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With Brains, Sir
by [?]

One comfort we have, that in the main, and in the last resort, there is really very little that can be done for any man by another. Begin with the sense and the genius–the keen appetite and the good digestion–and, amid all obstacles and hardships, the work goes on merrily and well; without these, we all know what a laborious affair, and a dismal, it is to make an incapable youth apply. Did any of you ever set yourselves to keep up artificial respiration, or to trudge about for a whole night with a narcotized victim of opium, or transfuse blood (your own perhaps) into a poor, fainting exanimate wretch? If so, you will have some idea of the heartless attempt, and its generally vain and miserable result, to make a dull student apprehend–a debauched, interested, knowing, or active in anything beyond the base of his brain–a weak, etiolated intellect hearty, and worth anything; and yet how many such are dragged through their dreary curricula, and by some miraculous process of cramming, and equally miraculous power of turning their insides out, get through their examinations: and then–what then? providentially, in most cases, they find their level; the broad daylight of the world–its shrewd and keen eye, its strong instinct of what can, and what cannot serve its purpose–puts all, except the poor object himself, to rights; happy is it for him if he turns to some new and more congenial pursuit in time.

But it may be asked, how are the brains to be strengthened, the sense quickened, the genius awakened, the affections raised–the whole man turned to the best account for the cure of his fellow-men? How are you, when physics and physiology are increasing so marvellously, and when the burden of knowledge, the quantity of transferable information, of registered facts, of current names–and such names!–is so infinite: how are you to enable a student to take all in, bear up under all, and use it as not abusing it, or being abused by it? You must invigorate the containing and sustaining mind, you must strengthen him from within, as well as fill him from without; you must discipline, nourish, edify, relieve, and refresh his entire nature; and how? We have no time to go at large into this, but we will indicate what we mean:–encourage languages, especially French and German, at the early part of their studies; encourage not merely the book knowledge, but the personal pursuit of natural history, of field botany, of geology, of zoology; give the young, fresh, unforgetting eye, exercise and free scope upon the infinite diversity and combination of natural colors, forms, substances, surfaces, weights, and sizes–everything, in a word, that will educate their eye or ear, their touch, taste, and smell, their sense of muscular resistance; encourage them by prizes, to make skeletons, preparations, and collections of any natural objects; and, above all, try and get hold of their affections, and make them put their hearts into their work. Let them, if possible, have the advantage of a regulated tutorial, as well as the ordinary professorial system. Let there be no excess in the number of classes and frequency of lectures. Let them be drilled in composition; by this we mean the writing and spelling of correct, plain English (a matter not of every-day occurrence, and not on the increase),–let them be directed to the best books of the old masters in medicine, and examined in them,–let them be encouraged in the use of a wholesome and manly literature. We do not mean popular or even modern literature–such as Emerson, Bulwer, or Alison, or the trash of inferior periodicals or novels–fashion, vanity, and the spirit of the age, will attract them readily enough to all these; we refer to the treasures of our elder and better authors. If our young medical student would take our advice, and for an hour or two twice a week take up a volume of Shakspeare, Cervantes, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Cowper, Montaigne, Addison, Defoe, Goldsmith, Fielding, Scott, Charles Lamb, Macaulay, Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, Helps, Thackeray, etc., not to mention authors on deeper and more sacred subjects–they would have happier and healthier minds, and make none the worse doctors. If they, by good fortune–for the tide has set in strong against the literae humaniores–have come off with some Greek or Latin, we would supplicate for an ode of Horace, a couple of pages of Cicero or of Pliny once a month, and a page of Xenophon. French and German should be mastered either before or during the first years of study. They will never afterwards be acquired so easily or so thoroughly, and the want of them may be bitterly felt when too late.