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The Autobiography of a Quack and the Case of George Dedlow   By: (1829-1914)

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By S. Weir Mitchell, M.D., LL.D. Harvard And Edinburgh





Both of the tales in this little volume appeared originally in the "Atlantic Monthly" as anonymous contributions. I owe to the present owners of that journal permission to use them. "The Autobiography of a Quack" has been recast with large additions.

"The Case of George Dedlow" was not written with any intention that it should appear in print. I lent the manuscript to the Rev. Dr. Furness and forgot it. This gentleman sent it to the Rev. Edward Everett Hale. He, presuming, I fancy, that every one desired to appear in the "Atlantic," offered it to that journal. To my surprise, soon afterwards I received a proof and a check. The story was inserted as a leading article without my name. It was at once accepted by many as the description of a real case. Money was collected in several places to assist the unfortunate man, and benevolent persons went to the "Stump Hospital," in Philadelphia, to see the sufferer and to offer him aid. The spiritual incident at the end of the story was received with joy by the spiritualists as a valuable proof of the truth of their beliefs.



At this present moment of time I am what the doctors call an interesting case, and am to be found in bed No. 10, Ward 11, Massachusetts General Hospital. I am told that I have what is called Addison's disease, and that it is this pleasing malady which causes me to be covered with large blotches of a dark mulatto tint. However, it is a rather grim subject to joke about, because, if I believed the doctor who comes around every day, and thumps me, and listens to my chest with as much pleasure as if I were music all through I say, if I really believed him, I should suppose I was going to die. The fact is, I don't believe him at all. Some of these days I shall take a turn and get about again; but meanwhile it is rather dull for a stirring, active person like me to have to lie still and watch myself getting big brown and yellow spots all over me, like a map that has taken to growing.

The man on my right has consumption smells of cod liver oil, and coughs all night. The man on my left is a down easter with a liver which has struck work; looks like a human pumpkin; and how he contrives to whittle jackstraws all day, and eat as he does, I can't understand. I have tried reading and tried whittling, but they don't either of them satisfy me, so that yesterday I concluded to ask the doctor if he couldn't suggest some other amusement.

I waited until he had gone through the ward, and then seized my chance, and asked him to stop a moment.

"Well, my man," said he, "what do you want!"

I thought him rather disrespectful, but I replied, "Something to do, doctor."

He thought a little, and then said: "I'll tell you what to do. I think if you were to write out a plain account of your life it would be pretty well worth reading. If half of what you told me last week be true, you must be about as clever a scamp as there is to be met with. I suppose you would just as lief put it on paper as talk it."

"Pretty nearly," said I. "I think I will try it, doctor."

After he left I lay awhile thinking over the matter. I knew well that I was what the world calls a scamp, and I knew also that I had got little good out of the fact. If a man is what people call virtuous, and fails in life, he gets credit at least for the virtue; but when a man is a is well, one of liberal views, and breaks down, somehow or other people don't credit him with even the intelligence he has put into the business. This I call hard. If I did not recall with satisfaction the energy and skill with which I did my work, I should be nothing but disgusted at the melancholy spectacle of my failure... Continue reading book >>

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