From that excellent work, "Scenes in the Practice of a New York Surgeon,"
by Dr. E. H. Dixon, I copy, with some abbreviation, the following, which
the author terms "Leaves from the Log-book of an Unfledged Æsculapian:"--
"In the year 1830 I was sent forth, like our long-suffering and
much-abused prototype,--old father Noah's crow,--from the ark of safety,
the old St. Duane Street College. I pitched my tent, and set up my trap,
in what was then a fashionable up-town street.
"I hired a modest house, and had my arm-chair, my midnight couch, and my
few books in my melancholy little office, and I confess that I now and
then left an amputating-knife, or some other awful-looking instrument, on
the table, to impress the poor women who came to me for advice.
"These little matters, although the 'Academy' would frown upon them, I
considered quite pardonable. God knows I would willingly have adopted
their most approved method of a splendid residence, and silver-mounted
harnesses for my bays; but they were yet in dream-land, eating moonbeams,
and my vicious little nag had nearly all this time to eat his oats and
nurse his bad temper in his comfortable stable.
"In this miserable way I read over my old books, watered my
rose-bushes,--sometimes with tears,--drank my tea and ate my toast, and
occasionally listened to the complaint of an unfortunate Irish damsel,
with her customary account of 'a pain in me side an' a flutterin' about me
heart.' At rare intervals I ministered to some of her countrywomen in
their fulfilment of the great command when placed in the Garden of Eden.
(What a dirty place it would have been if inhabited by Irish women!)
"And thus I spent nearly a year without a single call to any person of
character. I think I should have left in despair if it had not been for a
lovely creature up the street. She was the wife of a distinguished fish
merchant down town.
"This lovely woman was Mrs. Mackerel. I will explain how it was that I
was summoned to her ladyship's mansion, and had the pleasure of seeing Mr.
Mackerel, of the firm of 'Mackerel, Haddock & Dun.'
"One bitter cold night in January, just as I was about to retire, a
furious ring at the front door made me feel particularly amiable! A
servant announced the sudden and alarming illness of Mrs. Mackerel, with
the assurance that as the family physician was out of town, Mrs. M. would
be obliged if I would immediately visit her. Accordingly, I soon found
myself in the presence of the accomplished lady, having--I confess
it--given my hair an extra touch as I entered the beautiful chamber.
"Mrs. Mackerel was not a bad-tempered lady; she was only a beautiful
fool--nothing less, dear reader, or she would have never married old
Mackerel. Her charms would have procured her a husband of at least a
tolerable exterior. His physiognomy presented a remarkable resemblance to
his namesake. Besides, he chewed and smoked, and the combination of the
aroma of his favorite luxuries with the articles of his merchandise must
have been most uncongenial to the curve of such lips and such nostrils as
"I was received by Mr. Mackerel in a manner that increased observation has
since taught me is sufficiently indicative of the hysterical _finale_ of a
domestic dialogue. He was not so obtuse as to let me directly into the
true cause of his wife's nervous attack and his own collectedness, and yet
he felt it would not answer to make too light of it before me.
"Mr. and Mrs. M. had just returned from a party. (The party must be the
'scape-goat'!) He assured me that as the lady was in the full enjoyment of
health previously, he felt obliged to attribute the cause of her attack
and speechless condition--for she spoke not one word, or gave a sign--to
the dancing, heated room, and the supper.
"I was fully prepared to realize the powers of ice-cream, cake, oranges,
chicken-salad, oysters, sugar-plums, punch, and champagne, and at one
moment almost concluded to despatch a servant for an emetic of ipecac;
but--I prudently avoided it. Aside from the improbability of excess of
appetite through the portal of such a mouth, the lovely color of the
cheeks and lips utterly forbade a conclusion favorable to Mr. Mackerel's
solution of the cause.
"I placed my finger on her delicate and jewelled wrist. All seemed calm as
the thought of an angel's breast!
"I was nonplussed. 'Could any tumultuous passion ever have agitated that
bosom so gently swelling in repose?'
"Mackerel's curious questions touching my sagacity as to his wife's
condition received about as satisfactory a solution as do most questions
put to me on the cause and treatment of diseases; and having tolerably
befogged him with opinions, and lulled his suspicions to rest, by the
apparent innocent answers to his leading questions, he arrived at the
conclusion most desirable to him, viz., that I was a fool--a conviction
quite necessary in some nervous cases....
"So pleased was Mr. M. with the soothing influences of my brief visit that
he very courteously waited on me to the outside door, instead of ordering
a servant to show me out, and astonished me by desiring me to call on the
patient again in the morning.
"After my usual diversion of investigating 'a pain an' a flutterin' about
me heart,' and an 'O, I'm kilt intirely,' I visited Mrs. Mackerel, and had
the extreme pleasure of finding her quite composed, and in conversation
with her fashionable friend, Mrs. Tiptape. The latter was the daughter of
a 'retired milliner,' and had formed a desirable union with Tiptape, the
eminent dry goods merchant. Fortunately--for she was a woman of
influence--I passed the critical examination of Mrs. T. unscathed by her
sharp black eyes, and, as the sequel will show, was considered by her
'quite an agreeable person.'
"Poor Mrs. Mackerel, notwithstanding her efforts to conceal it, had
evidently received some cruel and stunning communication from her husband
on the night of my summons; her agitated circulation during the fortnight
of my attendance showed to my conviction some persistent and secret cause
for her nervousness.
"One evening she assured me that she felt she should now rapidly recover,
as Mr. Mackerel had concluded to take her to Saratoga. I, of course,
acquiesced in the decision, though my previous opinion had not been asked.
I took a final leave of the lovely woman, and the poor child soon departed
"The ensuing week there was a sheriff's sale at Mackerel's residence. The
day following the Mackerels' departure, Mr. Tiptape did me the honor to
inquire after the health of my family; and a week later, Master Tiptape
having fallen and bumped his dear nose on the floor, I had the felicity of
soothing the anguish of his mamma in her magnificent _boudoir_, and
holding to her lovely nose the smelling salts, and offering such
consolation as her trying position required!"
Thus was commenced the practice of one of the first physicians of New
York. The facts are avouched for. The names, of course, are manufactured,
to cover the occupation of the parties. The doctor still lives, in the
enjoyment of a lucrative and respectable practice, and the love and
confidence of his numerous friends and patrons.
Quite as ludicrous scenes could be revealed by most physicians, if they
would but take the time to think over their earlier efforts, and the
various circumstances which were mainly instrumental in getting them into
a respectable practice.
From "The Funny Side of Physic" by A. D. Crabtre