صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



HOMAS SYDENHAM was born in the year 1624, at Winford Eagle in Dorsetshire, where his father William Sydenham, Efq. had a large fortune. Under whofe care he was educated, or in what manner he paffed his childhood, whether he made any early discoveries of a genius peculiarly adapted to the study of nature, or gave any prefages of his future eminence in medicine, no information is to be obtained. We must therefore reprefs that curiofity which would naturally incline us to watch the first attempts of so vigorous a mind, to purfue it in its childish enquiries, and fee it ftruggling with ruftic prejudices, breaking on trifling occafions the fhackles of credulity, and giving proofs, in its cafual excurfions, that it was formed to shake off the yoke of prefcription, and difpel the phantoms of hypothesis.

That the ftrength of Sydenham's understanding, the accuracy of his difcernment, and ardour of his curiofity, might have been remarked from his infancy by a diligent obferver, there is no reafon to doubt. For there

* Originally prefixed to the New Tranflation of Dr. Sydenham's Works, by John Swan, M. D. of Newcastle in Staffordshire, 1742.



is no inftance of any man, whofe history has been minutely related, that did not in every part of life discover the fame proportion of intellectual vigour; but it has been the lot of the greatest part of those who have excelled in science, to be known only by their own writings, and to have left behind them no remembrance of their domeftic life, or private transactions, or only fuch memorials of particular paffages as are, on certain occahions, neceffarily recorded in public registers.

From these it is difcovered, that at the age of eighteen, in 1642, he commenced a commoner of MagdalenHall in Oxford, where it is not probable that he continued long; for he informs us himself, that he was with-held from the univerfity by the commencement of the war; nor is it known in what ftate of life he engaged, or where he refided during that long feries of publick commotion. It is indeed reported, that he had a commiffion in the king's army, but no particular account is given of his military conduct; nor are we told what rank he obtained when he entered into the army, or when, or on what occafion, he retired from it.

It is, however, certain, that if ever he took upon him the profeffion of arms, he spent but few years in the camp; for in 1648 he obtained at Oxford the degree of batchelor of phyfick, for which, as fome medicinal knowledge is neceffary, it may be imagined that he spent some time in qualifying himself.

His application to the study of physick was, as he himfelf relates, produced by an accidental acquaintance with Dr. Cox, a physician eminent at that time in London, who in fome ficknefs prefcribed to his brother, and, attending him frequently on that occafion, enquired of him what profeffion he defigned to follow. The


young man answering that he was undetermined, the Doctor recommended phyfick to him, on what account, or with what arguments, it is not related; but his perfuafions were fo effectual, that Sydenham determined. to follow his advice, and retired to Oxford for leifure and opportunity to purfue his ftudies.

It is evident that this converfation must have happened before his promotion to any degree in phyfick, because he himself fixes it in the interval of his abfence from the univerfity, a circumftance which will enable us to confute many falfe reports relating to Dr. Sydenham, which have been confidently inculcated, and implicitly believed.

It is the general opinion, that he was made a phy fician by accident and neceffity, and Sir Richard Blackmore reports in plain terms [Preface to his Treatife on the Small-Pox], that he engaged in practice without any preparatory study, or previous knowledge, of the me dicinal sciences; and affirms, that, when he was confulted by him what books he should read to qualify him for the fame profeffion, he recommended Don Quixote.

That he recommended Don Quixote to Blackmore, we are not allowed to doubt; but the relater is hindered by that self-love which dazzles all mankind from difcovering, that he might intend a fatire very different from a general cenfure of all the ancient and modern writers on medicine, fince he might perhaps mean, either seriously or in jeft, to infinuate, that Blackmore was not adapted by nature to the study of phyfic, and that, whether he should read Cervantes or Hippocrates, he would be equally unqualified for practice, and equally unsuccessful in it.

Whatsoever was his meaning, nothing is more evident, than that it was a tranfient fally of an imagination



[ocr errors][ocr errors]

warmed with gaiety, or the negligent effufion of a mind intent on some other employment, and in hafte to difmiss a troublesome intruder; for it is certain that Sydenham did not think it impoffible to write usefully on medicine, because he has himself written upon it; and it is not probable that he carried his vanity fo far, as to imagine that no man had ever acquired the fame qualifications befides himself. He could not but

know that he rather reftored than invented most of his principles, and therefore could not but acknowledge the value of those writers whofe doctrines he adopted and enforced.

That he engaged in the practice of phyfic without any acquaintance with the theory, or knowledge of the opinions or precepts of former writers, is undoubtedly false; for he declares, that after he had, in pursuance of his converfation with Dr. Cox, determined upon the profeffion of phyfick, he applied himself in earnest to it, and spent feveral years in the univerfity [aliquot annos in academica palæftra], before he began to practise in London.

Nor was he fatisfied with the opportunites of knowledge which Oxford afforded, but travelled to Montpellier, as Default relates [Dissertation on Confumptions], in queft of farther information; Montpellier being at that time the most celebrated school of phyfick: fo far was Sydenham from any contempt of academical inftitutions, and fo far from thinking it reasonable to learn phyfick by experiments alone, which muft neceffarily be made at the hazard of life.

What can be demanded beyond this by the most zealous advocate for regular éducation? What can be expected from the moft cautious and most industrious


ftudent, than that he fhould dedicate feveral years to the rudiments of his art, and travel for further inftructions from one univerfity to another?

It is likewife a common opinion, that Sydenham was thirty years old before he formed his refolution of studying phyfick, for which I can difcover no other foundation than one expreffion in his dedication to Dr. Mapletoft, which feems to have given rife to it by a grofs mifinterpretation; for he only obferves, that from his converfation with Dr. Cox to the publication of that treatife thirty years had intervened.

Whatever may have produced this notion, or how long foever it may have prevailed, it is now proved beyond controverfy to be falfe, fince it appears that Sydenham, having been for fome time abfent from the univerûty, returned to it in order to pursue his physical enquiries before he was twenty-four years old; for in 1648 he was admitted to the degree of batchelor of phyfick.

That fuch reports fhould be confidently spread, even among the contemporaries of the author to whom they relate, and obtain in a few years fuch credit as to require a regular confutation; that it should be imagined that the greatest physician of the age arrived at so high a degree of fkill, without any affiftance from his predeceffors; and that a man eminent for integrity practifed medicine by chance, and grew wife only by murder; is not to be confidered without aftonishment.

But if it be, on the other part, remembered, how much this opinion favours the laziness of fome, and the pride of others; how readily fome men confide in natural fagacity, and how willingly moft would spare themselves the labour of accurate reading and tedious enquiry;

« السابقةمتابعة »