The name of Velpeau must have reached many of you, for he died in 1867, and his many works made his name widely known. Coming to Paris in wooden shoes, starving, almost, at first, he raised himself to great eminence as a surgeon and as an author, and at last obtained the Professorship to which his talents and learning entitled him. His example may be an encouragement to some of my younger hearers who are born, not with the silver spoon in their mouths, but with the two-tined iron fork in their hands. It is a poor thing to take up their milk porridge with in their young days, but in after years it will often transfix the solid dumplings that roll out of the silver spoon. So Velpeau found it. He had not what is called genius, he was far from prepossessing in aspect, looking as if he might have wielded the sledge-hammer (as I think he had done in early life) rather than the lancet, but he had industry, determination, intelligence, character, and he made his way to distinction and prosperity, as some of you sitting on these benches and wondering anxiously what is to become of you in the struggle for life will have done before the twentieth century has got halfway through its first quarter. A good sound head over a pair of wooden shoes is a great deal better than a wooden head belonging to an owner who cases his feet in calf-skin, but a good brain is not enough without a stout heart to fill the four great conduits which carry at once fuel and fire to that mightiest of engines.
How many of you who are before me are familiarly acquainted with the name of Broussais, or even with that of Andral? Both were lecturing at the Ecole de Medicine, and I often heard them. Broussais was in those days like an old volcano, which has pretty nearly used up its fire and brimstone, but is still boiling and bubbling in its interior, and now and then sends up a spirt of lava and a volley of pebbles. His theories of gastro-enteritis, of irritation and inflammation as the cause of disease, and the practice which sprang from them, ran over the fields of medicine for a time like flame over the grass of the prairies. The way in which that knotty-featured, savage old man would bring out the word irritation--with rattling and rolling reduplication of the resonant letter r--might have taught a lesson in articulation to Salvini. But Broussais's theory was languishing and well-nigh become obsolete, and this, no doubt, added vehemence to his defence of his cherished dogmas.
Old theories, and old men who cling to them, must take themselves out of the way as the new generation with its fresh thoughts and altered habits of mind comes forward to take the place of that which is dying out. This was a truth which the fiery old theorist found it very hard to learn, and harder to bear, as it was forced upon him. For the hour of his lecture was succeeded by that of a younger and far more popular professor. As his lecture drew towards its close, the benches, thinly sprinkled with students, began to fill up; the doors creaked open and banged back oftener and oftener, until at last the sound grew almost continuous, and the voice of the lecturer became a leonine growl as he strove in vain to be heard over the noise of doors and footsteps.
Broussais was now sixty-two years old. The new generation had outgrown his doctrines, and the Professor for whose hour the benches had filled themselves belonged to that new generation. Gabriel Andral was little more than half the age of Broussais, in the full prime and vigor of manhood at thirty-seven years. He was a rapid, fluent, fervid, and imaginative speaker, pleasing in aspect and manner,--a strong contrast to the harsh, vituperative old man who had just preceded him. His Clinique Medicale is still valuable as a collection of cases, and his researches on the blood, conducted in association with Gavarret, contributed new and valuable facts to science. But I remember him chiefly as one of those instructors whose natural eloquence made it delightful to listen to him. I doubt if I or my fellow-students did full justice either to him or to the famous physician of Hotel Dieu, Chomel. We had addicted ourselves almost too closely to the words of another master, by whom we were ready to swear as against all teachers that ever were or ever would be.
This object of our reverence, I might almost say idolatry, was one whose name is well known to most of the young men before me, even to those who may know comparatively little of his works and teachings. Pierre Charles Alexandre Louis, at the age of forty-seven, as I recall him, was a tall, rather spare, dignified personage, of serene and grave aspect, but with a pleasant smile and kindly voice for the student with whom he came into personal relations. If I summed up the lessons of Louis in two expressions, they would be these; I do not hold him answerable for the words, but I will condense them after my own fashion in French, and then give them to you, expanded somewhat, in English:
Formez toujours des idees nettes. Fuyez toujours les a peu pres.
Always make sure that you form a distinct and clear idea of the matter you are considering.
Always avoid vague approximations where exact estimates are possible; about so many,--about so much, instead of the precise number and quantity.
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