Benjamin Rush

Associated Locations:

  • Byberry, Philadelphia County

Associated Dates:

  • January 4, 1746 – Born

Benjamin Rush is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.

Life Sketch from “Lives of the Signers”

Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.

Doctor Benjamin Rush was born at Berberry, about twelve miles northeast of Philadelphia, on the twenty-fourth day of December, 1745. He was descended from an officer of that name in Cromwell’s army, who, after the death of the Protector, emigrated to America, and settled in Pennsylvania. Benjamin was his grandson.

The father of Benjamin Rush died when he was only six years old, and he and a brother were left entirely to the care of his mother. She was anxious to give Benjamin a classical education, but the earnings from her small farm did not supply her with adequate means. Intent upon her purpose, she sold her land and moved into Philadelphia, where she commenced some commercial pursuit. She was successful; and her wish to give her eldest son a liberal education, was gratified. At the age of nine years he was placed under the care of the Rev. Dr. Findlay, who was the principal of an academy at Nottingham, in Maryland. After completing his preparatory studies, young Rush entered Princeton College, where he took his degree in 1760, at the age of sixteen years.

The study of the law was the voluntary choice of young Rush, but by the advice of Dr. Findlay, he selected the practice of medicine as a profession, and placed himself under the direction of the celebrated Doctor Redman, of Philadelphia. In 1766 he went to England with the view of professional improvement, where he remained two years, attending the lectures at the best hospitals and medical schools in London. In the summer of l768, he went to Paris, where he added much to his stock of knowledge; and in the autumn of that year he returned to America, bearing the title of “Doctor of Medicine,” for which a diploma was conferred at Edinburgh.

Doctor Rush commenced practice in Philadelphia, and before the first year of his professional career was completed, he was called in consultation with some of the most eminent practitioners of that city. His polished manners, superior intellect, kind deportment in the sick room, and unwearied attention to the calls of the poor made him very popular, and he soon had an extensive and lucrative practice. Students from all parts of the United States, after the war, flocked to Philadelphia to avail themselves of his lectures.

Doctor Rush espoused the patriot cause immediately after his return to America, in 1768, and his pen proved a powerful instrument, in connection with his personal exertions, in arousing the people to action. He was solicited to take a seat in the General Congress of I775, but declined; but when, in 1776, some of the Pennsylvania delegates in Congress refused to vote for Independence and withdrew from their seats, he was elected to till one of them, and obeyed the call of duty by accepting it. He was not a member when the Declaration was adopted, but was present and signed it on the second of August following.

In I777, Congress appointed Doctor Rush to the office of physician-general of the military hospitals of the middle department, in which he was of great utility. He did not serve again in Congress alter that appointment; in fact, with the exception of being a member of the Convention of Pennsylvania, which adopted the Federal Constitution, he did not actively participate in any public duties. He was appointed president of the mint in 1788, which office he held fourteen years.

Although the services of Doctor Rush were eminently useful as a statesman, yet as a medical practitioner and writer, he was most distinguished and is more intimately known. He was appointed professor of chemistry in the Medical College of Philadelphia, in I769, the year after his return from Europe. He was made professor of the theory and practice of medicine in 1789; and at that time
he also held the professorship of the Institutes of Medi-icine and of Chemical Science, in the Medical College of Pennsylvania. On the resignation of Doctor Kuhn, in 1796, he succeeded that gentleman in the professorship of the practice of medicine. These three professorships he held during his life.

Doctor Rush’s eminent qualities as a medical practitioner, a philanthropist, and a Christian, were fully developed when the yellow fever rapidly depopulated Philadelphia, in I793. It was so malignant, that all the usual remedies failed, and the best medical skill was completely foiled. Many physicians became alarmed for their own safety and fled from the city; but Doctor Rush, and a few of his attached pupils and friends, remained to aid the sick and dying, and, if possible, check the march of the destroyer. He at length had a severe attack of the fever, and some of his pupils fell victims; but so long as he was able to get from his bed, he did not remit his labors.

The impress of Dr. Rush’s mind and energy is upon several public institutions. He formed the Philadelphia Dispensary in 1786, and he was one of the principal founders of Dickerson College, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In addition to honorary membership in many literary and scientific societies abroad, he held various offices in benevolent and philosophical institutions at home.

As a patriot, Doctor Rush was firm and inflexible; as a professional man he was skilful, candid, and honorable; as a thinker and writer, he was profound; as a Christian, zealous and consistent; and in his domestic relations, he was the centre of a circle of love and true affection. Through life the Bible was a “lamp to his feet”-his guide in all things appertaining to his duty toward God and man. Amid all his close and arduous pursuit of human knowledge, he never neglected to “search the Scriptures” for that knowledge which points the soul aright in its joumey to the Spirit Land. His belief in revealed religion, and in the Divine inspiration of the Sacred Writers, is manifested in many of his scientific productions;and during that period, at the close of the last century when the sentiments of intidel France were infused into the minds of men in high places here, Doctor Rush’s principles stood firm, and his opinions never wavered.

The life of this truly great man terminated on the nine-teenth day of April, 1813, when he was in the sixty-eighth year of his age. During his last illness, the public mind was greatly affected, and his house was constantly thronged with people inquiring concerning the probable result of the disease that was upon him. When death closed his
eyes, every citizen felt that a dear friend had been taken away, and a general gloom overspread the community. 1

Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.

Benjamin Rush was born on the 24th of December, 1745, O. S. in the township of Byberry, twelve or fourteen miles northeast of Philadelphia. His ancestors emigrated front England to Pennsylvania, about the year 1683.

The father of young Rush died when he was six years of age. The care of his education therefore devolved upon his mother, who well understood the importance of knowledge, and early took measures to give her son a liberal education. Young Rush was sent to the academy at Nottingham, in Maryland, about sixty miles southeast from Philadelphia. This academy had long been conducted, with great reputation, by the Reverend Dr. Finley, afterwards president of Princeton college, in New-Jersey.

Under the care of this excellent man, and among the people of Nottingham, who were remarkable for their simplicity, industry, morality, and religion, Rush spent five years, in acquiring a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages. In this retired spot, and at this early age, he is said to have been deeply impressed with a reverence for religion, with the importance of a regular life, and of diligence, industry, and a punctual attention to business; and in general, of such steady habits, as stamped a value on his character through life. The solid foundation which was thus laid for correct principles and an upright conduct, was chiefly the work of the learned and pious Dr. Finley. He was an accomplished instructor of youth. He trained his pupils for both worlds, having respect in all his intercourse with them, to their future, as well as present state of existence.

After finishing his preparatory studies at Nottingham, he was entered in 1759, a student in the college of Princeton, then under the superintendence of President Davies. Such had been his progress in his classical studies at Nottingham, that he obtained the degree of bachelor of arts in 1760, and before he had completed his fifteenth year.

On leaving college, he commenced the study of medicine, under the direction of the eminent Dr. Redman, of Philadelphia. He was also one of Dr. Shippen’s ten pupils, who attended the first course of anatomical lectures given in this country. In 1766, he went to Edinburgh, where he spent two years at the university in that city, and from which he received the degree of M. D. in 1768.

The next winter after his graduation he spent in London; and the following spring having visited France, in the autumn of the same year he returned to Philadelphia, and commenced the practice of medicine.

In 1769, he was elected professor of chemistry in the college of Philadelphia. This addition to Drs. Shippen, Morgan, Kuhn, and Bond, who had begun to lecture a few years before, completed the various departments, and fully organized this first medical school in America. By a subsequent arrangement in 1791, the college was merged in a university, and Dr. Rush was appointed professor of the institutes and practice of medicine, and of clinical practice, in the university of Pennsylvania.

As a lecturer on chemistry, and a practitioner, Dr. Rush became deservedly popular. During his residence abroad, his professional attainments were much enlarged, and he was successful in introducing several, valuable improvements. He was particularly attached to the system of depletion, and resorted to bleeding in many new cases. Next to the lancet, he used cathartics; and upon these two remedies he chiefly depended for the cure of diseases. About the year 1790, twenty years after Dr. Rush had been a practitioner, and professor of medicine, he began to publish his new principles of medicine. These were more or less developed by him in his successive annual course of lectures, for the subsequent twenty-three years of his life.

It is not our province to settle the merits of that system. which Dr. Rush adopted. He applied his principles of medicine to the cure of consumptions, dropsies, hydrocephalus, apoplexy gout, and other diseases of the body, and also to madness, and the diseases of the mind. He depended chiefly upon the lancet, and strongly urged the use of calomel, to which he gave the name of “the Sampson of the Materia Medica.”

It was not to be expected that a system, in many respects so novel, should be adopted by every one. It had its strong opposers, and these opposers exist at the present day. They objected to the system of depletion, but agreed with Doctor Rush, that calomel was well entitled to the name of “Sampson,” not for the reason which he assigned, but “because,” said they, “it has slain its thousands.”

In the year 1793, Dr. Rush had an opportunity of applying his principles, in the treatment of yellow fever. In that year, Philadelphia was desolated by that tremendous scourge, after an interval of thirty-one years. The disease baffled the, skill of the oldest and most judicious physicians; and they differed about the nature, and the treatment of it. “This general calamity lasted for about one hundred days, extending from July till November. The deaths in the whole of this distressing period, were four thousand and forty-four, or something more than thirty-eight each day, on an average. Whole families were confined by it. There was a great deficiency of nurses for the sick. There was likewise a great deficiency of physicians, from the desertion of some, and the sickness and death of others. At one time, there were but three physicians, who were able to do business out of their houses, and at this time there were probably not less than six thousand persons ill with the fever.”

“A cheerful countenance was scarcely to be seen for six weeks. The streets every where discovered marks of the distress that pervaded the city. In walking for many hundred yards, few persons were met, except such as were in quest of a physician, a nurse, a bleeder, or the men who buried the dead. The hearse alone kept up the remembrance of the noise of carriages, or carts, in the streets. A black man leading or driving a horse, with a corpse, on a pair of chair wheels, met the eye in most of the streets of the city, at every hour of the day; while the noise of the same wheels passing slowly over the pavement kept alive anguish and fear in the sick and well, every hour of the night.”

For some time after the commencement of the disease, all the physicians were nearly alike unsuccessful in the management of it. At this time, Dr. Rush resorted to gentle evacuants as had been used in the yellow fever of 1762 ; but finding these unavailing, he applied himself to an investigation if the disease, by means of the authors who had written on the subject. He ransacked his library, and pored over every book which treated of the yellow fever. At length he took up a manuscript, which contained an account of the disease, as it prevailed in Virginia, in 1741, and which was given to him by Dr. Franklin, and had been written by Dr. Mitchell of Virginia. In this manuscript the propriety and necessity of powerful evacuants were stated and urged, even in cases of’ extreme debility.

These ideas led Dr. Rush to an alteration in his practice. He adopted the plan of Dr. Mitchell. He administered calomel and jalap combined, and had the happiness of curing four of the first five patients to whom he administered this medicine, notwithstanding some of them were advanced several days in the disease.

“After such a pledge of the safety and success of this new medicine,” says Dr. Thatcher, in his biographical sketch of Dr. Rush, “he communicated the prescription to such of the practitioners as he met in the streets. Some of them, he found, had been in the use of calomel for several days; but as they had given it in single doses only, and had followed it by large doses of bark, wine, and laudanum, they had done little or no good with it. He imparted the prescription to the college of physicians, on the third of September, and endeavored to remove the fears of his fellow citizens, by assuring them that the disease was no longer incurable. The credit his prescription acquired, brought him an immense accession of business. It continued to be almost uniformly effectual, in nearly all those cases which he was able to attend, either in person, or by his pupils. But he did not rely upon purges alone to cure the disease. The theory which he had adopted led him to use other remedies, to abstract excess of stimulus from the system. These were blood letting, cool air, cold drinks, low diet, and application of cold water to the body. He began by drawing a small quantity of blood at a time. The appearance of it when drawn, and its effects upon the system, satisfied him of its safety and efficacy, and encouraged him to proceed. Never did he experience such sublime joy as he now felt, in contemplating the success of his remedies. It repaid him for all the toils and studies of his life. The conquest of this formidable disease was not the effect of accident, nor of the application of a single remedy ; but it was the triumph of a principle in medicine. In this joyful state of mind, he entered in his -note book, dated the 10th of September, ‘Thank God, out of one hundred patients whom I have visited or prescribed for this day, I have lost none.’

“Being unable to comply with the numerous demands which were made upon him, for the purging powders, notwithstanding he had employed three persons to assist his pupils in putting them up, and finding himself unable to attend all the persons who sent for him, he furnished the apothecaries with the receipt for the mercurial purges, together with printed directions for giving them, and for the treatment of the disease. Had he consulted his own interest, he would silently have pursued his own plans of cure, with his old patients, who still. confided in him and his new remedies; but he felt, at this season of universal distress, his professional obligations to all the citizens of Philadelphia, to be superior to private and personal considerations; and therefore determined, at, every hazards to do every thing in his power to save their lives. Under the influence of this disposition, he addressed a letter to the college of physicians, in which he stated his objections to Dr. Stevens’s remedies, and defended those he had recommended. He likewise defended them in the public papers, against the attacks that were made upon them by several of the physicians of the city, and occasionally addressed such advice to the citizens as experience had suggested to be useful to prevent the disease. In none of the recommendations of his remedies did he claim the credit of their discovery. On the contrary, he constantly endeavored to enforce their adoption by mentioning precedents in favor of their efficacy, from the highest authorities in medicine. This controversy was encouraged merely to prevent the greater evil of the depopulation of Philadelphia, by the use of remedies which had been prescribed by himself as well as others, not only without effect, but with evident injury to the sick. The repeated and numerous instances of their inefficacy, and the almost uniform success of the depleting remedies, after a while procured submission to the latter, from nearly all the persons who were affected by the fever.

“Many whole families, consisting of five, six, and, in three instances, of nine members, were recovered by plentiful purging and bleeding. These remedies were prescribed with great advantage by several of the physicians of the city. But the use of them was not restricted to the physicians alone; the clergy, the apothecaries, many private citizens, several intelligent women, and two black men, prescribed them with great success. Nay, more, many persons prescribed them to themselves. It was owing to the almost universal use of these remedies, that the mortality of the disease diminished in proportion as the number of persons who were affected by it increased. It is probable that not less than six thousand of the inhabitants of Philadelphia were saved from death by bleeding and purging; during the autumn of 1793.

The credit which this new mode of treating the disease acquired in all parts of the city, produced an immense influx of patients to Dr. Rush. His pupils were constantly employed at first in putting up purging powders, but after a while only in bleeding and visiting the sick.

Between the 8th and 15th of September, Dr. Rush visited and prescribed for a hundred and a hundred and twenty patients a day. In the short intervals of business, which he spent at his meals, his house was filled with patients, chiefly the poor, waiting for advice. For many weeks he seldom ate without prescribing for numbers as he sat at table. To assist him, three of his pupils, Mr. Stall, Mr. Fisher, and Mr. Cox, accepted of rooms in his house, and became members of his family. Their labors now had no remission. He employed every moment in the interval of his visits to the sick, in prescribing in his house for the poor, or in sending answers to messages from his patients. Unable to comply with the numerous applications that were made to him, he was obliged to refuse many every day. His sister counted forty-seven applicants for medical aid turned off in one forenoon, before eleven o’clock. In riding through the streets, he was often forced to resist the entreaties of parents, imploring a visit to their children, or of children to their parents. He was sometimes obliged to tear himself from persons who attempted to stop him, and to urge his way by driving his chair as speedily as possible beyond the reach of their cries. While he was thus overwhelmed with business, and his own life endangered, without being able to answer the numerous calls made on him, he received letters from his friends in the country, pressing him, in the strongest terms, to leave the city. To one of these letters he replied, “that he had resolved to stick to his principles, his practice, and his patients, to the last extremity.”

The incessant labors of Dr. Rush, both of body and mind, during this awful visitation, nearly overpowered his health, and for a time his useful life was despaired of. By a timely application of remedies, however, he was restored, and able to return to the duties of his profession. But ill health was not the only evil he suffered, as the consequence of his activity, during the prevalence of the yellow fever in Philadelphia. His mode of treatment was called in question by many of his contemporaries, notwithstanding the great success which attended it. At length the prejudices against him infected not only physicians, but a considerable part of the community. The public journals were enlisted against him and in numerous pamphlets his system was attacked with great severity. He was even called a murderer, and was at length threatened to be prosecuted and expelled the city.

The benefactors of mankind have not infrequently been treated in a similar manner. They suffer for a time; but justice is at length done them. Dr. Harvey, as a consequence of publishing his account of the circulation of the blood, lost his practice; and the great Dr. Sydenham suffered in a similar manner, for introducing depleting medicine in cases of inflammatory fevers. On the termination of the fever in Philadelphia, a motion was made in a public meeting of the citizens in that city, to thank the physicians for their services during the prevalence of the fever, but no one would second it. This was high ingratitude, and especially when it is considered that eight out of thirty-five of the physicians, who continued in the city, died; and of those who remained, but three escaped the fever.

Notwithstanding the great labors of Dr. Rush as a lecturer and practitioner, he was a voluminous writer. His printed works consisted of seven volumes, six of which treat of medical subjects. One is a collection of essays, literary, moral, and philosophical. It is a matter of wonder how a physician, who had so many patients to attend — a professor, who had so many pupils to instruct — could find leisure to write so much, and at the same time so well. Our wonder will cease, when it is known that he suffered no fragments of time to be wasted, and that be improved every opportunity of acquiring knowledge, and used all practicable means for retaining and digesting what he had acquired. In his early youth he had the best instructors, and in every period of his life, great opportunities for mental improvement. He was gifted from heaven with a lively imagination, a retentive memory, a discriminating judgment, and be made the most of all these advantages. From boyhood till his last sickness, he was a constant and an indefatigable student. He read much, but thought more. His mind was constantly engrossed with at least one literary inquiry, to which, for the time, he devoted his undivided attention. To make himself master of that subject, he read, he meditated, he conversed. It was less his custom to read a book through, than to read as much of all the authors within his reach as bore on the subject of his present inquiry. His active mind brooded over the materials thus collected, compared his ideas, and traced their relations to each other, and from the whole drew his own conclusions. In these, and similar mental exercises, be was habitually and almost constantly employed, and daily aggregated and multiplied his intellectual stores. In this manner his sound judgment was I to form those new combinations, which constitute principles in science. He formed acquaintances with his literary fellow-citizens, and all well informed strangers, who visited Philadelphia; and drew from them every atom of information he could obtain, by conversing on the subjects with which they were best acquainted. He extracted so largely from the magazine of knowledge deposited in the expanded mind of Dr. Franklin, that he once mentioned to a friend, his intention to write a book with the title of Frankliniana, in which he proposed to collect the fragments of wisdom, which he had treasured in his memory as they fell in conversation from the lips of this great original genius. To Dr. Rush, every place was a school, every one with whom he conversed was a tutor. He was never without a book, for, when he had no other, the book of nature was before him, and engaged his attention. In his lectures to his pupils, he advised them, ‘to lay every person they met with, whether in a packet boat, a stage wagon, or a public road, under contribution for facts on physical subjects.’ What the professor recommended to them, he practiced himself. His eyes and ears were open to see, hear, and profit by every occurrence. The facts he received from persons of all capacities he improved to some valuable purpose. He illustrates one of his medical theories by a fact communicated by a butcher; another from an observation made by a madman, in the Pennsylvania Hospital. In his scientific work on the diseases of the mind, he refers frequently to poets, and particularly to Shakespeare, to the history of madness, and apologizes for it in the following words. ‘They (poets) view the human mind in all its operations, whether natural or morbid, with a microscopic eye, and hence many things arrest their attention, which escape the notice of physicians.’ It may be useful to students to be informed, that Dr. Rush constantly kept by him a note book, consisting of two parts, in one of which he entered facts as they occurred; in the other, ideas and observations, as they arose in his own mind, or were suggested by others in conversation. His mind was under such complete discipline, that he could read or write with perfect composure, in the midst of the noise of his children, the conversation of his family, and the common interrogatories of his visiting patients. A very moderate proportion of his time was devoted to sleep, and much less to the pleasures of the table. In the latter case, sittings were never prolonged, but in conversation on useful subjects, and for purposes totally distinct from the gratifications of appetite. In the course of nearly seventy years spent in this manner, he acquired a sum of useful practical knowledge that has rarely been attained by one man, in any age or country.”

Medical inquiries were the primary objects of Dr. Rush’s attention; yet he by no means neglected other branches of knowledge. In the earlier part of his life, he paid great attention to politics. The subjects of a political character, which chiefly engrossed his mind, were the independence of his country, the establishment of wise constitutions for the states generally, and for his own state particularly, and the diffusion of knowledge among the American people. On these subjects he usefully employed his pen in numerous essays, which were published under a variety of names.

This political knowledge, and political integrity, were so well appreciated, that sundry offices were conferred upon him. He was a member of the celebrated congress of 1776, which declared these states free and independent. This event Dr. Rush perceived to be the harbinger of important blessings to the American people. He was not one of those, who thought so much of commerce, of the influx of riches, or high rank among the nations. These, indeed, he well knew were consequences which would result from the declaration of independence. But these he viewed as a minor consideration, compared with the increase of talents and knowledge. The progress of eloquence, of science, and of mind, in all its various pursuits, was considered by him as the necessary effect of republican constitutions, and in the prospect of them he rejoiced. Nor was he disappointed for in a lecture, delivered in November, 1799, he observes “from a strict attention to the state of mind in this country, before the year 1774, and at the present time, I am satisfied the ratio of intellect is as twenty are to one, and of knowledge as a hundred are to one, in these states, compared with what they were before the American revolution.” In 1777, lie was appointed physician general of the military hospital in the middle department, sometime after which he published his observations on our hospitals, army diseases, and the effects of the revolution on the army and people.

In 1787, he became a member of the convention of Pennsylvania for the adoption of the federal constitution. This constitution received his warmest approbation. He pronounced the federal government a masterpiece of human wisdom. From it he anticipated a degree of felicity to the American people which they have not, and probably never will, experience.

For the last fourteen years of his life, he was treasurer for the United States mint, by appointment of President Adams; an office which was conferred upon him, as a homage to his talents and learning, and by means of which something was added to his revenue.

Dr. Rush took a deep interest in the many private associations, for the advancement of human, happiness, with which Pennsylvania abounds. In the establishment of the Philadelphia Dispensary, the first institution of the kind in the United States, he led the way. He was the principal agent in founding Dickinson College, in Carlisle; and through his influence, the Rev. Dr. Nisbet, of Montrose, in Scotland, was induced to remove to America to take charge of it. For some years, he was president of the society for the abolition of slavery, and, also, of the Philadelphia Medical Society. He was a founder of the Philadelphia Bible Society, and one of its vice presidents, and a vice president of the American Philosophical Society. He was an honorary member of many of the literary institutions, both of this country and of Europe. In 1805, he was honored by the King of Prussia, with a medal, for his replies to certain questions on the yellow fever. On a similar account, he was presented with a gold medal in 1807, from the Queen of Etruria; and in 1811, the Emperor of Russia sent him a diamond ring, as a testimony of his respect for his medical character.

Dr. Rush was a public writer for forty-nine years, and from the nineteenth to the sixty-eighth year of his age. His works, which were quite numerous, show much reading, deep investigation, and tried experience. He seems to have combined the most useful in physical science, with the most elegant in literature. Instead of being a mere collator of the, opinions of others, he was constantly making discoveries and improvements of his own; and from the result of his individual experience and observation, established more principles, and added more facts to the science o medicine, than all who had preceded him in his native country. The tendency of all his writings was decidedly good.

He powerfully, and to some extent successfully, employed his pen against some of the habits and vices of mankind. His “Inquiry into the effects of ardent spirits upon the human body and mind,” has been more read than any of his works. All the medical philosophy that was pertinent to the subject, was incorporated with it. Striking descriptions of the personal and family distress occasioned by that vice, and of its havoc on the minds, bodies and estates of its unhappy votaries, were given, and the means of prevention and cure pointed out. The whole was illustrated by a scale, graduated like a thermometer, showing at one view the effects of certain enumerated liquors on the body, the mind, and the condition in society of those who are addicted to them. In the last year of Dr. Rush’s life, he presented to the general assembly of the Presbyterian church in the United States, one thousand copies of this popular pamphlet, to be given away among the people of their respective congregations. About the same time, that numerous and respectable body passed a resolution, enjoining on their members to exert themselves in counteracting this ruinous vice.

In his “Observations upon the influence of the habitual use of tobacco upon health, morals, and property,” Dr. Rush employed his eloquent pen in dissuading from practices, which insensibly grow into habits productive of many unforeseen evils.

Dr. Rush was a great practical physician. In the treatment of diseases he was eminently successful. and in describing their symptoms and explaining their causes, he was uncommonly accurate. Nor is this matter of wonder, for he was minutely acquainted with the histories of diseases of all ages, countries, and occupations. The annals of medicine cannot produce an account of any great epidemic disease, that has visited our earth, in any age, or country, which is more minute, accurate, and completely satisfactory, than Dr. Rush’s description of the yellow fever of 1793, in Philadelphia. Had he never written another line, this alone would have immortalized his name. He was a physician of no common cast. His prescriptions were not confined to doses of medicine, but to the regulation of the diet, air, dress, exercise, and mental actions of his patients, so as to prevent disease, and to make healthy men and women from invalids. His pre-eminence as a physician, over so many of his contemporaries, arose from the following circumstances:

He carefully studied the climate in which he lived, and the symptoms of acute and chronic diseases therein prevalent; the different habits and constitutions of his patients, and varied his prescriptions with their strength, age, and sex.

He marked the influence of different seasons, upon the same disease; and varied his practice accordingly. He observed and recorded the influence of successive epidemic diseases upon each other, and take hurtful as well as salutary effects of his remedies, and thereby acquired a knowledge of the character of the reigning disease in every successive season. His notes and records of the diseases, which have taken place in Philadelphia for the last forty-four years, must be of incalculable value to such as may have access to them. In attendance upon patients, Dr. Rush’s manner was so gentle and sympathizing that pain and distress were less poignant in his presence. On all occasions he exhibited the manners of a gentleman, and his conversation was sprightly, pleasant, and instructive. His letters were peculiarly excellent; for they were dictated by a feeling heart, and adorned with the effusions of a brilliant imagination. His correspondence was extensive, and his letters numerous ; but every one of them, as far as can be known to an individual, contained something original, pleasant, and sprightly. I can truly say, remarks Dr. Ramsay, that in the course of thirty-five years correspondence and friendly intercourse, I never received a letter from him without being delighted and improved; nor left his company without learning something. His observations were often original, and when otherwise, far from insipid: for he had an uncommon way of expressing common thoughts. He possessed in a high degree those talents which engage the heart. He took so lively an interest in every thing that concerned his pupils, that each of them believed himself a favorite, while his kind offices to all proved that he was the common friend and father of them all.

In lecturing to his class, Dr. Rush mingled the most abstruse investigation with the most agreeable eloquence; the, sprightliest sallies of imagination, with the most profound disquisitions; and the whole was enlivened with anecdotes, both pleasant and instructive. His language was simple and always intelligible, and his method so judicious, that a consistent view of the subject was communicated, and the recollection of the whole rendered easy. His lectures were originally written on leaves alternately blank. On the blank side he entered from time to time, every new fact, idea, anecdote, or illustration, that he became possessed of, from any source whatever. In the course of about four years, the blank was generally so far filled up, that he found it expedient to make a new set of lectures. In this way he not only enlightened the various subjects, on which it was his province to instruct his class; but the light which he cast on them, for forty-four successive years, was continually brightening. The instructions he gave to his pupils by lectures, though highly valuable, were less so than the habits of thinking and observation he, in some degree, forced upon them. His constant aim was to rouse their minds from a passive to an active state, so as to enable them to instruct themselves. Since the first institution of the medical school in Pennsylvania, its capital, Philadelphia, has been the very atmosphere of medicine, and that atmosphere has been constantly clearing from the fogs of error, and becoming more luminous from the successive and increasing diffusion of the light of truth. A portion of knowledge floated about that hallowed spot, which was imbibed by every student, without his being conscious of it, and had an influence in giving to his mind a medical texture. To this happy state of things all the professors contributed. Drs. Wistar, Barton, Physick, Dorsey, Coxe, and James, the survivors of that illustrious and meritorious body, will acknowledge that their colleague, Professor Rush, was not deficient in his quota.

We have hitherto viewed Dr. Rush as an author, a physician, a professor, and a philosopher; let us now view him as a man. From him we may learn to be good, as well as great. Such was the force of pious example and religious education in the first fifteen years of his life, that though he spent the ensuing nine in Philadelphia, Edinburgh, London, and Paris, exposed to the manifold temptations which are inseparable from great cities, yet he returned, at the age of twenty-four, to his native country, with unsullied purity of morals. The sneers of infidels, and the fascinations of pleasure, had no power to divert him from the correct principles and virtuous habits which had been engrafted on his mind in early youth. He came home from his travels with no excessive attachment but to his books; no other ambition than that of being a great scholar; and without any desire of making a stepping-stone of his talents and education, to procure for him the means of settling down in inglorious ease, without the farther cultivation and exertion of his talents. In a conversation which he held with Dr. Ramsay, thirty-five years ago, Dr. Rush observed, that as he stepped from the ship that brought him home from Europe, he resolved that ” no circumstances of personal charms, fortune, or connections, should tempt him to perpetrate matrimony, (his own phrase,) till he had extended his studies so far that a family would be no impediment to his farther progress.” To this resolution of sacrificing every gratification to his love for learning, and his desire of making a distinguished figure in the republic of letters, he steadily adhered. For this he trimmed the midnight lamp; for this, though young, gay, elegant in person and manners, and possessed of the most insinuating address, he kept aloof from all scenes of dissipation, enervating pleasure, and unprofitable company, however fashionable ; and devoted himself exclusively to the cultivation of those powers which God had given him.

Piety to God was an eminent trait in the character of Dr. Rush. In all his printed works, and in all his private transactions, he expressed the most profound respect and veneration for the great Eternal. At the close of his excellent observations on the pulmonary consumption, he observes, “I cannot conclude this inquiry without adding, that the author of it derived from his paternal ancestors a predisposition to pulmonary consumption; and that, between the eighteenth and forty-third year of his age, he has occasionally been afflicted with many of the symptoms of that disease which he has described. By the constant and faithful use of many of the remedies which be has now recommended, be now, in the sixty-first year of his age, enjoys nearly an uninterrupted exemption from pulmonary complaints. In humble gratitude, therefore, to that Being who condescends to be called the ‘preserver of men,’ he thus publicly devotes the result of his experience and inquiries to the benefit of such of his fellow creatures as may be afflicted with the same disease, sincerely wishing that they may be as useful to them as they have been to the author.”

It was not only by words, but in deeds, that he expressed his reverence for the Divine character. It was his usual practice to close the day by reading to his collected family a chapter in the Bible, and afterwards by addressing his Maker in prayer, devoutly acknowledging his goodness for favors received, and humbly imploring his continued protection and blessing. His respect for Jehovah, led him to respect his ministers, who acted consistently with their high calling. He considered their office of the greatest importance to society, both in this world and that which is to come. He strengthened their hands, and was always ready and willing to promote and encourage arrangements for their comfortable support, and for building churches, and for propagating the gospel. In an address to ministers of every denomination, on subjects interesting to morals, he remarks, “If there were no hereafter, individuals and societies would be great gainers by attending public worship every Sunday. Rest from labor in the house of God winds up the machine of both soul and body better than any thing else, and thereby invigorates it for the labors and duties of the ensuing week.” Dr. Rush made his first essay as an author, when an apprentice to Dr. Redman, by writing an eulogy on the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, who had been the friend and fellow Laborer of the celebrated George Whitfield, and an active, useful, animated preacher of the gospel, from 1725 till 1764. On the 27th of May, 1809, he wrote to his cousin, Dr. Finley, to this effect: “The general assembly of the Presbyterian church is now in session in Philadelphia. It is composed of many excellent men, some of whom are highly distinguished by talents and learning, as well as piety. I have had some pleasant visits from a number of them, and have been amply rewarded for my civilities to them, by their agreeable and edifying conversation. They remind me of the happy times when their places in the church were filled by your venerable father, and his illustrious contemporaries and friends, Messrs. Tennent, Blair, Davies, and Rodgers.”

The life of Dr. Rush was terminated on the 19th of April, in the 68th year of his age. During his illness, which was, of but few days continuance, his house was beset with crowds of citizens, such was the general anxiety in respect to the life of this excellent man. When, at length he died, the news of his decease spread a deep gloom over the city, and expressions of profound sympathy were received from all parts of the country. 2



Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, Benjamin Rush

Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing

  1. Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, 1848 original
  2. Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1829 original
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