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INTRO DUCTORY ADDRESS
DELIVERED AT THE OPENING
CAL CUTTA MEDICAL COLLEGE, - MARCH 17, 1836,
M. J. BRAMLEY, ESQ., PRINCIPAL OF THE COLLEGE,
My Lord, AND GentleMeN,-I cannot look around me on this occasion in the presence of so large and respectable an audience, without feeling that I have a task to perform to which I am unequal. I would fain express the mingled emotions of diffidence and exultation with which I reflect upon my present position—upon what has already been done—and upon what, if life and health be spared me, I yet hope to see accomplished. But to express exactly what I feel, would baffle my past endeavours even were I blest with a command of language to which I make no pretension.
I am fortunately, however, saved from the necessity of exciting in other breasts an interest in the cause in which I am embarked, by a minute explanation of my own feelings, because they are not peculiar or unshared, for the object now in view is not a private or personal, but a public one. Even those who are not directly concerned in this institution for the instruction of our native fellow subjects in a most useful and important department of the knowledge of the West, will look with nearly the same emotion on these newly erected walls, when they consider the noble purpose for which they are designed. When, therefore, I congratulate myself upon the completion of this building, and behold so many native students on those benches which I trust will be soon and long familiar to a still greater number of their youthful fellow contrymen, the consciousness that the exultation which I am unable to express is shared and understood by those around me, lessens my embarrassment, and makes me feel more easy and confident than I should have done had my cause been a private one and my enthusiasm unparticipated.
In the very nature of things, an introductory lecture like this cannot enter into details. All that it should or can do, is to touch lightly on the borders of matters possessed of a general and comprehensive interest. Even to do to these full justice requires more time than can, on such an occasion, be conveniently commanded,
It appears to me that the great importance of the healing art, naturally, first suggests itself to the mind.
Where, in the whole round of human pursuits, is there a nobler one than that which within its comprehensive circle embraces the alleviation of suffering, the cure of disease, B
and the prolonging of life 2 The good practitioner may be regarded as the cheerer of the dejected, the friend of the wretched, and the sublunary hope of the despairing. Is it surprising then that in all ages the individual should be looked up to with respect and admiration, who, through close and attentive observation, and careful study of his profession, restores hope to the bosoms of a weeping and despairing family, rescues some beloved object from the very jaws of death, or where hopes of life can no longer be given, soothes the dying agony, and reconciles the relatives to the event, by showing on pathological grounds how it ought to be hailed as a merciful relief, rather than mourned for as a bereavement
No wonder, then, that in every part of the world the healing art should, in the legends of mythology and the traditions of poetry, have been represented as of divine origin. You, my young friends, have amongst yourselves, I doubt not, similar legends that connect medicine with the gods, and some of you may have heard elsewhere, that the Greeks and Romans viewed it in a similar light. One of the most imaginative and elegant of the Latin poets (Ovid) puts these words in the mouth of Apollo—which passage you will understand better as rendered into English by Dryden.
“Medicine is mine, what herbes and simples grow
But the origin of our art has a much remoter source of antiquity than can be traced for it in the annals of either Greece or Rome. Our profession, indeed, may be said to be coeval with human suffering, and to have originated from the date of the appearance of disease in the world.
The first approach to a certainty that we have in the history of medicine, refers to Esculapius and his sons. For many generations the descendants of the God of Physic (for such was Esculapius considered) under the title of Asclepaiae, might be called an hereditary College of Physicians. In many respects these Asclepaidae resembled your own Vidyas. They were, so to speak, the medical caste of Greece.
As respects more particularly the purport of our present inquiry, the interval between the death of Esculapius and the rise of Hippocrates may be considered a blank in medical history. This venerable person, who has justly been called the Father of Physic, was born about 460 years before the Christian era, and acquired a reputation, which, even at the present day, commands our admiration and respect because it was founded on philosophical observation, associated with the highest character for worth, integrity, and disinterestedness. He was the first to produce a great revolution in medicine by altogether detaching it from theology, emancipating it from the trammels of priest-craft and superstition, and elevating it to the dignity of a science. He combatted the mischievous doctrine of disease having a celestial origin, and demonstrated that every ailment acknowledged its own natural and obvious cause; and ascribed all the phenomena of life and health to the operations of nature as a fundamental principle.
For the next most complete and masterly compendium of the medical and surgical knowledge of ancient times, we are to look to Celsus, who lived in the first century of the Christian era. There can be no doubt from his writings that he practised human dissection; for his account of the bones, and his description of injuries of the head, are singularly accurate. He also describes certain operations which are practised with very little modification, by surgeons of the present day. Omitting other names, the mention of which would take up too much of our present time, I pass on to Galen, who lived about 150 years after Celsus. He was a man of great genius and learning, and even now, it can scarcely be denied, that his writings exert a certain influence with the well informed medical inquirer. Having perfected himself in anatomy, he commenced practice in Rome and entered on the delivery of a course of public lectures on anatomy. He never accepted any thing on credit, but searched and ascertained for himself, and throughout his life continued a keen anatomist.
But notwithstanding the high degree of improvement to which our science was brought by these renowned men, its progress towards its present comparative state of perfection was slow. This, in a great measure, is ascribable to the universal disposition to theories. Hence sprung up numerous useless systems and hypothesis, most of which have sunk into well deserved oblivion. Anatomy was impeded in its progress by this disposition and prostration of the mind to the authority of ancient names. Accordingly it was handed down from age to age in the condition that Galen left it, till the illustrious Vesalius arose in the 16th century, who, with his knife in his hand, owned no authority but nature, and appealed from the dogmatism of books to the objects demonstrated in dissection.
We are fortunately placed in such favourable circumstances that much which was hidden from the ancients and our fore-fathers, lies revealed to us. They can communicate nothing to us, that we do not know much better than they did, for they had not the same opportunities of acquiring knowledge. But, nevertheless, my young friends, the example of the ancient fathers of physic, ought to come peculiarly home to you, since, like you, they were surrounded by ignorance and superstition, but yet they nobly rose above both. They found medicine encumbered with superstitious observances, tedious frivolities, and mischievous anomalies. From these they boldly dissevered it, and it became a majestic science.
In the course of your professional studies, however, I would most earnestly impress on on your minds, the fact, that a due and profitable knowledge of this science, or rather circle round of sciences, is not to be acquired by fits and starts—or by listening to lectures—or by poring over books. No ! You must reflect for yourselves. You must ask the question of yourselves “what are we expected to accomplish '" Here is the answer. Your great object is to acquire a sufficient stock of knowledge, to make it safe that you should be allowed to practise in the great school of experience; you must retain facts in our remembrance, and examine for yourselves, and deduct general principles of action from them ; you must take nothing on mere hearsay and assertion ; you must strenuously avail yourselves of the opportunities you now have of laying up treasures of knowledge, since you may not perhaps enjoy such again, and even if you should, you cannot, as life advances, spare the time for the consideration of them. Bear in the mind that ours is not a fixed, but a progressive science. The axiom of yesterday may become the fallacy of the morrow; so, that he who would distinguish himself in the annals of our profession, must be a student to the last. But let not this damp your ardour; Nature, be assured, is inexhaustible in her resources, and in her works and modifications, there is always to be found something new and something striking.
I apprehend that you, my young friends, cannot have failed to observe the times
in which we live—you cannot but have remarked and shared the excitement of that zeal
and eagerness with which knowledge is sought for by the rising generation of your coun
trymen. I will venture to assert that the whole aspect and temper of Native Society
(at least in Calcutta) is changing; and may we not say it is changing for the best ? If the truth of this is admitted, I say to you, let it be your constant endeavour not to fati back in the race of improvement. Let not the students of this College, now or hereafter, be pointed to, as second to those of the Hindoo College—or any other institution among us. But I have no fears on that head. No ; I am confident from what I have witnessed and experienced of your conduct hitherto (and I say it with mingled pride and satisfaction) that you will continue to evince a constant spirit of generous emulation. In becoming students of medicine, always remember, that you have placed yourselves in a situation of great responsibility ; but rely on it, your respectability will encrease with the augmentation of your respect for yourselves, and in proportion to your vigorous application to study.
You are already aware that the very basis of all medical knowledge is anatomy. This, upwards of 2000 years ago, Hypocrates taught, and we confirm the saying. To have a thorough knowledge of anatomy the professional man should know every process of a bone, muscle, ligament, artery, vein, tissue, nerve, and viscus, as familiarly as does the sailor every rope, spar, and beam of a ship. To a mind that rests not contented with the confines of the visible around him, but soars to trace up second causes to the great invisible, the single branch of anatomy reveals to us results, which set all approach from human art and in genuity at defiance. Independent of the utility of this branch, the wonders of organization cannot fail, to afford the highest gratification to the mind. The most splendid exertions of human art fade into insignificance when contrasted with the wonderful fabric of the human frame, where the instruments are not only perfect in their kind, but endowed with a self-acting, self-controuling and self-sustaining power. When we remove layer after layer of this extraordinary structure, when we develope tissue after tissue;—when we trace canal after canal, and vessel after vessel, and find a mysterious vitality in each and all, down to the hard invisible bones, that are, as it were, the rafters —the very walls of this palace of the soul; the senses and life ; of the will and the appetites. When we trace the growth of the most solid of them even to a period when they were but central points of animal jelly, and follow their progress till they are formed and fashioned into maturity;-when we see system within system, and organ within organ, differing from one another, and yet harmoniously sympathizing and working together, all tending to the perfection of one function, say digestion. When we behold all this, well may we exclaim with the great English dramatist,
“What a piece of work is Man"
In the mere machinery of the human body we find ample demonstration of superhuman wisdom, contrivance and power. We may say with truth that a steam engine is a stupendous product of human ingenuity | What is it, however, compared with the mechanism and agency of the human body ? In it we find self-acting, self-controuling, and self-sustaining powers, that salter not, that fail not, for years and years together. Let me ask what movements of wheels—of springs and levers, or any work of art, can equal those of that most astonishing of all hydraulic reservoirs, the heart—which fills and empties itself sixty times a minute for three score years and ten without pausing for a moment ' What human contrivance could bear such wear and tear as this Neither springs of steel, nor plates of brass, nor bolts of adamant, could stand the attrition of such work : In all this too, there is apparently a law, which seems independent of the common laws of nature. Attempts have been made, indeed, to explain organization and life, on mechanical, chemical, and hydraulic principles, but such attempts are ridiculous, for although it be true that we find the proof of a profound combination of such principles in the human structure, yet is there that something, which for want of a better name we call the vital principle, which compels and bends all these to its own purposes, until the appointed
period when it must yield, and man is then delivered over to the common forces of nature, and the great chemist DeATH, dissolves him in the laboratory of the gravel
To practise medicine alone, to say nothing of surgery, without a knowledge of anatomy, would be as if a mariner were to attempt to circumnavigate the world without either chart or compass. Would you not think it strange, were my watch to get out of order, if I handed it for the purpose of being mended to a bricklayer? This absurdity, however, you will constantly see analogically exemplified around you, for the love of quackery seems inherent to man everywhere, and many foolishly entrust their lives to the grossest and most ignorant pretenders, who systematically turn away from the regularly educated practitioner.
I shall not dwell on the present occasion, on the routine of professional study, which you will be required to undergo in this College, further than observe, that after having acquired the necessary knowledge of the structure and the uses of each part, and the dependence of each on all, or in other words, the elements of anatomy and physiology; your attention will be directed to materia medica and pharmacy, or a knowledge of the remedies to be administered and applied in disease and their mode of preparation. Previous, however, to entering on this branch you must study the independent and relative powers, effects and qualities of certain things on each other, or the principles and science of chemical combination.
This science offers to our use the noblest, and most mysterious agents by which we are surrounded. By it we are enabled to separate the constituents of compound bodies, and recombine them in new forms; and to acquire such a knowledge of their peculiar properties as to be capable of foretelling the result of their combination in various proportions. In my friend and colleague, Dr. O'Shaughnessy, you will find an able and accomplished guide to this most delightful, and most extensively useful field of enquiry; of the endless varieties and results of which you can, at present scarcely from a notion. You will next, under my own, and my talented friend Dr. Goodeve's instruction, enter upon the study of pathology and the practise of physic, which beginning in the dissecting room can only be completed at the bed-side of the sick.
Even this brief abstract of what remains for us to do, I doubt not, will impress upon you the necessity of each performing his part assiduously and unweariedly. Masters and pupils must each and all bring zeal, energy, patience, and perseverance to our mutual task. You also (visitors) as representing that public of which you are a portion, must perform your duty, for the surest incentive to proper exertion in every department always is, that the public take a lively interest in what is doing. And here I would fain address myself most particularly to well-informed, wealthy, and influential members of the native community. I would entreat of them to consider what lamentable consequences arise to thousands of their poor countrymen from the want of proper medical aid altogether, or the irreparable mischiefs to health and life that are yearly, daily, I may say hourly, committed by unprincipled quacks.
But this is not confined to the poor. It affects all classes more or less. It is no exaggeration to say that during the prevalence of epidemic diseases, thousands are swept off for want of the proper appliances and means. There is for instance the small-pox ; instead of endeavouring to eradicate it entirely, and substituting for it a mild and beneficent antidote,it is kept up by the force of prejudice and ignorance. In many acute diseases, the routine of practice usually followed, is almost sure to end in the disorganization of a part, or the destruction of life; the number of people who lose their eyesight in India