« PreviousContinue »
first learned the importance of keeping written notes of cases, a practice which I continued ever afterwards. These notes I have carefully preserved. They now form many thick quarto volumes of manuscripts, to which (and even to the earliest of them) I not unfrequently refer with advantage, even at this advanced period of my professional life. My custom has been to take short notes at the bedside of the patients in the day, and to expand them with the aid of my memory in the evening. Thus they became an exercise of the memory, and, instead of weakening, tended to strengthen that important faculty. After an experience of nearly fifty years, I am satisfied that no one can be well acquainted with his profession, either as a physician or surgeon, who has not studied it in that manner. It is only by these means that a case can be thoroughly and scientifically investigated, or that that minute and accurate knowledge of it can be obtained which is necessary to a right diagnosis. For one who is to occupy hereafter the situation of a consulting practitioner, to whom younger or less experienced
persons will apply for assistance in cases of doubt or difficulty, it answers another purpose, as it enables him to express himself with greater facility, and especially to give written opinions with a degree of clearness and precision with which he could not give them otherwise. I have always, during the many years in which I was a teacher and a hospital surgeon, endeavoured to impress on the minds of my pupils the necessity of making and preserving such written records of their experience; and I have often been pained to observe how small a proportion have followed the advice which I gave them. Some of them find a difficulty in doing so from the want of original education, and really not having a sufficient knowledge of the use of language even for this simple kind of literary composition; others neglect it from mere idleness; while the great mass of students, whose period of professional education is limited, are so occupied by the great (and, as I think, unnecessary) number of lectures which they are now required to attend, and in running from one class-room to another, that they really have
neither the leisure nor the physical powers necessary for pursuing, in any efficient manner, the practical study of disease in the wards of the hospital.
Although I had now become much interested in my hospital studies, I passed a great part of my time during the following winter (18041805) in the Anatomical School, where, in consequence of Mr. Thomas having become still more occupied with his private practice, I had almost the exclusive superintendence of the dissecting-room, under Mr. Wilson, who generally appeared there for a very short time in the forenoon. Mr. Home had made an arrangement by which I was to become house surgeon of the hospital in the following Midsummer, this being then, as it now is, an office held during twelve months by one of the better-informed students. At the end of the anatomical session, however, a circumstance occurred, the effect of which was to disturb this arrangement. Mr. Thomas determined to retire from his office as a teacher of anatomy, and Mr. Wilson proposed to me that I should succeed him as the demonstrator in the School
[A portion of the MS. is wanting..] *
.... they agreed that I should supply his place, with the understanding that I should be at liberty to vacate the office in the latter part of the autumn, as soon as I found that my duty as a teacher of anatomy rendered it necessary for me to do so. This was a very fortunate circumstance, as my residence in the hospital, even for six months, enabled me to obtain a great deal of knowledge as to the details of surgical practice which it would have cost me a great deal of trouble to obtain otherwise.
I must not pass over this part of my life without noticing a very great advantage which I possessed during the period of my professional education, compared with what I should have had if I had lived in these later times. No rules were then laid down as to the number of lectures which I was required to attend. The examination at the College of Surgeons was sufficiently good, as far as it went, but it was of a very simple and elementary kind. It was no more than a diligent student might pass without any special preparation for the purpose. The consequence was, that I was enabled to take my education very much upon myself; and I soon found that I could nohow obtain so much useful knowledge as by a diligent attendance on the dissecting-room, and on the wards of the hospital. I cannot say that I neglected the use of books, but it was more in the way of reference and illustration than by a regular course of reading. I attended lectures on Anatomy, and, during one season, Dr. Crichton's lectures on the Practice of Physic, Materia Medica, and Chemistry, the latter especially with some advantage. During my first season in London, I had entered as a pupil to Mr. Abernethy's lectures on Surgery; but having at that time seen no surgical practice, I did not understand them, and soon ceased to attend them. I afterwards
* The omission probably consisted of a paragraph stating that Mr. Jeffreys was about to vacate the office of housesurgeon, and that Sir B. Brodie was to be appointed in his place—which was the case. He held that office from May to November, 1805, when he resigned it to undertake the duties of teacher of anatomy in the Windmill Street School,— Note from the complete edition of Sir B. Brodie's Works, edited by Mr. C. Hawkins.