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cropped image 1cropped image 1 [Written for the Leader.]




I continue, from last week, the running sketch of this establishment, which seems to curiously expand under one's hands.


The chronological list of the Boards of Governors of this institution, and its Presidents from 1770 down to date, 1862, offers material for a curious and edifying study. During that time, there has been a succession of Boards, including altogether about 250 names; and there is hardly a New York family, old or new, of any eminence, but is represented among them. All the old names are here; you see them throughout, dotting the list. Here appear the Alsops, Beekmans, Jays, Costers, Chaunceys, De Peysters, Duanes, Goodhues, Gracies, Kings, Desbrosses, C. C. Colden, the Hones, Whitehead and Valentine Hicks, William and James Jauncey, the Kortwrights, Livingstons, Verplancks, Van Wagenens, Varicks, Olyphants, Van Cortlandts, Rays, Rutgerses, Stuyvesants, the Stevenses, Schermerhorns, Roosevelts, Posts, Newbolds, Minturns, John Murray, John Murray, Jr., and John R. and Robert J. Murray (four veterans, beginning before the Revolutionary war, and so coming down quite to this day), the Lawrences, Le Roys, Lispenards, Thomas Eddy, and the Astors, Allens and Lennoxes.2

All these, and others of equal eminence in the list of New York families, have had, and many to-day have, place in the practical direction of the Hospital, as Governors or members of its executive departments.

I have no doubt neglected several names fully worthy of mention with the foregoing.


Outsiders can hardly estimate what a profound and fervid enthusiasm there is involved in the profession of surgery and medicine, among the young fellows and advanced students here in New York. All the excitement of politics, with the struggle for office, and the attainment of popular or party applause—all the ups and downs of life in Wall street among stocks and "Erie"—all the merchants' and contractors' excitements, and chances of great profits, and as great losses—can hardly be said to outweigh the absolute stimulus of glory there is (on a much smaller field, of course, but far higher) in the struggle for acknowledged eminence of merit and name, among our surgeons and physicians.

The history of this Hospital, and its elder physicians, affords specimens of some of the first-class men, and surgical operations, of the world.


In a former part of my account, Dr. Wright Post's name was mentioned.3 The public may not be aware that surgery has its heroic first originators and daring, hands as much as any science;—that deeds are done in quiet by its votaries, as really important as those, for instance, which the world now rings with, from Ericsson and the cool and brave Worden; and that some of the first of these deeds have had their locality in the establishment mentioned. For it is recorded of this Hospital, and of Dr. Post, that the first achievement (and with a favorable result,) in the American world, of the bold, original, and successful operation of Sir Astley Cooper, of tying the common carotid artery for aneurism, (performed by that celebrated surgeon in 1807), was in this institution on the 7th of January, 1813. The case is recorded with great faithfulness and detail in the American Medical Register of this city, in 1814; and it contributed to establish, for modern surgery, some of its main physiological and practical principles.

The same renowned savan, in 1817, in this Hospital, tied the right subclavian artery, for brachial aneurism, above the clavicle. The case recovered, being the first successful achievement of the last operation on the medical records of the world.

I hear old fellows speak of Dr. Wright Post pretty much the same as the theatre-goers of an age ago would speak of Kemble,4 Siddons5—and later ones of the great Kean.6


By all accounts, this distinguished surgeon possesses also a rare originality and instinct (almost inspiration) in the crises of his important work. The books speak of a celebrated case of his, an operation on the arteria innominata. The subject was an old American seaman, and the case was operated on in the Hospital in 1818. It consisted in securing in a ligature the arteria innominata for aneurism, and was the first ever performed for that complaint in the world. The patient bade fair for recovery, but afterwards relapsed and died. It was, however, one of the most signal operations up to date. Dr. Mott himself says of it: "Although I feel a regret, that none can know who have not performed surgical operations, in the fatal termination of it, and especially after the high and just expectations of recovery which it exhibited, yet I am happy in the reflection, as it is the only time it has ever been performed, that it is the bearer of a message to surgery, containing new and important results."


This is another eminent surgeon (now dead), whose accomplished head and hand have done some of the best work for the Hospital, in times past, and for science and humanity. It is mentioned of him, in the Hospital chronicles, how, in October, 1845, Dr. R., in the midst of a large crowd of professional brethren and students, and with brilliant originality, instinct, and delicate hand—never, perhaps, surpassed—performed the operation in which the left subclavian artery was tied, for aneurism, on the inner side of the scaleni muscles.


If I knew better about the Hospital, I would like to mention specifically all the prominent physicians and surgeons who have had to do with it, some of them giving here, without a cent, the results of precious years of labor and experiment, in the shape of some operation that they would have charged a wealthy patient certainly hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars for. I must not forget particularly to mention Dr. Joseph M. Smith, senior physician, whose records and lectures have been of service to me. As I hear of them, Dr. Gurdon Buck, Dr. George A. Peters, and Doctors A. C. Post, T. F. Cock, Bulkley, Watson, Halsted, Markoe, Willard Parker, Draper, besides others whose names have been previously given, should be borne honorably in mind, they being identified with the Hospital, in its relations to science and practice. Also Doctors J. T. Metcalfe, W. H. Van Buren, John A. Swett, James Macdonald, Benjamin Ogden, and Dr. R. K. Hoffman, who is quite a veteran here. Two or three of these are dead. Going away back, the names of Doctors Bard, Middleton, Jones and Treat are to be mentioned as associated with the foundation of the Hospital, and, without the least pecuniary reward, laboring and getting it into shape. Such men deserve, I say, to have their memories embalmed.


I wish to make special mention of this man, on account of his noble discourse on "Thermal Ventilation, and other Sanitary Improvements adapted to Public Buildings," delivered in 1851, in the theatre of the Hospital.


To be plain at once, and say my say about this, I do not think there is a public edifice in America—school, court-room, capitol, hospital, hotel, theatre, ferry-boat, church, or big boarding house—that is anything like ventilated, according to the imperious requirements of health and comfort. Proper ventilation should be a main theme, indispensable throughout, in the studies, education and plans of an architect. It is a science in itself, and no mere matter of a few flues, gratings, &c.

In the three great buildings of the Broadway Hospital, the heating and ventilation are by steam; and I have to acknowledge that during my visits there, which were transient, the results seemed to me sufficiently good to be worthy of commendation.

(Yet the demon of human effluvia, and the other demon of miasm that hovers around all inward and outward rottennesss​ , and appears at last to get fixed, and cling with tenacity to the very walls and window-panes of the cleanest hospital!—can it be that there is something in steam-heat, which is not only ineffective in driving away those demons, through good ventilation, but at times seems rather to connive with them?)


Of course they have here (as in all the American hospitals) the very best and completest collection of surgical instruments, many of them with original improvements and variations. In this last matter our surgeons are acknowledged, I believe, to be the smartest in the world. Europeans themselves give them the highest credit. I have heard that, even years ago, Sir Astley Cooper, according to a competent authority, failed in his first attempt to tie the left subclavian artery within the scaleni muscles, "for the want of the improved American artery instruments."

(As to dental instruments, if that be considered a branch of surgery, the Americans have invented and perfected them, out and out, without help from any quarter.)


It is a singular and (to me) melancholy fact, that while during the existence of this establishment (nearly a century) the bequests and devises of the good, wealthy, dying men and women of New York, to churches, tract societies, missions for propagating the Gospel in foreign parts, and so on, have certainly amounted to millions, and almost as certainly tens of millions of dollars, carefully given by will, for such purposes—the bequests of our wealthy dying citizens to this large and useful Hospital, standing in their very midst, and ever active for good works, have been but a few hundreds or spare thousands of dollars. I can count on my fingers, on one hand, all the good people who have bequeathed to the institution; and they are not from among the wealthiest people, either. Here is the record:

Dr. S. Robinson, $1,000 | Henry J. Sandford $5,000
Elizabeth Demilt, 5,000 | R. H. Nevins, 5,000

Then another bequest, from James Arden Ivers, of Rockland County, who had been a patient in the Hospital, in the Marine Department; and who, at his death, after certain legacies, devised his farm and personal estate to the benefit of the Hospital; and the proceeds for that purpose amounted to $16,000.

Will it be believed that the above-named noble and generous persons, now dead, are the only ones through all this century who have devised one penny to the institution, in all New York? Think of the insane thousands of dollars spent monthly on tracts! Every year somebody dying hereabouts and leaving a fortune to foreign missions; while this day the Broadway Hospital has to pinch and patch to make both ends meet!


I have had a casual allusion to the portraits that fill the Governors' room and the hall. Here are the likenesses of many of the celebrated physicians and surgeons I have mentioned, and of the Presidents of the institution. The subjects are not only to be looked on with respect, for their position and acquirements—but there are, many of them, real pictures. Examine them well—with the eye of an expert, even. This one, for example, shows the hand of Jarvis,10 and this the coloring of Henry Inman.11 The old artists of America, too, have thus their memorials in the Hospital; for these pictures were made by the best of them. Here are portraits by Sully,12 Peale,13 Dunlap,14 Ingham,15 Hicks16 and Elliott.17 There they hang in the large, dim, silent room, like the portrait gallery of some old European palace, full of other meanings and references than the present, and look down upon you, from the walls, with living eyes.

A panorama of noble heads! Surely, no one can look around at these portraits, as given us by the pencils of our old painters, without feeling how wondrously such departments of science as the surgeon's give definiteness and elevation to physiognomy. For my part, as I stand in the presence of these fine and eloquent faces, I acknowledge without demur that none of the world's many avenues of fame or heroism affords any higher field for the most courageous soul than the one represented by the doctors.



1. Broadway Hospital, also known as New York Hospital, was the first major hospital in New York City. Prior to his more famous visits to the Civil War hospitals in Washington, Whitman visited the Broadway Hospital for several years beginning in the 1850s, developing close personal friendships with many of the sick and wounded and with the physicians. [back]

2. The Board of Governors of the Society of the New York Hospital consisted mostly of prominent businessmen and wealthy patrons of New York City. The Governors held monthly meetings in which they elected physicians and surgeons to serve at the hospital. [back]

3. Wright Post was a doctor in New York in the early nineteenth century, famous for his pioneering work in surgery. [back]

4. Fanny Kemble was an English actress who arrived in New York City in 1832 and impressed American theater-goers. Whitman praised her performances, and also wrote a review of her 1847 book Year of Consolation. For this review, see Walt Whitman, The Journalism, ed. Herbert Bergman, Douglas A. Noverr, Edward J. Recchia (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), 2:268. [back]

5. Sarah Siddons was another actress praised by Whitman in reviews. See Walt Whitman, The Journalism, ed. Herbert Bergman, Douglas A. Noverr, Edward J. Recchia (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), 2:25. [back]

6. It is unclear which Kean Whitman refers to here. Edmund Kean was a famous actor and a contemporary of Kemble and Siddons, as were his son Charles and daughter-in-law Ellen (formerly Ellen Tree). [back]

7. Valentine Mott was another famous doctor in New York in the early nineteenth century. He co-founded the Rutgers School of Medicine. [back]

8. John Kearney Rodgers was a student of Wright Post. Rodgers co-founded the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in 1820. [back]

9. John Watson served as President of the New York Academy of Medicine in the 1860s. [back]

10. John Wesley Jarvis (1781?–1839) was an American painter. [back]

11. Henry Inman (1801–1846) was an American painter and John Wesley Jarvis's apprentice. [back]

12. Thomas Sully (1783–1872) was a portrait painter who moved to America from England at the age of nine. He painted in Philadelphia. [back]

13. Whitman probably refers here to Charles Wilson Peale (1741–1827), a Philadelphia painter. However, Charles Wilson's sons, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Titian Peale, were also painters. [back]

14. William Dunlap (1766–1839) was a painter who was also famous for writing History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (1834). [back]

15. Charles Cromwell Ingham (1797–1863) was an Irish-American painter best known for his portraits of women. [back]

16. Edward Hicks (1780–1849) was a Philadelphia painter whose Quaker faith influenced his portrayals of animals in his work, especially in his painting The Peaceable Kingdom. [back]

17. Charles Loring Elliott (1812–1868) was a portrait painter from New York. [back]

18. "Velsor Brush" was Whitman's pseudonym for a series of articles entitled "City Photographs," which he published in the New York Leader. The name was a combination of his mother's maiden name (Louisa Van Velsor) and grandmother's maiden name (Hannah Brush). For a discussion of the possible artistic implications of the name Brush, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 25–26. [back]

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