It is the humor of many heads to extol the days of their forefathers, and declaim against the wickedness of times present. Which notwithstanding they cannot handsomely do, without the borrowed help and satire of times past; condemning the vices of their own times, by the expressions of vices in times which they commend, which cannot but argue the community of vice in both. Horace, therefore, Juvenal, and Persius, were no prophets, although their lines did seem to indigitate and point at our times. — SIR THOMAS BROWNE: Pseudodoxia Epidemica.
That opposition to the New Fever Hospital which Lydgate had sketched to Dorothea was, like other oppositions, to be viewed in many different lights. He regarded it as a mixture of jealousy and dunderheaded prejudice. Mr. Bulstrode saw in it not only medical jealousy but a determination to thwart himself, prompted mainly by a hatred of that vital religion of which he had striven to be an effectual lay representative — a hatred which certainly found pretexts apart from religion such as were only too easy to find in the entanglements of human action. These might be called the ministerial views. But oppositions have the illimitable range of objections at command, which need never stop short at the boundary of knowledge, but can draw forever on the vasts of ignorance. What the opposition in Middlemarch said about the New Hospital and its administration had certainly a great deal of echo in it, for heaven has taken care that everybody shall not be an originator; but there were differences which represented every social shade between the polished moderation of Dr. Minchin and the trenchant assertion of Mrs. Dollop, the landlady of the Tankard in Slaughter Lane.
Mrs. Dollop became more and more convinced by her own asseveration, that Dr. Lydgate meant to let the people die in the Hospital, if not to poison them, for the sake of cutting them up without saying by your leave or with your leave; for it was a known “fac” that he had wanted to cut up Mrs. Goby, as respectable a woman as any in Parley Street, who had money in trust before her marriage — a poor tale for a doctor, who if he was good for anything should know what was the matter with you before you died, and not want to pry into your inside after you were gone. If that was not reason, Mrs. Dollop wished to know what was; but there was a prevalent feeling in her audience that her opinion was a bulwark, and that if it were overthrown there would be no limits to the cutting-up of bodies, as had been well seen in Burke and Hare with their pitch-plaisters — such a hanging business as that was not wanted in Middlemarch!
And let it not be supposed that opinion at the Tankard in Slaughter Lane was unimportant to the medical profession: that old authentic public-house — the original Tankard, known by the name of Dollop’s — was the resort of a great Benefit Club, which had some months before put to the vote whether its long-standing medical man, “Doctor Gambit,” should not be cashiered in favor of “this Doctor Lydgate,” who was capable of performing the most astonishing cures, and rescuing people altogether given up by other practitioners. But the balance had been turned against Lydgate by two members, who for some private reasons held that this power of resuscitating persons as good as dead was an equivocal recommendation, and might interfere with providential favors. In the course of the year, however, there had been a change in the public sentiment, of which the unanimity at Dollop’s was an index
A good deal more than a year ago, before anything was known of Lydgate’s skill, the judgments on it had naturally been divided, depending on a sense of likelihood, situated perhaps in the pit of the stomach or in the pineal gland, and differing in its verdicts, but not the less valuable as a guide in the total deficit of evidence. Patients who had chronic diseases or whose lives had long been worn threadbare, like old Featherstone’s, had been at once inclined to try him; also, many who did not like paying their doctor’s bills, thought agreeably of opening an account with a new doctor and sending for him without stint if the children’s temper wanted a dose, occasions when the old practitioners were often crusty; and all persons thus inclined to employ Lydgate held it likely that he was clever. Some considered that he might do more than others “where there was liver;”— at least there would be no harm in getting a few bottles of “stuff” from him, since if these proved useless it would still be possible to return to the Purifying Pills, which kept you alive if they did not remove the yellowness. But these were people of minor importance. Good Middlemarch families were of course not going to change their doctor without reason shown; and everybody who had employed Mr. Peacock did not feel obliged to accept a new man merely in the character of his successor, objecting that he was “not likely to be equal to Peacock.”
But Lydgate had not been long in the town before there were particulars enough reported of him to breed much more specific expectations and to intensify differences into partisanship; some of the particulars being of that impressive order of which the significance is entirely hidden, like a statistical amount without a standard of comparison, but with a note of exclamation at the end. The cubic feet of oxygen yearly swallowed by a full-grown man — what a shudder they might have created in some Middlemarch circles! “Oxygen! nobody knows what that may be — is it any wonder the cholera has got to Dantzic? And yet there are people who say quarantine is no good!”
One of the facts quickly rumored was that Lydgate did not dispense drugs. This was offensive both to the physicians whose exclusive distinction seemed infringed on, and to the surgeon-apothecaries with whom he ranged himself; and only a little while before, they might have counted on having the law on their side against a man who without calling himself a London-made M.D. dared to ask for pay except as a charge on drugs. But Lydgate had not been experienced enough to foresee that his new course would be even more offensive to the laity; and to Mr. Mawmsey, an important grocer in the Top Market, who, though not one of his patients, questioned him in an affable manner on the subject, he was injudicious enough to give a hasty popular explanation of his reasons, pointing out to Mr. Mawmsey that it must lower the character of practitioners, and be a constant injury to the public, if their only mode of getting paid for their work was by their making out long bills for draughts, boluses, and mixtures.
“It is in that way that hard-working medical men may come to be almost as mischievous as quacks,” said Lydgate, rather thoughtlessly. “To get their own bread they must overdose the king’s lieges; and that’s a bad sort of treason, Mr. Mawmsey — undermines the constitution in a fatal way.”
Mr. Mawmsey was not only an overseer (it was about a question of outdoor pay that he was having an interview with Lydgate), he was also asthmatic and had an increasing family: thus, from a medical point of view, as well as from his own, he was an important man; indeed, an exceptional grocer, whose hair was arranged in a flame-like pyramid, and whose retail deference was of the cordial, encouraging kind — jocosely complimentary, and with a certain considerate abstinence from letting out the full force of his mind. It was Mr. Mawmsey’s friendly jocoseness in questioning him which had set the tone of Lydgate’s reply. But let the wise be warned against too great readiness at explanation: it multiplies the sources of mistake, lengthening the sum for reckoners sure to go wrong.
Lydgate smiled as he ended his speech, putting his foot into the stirrup, and Mr. Mawmsey laughed more than he would have done if he had known who the king’s lieges were, giving his “Good morning, sir, good-morning, sir,” with the air of one who saw everything clearly enough. But in truth his views were perturbed. For years he had been paying bills with strictly made items, so that for every half-crown and eighteen-pence he was certain something measurable had been delivered. He had done this with satisfaction, including it among his responsibilities as a husband and father, and regarding a longer bill than usual as a dignity worth mentioning. Moreover, in addition to the massive benefit of the drugs to “self and family,” he had enjoyed the pleasure of forming an acute judgment as to their immediate effects, so as to give an intelligent statement for the guidance of Mr. Gambit — a practitioner just a little lower in status than Wrench or Toller, and especially esteemed as an accoucheur, of whose ability Mr. Mawmsey had the poorest opinion on all other points, but in doctoring, he was wont to say in an undertone, he placed Gambit above any of them.
Here were deeper reasons than the superficial talk of a new man, which appeared still flimsier in the drawing-room over the shop, when they were recited to Mrs. Mawmsey, a woman accustomed to be made much of as a fertile mother — generally under attendance more or less frequent from Mr. Gambit, and occasionally having attacks which required Dr. Minchin.
“Does this Mr. Lydgate mean to say there is no use in taking medicine?” said Mrs. Mawmsey, who was slightly given to drawling. “I should like him to tell me how I could bear up at Fair time, if I didn’t take strengthening medicine for a month beforehand. Think of what I have to provide for calling customers, my dear!”— here Mrs. Mawmsey turned to an intimate female friend who sat by —”a large veal pie — a stuffed fillet — a round of beef — ham, tongue, et cetera, et cetera! But what keeps me up best is the pink mixture, not the brown. I wonder, Mr. Mawmsey, with your experience, you could have patience to listen. I should have told him at once that I knew a little better than that.”
“No, no, no,” said Mr. Mawmsey; “I was not going to tell him my opinion. Hear everything and judge for yourself is my motto. But he didn’t know who he was talking to. I was not to be turned on HIS finger. People often pretend to tell me things, when they might as well say, ‘Mawmsey, you’re a fool.’ But I smile at it: I humor everybody’s weak place. If physic had done harm to self and family, I should have found it out by this time.”
The next day Mr. Gambit was told that Lydgate went about saying physic was of no use.
“Indeed!” said he, lifting his eyebrows with cautious surprise. (He was a stout husky man with a large ring on his fourth finger.) “How will he cure his patients, then?”
“That is what I say,” returned Mrs. Mawmsey, who habitually gave weight to her speech by loading her pronouns. “Does HE suppose that people will pay him only to come and sit with them and go away again?”
Mrs. Mawmsey had had a great deal of sitting from Mr. Gambit, including very full accounts of his own habits of body and other affairs; but of course he knew there was no innuendo in her remark, since his spare time and personal narrative had never been charged for. So he replied, humorously —
“Well, Lydgate is a good-looking young fellow, you know.”
“Not one that I would employ,” said Mrs. Mawmsey. “OTHERS may do as they please.”
Hence Mr. Gambit could go away from the chief grocer’s without fear of rivalry, but not without a sense that Lydgate was one of those hypocrites who try to discredit others by advertising their own honesty, and that it might be worth some people’s while to show him up. Mr. Gambit, however, had a satisfactory practice, much pervaded by the smells of retail trading which suggested the reduction of cash payments to a balance. And he did not think it worth his while to show Lydgate up until he knew how. He had not indeed great resources of education, and had had to work his own way against a good deal of professional contempt; but he made none the worse accoucheur for calling the breathing apparatus “longs.”
Other medical men felt themselves more capable. Mr. Toller shared the highest practice in the town and belonged to an old Middlemarch family: there were Tollers in the law and everything else above the line of retail trade. Unlike our irascible friend Wrench, he had the easiest way in the world of taking things which might be supposed to annoy him, being a well-bred, quietly facetious man, who kept a good house, was very fond of a little sporting when he could get it, very friendly with Mr. Hawley, and hostile to Mr. Bulstrode. It may seem odd that with such pleasant habits he should hare been given to the heroic treatment, bleeding and blistering and starving his patients, with a dispassionate disregard to his personal example; but the incongruity favored the opinion of his ability among his patients, who commonly observed that Mr. Toller had lazy manners, but his treatment was as active as you could desire: no man, said they, carried more seriousness into his profession: he was a little slow in coming, but when he came, he DID something. He was a great favorite in his own circle, and whatever he implied to any one’s disadvantage told doubly from his careless ironical tone.
He naturally got tired of smiling and saying, “Ah!” when he was told that Mr. Peacock’s successor did not mean to dispense medicines; and Mr. Hackbutt one day mentioning it over the wine at a dinner-party, Mr. Toller said, laughingly, “Dibbitts will get rid of his stale drugs, then. I’m fond of little Dibbitts — I’m glad he’s in luck.”
“I see your meaning, Toller,” said Mr. Hackbutt, “and I am entirely of your opinion. I shall take an opportunity of expressing myself to that effect. A medical man should be responsible for the quality of the drugs consumed by his patients. That is the rationale of the system of charging which has hitherto obtained; and nothing is more offensive than this ostentation of reform, where there is no real amelioration.”
“Ostentation, Hackbutt?” said Mr. Toller, ironically. “I don’t see that. A man can’t very well be ostentatious of what nobody believes in. There’s no reform in the matter: the question is, whether the profit on the drugs is paid to the medical man by the druggist or by the patient, and whether there shall be extra pay under the name of attendance.”
“Ah, to be sure; one of your damned new versions of old humbug,” said Mr. Hawley, passing the decanter to Mr. Wrench.
Mr. Wrench, generally abstemious, often drank wine rather freely at a party, getting the more irritable in consequence.
“As to humbug, Hawley,” he said, “that’s a word easy to fling about. But what I contend against is the way medical men are fouling their own nest, and setting up a cry about the country as if a general practitioner who dispenses drugs couldn’t be a gentleman. I throw back the imputation with scorn. I say, the most ungentlemanly trick a man can be guilty of is to come among the members of his profession with innovations which are a libel on their time-honored procedure. That is my opinion, and I am ready to maintain it against any one who contradicts me.” Mr. Wrench’s voice had become exceedingly sharp.
“I can’t oblige you there, Wrench,” said Mr. Hawley, thrusting his hands into his trouser-pockets.
“My dear fellow,” said Mr. Toller, striking in pacifically! and looking at Mr. Wrench, “the physicians have their toes trodden on more than we have. If you come to dignity it is a question for Minchin and Sprague.”
“Does medical jurisprudence provide nothing against these infringements?” said Mr. Hackbutt, with a disinterested desire to offer his lights. “How does the law stand, eh, Hawley?”
“Nothing to be done there,” said Mr. Hawley. “I looked into it for Sprague. You’d only break your nose against a damned judge’s decision.”
“Pooh! no need of law,” said Mr. Toller. “So far as practice is concerned the attempt is an absurdity. No patient will like it — certainly not Peacock’s, who have been used to depletion. Pass the wine.”
Mr. Toller’s prediction was partly verified. If Mr. and Mrs. Mawmsey, who had no idea of employing Lydgate, were made uneasy by his supposed declaration against drugs, it was inevitable that those who called him in should watch a little anxiously to see whether he did “use all the means he might use” in the case. Even good Mr. Powderell, who in his constant charity of interpretation was inclined to esteem Lydgate the more for what seemed a conscientious pursuit of a better plan, had his mind disturbed with doubts during his wife’s attack of erysipelas, and could not abstain from mentioning to Lydgate that Mr. Peacock on a similar occasion had administered a series of boluses which were not otherwise definable than by their remarkable effect in bringing Mrs. Powderell round before Michaelmas from an illness which had begun in a remarkably hot August. At last, indeed, in the conflict between his desire not to hurt Lydgate and his anxiety that no “means” should be lacking, he induced his wife privately to take Widgeon’s Purifying Bills, an esteemed Middlemarch medicine, which arrested every disease at the fountain by setting to work at once upon the blood. This co-operative measure was not to be mentioned to Lydgate, and Mr. Powderell himself had no certain reliance on it, only hoping that it might be attended with a blessing.
But in this doubtful stage of Lydgate’s introduction he was helped by what we mortals rashly call good fortune. I suppose no doctor ever came newly to a place without making cures that surprised somebody — cures which may be called fortune’s testimonials, and deserve as much credit as the ten or printed kind. Various patients got well while Lydgate was attending them, some even of dangerous illnesses; and it was remarked that the new doctor with his new ways had at least the merit of bringing people back from the brink of death. The trash talked on such occasions was the more vexatious to Lydgate, because it gave precisely the sort of prestige which an incompetent and unscrupulous man would desire, and was sure to be imputed to him by the simmering dislike of the other medical men as an encouragement on his own part of ignorant puffing. But even his proud outspokenness was checked by the discernment that it was as useless to fight against the interpretations of ignorance as to whip the fog; and “good fortune” insisted on using those interpretations.
Mrs. Larcher having just become charitably concerned about alarming symptoms in her charwoman, when Dr. Minchin called, asked him to see her then and there, and to give her a certificate for the Infirmary; whereupon after examination he wrote a statement of the case as one of tumor, and recommended the bearer Nancy Nash as an out-patient. Nancy, calling at home on her way to the Infirmary, allowed the stay maker and his wife, in whose attic she lodged, to read Dr. Minchin’s paper, and by this means became a subject of compassionate conversation in the neighboring shops of Churchyard Lane as being afflicted with a tumor at first declared to be as large and hard as a duck’s egg, but later in the day to be about the size of “your fist.” Most hearers agreed that it would have to be cut out, but one had known of oil and another of “squitchineal” as adequate to soften and reduce any lump in the body when taken enough of into the inside — the oil by gradually “soopling,” the squitchineal by eating away.
Meanwhile when Nancy presented herself at the Infirmary, it happened to be one of Lydgate’s days there. After questioning and examining her, Lydgate said to the house-surgeon in an undertone, “It’s not tumor: it’s cramp.” He ordered her a blister and some steel mixture, and told her to go home and rest, giving her at the same time a note to Mrs. Larcher, who, she said, was her best employer, to testify that she was in need of good food.
But by-and-by Nancy, in her attic, became portentously worse, the supposed tumor having indeed given way to the blister, but only wandered to another region with angrier pain. The staymaker’s wife went to fetch Lydgate, and he continued for a fortnight to attend Nancy in her own home, until under his treatment she got quite well and went to work again. But the case continued to be described as one of tumor in Churchyard Lane and other streets — nay, by Mrs. Larcher also; for when Lydgate’s remarkable cure was mentioned to Dr. Minchin, he naturally did not like to say, “The case was not one of tumor, and I was mistaken in describing it as such,” but answered, “Indeed! ah! I saw it was a surgical case, not of a fatal kind.” He had been inwardly annoyed, however, when he had asked at the Infirmary about the woman he had recommended two days before, to hear from the house-surgeon, a youngster who was not sorry to vex Minchin with impunity, exactly what had occurred: he privately pronounced that it was indecent in a general practitioner to contradict a physician’s diagnosis in that open manner, and afterwards agreed with Wrench that Lydgate was disagreeably inattentive to etiquette. Lydgate did not make the affair a ground for valuing himself or (very particularly) despising Minchin, such rectification of misjudgments often happening among men of equal qualifications. But report took up this amazing case of tumor, not clearly distinguished from cancer, and considered the more awful for being of the wandering sort; till much prejudice against Lydgate’s method as to drugs was overcome by the proof of his marvellous skill in the speedy restoration of Nancy Nash after she had been rolling and rolling in agonies from the presence of a tumor both hard and obstinate, but nevertheless compelled to yield.
How could Lydgate help himself? It is offensive to tell a lady when she is expressing her amazement at your skill, that she is altogether mistaken and rather foolish in her amazement. And to have entered into the nature of diseases would only have added to his breaches of medical propriety. Thus he had to wince under a promise of success given by that ignorant praise which misses every valid quality.
In the case of a more conspicuous patient, Mr. Borthrop Trumbull, Lydgate was conscious of having shown himself something better than an every-day doctor, though here too it was an equivocal advantage that he won. The eloquent auctioneer was seized with pneumonia, and having been a patient of Mr. Peacock’s, sent for Lydgate, whom he had expressed his intention to patronize. Mr Trumbull was a robust man, a good subject for trying the expectant theory upon — watching the course of an interesting disease when left as much as possible to itself, so that the stages might be noted for future guidance; and from the air with which he described his sensations Lydgate surmised that he would like to be taken into his medical man’s confidence, and be represented as a partner in his own cure. The auctioneer heard, without much surprise, that his was a constitution which (always with due watching) might be left to itself, so as to offer a beautiful example of a disease with all its phases seen in clear delineation, and that he probably had the rare strength of mind voluntarily to become the test of a rational procedure, and thus make the disorder of his pulmonary functions a general benefit to society.
Mr. Trumbull acquiesced at once, and entered strongly into the view that an illness of his was no ordinary occasion for medical science.
“Never fear, sir; you are not speaking to one who is altogether ignorant of the vis medicatrix,” said he, with his usual superiority of expression, made rather pathetic by difficulty of breathing. And he went without shrinking through his abstinence from drugs, much sustained by application of the thermometer which implied the importance of his temperature, by the sense that he furnished objects for the microscope, and by learning many new words which seemed suited to the dignity of his secretions. For Lydgate was acute enough to indulge him with a little technical talk.
It may be imagined that Mr. Trumbull rose from his couch with a disposition to speak of an illness in which he had manifested the strength of his mind as well as constitution; and he was not backward in awarding credit to the medical man who had discerned the quality of patient he had to deal with. The auctioneer was not an ungenerous man, and liked to give others their due, feeling that he could afford it. He had caught the words “expectant method,” and rang chimes on this and other learned phrases to accompany the assurance that Lydgate “knew a thing or two more than the rest of the doctors — was far better versed in the secrets of his profession than the majority of his compeers.”
This had happened before the affair of Fred Vincy’s illness had given to Mr. Wrench’s enmity towards Lydgate more definite personal ground. The new-comer already threatened to be a nuisance in the shape of rivalry, and was certainly a nuisance in the shape of practical criticism or reflections on his hard-driven elders, who had had something else to do than to busy themselves with untried notions. His practice had spread in one or two quarters, and from the first the report of his high family had led to his being pretty generally invited, so that the other medical men had to meet him at dinner in the best houses; and having to meet a man whom you dislike is not observed always to end in a mutual attachment. There was hardly ever so much unanimity among them as in the opinion that Lydgate was an arrogant young fellow, and yet ready for the sake of ultimately predominating to show a crawling subservience to Bulstrode. That Mr. Farebrother, whose name was a chief flag of the anti-Bulstrode party, always defended Lydgate and made a friend of him, was referred to Farebrother’s unaccountable way of fighting on both sides.
Here was plenty of preparation for the outburst of professional disgust at the announcement of the laws Mr. Bulstrode was laying down for the direction of the New Hospital, which were the more exasperating because there was no present possibility of interfering with his will and pleasure, everybody except Lord Medlicote having refused help towards the building, on the ground that they preferred giving to the Old Infirmary. Mr. Bulstrode met all the expenses, and had ceased to be sorry that he was purchasing the right to carry out his notions of improvement without hindrance from prejudiced coadjutors; but he had had to spend large sums, and the building had lingered. Caleb Garth had undertaken it, had failed during its progress, and before the interior fittings were begun had retired from the management of the business; and when referring to the Hospital he often said that however Bulstrode might ring if you tried him, he liked good solid carpentry and masonry, and had a notion both of drains and chimneys. In fact, the Hospital had become an object of intense interest to Bulstrode, and he would willingly have continued to spare a large yearly sum that he might rule it dictatorially without any Board; but he had another favorite object which also required money for its accomplishment: he wished to bay some land in the neighborhood of Middlemarch, and therefore he wished to get considerable contributions towards maintaining the Hospital. Meanwhile he framed his plan of management. The Hospital was to be reserved for fever in all its forms; Lydgate was to be chief medical superintendent, that he might have free authority to pursue all comparative investigations which his studies, particularly in Paris, had shown him the importance of, the other medical visitors having a consultative influence, but no power to contravene Lydgate’s ultimate decisions; and the general management was to be lodged exclusively in the hands of five directors associated with Mr. Bulstrode, who were to have votes in the ratio of their contributions, the Board itself filling up any vacancy in its numbers, and no mob of small contributors being admitted to a share of government.
There was an immediate refusal on the part of every medical man in the town to become a visitor at the Fever Hospital.
“Very well,” said Lydgate to Mr. Bulstrode, “we have a capital house-surgeon and dispenser, a clear-headed, neat-handed fellow; we’ll get Webbe from Crabsley, as good a country practitioner as any of them, to come over twice a-week, and in case of any exceptional operation, Protheroe will come from Brassing. I must work the harder, that’s all, and I have given up my post at the Infirmary. The plan will flourish in spite of them, and then they’ll be glad to come in. Things can’t last as they are: there must be all sorts of reform soon, and then young fellows may be glad to come and study here.” Lydgate was in high spirits.
“I shall not flinch, you may depend upon it, Mr. Lydgate,” said Mr. Bulstrode. “While I see you carrying out high intentions with vigor, you shall have my unfailing support. And I have humble confidence that the blessing which has hitherto attended my efforts against the spirit of evil in this town will not be withdrawn. Suitable directors to assist me I have no doubt of securing. Mr. Brooke of Tipton has already given me his concurrence, and a pledge to contribute yearly: he has not specified the sum — probably not a great one. But he will be a useful member of the board.”
A useful member was perhaps to be defined as one who would originate nothing, and always vote with Mr. Bulstrode.
The medical aversion to Lydgate was hardly disguised now. Neither Dr. Sprague nor Dr. Minchin said that he disliked Lydgate’s knowledge, or his disposition to improve treatment: what they disliked was his arrogance, which nobody felt to be altogether deniable. They implied that he was insolent, pretentious, and given to that reckless innovation for the sake of noise and show which was the essence of the charlatan.
The word charlatan once thrown on the air could not be let drop. In those days the world was agitated about the wondrous doings of Mr. St. John Long, “noblemen and gentlemen” attesting his extraction of a fluid like mercury from the temples of a patient.
Mr. Toller remarked one day, smilingly, to Mrs. Taft, that “Bulstrode had found a man to suit him in Lydgate; a charlatan in religion is sure to like other sorts of charlatans.”
“Yes, indeed, I can imagine,” said Mrs. Taft, keeping the number of thirty stitches carefully in her mind all the while; “there are so many of that sort. I remember Mr. Cheshire, with his irons, trying to make people straight when the Almighty had made them crooked.”
“No, no,” said Mr. Toller, “Cheshire was all right — all fair and above board. But there’s St. John Long — that’s the kind of fellow we call a charlatan, advertising cures in ways nobody knows anything about: a fellow who wants to make a noise by pretending to go deeper than other people. The other day he was pretending to tap a man’s brain and get quicksilver out of it.”
“Good gracious! what dreadful trifling with people’s constitutions!” said Mrs. Taft.
After this, it came to be held in various quarters that Lydgate played even with respectable constitutions for his own purposes, and how much more likely that in his flighty experimenting he should make sixes and sevens of hospital patients. Especially it was to be expected, as the landlady of the Tankard had said, that he would recklessly cut up their dead bodies. For Lydgate having attended Mrs. Goby, who died apparently of a heart-disease not very clearly expressed in the symptoms, too daringly asked leave of her relatives to open the body, and thus gave an offence quickly spreading beyond Parley Street, where that lady had long resided on an income such as made this association of her body with the victims of Burke and Hare a flagrant insult to her memory.
Affairs were in this stage when Lydgate opened the subject of the Hospital to Dorothea. We see that be was bearing enmity and silly misconception with much spirit, aware that they were partly created by his good share of success.
“They will not drive me away,” he said, talking confidentially in Mr. Farebrother’s study. “I have got a good opportunity here, for the ends I care most about; and I am pretty sure to get income enough for our wants. By-and-by I shall go on as quietly as possible: I have no seductions now away from home and work. And I am more and more convinced that it will be possible to demonstrate the homogeneous origin of all the tissues. Raspail and others are on the same track, and I have been losing time.”
“I have no power of prophecy there,” said Mr. Farebrother, who had been puffing at his pipe thoughtfully while Lydgate talked; “but as to the hostility in the town, you’ll weather it if you are prudent.”
“How am I to be prudent?” said Lydgate, “I just do what comes before me to do. I can’t help people’s ignorance and spite, any more than Vesalius could. It isn’t possible to square one’s conduct to silly conclusions which nobody can foresee.”
“Quite true; I didn’t mean that. I meant only two things. One is, keep yourself as separable from Bulstrode as you can: of course, you can go on doing good work of your own by his help; but don’t get tied. Perhaps it seems like personal feeling in me to say so — and there’s a good deal of that, I own — but personal feeling is not always in the wrong if you boil it down to the impressions which make it simply an opinion.”
“Bulstrode is nothing to me,” said Lydgate, carelessly, “except on public grounds. As to getting very closely united to him, I am not fond enough of him for that. But what was the other thing you meant?” said Lydgate, who was nursing his leg as comfortably as possible, and feeling in no great need of advice.
“Why, this. Take care — experto crede — take care not to get hampered about money matters. I know, by a word you let fall one day, that you don’t like my playing at cards so much for money. You are right enough there. But try and keep clear of wanting small sums that you haven’t got. I am perhaps talking rather superfluously; but a man likes to assume superiority over himself, by holding up his bad example and sermonizing on it.”
Lydgate took Mr. Farebrother’s hints very cordially, though he would hardly have borne them from another man. He could not help remembering that he had lately made some debts, but these had seemed inevitable, and he had no intention now to do more than keep house in a simple way. The furniture for which he owed would not want renewing; nor even the stock of wine for a long while.
Many thoughts cheered him at that time — and justly. A man conscious of enthusiasm for worthy aims is sustained under petty hostilities by the memory of great workers who had to fight their way not without wounds, and who hover in his mind as patron saints, invisibly helping. At home, that same evening when he had been chatting with Mr. Farebrother, he had his long legs stretched on the sofa, his head thrown back, and his hands clasped behind it according to his favorite ruminating attitude, while Rosamond sat at the piano, and played one tune after another, of which her husband only knew (like the emotional elephant he was!) that they fell in with his mood as if they had been melodious sea-breezes.
There was something very fine in Lydgate’s look just then, and any one might have been encouraged to bet on his achievement. In his dark eyes and on his mouth and brow there was that placidity which comes from the fulness of contemplative thought — the mind not searching, but beholding, and the glance seeming to be filled with what is behind it.
Presently Rosamond left the piano and seated herself on a chair close to the sofa and opposite her husband’s face.
“Is that enough music for you, my lord?” she said, folding her hands before her and putting on a little air of meekness.
“Yes, dear, if you are tired,” said Lydgate, gently, turning his eyes and resting them on her, but not otherwise moving. Rosamond’s presence at that moment was perhaps no more than a spoonful brought to the lake, and her woman’s instinct in this matter was not dull.
“What is absorbing you?” she said, leaning forward and bringing her face nearer to his.
He moved his hands and placed them gently behind her shoulders.
“I am thinking of a great fellow, who was about as old as I am three hundred years ago, and had already begun a new era in anatomy.”
“I can’t guess,” said Rosamond, shaking her head. “We used to play at guessing historical characters at Mrs. Lemon’s, but not anatomists.”
“I’ll tell you. His name was Vesalius. And the only way he could get to know anatomy as he did, was by going to snatch bodies at night, from graveyards and places of execution.”
“Oh!” said Rosamond, with a look of disgust on her pretty face, “I am very glad you are not Vesalius. I should have thought he might find some less horrible way than that.”
“No, he couldn’t,” said Lydgate, going on too earnestly to take much notice of her answer. “He could only get a complete skeleton by snatching the whitened bones of a criminal from the gallows, and burying them, and fetching them away by bits secretly, in the dead of night.”
“I hope he is not one of your great heroes,” said Rosamond, half playfully, half anxiously, “else I shall have you getting up in the night to go to St. Peter’s churchyard. You know how angry you told me the people were about Mrs. Goby. You have enemies enough already.”
“So had Vesalius, Rosy. No wonder the medical fogies in Middlemarch are jealous, when some of the greatest doctors living were fierce upon Vesalius because they had believed in Galen, and he showed that Galen was wrong. They called him a liar and a poisonous monster. But the facts of the human frame were on his side; and so he got the better of them.”
“And what happened to him afterwards?” said Rosamond, with some interest.
“Oh, he had a good deal of fighting to the last. And they did exasperate him enough at one time to make him burn a good deal of his work. Then he got shipwrecked just as he was coming from Jerusalem to take a great chair at Padua. He died rather miserably.”
There was a moment’s pause before Rosamond said, “Do you know, Tertius, I often wish you had not been a medical man.”
“Nay, Rosy, don’t say that,” said Lydgate, drawing her closer to him. “That is like saying you wish you had married another man.”
“Not at all; you are clever enough for anything: you might easily have been something else. And your cousins at Quallingham all think that you have sunk below them in your choice of a profession.”
“The cousins at Quallingham may go to the devil!” said Lydgate, with scorn. “It was like their impudence if they said anything of the sort to you.”
“Still,” said Rosamond, “I do NOT think it is a nice profession, dear.” We know that she had much quiet perseverance in her opinion.
“It is the grandest profession in the world, Rosamond,” said Lydgate, gravely. “And to say that you love me without loving the medical man in me, is the same sort of thing as to say that you like eating a peach but don’t like its flavor. Don’t say that again, dear, it pains me.”
“Very well, Doctor Grave-face,” said Rosy, dimpling, “I will declare in future that I dote on skeletons, and body-snatchers, and bits of things in phials, and quarrels with everybody, that end in your dying miserably.”
“No, no, not so bad as that,” said Lydgate, giving up remonstrance and petting her resignedly.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54