Read CHAPTER V of Ups and Downs in the Life of a Distressed Gentleman , free online book, by William L. Stone, on ReadCentral.com.

HE CHOOSES A PROFESSION.

“Here let us breathe, and happily introduce a course of learning, and ingenious studies.” Shakspeare.

“The whole world cannot again prick out five such, take each one in his vein.” Idem.

Having thus completed his classical studies, and come off, as we have seen, with the customary academic honors, the next subject of consideration at the domestic fireside was the choice of a profession. His parents were not only conscientious people, but sincerely religious, and really desirous of doing good. They would, therefore, have preferred making him a clergyman, had he given evidence of piety. But such was not the fact. He was truly amiable in his disposition, of grave and quiet manners, and of sound morality. Still, they could not think of thrusting their son into the sacerdotal office, as is oftentimes the practice with regard to younger sons in foreign parts, merely as a trade to get a living by, while the head only is engaged in the work, and the heart has neither part nor lot in the matter. Some other profession was therefore necessary; and as his good parents were religiously opposed to the quarrelsome profession of the law, the choice was necessarily directed to that of medicine. In the sequel it will be seen, that, let people be ever so conscientious, they are obnoxious to great errors in the education of their children, and equally liable with others to err in the selection of that walk of life, or profession, for which they are least adapted by character or capacity.

But to proceed. Law and divinity being out of the question, it was resolved, in family council, that Daniel should become a disciple of Galen, and acquire the art of compounding simples, and healing the various diseases which flesh is heir to. He was accordingly entered in the office of an eminent medical gentleman, in one of the most beautiful cities which adorn the banks of the majestic Hudson. I will not be so particular as to name the place, lest other towns should be moved to jealousy. Each of the seven cities that contended for the honor of giving birth to Homer, was as well off as though each was actually entitled to it whereas, had the point been settled, six of them would not have been worth living in; rent-free. There is another reason for not being too particular. Although, unlike Byron, I have no fear of being taken for the hero of my own tale, yet were I to bring matters too near their homes, but too many of the real characters of my narrative might be identified. Suffice it, then, to say of the location Ilium fuit!

Immediately after his induction into the office of his AEsculapian Mentor, Daniel became DOCTOR WHEELWRIGHT and through all the subsequent vicissitudes of his life, and all the changes of his pursuits, and they have neither been few nor unimportant, the title has adhered to him until this day.

I have already said that his personal appearance was good, a circumstance which of course was not at all to his disadvantage. His first business in his new station, was the selection of a genteel boarding-house, the purchase of a new and fashionable suit of clothes, and a snuff-box. Ever partial to the society of ladies, he was assiduous in his efforts to cultivate their acquaintance, especially of those among them who were of a literary turn. Chief of the female literati of the town, was a lady of no certain age, but of great pretensions, whose hose were deeply azure. With her he became quite intimate, and she found his services particularly convenient, in sending to the circulating library for books, and in other respects in which it was found he could render himself useful; and he in turn was never more truly happy than when obeying the behests of a blue of such celebrity. These preliminary arrangements occupied about three or four months of the first year, during which he could of course have but little time to attend to his books. He did, however, make a beginning; but mental application was no easier now, than when in college, and he had moreover succeeded in forming acquaintances in a larger and more attractive circle than was to be found within and about the college walls. It required the greater portions of his mornings to keep alive these acquaintances; and every body knows it is no time for hard study after a hearty dinner of which, particularly if it were good, few were more fond than “Doctor Wheelwright.” Thus the first year found him scarcely at the close of the first chapter of Cheselden’s Anatomy.

An attendance upon the lectures of some regular medical college was of course essential to a thorough professional education, and his father had now become ambitious of doing the best for a son upon whom he began to look as a young man of high promise. Every where he was now spoken of as “young Doctor Wheelwright;” and there was something gratifying to a parent’s ear in that. He was therefore sent to New-York to hear the instructive eloquence of Hosack; the wise and prudent counsels of Post; to press into his goblet the grapes of wisdom clustering around the tongue of Mitchill; and to acquire the principles of surgery from the lips, and the skilful use of the knife from the untrembling hand, of Mott. Tickets were procured for all the regular courses of the college lectures, all of which were attended without intermission, and most of them slept over without compunction. The truth is, that neither medical authors, nor medical orations had any congeniality with his feelings. His love for science could not conquer his aversion to the dissecting-room, and he greatly preferred taking care of the body as he found it, to the labor of ascertaining how it was made; he liked well to have the springs and wheels of his own frame in easy and accurate motion, but cared not to examine the delicate structure of the complicated machinery. The consequence was, that when not in the lecture-room his time was occupied not with his books, but in lion-hunting. He visited the theatre when Cooper, and Pritchard, and Mrs. Darley, were in their glory; lounged frequent hours in the museums; and was the first to run after every new attraction placarded at the corners. He was greatly taken with the agility of an Armenian girl, upon the wire and slack-rope, who was in truth a second Fenella in the sprightliness of her nimble exhibitions. Day Francis, the conjuror, was his admiration. He was delighted with Rannie, the old ventriloquist, and the first in America; and Potter, the late sable and celebrated professor of legerdemain, in slight-of-hand, he thought actually excelled Doctor Mott himself.

At the close of the term he returned to the country, and resumed Cheselden. But he yet preferred the society of the ladies accompanying them in their morning walks, and at their evening parties. And with them all he was a favorite of a particular description. Full of good nature easy and accommodating in his disposition, ever ready to oblige, when any of the fair were in distress for a beau, he could always be had, and even felt honored to be called upon such service, when it was not desirable to take such a liberty with gallants of a different cast and temperament. Especially were his services of value at parties, where exigencies of a particular description were likely to occur as, when some not very popular damsel lived at the farthermost end of the town; or in such other undefinable cases as might result in the danger of some forlorn maidens being left, after the whips and blanc-manges were disposed of, to perform the homeward pilgrimage on foot and alone as the girl went to get married.

But the beau and the student are different animals; and at the close of the second year, the young doctor had only half completed Cheselden’s article on Osteology. It began now to be evident that at this rate he would never become an M.D., easily as this honor is obtained; and it was equally doubtful whether the most complaisant censors of a medical society, would, at the end of three years, admit him to practice. The distinguished medical gentleman with whom he was attempting to play the student, saw that if Harvey had not discovered the theory of the circulation of the blood, Doctor Wheelwright certainly would never have made it, and he hinted to his pupil in as delicate a manner as possible, that even if he had been cut out by nature for a physician, he had been spoiled in the making up. My friend was by this time quite of the same opinion himself; and he thereupon quitted the profession, with no more medical knowledge than the art of mixing suitable portions of salts and senna for children, and the preparation of cough-drops, by compounding the syrup of squills with paregoric and balsam of honey in equal proportions which mixture, by the way, is the best prescription to be found in the Vade Mecum of any physician in Christendom from Sir Astley Cooper down to Hahnnemann, of all medical humbugs the chief. Would that Daniel Wheelwright were the only person who has trifled away the misapplied money of industrious and misjudging parents!