From Francis Galton Memories of My Life (London: Methuen, 1908), pp. 22 - 47.
First experience - Tour with Mr. Bowman - Birmingham Hospital - Accidents - Sense of pain - King's College - Professor R. Partridge and others - Escape from drowning
It was strongly desired by both my parents, but especially by my mother, that my future profession should be medicine, like that of her famous father, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, F. R.S., and of her half-brother, Dr. Robert Darwin, F.R.S. As I had aptitudes for that kind of study, my father fell in with her views, and took great pains to give me the best educational advantages. He acted largely on the advice of Mr. Hodgson, who brought me as an infant into the world, and was a true and helpful friend to me all through his life.
Mr. Hodgson (1788-1869) had settled in Birmingham a few years before my birth, bringing with him a high medical reputation, especially for his treatise on arteries and veins, and he soon obtained an eminent status as a Warwickshire surgeon. He became President of the Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1851, and, subsequently retiring from general practice, left Birmingham and settled in London, where he held the office of President of the College of Surgeons in 1864. He and his wife died on the same day in 1869.
While I was still a young boy, my father contrived that I should see something of a laboratory attached to the shop of the principal chemist in Birmingham; again, during one of our summer visits to the seaside, he discovered a needy foreign chemist who agreed to take me in hand, at a rather high charge. All I clearly recollect of him now was, that he seemed obsessed with the idea of making some wonderful compound out of succinic acid, which is derived from amber, and that he spent all his spare shillings in buying bits of amber and burning them. I learnt nothing from his tuition; on the other hand, certain recollections of the chemist's laboratory still form part of my stock of mental imagery.
The step most momentous to myself was taken by my father in 1838, of removing me at the age of sixteen, and in no ways against my will, from Dr. Jeune's school.
A little after, while I was at Leamington, my father asked our medical attendant there, Mr. P., to show me an example of the medical work I should be engaged in before I was plunged wholly into it. That first experience is very memorable to me. It occurred on a night chilly out of doors, while indoors our family party were assembled in cosy comfort at dessert, after a good dinner, with a brightly burning fire, shining mahogany table, wine, fruits, and all the rest, when a servant brought a note from Mr. P. awaiting an answer. It was to the effect that a housemaid had suddenly died at Lord-'s house, and that he, Mr. P., was about to make a post-mortem examination; would I like to come ? Oh, the mixture of revulsion, wonder, interest, and excitement !
I changed clothes and went, entering the house by a back door as directed, and treading softly up the back staircase to the cold garret where the poor girl lay. She was the first dead person I had seen, handsome in feature, but greatly swollen. She had been apparently in perfect health a few hours before, then she was suddenly seized with intense pain in the stomach, followed rapidly by peritonitis and death. I can easily reproduce in imagination all the ghastly horror of the scene and could describe it in detail, but it would be unfitted for these pages. The perforated portion of the stomach was such a small hole. Death " with a little pin, bores through the castle wall, and - farewell, King!" (King Richard III). Mr. P. pricked his finger while sewing up the abdomen. A dissection wound when death has followed peritonitis is proverbially dangerous. It was so in this case, for Mr. P. nearly died of it. I returned home chilled, awed and sobered, and seemed for the time to have left boyhood behind me.
My father, ever thoughtful of securing for me the best education he could, had arranged through Mr. Hodgson that one of his most promising former pupils, who was going for a tour of a few weeks abroad, partly for vacation, partly to see certain medical institutions, should take me with him. He was William Bowman, in later years the great oculist, Sir William (1816-1892), who combined a most refined and artistic temperament with exceptional scientific ability. He obtained a European reputation for medical research long before he was thirty years of age. Thenceforward for many years he devoted himself almost entirely to professional work, and though keeping abreast of the information of the day, contributed little or nothing more of his own, in the way of research, to the great regret of many. He was in later years a much valued member of many scientific societies and an habitual frequenter of the Royal Institution, near which he lived. The cause of his death, as I heard of it, was pathetic. He had built and resided at a charming house in Surrey, near Holmbury St. Mary, but retained his house in Clifford Street for some years, where he occasionally made appointments with old patients. At last the time came for wholly abandoning it. He lingered about the cold house, visiting every part of it for the last time, for he had an affectionate nature, caught a severe chill in doing so, and died of pneumonia.
To go back to the year 1838. I greatly enjoyed the tour and the companionship of Bowman, from whom I doubtless imbibed and assimilated more than I can now distinguish. The only event of a medical character that I saw with him was a small operation, the first I ever witnessed. A comic experience next occurred. I accompanied Bowman to a lunatic asylum in Vienna. In those days I was particularly shy and sensitive, and a consciousness of even the least unconventionality made me blush to an absurd degree. In one of the female wards, a young, buxom, and uncommonly good-looking female lunatic dashed forward with a joyful scream, she clasped me tightly to her bosom with both her arms, calling me her long-lost Fritz! Tableau - Amusement of the others, myself pink to the ears.
I may as well here continue to talk about Bowman. He was a most accurate and gifted draughtsman of pathological subjects. One of his earliest discoveries related to the liver, and I was familiar with a drawing in colours that he had made in illustration, which was preserved with great respect at the Birmingham Hospital. In later years he told me that having no further use for his collection of drawings, he gave them to Dr. B. In time Dr. B. died, and Bowman then became desirous to get back his old drawings as mementoes of early work, but could hear nothing of them. By an extraordinary chance he was looking one day at prints in a second- hand and second-rate book-shop, when his eye caught sight of a corner of these very drawings. They were all there, and he bought them all back. He could not learn their intermediate history.
It was in the autumn of 1838 that I took up my abode, as indoor pupil, in the Birmingham General Hospital, then situated near Snow Hill. My immediate chief was the house surgeon, Mr. Baker, who ultimately gained considerable repute as a surgeon in Birmingham, but is now dead. My one fellow indoor pupil had a similarly successful career to that of Mr. Baker. There were also in the common dining-room two officials, the matron and the treasurer. Matters were very different then; I, a mere boy of sixteen, but with unquestionably an eager mind, was thrust without any previous experience into a post that I found in a few months' time to be one of much responsibility. At first I was set to work every morning to help in the dispensary. It was a room with a dresser and a service door at the side. I there learnt the difference between infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and ex- tracts, and how to.make them.
Possibly the reader may not know the meanings of these words, so I venture to give them. Tea is an "infusion," made by pouring boiling water on the tea and allowing it to stand. Coffee is, or would be a " decoction " if made by boiling the mixture. Infusions and decoctions are cheap forms of medicine, suitable for hospitals where they are made daily, but they soon spoil when kept. " Tinctures " are made by pouring spirits of wine instead of water on the drugs; they keep indefinitely, but are more costly, and therefore rarely used in hospitals. " Extracts" are made by boiling down decoctions.
All this is easily done when the proper simple apparatus and means of heating are at hand. I once made an extract as an experiment that I re- commend to the notice of students who may wish to taste the ne plus ultra of bitterness. It was from quassia, that curious tree of South America, of which the very chips are bitter. The once well-known " bitter cup " is made of quassia wood. When water is poured into the cup, it quickly becomes bitter. Quassia is a valuable tonic medicine, with perhaps the one fault of cheapness. An apothecary can hardly be expected to feel easy in conscience when he charges apothecary's prices for what every little chip of a timber tree affords when put into hot water. Anyhow, I made a large jug full of decoction of quassia and boiled it down until a sticky residue was left, which is, or might be, called "quassine." I put a piece of it about the size of a pin's head upon my tongue, and then-oh then ! Try it, if you doubt its absolute bitterness.
It was amusing at first to make pills. The pill mass had to be brayed together in a mortar, occasion ally adding water or I forget what other liquid, to render it of the proper consistency. Next a certain weight of the pill mass was rolled out by the help of a simple but ingeniously arranged slab, into a long worm of equal diameter and of standard length. Then the worm was cut simultaneously into equal segments, by the pressure of the grooved back of the same slab, by means of which the segments were also rolled into pills.
The other day I visited the great store and manufactory of chemical and other apparatus of Messrs. Griffiths, in or near Aldwych Street, and saw there a machine, occupying little more room than a moderately sized washing-stand, that claimed to turn out pills at the rate of one million in each twenty-four hours,-so if forty-five of these machines were kept continually at work day and night, it would enable a grandmotherly Socialist Government to supply to every man, woman, and child of the forty- five millions of inhabitants of the British Isles one free pill daily.
The out-patients clustered in the hall outside the service window of the dispensary, and were supplied in turn. Then the prescriptions of the in-patients were handed in and attended to. It was a busy time. I learnt to do most of my part pretty well in a very few weeks, after which I was promoted to higher things.
Having always the run of the dispensary, and being a boy, I found certain drugs, such as liquorice, much to my taste, but especially poppy seed. A large number of poppy capsules were kept in stock for making soothing lotions. They are full of seeds, which contain no opium at all. These are not used for the lotions, but are particularly pleasant to munch, and I ate them in abundance when the humour seized me. In later years I found poppy seeds in common use somewhere in Germany, for making a particular pudding; I think it was in Bonn.
The duties gradually imposed on me were to go with the surgeons on their morning rounds, always to attend in the accident room, where persons suffer- ing from accidents were received whether in the night or day, and to help in dressing them, also to be present at all operations, and to take part at every post-mortem examination, of which there were per- haps two or three weekly. The times of which I am speaking were long before those of chloroform, and many long years before that of Pasteur and Sir Joseph Lister. The stethoscope was considered generally to be new-fangled; the older and naturally somewhat deaf practitioners pooh-poohed and never used it.
I cannot understand to this day why youths selected for their powers of sharp hearing should not be so far instructed as to be used by physicians, much as pointers and setters are used by sportsmen. They could be taught what to listen for, probably by means of some sound-emitting instruments more or less muted, and how to describe what they heard. A patient during the incipient stage of his disease might be submitted to examination by one or more of these quick-hearing youths, who would report to the doctor, who thereupon would form and express his opinion. Similarly as regards touch, of which great delicacy is of the highest importance. Conceive what help might be given by them in discovering deeply seated tumours, abscesses, and much else. The touch of a person far less sensitive than that of the wandering Princess of the well-known fairy tale might prove of vital importance. It will be recollected that her Princess-ship was acknowledged by all, through her discovering a pea surreptitiously inserted as a test, below the bottom of the pile of feather-beds on which she slept.
To return to my duties. Accidents occurred, of course, at all hours of the day and night. It was unpleasant to be summoned out of a warm bed to attend upon these once on a cold night, but it was not a hardship; to be summoned twice was trying; but thrice, as sometimes happened, was more than I could have endured had it frequently occurred. Burns were the commonest of the accidents at night- time. The sufferers were piteous to see. As a rule they did not complain much of pain, but they shivered from a sense of cold and were enfeebled almost to prostration by the shock. There was nothing to be done to them beyond cutting away all adherent clothing and the like, packing them in cotton wool and sending them to a ward. One particular ward was allotted to that purpose. The contrast was great between the neatly dressed patient of the first night and the wretched creature two days after, when suppuration had begun and the foul dressings had to be carefully picked off and replaced by clean ones.
Broken heads from brawls were common accidents at night; then it was my part to shave the head, using the blood as lather, which makes a far better preparation for shaving than soap. The wounds were stitched together with a three-cornered " glove needle," which cuts its way through the skin.
Some riots connected with the " Charter" occurred at this time, and many people were hurt. It was curious to observe the apparent cleanness of the cuts that were made through the scalp by the blow of a policeman's round truncheon.
It sometimes happened that a severe case was brought at night-time, which required higher surgical skill than could properly be expected in the house surgeon, who, though professionally qualified, was young, and therefore relatively unpractised. If the treatment of any such accident admitted of no delay, a messenger was dispatched to the house of the surgeon himself, to wake and bring him. One of these events made a great impression on me. It was that of a man, a small piece of whose skull had been depressed by something falling on his head and stunning him. He was brought in utterly unconscious, with the " stertorous " or snoring respiration characteristic of such cases. The man had to be trepanned, so the surgeon was sent for. In the meantime everything was prepared for his arrival. The trepan is a hollow steel cylinder with teeth cut out of its lower rim, used to saw a circular wad out of the sound bone nearest to the fracture. A miniature steel crowbar is used to raise the depressed fragment, and a rod to lay across the sound bone as a fulcrum for the crowbar. I seem to see it all before me as I write. The brightly lighted room, the apparatus in order, the surgeon at work, the eager faces of the bystanders, and the utterly unconscious patient. The wad was cut out, the crowbar adjusted, and still the monotonous snore continued unchanged. Then pressure was put on the free end of the crowbar, the broken bit of skull was raised, and instantly life rushed back. The man continued a sentence that he must have begun before the accident; then he stared wildly, and said, "Where am I ?" The clock of life had stopped through a temporary obstruction, the obstruction was removed and the clock ticked on as before. He was soothed, a silver plate was inserted over the hole, the scalp was replaced and stitched together, and he was sent into the ward. In due time he wholly recovered, the scalp having grown over the plate.
I had the option of accompanying any of the surgeons or physicians on his morning round. Each had his clinical clerk, who made notes of the case and wrote the treatment prescribed from time to time, upon a paper affixed to a board at the bed-head. I appreciated from the very first the high importance of careful study and record of every case. My feeling is now fully developed which was then in embryo, that it is our duty to avail ourselves of the opportunities that arise from the apparently unmoral course of Nature, of rendering similar events less dangerous and painful in the future. Blind Nature seems to vivisect ruthlessly, let us as reasonable creatures elicit all the good we can from her vivisections, for which we ourselves are in no way responsible. I became a clinical clerk in time, but felt acutely my incompetence to act up to my own high ideals.
It was a surprise to me to notice so few signs of pain and distress in the wards, even among the mortally stricken. I met with no instances of terror at approaching death, while the ordinary interests of life seemed powerful up to the close of consciousness. But it must be terrible to a sensitive and stricken fellow-patient with all his senses still on the alert, when the death-hour of some one else in the ward arrives, and the curtains are drawn around the dying man's bed to hide the scene, and again when his remains are removed to the post-mortem room. All these things are, however, more hideous to the imagination than in reality. One piteous death-bed scene much impressed me. A girl was fast dying of typhus, and I had been instructed to apply a mustard plaister When I came to her, she was fully sensible, and said in a faint but nicely mannered way, " Please leave me in peace. I know I am dying, and am not suffering." I had not the heart to distress her further.
The opinions held by the students about the several physicians and surgeons were curiously guided by a mixture of loyalty and irreverence. There was no doubt of the fact that M., one of the doctors, who never professed or had a claim to scientific acquirements, got his patients out of hospital more quickly than any of his colleagues. His treatment was as simple as that of Dr. Sangrado, though of quite another kind. It consisted of a strong purgative followed by low diet, and a subsequent feeding up as soon as all fever had gone. The composition of his drench never varied; a big bottle of it was made every morning in the dispensary, in readiness to be served out. It was so cheap that the overplus could be thrown away and a fresh infusion made the next day.
It is to be wished that some "index of curative skill" could be awarded to doctors, based on their respective hospital successes. I have often amused myself with imaginary schemes to this effect. If it 3 could be compiled truthfully, it would be an excellent guide to those who wanted a doctor but were doubtful whom to consult. A high index of curative skill would serve as a measure of merit, and the fee to the doctor might be regulated by its height.
I threw myself into my duties with zeal, and loved neat bandaging and neat plaistering. Each clinical clerk had a dressing board, supported against his body by a strong band passed over his neck: its ends were fixed to the board. Lint, plaister, scissors, forceps, probe, and a few other simple surgical instruments completed the outfit. There was much bleeding from the arm, especially of out-patients; there were also cuppings and insertion of issues and of setons. All these I could soon do creditably; I was fairly good even at tooth-drawing. I set broken limbs, at first under strict supervision, but was latterly allowed much freedom. I had also occasionally to reduce dislocations of the arm, and once at least of the thigh. The mechanism of the body began to appear very simple in its elementary features. At one time no less than sixteen fractures, dislocations, or other injuries to the arms, or parts of them, were practically under my sole care all at the same time. Of course my proceedings were carefully watched.
The following incident in those pre-chloroform days set me thinking. A powerful drayman was brought in dead drunk, with both of his thighs crushed and mangled by a heavy waggon. They had to be amputated at once. He remained totally unconscious all the time, and it was not until he awoke sober in the morning that he discovered that his legs were gone. He recovered completely. The question that then presented itself to me was, "Why could not people be made dead drunk before operations ? Could it not be effected without upsetting their digestion and doing harm in other ways?" The subsequent discovery of inhaling, instead of drinking the intoxicating spirit, whether it be chloroform or ether, solved that question most happily.
The cries of the poor fellows who were operated on were characteristic; in fact, each class of operation seemed to evoke some peculiar form of them. All this was terrible, but only at first. It seemed after a while as though the cries were somehow disconnected with the operation, upon which the whole attention became fixed.
It was obvious that different persons felt pain with very different degrees of acuteness. I may here go quite out of chronological sequence, and refer to an experience in 1851, when I was on the point of starting from a mission station on my exploration of Damara Land, then wholly unknown but now a German possession. It will be again alluded to in a later chapter. A branch missionary outpost, twenty miles off, had lately been raided, and most of the people, other than the missionaries themselves, murdered. Of those who escaped, two women, each with both of their feet hacked off, made their way to the station, at which I saw them. The Damara women wear heavy copper rings on their ankles, put on when they are growing girls that the rings may not slip over their feet when they are adult. These coveted treasures can therefore be obtained only by the summary process of cutting off the feet. In this horribly mutilated state the two women crawled the whole of the twenty miles. The stumps had healed when I saw them. I asked how they staunched the blood. They explained by gesture that it was by stumping the bleeding ends into the sand, and they grinned with satisfaction while they explained.
I may yet travel onwards many more years to another illustrative anecdote. I happened to be President of the Anthropological Institute, when a very interesting memoir was read on the subject now in question. Numerous instances were given of a very startling character, but the one that seemed the most so was a story told there by the late Sir James Paget, as communicated to him by a trustworthy friend; he added that he felt compelled to believe it. It referred to a native New Zealander. It appeared that at the time in question it was the height of fashion for the Maoris to wear boots on great occasions, and not to appear barefooted. A youth had saved money and went to a store a long way off, where he purchased a pair of these precious articles. On returning home he tried to put them on, but one of his feet had a long projecting toe which prevented it from being thrust home. He went quite as a matter of course to fetch a bill-hook which was at hand, and, putting his foot on a log of wood, chopped off the end of his long toe and drew on the boot.
There was another occurrence in those pre- Pasteur days on which my mind dwelt often. It was a story corroborated by many analogous but much less striking instances that came under my own observation, of a man who had stumbled into a cauldron of scalding pitch. He was quickly pulled out, but the pitch had so enclosed and adhered to one of his legs that nothing could be done with safety to remove it. The other leg was cleaned as well as might be and carefully dressed, and in that state, with one leg cased in pitch, the other bandaged, he was sent to bed. After many days, the leg that was enclosed in pitch ceased to hurt, and the covering became so loose that it was desirable and easy to remove it, when lo and behold ! instead of a vast suppurating surface, the leg was found to be entirely healed. The other leg, which had been less hurt and carefully dressed, remained much longer unhealed. It seemed clear that the art of dressing was far behind what was possible, and that an application of the dressing before " the air got into the wound " was the thing to be aimed at. The subsequent discovery by Pasteur of the germ theory, and the practical application of it by Sir Joseph, now Lord Lister, has overcome the difficulty.
I was so keen at my medical work, that, being desirous of appreciating the effects of different medicines, I began by taking small doses of all that were included in the pharmacopoeia, commencing with the letter A. It was an interesting experience, but had obvious drawbacks. However, I got nearly to the end of the letter C, when I was stopped by the effects of Croton oil. I had foolishly believed that two drops of it could have no notable effects as a purgative and emetic; but indeed they had, and I can recall them now.
There were histories of occasional outbursts of hysteria in the female wards; one took place whilst I was there. It was a most curious and afflicting spectacle of pure panic. One woman had begun to scream and rave, then another followed suit, then another, and pandemonium seemed at hand. It was stopped by rather rough measures, gentle ones making matters worse. There was a current story of one of the surgeons having effectually stopped a most threatening outbreak, which the nurses began to join, in which an abundance of cold water was only part of the remedy employed.
Many protean forms of that strange disorder, hysteria, were frequently pointed out to me. The demoralisation that accompanied it was shown by the gross and palpable lies told by the patients in their desire at any cost to attract attention. A paroxysm of it may resemble a severe epileptic fit. I was informed in all seriousness by a friend, of a valuable way of distinguishing them, important for nurses to bear in mind, that in epilepsy the patient might and often did bite himself, his tongue for example, but in hysteria the patients never bit them- selves but always other people.
Delirium tremens was a strange malady. The struggles were sometimes terrible, yet the pulse was feeble and the reserve of strength almost nil. The visions of the patients seemed indistinguishable by them from realities; in the few cases I saw, they were wholly of fish or of creeping things. One of the men implored me to take away the creature that was crawling over his counterpane, following its imagined movements with his finger and staring as at a ghost. Poor humanity! I often feel that the tableland of sanity upon which most of us dwell, is small in area, with unfenced precipices on every side, over any one of which we may fall.
The hysterical scream which so strongly affects other women is a forcible instance of the power of sound, whose limits are, as yet, imperfectly explored. The tones of a great actor or orator may thrill the whole being. An unemotional elderly gentleman told me years ago, that he was haunted by the re- collection of the resonance of Pitt's voice when speaking of some event (I forget what it was) that gave him a " pang." There are many kinds of shrieks of a blood-curdling nature, of which that of a wounded horse on a battlefield is said to be one.
King's College.-After a brief vacation I was sent, again through Mr. Hodgson's ever active interest, for a year to King's College and to live as an inmate of the house of Professor Richard Partridge (1805-1873), together with four or five other pupils. His house was in New Street, Spring Gardens, now demolished through the extension of the Admiralty Buildings and the newly constructed entrance from Charing Cross into St. James's Park. My social surroundings were of a far higher order than those at Birmingham, and I rejoiced in them. Professor Partridge was, at that time, a brilliant man of about thirty-four years of age, yellow-haired, full of humour and of quips, as well as of shrewdness and kindliness; his intimate friends were all growing into distinction. He had known Charles Lamb well, and the genius of Elia seemed to haunt the house, though Charles Lamb had died four or five years before. I listened with admiration to the brilliant talk and repartees when Partridge had his bachelor dinners with fellow-cronies as guests. They included G. Dasent, later Sir George, the author and Civil Service Commissioner; Professor Wheatstone, later Sir Charles, who conjointly with Cooke was the introducer of the electric telegraph; A. Smee the electrician, subsequently an authority on gardening, and others.
Professor Richard Partridge, F.R.S., familiarly called " Dickey," was brother to John Partridge, R.A., and Professor of Anatomy. It was commonly said that the brothers had each followed the occupation best fitted to the other. Certainly Richard Partridge was an admirable draughtsman, but was not, so far as I was then capable of judging, a man who really loved and revelled in science. He delighted in minute points of human anatomy and did not generalise, consequently the information given in his lectures seemed to me as dry as the geography of Pinnock's Catechism. For all that, they were enlivened by his never-failing humour. His instruction seemed to me deficient in the why and the wherefore. A human hand was just a human hand to him; its analogies with paws, hoofs, wings, claws, and fins were never alluded to.
I spent a happy time under his roof. We pupils had the drawing-room to read and write in, with a wardrobe and a hanging closet tenanted by a jointed skeleton which we could study at will. The days were spent in the Medical Department of King's College, which was quite disconnected with the classical side. All the pupils entered at the same door, but there we separated. The medicals turned sharply to the right, and many of them went down- stairs to the dissection room, where much of my own time was spent.
The immediate chiefs of the dissection room were nominally my old travelling companion and tutor, William Bowman and John Simon, but Bowman had other College work to perform, and was rarely present. Mr. Simon, afterwards Sir John Simon (b. 1816), of the Board of Health, was practically the only Director. His quaint phrases, full of scientific insight and poetical in essence, were most attractive. His collected essays and reports are models of literary style applied to scientific subjects. He died three or four years ago, quite blind, at a very advanced age.
All the Professors whose lectures I had to attend, were notable men. Dr. Todd (1809-1860), the Professor of Physiology, gave a powerful impulse to his branch of science. He was then engaged in collaboration with Bowman in bringing out their Encyclopedia of Physiology, which was a remarkable work for those days. The signs of advance were all about and in the air. The microscope had rather suddenly attained a position of much enhanced importance; it was now mounted solidly, with really good working stages and with good glasses. Powell was the principal maker of it, and a Powell's microscope was an object almost of worship to advanced students. The manufacture of microscopes has rapidly and steadily advanced since those times, both in cheapness and in goodness: what was then a rarity is now in the possession of every student.
I enjoyed the lectures of Daniell ( 1790-1845) on Chemistry; he was so simple and thorough. In those times the galvanic cell was becoming perfected, and the three forms then invented, the Smee, the Daniell, and the Grove (the latter being by my valued friend in later years, Justice Sir William Grove), still retain their names. Electrotyping was invented by Smee, and I recall well the humorously pathetic manner in which Daniell explained to his class how the neglect of drawing an obvious inference had prevented him from figuring as its discoverer. He had noticed the marvellous fidelity with which the marks of a file had appeared on a copper sheath electrically thrown down upon it, as the result of some chance experiment, but he had failed to infer that medals and the like might be copied by the same process.
It is needless to go into particulars of my course at King's College. They had much the same result on me in opening the mind that a similar experience must have on every keen medical student, but I do not remember any special characteristic worthy of record. I did pretty well at my studies. My chief competitor was George Johnson, afterwards Sir George (1818-1896), whose thoroughness of work and character I admired. He beat me in physiology, in which I came out second. I think the only prize I ever got all to myself was in the minor subject of Forensic Medicine, in which I delighted. It had a sort of Sherlock Holmes fascination for me, while the instances given as cautions, showing where the value of too confident medical assertions had been rudely upset by the shrewd cross-questioning of lawyers, con- firmed what I was beginning vaguely to perceive, that doctors had the fault, equally with parsons, of being much too positive.
My friend Sir G. Johnson subsequently became the leader of one of the two opposed methods of dealing with cholera. His was the "eliminative" view, namely, that there was mischief in the system that Nature strove to eliminate, so he prescribed castor oil to expedite matters; others took the exactly opposite view, consequently there was open war between the two methods. I read somewhere that one of Johnson's most fiery opponents considered the number of deaths occasioned by his method to amount to eleven thousand. Leaving aside all question of the accuracy of the estimate of this particular treatment, it is easy to see that when a pestilence lies heavily on a nation, the numbers affected are so large that a proper or improper treatment may be capable of saving or of destroying many thousands of lives. By all means, then, let competitive methods be tested at hospitals on a sufficiently large scale to settle their relative merits. Of this I will speak further almost immediately.
One part of my duties was to attend King's College Hospital, but the position of a student there was far less instructive than that of an indoor pupil at the Birmingham Hospital, where responsibility was great and there was no crowding. The teaching was, however, greatly superior to the generality of that at Birmingham. The position of house pupil and resident medical officer has long since become highly and justly prized, and is now obtainable only after competition and by the best men.
Medical knowledge has advanced so far that more scientific treatment can be had in many small country towns than was formerly procurable even in London. Still, the experience haunts my memory of Dr. M. at the Birmingham Hospital, of his habitual drench of which I wrote, and of his remark able success in turning out his patients nominally cured. There is still much lack of exact knowledge of what Nature can do without assistance from medicine, if aided only by cheering influences, rest, suggestion, and good nursing.
I wish that hospitals could be turned into places for experiment more than they are, in the following perfectly humane direction. Suppose two different and competing treatments of a particular malady; I have just mentioned a case in point. Let the patients suffering under it be given the option of being placed under Dr. A. or Dr. B., the respective representatives of the two methods, and the results be statistically compared. A co-operation without partisanship between many large hospitals ought to speedily settle doubts that now hang unnecessarily long under dispute.
Medical statistics are, however, the least suitable of any I know for refined comparisons, because the conditions that cannot be, or at all events are not taken into account, are local, very influential, and apt to differ greatly. It is, however, humiliating to find how much has failed to attract attention for want of even the rudest statistics. I doubt whether the unaided apprehension of man suffices to distinguish between the frequency of what occurs on an average four times in ten events and one that occurs five times. Much grosser proportions have been wholly overlooked by doctors. I referred once to many dictionaries and works of medicine published before the time of Broca, some ninety years ago, and did not find a single reference to the almost invariable loss of speech associated with paralysis of the right side. Still more recently, the idea of consumption being communicated by any form of infection was stoutly denied by English medical men. As to rules of diet, the changes are ludicrous. Robert Frere, one of my fellow-pupils when with Professor Partridge, became through marriage in later years a managing partner in a very old and eminent firm of wine merchants. They had supplied George IV. with his brandy and the like. He told me that the books of the firm showed that every class of wine had in its turn been favoured by the doctors.
There were many incidents that I could tell about this time of my life that might be interesting in some sense, but which are foreign to the main purpose of such an autobiography as mine, which is to indicate how the growth of a mind has been affected by circumstances. I will, however, make one exception, which refers to a very narrow escape from drowning. I had been in a steamboat, crammed with people, to see the Oxford and Cambridge boat- race, and was returning with stream and tide. The arches of Old Battersea Bridge were narrow, and it required careful steering on such occasions to get safely through them. The steamboat on which I was yawed greatly. I was standing behind the right- hand paddle-box, when it crashed against one of the piers and split open just in front of me, giving a momentary view of the still revolving paddles. The shock sent one down among them. I was conscious of two taps on the back of my head, and then the water swirled over me. In a few seconds my wits had gathered themselves together, and I found myself submerged under a mass of wood, which afterwards proved to be the outer sheathing of the paddle-box. I dived to get clear of it, but found myself held back by projecting nails which had hooked into my clothes. My breath was becoming exhausted, so I passed my hand quickly but steadily all over myself, disentangling nails in two or three places, and then made my last dive for life. I fortunately rose clear, and utilised my former enemy the mass of wood as a raft. I was sufficiently unhurt to help another man who was also in the water and in distress, by pushing a piece of wood to him.
There was, of course, much commotion all about the scene. The steamboat drifted helplessly; boats put off from the shore; the men in the first boat that reached me tried to drive a hard bargain, asking a sovereign to take me in, but being in safety I was able to resist extortion. I then rowed to the ship, and my face was, I understood, a spectacle, being painted with blood that had flowed freely from a few scratches and was spread all over it by the wetting. There was much sympathy shown on the steamboat, and an especial interest in me on the part of the captain, who from the character of his questions obviously feared having to pay damages. So I at last landed, and, feeling little the worse after a short rest, cabbed home to Mr. Partridge's house. The only object that really suffered was my rather valuable watch. There is a short account of this accident in the Life of Leonard Horner, F.R.S., by his daughter K. M. Lyell, ii. 19. I did not hear that any notice of it got into the newspapers.
I will finish now what little I have to add about my medical experiences, skipping over four or five years in a few lines. While at Cambridge, of which I shall speak in a separate chapter, I attended a few lectures, chiefly by Dr. Haviland, in order to obtain some more of the necessary certificates to qualify me for undergoing an examination and obtaining a doctor's degree. After I left Cambridge, some more lectures had still to be attended, so I was sent for a short time as a pupil at St. George's Hospital. My dear father's death then occurred, as will be mentioned farther on, and the direction of my life became changed.