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LIFE OF SIR ASTLEY P. COOPER, BART. | umph the proud position which he so long From the Dublin University Magazine.
and so patiently has sought. Life of Sir Astley Paston Cooper, Bart., &c. who entered on his professional career
But the biography before us is of one By Barnsby Blake Cooper, Esq., F. R. S. with all the adventitious aids of birth, po. In two volumes 8vo. Parker: London, sition, and fortune. His road to eminence, 1843.
although requiring the energies of his talent The work before us-although, as its to enable him successfully to journey over author observes in his preface, “it must it, was yet without the many hills and holbe always to the relatives, the friends, and lows-the obstructions which comparative even the acquaintances of the person whose poverty and the want of a connexion have life is delineated, a source of melancholy ihrown so often in the way of some of the satisfaction”—will not prove so generally brightest ornaments of the medical prointeresting as though it were the history session. of one who, without any aid from station There is always a certain degree of in. or fortune, had risen from an humble posi- terest attached to the life of any one distion, and attained the highest honors of tinguished above his fellows, whether his his profession solely by the perseverance position be attained by the power of his of his industry and the exercise of his own talents, or by those fortuitous circum
stances which so frequently place a man of The young aspirant for fame and dis- little more than ordinary intellect in a situtinction in any profession-particularly if ation which without them he never would his means be humble, and his success there have reached. fore in a greater degree dependent on him- So far as an interest of this description self-loves to contemplate the career of goes, we think the work before us may those who have toiled on through all the well excite it; but we repeat, there is but cares and troubles that beset the first steps little claim on the sympathies of that class in the path of life—who, perhaps, with the of readers who should be expected to reap cold sneers of the world, have felt all the the greatest benefits from it and from the bitterness of poverty amid the many sore example of its subject, viz., -the young and trying difficulties of their "early strug- members of the medical profession. gles;” but who have at length overcome The author appears to take the greatest them, and by the exercise of their talents, pains to prove how totally independent Sir and the ceaseless efforts of untiring, inde- Astley Cooper was both by birth and forfatigable industry reached the goal of their tune, of the difficulties which others have ambition, and won for themselves a name been obliged to encounter in the comwhich the world could withhold no longer. mencement of their career ; and we really
In the life of one who has thus attained think there is nothing so peculiarly worthy to eminence, the young tyro in the outset of of admiration in the successful life of, as he his own career can feel his interest aroused, is pleased to designate him, “one of the and all bis warmest sympathies a wakened most illustrious surgeons that ever adorned He can trace in every circumstance of the the science he professed." life that is pictured before him-in its There are certainly many things to inevery struggle—its every disappointment terest us in these volumes, but not by any at first-soine resemblance to his own, and means, to that absorbing degree which the he can thus be led to believe that for him author seems to think must be felt as a too the course is open, and to hope that he matter of course. That Sir Astley Cooper also may reach the goal-a winner in the was a clever man there is no doubt; but race of fame. There is something in every that his talents were so exceedingly presentence to rivet his attention, and he is eminent as to warrant his biographer in ascarried on through all its details - un- suming a tone of such ultra-laudation, we wearied, because they come home to his deny. own feelings, and he can say, “such diffi. He tells us that Sir Astley Cooper was culties I too have surmounted, and such his uncle, and that if, in his undertaking, will I yet overcome.” He can then read (as his biographer,) his expressions may be with breathless interest the visions of hap. Thought to savor somewhat of extravapiness which are opened to the eye of the gance, the respect he entertained for him poor beginner by the receipt of his “first from the period of his boyhood, the gratiguinea," and can follow him from that mo- tude he owes him for the instruction he ment eagerly and anxiously, as step by step derived at his hands, and the affection he he steadily advances until he reaches in tri- always bore towards him as a relative, may
surely be admitted, if not in justification of acquirements for a distinguished member the fault, at least in extenuation of its de- of a most accomplished profession, and we gree, and that “partiality can scarcely be are happy to think, is rather the exception considered culpable when its absence would than the rule. We know of no class, who be almost criminal."
in all times and all countries have laid genWe can fully appreciate and respect the eral science and literature under heavier feelings which have prompted Mr. Cooper obligations than the members of the heal. to display so strong a partiality for the ing art ; nor are there any who have been character, private and public, of his uncle. more conspicuous for purity and elegance There can be none more willing-none of style, classical neatness, and graceful more anxious to make every allowance for learning, than such, when they have apsuch feelings, and to give them the full peared before the world as authors. meed of credit which is their due ; but still Astley Paston Cooper was the fourth son we must say, that as a biographer Mr. of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper--the deCooper should not have suffered them to scendant of an old and highly respectable betray him into the error of letting them Norfolk family—and was born at Brook appear so visibly upon the surface of his Hall, near Spottesham in Norfolk on the work.
23d of August, 1768. His mother appears Considering the very high position to to have been a lady distinguished for her which Sir Astley Cooper attained-a po- literary pursuits no less than for her private sition which we might naturally expect virtues, and from her and his father Astley would afford so rich a field for the bio-received the rudiments of his early edu. grapher-the book is very little remark. cation, his only other preceptor being a Mr. able either for anecdote or entertaining Larke, the master of the village school. It correspondence; and we cannot deny our is stated that at this time he was remarkselves the pleasure of believing how much able for any thing but assiduity and attenmore of interest would be attached to the tion to study of any sort, although he oc. life of one of our own professional men (we casionally exhibited traces of an unusually speak of Dublin) of the same standing, or of quick perception and active intellectual a grade or two below it.
powers. Sir Astley Cooper's success in life was, It appears he was at this period, and even we think, in a great measure owing to his for years after, extremely wild, and deeasy kindness of manner, steadiness of lighting in all kinds of mischief-escaping nerve, and pleasing personal appearance, whenever he found it possible from his teachqualifications which he possessed in an ers to join in whatever sports were going eminent degree, and the more likely to win forward in the neighborhood, and continusuccess, as they were rarely to be met with ally engaged in a variety of pranks which among his cotemporaries.
created alarm in the minds of his family, We have no hesitation in saying that and occasionally were of such a nature as there are many members of the medical to bring upon him his parents' displeasure. profession amongst us, who, if they moved There are several anecdotes of his adin the same sphere and with the same op- ventures at this time to be found in the portunities as Sir Astley Cooper, would first volume; but we can see nothing more prove themselves in the knowledge and in them than the life of any school-boy science of their profession, at least fully his would afford. We will, however, give our equals, and in general information and litera- readers one or two specimens, and let them ry attainments immeasurably his superiors. judge for themselves.
Sir Astley Cooper's biographer states, " Having climbed one day to the roof of one somewhat unnecessarily—that in literature of the aisles of Brook church, he lost his hold, and and science unconnected with his profes- was precipitated to the ground, but providension he was by no means proficient, and tially escaped with only a few bruises.' He was that at no period of his life was the amount always fond of playing with donkies, or dickies, of his classical knowledge such as to induce as they are called in Norfolk, and provoking him to peruse the works generally read by marks for some time of their violence. One day the more advanced in such pursuits; the when he was riding a horse which he had gratification which they are capable of af- caught on Welbeck Common, near the house, fording to the polished scholar, being to he directed the animal with his whip to leap over him more than counterbalanced by the a cow which was lying on the ground; but the drudgery he had to encounter in arriving horse and its rider, who had his collar-bone
cow rose at the instant, and overthrew both the at the interpretation.
broken in the fall. This is, indeed, a very low standard of
6. On one occasion the bell to summon the
scholars had rung, and they were all hastening arrived. The bleeding was continuing, or prob. to the school-rooin, when some one snatched a ably having for a time ceased, had broken out hat from one of the boys' heads and threw it afresh. All was alarm and confusion, when the into one of the 'meres,' or ponds of water, which young Astley in the midst of the distressing scene, are situated in the village, and by which they alone capable of deliberating, and perceiving the were passing. The boy, lamenting the loss of necessity of instantly preventing further loss of his hat, and fearing he should be punished for blood, had the presence of mind to encircle the his absence from the school, was crying very limb with his pocket-handkerchief above the bitterly, when there came to the spot a young wound, and afterwards to bind it round so tightly gentleman dressed, as was then the fashion of thatit acted as aligature upon the wounded vessel the day, in a scarlet coat, a three-cocked hat, a and stopped the bleeding. To these means his glazed black collar or stock, nankeen small foster-brother owed a prolongation of life until clothes, and white silk stockings—his hair hang- the arrival of the surgeon who had been sent ing in ringlets down his back. He seeing the for from London." boy crying, and being informed of the cause of his sorrow, deliberately marched into the water,
The gratitude of the friends of this obtained the hat, and returned it to the unlucky poor boy, and the flattering applauses of owner. This young gentleman was no other his own for his conduct on this occasion, than Master Astley Cooper, &c."
appears to have given his thoughts their Mr. Cooper, in relating these adventures first bent towards the profession of surand pranks of his uncle, says:
gery. The success of his uncle, Mr. “ Although by some they may be looked upon his own previous inattention to study and
William Cooper of London, together with as merely the acts of a careless, headstrong child, and unworthy of notice in a life so signalized as perhaps positive dislike to a college life that of Sir Astley Cooper, they nevertheless, to and literary pursuits, had also considerathose who delight to trace the man in the boy, ble weight with him ; but it was not unpossess an abundant share of interest."
til a later period that he determined to Now, with every possible deference to devote his life to it. Mr. Cooper, we cannot exactly understand The anecdote above related is the only by what course of reasoning he can prove one of his “boyhood years” in which we any analogy between a love for provok can trace the slightest approach to "the ing donkies and a fondness for anatomical character of the man in the boy ;" and we pursuits, or between directing a horse to hope Mr. Cooper will not be angry with leap over a cow and the performance of us for our inability to perceive any great a successful surgical operation; and we precocity of intellect displayed by his uncan only say, that if à predilection for cle in such feats as climbing on the roof such pursuits be an omen of future great- of a church--ripping open old pillows, and ness in the medical profession, there are letting the feathers fly from the belfry to sundry young gentlemen of the present fall as if they had been a shower from day for whom we may augur a most bril- the clouds, and thus frighten away the liant and successful career.
There is one
little wits the poor rustic possessed, with anecdote, however, which we think well sundry other similar performances which in worthy of notice, as it is strikingly illus- our days—doubtless owing to our lack of trative of that readiness and self-posses- prophetic vision-instead of being looked sion which so eminently distinguished him upon as forebodings of future distinction, in after life ;-the circumstance to which would very probably entail upon the unit relates occurred when he was about fortunate perpetrator no other reward than thirteen, and happened as follows. After a sound flogging. alluding to his foster mother
In such wild freaks as these, Astley “ A son of this person's, somewhat older than Cooper seems to have spent the greater Astley Cooper, had been ordered by his father portion of his time until his thoughts were to convey some coals to the house of Mr. Cas- again brought back to surgery by the reptell, the vicar, and while on the road, by some resentations of his uncle, Mr. William accident the poor lad fell down in front of the Cooper, who was himself a surgeon of cart, the wheel of which, before he could recov- considerable eminence. er himself, passed over his thigh, and, among other injuries, caused the laceration of its princi “ The animated descriptions of London and pal artery. The unfortunate boy, paralyzed by its scenes, and the numerous anecdotes which his the shock of the accident and sinking under the uncle, who mixed much in society, would narrate loss of blood—the flow of which was attempted in the presence of his young nephew, led him earto be stopped by the pressure of handkerchiefs nestly to bend his thoughts towards the metropapplied to the part only-was carried almost olis, and determined his selection of that profesexhausted to his home, where, Astley Cooper sion which, from his uncle's position and influhaving heard of the accident which had befallen ence, offered him above all others, an advantahis foster-brother, almost immediately afterwards I geous opening.
“Still, however, there can be but little doubt ions is dispelled — let him but feel the that much of this 'anxiety to visit London was touch of that sacred finger which is proattributable rather to his taste for pleasure and excitement than to any wish for industrious em
verbially gifted with the power of curing ployment. For when he had finally determined the king's evil,” and, like that disease, on becoming his uncle's pupil (which was noi, all his preconceived ideas of radicalism and Sir Astley used to say, until after witnessing an democracy are dissipated as by a spell, and operation for the extraction of stone by Dr. Dou- he comes forth a highly respectable Tonee of Norwich,) there was no evidence of his ry! Democracy is an exceedingly conmaking any special resolution of devotion to his venient creed for those who have nothing adopted science, or exhibiting any unusual de to lose-the professed object of its followsire for achieving greatness of name in its pursuit."
ers being to reduce all above them to their
but we never knew any to carAccordingly in August 1784, being then
own level; about sixteen, he went to London and ry the feeling so far as to consider themselves took up his residence at the house of Mr. on a level with those below them. Clive, a man of some note in the profes to have devoted himself to the acquisition
Astley Cooper does not appear at first sion, and one of the surgeons Thomas's hospital, who was in the habit of professional knowledge with any greatof taking a few pupils to board with him.
er degree of zeal than he had previously Here he appears to have imbibed those bestowed on his literary studies; his social democratic feelings which shed their bane- qualities opened the way to an intimacy
with ful influence on the circle which now sur
young men of his own standing in rounded him, and which were at the time London, and in their conipany he suffered fast spreading themselves over Europe. the metropolis afforded. However, in the
himself to be led into all the dissipations Mr. Cooper, speaking of this period, remarks :
year following he became as remarkable for
his industry as he had formerly been for “Nothing could have been more probable his idleness, and had attained a degree of than that a young man of ardent and sanguine anatomical knowledge far beyond that postemper like Astley Cooper should be captivated by a set of opinions at variance with those of the sessed by any other of the pupils of his own stricter aristocratic school in which he had been standing in the hospital to which he was educate.l; possessing to him all the charmıs of attached. novelty, freedom from restraint, and ostensibly From this period his rise in his profeshaving for their object a state of social perfec- sion was steady and rapid. He had made tion which he had not then experience enough such progress in his knowledge of anatoto determine to be altogether Utopian.”
my, in his second session, that he was freEven the religious principles of Astley quently called upon by the pupils to assist Cooper seem to have been infected for a and direct them in their dissections, and time by his association with Horne Took, proving by his ready concession to their Thelwall, &c., among whom subjects of re-wishes that he had both the knowledge ligion were either ridiculed, or wholly and industry requisite to facilitate their ladisregarded. However his intercourse bors, he at once established a reputation with such men affected for a time his opin- which made him sought after by his fellow ions, he appears to have afterwards exchang- pupils as their demonstrator, and afterwards ed ihem for others of a somewhat more procured him, immediately on the office loyal nature, which change was partly becoming vacant, the offer of this desirable brought about by the inhuman scenes he position. witnessed during the progress of the Thus early did Astley Cooper arrive at French Revolution, partly by other rea- distinction; doubtless his talents and the
considerable portion of knowledge which It is a curious fact, and one which may they had enabled him to acquire in so short well afford considerable scope to the inqui- time, were, in a great degree, the cause ring mind of some political philosopher, of his success; but it cannot be supposed that a decided tendency to whig-radicalism that they were the sole means which led to has always been a characteristic of the it. If he had been, like many others of medical profession.
his profession, thrown entirely upon his There seems, however, to be one infalli. own resources, without friends and without ble means of exorcising this half rebellious any influence, save what his talent could spirit. Let the most ultra whig-radical of procure him, it is more than probable that them all come once within the influence he would have been left to struggle of a royal smile, and, as if by magic, the through all the difficulties which so many cloud which enveloped his political opin- | others have been obliged to overcome,
until time, or perhaps chance, should have necessary not only for occupying, but mainbrought him into notice.
taining his station in society. However the partiality of his biographer The world can, in a great measure, conmay lead him to suppose that to his own stitute itself the judge of a surgeon's sucpowers alone he was indebted for this early cess, and to a certain degree appreciate in advancement, we must believe that at least him those powers which, in a physicianan equal share of thanks is due to his con- because he possesses not the same means nexion with Mr. William Cooper, and the of showing them-it does not understand. influence of eminent medical
The cases in which the former is called sonal friends and professional associates of upon to act are, comparatively speaking, that gentleman. There are too many in- open to every eye; and if he possess a stances of men of first-rate abilities, pos- manner of cool and perfect self-possession, sessing a thorough knowledge of all requi- unflinching nerve, a quick eye, confidence, sites for success, wasting away whole years and a steady hand, the odds are at least of life without obtaining it, to allow us to twenty to one in his favor, that the world believe that so very young a man as Astley will pronounce him a clever fellow, and Cooper then was, both in years and in pro- never give itself the trouble to inquire, how fessional knowledge-no matter how com- far his skill be the mere exertion of manual manding his talents might be-could have dexterity, quickness of eye, and steady attained to such a position without other coolness, or the result of profound anatoassistance than his own.
mical knowledge, and thorough intimacy We, therefore, by no means advise any with his subject. young student to be led by this portion of But to return to Sir Astley Cooper. In Sir Astley Cooper's life into the ignis fa- 1787 he visited Edinburgh, where he stutuus belief, that he may commence the first died for some months. In this portion of session of his professional studies in idle- the book there are some brief but amusing Dess and dissipation, and in the second be sketches of the leading characters of the chosen as a demonstrator. If he does, he medical profession of Scotland at the time, will be apt to find the bright dream of his and there is one short anecdote related by ambition fade away into “airy nothings,” | Sir Astley, which we think worthy of layunless indeed he happens to have an uncle ing before our readers, although unconsurgeon of a chief, of a metropolitan hos- nected with the subject of the work before pital.
By whatever means Astley Cooper was thus early distinguished, it seems to have
“At one of the meetings of the Royal Medigiven a spur to his assiduity and to have cal Society a discussion took place between two caused him daily to become more and more Scotchman. The former maintained that can
young surgeons, one an Irishman, the other a attached to anatomical pursuits: for, from cer never occurred in women who had borne this period, no labor was too great, scarce- children. The young Scotchman vehemently ly any obstacle sufficient, to prevent his opposed this doctrine, and mentioned the case becoming acquainted with every feature of a lady who twice had twins, and yet had the most minute, of any case attended with cancer afterwards. To this apparently conclucircumstances of peculiar interest which sive evidence the Irishman immediately replied, happened to come within his notice. Every the general rule; where's the wonder in cancer
Ah, but don't you know that's an exception to study unconnected with the immediate mat- following gemini? it always does.?" ters of his profession was wholly neglected; "In 1791, Mr. Clive seeing the advantages indeed he never displayed any fondness for that were likely to arise no less to the school literature, so far as we can learn from his than to his pupil, by associating him with himbiography, and he seems to have given up the time of his pupilage had not yet expired.
self, made him an offer to this extent, although his entire mind to the practice of anatomy Accordingly an arrangement was entered into and its various details.
that Astley Cooper should give a part of the It appears strange that a man should lectures and demonstrations, Mr. Clive promis. have occupied the exalted position of Siring him a sum of one hundred and twenty Astley Cooper for such a time, and in a pounds per annum, to be increased twenty country so pre-eminent for literary acquire pounds annually until he gave one half the lecment as England, with so small à share of tures, when the proceeds should be equally dilearning and general information as he pos
vided.” sessed. But these are qualifications by no Here, then, we find Astley Cooper, while means indispensable or essential to his the period of his pupilage was still unexbranch of the medical profession, when pired, a lecturer and a demonstrator, with compared with what the physician finds lå salary the amount of which for one year