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Page 8

Benjamin Rush

1745-1813


   He marked the influence of different seasons, upon the same disease; and varied his practice accordingly. He observed and recorded the influence of successive epidemic diseases upon each other, and take hurtful as well as salutary effects of his remedies, and thereby acquired a knowledge of the character of the reigning disease in every successive season. His notes and records of the diseases, which have taken place in Philadelphia for the last forty-four years, must be of incalculable value to such as may have access to them. In attendance upon patients, Dr. Rush's manner was so gentle and sympathizing that pain and distress were less poignant in his presence. On all occasions he exhibited the manners of a gentleman, and his conversation was sprightly, pleasant, and instructive. His letters were peculiarly excellent; for they were dictated by a feeling heart, and adorned with the effusions of a brilliant imagination. His correspondence was extensive, and his letters numerous ; but every one of them, as far as can be known to an individual, contained something original, pleasant, and sprightly. I can truly say, remarks Dr. Ramsay, that in the course of thirty-five years correspondence and friendly intercourse, I never received a letter from him without being delighted and improved; nor left his company without learning something. His observations were often original, and when otherwise, far from insipid: for he had an uncommon way of expressing common thoughts. He possessed in a high degree those talents which engage the heart. He took so lively an interest in every thing that concerned his pupils, that each of them believed himself a favorite, while his kind offices to all proved that he was the common friend and father of them all.
   In lecturing to his class, Dr. Rush mingled the most abstruse investigation with the most agreeable eloquence; the, sprightliest sallies of imagination, with the most profound disquisitions; and the whole was enlivened with anecdotes, both pleasant and instructive. His language was simple and always intelligible, and his method so judicious, that a consistent view of the subject was communicated, and the recollection of the whole rendered easy. His lectures were originally written on leaves alternately blank. On the blank side he entered from time to time, every new fact, idea, anecdote, or illustration, that he became possessed of, from any source whatever. In the course of about four years, the blank was generally so far filled up, that he found it expedient to make a new set of lectures. In this way he not only enlightened the various subjects, on which it was his province to instruct his class; but the light which he cast on them, for forty-four successive years, was continually brightening. The instructions he gave to his pupils by lectures, though highly valuable, were less so than the habits of thinking and observation he, in some degree, forced upon them. His constant aim was to rouse their minds from a passive to an active state, so as to enable them to instruct themselves. Since the first institution of the medical school in Pennsylvania, its capital, Philadelphia, has been the very atmosphere of medicine, and that atmosphere has been constantly clearing from the fogs of error, and becoming more luminous from the successive and increasing diffusion of the light of truth. A portion of knowledge floated about that hallowed spot, which was imbibed by every student, without his being conscious of it, and had an influence in giving to his mind a medical texture. To this happy state of things all the professors contributed. Drs. Wistar, Barton, Physick, Dorsey, Coxe, and James, the survivors of that illustrious and meritorious body, will acknowledge that their colleague, Professor Rush, was not deficient in his quota.

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Last modified January 1, 2004