Made the acquaintance of the celebrated Dr. P——, today, at Madame C——’s. He is a very interesting old man; and, though infirm in body, his mind is as fresh, and his vivacity as unimpaired, as if he had not numbered forty instead of eighty summers.
I am partial to the society of clever medical men, for the opportunities afforded them of becoming acquainted with human nature, by studying it under all the phases of illness, convalescence, and on the bed of death, when the real character is exposed unveiled from the motives that so often shadow, if not give it a false character, in the days of health, render their conversation very interesting.
I have observed, too, that the knowledge of human nature thus attained neither hardens the heart nor blunts the sensibility, for some of the most kind-natured men I ever knew were also the most skilful physicians and admirable, surgeons. Among these is Mr. Guthrie, of London, whose rare dexterity in his art I have often thought may be in a great degree attributed to this very kindness of nature, which has induced him to bestow a more than usual attention to acquiring it, in order to abridge the sufferings of his patients.
In operations on the eye, in which he has gained such a justly merited celebrity, I have been told by those from whose eyes he had removed cataracts, that his precision and celerity are so extraordinary as to appear to them little short of miraculous.
Talking on this subject with Dr. P—— to-day, he observed, that he considered strength of mind and kindness of heart indispensable requisites to form a surgeon; and that it was a mistake to suppose that these qualities had any other than a salutary influence over the nerves of a surgeon.
“It braces them, Madame,” said he; “for pity towards the patient induces an operator to perform his difficult task con amore, in order to relieve him.”
Dr. P—— has nearly lost his voice, and speaks in a low but distinct whisper. Tall and thin, with a face pale as marble, but full of intelligence, he looks, when bending on his gold-headed cane, the very beau ideal of a physician of la Vieille Cour, and he still retains the costume of that epoch. His manner, half jest and half earnest, gives an idea of what that of the Philosopher of Ferney must have been when in a good humour, and adds piquancy to his narrations. Madame C——, who is an especial favourite of his, and who can draw him out in conversation better than any one else, in paying him a delicate and well-timed compliment on his celebrity, added, that few had ever so well merited it.
“Ah! Madame, celebrity is not always accorded to real merit,” said he, smiling. “I have before told Madame that mine—if I may be permitted to recur to it—was gained by an artifice I had recourse to, and without which, I firmly believe I should have remained unknown.”