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The account of the life and character of DR. JOHN D. GODMAN has been
prepared from the several brief memoirs and eulogies published shortly
after his decease, and from the tract issued by "The Tract Association
of Friends," entitled "A Sketch of the Life and Character of Dr. John
D. Godman."

"The Rambles of a Naturalist" have been republished from "The Friend,"
a weekly paper, for the columns of which the essays were originally


Dr. John D. Godman, the author of the pleasing descriptions which, under
their simple title, "Rambles of a Naturalist," contain so much of the
beautiful and true, was born at Annapolis, in Maryland, in the year
1798. At a very early age he was deprived, by their death, of both his
parents. He was then placed under the care of an aunt, whose
intellectual attainments and elevated piety, united to much sweetness of
disposition, eminently qualified her for the direction of the youthful
mind. His fondness for books and aptitude for learning were remarkable;
while his frank, sensitive, and sweet temper gained the affection of all
around him. It is said that he had such a reverence for truth, even from
infancy, that he was never known to equivocate. When he attained the age
of six years, his excellent aunt died. The patrimony which should have
provided for his wants, was lost through the mismanagement of those to
whom the care of it had been entrusted; and thus, without resources,
and without suitable protection, he was left exposed to adversity and
temptation. It appears, however, that the moral and religious
impressions which had already been made upon his mind, though obscured
for a time, were never obliterated. In his last illness he bore this
testimony to the affectionate religious care of his pious aunt. "If,"
said he, "I have ever been led to do any good, it has been through the
influence of her example, instruction, and prayers."

Little is known of the next ten years of his life. He appears to have
had some opportunities for attending school; but to his own native
energy and uncommon intellectual endowments, self cultured under many
obstacles and discouragements, is his future superiority of mental
attainment to be chiefly attributed. An interesting incident of his
character, after he had attained his fifteenth year, has been furnished
by a physician who was, in 1810, a senior student in the office of Dr.
Thomas E. Bond, of Baltimore. "The office," says he, "was fitted up with
taste, and boys, attracted by its appearance, would frequently drop in
to gaze on the labelled jars and drawers. Among them I discovered one
evening an interesting lad, who was amusing himself with the manner in
which his comrades pronounced the 'hard words' with which the furniture
was labelled. He appeared to be quite an adept in the Latin language. A
strong curiosity soon prompted me to inquire, 'What is your name, my
little boy?' He was small of his age. 'My name is John D. Godman.' 'Did
you study the Latin language with Mr. Creery?' 'No, he does not teach
any but an English school.' 'Do you intend to prosecute your studies
alone?' 'I do; and I will, if I live, make myself a Latin, Greek, and
French scholar.'"

In 1812 he was bound an apprentice to a printer of a newspaper, in
Baltimore, but soon became much dissatisfied with the occupation, which,
he said, in a letter to a friend, "cramped his genius over a font of
types, where there are words without ideas." He had been placed in this
situation against his own wish, being anxious to enter a more
intellectual pursuit, and had selected that of medicine; but his
guardian was opposed to it.

His early views of the Christian religion are thus expressed in a letter
to a friend, in the early part of 1814: "I have not ever had a fixed
determination to read the works of that modern serpent (Thomas Paine),
nor had I determined not to do it; and it seems to me surprising that a
fellow-student of yours should recommend the perusal of such writings.

"There is a great comfort in the belief of that glorious doctrine of
salvation that teaches us to look to the Great Salvator for happiness in
a future life; and it has always been my earnest desire, and I must
endeavour to die the death of the righteous, that my last end and future
state may be like His. It would be a poor hope indeed, it would be a
sandy foundation for a dying soul, to have no hope but such as might be
derived from the works of Bolingbroke and Paine; and how rich the
consolation and satisfaction afforded by the glorious tidings of the
blessed Scriptures! It is my opinion there has never one of these modern
deists died as their writings would lead us to believe; nor are but few
of their writings read at the present day."

About this time he appears to have left the printing-office, and became
a sailor on board the flotilla stationed in Chesapeake bay, under Com.
Barney. It was while in this situation that an incident occurred to
which he has himself attributed much of the buoyancy and energy of his
character. A raw sailor, who had been sent aloft by the captain, and was
busy in performing some duty which required him to stoop, was observed
to falter and grow dizzy. "_Look aloft_" cried the captain; and the
fainting landsman, as he instinctively obeyed the order, recovered his
strength and steadiness. The young philosopher read a moral in this
trifling incident which he never forgot, and which frequently animated
and aroused him in the most adverse circumstances. It is not treating
the subject with undue levity to add, that in the last and closing scene
of his life, when the earth was receding from his view, and his failing
strength admonished him of his peril, the watchword was still ringing in
his ear. At that awful period he "looked aloft" to "worlds beyond the
skies," and therein derived strength and hope, which supported him in
his passage through the narrow valley.

At the close of the war, young Godman received an invitation from Dr.
L., the physician already mentioned, to come to his house in
Elizabethtown, Pa., where he would have the opportunity of studying
medicine. This offer was accepted with joy; and he resolved, by the most
indefatigable study and diligence, to deserve the kindness of his
friend. "In six weeks," says the doctor, "he had acquired more knowledge
in the different departments of medical science, than most students do
in a year. During this short period he not only read Chaptal, Fourcroy,
Chesselden, Murray, Brown, Cullen, Rush, Sydenham, Sharp, and Cooper,
but wrote annotations on each, including critical remarks on the
incongruities in their reasonings. He remained with me five months, and
at the end of that time you would have imagined from his conversation
that he was an Edinburgh graduate." When he sat down to study, he was so
completely absorbed by his subject, that scarcely any event would
withdraw his attention.

Returning to Baltimore, he commenced the attendance of the medical
lectures in that city, and pursued his studies under the direction of an
eminent medical preceptor. In this situation he, through many affecting
difficulties, finished his education as a physician. At one time his
feelings are thus described in a letter: "I have been cast among
strangers. I have been deprived of property by fraud that was mine by
right. I have eaten the bread of misery. I have drunk of the cup of
sorrow. I have passed the flower of my days in a state little better
than slavery, and have arrived at what? Manhood, poverty, and
desolation. Heavenly Parent, teach me patience and resignation to Thy

Professor Sewall, in his eulogy on Dr. Godman, remarks, in relation to
this period of his life: "He pursued his studies with such diligence and
zeal as to furnish, even at that early period, strong intimations of his
future eminence. So indefatigable was he in the acquisition of
knowledge, that he left no opportunity of advancement unimproved; and,
notwithstanding the deficiencies of his preparatory education, he
pressed forward with an energy and perseverance that enabled him not
only to rival, but to surpass all his fellows."

While attending his last course of lectures in the University of
Maryland, Professor Davidge, who was his preceptor, was disabled by the
fracture of a limb from completing the course. He selected his gifted
pupil to supply his place. "This situation he filled for several weeks
with so much propriety; he lectured with such enthusiasm and eloquence;
his illustrations were so clear and happy, as to gain universal
applause. At the time he was examined for his degree, the superiority of
his mind, as well as the extent and accuracy of his knowledge, were so
apparent, that he was marked by the professors of the university as one
who was destined at some future period to confer high honour upon the

Dr. Godman graduated in the Second month, 1818, and soon after settled
in Maryland, as a practitioner, in a county bordering on the Chesapeake,
the spot described with so much truthful beauty in some of the numbers
of his "Rambles of a Naturalist." Here he devoted all the intervals of
leisure from a laborious practice to the study of natural history, in
which, from his ardent love of the subject, and his minute, persevering
investigation of it, he became so distinguished.

His intellectual powers had fitted him for a wider sphere than that of a
village doctor. His nature urged him to enter on a field more worthy of
his gifts. He returned to Baltimore, with the hope of being engaged in
the university as a professor, but found that arrangements different
from what he anticipated had been made. Here he married, and not long
after received an appointment to fill the chair of surgery in the
medical college of Ohio, located at Cincinnati. He was recommended by
one of the professors of the school in which he had been educated, in
this emphatic language: "In my opinion, Dr. Godman would do honour to
any school in America."

The Ohio school not succeeding, Dr. Godman resided in Cincinnati for one
year only; but in that short period inscribed himself deeply on the
public mind. The memory of his works remains. In the midst of his varied
scientific labours, he found time to cultivate his social relations, and
every day added a new friend to the catalogue of those who loved him for
his simplicity and frankness, not less than they admired him for his
genius, vivacity, and diligence.

He returned to Philadelphia, and soon after began to lecture on anatomy
and physiology, his first and greatest objects. His residence in this
city continued for several years, during which time he wrote many
valuable papers on scientific subjects, and published his celebrated
work, "The Natural History of American Quadrupeds," which has attained
deserved popularity.

The fame of Dr. Godman as a teacher of anatomy was now widely spread,
and he was solicited to accept the professorship of that branch in the
Rutgers Medical College at New York. His practice soon became extensive,
and the affairs of the college prosperous, when, in the midst of his
second course of lectures, a severe cold settled on his lungs,
accompanied by a copious hemorrhage, and compelled him to abandon his
pursuits, and flee for his life to a milder region. He sailed for the
West Indies, and passed the remainder of the winter and spring in the
island of Santa Cruz. Returning after this to Philadelphia, he took a
house in Germantown, and by the labours of his pen, continued to support
his family. His consumptive disease continued, though for a time so far
mitigated, that his friends flattered themselves his life was yet to be
spared to science and his country. At this time he says of himself: "At
present, that I am comparatively well, my literary occupations form my
chief pleasure; and all the regret I experience is, that my strength is
so inadequate to my wishes. Should my health remain as it is now, I
shall do very well; and I cannot but hope, since we have recently passed
through a severe spell of cold weather without my receiving any injury.
All my prospects as a public teacher of anatomy are utterly destroyed,
as I can never hope, nor would I venture if I could, again to resume my
labours. My success promised to be very great, but it has pleased God I
should move in a different direction."

His disease advanced with steady pace, and, though there were many
fluctuations, his strength continued to decline. The gradual progress of
his disorder allowed him many intervals of comparative ease. In these he
returned to his literary labours with his usual ardour, and wrote and
translated for the press until within a few weeks of his death.
Perfectly aware of the fatal character of his disorder, he watched its
progress step by step with the coolness of an anatomist, while he
submitted to it with the resignation of a Christian. The "Rambles of a
Naturalist" were among the last productions of his pen, and were written
in the intervals of acute pain and extreme debility. These essays are
not inferior in poetical beauty, and vivid and accurate description, to
the celebrated letters of Gilbert White on the natural history of
Selbourne. He came to the study of natural history as an investigator of
facts, and not as a pupil of the schools; his great aim being to learn
the instincts, the structure, and the habits of all animated beings.
This science was a favourite pursuit, and he devoted himself to it with
indefatigable zeal. He has been heard to say that, in investigating the
habits of the shrew mole, he walked many hundred miles. His powers of
observation were quick, patient, keen, and discriminating: it was these
qualities that made him so admirable a naturalist.

His fame, however, rested chiefly, during his life, upon his success as
a teacher of anatomy, and in this capacity he raised himself at once to
the top of his profession. He was so intent on making his students
understand him, and he was so fully master of the subject himself, that
his clear and animated flow of eloquence never failed to rivet their
attention; and he became, wherever he taught, the idol of his pupils.
His lectures on anatomy were real analytical experiments. The subject
was placed before the class; tissue and muscle and blood, vessel and
bone, were laid bare in their turn, their use and position exemplified
to the eye, and enforced by the most lively and precise description;
while the student was at the same time receiving the most valuable
lessons in practical dissection.

Dr. Godman had a remarkable capacity for concentrating all his powers
upon any given object of pursuit. What he had once read or observed he
rarely, if ever, forgot. Hence it was that, although his early education
was much neglected, he became an excellent linguist, and made himself
master of Latin, French, and German, besides acquiring a knowledge of
Greek, Italian, and Spanish. He had read the best works in these
languages, and wrote with facility the Latin and French. His character
and acquirements are justly portrayed by a distinguished journalist, in
the extracts which follow. "The tributes," said he, "which have been
paid in the newspapers to the late Dr. Godman, were especially due to
the memory of a man so variously gifted by nature, and so nobly
distinguished by industry and zeal in the acquisition and advancement of
science. He did not enjoy early opportunities of self-improvement, but
he cultivated his talents, as he approached manhood, with a degree of
ardour and success which supplied all deficiencies; and he finally
became one of the most accomplished general scholars and linguists,
acute and erudite naturalists, ready, pleasing, and instructive
lecturers and writers, of his country and era. The principal subject of
his study was anatomy in its main branches, in which he excelled in
every respect. His attention was much directed also to physiology,
pathology, and natural history, with an aptitude and efficiency
abundantly proved by the merits of his published works, which we need
not enumerate.

We do not now recollect to have known any individual who inspired us
with more respect for his intellect and heart, than Dr. Godman; to whom
knowledge and discovery appeared more abstractly precious; whose eye
shed more of the lustre of generous and enlightened enthusiasm; whose
heart remained more vivid and sympathetic amidst professional labour and
responsibility, always extremely severe and urgent. Considering the
decline of his health for a long period, and the pressure of adverse
circumstances, which he too frequently experienced, he performed
prodigies as a student, an author, and a teacher; he prosecuted
extensive and diversified researches; composed superior disquisitions
and reviews, and large and valuable volumes; and in the great number of
topics which he handled simultaneously, or in immediate succession, he
touched none without doing himself credit, and producing some new
development of light, or happy forms of expression. He lingered for
years under consumption of the lungs; understood fully the incurableness
of his melancholy state; spoke and acted with an unfeigned and beautiful
resignation; toiled at his desk to the last day of his thirty-two years,
still glowing with the love of science and the domestic affections."

Upon all this bright attainment and brighter promise for the future the
grave has closed. Divine Providence saw fit to arrest him in the midst
of his unfinished labours. We have now to view him in another and far
more important relation - that which man, as an immortal being, bears to
his Almighty Creator.

Dr. Godman's generous and enthusiastic devotion to science and learning
commands our admiration; and perhaps no more ennobling pursuits can
occupy the mind of him who looks not beyond the present state of
existence; but when these are brought into contrast with the solemn and
momentous concerns of eternity, they sink into utter insignificance. How
then was the subject of this memoir influenced by _religious_

Unhappily, the philosophical and religious opinions of Dr. Godman were
formed originally in the school of the French naturalists of the last
century. Many of the most distinguished of these men were avowed
atheists, and a still greater number rejected absolutely the Christian
revelation. Such is fallen human nature! Surrounded by the most
magnificent displays of Almighty Wisdom - placed on a scene where all
things speak of God, and invite us to worship and obey Him - a purblind
philosophy may devote herself to the study of His works, yet pass by the
testimony they furnish of His existence and attributes, and see nothing
in all this wonderful creation more noble than the mere relations of
colour and form. It was so with Dr. Godman; for, while assisted by such
lights as these, and guided alone in his investigations by perverted
reason, he became, as he tells us, _an established infidel_, rejecting
revelation, and casting all the evidences of an existing Deity beneath
his feet. In the merciful providence of a long-suffering God, the light
of truth at length beamed upon his darkened understanding. In the winter
of 1827, while engaged in his course of lectures in New York, an
incident occurred which led him to a candid perusal of the New
Testament. It was a visit to the death-bed of a Christian - the death-bed
of a student of medicine. There he saw what reason could not explain nor
philosophy fathom. He opened his Bible, and the secret was unfolded. He
was in all things a seeker of the truth, and could not satisfy himself
with any superficial examination.

He applied himself assiduously to the study of the New Testament; and
that this sincere and thorough examination of the inspired volume was
made the means of his full conversion, will best appear from his own
eloquent pen. The following is an extract of a letter he addressed to a
medical friend, Dr. Judson, a surgeon in the navy of the United States,
who was at that time in the last stage of consumption:

"_Germantown, December 25th, 1828._

In relation to dying, my dear friend, you talk like a sick man, and just
as I used to do, when very despondent. Death is a debt we all owe to
nature, and must eventually ensue from a mere wearing out of the
machine, if not from disease. Nature certainly has a strong abhorrence
to this cessation of corporeal action, and all animals have a dread of
death who are conscious of its approach. A part of our dread of death is
purely physical, and is avoidable only by a philosophical conviction of
its necessity; but the greater part of our dread, and the terrors with
which the avenues to the grave are surrounded, are from another and a
more potent source. ''Tis conscience that makes cowards of us all,' and
forces us by our terrors to confess, that we dread something beyond
physical dissolution, and that we are terrified not at merely ceasing to
breathe, but that we have not lived as we ought to have done, have not
effected the good that was within the compass of our abilities, and
neglected to exercise the talents we possessed, to the greatest
advantage. The only remedy for this fear of death is to be sought by
approaching the Author of all things in the way prescribed by himself,
and not according to our own foolish imaginations. Humiliation of
pride, denial of self, subjection of evil tempers and dispositions, and
an entire submission to His will for support and direction, are the best
preparatives for such an approach. A perusal of the gospels, in a spirit
of real inquiry after a direction how to act, will certainly teach the
way. In these gospels the Saviour himself has preached His own
doctrines, and he who runs may read. He has prescribed the course; He
shows how the approval and mercy of God may be won; He shows how awfully
corrupt is man's nature, and how deadly his pride and stubbornness of
heart, which cause him to try every subterfuge to avoid the humiliating
confession of his own weakness, ignorance, and folly. But the same
blessed Hand has stripped death of all the terrors which brooded around
the grave, and converted the gloomy receptacle of our mortal remains
into the portal of life and light. Oh! let me die the death of the
righteous; let my last end and future state be like his!

This is all I know on the subject. I am no theologian, and have as great
an aversion to priestcraft as one can entertain. I was once an infidel,
as I told you in the West Indies. I became a Christian from conviction
produced by the candid inquiry recommended to you. I know of no other
way in which death can be stripped of its terrors; certainly none better
can be wished. Philosophy is a fool, and pride a madman. Many persons
die with what is called _manly firmness_; that is, having acted a part
all their lives, according to their prideful creed, they must die
_game_. They put on as smooth a face as they can, to impose on the
spectators, and die _firmly_. But this is all deception: the true state
of their minds at the very time, nine times out of ten, is worse than
the most horrible imaginings even of hell itself. Some who have led
lives adapted to sear their conscience and petrify all the moral
sensibilities, die with a kind of indifference similar to that with
which a hardened convict submits to a new infliction of disgraceful
punishment. But the man who dies as a man ought to die, is the
humble-minded, believing Christian; one who has tasted and enjoyed all
the blessings of creation; who has had an enlightened view of the wisdom
and glory of his Creator; who has felt the vanity of merely worldly
pursuits and motives, and been permitted to know the mercies of a
blessed Redeemer, as he approaches the narrow house appointed for all
the living. Physical death may cause his senses to shrink and fail at
the trial; but his mind, sustained by the Rock of Ages, is serene and
unwavering. He relies not on his own righteousness, for that would be
vain; but the arms of mercy are beneath him, the ministering spirits of

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