It seems that Dr. Gilbert, of Brattleboro', is the "country doctor" depicted in Miss Martineau's character on "originals," in her Retrospect. The passage runs thus:
Country doctors are not unlike wild country judges. Being obliged to call in the aid of a village doctor to a companion, I found we had fallen in with a fine specimen of the class. I was glad of this afterwards, but much annoyed at the time by the impossibility of extracting from him the slightest information as to my friend's state and prospects in regard to her health.
I detained him in conversation day after day to no purpose, and varied my questions with as much American ingenuity as I could command; but all in vain. He would neither tell me what was the matter with her, nor whether her illness was serious or trifling, or whether it was likely to be long or short. He would give me no hint which could enable me to form any plans, or to give my distant friends an idea whether or when they might expect to see us.
All that he would say was, "Hope your friend will be better;" "hope she will enjoy better health; will make better;" "must try to improve her health;" and so on. I was informed that this was all that I should extract if the illness were to last a twelve month. He took a blue paper with some white powder in it out of one pocket, and a white paper with some other powder out of another pocket; spilled some at random into smaller papers, and gave directions when they should be taken & my friend speedily and entirely recovered.
I never was so completely in the dark about the nature of any illness I saw, and I am completely in the dark still. I fancy I hear now the short, sharp, conceited tones of the doctor, doggedly using his power of exasperating my anxiety. Such was not his purpose, however.
The country doctors themselves and their patients believe that they cure with far more certainty than any other doctors; the profession are probably convinced that they owe much to the implicit faith of their charge, and are resolved to keep up this faith by being impenetrable, allowing no part of their practice to be made a subject of discussion which can possibly be rendered mysterious. The chief reason of the success of country doctors is, doubtless, that they have to treat chiefly diseases of local prevalence, about which they employ long experience and practised sagacity, without having much account to give of their method of proceeding.
After being thus served up, personally and as a specimen of his class, Dr. Gilbert cannot be very severely judged for publishing what he was so unwilling to tell the lady. He says:
"It's true, I didn't tell her, although she almost pestered my life out to be informed. I bore it all, and equivocated and evaded, and all from motives of delicacy, to spare the woman's feelings. If she has been so very much concerned to know, and is yet in the dark, I will enlighten her darkness. - Her friend was in the first stages of delirium tremens!"
Reprinted from The Vermont Chronicle.
Harriet Martineau's "Retrospect of Western Travel" (1838) records her impressions of New England during her travels in 1834-1836.
Dr. Daniel Gilbert came, and was in practice here, from 1828 or '29 until 1841, when he removed to officiate in the Massachusetts General Hospital at Boston, where he died, some years since, of Asiatic cholera.
He studied surgery, under instructions from the noted Dr. Twichell, of Keene, N. H., and was a good surgeon. If deficient in knowledge respecting subjects coming under his consideration, he had the courage to acknowledge it, or at least was not so careful to conceal it as he was diligent to seek the remedy. Said Hon. J. Dorr Bradley: "I had confidence in Dr. Gilbert from the moment I discovered this feature in his character."
There was a bluntness in his manner not always pleasing to his patients. A stout-built, vigorous young man was under his treatment for fever. The fever left him, as did also the doctor, but it became necessary to recall the doctor, for the patient had a relapse, from indulgence of appetite too soon.
"Sick again?" said the doctor. "Well, good constitution; you can stand this thing, I reckon, once or twice more, if you choose; therefore, as soon as you get over this difficulty, eat too much again, before you are able to exercise enough to digest it."
Willing to accept truth from any source, yet not confined to rules of others, but original, progressive and courageous, he was the man for emergencies. His prescriptions were often simple, while effectual. In a case of obstinate, continued hiccough, which he traveled 7 or 8 miles to visit, the remedy he ordered was simply popped corn, which gave to the patient immediate relief.
Henry Burnham, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont; Early History, With Biographical Sketches of some of its Citizens. (Brattleboro: Published By D. Leonard, 1880), p. 68.
To My Fellow Citizens:
Having been to the city of New York and visited the Cholera Hospitals, and become in some measure acquainted with the most approved private practice, I can justly say that no circumstance in the history of mankind is more striking than the nature and progress of the Cholera. Looking abroad, we find ourselves surrounded by an afflicted and sorrowful people. The hardened and profligate, as well as the bold and magnanimous, alike feel that they may soon be interred without the least solemnity, or any mournful attendants to perform the last duties of affection.
It has been repeatedly remarked that there was no cause of alarm. This to a certain extent is true, provided that death has no alarm. It has been remarked that it was almost entirely confined to the filthy and intemperate. This is not true; it alike affects the whole community, and they should be aware of it. - It is a disease easily cured when taken in season, provided the constitution is not otherwise broken down or impaired. It will probably be asked, what shall we do? I would say, with feelings anxiously solicitous for your health, pay no attention to any prescriptions in the newspapers. There is no medicine which will make you better than well. But if you have the slightest diarrhoea or any uneasiness of the stomach, in this critical season lose no time in consulting your medical friend or adviser. - Almost every case of cholera is preceded by diarrhoea, and is cured by the judicious application of proper medicine, and the patient is safe as long as he regards wholesome advice.
Brattleboro, July 24, 1832.
Lyceum - In consequence of the engrossing interest of the subject for discussion, the Lecture will be postponed until Tuesday evening Feb. 19th. Subject for discussion, Tuesday evening Feb. 12th - Ought the practice of the Thomsonian system of Medicine be encouraged? Dr. Gilbert is entitled to the floor, and will commence the discussion.
For the Phoenix.
Mr. Ryther :
Dear Sir: - The reappearance of the Small Pox after vaccination, and its great prevalance at this time, calls me to some observations that I flatter myself may be of vast importance for your readers to understand. There are some facts that ought to be clearly understood by every person and on this important subject I feel much gratification in quoting a passage from the valuable publications of Dr Jenner. "It was then clearly ascertained that there were deviations from the usual course of the Small Pox, which were quite as common and infinitely more disastrous than those which took place in vaccination. These deviations regarded two apparently states of the constitution. In the one the susceptibility of Small Pox, was not taken away by previous infection, while, on the other hand some constitutions seem to be unsusceptible altogether of the Small Pox infection. It was found that similar occurences took place in the practice of vaccination, but as the security which the latter afforded was never more likely to be interfered with from slight causes than the former it become absolutely necessary that great care should be shown in watching the progress and character of the Pustule" Dr. Jenner had from the beginning felt the propriety of this watchfulness, and had distinctly announced that it was possible to propogate an infection by inoculation, conveying different degrees of security, according as that infection approached to or receded from the full and perfect standard. He also clearly stated that the course of the vaccine pustule might be so modified as to deprive it of its efficacy. That inoculation from such a source must communicate an indifferent protection, and that all those who were thus vaccinated were more or less liable to the subsequent Small Pox. Hear me now, - such appears to be the fact. My own experience confirms these views. Small Pox is very prevalent in Boston at this time, but in persons that have been vaccinated the cases are rare, and in that modified form called Varioloid, seldom fatal.
There is little doubt that the Small Pox, as it now prevails, would sweep away thousands of our dense population were it not for the protecting power of vaccination. I am thankful to God for the good he has conveyed to us in vaccination, and surprised that there are any not thankful enough to avail themselves of it; but so it is. There is a great deal of suffering in this city from Small Pox but the unfortunate persons are mostly from the country, and unless there is more care exercised in the country, and a thorough system introduced, we shall have fuel enough for this disease to burn in.
65 Allen st. Boston, Jan. 18, 1846.