Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Page 7

Benjamin Rush


   Dr. Rush was a public writer for forty-nine years, and from the nineteenth to the sixty-eighth year of his age. His works, which were quite numerous, show much reading, deep investigation, and tried experience. He seems to have combined the most useful in physical science, with the most elegant in literature. Instead of being a mere collator of the, opinions of others, he was constantly making discoveries and improvements of his own; and from the result of his individual experience and observation, established more principles, and added more facts to the science o medicine, than all who had preceded him in his native country. The tendency of all his writings was decidedly good.
   He powerfully, and to some extent successfully, employed his pen against some of the habits and vices of mankind. His "Inquiry into the effects of ardent spirits upon the human body and mind," has been more read than any of his works. All the medical philosophy that was pertinent to the subject, was incorporated with it. Striking descriptions of the personal and family distress occasioned by that vice, and of its havoc on the minds, bodies and estates of its unhappy votaries, were given, and the means of prevention and cure pointed out. The whole was illustrated by a scale, graduated like a thermometer, showing at one view the effects of certain enumerated liquors on the body, the mind, and the condition in society of those who are addicted to them. In the last year of Dr. Rush's life, he presented to the general assembly of the Presbyterian church in the United States, one thousand copies of this popular pamphlet, to be given away among the people of their respective congregations. About the same time, that numerous and respectable body passed a resolution, enjoining on their members to exert themselves in counteracting this ruinous vice.
   In his "Observations upon the influence of the habitual use of tobacco upon health, morals, and property," Dr. Rush employed his eloquent pen in dissuading from practices, which insensibly grow into habits productive of many unforeseen evils.
   Dr. Rush was a great practical physician. In the treatment of diseases he was eminently successful. and in describing their symptoms and explaining their causes, he was uncommonly accurate. Nor is this matter of wonder, for he was minutely acquainted with the histories of diseases of all ages, countries, and occupations. The annals of medicine cannot produce an account of any great epidemic disease, that has visited our earth, in any age, or country, which is more minute, accurate, and completely satisfactory, than Dr. Rush's description of the yellow fever of 1793, in Philadelphia. Had he never written another line, this alone would have immortalized his name. He was a physician of no common cast. His prescriptions were not confined to doses of medicine, but to the regulation of the diet, air, dress, exercise, and mental actions of his patients, so as to prevent disease, and to make healthy men and women from invalids. His pre-eminence as a physician, over so many of his contemporaries, arose from the following circumstances:
   He carefully studied the climate in which he lived, and the symptoms of acute and chronic diseases therein prevalent; the different habits and constitutions of his patients, and varied his prescriptions with their strength, age, and sex.

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Last modified January 1, 2004