Family Physician
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images [email protected] http://wellcomeimages.org A father-to-be is being reassured by the family physician. Reproduction of a drawing after F. Reynolds, 1928. 1928 By: Frank ReynoldsPublished: 1928 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

My dear Prince,

You are right in supposing that I am not well acquainted with the medical men of your capital ; I know none of them sufficiently well, and I perceive with pleasure that you have a decided objection to receive the recommendations of those who are unknown to you.

Without being oneself a very great physician, it is impossible to form an immediate judgment respecting the scientific attainments of another physician ; therefore you as a non-medical person must, in order to be able to select a really good man of this profession, have recourse to some circuitous methods, which shall guide you to your object with not less certainty than the knowledge attained by school learning can bestow. Certain
trivial things in their outward appearance, a certain mode of conducting themselves when professionally engaged, and some other accessories characterize the different classes of medical men.

Look how A. walks into the assemblage that reverentially expects him, with carefully measured steps, with expanded chest and elevated head ; how he announces the dignity of his great person by a gracious, slow inclination of his body, and how he decides the most important questions with a few short words and a disdainful air. He only honours the great people in the company with his notice, he flatters them in high sounding phrases, in order to be entertained by them in return, and he talks about the highest personages in the land and the greatest savants, as he would about the most ordinary trifles which may be estimated with the fifth part of a glance. Merit rewarded or neglected, heart-breaking domestic occurrences,
danger and delivery, life and death, are all the same to him ; nothing produces any change in his frigid manner, or at the most they elicit from him a witty remark, which the crowd of his admirers do not omit to acknowledge with their plaudits. He talks the modern languages with the most refined accent ; his house is the model of fashion and the furniture in the best taste.

You surely would never be so foolish, Prince, as to seek to make a display by selecting such a Khan among Doctors. Such an eccentric part must engage the whole mind of the best actor ; it has to be learned, rehearsed, played. Who can be surprised that the details of a case of disease are tiresome to him, and that he defers till to-morrow doing anything for the urgent symptoms of some poor man, the sole support of a wretched family,
because he must go and leave his card on some lord who is passing through the town. His medical wisdom must, in the face of all these fashionable accessories, be but a thin coating which, lie has enough to do to keep well polished, so that all uninvited inquiring glances may be arrested by its mirror-like gloss, and be repelled without having penetrated its shallow depth.

Should I advise you to select B. I felt half inclined to do so ! See : by half-past four in the morning he is in his carriage, for this morning he has thirty visits to pay to patients. His horses foam with the rapidity of the pace, and have to be changed for fresh ones in a few hours. Whilst he drives along he is seen to bend in deep meditation over a long clearly written list, wherein the names and abodes of the patients who arc sighing for him, and the minute at which he believes he will be at each of them, are carefully marked. He looks at his watch which indicates
the seconds, he calls to the coachman who instantly draws up. Out he jumps, says a few words to his servant and runs up the stairs. Doors fly open at his approach, three steps bring him to his patient’s side. He feels his pulse, asks him a couple of questions, and without waiting a reply he calls for pen, ink and paper : and after deep reflection for two seconds in his chair he suddenly dashes off the complex prescription, politely hands it to the patient for his uninterrupted use with a few solemn words, rubs his hands together, makes his bow and disappears, in order
to be with another patient six seconds afterwards, on whom also he bestows his two minutes of advice ; for his presence is in such great request that he is perfectly unable to devote a longer period to each patient. He wipes the perspiration from his brow, complains of having too much to do, makes his servant call him half a dozen times out from a party where he stays altogether only half an hour ; beckons to him every surgeon
he meets, in order to whisper a few important words in his ear, pointing at the same time to some houses or streets. At his consultation hour his ante-room teems with the friends of patients, sick-nurses, midwives, surgeons, and patients. There he dispenses in profusion, prescriptions, recommendations, advice — like tickets for the theatre.

Do you still hesitate, prince, to select this the most renowned practitioner in the town, whose residence every child knows, who according to the unanimous opinion of the whole public owes his great and wide-spread reputation to his indefatigable industry, his enormous experience and knowledge of disease, which must of necessity procure him such an extensive practice ?
Methinks I hear you insinuate that with such a superabundant practice the man cannot attend to any of his patients properly, cannot in a few minutes maturely reflect upon all the circumstances of each case, and still less find the proper remedies for it, seeing that the greatest and best physicians sometimes require half and whole hours for the consideration of similar cases. You will doubtless consider him to be some delusive, fleeting phantom, whose charlatanism consists in having too much to do, and whose only recommendations are a light hand, agile legs, and fleet horses. Well, I presume you will be inclined to look out for some one else.

Possibly your approbation may be bestowed on the next most celebrated practitioner, Dr. C, late surgeon in the army. He unites in his person to perfection all the arts that can enhance his superiority as a physician. His very appearance gives an aristocratic dignity to our science. His dress is in the last style of fashion. The cloth of his coat— which by the way is not yet paid for— could not have cost less than thirty shillings the yard, and the pattern of his gold-embroidered waistcoat excites the admiration of every lady. Those ambrosial curls on his hair, which are dressed thrice a day, are the work of the greatest artist in town. Look how elegantly he sticks out the little finger of his left hand, and how neatly he advances his foot— calumny asserts that he does so in order to show off his diamond rings and sparkling buckles. See with what grace he kisses the lily hands of dames and damsels, how charmingly he seats himself beside them on the sofa in order to feel their pulse in his inimitable manner, with what sweet words he commences the conversation, how fascinatingly he carries it on, and how artfully his philanthropic spirit revives it when it commences to flag, with scandalous half-invented anecdotes about other families,’ who had unfortunately made him their confidant. In order
to charm the ears of his curious auditors he never forgets to tell them about all the false teeth, stuffed backs, and pertes blanches, of all their friends and neighbours ; but all this he does in mysterious whispers and under the solemn promise of inviolable secrecy, which he had not omitted to swear to observe in all the other houses. If he is ever at a loss for something else to talk about, he delights to pass his colleagues in malicious review. This one has no knowledge of the world, that one is deficient in anatomical knowledge, the other has a repulsive appearance ; a third
wants genius, a fourth has got a bad pronunciation, a fifth has no skill in dancing, a sixth has little practical talent ; and so he goes on to a seventh and a tenth, ascribing to them all, heaven knows what faults. Every unsuccessful case of his colleagues is retailed from house to house, and he takes care at the same time, by delicate insinuations, to extol the wonderful powers of his own far superior genius. To the wife who complains of her husband he gives ingenious reasons to confirm her suspicions ; and on the other hand, he expresses to the husband by a few dexterous shrugs of his shoulders the honest sympathy he feels for him on account of the unhappiness the conduct of his wife must occasion him. Those who employ him must prefer him to all his colleagues, for he launches out into praise of everything about them. Thus any ordinary looking children are darling angels, the new furniture of the room is in the best possible taste, the pattern of the knitted purse has not its equal for ingenuity of invention, the cut of the new gown forms an epoch in fashion, the favourite daughter’s wretched strumming on the piano is the music of the spheres, her stupid remarks are sparks of the most brilliant genius. He has the complaisance to allow his patients to drink their favourite mineral waters, and to take
their favourite medicines as often as they choose, and deferentially conforms to their fancies with regard to having their medicine in the form of powders, pills, draughts, or electuaries.

He can also give it them as liqueur, lozenges, or confections. He whispers many a sly word in the chamber-maid’s ear ; and no one gives more in christmas-boxes to the servants who bring him his annual presents. He is perfectly conscious of his own talents ; before ladies he parades his profound knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages, and his nocturnal studies of the Latin author Hippocrates ; to the police magistrate lie exhibits his botanicol lore ; to the clergyman his anatomical acquirements ; and to the mayor his skill in writing prescriptions.

“In a calumnious mind no love for mankind can dwell,” me thinks I hear you say “and he whose head is occupied in trying to ingratiate himself by the elegancies of the toilette, by indirect self-praise, and all sorts of dishonourable practices, cannot possess any real merit.”

The fear of wearying you, my prince, prevents me pursuing further the disagreeable occupation of displaying more of these caricatures composed of fragments, and which are by all means to be shunned. Thank God ! their number is daily diminishing and it cannot be a matter of much difficulty for you to find a good physician if you will only be guided by your own feelings.

Search for some plain man of sound common sense, who takes great pains to ascertain the truth of all he hears and says, and does not merely look to its passing muster, who knows how to give clear and condensed information respecting everything that belongs to his art, and never obtrudes his opinion unasked or at an improper time, and who is no stranger to everything else important for man as a citizen of the world to know. More
especially let the man you choose be one who docs not shew temper nor get angry, except when he beholds injustice, who never turns away unmoved from any except flatterers, who has but few friends but these men of sterling principle, who listens attentively to the complaints of those who seek his aid, and does not pronounce an opinion without mature reflection, who prescribes but few, generally single, medicines in their natural state,
who keeps out of the way until he is sought for, who is not silent respecting the merits of his colleagues, but does not praise himself; a friend to order, quiet and beneficence.

And when, my prince, you have found such a person, as is not so very difficult now-a-days, no one will rejoice more than


S. H.