Page:A cyclopedia of American medical biography vol. 2.djvu/340

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RAMSAY


302


RAMSAY


Ontario, on October 19, 1870. The Uni- versit}' of Victoria had given him her degrees of M. D. and LL. D.

N. A. P.

Hist, of the Upper Canada Rebellion, J. C. Dent.

Ramsay, Alexander (1754-1824).

In glancing through the medical litera- ture of the early years of the nineteenth century, no name perhaps is more often mentioned than that of Dr. Alexander Ramsay. According to some, he was a compound of personal deformity, im- mense learning, uncontrollable temper, and inordinate vanity. According to others, he was a wonderful dissector, an unapproachable lecturer on anatomy, and a man who once known could never be recalled without unfailing reverence and deep affection.

It is generally believed that Itamsay was born in 1754, for on his death-bed in 1824 he said that he was just seventy years old. He came of a good family, and one of considerable means, as proved by old title deeds to real estate. He received an excellent academic education, presumably at Aberdeen University, and then studied medicine in London, Dublin, and Edinburgh with the celebrated teach- ers of that era. Finding it impossible, in Edinburgh, to continue his anatomical studies beyond a certain point, he estab- lished an anatomical school and museum of his own, and in that way finally com- pelled the medical faculty to add an anatomical school to the University. Unfortunately, even at this early age, his temper was bad, and he was con- stantly embroiled with men of the best standing in the profession, so that his influence was far from what his learning deserved. Besides lecturing, he learned how to draw and to engrave his own plates, and in this way originated his system of anatomy, worthily begun, but never completed.

Although a fine teacher and lecturer, Ramsay was born a wanderer beneath the bands of the Orion, as said before, and could not rest quiet anywhere. Whether


the election of one of the Monroes, instead of himself, to the chair of anatomy made him angrier than ever, we do not know, but at this time he began to talk of founding in the wilderness of America an institution which should stand at the head of the world in anatomy. In this way, he talked at the age of thirty- six, but it was not until an epidemic of yellow fever appeared in New York about 1802, that he decided to cross the ocean.

i\j-riving in Boston, he lectured there, then made his way to New York, and finally betook himself to the small settle- ment of Fryeburg in Maine, but how he could ever expect in that solitary region to build any institution that could influ- ence American medicine, passes compre- hension. While here, at intervals for many years, he lectured on anatomy, had some small attendance at thirty dollars a course, and practised medicine occa- sionally. Never did he fail at the patient's bedside to express his horror and loathing of other practitioners who were "murderers and vile Hottentots." Here too he became famous for his fever- treatment. After stripping the patient and placing him on a flat board, he would wrap him in blankets wrung out in hot water; keep applying hot water externally for fifteen minutes, then bare the patient again, dash a tumblerful of cold water on his chest and then on his back, and so rush him into a warm bed, a profuse sweat and a rapid cure. With this treat- ment, and rare doses of brandy, he never lost a patient.

Another epidemic of yellow fever in New York in 1803 set him on his way to that city, but on arriving in Boston, his banker was horrified at the rashness, the risk, the danger, and awful waste of money, enough, he said, to buy a farm. Ramsay, however, not to be diverted from his purpose to study the sickness, went on despite the oppressive weather, found New York a plague-stricken city, did good medical work on the spot and printed his results later in the "Edin- burgh Medical Journal" for July, 1812.

Ramsay probably returned to Edin-