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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Naval Surgeon’s Examination in the Eighteenth Century
By Tobias George Smollett (1721–1771)
 
From ‘Roderick Random’

MR. JACKSON’S exordium did not at all contribute to the recovery of my spirits, but on the contrary, reduced me to such a situation that I was scarce able to stand: which being perceived by a plump gentleman who sat opposite to me with a skull before him, he said Mr. Snarler was too severe upon the young man; and turning towards me, told me I need not be afraid, for nobody would do me any harm; then bidding me take time to recollect myself, he examined me touching the operation of the trepan, and was very well satisfied with my answers.  1
  The next person who questioned me was a wag, who began by asking if I had ever seen an amputation performed; and I replying in the affirmative, he shook his head and said, “What! upon a dead subject, I suppose? If,” continued he, “during an engagement at sea, a man should be brought to you with his head shot off, how would you behave?” After some hesitation, I owned such a case had never come under my observation, neither did I remember to have seen any method of cure proposed for such an accident in any of the systems of surgery I had perused. Whether it was owing to the simplicity of my answer or the archness of the question, I know not; but every member of the board deigned to smile except Mr. Snarler, who seemed to have very little of the animal risible in his constitution.  2
  The facetious member, encouraged by the success of his last joke, went on thus: “Suppose you was called to a patient of a plethoric habit who had been bruised by a fall, what would you do?” I answered, “I would bleed him immediately.” “What,” said he, “before you had tied up his arm?” But this stroke of wit not answering his expectation, he desired me to advance to the gentleman who sat next him, and who, with a pert air, asked what method of cure I would follow in wounds of the intestines. I repeated the method of cure as it is prescribed by the best chirurgical writers; which he heard to an end, and then said with a supercilious smile, “So you think by such a treatment the patient might recover?” I told him I saw nothing to make me think otherwise. “That may be,” resumed he; “I won’t answer for your foresight: but did you ever know a case of this kind succeed?” I answered I did not: and was about to tell him I had never seen a wounded intestine; but he stopped me by saying with some precipitation, “Nor never will. I affirm that all wounds of the intestines, whether great or small, are mortal.” “Pardon me, brother,” says the fat gentleman, “there is very good authority—” Here he was interrupted by another with—“Sir, excuse me, I despise all authority. Nullius in verba. I stand upon my own bottom.” “But, sir, sir,” replied his antagonist, “the reason of the thing shows—” “A fig for reason,” cried this sufficient member: “I laugh at reason,—give me ocular demonstration.” The corpulent gentleman began to wax warm, and observed that no man acquainted with the anatomy of the parts would advance such an extravagant assertion. This innuendo enraged the other so much that he started up, and in a furious tone exclaimed, “What, sir! do you question my knowledge in anatomy?” By this time all the examiners had espoused the opinion of one or the other of the disputants, and raised their voices all together; when the chairman commanded silence, and ordered me to withdraw.  3
  In less than a quarter of an hour I was called in again, received my qualification sealed up, and was ordered to pay five shillings. I laid down my half-guinea upon the table, and stood some time until one of them bade me begone: to this I replied, “I will, when I have got my change;” upon which another threw me five shillings and sixpence, saying I would not be a true Scotchman if I went away without my change. I was afterwards obliged to give three shillings and sixpence to the beadles, and a shilling to an old woman who swept the hall. This disbursement sunk my finances to thirteen pence halfpenny, with which I was sneaking off; when Jackson, perceiving it, came up to me and begged I would tarry for him, and he would accompany me to the other end of the town as soon as his examination should be over.  4
  I could not refuse this to a person that was so much my friend; but I was astonished at the change of his dress, which was varied in half an hour from what I have already described, to a very grotesque fashion. His head was covered with an old smoked tie-wig that did not boast one crooked hair, and a slouched hat over it which would have very well become a chimney-sweeper or a dustman; his neck was adorned with a black crape, the ends of which he had twisted and fixed in the buttonhole of a shabby greatcoat that wrapt up his whole body; his white silk stockings were converted into black worsted hose; and his countenance was rendered venerable by wrinkles and a beard of his own painting. When I expressed my surprise at this metamorphosis, he laughed, and told me it was done by the advice and assistance of a friend who lived over the way, and would certainly produce something very much to his advantage; for it gave him the appearance of age, which never fails of attracting respect.  5
  I applauded his sagacity, and waited with impatience for the effects of it. At length he was called in: but whether the oddness of his appearance excited a curiosity more than usual in the board, or his behavior was not suitable to his figure, I know not; he was discovered to be an impostor, and put into the hands of the beadle, in order to be sent to bridewell. So that instead of seeing him come out with a cheerful countenance and a surgeon’s qualification in his hand, I perceived him led through the outward hall as a prisoner, and was very much alarmed and anxious to know the occasion; when he called with a lamentable voice and piteous aspect to me, and some others who knew him, “For God’s sake, gentlemen, bear witness that I am the same individual, John Jackson, who served as surgeon’s second mate on board the Elizabeth,—or else I shall go to bridewell.” It would have been impossible for the most austere hermit that ever lived to have refrained from laughing at his appearance and address: we therefore indulged ourselves a good while at his expense, and afterwards pleaded his cause so effectually with the beadle, who was gratified with half a crown, that the prisoner was dismissed, and in a few moments resumed his former gayety; swearing, since the board had refused his money, he would spend it every shilling before he went to bed in treating his friends; at the same time inviting us all to favor him with our company.  6
 
 
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