous as to render a second
account unnecessary. I calculate I shall be tout-à-fait ennuyé in a
fortnight; so that I expect I shall set off to Cheltenham, in the
coach I came by, next Monday sennight, which I believe will arrive
there about eight or nine in the evening, when I hope to find
you all well. On Friday I think we might visit Oxford, and house
ourselves again at the Angel; from whence, if we start at nine, we
may be in London by four o’clock on Saturday.

“I think I have written a ladylike letter: no attempt at
condensation. I hope to hear from you in return, and that you will
be able to say all’s well. I will write to Anne to-morrow, because
you say she wishes it—perhaps to-day.

“Love to Miss Moggy and Miss Madge.

“Yours for ever and for aye,

“Bath, 8th September, 1828.”

He was fond of joining in anything that could delight and amuse his
children. In summer, when he returned home, the “upstairs bell” was
generally the signal for the young people to come to have a game of
play. Of games, battledore and shuttlecock was a favourite, at which he
was as expert and pleased as any of them. Sometimes there would be a
petition for stories; and he would delight them all by little histories
or tales, in which he appears to have shown the same talent as he did
in his lectures. The same stories were often repeated, yet they always
had something of the fun or freshness, as the case might be, of things
that were heard for the first time. One Christmas, the family, desirous
of amusing some friends, proposed to get up some private theatricals.
The anxious question being, what papa would say to it? Well, this was
very soon known, by a ready assent. But what was the play to be? They
replied, “The Iron Chest.” But now rather an important difficulty
arose, of who was to take the part of Sir Edward Mortimer? This was as
unexpectedly as joyfully solved, by Mr. Abernethy taking it himself.

But, of all the home sports to which he seems to have given such zest,
all yielded to the superior attractions of the Magic lantern. This was
generally a gambol reserved for Christmas, when the whole establishment
were admitted. The fun lay in the number and variety of the stories and
remarks which accompanied the optical illustrations.

Every “slide” had remarks and stories made off-hand, which, as stories
were of this or that kind, either greatly increased the interest or
were the occasion of hearty merriment or peals of laughter.

He was very fond of the country and his garden, and nothing he enjoyed
more than driving down to Enfield with Mr. Clift, and having a holiday.
On such occasions, sometimes, even before he went into the house he
would set to work in the garden. They used both to be very active in
cutting out the dead wood from the laurels and other shrubs. In these
domestic operations the children would assist without any of the party
recollecting that bonnets and gowns were not the best costume for
making way amongst the trees and shrubs, which, however, only assisted
to increase the fun and excitement. At other times, there would be an
expedition against the duck-weed on the water. In short, he always
seems to have been the life of the party, and to have invested even the
most ordinary occupations with liveliness and interest, for which he
was certainly gifted with unwonted powers. Occasionally he would go to
the theatre, which he sometimes enjoyed very much. Like his brother,
he was a great lover of our immortal Shakspeare, and scarcely less
familiar with most of the wonderful creations of his mighty genius.

When we contemplate Abernethy in a single phase only of his character,
we see a “fidgetty” physical organization, influencing an habitual
irritability of which it was too much a supporter, if it were not
the original cause; but the moment we penetrate this thin and only
occasional covering, we meet with nothing but rare and splendid
endowments; and, as we proceed in our examination, we are at a loss
which most to admire, the brilliant qualities of his intellect, or the
moral excellences of his heart.

But, in estimating the one or the other, we must view them in relation
to the other feelings with which they were accompanied, as impeding
or assisting their development and application; or otherwise we shall
hardly estimate in its due force the powers of that volition over which
the moral sense so constantly presides.

Abernethy had considerable love of approbation—a quality which,
regarded in a religious point of view, may be said to embrace all
others; but it is one which, in the ordinary relations of life, is apt
to dilute the character, bringing down the mind from the contemplation
of more elevated motives to the level of those suggested by worldly
considerations and conventionalisms. To one shy, even to timidity,
and whose organization fitted him rather for the rapid movements of a
penetrative and impulsive perception, than the more dogged perseverance
of sustained labour, love of approbation, even in the ordinary
application of it, might have been a useful stimulus in maintaining
exertion; and we believe it was. Yet, though he avowed it as a dominant
principle in our nature, as the great “incentive” to human action, he
never sought it but by legitimate channels; nor, potential as its
influences might have been, when sharpened by shyness and timidity, did
he hesitate one moment to throw them all aside whenever the interests
of truth or justice rendered it necessary.

When Mr. Hunter’s views were little noticed, less understood, and
apparently in danger of being forgotten—when the more speculative
of his views were not even known as his by any _published_
documents—when, therefore, in addition to other objections, he
was, as we have seen, subjected to the imputation of advocating
opinions as Hunter’s, of which there was no other testimony than the
precarious memories of contemporaries,—he stood boldly forward as
the fearless, earnest, and eloquent advocate of John Hunter. In this
case, he overcome his natural dislike to contest and publicity, and
encountered just that individualizing opposition which is most trying
to a sensitive organization; exemplifying a rare tribute of truth and
justice paid by genius to the claims of a departed brother. At the
same time, the power he displayed of moulding views, scarcely even
acknowledged, into the elementary beginnings of little less than a new
science, strikingly testifies the superiority of his intellectual power.

Whilst, however, he advocated John Hunter’s views, and, with a creative
spirit, made them the basis of additional structures which were
emphatically his own, we find him modestly reverting again and again to
John Hunter, as if afraid of not awarding him his just due,—and for
ever linking both the early bud put forth by Hunter’s inquiries and
the opening blossom afforded by his own, with the imperishable efforts
of his distinguished master,—exemplifying the modesty of genius, and
how superior it is, when guided by virtue, to any but the most exalted

Another example of his independence of mind and of his conquest over
difficulty, when the interests of truth appeared to him to render it
necessary, was the manner in which, in defiance of ridicule and all
sorts of opposition, he advocated his own views; with ultimate success,
it is true, but obtained only through a variety of difficulties,
greatly augmented by his naturally shy, if not timid, organization.
Still, amidst all his brilliant endowments, we feel ourselves fondly
reverting to the more peaceful and unobtrusive efforts with which he
daily inculcated the conscientious study of an important profession.

That he had faults, is of course true; but they were not the faults
of the spirit so much as of the clay-bound tenement in which it
resided—not so much those of the individual man as those necessarily
allied to humanity. The powerful influences of education had not been
very happily applied in Abernethy; its legitimate office is, no doubt,
to educe the good, and suppress the evolution of bad qualities. In
Abernethy, we can hardly help thinking that his education was more
calculated to do just the contrary. “To level a boy with the earth,”
because he ventured on “a crib to Greek Testament,” is, to say the
least of it, very questionable discipline for a shy and irritable
organization. To restore to its original form the tree which has been
bent as a sapling, is always difficult or impossible.

But, in virtue of those beneficent laws which “shelter the shorn
lamb,” Abernethy was allowed ultimately, less in consequence than
in spite of his education, to develop one of the most benevolent of
dispositions. To this was joined a powerful conscientiousness, which
pervaded everything he did, and which could hardly be supported but by
sentiments of religious responsibility; and it is certain that his mind
was deeply imbued with the precepts of a vital Christianity, that took
the most practical view of his duty to God and to his neighbour; and,
in the very imperfect sense in which human nature has ever attained
to the full obedience of either, he regarded a humble and practical
observance of the one as the best human exposition of the other. His
favourite apothegm on all serious occasions, and especially in those
parts of his profession where its guidance was most required, was the
divine precept of doing to others as we would wish done to ourselves.

In his reflections he strikingly exemplifies how humble and
single-minded were his modes of thinking. After the manner of Bishop
Butler, but with a simplicity highly characteristic, he identifies that
which is truly religious with that which is truly philosophical; and,
instead of finding difficulties in those barriers which necessarily
lie before finite capacities, when endeavouring to approach the
Infinite, he seems to regard them as things which rather direct and
limit, than obstruct, legitimate inquiry.

In concluding this imperfect sketch of a difficult character, we
have merely endeavoured to state our own impressions. We cannot help
thinking that Abernethy has left a space which yet remains unoccupied;
it would be presumptuous to say that it will long continue so. In his
life he has left us an excellent example to follow, nor has it been
less useful in teaching us that which we should avoid.

Whilst amongst us, as he taught us how to exercise some important
duty, he would occasionally endeavour to impress matters of detail,
by showing, first, how they should not be done. His life instructs us
after the same manner. In all serious matters, we may generally take
him as a guide; in occasional habits, we may most safely recollect
that faults are no less faults—as Mirabeau said of Frederick—because
they have the “shadow” of a great name; and we believe that, were it
possible, no good man would desire to leave a better expiation of any
weakness, than that it should deter others from a similar error. This
is the view we would wish our young friends to take of the matter. We
cannot all reach the genius of Abernethy, but we may be animated by the
same spirit.

If great men are endowed with powers given only to the few, their
success generally turns on the steady observance of the more homely
qualities which are the common privilege of the many—caution,
circumspection, industry, and humility. Again, genius is often
charged with weaknesses by which more ordinary minds are unfettered
or unembarrassed. We may emulate the justice, the independence of
mind, the humanity, the generosity, the modesty, and, above all,
the conscientiousness of Abernethy, in all serious cases; without
withholding from the more ordinary and lighter duties of our profession
a due proportion of these feelings, or necessarily laying aside the
forbearance and courtesy which must ever lend an additional grace to
our various duties.

We may endeavour with all our power to avoid a disgraceful flattery
and compliancy, without replacing them by contrasts which, though not
equally mischievous, we may be assured are equally unnecessary: whilst
we may, in our various stations, emulate his kindness, his constancy
as a husband, father, and friend; and yet not refuse a becoming share
of such endearing qualities to others, from any fear that we shall be
subject to misconstruction.

We may remember that intellect alone is dry, cold, and calculating;
that feeling, unsupported or uncontrolled, is impulsive, paroxysmal,
and misleading; and that the few rare moments of moral excellence which
human nature achieves, are, when these powers combine, in harmony of
purpose and unity of action.

We may be assured that, however much we admire that rapid and searching
perceptivity,—that sound, acute, and comprehensive judgment which
Abernethy brought to bear on the study of the profession,—or the
honourable, independent, generous, and humane manner in which he
administered its more important and serious duties,—the greatest,
and, for good, the most potential influence of all, was the manner in
which he employed his manifold and varied excellences as a teacher in
endeavouring to infuse a truly conscientious spirit into the numbers
who, as pupils, he sent forth to practise in all parts of the world.
This is still an unknown amount of obligation. Those resulting from
his works may be proximately calculated, and such as are necessarily
omitted in a review essentially popular, _may be chronicled hereafter
in a more suitable manner_; but, as a teacher, we cannot as yet
calculate the amount of our obligations to him. They are only to be
estimated by reflection; and by recollecting the _moral influence of
every man_ who honestly practises an important profession.

Finally, whether we think of the interests of the public, the
profession, or those of each, as affecting the other, or of both as
affecting the progress of society; we shall, I think, be disposed to
agree with one of our most distinguished modern writers, that the
“means on which the interests and prospects of society most depend, are
the sustained influence that invariably attends the dignity of private

In a world which presents so much of violated faith and broken ties,
the mind experiences a grateful repose in the contemplation of long and
uninterrupted friendship.

Of all men, perhaps Sir William Blizard had known Abernethy the
longest, and loved him the best; and an intercourse of more than half a
century had only served to cement a friendship entirely reciprocal with
sentiments of increased respect and regard.

Sir William had been one of the first to excite in Abernethy that
love for his profession which led to such brilliant results. He had
witnessed his career with all the pleasure that a teacher regards the
success of an early pupil, and no doubt with that satisfaction which is
inseparable from a prediction fulfilled. He had lived, also, to receive
a public and affectionate tribute of gratitude for his early lessons,
when Abernethy was in the zenith of his power.

Sir William, however, lived nearly a century, and was still alive and
well, when Abernethy’s sun was setting, and when that fire which he had
been the first to kindle for such useful and benevolent purposes was
soon to be extinguished for ever.

When Abernethy retired from the College of Surgeons, Sir William was
requested to draw up the memorial in which his services were to be

These circumstances invest even formal documents with an unusual
interest; and we therefore trust that Sir William’s encomium may not be
thought an inappropriate conclusion to our humble story.

This almost ancient friend and early instructor observed, of Abernethy,
“that his life has been devoted to the improvement of the healing art.
His luminous writings breathe simplicity, humanity, reverence of truth,
and disdain of worldly art; and have placed the art and science of
surgery on the permanent basis of anatomy and physiology; whilst the
contemplation of his character excites emulative ideas of public virtue
in the cultivation of useful knowledge.”