S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The autobiography of a quack and the case of George Dedlow online

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University of California Berkeley



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THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
OF A QUACK




"'AND DO YOU MEAN TO SAT HE WAS N'T PO-SONED? ' SAID



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF
A QUACK

AND

THE CASE OF
GEORGE DEDLOW



BY

S. WEIR MITCHELL, M. D.,

LL. D. HARVARD AND EDINBURGH



ILLUSTRATED BY
. >J KELLER...




NEW YORK

THE CENTURY CO.
1900



Copyright, 1899, 1900, by
THE CENTURY Co.



THE OEVINNE PRESS.



CONTENTS

PAGE

THE AUTOBIOGEAPHY OP A QUACK . . 1
THE CASE OF GEORGE DEDLOW . . . 113



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"AND DO You MEAN TO SAY HE WAS N'T POI-
SONED ? " SAID SHE Frontispiece

PAGE

"I DID N'T UNDERSTAND THIS, OB I WOULD

NOT HAVE COME" 23

THEN I KNEW IT WAS SERIOUS 39

"SiT DOWN," HE SAID. "WHAT A FOOL You

ARE!" 53

"ANY OF You BEEN SCALPED, GENTLEMEN?" . 69
HE WARNED ME THAT ... HE WOULD SHOOT

ME 83

THE BIG BIBLE LAY OPEN ON THE FLOOR ... 89
I KNEW I WAS THAT BOY . 97



INTRODUCTION

BOTH of the tales in this little volume ap-
peared originally in the " Atlantic Monthly "
as anonymous contributions. I owe to the
present owners of that journal permission to
use them. " The Autobiography of a Quack "
has been recast with large additions.

"The Case of George Dedlow" was not
written with any intention that it should ap-
pear in print. I lent the manuscript to the
Rev. Dr. Furness and forgot it. This gentle-
man sent it to the Rev. Edward Everett Hale.
He, presuming, I fancy, that every one de-
sired to appear in the " Atlantic," offered it
to that journal. To my surprise, soon after-
wards I received a proof and a check. The
story was inserted as a leading article without
my name. It was at once accepted by many
as the description of a real case. Money was



x INTRODUCTION

collected in several places to assist the un-
fortunate man, and benevolent persons went
to the " Stump Hospital," in Philadelphia, to
see the sufferer and to offer him aid. The
spiritual incident at the end of the story was
received with joy by the spiritualists as a
valuable proof of the truth of their beliefs.

S. WEIR MITCHELL



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
OF A QUACK




THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
OF A QUACK



[T this present moment of time
I am what the doctors call an
interesting case, and am to be
found in bed No. 10, Ward
11, Massachusetts General Hos-
pital. I am told that I have what is called
Addison's disease, and that it is this pleasing
malady which causes me to be covered with
large blotches of a dark mulatto tint. How-
ever, it is a rather grim subject to joke about,
because, if I believed the doctor who comes
around every day, and thumps me, and listens
to my chest with as much pleasure as if I
were music all through I say, if I really
believed him, I should suppose I was going to
die. The fact is, I don't believe him at all.
Some of these days I shall take a turn and
get about again j but meanwhile it is rather
i 1



2 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

dull for a stirring, active person like me to
have, to lie still and watch myself getting big
browi; 'Atfd yeHo^/^ois all over me, like a
map that has 'taken ' to 'growing.
r , Tb.0 \ ihitf- f oii f my fright r -Jias consumption
-^- snieils ; "of'' cod ; liver ' 0rl/ and coughs all
night. The man on my left is a down-easter
with a liver which has struck work; looks
like a human pumpkin ; and how he contrives
to whittle jackstraws all day, and eat as he
does, I can't understand. I have tried reading
and tried whittling, "but they don't either of
them satisfy me, so that yesterday I concluded
to ask the doctor if he could n't suggest some
other amusement.

I waited until he had gone through the
ward, and then seized my chance, and asked
him to stop a moment.

" Well, my man,' 7 said he, " what do you
want ? "

I thought him rather disrespectful, but I
replied, " Something to do, doctor."

He thought a little, and then said : " I '11
tell you what to do. I think if you were to
write out a plain account of your life it
would be pretty well worth reading. If half
of what you told me last week be true, you
must be about as clever a scamp as there is



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 3

to be met with. I suppose you would just
as lief put it on paper as talk it."

" Pretty nearly," said I. " I think I will
try it, doctor."

After he left I lay awhile thinking over
the matter. I knew well that I was what the
world calls a scamp, and I knew also that I
had got little good out of the fact. If a man
is what people call virtuous, and fails in life,
he gets credit at least for the virtue; but
when a man is a is well, one of liberal
views, and breaks down, somehow or other
people don't credit him with even the intel-
ligence he has put into the business. This
I call hard. If I did not recall with satisfac-
tion the energy and skill with which I did
my work, I should be nothing but disgusted
at the melancholy spectacle of my failure.
I suppose that I shall at least find occupa-
tion in reviewing all this, and I think, there-
fore, for my own satisfaction, I shall try to
amuse my convalescence by writing a plain,
straightforward account of the life I have
led, and the various devices by which I have
sought to get my share of the money of my
countrymen. It does appear to me that 1
have had no end of bad luck.

As no one will ever see these pages, I find it



4 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

pleasant to recall for my own satisfaction the
fact that I am really a very remarkable man.
I am, or rather I was, very good-looking, five
feet eleven, with a lot of curly red hair, and
blue eyes. I am left-handed, which is another
unusual thing. My hands have often been no-
ticed. I get them from my mother, who was
a Fishbourne, and a lady. As for my father,
he was rather common. He was a little man,
red and round like an apple, but very strong,
for a reason I shall come to presently. The
family must have had a pious liking for Bible
names, because he was called Zebulon, my
sister Peninnah, and I Ezra, which is not
a name for a gentleman. At one time I
thought of changing it, but I got over it
by signing myself "E. Sandcraft."

Where my father was born I do not know,
except that it was somewhere in New Jersey,
for I remember that he was once angry be-
cause a man called him a Jersey Spaniard.
I am not much concerned to write about my
people, because I soon got above their level j
and as to my mother, she died when I was
an infant. I get my manners, which are
rather remarkable, from her.

My aunt, Rachel Sandcraft, who kept
house for us, was a queer character. She



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 5

had a snug little property, about seven thou-
sand dollars. An old aunt left her the money
because she was stone-deaf. As this defect
came upon her after she grew up, she still
kept her voice. This woman was the cause
of some of my ill luck in life, and I hope she
is uncomfortable, wherever she is. I think
with satisfaction that I helped to make her
life uneasy when I was young, and worse
later on. She gave away to the idle poor
some of her small income, and hid the rest,
like a magpie, in her Bible or rolled in her
stockings, or in even queerer places. The
worst of her was that she could tell what
people said by looking at their lips ; this I
hated. But as I grew and became intelligent,
her ways of hiding her money proved useful,
to me at least. As to Peninnah, she was
nothing special until she suddenly bloomed
out into a rather stout, pretty girl, took to
ribbons, and liked what she called " keeping
company." She ran errands for every one,
waited on my aunt, and thought I was a
wonderful person as indeed I was. I never
could understand her fondness for helping
everybody. A fellow has got himself to
think about, and that is quite enough. I
was told pretty often that I was the most



6 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

selfish boy alive. But, then, I am an un-
usual person, and there are several names
for things.

My father kept a small shop for the sale
of legal stationery and the like, on Fifth
street north of Chestnut. But his chief in-
terest in life lay in the bell-ringing of
Christ Church. He was leader, or No. 1, and
the whole business was in the hands of a
kind of guild which is nearly as old as the
church. I used to hear more of it than I
liked, because my father talked of nothing
else. But I do not mean to bore myself
writing of bells. I heard too much about
"back shake," "raising in peal," "scales,"
and " touches," and the Lord knows what.

My earliest remembrance is of sitting on
my father's shoulder when he led off the
ringers. He was very strong, as I said, by
reason of this exercise. With one foot
caught in a loop of leather nailed to the
floor, he would begin to pull No. 1, and by
and by the whole peal would be swinging,
and he going up and down, to my joy ; I used
to feel as if it was I that was making the
great noise that rang out all over the town.
My familiar acquaintance with the old church
and its lumber-rooms, where were stored the



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 7

dusty arms of William and Mary and George
II., proved of use in my later days.

My father had a strong belief in my tal-
ents, and I do not think he was mistaken.
As he was quite uneducated, he determined
that I should not be. He had saved enough
to send me to Princeton College, and when I
was about fifteen I was set free from the
public schools. I never liked them. The last
I was at was the high school. As I had to
come down-town to get home, we used to
meet on Arch street the boys from the
grammar-school of the university, and there
were fights every week. In winter these
were most frequent, because of the snow-
balling. A fellow had to take his share or be
marked as a deserter. I never saw any per-
sonal good to be had out of a fight, but it
was better to fight than to be cobbed. That
means that two fellows hold you, and the
other fellows kick you with their bent knees.
It hurts.

I find just here that I am describing a
thing as if I were writing for some other
people to see. I may as well go on that way.
After all, a man never can quite stand off
and look at himself as if he was the only
person concerned. He must have an audi-



8 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

ence, or make believe to have one, even if it
is only himself. Nor, on the whole, should I
be unwilling, if it were safe, to let people
see how great ability may be defeated by the
crankiness of fortune.

I may add here that a stone inside of a
snowball discourages the fellow it hits. But
neither our fellows nor the grammar-school
used stones in snowballs. I rather liked it.
If we had a row in the springtime we all
threw stones, and here was one of those bits
of stupid custom no man can understand ;
because really a stone outside of a snowball
is much more serious than if it is merci-
fully padded with snow. I felt it to be a
rise in life when I got out of the society of the
common boys who attended the high school.

When I was there a man by the name of
Dallas Bache was the head master. He had a
way of letting the boys attend to what he called
the character of the school. Once I had to
lie to him about taking another boy's ball.
He told my class that I had denied the charge,
and that he always took it for granted that a
boy spoke the truth. He knew well enough
what would happen. It did. After that I
was careful.

Princeton was then a little college, not ex-



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 9

pensive, which was very well, as my father
had some difficulty to provide even the mod-
erate amount needed.

I soon found that if I was to associate with
the upper set of young men I needed money.
For some time I waited in vain. But in my
second year I discovered a small gold-mine, on
which I drew with a moderation which shows
even thus early the strength of my character.

I used to go home once a month for a Sun-
day visit, and on these occasions I was often
able to remove from my aunt's big Bible a
five- or ten-dollar note, which otherwise would
have been long useless.

Now and then I utilized my opportunities
at Princeton. I very much desired certain
things like well-made clothes, and for these
I had to run in debt to a tailor. When he
wanted pay, and threatened to send the bill
to my father, I borrowed from two or three
young Southerners; but at last, when they
became hard up, my aunt's uncounted hoard
proved a last resource, or some rare chance
in a neighboring room helped me out. I
never did look on this method as of perma-
nent usefulness, and it was only the tem-
porary folly of youth.

Whatever else the pirate necessity appro-



10 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

priated, I took no large amount of education,
although I was fond of reading, and espe-
cially of novels, which are, I think, very in-
structive to the young, especially the novels
of Smollett and Fielding.

There is, however, little need to dwell on
this part of my life. College students in
those days were only boys, and boys are very
strange animals. They have instincts. They
somehow get to know if a fellow does not
relate facts as they took place. I like to put
it that way, because, after all, the mode of
putting things is only one of the forms of
self-defense, and is less silly than the ordi-
nary wriggling methods which boys employ,
and which are generally useless. I was rather
given to telling large stories just for the fun
of it, and, I think, told them well. But some-
how I got the reputation of not being strictly
definite, and when it was meant to indicate
this belief they had an ill-mannered way of
informing you. This consisted in two or
three fellows standing up and shuffling noisily
with their feet on the floor. When first I
heard this I asked innocently what it meant,
and was told it was the noise of the bearers'
feet coming to take away Ananias. This was
considered a fine joke.



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 11

During my junior year I became unpopu-
lar, and as I was very cautious, I cannot see
why. At last, being hard up, I got to be
foolishly reckless. But why dwell on the
failures of immaturity ?

The causes which led to my leaving Nas-
sau Hall were not, after all, the mischievous
outbreaks in which college lads indulge. In-
deed, I have never been guilty of any of
those pieces of wanton wickedness which
injure the feelings of others while they lead
to no useful result. When I left to return
home, I set myself seriously to reflect upon
the necessity of greater care in following out
my inclinations, and from that time forward
I have steadily avoided, whenever it was pos-
sible, the vulgar vice of directly possessing
myself of objects to which I could show no
legal title. My father was indignant at the
results of my college career ; and, according
to my aunt, his shame and sorrow had some
effect in shortening his life. My sister be-
lieved my account of the matter. It ended
in my being used for a year as an assistant
in the shop, and in being taught to ring bells
a fine exercise, but not proper work for a
man of refinement. My father" died while
training his bell-ringers in the Oxford triple

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY



12 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

bob broke a blood-vessel somewhere. How
I could have caused that I do not see.

I was now about nineteen years old, and,
as I remember, a middle-sized, well-built
young fellow, with large eyes, a slight mus-
tache, and, I have been told, with very good
manners and a somewhat humorous turn.
Besides these advantages, my guardian held
in trust for me about two thousand dollars.
After some consultation between us, it was
resolved that I should study medicine. This
conclusion was reached nine years before the
Rebellion broke out, and after we had set-
tled, for the sake of economy, in Woodbury,
New Jersey. From this time I saw very little
of my deaf aunt or of Peninnah. I was reso-
lute to rise in the world, and not to be weighted
by relatives who were without my tastes and
my manners.

I set out for Philadelphia, with many good
counsels from my aunt and guardian. I look
back upon this period as a turning-point of
my life. I had seen enough of the world
already to know that if you can succeed
without exciting suspicion, it is by far the
pleasantest way; and I really believe that
if I had not been endowed with so fatal a
liking for all the good tilings of life I might



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 13

have lived along as reputably as most men.
This, however, is, and always has been, my
difficulty, and I suppose that I am not re-
sponsible for the incidents to which it gave
rise. Most men have some ties in life, but I
have said I had none which held me. Penin-
nah cried a good deal when we parted, and
this, I think, as I was still young, had a very
good effect in strengthening my resolution to
do nothing which could get me into trouble.
The janitor of the college to which I went
directed me to a boarding-house, where I en-
gaged a small third-story room, which I after-
wards shared with Mr. Chaucer of Georgia.
He pronounced it, as I remember, " Jawjah."
In this very remarkable abode I spent the
next two winters, and finally graduated,
along with two hundred more, at the close
of my two years of study. I should previ-
ously have been one year in a physician's
office as a student, but this regulation was
very easily evaded. As to my studies, the
less said the better. I attended the quizzes,
as they call them, pretty closely, and, being
of a quick and retentive memory, was thus
enabled to dispense with some of the six or
seven lectures a day which duller men found
it necessary to follow.



14 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

Dissecting struck me as a rather nasty
business for a gentleman, and on this ac-
count I did just as little as was absolutely
essential. In fact, if a man took his tickets
and paid the dissection fees, nobody troubled
himself as to whether or not he did any more
than this. A like evil existed at the gradu-
ation : whether you squeezed through or
passed with credit was a thing which was
not made public, so that I had absolutely
nothing to stimulate my ambition. I am told
that it is all very different to-day.

The astonishment with which I learned of
my success was shared by the numerous
Southern gentlemen who darkened the floors
and perfumed with tobacco the rooms of our
boarding-house. In my companions, during
the time of my studies so called, as in other
matters of life, I was somewhat unfortunate.
All of them were Southern gentlemen, with
more money than I had. Many of them car-
ried great sticks, usually sword-canes, and
some bowie-knives or pistols j also, they de-
lighted in swallow-tailed coats, long hair,
broad-brimmed felt hats, and very tight
boots. I often think of these, gentlemen
with affectionate interest, and wonder how
many are lying under the wheat-fields of



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 15

Virginia. One could see them any day saun-
tering along with their arms over their com-
panions' shoulders, splendidly indifferent to
the ways of the people about them. They
hated the " Na'wth " and cursed the Yankees,
and honestly believed that the leanest of
them was a match for any half a dozen of
the bulkiest of Northerners. I must also do
them the justice to say that they were quite
as ready to fight as to brag, which, by the
way, is no meager statement. With these
gentry for whom I retain a respect which
filled me with regret at the recent course of
events I spent a good deal of my large
leisure. The more studious of both sections
called us a hard crowd. What we did, or
how we did it, little concerns me here, except
that, owing to my esteem for chivalric blood
and breeding, I was led into many practices
and excesses which cost my guardian and
myself a good deal of money. At the close
of my career as a student I found myself aged
twenty-one years, and the owner of some
seven hundred dollars the rest of my small
estate having disappeared variously within
the last two years. After my friends had
gone to their homes in the South I began to
look about me for an office, and finally settled



16 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

upon very good rooms in one of the down-
town localities of the Quaker City. I am not
specific as to the number and street, for
reasons which may hereafter appear. I liked
the situation on various accounts. It had
been occupied by a doctor; the terms were
reasonable ; and it lay on the skirts of a
good neighborhood, while below it lived a
motley population, among which I expected
to get my first patients and such fees as were
to be had. Into this new home I moved my
medical text-books, a few bones, and myself.
Also, I displayed in the window a fresh sign,
upon which was distinctly to be read :

DR. E. SANDCRAFT.

Office hours, 8 to 9 A. M., 7 to 9 p. M.

I felt now that I had done my fair share
toward attaining a virtuous subsistence, and
so I waited tranquilly, and without undue
enthusiasm, to see the rest of the world do
its part in the matter. Meanwhile I read up
on all sorts of imaginable cases, stayed at
home all through my office hours, and at in-
tervals explored the strange section of the
town which lay to the south of my office. I
do not suppose there is anything like it else-



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 17

where. It was then filled with grog-shops,
brothels, slop-shops, and low lodging-houses.
You could dine for a penny on soup made
from the refuse meats of the rich, gathered
at back gates by a horde of half-naked chil-
dren, who all told varieties of one woeful
tale. Here, too, you could be drunk for five
cents, and be lodged for three, with men,
women, and children of all colors lying about
you. It was this hideous mixture of black
and white and yellow wretchedness which
made the place so peculiar. The blacks pre-
dominated, and had mostly that swollen,
reddish, dark skin, the sign in this race of
habitual drunkenness. Of course only the
lowest whites were here rag-pickers, pawn-
brokers, old-clothes men, thieves, and the
like. All of this, as it came before me, I
viewed with mingled disgust and philosophy.
I hated filth, but I understood that society
has to stand on somebody, and I was only
glad that I was not one of the undermost
and worst-squeezed bricks.

I can hardly believe that I waited a month
without having been called upon by a single
patient. At last a policeman on our beat
brought me a fancy man with a dog-bite.
This patient recommended me to his brother,



18 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

the keeper of a small pawnbroking-shop, and
by very slow degrees I began to get stray
patients who were too poor to indulge in up-
town doctors. I found the police very useful
acquaintances; and, by a drink or a cigar
now and then, I got most of the cases of cut
heads and the like at the next station-house.
These, however, were the aristocrats of my
practice ; the bulk of my patients were soap-
fat men, rag-pickers, oystermen, hose-house
bummers, and worse, with other and name-
less trades, men and women, white, black,
or mulatto. How they got the levies, fips,
and quarters with which I was reluctantly
paid, I do not know; that, indeed, was none
of my business. They expected to pay,
and they came to me in preference to the
dispensary doctor, two or three squares away,
who seemed to me to spend most of his days
in the lanes and alleys about us. Of course
he received no pay except experience, since
the dispensaries in the Quaker City, as a
rule, do not give salaries to their doctors;
and the vilest of the poor prefer a "pay
doctor" to one of these disinterested gentle-
men, who cannot be expected to give their
best brains for nothing, when at everybody's
beck and call. I am told, indeed I know,



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 19

that most young doctors do a large amount
of poor practice, as it is called; but, for my
own part, I think it better for both parties
when the doctor insists upon some compen-
sation being made to him. This has been
usually my own custom, and I have not found
reason to regret it.

Notwithstanding my strict attention to my
own interests, I have been rather sorely dealt
with by fate upon several occasions, where,
so far as I could see, I was vigilantly doing
everything in my power to keep myself out
of trouble or danger. I may as well relate
one of them, merely to illustrate of how little
value a man's intellect may be when fate and
the prejudices of the mass of men are against
him.

One evening, late, I myself answered a ring
at the bell, and found a small black boy on
the steps, a shoeless, hatless little wretch,


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