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Having now exhausted his fortune in the pursuit of his studies, he found the necessity of applying to some profession, that, without engrossing all his time, might enable him to support himself; and having obtained a very uncommon knowledge of the mathematicks, he read lectures in those sciences to a select number of young gentlemen in the university.

At length, his propension to the study of physick grew too violent to be resisted; and, though he still intended to make divinity the great employment of his life, he could not deny himself the satisfaction of spending some time upon the medical writers, for the perusal of which he was so well qualified by his acquaintance with the mathematicks and philosophy.

But this science corresponded so much with his natural genius, that he could not forbear making that his business, which he intended only as his diversion; and still growing more eager, as he advanced further, he at length determined wholly to master that profession, and to take his degree in physick, before he engaged in the duties of the ministry.

It is, I believe, a very just observation, that men’s ambition is, generally, proportioned to their capacity. Providence seldom sends any into the world with an inclination to attempt great things, who have not abilities, likewise, to perform them. To have formed the design of gaining a complete knowledge of medicine, by way of digression from theological studies, would have been little less than madness in most men, and would have only exposed them to ridicule and contempt. But Boerhaave was one of those mighty geniuses, to whom scarce any thing appears impossible, and who think nothing worthy of their efforts, but what appears insurmountable to common understandings.

He began this new course of study by a diligent perusal of Vesalius, Bartholine, and Fallopius; and, to acquaint himself more fully with the structure of bodies, was a constant attendant upon Nuck’s publick dissections in the theatre, and himself very accurately inspected the bodies of different animals.

Having furnished himself with this preparatory knowledge, he began to read the ancient physicians, in the order of time, pursuing his inquiries downwards, from Hippocrates through all the Greek and Latin writers.

Finding, as he tells us himself, that Hippocrates was the original source of all medical knowledge, and that all the later writers were little more than transcribers from him, he returned to him with more attention, and spent much time in making extracts from him, digesting his treatises into method, and fixing them in his memory.

He then descended to the moderns, among whom none engaged him longer, or improved him more, than Sydenham, to whose merit he has left this attestation, “that he frequently perused him, and always with greater eagerness.”

His insatiable curiosity after knowledge engaged him now in the practice of chymistry, which he prosecuted with all the ardour of a philosopher, whose industry was not to be wearied, and whose love of truth was too strong to suffer him to acquiesce in the reports of others.

Yet did he not suffer one branch of science to withdraw his attention from others: anatomy did not withhold him from chymistry, nor chymistry, enchanting as it is, from the study of botany, in which he was no less skilled than in other parts of physick. He was not only a careful examiner of all the plants in the garden of the university, but made excursions, for his further improvement, into the woods and fields, and left no place unvisited, where any increase of botanical knowledge could be reasonably hoped for.

In conjunction with all these inquiries, he still pursued his theological studies, and still, as we are informed by himself, “proposed, when he had made himself master of the whole art of physick, and obtained the honour of a degree in that science, to petition regularly for a license to preach, and to engage in the cure of souls;” and intended, in his theological exercise, to discuss this question, “why so many were formerly converted to Christianity by illiterate persons, and so few at present by men of learning.”