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Mr. President, Fellows of the New York Academy
of Medicine, and Gentlemen : A PLEASANT custom, sanctioned by the antiquity of its observance and nurtured by affectionate regard, is the celebration of birthdays, or of events which have proved peculiarly interesting in the family circle. Nations appoint holidays upon which to commemorate important epochs in their history. Scientific bodies set apart occasions upon which to revert to the principles of their founders, review their achievements, and become animated with new impulses for the future.
Philosophers of the Darwinian school may contend that “all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form into which life was first breathed; " but when these same philosophers are associated with their confreres believing in the plurality of origin of species, they waive the theory as relating to the diverse origin of learned bodies, and each society claims its distinct origin, its distinct course, and prides itself on its individual struggles and triumphs in unravelling the arcana of nature.
Different species of societies, though of the same
generic character, are conducive to the interests of science; they excite to exertion, and stimulate a generous rivalry. Unbiassed by envy or prejudice, such associations willingly yield the meed of praise to successful cotemporaries, and each should prefer to borrow light from a distant orb rather than be imperfectly illuminated by a meteor in its own atmosphere.
Professor Haughton, when visiting Oxford in 1868, and addressing the British Medical Association, remarked :—“Our brothers in Oxford, like the Athenians at Syracuse, have gone on board the fleet, while we watch them from the shore, sympathizing in the sea-fight; as they win, we shout; when they fail, we weep.”
Mr. President and Fellows, we have not assembled this evening either to test with parliamentary acumen medical logic with medical logic in regard to any obscure dogma, or to unfold any new fact in science, or to expose any recent sophistry, or to scrutinize microscopically healthy or diseased tissues ; these are occupations in which we are ordinarily engaged. Nor are we gathered together, as occasionally it becomes necessary, to mourn the loss of a deceased Fellow, to eulogize his private character, to enumerate his original investigations, to describe his numerous successful contests with disease.
We are summoned this evening by special invitation to celebrate the twenty-second anniversary of this Academy. Once a year, dropping professional discussion, we with unanimity commemorate the birthday of an institution which is fondly cherished by ourselves, which is held in estimation by this community, and which is regarded by kindred societies at home and abroad as a prominent exponent of American medical science.
Thanking your Council for the honor conferred in selecting me to address you on this interesting festival, I feel it necessary to crave your kind indulgence. Circumstances unforeseen have interrupted the preparation of my theme, and I shrink from a duty which under the most favorable conditions I could but very imperfectly have performed.
After alluding for a few moments to our Academy, I shall endeavor to exhibit the inherent difficulties which have always beset medical progress; to present the triumphs over many of them which our profession has accomplished ; to prove that medical science has been developed as rapidly as could have been expected, and that it is now keeping step in the onward march of its sister sciences.
As on these anniversary occasions it is not expected that the discourse will be of a strictly didactic and scientific character, I shall in illustrating my subject quote the words both of professional and non-professional writers, and shall not hesitate to borrow thoughts even if expressed either in rhythmical spondees and dactyls or in modern verse.
It is with emotions of pleasure and of pride that we revert to the founders of this Academy, and to the bright career upon which this society entered immediately after its formation.
Its inception is ascribed to the late Dr. Alexander H. Stevens, in 1846, who on announcing it to his medical associates was soon aided by Watson, Parker, Mott, Isaac Wood, Stearns, Smith, and others in
making the ideal a reality. Minerva, at whose shrine our medical forefathers worshipped, sprang into immediate maturity at the time of her birth, and was forthwith received a com peer of her father Jupiter into the assembly of the gods. This Academy, fostered by the influences we have mentioned, was instantly assigned an honorable position in the brotherhood of scientific associations.
The cordial feeling which it was hoped would be enkindled in the medical profession of this city by the formation of this body was not long in being developed
“ Friends to congratulate their friends made haste,
And long-inveterate foes saluted and embraced.”
Scarcely a ripple of agitation has occurred to disturb fraternal equanimity, and to-day we find associated about three hundred of the leading medical men of this metropolis, liberal in thought and untrammelled by clique, amicably co-operating in the promotion of medical science. To the coffer of medical philosophy each contributes according to his ability. One may bestow but a mite, another give more munificently; but the accumulation is equally divided among us; and whether our offering has been small or large, we leave these halls almost alike fitted for the inportant duties devolving upon us.
Nor are we less generous to others than to ourselves. Are new facts either in physiology, pathology, therapeutics, or surgery here enunciated, forthwith through official publications and medical journals they are given to the world. The intelligent physician whose lot is cast either under the equatorial sun, or amid arctic or antarctic frost, or in temperate zones, is thus enabled to freely employ the information emanating from this body in relieving the sufferings of those under his care, whether of Americans, Caucasians, Mongolians, Ethiopians, or Malayans. How different the conduct of charlatans, who assume to themselves individually preternatural gifts, and proclaim their secret nostrums as sovereign panaceas for the healing of the nations !
But the high purpose which actuates this Academy is the same as that which animates the members of our profession throughout the world, and a congeniality of taste binds its widely scattered members into as close a confederation as though leagued by a sacred oath of covenant.
Of the thirteen Fellows who have been elected from time to time to preside over this Society, nine have been removed by death. Stearns, Francis, Mott, Wood, Stevens, Cock, Joseph M. Smith, Batchelder, and Watson, whose terms of office have occurred in the order enumerated, no longer are heard in our councils, but their examples still live and will survive through future generations. Our library contains their writings, our archives preserve their memoirs, while our hearts, warmed by the recollection of their personal virtues, bid us repeat orally to juniors their eminent qualities, that tradition may combine with written testimony in transmitting to posterity correct histories of their lives.
It has been said that the study of medicine has a tendency to develop in the physician views of materialism. This Academy may be cited to disprove