Transactions of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia/Series 3/Volume 5/Memoir of George B. Wood, M.D., LL.D.
George B. Wood, M.D., LL.D.,
Late President of the College.
S. Littell, M.D.
[Read October 1, 1879.]
"The Sun sets at night, and the Stars shun the day,
But glory remains when their light fades away."
I accepted with great diffidence your appointment to prepare for the College a memoir of its late President. He was no ordinary man. Like the future king of Israel, he was pre-eminent among his brethren. Few of them have attained to the height of his moral and intellectual stature; and fewer still have equalled him in the variety and extent of his professional knowledge and achievements. His long, useful and laborious life is a bright example, and contains much of encouragement and instruction. It was this lofty excellence that made me hesitate. I feared that the subject would be injured by my feeble treatment; I knew that I could not even realize my own ideal; and I should have been pleased if choice had been made of a Fellow more competent to do it justice. But since it has been otherwise ordered, I address myself with loving heart, though weak endeavor, to the performance of the grateful duty which you have enjoined.
George Bacon Wood, the eldest son of Richard Wood and Elizabeth Bacon, was born at Greenwich, Cumberland County, New Jersey, on the 13th of March, 1797. James Wood, the first of the name of whom there is any mention, emigrated from Bristol, England, to Philadelphia, in the beginning of the eighteenth century; and his two sons settled on Snow Creek, near Greenwich. They were members of the Society of Friends, as were so many of the emigrants to this part of the country, in those early days. One of them, Richard Wood, the great grandfather of Dr. Wood, became a judge of the county in 1748; and the family appears to have always had some prominence there. Dr. Wood's father was an extensive land owner and cultivator; but all his children, of whom there were five—four sons and one daughter—subsequently removed to Philadelphia. George Bacon received the rudiments of his education in the city of New York, where he remained several years; completing his studies, however, at the University of Pennsylvania, whence he proceeded A.M., in 1815.
Adopting medicine as the business of his life, he began its study under the direction of Dr. Joseph Parrish, to whom he had been warmly commended by his father; and graduated with great honor at the Commencement held in the spring of 1818. His Thesis, on dyspepsia, was much praised, both for style and treatment; and he was told by Professor Chapman that it was one of the best practical disputations he had ever read.
The closest friendship immediately sprang up between the preceptor and his pupil, unlike as they were in so many traits of mind and person; and, being founded on mutual respect, confidence, and esteem, continued with unabated strength until it was dissolved by the death of Dr. Parrish, in 1840. The high professional reputation and winning personal qualities of that gentleman, attracted students from every quarter; and more time being required for the tuition of his constantly increasing class, than his other engagements would permit him to bestow, assistance became necessary. Recent graduates, among others, were accordingly invited to lecture on particular branches; and there almost insensibly grew up a private medical school, with its departments of surgery, medicine, anatomy, materia medica, and obstetrics. Dr. Parrish retained in his own hands the chairs of medicine and surgery; Dr. Richard Harlan had the charge of the anatomical theatre; Dr. Wood was the lecturer on materia medica and chemistry; and to Dr. Nathan Shoemaker was assigned the instruction in midwifery.
The school was established in no spirit of rivalry, but had its origin in the necessity of things; and, while entirely independent of any external influence, was preparatory and auxiliary to the University;—the sole object being the better training of young men for admission into that Institution. They were thus enabled to become more intimately acquainted with the elementary principles of their profession, and particularly with materia medica and anatomy—for which, as the ground-work, special arrangements were made—than they could otherwise have been. All this primary indoctrination is, of course, more thoroughly accomplished now; but it was not elsewhere so done in that early day. The school was fairly opened in 1820; and Dr. Wood informed the writer that the late Treasurer of the College, Dr. John Rodman Paul, was the first pupil whom he received under the new arrangement. It was an admirable association; the forerunner of others speedily formed on the same model; supplied a want that was deeply felt; and many of our best men and ablest practitioners received there the impulse and the education which enabled them to achieve eminence in their respective spheres. Tempora labuntur, tacitisque senescimus annis! Very few members of the earlier classes are now living;— none, it is believed, who are engaged in active business; and of the survivors of the classes immediately following, two or three only—among them Dr. Rodman and the late distinguished Professor of Anatomy in Jefferson College— still continue in a green old age, and with scarcely bated zeal, to give to the public the benefit of their ripe experience; while a host of Benemeriti—Gilman, Norris, Pepper, West, Wistar, Gerhard, Carson, Stewardson, and many others —have, alas, departed to the Spirit Land!
The personnel of the school continued unchanged during several years; but, under the title of The Association for Medical Instruction, it was afterwards enlarged, and strengthened by the accession of several other gentlemen, among whom were Drs. John Rhea Barton, and Samuel George Morton. Not physic alone, but high principles of conduct, and much also that might be comprehended under the head of the minor morals, without which no character is perfect —delicacy, propriety, punctuality, professional etiquette, which is merely the expression of the Golden Rule—all found illustration and enforcement in the lives and precepts of the teachers. The students were enjoined to be sincere and honest, to do nothing merely for effect, to subordinate private interests to the welfare of the sick and to the dignity of their profession, and never to lose sight of its benevolent character, as that alone which properly requites its toils and privations, and renders it worthy of the love and pursuit of elevated minds. In a word, they were taught to be truthful, upright, and honorable men, who, animated by the spirit of real philanthropy, drew their inspiration from the inherent nobility of their calling, and not from the hope of pecuniary reward, for which many other occupations furnished greater inducement and opportunity. It was thus, as has been said, a nursery for good men and skilful physicians; and those of them who still linger among us, may, in their retrospect, think with pardonable pride, that it neither has been, nor is likely to be, surpassed in the quality and value of its productions.
If there was one lesson, more strongly than any other, impressed upon the minds of the pupils by their sagacious preceptor, it was that of a hopeful and intelligent reliance on the vis medicatrix naturæ. Instances illustrative of her wonderful recuperative power, were constantly held before them, and they were continually reminded that their proper function was to facilitate and assist, and not to disturb or thwart, her beneficent operations. Injudicious interference—the nimia diligentia medici—was especially deprecated, and many were the opportunities taken for the inculcation of the good old maxim, that in cases of doubt and difficulty, when they knew not what to do, it was better to do nothing. More, they were told, was to be learned from failure than from success, and they were consequently exhorted to the particular consideration and review of all adverse cases. In this cautious and conscientious school Dr. Wood had himself been educated; the wisdom which he there imbibed, he would he careful to teach others; and it has been thus briefly adverted to, in order to indicate its influence in forming his own opinions and character.
The two friends differed as much in their personal appearance as in their mental constitution. Dr. Parrish was rather robust in form, of medium height, sanguine temperament, handsome countenance, benevolent expression, and very agreeable and popular manners. He dressed in Quaker costume, which well became his comely person; and was one of the last of those who clung to the fashion of small-clothes, silk stockings, and high-topped boots. He was an enthusiast in his profession, the study of which he began rather later than usual, and without the preliminary training which, great as were his qualifications, would have placed him so far above ordinary men. He was himself a pupil of Dr. Wistar, for whose memory he cherished the profoundest veneration; and his views, always practical and conservative, were independent, and often original;—anticipating in several important particulars, the discoveries and conclusions of a later and more scientific age. He was better read in the book of Nature, than in the current literature of his profession; more intent on the study and interpretation of the phenomena which she daily submitted to his observation, than conversant with the ideas and works of others; for which, indeed, little leisure was allowed by the exacting and paramount claims of a large and responsible practice. His lectures—full of good sense, wholesome doctrine, and thoughtful deduction—were not written on any regular and systematic plan, but were somewhat discursive in their range, and were made up chiefly of the results of his own experience; consisting, for the most part, of the narration of apposite and important cases, and of the practical lessons to be drawn from them.
Dr. Wood, on the contrary, was tall, slender, and stately, with features regular and well-defined; dressed like other people, and with faultless propriety; was precise and accurate in his address and elocution; sedate in disposition, and, though always courteous and polite, rather formal and distant, in his deportment. He was quite as much devoted to his vocation as Dr. Parrish, but his devotion, with equal earnestness, had a more calm and reserved expression. His mind, naturally logical, had been severely disciplined, and was therefore methodical and consecutive in its operation. His lectures—minute, comprehensive, and well digested— exhausted the subjects of which they treated. In their completeness and adaptation to the wants of the students, they were fully equal to those which he subsequently delivered at the University. It was here that the young eagle tried his pinions, and prepared himself for the longer and more adventurous flights which he afterwards so successfully essayed. It was one of his characteristics to do thoroughly whatever he undertook. He always made himself perfectly master of his subject, and was very exact in imparting what he knew to others. It sometimes happened that one of his colleagues would be absent for a while, and, acting as his substitute, it might be supposed that, teaching a class which had not advanced far beyond the elementary principles of medicine, he would have relied on his general knowledge, without refreshing his memory by renewed study. But this he evidently had not done. He left nothing to the moment or to chance; but carefully prepared himself for each particular occasion; even though the lesson, if not positively distasteful, was one in which he had no special interest. The topic, for instance, being anatomy, he re-informed his mind, in minute detail, with every foramen, process, nerve, muscle, artery, and vein, which entered into the instruction; and it was plain to all that he had just risen from its diligent review.
The first course of chemical lectures ever given by Dr. Wood was delivered a little before the time of which I have been speaking, in a small rear building used by Dr. Parrish as a private office; and was addressed to a non-professional audience, composed chiefly of ladies belonging to his immediate family and acquaintance. Chemistry, which has since made such giant strides, was then in its infancy; and much general interest was felt in the newly discovered gases, the properties of light, heat, and electricity, and a thousand other topics, familiar enough in our own day, hut then novel and surprising. The little room did not afford accommodation for more than twelve or fifteen persons; and here, before a class entranced by his carefully prepared experiments and not likely to be hypercritical in its judgment, Dr. Wood made his first appearance as a lecturer. The benefits which accrued to him from this preliminary lay course, are obvious; he gained confidence and dexterity, and was thereby better fitted to perform his part in a more formal and important sphere.
The private office of Dr. Parrish being too small for the purpose, the lectures to the students were delivered in a room on the second story of a rear building, approached by a narrow passage running westwardly from Second Street along the northern wall of Christ Church yard, and reached by a flight of outside stairs. "Imagination fondly stoops to trace" the rude accommodations of that primitive hall; but, unlike the convivial resort where "nut-brown draughts in-spired," there was nothing for "ornament," and not much for "use." A few benches, one or two chairs for strangers, and a table raised on a platform, comprised the whole; the anatomical theatre being on the floor above. And here the chief—fresh from his professional engagements—arriving with great punctuality on the instant, would, when warmed by his subject, frequently lay aside his notes—as he had previously done his whip—and pour forth his thoughts in a strain of rare, unstudied, and impressive eloquence. The location was afterwards changed, when larger accommodations became necessary, to a building on Zane Street, above Seventh; the temporary site of the College of Pharmacy.
The Philadelphia Medical Society was the principal debating arena in those days, and had a large membership of the more advanced students, who resorted thither for instruction. Drs. Parrish and Chapman, widely differing as they did on many points of pathology and therapeusis, would often come into collision, and each found in his opponent "a foeman worthy of his steel." The greater dialectical skill of the one—if, indeed, such superiority really existed—was more than counterbalanced by the good sense and practical disposition of the other. These intellectual encounters—the doctrines of Broussais were at that time a favorite topic of debate—had great interest for the younger members, who generally assembled in considerable force when they were expected. Drs. Physick and Gibson, with more official dignity, never attended the meetings. I do not recall the participation or even the presence of Dr. Wood, though he was, no doubt, occasionally there. He would have found the College of Physicians, with its older, smaller, and jealously guarded fellowship, a more congenial sphere.
The College of Pharmacy was founded in 1821, and, the year following, Dr. Wood accepted an invitation to the chair of Chemistry, without, however, severing his connection with the Association. This position he held with increasing reputation until 1831, when it was exchanged for the chair of Materia Medica in the same institution. It is not too much to say that the instruction there given could not easily have been surpassed. Never had it been so well done in either department before. In matter and in manner, it was all that could be desired, or that the knowledge of the time permitted; abounding in experiment and illustration, and admirably adapted to the requirements of the young men who were to become our future druggists and apothecaries.
Duty thoroughly and conscientiously performed, knowledge extended and matured, and powers enlarged and strengthened by exercise, with the uncommon excellence and attractiveness of his lectures, placed him foremost among the teachers of these two branches of science; and it is not surprising, therefore, that in 1835, a vacancy occurring in the chair of Materia Medica in the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Wood should have been chosen to fill it. Promotion thus steadily followed step by step, and always found him equal to the labor and responsibility which it involved. He was of a nature too refined to canvass or intrigue for place, however much it might be desired; and had too nice a sense of honor, too just a conception of what was due to the dignity of the profession, and to his own self-respect, to descend into the field with rough and jostling competitors. Like the lamented Godman, whose sun went down ere it had reached its "meridian tower," he had nobly resolved to win success by deserving it. The posts which he attained and the influence he wielded, were the free, and, if I may so speak, the almost compulsory rewards of patient and unremitting labor, lofty aspirations, and exemplary conduct. In the present instance, the triumph was enhanced by the very great worth and signal qualifications of the rival candidate, Dr. Samuel Jackson.
It is a striking proof of the general appreciation of the cultivated mind and administrative talents of Dr. Wood that, the year before his election, he was offered the provost-ship of the University, vacant by the resignation of the Rev. Dr. De Lancey; a thorough scholar and very able divine, afterwards the Bishop of Western New York.
His assumption of the chair of Materia Medica was the immediate inauguration of a new and happier attitude of things. No expense was spared in demonstration by natural objects. Living specimens of medicinal plants were cultivated for the purpose in his own conservatories; others were sought for and brought from all parts of the country; and those of foreign habitat, which could not be raised in this climate, were imported, when practicable, from abroad. When these were unattainable, pictorial representations on a large scale were used instead. Everything was done to give to the class all possible experimental knowledge of the subject. If he had not excelled in everything else, it might have been supposed that this was his most congenial field. His mode of treatment was a great improvement on all previous instruction, and shone the more brightly, from the contrast. It imparted life and interest to every object, and at once riveted the attention and informed the minds of his audience. "His lectures in this department," says Dr. Hunt, "were truly superb. They were most profusely illustrated by the finest specimens that could be obtained. Every species of medicinal plant that could be grown in this climate and in his conservatories, was shown in the living state for the benefit of the class. Some of the Fall preliminary lectures were made gorgeous with the foliage of the Tropics. The strictest attention was paid to the professor by the huge classes. A syllabus furnished gratuitously, and generally interleaved for notes, was in the hands of every student."
Much of what he thus taught from his Chair in the University was happily available for more general use; and, in pursuance of his rule to make utility a prominent design in all his labors, he now compiled and published, in conjunction with his friend, Dr. Franklin Bache—who had succeeded him in the chemical department of the College of Pharmacy—The United States Dispensatory. The venerable Daniel B. Smith, President of the College, was originally a party to the undertaking; the first meetings were held at his house, and several papers were contributed by him; but other engagements, engrossing all his time, compelled his early withdrawal.
To form a just estimate of the necessity and value of this important work, some acquaintance with the previous condition of things is required. Many substances hitherto unknown, touched by the magic wand of chemistry, had been compelled to reveal their ultimate principles. Investigation of the medicinal properties of articles belonging to the vegetable and mineral kingdoms was unceasing; many valuable discoveries had been made, and facts innumerable had accumulated, but, scattered abroad through various publications, they were, to a great extent, beyond common attainment. Collection, condensation, and classification had become necessary. Moreover, the literary and scientific reputation of the profession imperiously demanded a fitter representative than the existing formularies. All this the new Dispensatory afforded. It immediately supplanted the crude and unscientific compilations previously in use, and became at once the standard authority. From its first appearance in 1833, edition after edition—fourteen in all— followed each other in rapid succession, and it was regarded as an indispensable handbook to every physician and apothecary in the land. The work in its later revisions by its author, differs, as may be supposed, very greatly from the first editions; among other things, in containing nearly double the number of pages. New facts, new relations, new combinations, in constantly increasing number, required incessant supervision in order to keep pace with the progress of science. This was carefully and unweariedly bestowed, and each successive edition was consequently a vast improvement on the one preceding.
The compilation of the Dispensatory was undertaken not only to supply a great need, but with the further design of promoting the general recognition of The United States Pharmacopœia as the national standard of pharmaceutical preparation. This it contributed to do by constant reference to the processes therein recommended, and by the detailed descriptions which it gave of the medicinal agents which the Pharmacopœia contained. The one was thus made to imply, involve, and demand the other; and was largely instrumental in effecting its adoption. The Pharmacopœia, originally set forth in 1820 with direction for its review at every decennial period, was almost rewritten by the authors of the Dispensatory, in laborious preparation for the first meeting of the Convention in 1830; and at each subsequent convocation was—chiefly by them—carefully revised and improved. Like the Dispensatory, it was a great boon to the profession, and, indirectly, to the country also. Furnishing an authoritative formulary, it secured order and uniformity where all—except as regulated by foreign prescription—would otherwise have been discord and confusion; and if the two gentlemen principally concerned in its composition had done nothing more, it would have been enough to establish for them an enduring claim to the gratitude of the public. It is difficult—perhaps impossible—to determine their respective share in this publication; nor, where each would have generously yielded precedence to the other, is it necessary to do so. Let it suffice to know that they toiled in harmonious agreement, and that we enjoy the fruit of their labors.
In the year 1847, Dr. Wood published an elaborate Treatise on the Practice of Medicine, in two large octavo volumes. It was a comprehensive survey of the whole field; and was not only received with great favor by the profession in his own country, but abroad also, and particularly in Great Britain; where it had the honor of being adopted as the text-book by several medical schools, among them by the University of Edinburgh. A gentleman who visited England several years ago, in conversation with a leading London surgeon, presuming, interrogatively, that the work of Sir Thomas Watson was their principal reference and authority on the subject of which it treated, was promptly answered, "not so, we prefer that of your countryman, Dr. Wood." The fame which had been derived from his previous publications was greatly enhanced and extended by this very able production. It took rank at once as one of the most complete and reliable works extant. Six editions have been printed, and others may be expected, for, notwithstanding the appearance of later treatises traversing the same ground in all the light of modern science, it still deservedly maintains its place in public estimation; and, unlike the generality of medical books, gives promise long to survive its learned and lamented author. Clearness, vigor and beauty of style, simplicity of arrangement, fulness and accuracy of description, are a few of its many excellences. Nearly a generation has elapsed since its publication, and it would he strange if, in the rapid progress of inquiry, its pathology on some subjects had not become rather antiquated, and its therapeusis also arraigned, if not partially discarded. It must not be forgotten, however, that in regard to those points of treatment from which there is most dissent, the profession, hastily casting off from its ancient moorings, and going, as often happens in such cases, from one extreme to the other, has scarcely even yet attained to a haven of rest. It being hardly supposable that the older physicians were so universally in error, it has been suggested that the type of disease has changed, and that it is now less openly inflammatory, or more asthenic, than it was in their day. There are many reasons which may be adduced in support of this view, and it is certain that maladies of a low or typhoid character, depending upon cerebral depression and impaired innervation, are more prevalent now than they formerly were. However this may he, there can he no doubt, I think, that life is often lost, or health permanently impaired, by the omission of venesection in cases proper for its use; for by no other means can the morbid changes, incompatible with either, be so effectually arrested and prevented. Observation at the bedside, uninfluenced by theory or prepossession, must guide the judgment in each individual case.
It is no valid objection that the practice is liable to abuse by unqualified persons who, unhappily, gain admission to the profession. Indeed, such practitioners are doubly culpable, for the mischief they directly do, and for the discredit which they bring upon a mode of cure for which, timely and judiciously employed, there is frequently no effectual substitute. The same remark will apply, though with less force, to the use of mercury, which few physicians of experience would desire to have altogether abandoned, because it has been prescribed wrongfully and indiscriminately. Dr. Wood's book was written for educated men, and presupposes tact and intelligence in those who read it. The author's standard of professional qualification was a very elevated one; his diagnosis was careful and accurate; and, knowing his own full and conscientious preparation, he would not unlikely presume the equal caution and fitness of others.
There was little of originality in the mental constitution of Dr. Wood, and hence he was more inclined to deal with fact than to indulge in speculation. He has not, perhaps, added much to our stock of ideas; though almost unrivalled in the presentation of existing knowledge. He walked in the olden paths consecrated by long prescription and general approval, deferred much to authority, and was slow—as in the important concerns of life and health all should be—to accept novel views and suggestions. The doctrine of malaria, for example, so universally adopted by the profession, and which, in his writings, as in those of others, is made to account for so many, and so diverse, morbid phenomena, he seems never to have called in question; though variations of electrical tension, acting upon an organism animated and governed by an element of analogous or identical nature, would supply a more philosophical and satisfactory explanation.
When Dr. Wood first entered upon his professional studies, the stethoscope and other mechanical aids to physical exploration and diagnosis had hardly yet been introduced; and as much application and experience are required to use them intelligently, he could, for many years afterwards, have had very little more than the general acquaintance with them which every physician is supposed to possess. But when he began to write and to teach, it was necessary that he should be perfectly familiar with the subject. This he could scarcely become from the limited opportunities afforded in private practice. The infirmary, where the various forms of disease are brought together, and facilities given for comparison and verification, was better adapted to his purpose. He accordingly sought an appointment in the Pennsylvania Hospital, and his works furnish abundant proof of the dexterity and confidence which he acquired in the use of the instrument; training his ear with remarkable accuracy and success to the detection and appreciation of sounds, natural and morbid. Though he was now approaching the meridian of life, he did not hesitate to become once more a learner; entering upon his task with his wonted earnestness and resolution; and manifesting at once his humility and conscientiousness by taking lessons from a colleague much younger than himself, who had recently returned from a long association with Louis and other eminent savants abroad.
He was now engaged in the composition of his great Treatise on the Practice of Medicine, of which he speaks so modestly in the preface; and had an eye, moreover, to the professorship of that department in the University. The office of physician to the Hospital was, therefore, desired, not only for the more satisfactory investigation of disease and the acquisition of practical knowledge, but also for the further object of acquiring ease and readiness in clinical instruction; for which, as is well known, he became justly celebrated. He served the hospital from 1835 to 1859, a period of twenty-four years; being, throughout all that time, punctual and systematic in his attendance, and faithful in the performance of all the duties of that onerous and responsible position. His clinical lectures, like those in the University, were most studiously prepared, and largely attended. Well may the managers of the Hospital, in their memorial tribute, speak of his unfailing and intelligent interest, and of the great services which he had rendered. Never was praise more worthily bestowed.
In the year 1850, Dr. Chapman resigned the professorship of the Theory and Practice of Medicine, which he had so long and so ably held, and Dr. Wood, in deserved recognition of his eminent talents and acquirements, was with great unanimity elected to succeed him. In this high and responsible situation also, notwithstanding the ability and prestige of his distinguished predecessor, he made many salutary changes, introducing several important improvements, and acquiring for himself new and unfading laurels. His good sense and experience had convinced him of the truth of the Horatian precept, so unwisely ignored in much of the teaching, religious and secular, of our day—
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem
a single glance, explaining and embodying the meaning, often imparting more accurate information, and making deeper impression, than whole hours of tedious and ill-understood description. It is surprising that a truth, inherent in the very nature of man, should be so injuriously neglected by those whose peculiar province is education; and still more remarkable that Dr. Wood should actually have been the first in this country, and elsewhere also, to introduce into the chair of medicine the system of ocular demonstration. He had proved its utility and its superiority to the oral and didactic method then in vogue, while occupying the chair of materia medica; why should it not, he rightly thought, be equally useful, though perhaps more difficult of accomplishment, in teaching that to which the materia medica is merely subservient? In order the more fully to prepare for the new and arduous duties now devolved upon him, and with special reference to his intended system of instruction, he made a voyage to Europe, visited its most celebrated schools, and spent many thousands of dollars in the purchase of models, castings, and drawings of various pathological lesions. These formed a cabinet of morbid representations unique in this country, and supplied material for a course of medical tuition which was as instructive and satisfactory as it was interesting and novel.
Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus;—
In 1856, Dr. Wood gave to the profession another valuable work, also in two volumes, entitled a Treatise on Therapeutics and Pharmacology, of which three editions have been published. A volume consisting chiefly of occasional lectures and addresses followed in due course; and in 1872 he issued still another, with the title of Historical and Biographical Memoirs; being a selection from the various productions of his indefatigable pen during the previous half century, and addressed for the most part to unprofessional readers.
Those who can recall the medical annals belonging to the beginning of the period just mentioned, may, perchance, remember the North American Medical and Surgical Journal; in the establishment and editorship of which Dr. Wood bore a very prominent part. The extent and value of his contributions may be seen by an inspection of the volumes in the library of the College. It was a quarterly publication, admirably conducted by an association of gentlemen; and was quite equal in learning and ability to any similar periodical either in this country or in Europe. It had anof six years; when it was discontinued, as so many other good enterprises have been, from insufficient patronage.
The East Indies appear to have had a wonderful fascination for Dr. Wood in the early part of his career, and his unemployed leisure, while waiting on practice, was devoted to the eager perusal of every accessible work relating to that country. At length the idea occurred to him of entering the field of historical authorship in his own person. He accordingly began to write a history of Christianity from its first introduction into India, as a part of his general plan; and had actually completed ten chapters of the narrative, when the increasing demands of a profession which tolerates no divided allegiance, compelled him to abandon the design. His comprehensive scheme embraced a history of the British Empire in India, and for this also, he had simultaneously made considerable progress in the collection of materials. An address embodying some of his researches, delivered before the Athenian Institute, indicates his general aim; and gives, perhaps, a faint idea of the manner in which he would have treated a subject that would have employed all his time and taxed his powers to their utmost capacity. His contributions, imperfect and fragmentary though they are, bear evidence of the clearness of his style and his other qualifications for the undertaking; and if he had not accomplished so much in his proper vocation, we might be tempted to regret that he did not consecrate himself entirely to historical composition. He would certainly have attained to very high distinction in that department of literature; and, with the Irvings, the Prescotts, and the Motleys, have shed imperishable lustre on his name and country.
It would be out of place, in a cursory notice like the present, to do more than allude to what is elsewhere more fully detailed, in relation to his minor and occasional productions. The bare titles of his numerous progeny would require more space than can conveniently be spared. His facile and vigorous pen, always in hand, "nor made a pause, nor left a void;" and many were the topics of public and of private interest on which it was employed. The more important of these—the papers which he deemed worthy of particular preservation—were, as already stated, collected and published by himself. Like his friend and fellow-trustee of the University, the late learned and admirable Albert Barnes, whose celebrated Commentaries on the Scriptures were merely the expansion of the notes originally prepared for his Bible Class, Dr. Wood endeavored to utilize his writings also, by giving to the world what was primarily intended for a much narrower circle. Thus nothing really valuable was ever lost; his toilsome lucubrations received a permanent form; and by these, "he, being dead, yet speaketh."
In 1840, Dr. Wood, by the request of his medical brethren, prepared and read a biographical memoir, or eulogy, on the occasion of the death of Dr. Parrish. It was delivered in the anatomical theatre of the University, then situated in Ninth Street below Market; and was memorable both for the crowded audience, and for the presence of ladies for the first time in that locality. The subject was dear to his heart; and he paid a beautiful, chastened, and touching tribute to the memory of his preceptor and friend. In 1865, he discharged in this hall, at the instance of the College, the same office for his friend and companion, Dr. Bache; and now, amid the scenes so long associated with his presence, his own departure calls for regretful and loving commemoration.
Correspondence necessarily engrossed much of Dr. Wood's time, for it was frequently conducted with persons residing abroad, or in other States; and often related to matters of Pharmacy, etc., in which they were mutually concerned, either as individuals, or as members of committees. In one instance, his correspondent was a justly celebrated pharmaceutist in a neighboring city, and the question related to the preservation of certain articles combined according to a given formula. The confident assertion of the laboratory was controverted from the study, and the result demonstrated the remarkable sagacity and minute knowledge of its occupant. He was always ready to aid young men in their pursuits, and to resolve for them any difficulties they might meet with. A gentleman now occupying very creditably one of the chairs once tilled by him in the College of Pharmacy, had, when just entering upon his honorable career, occasion to consult him on some point pertaining to his studies. The answer of Dr. Wood was a long letter, giving in full detail the information desired, and almost overwhelming the recipient with the sense of his kindness and condescension.
Dr. Wood retained the professorship of the Theory and Practice of Medicine for the space of ten years, from 1850 to 1860; when he abdicated the chair; and thenceforward, though the willing slave of his own exacting temperament, was free in a great measure from the trammels and exigencies of official station. There were no reasons for his resignation, other than his own desire and the limitation which he had imposed upon himself. He was in the full tide of an unprecedented popularity, his mental faculties preserved all their vigor, and he retained unimpaired his fondness and capacity for application and research. He had reached the summit of his professional ambition, distinguishing himself in every stage of his progress; and there was nothing of satisfaction to himself, or peculiar benefit to the public, to be gained by the longer occupancy of the chair. The University honored itself, and showed its estimation of his invaluable services, by conferring on him the title of Emeritus Professor, and by electing him to be one of its trustees—the College of New Jersey having given him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws several years before—while his medical brethren, gathering around him in a public dinner which they tendered to him on the eve of his departure for Europe a few months afterwards, testified their respect and affection for their associate and friend, with a warmth and an unanimity which could not have failed to be highly gratifying. This, his third visit to Europe, involving an absence of two years and three months, and undertaken with primary reference to the health of his wife, was made in company with Mrs. Wood, Miss Duane, and his nephew, Dr. Lehman Wells. On a previous excursion, made in the spring of 1853, he was accompanied by his lifelong friend Dr. Bache; travelled extensively in Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia; and kept a journal of his observations and experiences, from which his future biographer will gather much to diversify and enliven his pages.
In 1823, Dr. Wood married Caroline, the only child of Mr. Peter Hahn, a retired merchant of this city, with whom he lived very happily until her lamented death in 1865. She was a lady who had little regard for fashion or gayety, but, like all true women, found her duty and her pleasure in the more congenial sphere of privacy and love. The union was a most fortunate one. It gave to him a kind and sympathizing companion who, while she lightened his lonely labors by her approval and encouragement, shared his triumphs and made his life thenceforward comfortable and happy. The wealth she brought with her enabled him to devote, more lavishly than he could otherwise have done, his own small but steadily increasing resources to the procurement of books, apparatus, botanical gardens, conservatories, and whatever else he might desire, whether for study, or for the greater efficacy and development of his lectures. He is thought to have spent in their illustration, during several years, nearly all the income that he derived from his chair—his pathological cabinet alone having cost ten thousand dollars.
In any biographical sketch of Dr. Wood, the influence on his fortunes of his marriage relations should not be overlooked. His excellent father-in-law, Mr. Hahn, with rare prescience, confidence, and magnanimity, not only gave with his daughter a very liberal dowry, but, dying intestate, left her—as was no doubt foreseen and intended—sole heiress of his whole remaining property. Becoming thus early independent of his practice, with no obligation to make provision for others, Dr. Wood was raised above the indignities of low estate, and, unvexed by care and anxiety, was enabled to live in a state befitting his position and aspirations. His amiable helpmate therefore, to say nothing of her priceless value as a good wife, must be regarded as having contributed largely to his professional advancement; and although there is no reason to doubt that he would have achieved distinction under any conditions, however difficult and adverse, she made easy and smooth a path that might otherwise have been rugged and thorny.
All the elements of happiness rarely meet in any one individual; for privations and trials have their use, and it is not designed by Divine Providence that man should be supremely blessed in this stage of existence. If one common ingredient were wanting in the cup of Dr. Wood—otherwise full to overflowing—the very defect secured for him an undivided affection, and enabled him to pursue his patient investigations with less distraction than he could otherwise have done.
It was not enough for the purposes of Dr. Wood, as a teacher of medicine, that the mind should he stored with knowledge. There were also required a ready command of that knowledge, and an aptitude for communicating it to others. Dulness, ruggedness, and prolixity must be avoided, and interest excited; or, whatever in other respects the merits of the writer and speaker, they will fail to secure attention and make due impression. This Dr. Wood strove to do, and signally accomplished. Nothing was overlooked, or disregarded, that might contribute to the general result. His chirography, if not beautiful, had the greater merit of being plain and legible; his lectures—rich in matter and illustration—were at once pleasing and instructive; his elocution natural, easy, forcible, and—when the subject permitted—frequently eloquent; while his style of composition—almost faultless—was smooth, chaste, graceful, and vigorous. He has no meretricious or redundant ornament, and sense is nowhere sacrificed to sound. He aims throughout to express his meaning simply and perspicuously, and thus to avoid all possible misunderstanding.
As it was said of Goldsmith—nullum quod tetigit non ornavit—so it may be with nearly equal truth be averred of Dr. Wood. His writings are almost classical in their character; he elevated the standard, and gave a right direction to medical education, rendering subsequent advance easy and certain; and left an impress on the chairs he successively filled, which will not soon be effaced or forgotten. As a teacher of medicine, at the bedside in the Hospital, or from the rostrum of the University, he was unrivalled in his own country and unsurpassed in any other. His treatises on the materia medica and on the theory and practice of physic have been invaluable gifts to the profession; and, in a word, it may be asserted without contradiction, that no one has done so much to improve and extend the important branches which he more particularly cultivated. His works on these subjects are those by which he will be best known to posterity. By reference to dates it will be perceived that his two earliest and most important publications were written while yet he was hardly fifty years old; and those only who know their vast variety and detail, can form any adequate conception of the labor involved in their composition.
Since the beginning of his professional life, the progress of human knowledge had been great in almost every material thing; and not less so in medicine than in other branches of science. The stethoscope and various mechanical means of diagnosis had thrown a flood of light on many diseases. The ophthalmoscope had quite revolutionized the study of those of the eye; and the same principle had been applied with similar, if not equal, results to the affections of all internal organs accessible from without. Greater opportunities were afforded for verification. Anæsthesia had deprived surgery of its terrors. More attention was given to hygiene. Closer observation and more rigid deduction were demanded and bestowed. Facts had accumulated beyond all former precedent. Chemical analysis and synthesis had as truly given a new world to medicine, as Columbus did to Castile and Leon. And the spirit of inquiry, thus fully awakened, is continually extending its field of operation, and making new applications, new conquests, new discoveries. It redounds greatly to the credit of Dr. Wood—himself the great pioneer in all improvement—that he kept his mind free, in an uncommon degree, from early prepossession and prejudice; and was always to be found on the side of real progress and reform.
"Well aware that no amount of professional training can countervail the want of a liberal and thorough preparatory education, he was ever a warm advocate of a higher standard of preliminary qualification, as well as of a more extended and comprehensive curriculum. Much, it is true, may be done by industry and conscientious devotion to supply the want; but after graduation the physician has ordinarily no control of his time, and it cannot be wholly retrieved. The greater part of mankind will not even make the effort to do so. With those, therefore, who have at heart the honor and usefulness of their profession, it has always been a cause of regret that so many obtain the Doctorate, "crammed," it may be, with knowledge purely professional, but without anything worthy of the name of scholarship, without any proper mental cultivation and discipline, and too often without the personal attributes—the mores benevoli—which should characterize the accomplished physician.
Most of the public writings of Dr. Wood are on matters connected with his profession—chemical reaction, the medicinal properties and therapeutical value of plants and inorganic substances, pharmaceutical formulæ, the laws of life, health, disease, and other exact and recondite subjects. The bias of his mathematical and logical mind was strongly toward scientific research. Originality and invention were not generally reckoned among his attributes. He was known to have "many a feat of high emprise and gentle deed essayed;" but few beyond his immediate circle suspected that he was also a votary of the Muses and an adventurer in the field of Fiction. The intellectual and the emotional are so different, and, in their highest development, so incompatible with each other, that excellence in both is rarely attainable by one person. Perhaps Dr. Wood, in his own sound judgment, was no exception to the remark, for the authorship of an epic poem entitled, The First and Last, printed in England and published anonymously in this country, was never acknowledged by him during his life, and has only been revealed since his death. Among his manuscripts are poetical translations from foreign languages, original poems, essays on medical and other subjects, and also an unfinished novel of several hundred pages. Whatever may be their merits or demerits, their existence manifests the versatility of his talents and the incessant activity of his pen, passing thus in perpetual exercise "from grave to gay, from lively to severe;" and they were probably written with the double motive of diverting his mind and testing his powers in new walks of composition.
The old usages regulating professional intercourse, digested into a Code of Ethics chiefly through the agency of Dr. Hays, whose death we have so recently been called upon to deplore, were long observed with great nicety and strictness. Dr. Wood—upright and honorable in all his ways—clung to them with great punctiliousness, as the expression of right feeling and conduct. In consultations of more than two persons, the members, beginning with the youngest, gave their opinions in succession; and the utmost formality was observed in communicating with the friends of the patient; which was only done through the medium of the attending physician, to whom they were always properly referred for all necessary information. The consultants entered and left the room in the order of invitation, the gentleman asking for the consultation taking precedence. The consideration shown by Dr. Wood and the older members of that school, to the feelings and judgment of junior and less experienced practitioners, is often recalled with grateful emotion.
Dr. Wood's practice—respectable in kind, and at one time considerable in extent—would not now be accounted large; nor, after the first few years, was an extensive business desirable; for the reason that its demands and distractions would have been incompatible with the proper prosecution of his studies. He preferred that it should be consulting rather than general, and his advice and assistance thus given—free from all assumption and parade—were always highly valued by those who sought them. Kind and considerate to the sick, be was a careful and judicious practitioner, punctual in appointments, cautious and accurate in diagnosis, full of resources in emergency, and sagacious, prompt, vigorous, and successful, in his treatment. Possessing thus all the qualifications of a skilful and accomplished physician, be was highly esteemed by his medical brethren, and was regarded by his patients, notwithstanding the reserve and formality of his manner, with the utmost confidence and respect.
His truthful and unselfish life was one prolonged and earnest protest against charlatanry and imposture of every kind; and he never hesitated to denounce them with indignant reprobation whatever guise they assumed, whether of individual fraud, or of organized deception. Medical quackery was of all others, from its reckless presumption and wickedness in trifling with the important concerns of life and health, the most abhorrent to his just and honorable nature. But he knew that as foul birds gather around their noisome food, so, where ignorance and folly abound, interested knavery and false pretension will always find greedy disciples and credulous dupes. He regarded with almost equal reprehension the employment by physicians of all illegitimate means of personal advancement, as derogatory to themselves, injurious to others, and degrading to the profession. It is difficult—though not, therefore, the less obligatory—to maintain a high standard of professional rectitude, when the public, the party most interested in upholding it, offers such inducement to its abandonment; for, unfortunately, it is as true now, as it was in the days of the Prophet, "That truth faileth, and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey."
Dr. Wood was the connecting link between the physicians of a former age, now known only by tradition, and those of the present generation. At the beginning of the current century, medical men still received their instruction chiefly in private offices, very few, comparatively, leaving the country to perfect their education abroad. Those who thus added to their qualifications what was beyond ordinary attainment at home, were regarded as the magnates of the profession, and as persons having authority. Rush, Physick, Wistar, Chapman, and others, loomed up to the common eye as almost something more than ordinary mortals. There was only one medical school in the city, and the professors—men certainly of exceptional ability, character, and acquirement—were regarded with the greatest respect and veneration by their pupils. They bore, relatively to other physicians and to the public, a higher position than those of the present day. Not that they were actually superior, either in talent or in learning. On the contrary, so great has been the advance of science since their time, that much of their highest attainment would now be deemed rudimentary. The Jefferson College did not come into existence till long afterwards, and the venerable and distinguished Professor of Surgery in that Institution, whose semi-centenary of active duty was lately celebrated by his brethren in a dinner commemorative of that event—himself, like Dr. Wood, primus inter pares—with all the resources of modern discovery at his command, holds really a more elevated rank than did the foremost of them; because competition is more active, and general acquirement greater and more common, than it was fifty or a hundred years ago. No age can boast a monopoly of intellect, though opportunity and circumstances may give to it greater prominence in some conjunctures than in others. There are those among us capable of equalling, and, with their superior advantages, of surpassing, their predecessors; as they in turn will be eclipsed by those who come after them. The inequality of original endowment is less than is usually supposed. Education and the diligent employment even of the single talent, make the general difference between man and man. Labor omnia vincit improbus. It is the one great faculty within the reach of common possession. It gives respectability to dulness; and often enables mediocrity to win distinction and attain positions which we are wont to deem the exclusive prerogatives of genius and ability.
It was a rule of conduct with Dr. Wood, as he stated with some emphasis to the writer a short time previous to his decease, not only to be always diligently employed, but to be always usefully so. He seems to have acted with an instinctive belief in the great truth, so repressive of human selfishness, that—
"Nothing in nature, much less conscious being,
Was e'er created solely for itself."
He loved work for its own sake, and for the satisfaction it afforded, but was ever magnanimously intent on making it subservient to higher and holier purposes than mere private interest or gratification. Those who have read the life of Prescott, by his friend Mr. Ticknor, will perhaps trace some likeness between him and Dr. Wood, at least in the trait just mentioned. There is no happiness, says that pleasing writer and charming man, so great as a permanent and lively concern in some mental occupation. "No other enjoyment can compensate or approach to the satisfaction and constantly increasing interest in some intellectual labor; the subject of meditation when I am out of my study, and of diligent stimulating activity within. To say nothing of the comfortable consciousness of directing my powers in some channel worthy of them, and of contributing something to the stock of useful knowledge in the world."
Much of the work of Dr. Wood required undisturbed leisure, and was therefore done at night, when he was less liable to interruption. His professional brethren, responding to nocturnal calls and passing his residence in their lonely walks, would often find his study alight far into the small hours of the early day. Much of his Treatise on the Practice of Medicine was written between ten o'clock in the evening and four in the morning. He toiled with as much zeal and assiduity as if his daily bread depended upon his daily labor. But happily his industry was a calm and steady flame, which, unlike the irrepressible energy of Godman, diffused its light without consuming the body that nourished it. It was a resource in all time of sorrow and of joy, and his especial solace after the loss of his wife. Every hour being thus consecrated by vigorous and healthful effort, the heart was cheated of its heaviness, and his solitude less oppressively felt. Employment was therefore to Dr. Wood, as to Mr. Prescott, the source of unmingled pleasure; and the direction which he wisely gave to it, rendered it as beneficial to others as it was agreeable and profitable to himself. It was a greater effort to leave off than to begin work; for, apart from temperament, he had every possible motive to exertion—duty, usefulness, praise, fame, and pecuniary remuneration. He is justly to be regarded as a public benefactor, and not the less so that his labors greatly improved his own estate. Both results were the legitimate consequence of ends judiciously chosen and faithfully pursued.
Dr. Wood was frequently selected to direct the proceedings of public medical assemblies, for which he was peculiarly fitted by his readiness, self-possession, and acquaintance with parliamentary rules; and was expected as a matter of course to bear the leading part in all the committees, or delegations, of which he was a member. His name and approval were always sure passports to general favor and confidence. He served at different times during his life as the presiding officer of several benevolent associations, among others of the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb; and at his decease was the President of the American Philosophical Society, and of the College of Physicians; offices which he filled with equal ability and acceptance for the long terms respectively of twenty and thirty-one years. As the head of the College he was punctual in his attendance, and his interest in its proceedings was not, as we all know, restricted to the mere perfunctory discharge of his official duties. His counsel, freely given, was always practical, sound, and prudent. When intricate or difficult questions came up for discussion, and confusion arose from the conflict of opinion, he would often leave the chair, and, taking his place on the floor, contribute by his cogent argument and lucid exposition to their disentanglement and solution.
His trusteeship of the University was marked by the interest and fidelity which were conspicuous in all his engagements. Cherishing a warm interest in its welfare generally, and particularly in that of the medical department, he would naturally be expected to take a principal share in the business of the trustees; and his judgment, to which in all matters great deference was deservedly accorded, would he regarded by his colleagues almost as law, in questions pertaining to his profession. There would thus be fostered a kind of paternal or personal rule over the branch of which he was so long the animating spirit, and still an honorary member, that might not always be compatible with a proper sense of independence and official equality. This autocracy, to which under the circumstances the inclination would be strong, must have required on his part constant watchfulness and self-control, and on that of the Faculty unbounded confidence in his generous and unselfish devotion.
Having purchased the ancestral mansion in his native State from a descendant of the original possessor, Dr. Wood was accustomed to spend in retirement there a part of the summer months of every year. He took great pleasure in agricultural pursuits; several fields were planted with peach and other fruit trees, and many improvements on the farm were made under his direction and superintendence. For the cultivation of cranberries as a business transaction, he had an especial predilection, and confidently expected rich returns from the large investments which he had made in that article. He bought waste and marshy lands from the neighboring farmers, of little or no value to them, and which they would gladly have sold at almost any price, voluntarily paying therefor a sum far exceeding what they would have dreamed of asking; and this he did because, expecting them to appreciate greatly in his hands, he would not that they should become dissatisfied with the sale, and regard him as one who had enriched himself at their expense. Many acres of laud thus purchased, were prepared with considerable cost, and planted with this beautiful berry. But the cranberry crop is an uncertain, and a somewhat capricious one. The plant requires for its profitable cultivation, not only a congenial soil and favorable meteorological conditions, but also a resident and experienced proprietor; and whatever the future may have in reserve, the hopes which he entertained have not yet been realized. Perhaps the cautionary adage, ne sutor ultra crepidam, is destined to receive still further confirmation by his example! In arboriculture also, he claimed to have made some discoveries, and he wrote several papers to prove that the non-productiveness of fruit trees was often owing to the lack of alkaline ingredients in the exhausted soil. He accordingly found that by digging trenches around the trees and applying wood-ashes liberally to their roots, the vigorous became more prolific, and those that were sickly, and apparently even dying, recovered and brought forth plentifully. Where ashes are not procurable, he suggests artificial compounds containing soda, etc. There can be no question of the utility of such fertilizers; they would be particularly useful in the sandy soil of New Jersey; but the idea is not original, though the application was doubtless more effectually made by him than it had hitherto been.
With a just sense of human responsibility, Dr. Wood thus endeavored to make his pecuniary resources, as well as his time and talents, subservient to the welfare of his fellow-men, and his prolific brain was always teeming with thoughts and expedients for that purpose. Hospitals he considered one of the most unexceptionable forms of public charity, because, while they afforded a desirable refuge for the sick, they made in various ways—the increase of medical knowledge, and the practical training of physicians and surgeons—the very afflictions of mankind promotive of the general good. He would gladly have built and endowed such an institution with his own private means, had they been, consistently with other claims, sufficient for that purpose; and he fondly hoped that he had made by his testamentary dispositions provision at least for large extension and accommodation.
It might be supposed that the mental constitution of Dr. Wood would have induced him to take delight in all the problems of abstract science. His reasoning faculty was strong, and he was in his appropriate element in whatever required minute investigation and research. Sound common sense was a distinguishing characteristic of his active and penetrative mind. In everything he was methodical, accurate, and exact. His memory was retentive, and he had a competent, if not a familiar, acquaintance with several modern languages, especially French and German. He preserved to the last his love of letters and his early taste for classical literature. He read much on general, as well as on professional, subjects, and duly appropriated what he read. On almost every topic—politics, religion, literature, science—he had well matured and decided opinions. His conversational power was considerable, and be produced with ready and confident expression the treasures of a thoughtful and cultivated mind. Honor, propriety, delicacy, manliness, sincerity, candor, and refinement, were prominent features of his moral nature. His purity was that of the snow or lily, and no one in his presence ever ventured to indulge in ribald jest or unseemly remark. He was a strictly virtuous and religious man, and while he sought after the things that are true, honest, lovely, and of good report among men, strove to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with his God. Temperate, sober, conscientious, and habitually watchful over himself, while temptation was excluded by constant occupation, he had done less perhaps than most others to stain the ermine of his soul, and blunt the edge of his moral perceptions. His life has thus left few traces to be erased.
Modest and unassuming in his general demeanor, he had yet a proper self-respect, and a due estimate of his own character and position. In travelling, both in this country and in Europe, he affected a good deal of state, sometimes even visiting his plantation four-in-hand. This he did from no feeling of self-importance or fondness for display, but because he considered himself the representative of a profession, the honor and respectability of which, so far as it was in his keeping, he guarded with as much vigilance and care as he did his own. He was free in an uncommon degree from all petty pride, vanity, pretension, and conceit. Nature had given him a sound constitution, and had endowed him with good abilities which he had diligently improved; gaining, like the faithful servant, ten other talents besides them. His superiority to other men consisted in his mental equipoise, clear perception, and steady application, rather than in any extraordinary, original powers. He attained eminence less by what had been clone for him, than by what he did for himself. He had a lofty ideal, with great perseverance and tenacity of purpose; and with laudable ambition resolved from the beginning to win a high place in the Temple of Fame. It was this noble aspiration which led him to "spurn delight and live laborious days." His great talent, the common property of all who excel, was his capacity and disposition for work. He had set before himself a definite purpose; and the satisfaction he derived from the pursuit, the opportunity which it afforded of benefiting others, the self-discipline which it involved, and the training and development of his own faculties, were, other considerations apart, abundant recompense for all his toil. In this he acted with the enlightened forecast that makes both worlds its own; for though Christianity has respect to the moral rather than to the intellectual, the sage declares, what reason also approves, that—
"The more our spirits are enlarged on earth,
The greater draught shall they receive of heaven."
One common fate awaits alike "those who creep and those who fly," but Dr. Wood nobly determined to be among the distinguished few whom posterity will cherish, rather than sink into oblivion with the unrecorded multitude; to make his path luminous with deeds of love to man; and to leave the world more blessed for his pilgrimage through it.—"Behold I have not labored for myself, but for all them that seek wisdom."
The toast of the day at the dinner given to Dr. Wood on his departure for Europe, describes him as "The model gentleman," and from this averment there will be no dissent. Courteous and urbane, his whole deportment was that of a high-toned and well-bred person. He was one of those exceptional characters of whom it is difficult to speak otherwise than in eulogy; for while his virtues were many and great, his blemishes were few and venial—consisting rather in reserve of manner and inflexibility of temperament than in any moral defect. Naturally disposed to be formal and ceremonious, he always bore himself with dignity and self-possession, and gave to casual acquaintance little invitation to familiarity. He moved on a higher plane than most others, and was perhaps too passionless, too distant, to be to ordinary people—who would hardly have failed to feel some constraint in his society—a very agreeable companion; though in the company of his friends, and in the unreserve of social intercourse few were more affable and pleasant.
But these defects, if they impaired his popularity, heightened the veneration with which he was regarded, and won the respect, esteem and confidence of all who approached him. He had no personal vices, and no habits incompatible with the utmost delicacy and refinement. He was a man of marked individuality, undemonstrative deportment, strong will, kindly affections, steady friendships, and firm but liberal mind. He was generous in his hospitality, and loved to surround himself with men of intelligence and learning. Sincere and guileless himself, he disliked all unreality and false sentiment in others. He was strict and unfaltering in his own devotion to duty, and required similar attention on the part of all those with whom he had anything to do. Harmoniously blended with his mental endowments were moral qualities of a very high order. In the battle of life he had, as has been stated, some exceptional advantages; but the result under any circumstances would have been nearly the same; for a resolute nature controls events, and makes for itself the opportunities which it does not find. His long and useful life is a memorable example of elevated views, unswerving integrity, and indefatigable industry, he did not possess—few were they who did—the winning affability, the conversational charm, the bonhommie of Jackson, nor the sparkling brilliancy and vivacity of Meigs, and others also may have excelled him in some particular traits; but in the rare combination of eminent service with all that exalts and dignifies humanity, it may be asserted, without disparagement to any, that he was "the noblest Roman of them all."
One of the resolutions adopted by the College speaks of Dr. Wood as possessing qualities which fitted him to be a leader of men, and this I apprehend is sufficiently apparent from what has already been said. It was from no personal magnetism such as so signally marked his friend Dr. Parrish, that he was so regarded; but by reason of the confidence universally reposed in his probity, wisdom and ability; and, underlying this, a belief also in his reserve force; for it was evident that in all the positions he had occupied, and in which he had always acquitted himself with distinction, he had never put forth his whole strength. The foremost place was of course always accorded to him by his medical brethren, but he would have gained priority in the forum, or in the field, or in any other walk of life that he had happened to choose. Many have been the physicians who, with fewer military qualifications than he possessed, have temporarily laid aside their profession, and, without loss of reputation, vindicated with the sword the cause of their country. It was his happier lot to excel in the arts of peace; to save, not to destroy; to succor suffering humanity; and, when he could neither prevent nor heal, to mitigate and comfort. Thousands have gone forth instructed by his living counsel to wage their holy warfare against disease and death; and far other thousands have drawn from his works the inspiration, and from his armory the weapons, which enabled them to achieve success in their arduous conflict. The victories of peace surpass those of war, in that, inflicting no wound and causing no sorrow, they are productive of unmingled good; and, judging by this standard, the College of Pharmacy in its obituary memorial rightly describes Dr. Wood as one of the great men of the world.
The Chair of Practice, which was the goal of his aspirations, he voluntarily resigned after a self-imposed restriction of ten years, in the full possession of his mental powers, and with all his capability for labor unimpaired. It was not, as we all know, to indulge in idle and inglorious ease. The field of knowledge is illimitable, and Dr. Wood was always actively in favor of progress and reform. He continued therefore to read and to write with the same diligence and energy as before. The successive editions of his works required constant supervision to keep pace with the wonderful accumulation of new facts, and with the constantly widening horizon of science, which "like the circle bounding earth and skies" is ever receding as it is approached. The institutions with which he was connected—the Philosophical Society, the College of Physicians—these and a variety of other matters employed his time and his pen, and furnished abundant occupation far into the evening of life; until indeed his waning health and physical disabilities warned him that the time of his departure was at hand.
His name recalls that of the great sage of Verulam, whose writings may have contributed to mould his intellect; but, unlike him, there was nothing venal, sordid, penurious, or mercenary, in the disposition of Dr. Wood. He was as kind and liberal to others as he was hard and exacting to himself. Recognizing his stewardship as that for which he was to give account, he endeavored faithfully to discharge its obligations. His private charities were large and gracefully bestowed. They were not it is true dispensed indiscriminately, for he justly thought that all should work who had the power to do so; but no really deserving person or object ever sought relief or assistance in vain. With a far-seeing philanthropy, he was munificent in some of his benefactions. The Faculty of Medicine auxiliary to the University, consisting of the five chairs of zoology and comparative anatomy, botany, mineralogy and geology, hygiene, and medical jurisprudence and toxicology, founded at his instance in 1865, was supported by him during his life, and permanently endowed at his death. A greater sum was devised to the University for the increase of hospital accommodation; and the Philosophical Society and the College of Physicians also shared largely in his beneficent dispositions.
Dr. Wood was by birth-right a Friend, but, marrying as it is termed "out of meeting," he was according to the rules of order formally disowned by the society, though he always maintained friendly relations with its members. He was cosmopolitan in his disposition, and his sectarian affinities were consequently never very strong. He often accompanied his wife, who was a Lutheran, to her place of worship; and his religious opinions were probably more in accordance with those of that denomination than of any other. His early association—par nobile fratrum—with the late Rev. Dr. Wm. II. Muhlenberg, who thus began his long and useful life, may have given to them an inclination in that direction. His views and his manners were of course more or less tinctured by his birth and connections; and when in company with Friends he would sometimes adopt their mode of speech, hut never in his intercourse with others. He always dressed in black, was neat in his attire, and except that he wore an artificial chevelure as a substitute for what nature—generous enough in her other gifts—somewhat niggardly denied, had like other gentlemen little peculiarity about him.
The death of Dr. Bache in 1864, and that of Mrs. Wood a few years later, weighed heavily upon his spirits. They were losses that could not be repaired; and life ever after had a more subdued and joyless expression, particularly during its last few years of infirmity and disease. His work was done, the light of his dwelling had been extinguished, the day was declining upon him, and the shadows of the evening were closing around his lonely path. He had transcended the ordinary period of mortality, and there was nothing left for him on earth but faint repetition, amid suffering and sorrow, of former pleasures and occupations; while he was lured onward and upward by the joys of Heaven and the hope of reunion with those whom he had loved and lost. He told his friend the president of the College of Pharmacy, who called upon him while he was revising the last splendid edition of the Dispensatory, that he desired to live to complete it, and would then be ready for his departure. It was the only thing personal to himself for which he had now to care, and he wished, for the benefit of those who were to come after him, to leave the work that he loved in a condition as perfect as possible.
He had suffered a good deal occasionally from pains and nervous disturbances which he attributed to atonic gout, having had while yet a young man one, and one only, open attack of that complaint. His health began more seriously to fail a few years before his death; probably from some renal affection. His power of locomotion gradually became so seriously impaired that he walked abroad no more; and, owing to the difficulty of getting into his carriage, rode out also less frequently, until at last he ceased to do so altogether. He had at this time no particular suffering, and attributed his disability to undue exertion in waiting upon Mrs. Wood during her protracted illness. A change gradually came over his physical condition. From being spare and lithe, he grew large and unwieldy, and, except in features and expression, quite unlike his former self. As disease progressed and symptoms grew worse, his countenance assumed a bloated and heavy appearance; and in conversation he would often fall into a momentary drowsiness. Still, though clouded and oppressed, his mental faculties were not very greatly impaired; and—with some defect of memory, of which there had long been occasional manifestations—they continued to be pretty good until within the last few months of his life.
In August, 1878, he visited once more, with some effort and inconvenience, his ancestral farm in New Jersey; and, the autumn of that year being unusually mild, prolonged his sojourn—lingering over the scenes of his youth and his beloved nurseries of tree and plant, the dulcia arva which he was never to see again—until late in December; when the increasing coldness of the weather compelled him to turn his face homeward, ere return in his weak and helpless condition should become difficult or impossible.
He came home—to die! No longer useful to the world, and a burden to himself, he awaited with Christian hope and unmurmuring submission the inevitable hour, daily growing more and more feeble, until death—long desired and immediately caused by suspension of renal action—came to his relief.
Dr. Wood died on Sunday, March 30, 1879, aged eighty-two years and seventeen days; and on the Wednesday after, his remains, followed by a long train of sorrowing friends, were silently interred at Laurel Hill, as the manner of the Friends is to bury. Not a word was uttered, not a note was heard, either at the house or at the grave. All instinctively felt that fulsome panegyric or trite remark would be alike out of place on such an occasion. They came "to bury Caesar, not to praise him." But though no religious rite was observed, no comforting service performed, those who were present felt none the less deeply that the object of their love and veneration—the Christian gentleman, the representative physician, the knight of stainless record—had been gathered to his fathers after a well-spent life ripe with years and honors, "in the confidence of a certain faith, in the comfort of a reasonable, religious and holy hope, in favor with God, and in perfect charity with the world."
He died amid universal sympathy and regret. The press everywhere gave expression to its sorrow; the institutions with which he was connected embalmed his services in loving obituaries; the medical journals poured forth their grateful tributes to one who was among the foremost of the illustrious men who have adorned the profession; all mourned his loss, all strove to do him honor, all united in offering the homage of their profound respect and admiration to the memory of a man of eminence, usefulness, and worth.
That build their monuments where virtue builds
Art thou; and gathered to thy rest, we deem
That thou wast lent us just to show how blest
And lovely is the life that lives for all."
In any mere outline like the present, it were hardly possible to do more than touch very lightly on some of the more salient points of a character that would require a volume for its due development. If the sketch which I have drawn, impart a just, though a faint and imperfect, impression of the original, it will not be deemed altogether unsuccessful. A skilful pencil would have given to the picture life and coloring, and have caused it to stand forth more vividly from the canvas; but—non cuivis homini contingit adire Corinthum. The portrait is a faithful transfer of my own conception, and may not, therefore, be entirely satisfactory to all. Craving the indulgence of the College for whatever of failure there may be in design and execution, I take my leave— not without misgiving, from conscious demerit, that the latter part of the award may be mine—in the language of the author of one of the Apocryphal Books:—And now if I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired; but if it slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto.
Resolutions of the College of Physicians.
At a special meeting of the College of Physicians, held Tuesday, April 1, 1879, on the occasion of the decease of the late President, Dr. George B. Wood, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted.
Resolved, That in his death they mourn, not only their own loss, but that also of the community in which he lived, the country to which he belonged, and the profession which he adorned; for his fame, his virtues, and his services, coextensive with all, were the common property of all, and shed a lustre on the American name and character.
Resolved, That by this sad event they lose a Christian gentleman, refined, courteous, and sincere, kind, benevolent, and considerate; one who, though not unconscious of high achievement, was yet modest and unassuming in disposition and demeanor; of elevated walk and noble aspirations; and upright, honorable, and consistent in all his conduct during a long life closed amid universal sympathy and regret.
Resolved, That assuming from the beginning of his career a prominent rank as a teacher of medicine, he greatly improved upon the existing methods of instruction, by introducing into the tuition, when natural objects were unattainable, the system of pictorial representation; and by his exactness, order, and exhaustive treatment of every topic, fixed the attention and enlightened the minds of the students; while by his pure moral principle, exemplary life, and blameless deportment, he embued them with his own deep sense of the dignity of man, and of the honor, usefulness, and responsibility of their profession.
Resolved, That the literary world is deprived by his death of a scholar of rare and varied attainments; well-read, not only in medicine and its collateral sciences, but also thoroughly versed in many departments of polite and general literature, to several of which he made interesting and valuable contributions.
Resolved, That he was not only an example of high moral worth and refinement, but also of patient, persevering, and well-directed industry. His mental characteristic was not genius, properly so called; but he possessed capacity of a high order, and had a methodical and mathematical mind, a striking feature of which was its strong, masculine common sense. With this was united the greatest, perhaps, of all talents, steady and unwearied application. It is, no doubt, true that "the man is yet unborn who duly weighs an hour," but Dr. Wood made a much nearer approach to that estimate than is done by most others; diligently improving the fleeting moment, "hiving wisdom with each studious year," and always seeking to benefit mankind by lessening the sum of human suffering and increasing the resources and extent of professional skill. It was a rule of his life not only to be always busily employed, but to be always usefully so.
Resolved, That these and many other attributes of person, heart, and mind, made him emphatically a representative man; one to whom all willingly accorded primacy of merit and position, with fullest confidence in his rectitude, wisdom, knowledge, zeal, and ability. He was an able, ready, dignified and impartial presiding officer, both of the College and of other bodies; a skilful and sagacious physician; an eloquent and instructive lecturer; an eminent author, whose works have contributed greatly to the advancement of medical science; a munificent patron of the profession which he loved; a wise and prudent counsellor; and, withal, a warm and unwavering friend. Seldom has there been found in one person such an assemblage of qualities, fitting their possessor to be a leader of men, and causing him to be regarded ante alios omnes praestantissimus.
Resolved, That a Fellow be appointed by the Chair to prepare for the College a memoir of Dr. Wood; and that the Fellows furthermore manifest their respect by attending in a body the funeral of their late honored and lamented President.
Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the family of Dr. Wood, and published also in the medical journals and daily papers of the city.
Dinner to Dr. Wood
The account of the dinner to which allusion is made in the Memoir, is probably from the pen of the late Dr. John Bell, and, with the "Ode," is here reproduced, as being further illustrative of the estimation in which its subject was held by those who knew him best and loved him most; and also as affording an opportunity for a passing tribute to the memory of a learned and amiable man, who was an associate of Dr. Wood in the editorship of the Medical and Surgical Journal, and also an eminent writer, to whom the profession is much indebted for the diffusion of a sound and healthful literature.
"Dinner to George B. Wood, M.D.
"This eminent physician having recently resigned his Chair in the University of Pennsylvania, and being about to embark on an extended tour in Europe, a public dinner was tendered to him on behalf of the medical profession of Philadelphia. Dr. R. La Roche presided, assisted by Drs. George W. Norris and W. S. W. Ruschenberger as vice-presidents, and an additional committee of arrangements consisting of Drs. Coates, Littell, Stewardson, West, Rodman, Gerhard. Peace, Biddle, and Wister. An eloquent and feeling review of Dr. Wood's professional career was presented by the president of the day. In offering the regular toast on the occasion, his claims to distinction as a writer, lecturer, and practitioner, were happily sketched, and the affectionate attachment and veneration with which he is regarded by his professional brethren in Philadelphia, were portrayed in just and feeling language. The toast of the evening was the following:—
"'Our guest, Dr. George B. Wood—the distinguished physician, the virtuous citizen, the model gentleman, the tried friend.'
"Numerous volunteer toasts were offered, and many good speeches were made by Drs. Dickson, Bache, Rogers, Jewell, and others. One of the pleasantest features of the evening was the distribution of a spirited ode written for the occasion by Dr. Littell, and sung with much effect by the company. The entertainment was altogether a most agreeable and elegant tribute, and a fitting closing scene to the professional career of one who has done so much to dignify and illustrate American medicine."—North American Gazette, May, 1860.
Tune—Auld Lang Syne.
Justum et tenacem virum.
We gather round the festal board
A parting friend to greet,
And render to his high desert
A tribute that is meet.
For he by years of earnest toil
Has won himself a name
Which long shall be with pride enrolled
Upon the scroll of Fame.
No doubtful means, no devious paths
E'er lured his feet aside;
But honor, with unfaltering step,
Has ever been his guide.
The cynic, who his lantern bore
Each passing face to scan,
Had found, what he so vainly sought,
In him an honest man.
With open hand and generous aim—
In Truth's own arms arrayed—
He many a feat of high emprise
And gentle deed essayed.
And now he from the field retires—
His shield without a stain—
And shall we from such knightly worth
Our health of hearts refrain?
Then, while ye fill your glasses fair,
Let this your greeting be—
[Standing.]That He who grasps the viewless wind
May guard him on the sea;
Protect him in his pilgrimage;
And, when his wanderings cease,
Restore him to his home again
In happiness and peace.
And when the inevitable hour
Shall bring his long repose,
May visions of that better land
A brighter scene disclose.
Meanwhile, with fond, admiring hearts
We gather round him here,
With song, and wine, and social mirth,
His parting steps to cheer.
- The youngest, Horatio C. Wood, died during the month just passed.
- Dr. John Marshall Paul is probably the only survivor of the first class; and—the writer excepted—Drs. Jaudon, Morris, and Ashmead, of the next succeeding.
- Dr. Joseph Pancoast.
- The city had then—1820–1824—hardly one-fourth of its present population and extent. Physicians rode in two-wheeled chairs or gigs—that of Dr. Parrish was purposely a very hard one—and often without attendant. Dr. Physick alone was driven in a carriage and pair.
- Immodicis brevis est aetas et rara senectus.
- Medical Times.
- Their several contributions were, for the most part, signed by their initials.
- Dr. A. Douglass Hall.
- Transactions of the American Medical Association, 1866.
- Dr. Gerhard.
- I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee.—Job, xlii. 5.
- Dr. Ruschenberger, Am. Journ. Med. Sciences, October, 1879.
- Joseph P. Remington.
- More modoque Caroli Quinti.
- Wednesday, April 2.
- The estate amounted altogether to about $200,000. Mr. Hahn died May 10, 1835. at the comparatively early age of 55 years. Mrs. Wood was born on the 16th of May, 1805, and died on the 4th of March, 1865.
- Haec studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solatium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.—Cicero.
- It was a favorite saying of Sir Walter Scott—of the truth of which he was himself a memorable example—that the wisest of mankind often reserve the average stock of folly to be all expended upon some flagrant absurdity.
- Of his three most important publications—the Dispensatory, the Theory and Practice of Medicine, and the Treatise on Therapeutics—the sales respectively, have been 120,000, 36,000, and 12,000 copies. The aggregate of his published writings exceeds 7000 8vo. pages.
- Hé bien! qu'est ce que cela, soixante ans? C'est la fleur de l'age, cela.—Molière.
- Dillwyn Parrish.
- II. Maccabees. xv. 38.