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American Medical Biographies/Young, Aaron

Young, Aaron (1819–1898)

Aaron Young, senior, was born in Pittston, Maine, May 12, 1798, married a Miss Mary Colburn in 1805 and in 1819 was living in Wiscasset, Maine, where on the 19th of December of that year, Aaron Young, Junior, the last of a large family, was born. At that time his father was a surveyor of lumber. The family moved a few years later to Randolph and then to Bangor, Maine. The son, Aaron, was delicate in youth and probably affected with enlarged tonsils and adenoids, for at the age of ten he was noticeably deaf, an affliction which persisted through life. His inability to converse freely, owing to his defect, turned the boy's attention to nature, and at the age of eighteen years he became an expert botanist and well versed in natural history. He followed not only the curriculum at Gorham Academy in Maine, but he gave public lectures on botany and natural history. During two vacations he established a natural history society at Bangor, lectured on related topics, and oddly enough, had for one of his listeners an older and celebrated man, Professor Asa Gray (q.v.).

When about nineteen, Young made the acquaintance of Parker Cleveland, chemical professor at Bowdoin, and at his suggestion attended lectures on medicine and chemistry at the Bowdoin Medical School.

From time to time he consulted various specialists concerning his deafness and in 1841 saw Dr. John Dix (q.v.), of Boston, a famous man in his day.

After studying two years at the Bowdoin Medical School, 1840–1841, he obtained letters of proficiency, and set off in the fall of 1842 for medical lectures at the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia. As he journeyed he consulted the eminent aurists of the day, and was by them in turn puked and bled and blistered and setoned, and scraped in his pharynx, but to no avail, for he remained perpetually deaf.

Mention should be made of his intimacy with John W. Webster (q.v.), professor of chemistry at Harvard, and murderer of his friend, Dr. Parkman. Many letters passed between them on sulphuric ether, others discussed gun cotton, the new explosive. Agassiz was also interested in and corresponded with Young.

I have never been able to discover positively that Aaron Young obtained a diploma from Jefferson College, but judge from the fact that on his arrival in Boston in 1875 he became a fellow of the Massachusetts Medical Society, that he must have had the diploma and the documents to prove his right to practise medicine.

Provided with the proper instruments for examining and treating diseases of the ear, Young settled in Maine. He became so discouraged with the question: "Why don't you cure yourself of your own deafness?" that after a year he threw away all the apparatus he had for ear treatment, and settled in Bangor as a druggist in company with Dr. Daniel McRuer (q.v.), one of the famous men of Maine, who also kept a drug store.

For four years, until about 1848, Young continued his studies in medicine and botany and natural history; collecting an herbarium and a mineralogical cabinet, and made such progress that he was known all over the country, and in Europe, as a botanist, keeping up a wide correspondence with learned men at home and abroad.

He was appointed State Botanist of Maine in 1848, and for two years giving up business and medical practice, composed a now rare work on the Flora of Maine, reviewed by Gray in the American Journal of Art and Sciences, but of which no copy has come to light in late years. Whether it was a book or a collection of pictures, or simply a hortus siccus with indigenous plants of Maine, pasted to large sheets of paper, can unfortunately not be discovered from the extended notice by the learned botanical professor at Cambridge.

As the botanist of Maine, Young explored the coast and the interior extensively, and made one of the very early ascents of Mount Katahdin. The Maine Farmer for 1848 contains a report of this expedition, the report being a valuable piece of literary work. This was the first time that afforestation was ever advocated in Maine; had it been adopted, we should now be reaping its manifest wide benefits.

The Maine legislature did not see fit to grant another term to Young at the high price of $600 and traveling expenses, so he tried to make a living by teaching at South Paris, where he explored the mines, afterward famous for tourmalins, with success. From here, he corresponded with the British specialist Harvey, on seaweeds and sea-dredging, and with Berkeley on fungi, edible and poisonous.

Another curious episode about this time was the proposal from an artist who had lost his voice, for Young to lecture on botany and natural history, whilst the artist showed to the audience his handsome pictures painted from life. Wearied of teaching, in 1850 Young established himself as a physician in Auburn and Lewiston, kept a drug shop, and gradually extended one of his own prescriptions into a famous cough syrup, sold as a patent medicine known as Dr. Young's "Catholicon." He set up in print, edited, and wrote every word of all the editorials, city notices and gossip, and even the advertisements in three newspapers all by himself. Although his papers, one entitled The Farmer and Mechanic, another The Pansophist, and a third The Touchstone, were small weekly sheets, they show evidences of a vigorous mentality and entitled Young to a high position in newspaper literature.

I may add, parenthetically, that finding a few copies of The Touchstone at Bowdoin College Library, and a few others in Wisconsin, I tried in vain to bring them together, but finally succeeded in securing typewritten copies from the west, so that the curious can consult a complete file of The Touchstone at Brunswick, Maine.

He finally established himself in Portland, as an ear surgeon, in 1858, and did a good business for a while, but lacked persistence. In another year, as one born under the Bands of Orion, he moved to Farmington, Maine, and there issued a marvellous pamphlet entitled "The Franklin Journal of Aural Surgery and National Medicine;" a copy is in the Surgeon-General's Library at Washington. He insists upon diseases of the naso-pharynx as causes of ear diseases, discharges and deafness; he discusses how to remove foreign bodies from the ear, gives the tests for hearing, and reveals a case list suggestive of over 1,000 patients first and last. This unique pamphlet ends with a delightful picturesque and satisfactory eulogy of the late Professor Parker Cleveland of Bowdoin, a model biography, and one in which Carlyle would have reveled for piquancy and human color.

During 1859 and '60 Young traveled through Maine as an aural surgeon. From Bath, he wrote to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal an account of the way to illuminate the ear, and from Rockland another "On Various Cases of Ear Disease," accepted by that journal as from "Dr. Aaron Young, Jr., Farmington, Maine." Amongst the curious cases mentioned are double mastoid fistula, exfoliation of the ossicles, artificial ear drum for relief of deafness, and the removal of a pea.

At the time of the Civil War Young was practising in Bangor as an aurist and having always been a talker, he talked altogether too much on conciliating the South, on paying the slave-holders for their property, and wrote similar papers in the public press, until he became known as a Copperhead, although Hon. Hannibal Hamlin continued to befriend while warning him. Finally, public spirit was aroused, the Bangor Whig office was sacked and gutted, and there was a rumor that harm would be done to Young if he did not stop talking. Warned in season and fearing reprisals, and ruin, he fled to the Provinces and there for four years practised as an aural surgeon, writing papers of popular value on the ear, nose and throat, and on deafness and its cure; it would seem that he had offices for practice in St. John, New Brunswick; Halifax, Nova Scotia; St. John's, Newfoundland, and one or two other places. Finally, wearied of living out of the United States, he appealed to Hon. Hannibal Hamlin to give him a chance to come back to Bangor where he agreed to keep still, but Hamlin did better than this, for he obtained for Young the consulate at Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where for some years he did good official service, wrote marvelous consular reports on the harbor, the channels, botany, public health, agriculture, epidemics, the people, and corresponded frequently with the Smithsonian Institution and sent home wonderful specimens from Brazil—insects, birds and minerals. Then he was ousted, as happens often in republics to the best of men; regretfully he had to come home. He would gladly have stayed for life but the politicians were against him—somebody found out (after twelve years of perfect service) that he was deaf and could not hear complaints! He settled next in Boston in 1875, was elected a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and spent the rest of his life trying to be an ear surgeon, but was not successful because he was ageing fast, his hearing was worse, new men were coming in, and, in fact, he had had his day. He invented an instrument to assist hearing.

At the request of H. I. Bowditch (q.v.), he wrote on "The Effect of Alcohol on Inhabitants of the Tropics," he experimented with Dr. Bowditch at the Massachusetts General Hospital on oxygen gas, wrote on "antidotes for strychnia poisoning," "on quackery" and "sale of patent medicines in Brazil." He had pneumonia in 1892, but survived, then again in 1898 from which he died, January 13, 1898, at the age of seventy-nine.

Young worked in many directions; he first classified ear diseases in Maine, but was abused by some physicians as an "Eclectic;" by others as a patent medicine seller. As the writer all by himself of one of the very earliest ear journals, as the first regular ear surgeon, and as a writer of many medical papers of historical value, he is clearly worthy of being held in remembrance.