Page:A cyclopedia of American medical biography vol. 2.djvu/159

This page needs to be proofread.


McKEEN


137


McKEEN


Waterville, Maine, Centenary, Dr. F. C.

Thayer.

Family Papers from Dr. F. II. Mckechnie.

McKeen, James (1 797-1 S73).

Probably one of the ablest physicians ever practising in Maine was James McKeen, son of Joseph McKeen, first president of Bowdoin. Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, November 27, 1797, he graduated at Bowdoin in 1817 and while a student was noted for his scien- tific zeal and attainments, being con- sidered a careful observer and excellent thinker. He read much about Napoleon and followed him in his marches by pins stuck into the map of Europe. He was fond of astronomy. One night the college president observed a lantern shining on the steps of one of the dormi- tories. Suspecting some silly trick on the part of the students he crept up to ascertain what was going on, and found young McKeen studying the heavens with a sidereal map; the lan- tern was to display the positions of the constellations on the map after he had gazed at them in the skies above him.

After graduating from Bowdoin, he studied with Dr. Matthias Spalding of Amherst, New Hampshire, a man very active in vaccination and more than once president of the New Hamp- shire Medical Society. Later, he stud- ied with Dr. John Ware of Boston, and graduated at the Harvard Medical School in 1820. He then estabHshed himself at Topsham, Maine, a small town near Brunswick, Maine, the seat of Bowdoin College, and practised there with great success for more than fifty years.

In 1825 he was chosen professor of obstetrics in the Medical School of Maine, a position occupied honorably to himself and beneficially to his scholars for fourteen years, and was also pro- fessor of theory and practice of medicine in the same school.

He was one of the founders and incorporators of the Maine Medical Society, and afterwards of the Maine


Medical Association. He wrote sever- al papers; one in 1829 was an essay " On the Influence of the Imagination upon the Fetus in Utero."

Later on, this Society dying out, the Maine Medical Association was estab- lished, largely upon his initiative, and of that he was long secretary and second president.

He was a life-long student of medi- cine. During a yellow-fever epidemic in New York he was so much interested in satisfying his medical curiosity re- garding the symptoms and studying the best treatment so as to be ready if it should break out in Maine, that he left Topsham without telling any- body where he was bound, and braved the terrors of a stage-coach journey and all the risks of contagion in New York. No one in our times can have any idea of the terror in those days of epidemics. Public travel was paralyzed for fear of spreading the disease. One very delightful episode of this long journey, so valuable medic- ally to McKeen, was that riding in the coach with him was a man whom he thought the most interesting conver- sationalist that he had ever met, and who eventually proved to be Daniel Webster on his way to Washington.

Setting out for Europe in 1837, Dr. McKeen was obliged, owing to the un- settled state of financial credit, to take with him eleven hundred dollars in silver coin for his expenses. Arriving in Dublin he took lodgings which he soon found to be disreputable. He accordingly transferred his silver dol- lars bag by bag of a hundred each to a respectable place, but darkness coming on during his last trip with a single bag he was waylaid by two footpads. He shook off both assailants, but one of them had captured his umbrella. Not intending to lose even that, he chased the rascal and hitting him on the back with the remaining bag of hard cash knocked him end over end. Policemen then came on the scene, and Dr. McKeen was charged with