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Dr. Rush Holds Forth

May 2024
2min read

An unusual follow-up to the article on Benjamin Rush in our December, 1975, issue came to us from Gene DeGruson, curator of special collections at Kansas State College:

“I have in my personal collection the manuscript lectures of Dr. Benjamin Rush, delivered before the College of Philadelphia from November i, 1790, to February i, 1791. They were taken down by Elihu Hubbard Smith, a Connecticut wit, physician, poet, and naturalist, and have never been published. Unlike Dr. Rush’s published lectures, these are conversational in tone, filled with charming anecdotes and fascinating asides.”

Here, then, is Dr. Rush, speaking with cranky, eclectic complacency on love and other serious medical problems:

ON LOVE

“It is the Excess, alone of this passion, which constitutes disease.

“The Symptoms are a perpetual silence concerning, or a constant talking of the person beloved: a love of solitude, especially by moonlight, &c.

“Love, when it is successful, polishes Men, but makes Women appear awkward.

“It is a fact worth remarking that after the Passion is completely formed, the Lover, how much soever he should wish it, can never dream of his Mistress.

“Love affects both Sexes & all Ages.

“The late Gen 1 . Lee told me that when in a certain Village in Germany, he enquired of the Landlord what were the curiosities of the place. The Landlord told him that he had a neighbor who was an hundred & twelve years old. The Gen 1 , desirous to see him, went to the house. On coming to the door he found a very old Man sitting on the sill. ‘How do you do?’ says the Gen 1 . After this salutation … he asked him his age. ‘I am,’ replied the Old Man, ‘Eighty years old.’ ‘Eighty!’ exclaimed the Gen 1 .—‘I expected to hear you say you were an hundred & twelve.’ ‘No—’ returned the man—‘that is my father.’ ‘And where is he?’ ‘He is gone abroad: & I don’t much care if he never returns—for,’ added the Old Man, bursting into tears—‘he last week prevented my marrying a fine young girl and married her himself.’

“The Remote Causes [of love] are Idleness & the reading of Novels & Romances.

“The Proximate Cause is Too much Action in the Brain & Vessels of the Heart.

“Unsuccessful Love, where there is much sighing, fever, &c., is cured … by bleeding & blistering.

”… if this fails … the Lover should busy himself in looking out the defects of his mistress, in learning them by rote, & exposing her wherever he can.”

ON GOVERNMENT AND DISEASE

“In the simple ages of mankind, stimuli act chiefly on the arterial system; hence fever is produced. With the progress of Civilization; stimuli leave the arterial for the nervous system.…

“Sudden Grief, in a Peasant, will produce Fever. In the Second Rank, Melancholly. In the Highest, Syncope or sudden Death.…

“This progression of diseases serves not only to distinguish ranks in Society, but to mark the character of Nations. From the records of the Jews, we find that diseases had kept pace with their Moral & Political iniquity, so that they were ripe for that dreadful destruction imposed upon them by Jehovah.…

“We have now obtained a new Government. The minds of the people acquire daily new serenity. And if these things can be banished under the operation of our new Constitution, I will venture to predict that nervous diseases will disappear & fevers become, once more, the natural outlet of life.”

ON HYPOCHONDRIA

“I once heard of a patient who tho’t that he was dead. His Physicians laughing at him, he angrily dismissed them. He was cured by another Physician, who, humoring him and pretending to believe he was dead, proposed opening him. This proposal agitated the dead man so much that he recovered. Yet he always believed that he had been dead and that his physician had restored him to life by his great skill.”

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