This is the thirty-sixth Course of Lectures in which I have taken my place and performed my duties as Professor of Anatomy. For more than half of my term of office I gave instruction in Physiology, after the fashion of my predecessors and in the manner then generally prevalent in our schools, where the physiological laboratory was not a necessary part of the apparatus of instruction. It was with my hearty approval that the teaching of Physiology was constituted a separate department and made an independent Professorship. Before my time, Dr. Warren had taught Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery in the same course of Lectures, lasting only three or four months. As the boundaries of science are enlarged, new divisions and subdivisions of its territories become necessary. In the place of six Professors in 1847, when I first became a member of the Faculty, I count twelve upon the Catalogue before me, and I find the whole number engaged in the work of instruction in the Medical School amounts to no less than fifty.
Since I began teaching in this school, the aspect of many branches of science has undergone a very remarkable transformation. Chemistry and Physiology are no longer what they were, as taught by the instructors of that time. We are looking forward to the synthesis of new organic compounds; our artificial madder is already in the market, and the indigo-raisers are now fearing that their crop will be supplanted by the manufactured article. In the living body we talk of fuel supplied and work done, in movement, in heat, just as if we were dealing with a machine of our own contrivance.
A physiological laboratory of to-day is equipped with instruments of research of such ingenious contrivance, such elaborate construction, that one might suppose himself in a workshop where some exquisite fabric was to be wrought, such as Queens love to wear, and Kings do not always love to pay for. They are, indeed, weaving a charmed web, for these are the looms from which comes the knowledge that clothes the nakedness of the intellect. Here are the mills that grind food for its hunger, and "is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?"
But while many of the sciences have so changed that the teachers of the past would hardly know them, it has not been so with the branch I teach, or, rather, with that division of it which is chiefly taught in this amphitheatre. General anatomy, or histology, on the other hand, is almost all new; it has grown up, mainly, since I began my medical studies. I never saw a compound microscope during my years of study in Paris. Individuals had begun to use the instrument, but I never heard it alluded to by either Professors or students. In descriptive anatomy I have found little to unlearn, and not a great deal that was both new and important to learn. Trifling additions are made from year to year, not to be despised and not to be overvalued. Some of the older anatomical works are still admirable, some of the newer ones very much the contrary. I have had recent anatomical plates brought me for inspection, and I have actually button-holed the book-agent, a being commonly as hard to get rid of as the tar-baby in the negro legend, that I might put him to shame with the imperial illustrations of the bones and muscles in the great folio of Albinus, published in 1747, and the unapproached figures of the lymphatic system of Mascagni, now within a very few years of a century old, and still copied, or, rather, pretended to be copied, in the most recent works on anatomy.
I am afraid that it is a good plan to get rid of old Professors, and I am thankful to hear that there is a movement for making provision for those who are left in need when they lose their offices and their salaries. I remember one of our ancient Cambridge Doctors once asked me to get into his rickety chaise, and said to me, half humorously, half sadly, that he was like an old horse,--they had taken off his saddle and turned him out to pasture. I fear the grass was pretty short where that old servant of the public found himself grazing. If I myself needed an apology for holding my office so long, I should find it in the fact that human anatomy is much the same study that it was in the days of Vesalius and Fallopius, and that the greater part of my teaching was of such a nature that it could never become antiquated.
Let me begin with my first experience as a medical student. I had come from the lessons of Judge Story and Mr. Ashmun in the Law School at Cambridge. I had been busy, more or less, with the pages of Blackstone and Chitty, and other text-books of the first year of legal study. More or less, I say, but I am afraid it was less rather than more. For during that year I first tasted the intoxicating pleasure of authorship. A college periodical, conducted by friends of mine, still undergraduates, tempted me into print, and there is no form of lead-poisoning which more rapidly and thoroughly pervades the blood and bones and marrow than that which reaches the young author through mental contact with type-metal. Qui a bu, boira,--he who has once been a drinker will drink again, says the French proverb. So the man or woman who has tasted type is sure to return to his old indulgence sooner or later. In that fatal year I had my first attack of authors' lead-poisoning, and I have never got quite rid of it from that day to this. But for that I might have applied myself more diligently to my legal studies, and carried a green bag in place of a stethoscope and a thermometer up to the present day.
What determined me to give up Law and apply myself to Medicine I can hardly say, but I had from the first looked upon that year's study as an experiment. At any rate, I made the change, and soon found myself introduced to new scenes and new companionships.
I can scarcely credit my memory when I recall the first impressions produced upon me by sights afterwards become so familiar that they could no more disturb a pulse-beat than the commonest of every-day experiences. The skeleton, hung aloft like a gibbeted criminal, looked grimly at me as I entered the room devoted to the students of the school I had joined, just as the fleshless figure of Time, with the hour-glass and scythe, used to glare upon me in my childhood from the "New England Primer." The white faces in the beds at the Hospital found their reflection in my own cheeks, which lost their color as I looked upon them. All this had to pass away in a little time; I had chosen my profession, and must meet its painful and repulsive aspects until they lost their power over my sensibilities.
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