Zimmermann, John George

, an eminent physician and miscellaneous writer, was born December 8, 1728, at Brugg, a town in the German part of the canton of Bern. His father, the senator Zimmermann, was descended from a family which had been distinguished, during several ages, for the merit and integrity with which they passed through the first offices of the government. His mother, of the name of Pache, was the daughter of a celebrated counsellor at Morges, in the French part of the same canton; which accounts for the circumstance of the two languages, German and French, being equally familiar to him, although he had spent only a very short time in France. Young Zimmermann was educated at home till Jie had attained the age of fourteen, when he was sent to

| study the belles lettres at Bern. After three years had been thus employed, he was transferred to the school of philosophy, where the prolix comments on the metaphysics of Wolf seem to have much disgusted, without much enlightening, him. The death of both his parents leaving him at liberty to choose his destination in life, he determined to embrace the medical profession, and went to the university of Gottingen, in 1747. Here his countryman^ the illustrious Haller, took him into his own house^ directed his studies, and treated him as a son and a friend. Besides the proper medical professors, Zimmermann attended the mathematical and physical lectures, and acquired a knowledge of English literature. He spent four years in thiuniversity, part of the last of which he employed in experiments on the doctrine of irritability^ first proposed by the English anatomist Giisson, and afterward pursued with so much success by Haller. Zimmermann made this principle the subject of his inaugural thesis, in 1751; and the clearness of the style and method with which he explained the doctrine, with the strength of the experimental proofs by which he supported it, gained him great reputation.

After a few months spent in a tour to Holland and France he returned to Bern, in 1752. Here he published an account of Haller, in a short letter to a friend, inserted in the journal of Neufchatel, and written in French. Though his only work in that language, it has much elegance of style; and it was the basis of his life of Haller, in German, which was published at Zuric in 1755. While at Bern he married madam Stek, a widow, who was a relation of Haller’s, and a woman of a very amiable disposition and well-cultivated mind. Shortly after, he accepted the then vacant post of first physician to his native town. Here he earnestly devoted himself to the studies and duties of his profession; not neglecting, however, those literary pursuits which are necessary to fill up the time of a man of education, in a place which affords but few of the resources of suitable society. He amused himself occasionally with writing little pieces, which he sent to a journal published at Zuric under the title of “The Monitor.” As his pleasures were almost exclusively confined to his family and his study, he here contracted that real or supposed love for solitude, which gave such a colour to his writings if not to his life. It seems, however, to have been rather the splenetic resource of a man who was dissatisfied with an | obscure situation, which was not adequate to his talents and reputation. In this place his years passed on usefully for the improvement of his mind; but, as it appears, not very happily. His natural sensibility, for want of objects to divert it, preyed upon itself; and he was rendered miserable by a thousand domestic cares and anxieties which he would have felt more lightly in the tumult of public life. He took, however, the best method in his power for relief, by employing his pen with assiduity on professional and literary topics. In 1754, he sent to the physico-medical society of Basil, a case of spasmodic quinsey, together with some observations on the hysteric tumours of Sydenham. In 1755, he composed a short poem, in German, on the earthquake at Lisbon, which was much esteemed by adequate judges, and placed him among the earliest improvers of his native language. In 1756, appeared his first “Essay on Solitude” a very short performance. Two years afterward, he began to enlarge its plan, and to coU lect materials for his more extended publication on this subject. He also formed the plan of his work on the “Experience of Medicine;” the first volume of which appeared in 1763. In 1758, he published his “Essay on National Pride;” which passed with rapidity through many editions, was translated into several foreign languages, and very much admired.

An epidemic fever, which reigned in Switzerland in 1763, 1764, and 1765, and which, in the latter year, changed into a dysentery, produced his “Treatise on the Dysentery,” which gained him great reputation. This was the last medical work that he composed, though he continued to write short treatises on occasional topics. It should not be omitted, that his friend Dr. Tissot, by addressing to him his own letters on the prevailing epidemic, contributed to extend his professional fame. Nor was he less attentive to his interest, although in some efforts to serve him he was disappointed. At length, however, the vacant pest of physician to the king of Great Britain at Hanover, which had been offered to Dr. Tissot, was, by his interest, procured for Zimmermann; and being accepted, he removed to Hanover in 1768. But this new situation was far from procuring the accession of happiness wbich was expected from it. A disorder which had commenced while he resided at Brugg (and which appears to have been a species of hernia), constantly increased, and was | accompanied with acute pains, which sometimes rendered irksome the execution of his duty. Besides some incidental c\r t -> cumstances, which occasioned a number of those slight irritations he would not have felt when in health, but which the state of his nerves now rendered insupportable, he had the misfortune, in 1770, of losing his wifr-; a Deprivation which affected him very sensibly. His complaint growing worse, his friend Tissot advised him to seek the best cliirurgical assistance, and persuaded him, in 1771, to go to Berlin, and put himself under the care of the celebrated Meckel. He was received into this surgeon’s house, and underwent a, successful operation. The time of his convalescence was ope of the most agreeable in his life. He made a number of acquaintances among distinguished characters at Berlin, was presented to the king, and was honoured by him with particular notice. His reception on his return to Hanover was equally pleasing. He now again plunged into business, and again professional and domestic cares brought on hypochondriacal complaints. In 1775, by way of vacation, he made a journey to Lausanne, where his daughter was placed for education, and spent five weeks with Dr. Tissot. As this was the first time that these intimate friends, of twenty years standing, had seen each other, it will be pleasing to translate some of Tissot, his biographer’s, observations on this circumstance: “I had, at length, the pleasure of seeing him; I shall not say of knowing him. I found that I knew him already;‘ th’6 friend conversing reminded me every moment of the friend writing, and perfectly resembled the portrait which I had drawn of him. I saw the man of genius, who, with promptitude seizes an object under all its relations, and whose imagination knows how to present it under jhe most agreeable form. His conversation tfas instructive, brilliant, sprinkled with a number of interesting facts and pleasant narrations, and animated by an expressive countenance. He spoke of every thing with great precision. When medicine was our subject, as was frequently the case, I found his principles solid, and his notions clear. When I took him to see patients under severe indispositions, or read to him consultations on the mOst difficult cases, T always found in him the greatest sagacity in discovering Causes, and explaining symptoms, great justice in forming indications, and an exquisite judgment in the choice of remedies, of which he employed few, but all efficacious. | In fine, on every occasion, I saw the man of sincerity, rec­”titude, a,nd virtue. His stay was much shorter than I could have wished."

Dr. Zimmermann was unhappy in the fate of his children. His amiable daughter, whom he most tenderly loved, fell in,to a lingering malady soon after she left Lausanne: it continued five years, and then carried her off. His son, who, from his infancy, was troubled with an acrid humour, after various vicissitudes of nervous affections, settled in perfect idiotcy in which state he remained at his father’s death. To alleviate these distresses^ a second marriage properly occurred to the mind of his friends, and they chose for him a most suitable companion, in the daughter of Dr. de Berger, king’s physician at Lunenberg. This union took place in 1782, and proyed the greatest charm and support of all his remaining life. Jiis l.ady was thirty years youngerthan he;but s,he perfectly Accommodated herself to his taste, and induced him to cultivate society abroad and at home more than he had hitherto done. About this time he employed himself in completing his favourite work on “Solitude,” which, at the distance of thirty years from the publication of the first essay on the subject, appeared in its new form in the years 178^ and 1786, in four volumes. His ideas of solitude had probably been softened b.y so long an intercourse with the world and as he now defined it., “tha,t state ofthe soul in which it abandons itself freely to its reflections,” it was not necessary to become either a monk or an anchorite, in orderto partake of its benefits. Had it not been presented under such an accommodating form, a philosopher might have smiled at the circumstance of a recommendation of solitude from a court physician becoming t.he favourite wojrk of one of the most splendid and ambitious of crowned jbeads. The empress of Russia sent her express thanks to the author for the pleasure which she had derived from the work, accompanied with a magnificent present, and commenced with hjrri a regular correspondence, which subsisted, with great freedom onher part, till 1792, when she suddenly dropped it. She also gave him an invitation to settle at Petersburgh as her first physician; and, on his declining the offer, she requested his recommendation of medical practitioners for her towns and armies, and conferred on him the order of Wladomir. | One of the most distinguished incidents of Zimmermann’s life was the summons which he received to attend the great Frederic in his last illness, in 1786. It was at once evident that there was no room for the exercise of his medical skill; but he improved the opportunity which he thus enjoyed of confidential intercourse with that illustrious character, whose mental faculties were pre-eminent to the last; and ‘he derived from it the materials of an interesting narrative which he afterwards published. The partiality of this prince in his favour naturally disposed him to a reciprocal good opinion of the monarch; and, in 17S8, he published “A Defence of Frederic the Great against the count de Mirabeau” which, in 1790, was followed by “Fragments on Frederic the Great,” in 3 vols. 12mo. All his publications relative to this king gave offence to many individuals, and subjected him to severe criticism; which he felt with more sensibility than was consistent with his peace of mind. His religious and political opinions, likewise, in his latter years, began to be in wide contradiction to the principles that were assiduously propagated all over Europe; and this added perpetual fuel to his irritability. The society of the Illuminated, coalesced with that of Free-masons, rose about this time in Germany, and excited the most violent commotions among men of letters and reflection. It was sup­’posed to have in view nothing less than the abolition of Christianity, and the subversion of all constituted authorities; and, while its partizans expected from it the most beneficial reforms of every kind, its opponents dreaded from it every mischief that could possibly happen to mankind. Zimmerrnann was among the first that took alarm at this formidable accusation. His regard for religion and social order, and, perhaps, his connexions with crowned heads, made him see in the most obnoxious light all the principles of the new philosophers. He attacked them with vigour, formed counter associations with other men of letters, and, at length, addressed to the emperor Leopold a memoir, painting in the strongest colouring the pernicious maxims of the sect, and suggesting the means of suppressing -it; means which are said to have depended on the decisive interference of civil authority. Leopold, who was well inclined to such measures, received his memoir very graciously, and sent him a letter and splendid present in return; but his death, soon after, deprived the cause of its most powerful protection. Ziminermann, | however, in conjunction with M. Hoffman of Vienna, who had instituted a periodical work on the old principles, did not relax in his zeal. They attacked, and were attacked in turn; and Zimrnermann embroiled himself with the courts of law by a paper published in Hoffman’s Journal, entitled “The Baron de Knigge unmasked as an Illuminate, Democrat, and Seducer of the People.” As this charge was in part founded on a work not openly avowed by the baron, 3, prosecution was instituted against Zimmermann as a libeller, and he was unable to exculpate himself. This state of warfare may well be imagined to have been extremely unfriendly to an irritable system of nerves; and, the agitation of the doctor’s mind was further increased by his personal fears on the approach of the French towards the electorate of Hanover in 1794; and his mancer of expressing his fears announced the greatest depression. “I saw therein,” says Tissot, “a mind whose springs began to fail, and which dared no longer say, as it could have justly done, `I carry every thing with me.‘ I neglected nothing in order to raise his spirits, and entreated him. to come to me with his wife, to a country that was his own, where he would have remained in the most perfect security, and enjoyed all the sweets of peace and friendship. He answered me in December, and one part of his letter resembled those of other times; but melancholy was still more strongly marked, and the illness of his wife, which he unfortunately thought more serious than it really was, evidently oppressed him: he had been obliged to take three days to write me details which at another time would not have occupied him an hour, and he concluded his letter with, 1I conjure you, perhaps for the last time, &c.’ The idea that he should write no more to his friend (and unfortunately the event justified him), the difficulty of writing a few pages, the still fixed idea of being forced to leave Hanover,although the face of affairs had entirely changed all, all indicated the loss I was about to sustain.” From the month of November he had lost his sleep, his appetite, his strength, and became sensibly thinner; and this stated of decline continued to increase. In January he was still able to make a few visits in his carriage; but he frequently fainted on the stairs: it was painful for him to write a prescription: he sometimes complained of a confusion in his head, and he at length gave over all business. This was at first taken for an effect of hypochondria, but | it was soon perceived, that his deep melancholy had destroyed the chain of his ideas. What has happened to so many men of genius, befell him. One strong idea masters every other, and subdues the mind that is no longer able either to drive it away, or to lose sight of it. Preserving all his presence of mind, all his perspicuity, and justness of thought on other subjects, but no longer desirous of occupying himself with them, no longer capable of any business, nor of giving advice, but with pain^he had unceasingly before his eyes the enemy plundering his house, as Pascal always saw a globe of fire near him, Bonnet his friend robbing him, and Spinello the devil opposite to him, In February he commenced taking medicines, which were either prescribed by himself or by the physicians whom he consulted; at the beginning of March he desired Tissot' s advice; but he was no longer able himself to describe his disorder, and his wife wrote Tissot the account of it. Tissot answered her immediately; but there could be no great utility in the directions of an absent physician in a disorder whose progress was rapid, and with an interim of near a month between the advice asked, and the directions received. His health decayed so fast, that M. Wichman, who attended him, thought a journey and change of air would now be the best remedy. Eutin, a place in the dutchy of Holstein, was fixed upon for his residence. Ingoing through Luneburgh on his way thither, M. Lentin, one of the physicians Jn whom he placed most confidence, was consulted; but Zimmermann, who, though so often uneasy on account of health, had, notwithstanding, the wisdom to take few medicines, and who did not like them, always had a crowd of objections to make against the b.est advice, and did nothing. Arrived at Eutin, an old acquaintance and his family lavished on him all the caresses of friendship. This reception highly pleased him, and he grew rather better. M. Hensler came from Kiel to see him, and gave him his advice, which was probably very good, but became useless, as it was very irregularly followed. At last, after a residence of three months, he desired to return to Hanover, where he entered his house with the same idea with which he had left it; he thought it plundered, and imagined himself totally ruined. Tissot wrote to intreat him to go to Carlsbad;but he was no longer capable of bearing the journey. Disgust, want of sleep, and weakness, increased rapidly; he took scarcely | jftiy nourishment, either on account of insurmountable Aversion, or because it was painful to him; or perhaps, as M. Wichman believed, because he imagined he had not a farthing left. Intense application, the troubles of his mind, his pains, want of sleep, and of sufficient nourishment, had on him all the effects of time, and hastened old age: at sixty -six he was in a state of complete decrepitude, and his body was become a perfect skeleton. He clearly foresaw the issue of his disorder: and above six weeks before his death be said to jthis same physician, “I shall die slowly, but very pain fu)ly;” and fourteen hours before he expired, he said, “Leave me alone, I am dying.” He expired Oct. 7, 1795. Most of the works mentioned above have been translated into English, and that on solitude particularly has acquired a considerable degree of popularity. 1

1

Life by Tissot.