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Art. IV.-RevIEW OF MEMOIRS OF JOHN MASON Good.
Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Character, Literary, Professional, and
Religious, of the late John Mason Good, M. D. F. R. S. etc. etc. ctc. By OLINTHOS GREGORY, LL. D. Professor of Mathematics in the Royal Military Academy, etc. etc. With the Sermon occasioned by his death. By CHARLES JERRAM, M. A. Boston: Crocker & Brewster. NewYork: J. Leavitt. 1829.
Great talents are a rare endowment; and, though they confer no exemption from the cares, disappointments, and trials of life, they elevate their possessor to the highest point of enviable distinction. All, with one consent, pay a kind of homage to the man, who, by his intellectual pre-eminence, shows himself capable of exciting, molding, and directing the minds of others. His removal from society is felt to be a public calamity, and thousands vie with each other in paying respect to his memory.
But it is only when superior talents are combined with permanent moral qualities, and are exerted in the cause of christian philanthropy and benevolence, that we yield them our highest homage of respect and gratitude. The annals of genius, indeed, supply us many unequivocal instances, in which the highest discipline and refinement of intellect, have resulted entirely from those moral qualities and excitements to which we have alluded above. Henry Martyn, a scholar whose name will be echoed with veneration in the halls of science and sanctuaries of religion for ages to come, has remarked, “Since I have known God in a saving manner, painting, poetry, and music, have had charms unknown to me before. I have received what I suppose is a taste for them; for religion has refined my mind, and made it susceptible of impressions from the sublime and beautiful.” A frequent contemplation of the character and works of God, accompanied with a firm belief in his providence and his word, is calculated to produce an illumination in the human mind, not unlike that exhibited in the face of Moses, when he descended from conversing with God on the holy Mount.
These remarks have been suggested by the memoir before us; from the perusal of which we have risen with enlarged conceptions of the capabilities of the hunan mind, and of the power and adaptation of religion to expand and direct its energies. We have been tracing the progress of a man, who was at once an elegant scholar, a profound philosopher, and a distinguished biblical critic; one who was intimately acquainted with nearly all the modern languages of Europe, while at the same time he was one of the most skilful practitioners in his own profession, which the age has produced, and one of the most learned expounders of the theory and practice of medicine, who has appeared at any period of the world. His
powers of intellect, rapid in their development, were evidently dilated, directed and excited by religion; and, what is peculiarly gratifying, he carried, finally, all his intellectual attainments to the foot of the cross, and consecrated them to the service of the Redeemer. Engaged in a profession, which presents at once a wide field, and peculiar facilities for usefulness, he was unremitting in his labors; and yet with all his devotion to medical science, he cultivated elegant literature to such a degree, as to hold an undisputed eminence among the first literary men of the age. He was, withal, a devoted christian ; and in looking at his career, we sometimes scarcely know which to admire most, the steady warmth and elevation of his piety, or the splendor of his talents. We are reminded of our own Rush, whom we have been accustomed to venerate as one of the brightest ornaments of liis profession; and who, in respect to the high order and versatility of his talents, and their honorable, useful, and successful application, bears no faint resemblance to Dr. Good.
It may not be uninteresting to glance at an outline of Dr. Good's education and manner of life, and to mark the steps of his literary and professional career. We consider it fortunate that the biography of such a man was assigned to the graphic pen of Dr. Gregory. If, as an elegant Italian writer says, “it requires genius properly to describe genius,” we think the task of preparing a memoir of Dr. Good, could not have fallen into better hands.
Dr. Good's father was a clergyman of very respectable character and attainments, belonging to the Independent or Congregational class of dissenters, and settled at Epping, in Essex. This son was born May 25, 1764, and received his name from the celebrated John Mason, author of the treatise on “self-knowledge," from whom the father received an impressive charge at his ordination. Under the immediate care and tuition of his father, who proved an excellent disciplinarian, he early acquired a knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and French languages, and evinced an ardent thirst for general knowledge. So untiring was his zeal, and so unremitting his assiduity in the pursuit of knowledge, that he allowed himself little time for exercise or recreation, and consequently suffered much in his health. By a proper regimen, however, the tone of his system was restored, before it became totally impaired by disease. Confined to no particular study, he suffered his mind to expatiate in the fields of elegant literature, and acquired an early taste for productions of this class.
At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to Mr. Johnson, a surgeon-apothecary at Gosport. To the duties of this new station he was assiduously devoted, but continued to save much time for the pursuit of his favorite studies. He composed a “ Dictionary of Poetic Endings,” and soon after “ An Abstracted View of the prin
cipal Tropes and Figures in Rhetoric in their origin and powers, with various illustrations. He next turned his attention to the Italian language, and soon made himself acquainted with its most admired productions. At this period also he followed the plan recommended by Mr. Locke, and transcribed in common-place books, the most beautiful and striking passages that occurred to him, in his reading.
In consequence of the death of Mr. Johnson, Mr. Good, about the age of eighteen, engaged himself for a time with a distinguished surgeon at Harant; but the winter and spring of 1783– 84, he passed in London, attending on the medical and surgical lectures of the most celebrated professors. These he took down in short hand, and afterwards transcribed them, in larger books having marginal spaces, where he might record the results of his reading and his professional experience. Whilst in London, be attracted the attention of many literary men, and was admitted a member of a society for the promotion of natural philosophy and medical science. An essay, which he read before this society, entitled, “ An Investigation of the Theory of earthquakes,” procured for him much honor, as it evinced the most profound research, and an extent of reading truly astonishing.
In the summer of 1784, Mr. Good returned from London, and entered into partnership with Mr. Decks of Sudbury. By his knowledge, and skill, and unremitting attention to the business of his profession, he soon became extensively known; and his partner committed to him the principal management of the concern.
About this time he married a Miss Godfrey of Coggeshall; who died however of the consumption within little more than six months. Nearly four years after this event, he married bis second wife, a daughter of Thomas Fenn, Esq. of Ballingdon Hall, an opulent banker at Sudbury. As the result of this union, which lasted thirty eight years, he had six children, of whom two daughters only survive. In the bosom of his family he always appeared to the greatest advantage, combining with his mental preeminence, those endearing social virtues, which made him at once an affectionate husband and father, and a most interesting and instructive companion and friend.
Though devoted to his profession, both in its scientific and practical parts, he continued to extend his reading into all branches of literature, and acquired a familiar and critical knowledge of many languages. An acquaintance formed in 1790 with Dr. Nathan Drake, the accomplished author of “Literary Hours,” &c. proved of equal advantage to both parties.
“ Their congeniality of sentiment,” says Dr. Gregory," and similarity of pursuits, laid the basis of a warm and permanent friendship; which
continued without interruption, or remission, until it was closed by death. Each stimulating the other to an extended activity of research, and each frequently announcing to the other the success which attended his exertions, or each as frequently exhibiting to the other some new acquisition of knowledge, some fresh specimen of poetic composition, either original or translated ; and all this in the mid-day of life, when with regard to both, the buds and blossoms of thought, and the varied foliage of imagination, were starting forth with a vigorous exuberance, could not but be productive of the most beneficial effects." p. 27.
In 1792, Dr. Good was called to suffer, what seems to be the frequent lot of distinguished genius, great pecuniary embarrassments; arising from his having injudiciously lent considerable sums of money, and having given his name as security to a large amount for others. On this occasion, he roused up all his powers, and made the most strenuous efforts to extricate himself. He first made translations from the French and Italian, tried his hand at dramatic composition, wrote poems and a series of philosophical essays; but not being able to dispose of his productions according to his expectations, with an ardor nowise damped, he next became a regular contributor to one of the reviews, and opened a correspondence with the editor of “The World,” which paper was afterwards enriched with many of his poetical effusions. Under every imaginable variety of circumstances, his elastic intellect was developing and exercising its powers ; carrying on within itself a continual series of literary efforts, the results of which were reduced to writing, in his brief intervals of business. Two of his prose essays, written about this time, are spoken of by his biographer in the highest terms of praise; one on “ A particular Providence," and the other a “Critique on Miracles,” intended to refute several of the sophisms of Rousseau, and inserted in the Analytic Review.
Laboring still under the pressure of pecuniary embarrassments, he acceded to proposals to enter into partnership with a surgeon in London. Accordingly in the year 1793, he established himself in the metropolis, at the age of twenty nine, and entered upon a course of successful practice. He soon attracted the notice of distinguished medical men, and the same year was admitted a member of the college of Surgeons. But his popularity excited the jealousy of his partner, who took various measures to thwart his success and injure his reputation. The partnership, as might be expected, was not of long continuance; and Dr. Good determined to struggle alone under his embarrassments, which, to ordinary men, would have been wholly insupportable. But,
" Misfortune oft in mirthful guise appears,
And woe at times will frolic tho' in tears.' Unwilling to ask assistance or to let his circumstances be known
even to his near relatives, he carried a cheerful countenance, and resolved, if possible, to surmount his difficulties alone. He was finally successful; for, except a comparatively small amount received from his father-in-law, Mr. Fenn, he was enabled from the fruits of bis own labor, literary and professional, to liquedate all claims of his creditors, and to place himself in easy and independent circumstances.
These efforts of Dr. G. remind us of the celebrated Boerhaave, who, in like manner, raised himself from indigence to independence; and who, though he was proverbially liberal in bestowing his property for benevolent purposes while living, left at his death a property of more than two hundred thousands pounds sterling. There were, as will appear in the course of this article, many points of resemblance between these two eminent physicians. Boerhaave possessed superlative talents. But though raised to unrivalled distinction by his literary and scientific attainments, these were of secondary moment when compared with his virtue and piety. As a preparation for business he daily devoted much of his time to prayer, and, like his divine master, habitually went about doing good. His enlightened and active piety gave lustre and energy to his talents, and formed the ruling principle of his whole conduct. Noble examples these, for the imitation of future physicians !
Following Dr. Good in his luminous path, as he pushes forward his theoretical and practical inquiries in every accessible channel, we find him next the successful conipetitor for a prize of twenty guineas offered by Dr. Lettsom of the Medical Society, for the best dissertation on the question, "What are the diseases most frequent in the work-houses, poor-houses, and similar institutions, and what are the best means of cure and prevention ?" This dissertation was published, and confirmed the high opinion, in which his professional qualifications and acquirements were held by the public. To this succeeded, shortly after, the publication of his “ History of Medicine,” a work that has since been incorporated into most of the cyclopædias, and other repositories of medical science.
It is natural to suppose that, possessing, as he did, many brilliant qualities and being as fond of society as he was fitted to shine in its most elevated circles, he would draw around him those of kindred tastes and habits. Accordingly we find him on terms of intimate acquaintance with the most distinguished literary and medical men of the metropolis and its vicinity, by whom his character and attainments were held in the highest estimation.
Notwithstanding his constant professional engagements, and we may form some estimate of these from the fact, that his business as a surgeon yielded him more than fourteen hundred pounds sterling a year, he found much tiine for literary pursuits. He had not only a great thirst for the study of languages, but a wonderful tact