Your present plethora of acquirements will soon cure itself. Knowledge that is not wanted dies out like the eyes of the fishes of the Mammoth Cave. When you come to handle life and death as your daily business, your memory will of itself bid good-by to such inmates as the well-known foramina of the sphenoid bone and the familiar oxides of methyl-ethylamyl-phenyl-ammonium. Be thankful that you have once known them, and remember that even the learned ignorance of a nomenclature is something to have mastered, and may furnish pegs to hang facts upon which would otherwise have strewed the floor of memory in loose disorder.
But your education has, after all, been very largely practical. You have studied medicine and surgery, not chiefly in books, but at the bedside and in the operating amphitheatre. It is the special advantage of large cities that they afford the opportunity of seeing a great deal of disease in a short space of time, and of seeing many cases of the same kind of disease brought together. Let us not be unjust to the claims of the schools remote from the larger centres of population. Who among us has taught better than Nathan Smith, better than Elisha Bartlett? who teaches better than some of our living contemporaries who divide their time between city and country schools? I am afraid we do not always do justice to our country brethren, whose merits are less conspicuously exhibited than those of the great city physicians and surgeons, such especially as have charge of large hospitals. There are modest practitioners living in remote rural districts who are gifted by nature with such sagacity and wisdom, trained so well in what is most essential to the practice of their art, taught so thoroughly by varied experience, forced to such manly self-reliance by their comparative isolation, that, from converse with them alone, from riding with them on their long rounds as they pass from village to village, from talking over cases with them, putting up their prescriptions, watching their expedients, listening to their cautions, marking the event of their predictions, hearing them tell of their mistakes, and now and then glory a little in the detection of another's blunder, a young man would find himself better fitted for his real work than many who have followed long courses of lectures and passed a showy examination. But the young man is exceptionally fortunate who enjoys the intimacy of such a teacher. And it must be confessed that the great hospitals, infirmaries, and dispensaries of large cities, where men of well- sifted reputations are in constant attendance, are the true centres of medical education. No students, I believe, are more thoroughly aware of this than those who have graduated at this institution. Here, as in all our larger city schools, the greatest pains are taken to teach things as well as names. You have entered into the inheritance of a vast amount of transmitted skill and wisdom, which you have taken, warm, as it were, with the life of your well-schooled instructors. You have not learned all that art has to teach you, but you are safer practitioners to-day than were many of those whose names we hardly mention without a genuflection. I had rather be cared for in a fever by the best-taught among you than by the renowned Fernelius or the illustrious Boerhaave, could they come back to us from that better world where there are no physicians needed, and, if the old adage can be trusted, not many within call. I had rather have one of you exercise his surgical skill upon me than find myself in the hands of a resuscitated Fabricius Hildanus, or even of a wise Ambroise Pare, revisiting earth in the light of the nineteenth century.
You will not accuse me of underrating your accomplishments. You know what to do for a child in a fit, for an alderman in an apoplexy, for a girl that has fainted, for a woman in hysterics, for a leg that is broken, for an arm that is out of joint, for fevers of every color, for the sailor's rheumatism, and the tailor's cachexy. In fact you do really know so much at this very hour, that nothing but the searching test of time can fully teach you the limitations of your knowledge.
Of some of these you will permit me to remind you. You will never have outgrown the possibility of new acquisitions, for Nature is endless in her variety. But even the knowledge which you may be said to possess will be a different thing after long habit has made it a part of your existence. The tactus eruditus extends to the mind as well as to the finger-ends. Experience means the knowledge gained by habitual trial, and an expert is one who has been in the habit of trying. This is the kind of knowledge that made Ulysses wise in the ways of men. Many cities had he seen, and known the minds of those who dwelt in them. This knowledge it was that Chaucer's Shipman brought home with him from the sea a
"In many a tempest had his berd be shake."
This is the knowledge we place most confidence in, in the practical affairs of life.
Our training has two stages. The first stage deals with our intelligence, which takes the idea of what is to be done with the most charming ease and readiness. Let it be a game of billiards, for instance, which the marker is going to teach us. We have nothing to do but to make this ball glance from that ball and hit that other ball, and to knock that ball with this ball into a certain caecal sacculus or diverticulum which our professional friend calls a pocket. Nothing can be clearer; it is as easy as "playing upon this pipe," for which Hamlet gives Guildenstern such lucid directions. But this intelligent Me, who steps forward as the senior partner in our dual personality, turns out to be a terrible bungler. He misses those glancing hits which the hard-featured young professional person calls "carroms," and insists on pocketing his own ball instead of the other one.
It is the unintelligent Me, stupid as an idiot, that has to try a thing a thousand times before he can do it, and then never knows how he does it, that at last does it well. We have to educate ourselves through the pretentious claims of intellect, into the humble accuracy of instinct, and we end at last by acquiring the dexterity, the perfection, the certainty, which those masters of arts, the bee and the spider, inherit from Nature.
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