Rush, Benjamin

, an eminent American physician, was born near Bristol, in the state of Pennsylvania, Jan. 5, 1745. His ancestors, quakers, were of the number of those who followed the celebrated William Penn to Pennsylvania, in 1683, His father dying while Benjamin was yet young, his education devolved upon his mother, who placed him, at an early age, under the direction of the late rev. Samuel Finley, at West Nottingham, in Chester county, Pennsylvania, by whom he was taught the rudiments of classical knowledge. From this academy he was removed to the college of Princeton, where he finished his classical education, and was admitted to the degree of A. B. in 1760, when he had not yet completed his sixteenth year. He was now left to choose a profession, and having given the preference to the science and practice of medicine, he placed himself under the care of the late Dr. John Redman, of Philadelphia, a gentleman who had deservedly obtained an extensive share of professional business, and who was justly considered an excellent practitioner. With | Dr. Redman young Rush continued some time, zealously engaged in the acquisition of the several branches of medicine; but as no institution for the purpose of medical instruction was then established in Philadelphia, he came over to Edinburgh, and there took his doctor’s degree in 1768, after having performed the usual collegiate duties with much honour, and published his inaugural dissertation “De Concoctione Ciborum in Ventriculo.” In this performance he candidly acknowledged himself indebted, for many of the opinions which he advanced, to his distinguished teacher Dr. Cullen.

About the period of Dr. Rush’s return to his native country, the first attempt was made in Philadelphia for the organization of a medical school. Lectures on anatomy and surgery had indeed been delivered, in that city, in 1763 and 1764-, to a small class of pupils, by the late Dr. William Shippen, who, two years previous, had returned from Europe, where he had completed his education under the direction of the celebrated Dr. William Hunter; and, in 1765, Dr. John Morgan, also, gave instruction on the institutes of medicine and the practice of physic. Three years after this, the venerable Dr. Kuhn, who had been a pupil of the illustrious Linnseus, and had preceded Dr. Rush in his medical honours only one year, was made professor of botany and the materia medica, and Dr. Rush became professor of chemistry immediately upon his arrival from England in 1769, a situation which he filled in such a manner as did great credit to his talents, and contributed much to the prosperity of the new school. When the dispute between the mother-country and the colonies took place, Dr. Rush sided with his countrymen; in 1776 was chosen a member of the congress for the state of Pennsylvania; and in 1777 was appointed surgeon-general of the military hospital in the middle department, but in the same year he exchanged this for the office of physiciangeneral, which, owing to some misunderstanding among the managers of the hospital stores, he resigned in February following. He still, however, continued to take an active part in the politics of the state to which he belonged, and contributed to the formation of a new government, that which prevailed before in Pennsylvania appearing to him and others very defective.

Soon after, he formed the resolution of retiring from, political life, and from this time may be considered as | exclusively occupied in duties pertaining to his profession. As an author he first wrote, in 1770, an account of the effects of the stramonium, or thorn apple, which was published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. I. The same year he addressed a letter, on the usefulness of wort in ill-conditioned ulcers, to his friend Dr. Huck, of London, which was published in the Medical Observations and Inquiries of London, vol. IV. In 1774 he read, before the Philosophical Society, his interesting “Inquiry into the Natural History of Medicine among the Indians of North America,” which formed the subject of an anniversary oration. He this year again addressed another letter to Dr. Huck, containing some remarks on bilious fevers, which was printed in the London Medical Observations and Inquiries, vol. V. To this succeeded his “Account of the Influence of the Military and Political Events of the American Revolution upon the Human Body, and Observations upon the Diseases of the Military Hospitals of the United States,” which his situation in the army eminently qualified him to make. In 1785 he offered to the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia an “Inquiry into the cause of the increase of Bilious and Intermitting Fevers in Pennsylvania,” published in their Transactions, vol. II.; and soon after, in quick succession, appeared “Observations on Tetanus,” an “Inquiry into the Influence of Physical Causes upon the Moral Faculty,” “Remarks on the Effects of ardent Spirits upon the body and mind,” and his “Inquiry into the Causes and Cure of the Pulmonary Consumption.” About this time also appeared his paper entitled “Information to Europeans disposed to migrate to the United States,” in a letter to a friend in Great Britain; a subject which had already occupied the attention of Dr. Franklin, but which Dr. Rush considered still further deserving notice, on account of the important changes which the United States had lately undergone. To this paper followed his “Observations on the Population of Pennsylvania,” “Observations on Tobacco,” and his “Essay on the Study of the Latin and Greek Languages,” which was first published in the American Museum of Philadelphia. This last mentioned paper, which has been the fertile topic of much animadversion, was, with several other essays of Dr. Rush, and his eulogiums on Dr. Cullen and the illustrious Rittenhouse, the former delivered in 1790, the latter in 1796, embodied in an octavo volume, entitled “Essays, literary, moral, and philosophical,” published in 1798. | In 1791, the medical colleges of Philadelphia, which, on account of certain legislative proceedings, had existed as two distinct establishments since 1788, became united under the name of the university of Pennsylvania; and Dr. Rush was appointed to the chair of the professorship of the institutes of medicine and clinical practice. He now gave to the public his “Lectures upon the cause of Animal Life.” The same year he presented to the Philosophical Society his “Account of the Sugar Maple Tree of the United States,” which was published in their Transactions, vol. III.; and in 1792, “Observations, intended to favour a supposition that the black colour of the negro is derived from leprosy,” published in their Transactions, vol. IV.

The year 1793 is memorable in the medical annals of the United States, on account of the great mortality occasioned by the yellow fever, which prevailed in the city of Philadelphia; and the history of that epidemic, which was published by Dr. Rush in 1794, cannot be too highly valued, both for his minute and accurate description of the disease, and the many important facts he has recorded in relation to it. It was comprised in one volume 8vo, and has undergone several editions, and been extensively circulated in the Spanish and in the French languages. About this period also, he offered to the medical world his observations on the “Symptoms and Cure of Dropsy” in general, and on “Hydrocephalus Internus;” an “Account of the Influenza,” as it appeared in Philadelphia in 1789, 1790, and 1791; and “Observations on the state of the Body and Mind in Old Age.” In 1797 came out his “Observations on the nature and cure of Gout, and on Hydrophobia” an “Inquiry into the cause and cure of the Cholera Infantum” “Observations on Cynanche Trachealis,” &c.

In 1788, many of his medical papers were collected together, and published under the title of “Medical Inquiries and Observations,” vol. I. These he, from time to time, continued, embracing most of the writings above enumerated, besides observations on the climate of Pennsylvania, and some others, until a fifth volume was completed in 1798. In 1801 he added to his character as a writer, by the publication of six “Introductory Lectures to a course of lectures upon the institutes and practice of Medicine,” delivered in the university of Pennsylvania. In 1804 a new and corrected edition of his “Medical Inquiries,” &c. was printed in four volumes, 8vo. In 1806 he | also published a second edition of his “Essays.” In 1809, such was the demand for the “Medical Inquiries and Observations,” he again revised and enlarged the work throughout, for a third edition, in which he continued his several histories of the yellow fever, as it prevailed in Philadelphia from 1793 to 1809. It also contained a “Defence of Bloodletting, as a remedy for certain diseases;” a view of the comparative state of medicine in Philadelphia between 1760 and 1766, and 1809; an “Inquiry into the various sources of the usual forms of summer and autumnal Diseases in the United States,” and the means of preventing them; and the recantation of his opinion of the contagious nature of the yellow fever.

He now formed the idea of selecting some of the best practical works for republication in America, and in order to render them more useful, of adding to them such notes as might the better adapt them to the diseases of his own country. His editions of Sydenham and of Cleghorn were published in 1809, and in 1810 appeared those of Pringle and Hillary. In 1811 appeared a volume of “Introductory Lectures,” containing those he had formerly published, with ten others delivered at different years before his class, and also two upon the pleasures of the senses and of the mind. His work upon the “Diseases of the Mind,” which had long and ardently been looked for, was next added to his writings. It appeared towards the close of 1812, in one volume octavo. The last effort of his pen was a letter on hydrophobia, containing additional reasons in support of the theory he had formerly advanced, as to the seat of the disease being chiefly in the blood-vessels. It was addressed to Dr. Hosack, and written not many days before his fatal illness.

While thus assiduously engaged in enriching medical science with the valuable fruits of his long and extensive experience, and in the active discharge of the practical duties of his profession, he was, on the evening of the 13th of April, 1813, seized with symptoms of general febrile irritation, which were soon accompanied with considerable pain in his chest. His constitution was naturally delicate, and he had acquired from previous illness, a predisposition to an affection of his lungs. He lost a moderate quantity of blood, by which he felt himself considerably relieved. But his strength was not sufficient to overcome the severity of his complaint; the beneficial effects resulting from the | most skilful treatment were but of temporary duration. His disease rapidly assumed a typhus character, attended with great stupor, and a disinclination to conversation. In other respects, however, he retained his faculties, and the perfect consciousness of his approaching dissolution. On Monday evening ensuing, after a short illness of five days, and in the sixty-ninth year of his age, he ended his truly valuable and exemplary life. His death was the subject of universal lamentation, and he was followed to the grave by thousands, who assembled to bear testimony to his excellence.

In Jan. 1776, he married miss Julia Stockton, daughter of the hon. judge Stockton, of New Jersey, a lady of an excellent understanding, and whose amiable disposition and cultivated mind eminently qualified her as the companion of Dr. Rush. Thirteen children were the fruits of their marriage, nine of whom still survive. Two of these are chosen to offices of high respectability in the general government of the United States.

It were no easy task to do adequate justice to the great talents, the useful labours, and the exemplary character of Dr. Rush. From the preceding sketch, it is presumed, some idea may be formed of his incessant devotedness to the improvement of that profession of which he was so bright an ornament- and many additional particulars may be seen in our authority, which we must necessarily omit. In private life, his disposition and deportment were in the highest degree exemplary and amiable. His writings are highly estimable, both on account of their extent and their variety. Instead of being a mere collator of the opinions of others, he was constantly making discoveries and improvements of his own; and from the results of his individual experience and observation, added more facts to the science of medicine, than all who had preceded him in his native country. His description of diseases, for minuteness and accuracy of detail cannot be exceeded, and may safely be regarded as models of their kind. In the treatment of gout, dropsy, consumption of the lungs, and the diseases of old age, he enlarged our views of the animal economy, and threw more light upon the peculiar character of these afflicting disorders than is to be derived from the investigations of any other writer. His volume on the diseases of the mind, in as far as it exhibits the infinitely varied forms which those diseases exhibit, is a storehouse of | instruction. Had his labours been limited to these subjects alone, his character would deservedly have been cherished by future ages. His reputation, however, will permanently depend upon his several histories of the epidemics of the United States, which have rendered his name familiar wherever medical science is cultivated. The respect and consideration which his publications procured for him among his contemporaries was such, that the highest honours were accumulated upon him in different parts of Europe, as well as in his own country, and he was admitted a member of many of the ‘most distinguished literary and philosophical associations. 1


From the " American Medical and Philosophical Register,*’ conducted by Dr. Hosack and Dr. Francis, of New York, and obligingly remitted, to us by the latter.