George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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the hearth beside the roaring wood fire, that was
kept up all night long. It was t,oo cold to sleep in
any comfort, although we were close together in a
bed piled with blankets. Again and again the doc-
tor arose and went to the fire to put on more wood
and warm his back, and had I not been a much
younger man, and ashamed, I too would have gotten
up to warm my own back. The doctor had been an
invalid for weeks, but had he been well would have
responded to any call made upon him, if indeed any
one could have ventured to go for medical assistance
through such a frightful storm. Blessings on your
frosty pow, Dr. Jim, and long may you live to jog
through sunshine and storm along the woodland
roads of Prince Edward, gladdening many hearts by
your coming.


Tossing from side to side of my bed in an agony
of unrest, the thick saliva pouring into my mouth
faster than I could expel it, and almost strangling
me (it was a second attack of parotitis) Dr. Gordon
came to me, and with half a grain of morphine soon
transported me into the heaven of perfect repose.
What 'a relief it was, and how my heart went out to
him in thankfulness ! On many other occasions has
the Dr. administered to my ailments, and much
cause have I to be grateful to him. His quiet gentle
manner as he enters the sick room, his habit of cross-
ing his legs, twisting his pen-knife, and taking his
time for a friendly talk with you after the pill or
powder has been given what a contrast to the hur-
ried visit and hasty prescription of the fashionable
city physician ! When he is called away, no man in
all Essex will be more kindly remembered than Dr.
Thomas Gordon of Tappahannock. He still lives,
and, thank heaven, promises to live many a long year.

One must be a bachelor of five and thirty, and
often sick in his solitary room, to appreciate fully the
comfort, and in fact the pleasure, of being sick as a
married man. Many pleasant sicknesses have I had
since my marriage, but the happiest of them all was
one of the longest of them all a six weeks attack of
catarrh at Lichtield, in Orange county. During the
paroxysms of coughing I suffered a good deal ; at
other times I was comparatively free of pain, and able
to read and scribble at will. My good wife brought
me my meals to a nice little up-stairs room, warmed
by a cosy wood fire. Without, all was cold and cheer-


less ; . within, all was sweet quietude and peace. The
world with its sinfulness and its cares was far removed
from me. I wanted never to go back to it again, and
would fain have been an invalid all my days rather
than encounter the temptations and troubles of life
again. I look back upon that sickness as a glimpse,
all too brief, of heaven. Dr. Edmond Taliaferro at-
tended me. His visits were not numerous, but enough
to impress indelibly upon my memory his quick
bright eye, his perfect healthfulness (" sound as a nut "
is truer of him than of any man I ever knew), and
his excellence as a man and a physician. How much
good that admirable little man has done, and how
poorly paid he has often been, there is no telling.
From the bed in which I now lie I send him greet-
ing, God-speed and a thousand kind wishes.

And what shall I say about that dear old doctor
whose picture in my photograph album I looked at
but yesterday, recalling the while the sad, happy mem-
ories of Middleburg ? Hale and hearty, the picture of
strength, able to buffet all the mountain storms that
come, his joyous laugh comes to me over the years
that have lapsed since we parted, and I can see him
plainly in his front porch, with his grandchildren
playing around him. He and his wife were with
us that night when God called away the little boy
who was the delight, the splendor and the hope of
our lives, and he was with us that bright July morn-
ing when God sent us another son, " the sweetest boy
in the world," as I called him in his babyhood, and
often call him now, albeit he is six years old and


over. This pulse in my wrist must be beating very
slowly when I cease to remember with admiration
and affection " Uncle- William " and " Aunt Kate."
Heaven send them a sweet sunset before the cloud-
less morning that awaits them hereafter.

Ah ! Doctor, I'll tell you what I would like. I
would like to present you with a golden backgam-
mon box and a set of diamond men, and allow you to
beat me one just one time in your life. It would
make you so happy.

In "Abraham Page " or " What I know about Ben
Eccles," I forget which, there is the finest tribute to
the country doctor that I have seen in any language.
But how is it that the theme never awakened the
muse of Goldsmith or Shenstone or the pencil of a
genre artist of the first order. The rusty long-tailed
overcoat tucked well under the legs, the tall napless
Iiat drawn down over the eyes, the ears protected by
a comfort of fiery red from cold, the beard white
with snow or sleet, the compressed lips, the yellow
leggings tied with green list, the thick yarn socks,
knitted by some grateful hand, covering the boots,
the gray saddle-blanket peeping out from under the
sheep skin covered saddle, the black, medical sad-
dle-bags, slick with long using, the faithful horse
plodding through frozen mire or plashing through
the puddles and brooks here are the elements for
a dark winter day but better still, these same
figures of horse and rider dimly descried through
the thick darkness of the winter's night, when the
fierce icy gusts are pouring through the mountain


passes, bending the naked trees by the road side, and
almost beating down the gray -haired rider, who must
trust to his sure-footed steed ; for who can see the
way on such a night in the midst of such a storm ?
And then the entrance of the doctor into the sick
chamber lighted up by the log fire, the sick woman
in the old-fashioned bed with valence and teaster
turning her hollow eyes to him with an ineffable
look of gladness and of hope.

What must be the thought of the good old doctor
as he passes in through the tempest and the horror
of thick darkness, often unattended and alone, oftener
still knowing that he can never be paid even a pit-
tance for all he is braving and enduring! Memories
of his student-life come to him, and of his early
triumphs and failures in practice, of his first mar-
ried days, of his own sick child left at home, and of
the cozy chamber where his wife aw r aits his uncer-
tain coming. Despite the rushing blast and the
roaring; mountain torrent he is fording, there come

O O '

to him the cries of infants he has ushered into this-
world of pain, the last long suspiration and the wide
ghastly yawn of the dying, the shrieks of bereaved,
women, and the suppressed tumultuous sob of stricken,
men these come to him as he courageously breasts
biting wind and freezing rain to reach his patient.
In the cold gray dawn, his mission ended and the
sufferer relieved, he sallies forth. The winds are
still, the wide expanse of snow, unbroken yet by hoof
or foot, stretches over the miles, no longer long, that
lie between him and his home. As he beats onward.


the first smoke rises from the peaceful homesteads,,
and he hurries along to get his bright welcome and
his wife's kiss, to snatch a breakfast and again to
mount his horse and plod his daily round through
snow and slush. And this is life to the country doc-
tor and his fellows.

Brave hearts, noble gentlemen, benefactors seldom
fully requited, in my summer trips away from the
city I never pass one of you without an inward bow-
ing of the head in reverence and the uttering of a
silent benediction upon you. Ye are the salt of the
earth, and your reward is assured in the bright here-

Of late years our physician has been a sort of
Quinbus Flestrin, or man-mountain, who has done
so much for me and mine that it would be a relief to
me to abuse him violently. It is not in the nature
of a weakling like myself to look with complacency
upon any man who is heaped up and running over
with health. The Egyptians wrapped their dead in
endless windings of cloth, but nature has bandaged
Dr. Coleman with such great ropes and coils of
bodily well-being that he may be regarded as a real
mummy of health. Disease might feel for his vitals
for a century to no purpose, and I should think that
Death himself, after leveling his spear at him, would
take a second look, and saying, "It's no use; that
fellow is too thickly health-plated," pass on to the
other side. Twice a day for many long months have-
I seen that strong Roman head enter my doorway y
and once a day for weeks has he, on other occasions,.


visited me or my children. His ponderous tread and
his portentous door-slam are familiar to us all. I
should like to praise his skill, to tell about his art of
winning the love of women and children, and the
charm of his strong presence in the sick room, but
may not trust myself. He has just delivered me
from the pangs of diphtheria, and I might overdo
the thing. Fain would I hope that I have done
with him for a good long while at least ; but I suspect
that it will be another case of Michael and the dragon
contending for the body of Moses, and that, after a
sufficient number of brilliant victories, the dragon
will at last get the better of Michael Coleman.*

City physicians undergo less hardships and fatigue,
but are subject oftentimes to a heavier weight of re-
sponsibility, than most of their country brethren.
True, they have more and better appliances, and can
generally call in consultation when needed more
ability than the country doctor has at command ; but
endemics and epidemics sweep over the cities more
often than the country, the ghastlier forms of schirrus
and fungus are more prevalent there, and men of
the greatest distinction, flocking to the cities, have
more frequently to be treated. Moreover, the city
physician is much more critically and jealously
watched than his country brother. On the other

9 Alas ! the patient and the physician were but a short
time parted. Dr. Coleman was himself declining when he
ministered to the sufferer in his final illness, and three months
after the last sad scene of Dr. Bagby's life, he too was taken,
.and left a city in tears.


hand, the latter has too often to rely wholly on him-
self in cases of the greatest emergency, as in aceouch-
ments and capital cases of surgery. But I will not
pretend to strike the balance between them. God
knows that both classes have a hard enough time.
For nothing in this world would I undertake the
labor or responsibility of either of them. Fact is,
I couldn't; it is not in me, or anywhere about

To country and to city doctors I owe more than I
can ever repay. I think that in this world it happens
not seldom that they who would be princes in gen-
erosity, and give and give forever, are not only de-
barred from giving, but are doomed forever to re-
ceive ; and I believe that in the great book of the
recording angel there are pages upon pages filled
with the credits of gratitude which found no voice
for very shame of mere words of requital, and be-
cause the fitting deed could not go hand in hand with
the warm will welling up from a profoundly thank-
ful heart.

Ah ! gentlemen, had I my way there would not be
wanting some large silver watches and some moder-
ately high-priced snuff-boxes for a good many of
you. But in earnest, if I were a millionaire, I do
not believe that all the stinginess incident to that af-
fliction could keep me from setting rich men an ex-
ample of honor done to those that richly deserve to
be honored. Carrington should clear for me the
most spacious room in the Exchange. It should be
most beautifully and becomingly decorated. There


would I gather the brightest men and the loveliest
women in the land, and my doctors from far and
near should be there. At a fitting hour I would
command the peace, and then some silver-tongued
Kciley or Stringfellow, gifted in speech, should say
the splendid words that ought to be said in praise of
your noble profession. Then the sweetest girl in all
Virginia a doctor's daughter most likely should in
the eyes of that brilliant assembly pin to your lapels
the badge (newly instituted by myself) of the
Knightly Order of the Golden Pill. No, I do but
jest. She should decorate you with the cross of the
Legion of True Honor, in that it would be given, not
to the slayers, but to the savers of mankind. And
then, oh then, there should be a supper, such a sup-
per a supper of the gods, an Olympian feast com-
pounded for the special delectation of doctors, from
which not one of you should rise till he felt too rich
to accept a cent from A. T. Stewart or Win. B. As-
tor. And then I would consider myself moderately
even with a few of you.

However ill-paid and often unpaid physicians may
be, they have the consolation of knowing that emi-
nence and success in almost every other calling and
profession is a selfish success limited in its good ef-
fects to the man and his immediate family ; whereas
in medicine great success is based, necessarily, upon
great and wide-spread beneficence. To even moder-
ately distinguished medical men, indeed to all but the
very meanest and most worthless doctors, there must
-come thrills of pleasure so supreme that only the


-minister of the gospel who feels that he has been the
instrument of saving a soul can hope to taste a
pleasure at all comparable with it.

Faithful keepers of the great seal of family se-
crets, trusty wardens of the ineffably precious health
of our loved ones, silent and pitying witnesses of hu-
man suffering and human weakness, who shall rightly
tell your worth, and with what patent of nobility
shall ye be fitly honored! Statistics show that, man
for man, your profession has fewer culprits than any
other whatsoever. The simple figures, unfeeling and
unflattering, bear testimony to the lofty virtue of
your calling. It is the hope of humanity, and there
is reason for the hope, that the day will come when
there shall be no more great lawyers, for there shall
be no more litigation ; when there shall be no great
-warriors, because wars shall have ceased ; and when
even the need for great statesmen shall have passed,
since mankind will have outlived the infirmities that
demand legislative correction or restraint. But that
day can never come on this earth when men will not
die. A healthy race, obedient to the laws of right
living, will require few doctors (doctors truly, that
their chief functions will then be the teaching of san-
itary principles, and the mode of life demanded for
the highest physical development) ; but these few
will be crowned with the laurel that once, rested only
upon the brow of the soldier, and with the bays that
were reserved solely for the jurist and the statesman.

The mind makes many pictures, and this is one
that often delights me. In the realm where there


will be no use for doctors, but where many doctors
shall be, it shall come to pass that beside the river of
living waters, and under the trees whose leaves are for
the healing of the nations, each upon his little knoll
of emerald sward, the good doctors of this world
shall be seated. Celestial airs, borne from the trem-
bling wires of harps attuned to praise the Great
Physician, and mingled with the divine odors of
amaranth and asphodel, shall pass by on the soft,
pulsing breeze. And around each doctor shall be the
host, small or great as the case may be, of them to
whom he ministered on earth. They shall press for-
ward with lips no longer dumb, with hands no longer
afraid to tell by their clasp what even the lips might
not like to say, and with eyes blazing full and warm
from the unmasked soul. And from lips and hands and
eyes shall come measureless requital. And the little
ones, the little ones whose first wail and whose last sigh
the good doctors heard, they shall come with purest
kisses and cherubic palms, with such sweet thanks
and caressing as only the al ways-angels know. And
then the picture falls softly and slowly away.



To the Hapy Man that aint Got but One Chile, & Him growed

Up, and Doin uv a Good Bisnis in a Far Distant Lan',

whar He kant be Heered a cryin in the Kite fur

His Bottil,

This Brocher, as they says in Frentch.


BABIS in ginrul is bald-heded, bo-leged disturb-
ers uv the peece. They cums into this worl'
frownin horrid, fists doubled up, red as peper, hot as
jinjer, and hongry as hogs. You got to 'ten to um
got to drap all biznis and 'ten to um then and thar,
or elts you'll heer from um erly and ofting. The
nuss lanches um into life with a dram uv sum kind,
and then wunders they luvs whiskey when they has
growd up.

But twinses is misteyus vizitatins uv Providens ; a
urthquake in 2 colyums, the rite and lef wings uv a
hurrykane that thar aint no accountin fur. They
cums like claps uv live thunder out'n a clere sky in
the midil uv the day or nite (they aint a keering
which), and konetirnates the naberhood. Nobody
aint never pepared fur um, and thar is a rusliin 2
and fro uv doctors, misses and wimmin that shakes


the chimblys and jars the whole visinty. A feerful

They fetches no bagige, not a rag, not a blame
thing, not even a swaller-tale cote and a standin col-
ler ; but they cums to stay. Thar is much borryin
uv klothes it takes nuf dry goods to set up a firm
uv twinses as to stok a good size Brod St. sto and
you've got to opin a milk depo and free bodin hous
on the spot, lookin fur yo' pay in a nuther and a beter
woiT. Becoz twinses has but vage idees uv setlin bills.

Meny wimmin arives at yo' manshun, and tliar is
much miratin. The po' men fur sevrul bloks aroun
gethers on the cornders of the strete and wunders to
eche uther if twinses is ketchin, like mezils and chikin
pok. Thar minds is onesy. They goes to potheker-
ries to git sum intmint again the things.

But taint no use, no manner uv use. Kwinine
nor brimstone nor kerosiv sublimit, nor nuthin knowd
to man, can't kepe um off. Twinses is misteyus
things, and thar is no a kountin fur um one way nor
the uther. Hew Blar, the drugger, can't put up
nuthin to fend um off, nor Tom Doswil, with all his
expeyunse, can't inshure um. If they ar a cumin, they
ar a cumin ; and if they aint a cumin all creashum can't
hurry um up. Twinses is the most obstnit and opin-
yunated kattil I know.

Thar is a nuther misteyus thing 'bout twinses.
Them that wants um can't have um no how thar
is men at backgamon that never flings dublets, no
matter how they ratle the box and blow on it for
luck ; and them that don't want um, and kin hardly


turn roun thout treddin on childun, has um shure.
Here they cum a hoopin and a holrin. Now me and
Tom Cuckpotrik is the very pattun uv men for
twinses was cut and dride you may say to be the
fathers uv twinses, but nary a twin hav cum these
30 yeer, tho' we has bin dyin fur um. On the uther
hand, look at Meekins; uv all and uv all humins!
Meekins but mo' anon. No; twinses is misteyus.
To the rich man childun cum one at a tiem, like
balls down the trof t uv a ten-pin ally ; but to the po
man they curns

" 2 by 2,

Like the elifint and the kangeroo."

Twinses is like the pistuns or the walkin beam uv
a stemebote when you lays one down you takes the
uther one up ; and when they both opins thar skape-
pipes and squalls at the same tiem, why, lettin off
steme is a Quaker metin to it. F'yar well, vane
worl', I'm a gwine home! No you aint you're a
gwine to 'ten to them twinses, 'ten to nuthin but
them, if you don't want the hous to cum down ; and
& plezant tiem you'll hav uv it. You may talk to
me 'bout Gypchun bondige, but a m uther at ded uv
nite wrestlin with two bawlin squallin twinses one
holrin to see if his holrin aint louder holrin than the
holrin uv the uther one holrin a muther endurin
11 v that bondige sturs my sympathies mo'n the Gyp-
chuns and Izralites combined.

A quare thing is that the man gits all the kredit
fur twinses, while the woman that has to tote the


hevy eend uv the log all the tiem, don't git nun.
Folks is inklined to blame her, and tell her, " no mo
uv that, now." But the man puts on his hat and
walks 4th with a ar uv modist pride, like a rich man
handin roun the plate fur the first tiem in church.
" I don't take no kredit fur this," he kinder seems to
say, " I reely don't, but still I want to git the kredit
all the saim. Taint evry body has twinses, and
then is umbil bout it like me." And they tell me
thar is wimmin that actilly is envus and jellus uv
wimmin that has twinses, and wood fain git the resipe
if thar was one. Well, thar is childun that brags
'bout bein sicker than uther childun, and its a twisted
sort uv a worl' we liv in enyway. I don't understan
it' no way nor I don't ever hope to. It gits me
got me long ago.

The last obzurvashun I got to make 'bout twinses
ar this they kin do mo kryin to the minit, and kiver
a squar inch quicker and thicker, with bawl and
squall, than any other livin thing exsept a Linchbug
ockshuneer uv lugs.

These few remox is drord 4th by Meekins. Uv all
and uv all but I'm a comin to that dreckly. Peter
Meekins is my naber our back lots jins. He is the
wevil-eatinest man I know. Somthin is always the
matter with his durn tung, and from gum-biles to
corns thar aint nuthin he dont hav, and keep on havin
it. Dispepsy is his stanby, and when he aint got
that, he fills up the chinx with dipthery. He can't
barly walk, becoz he's got the f urtogo. Things wont
gee with him, so he's always in a state uv wo. Uv


all and uv all. He takes a melunkoly vew. This
worl' looks to him like a mixter uv misry, blaein and
and lamp-black. Uv all humins ! I kinnot understan
it. Thar aint mo'n enuf uv him to make a do-mat,
he is very shucky and shaky, and is fraziled out at
his edgis into somthin that ansers as hed, arms and
legs. Now uv all and uv all humin beins who shood
hav twinses but this same Meekins. It's a fac, by
gum ! and it jist knox me down, you know. I aint
fetch breth good since I heerd it.

My wife must uv told me, bat my mind hav bin so
ockqupide with politix that I disremembered it till
the uther day when I met him on the strete. He
were very sadd. His chin wiggled and his nose
wobbled, he were so very sadd.

" In the name uv mizry," says I, " Meekins, what's
the matter?"

"Ah!" he says, groanin, and the water gethered
in his eyes.

" How is yo drotted tung, now ?" I says.

" Taint that," says he, and the teers cum a rollin
down his holler cheex, and his nose trimbled.

"Tell, tell me quick," I says; " I feel so sorry fur
you, and I want to do sumthin fur you rite away."

" Well," he says, in a vois that went to my very
hart, "I were I were took down with the twinses
'bout 3 month ago, and bin very lo ever sinse."

"What!" I ixclaimed, "you? uv all and uv all,
you, got twinses? Giv me yo' han!" and I grabed
him to kongratulate him.

But I heerd sumthin like krokry crackin inside uv


him, and feerin he wood cum to peeces in my han, I
let him go.

"Yes," he says, "they has lit down upon me in
my ole age, and they is hevy." And he weept.

"Well, well, well!" I says, "Uv all and uv all
this beats bobtail. Gearls uv corse ? "

"No," he says, sorrerful, "two uv as fine a boy as-
ever swollered katnip."

"And you a cry in 'bout that ?" says I.

"Two nusses," he says, "two kribs, two sets uv

uv uv everything two ." And he sobbed

he actilly did.

" Cheer up, my livety lad (much lively 'bout him),
cheer up," I says.

But he wood'n cheer a bit.

"Two baby carriges, two par uv shoes, two soots
uv klothes, two everything, too much ! too much ! too
much!" And he farly boohood.

Says I, " Meekins, fur goodniss sake don't giv way
so you'll bust the breechin uv yo very soul, if you
kepe on that a way."

But he kep on, and throwin his face down into his
hands, said in a pashun uv teers :

" Dubl tile and dubil trubil,
Childun bile and babis bubbil."

I kin stan a good deal, but my temper giv way at
this. Says I, " You inf urnil old son uv a fopensapeny,
if you don't stop howlin here in the strete in brord
day lite 'bout nuthin but twinses, I'll ketch you

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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 27)