S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

[Works of S. Weir Mitchell] (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell[Works of S. Weir Mitchell] (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



autbor'0 Definitive je&ition









Copyright. 1880, by
Copyright. 1899, 1900, by


UnicbcTbockec pteee, tUw Both


^ /O





THEE AND You 207




SAID SHE" . . . . Frontispiece

" ' SIT DOWN,' HE SAID. < WHAT A FOOL Facing Page

YOU ARE 1 ' " 4.0




THE first two tales in this little volume appeared
originally in the " Atlantic Monthly " as anonymous
contributions. I owe to the present owners of that
journal permission to use them. " The Autobiog
raphy of a Quack " has been recast with large ad

" The Case of George Dedlow " was not written
with any intention that it should appear in print. I
lent the manuscript to the Rev. Dr. Furness and for
got it. This gentleman sent it to the Rev. Edward
Everett Hale. He, presuming, I fancy, that every
one desired to appear in the "Atlantic," offered it
to that journal. To my surprise, soon afterwards
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 collected in several places
to assist the unfortunate man, and benevolent per
sons went to the " Stump Hospital," in Philadelphia,
to see the sufferer and to offer him aid. The spirit
ual incident at the end of the story was received
with joy by the spiritualists as a valuable proof of
the truth of their beliefs.





AT this present moment of time I am what the
doctors call an interesting case, and am to be found
in bed No. 10, Ward n, Massachusetts General
Hospital. 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. However, it is a rather grim
subject to joke about, because, if I believed the doc
tor 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 ; but mean
while it is rather dull for a stirring, active person
like me to have to lie still and watch myself getting
big brown and yellow spots all over me, like a map
that has taken to growing.

The man on my right has consumption smells
of cod-liver oil, 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 amuse

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

" Well, my man," 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 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,

After he left I lay awhile thinking over the mat
ter. 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 vir
tuous, 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 intelligence he has
put into the business. This I call hard. If I did
not recall with satisfaction the energy and skill with
which I did my work, I should be nothing but dis-


gusted at the melancholy spectacle of my failure.
I suppose that I shall at least find occupation in
reviewing all this, and I think, therefore, for my
own satisfaction, I shall try to amuse my convales
cence 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 I have had
no end of bad luck.

As no one will ever see these pages, I find it
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 noticed. 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 chang
ing it, but I got over it by signing myself " E.

Where my father was born I do not know, except
that it was somewhere in New Jersey, for I remem
ber that he was once angry because a man called
him a Jersey Spaniard. I am not much concerned
to write about my people, because I soon got above
their level ; 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 had a snug little
property, about seven thousand 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 uncom
fortable, 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 selfish boy alive. But,
then, I am an unusual 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 interest in life lay in the
bell-ringing of Christ Church. He was leader, or
No. i, 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 exer
cise. With one foot caught in a loop of leather
nailed to the floor, he would begin to pull No. I,
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 ac
quaintance with the old church and its lumber-
rooms, where were stored the dusty arms of William
and Mary and George II., proved of use in my
later days.

My father had a strong belief in my talents, 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 Col
lege, 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
snowballing. A fellow had to take his share or be
marked as a deserter. I never saw any personal
good to be had out of a fight, but it was better to
fight than to be cobbed. That means that two fel
lows 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 audience,
or make believe to have one, even if it is only him
self. 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 fel
lows nor the grammar-school used stones in snow
balls. 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 mercifully 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 let
ting the boys attend to what he called the character
of the school. Once I had to lie to him about tak
ing 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 expensive,
which was very well, as my father had some diffi
culty to provide even the moderate 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 Sunday
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

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 threat
ened 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 permanent usefulness, and it
was only the temporary folly of youth.

Whatever else the pirate necessity appropriated,
I took no large amount of education, although I was
fond of reading, and especially of novels, which are,


I think, very instructive 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 ordinary wriggling
methods which boys employ, and which are gener
ally useless. I was rather given to telling large
stories just for the fun of it, and, I think, told them
well. But somehow 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 fel
lows 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.

During my junior year I became unpopular, 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 Nassau Hall
were not, after all, the mischievous outbreaks in
which college lads indulge. Indeed, I have never
been guilty of any of those pieces of wanton wicked
ness 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 inclina
tions, and from that time forward I have steadily
avoided, whenever it was possible, 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 believed my ac
count 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
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 mustache, 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 Re
bellion broke out, and after we had settled, 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 resolute 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 coun-


sels 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 things of life I might have lived along
as reputably as most men. This, however, is, and
always has been, my difficulty, and I suppose that
I am not responsible 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. Peninnah
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 col
lege to which I went directed me to a boarding-
house, where I engaged a small third-story room,
which I afterwards shared with Mr. Chaucer of
Georgia. He pronounced it, as I remember, " Jaw-

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 previously have been one year in a phy
sician'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.


Dissecting struck me as a rather nasty business
for a gentleman, and on this account 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 gradua
tion : 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 am
bition. I am told that it is all very different to

The astonishment with which I learned of my
success was shared by the numerous Southern gen
tlemen 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 gentle
men, with more money than I had. Many of them
carried great sticks, usually sword-canes, and some
bowie-knives or pistols ; also, they delighted 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 Vir
ginia. One could see them any day sauntering
along with their arms over their companions' shoul
ders, splendidly indifferent to the ways of the peo
ple about them. They hated the " Nawth " 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 hav
ing 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 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 dis
played in the window a fresh sign, upon which was
distinctly to be read :


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
intervals explored the strange section of the town
which lay to the south of my office. I do not sup
pose there is anything like it elsewhere. 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 children, 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 predominated, 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, pawnbrokers, 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 with
out 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, the keeper of a small pawnbrok-
ing-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
nameless trades, men and women, white, black, or
mulatto. How they got the levies, ftps, and quar
ters 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 gentlemen, who cannot be expected to
give their best brains for nothing, when at every
body's beck and call. I am told, indeed I know,
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 compensation 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, curled darkness for
hair, and teeth like new tombstones. It was pretty
cold, and he was relieving his feet by standing first
on one and then on the other. He did not wait for
me to speak.

" Hi, sah, Missey Barker she say to come quick
away, sah, to Numbah 709 Bedford Street."

The locality did not look like pay, but it is hard
to say in this quarter, because sometimes you found
a well-to-do "brandy-snifter" (local for gin-shop) or

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell[Works of S. Weir Mitchell] (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 19)