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   Chapter 38 VALENTINE MOTT.

Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made By James Dabney McCabe Characters: 20721

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

VALENTINE MOTT was born at Glen Cove, on Long Island, on the 20th of August, 1785. His father, Dr. Henry Mott, was an eminent practitioner in the city of New York, where he died in 1840, at the age of eighty-three. Valentine Mott was carefully educated by private tutors until he reached the age of nineteen, when he entered Columbia College, New York, as a medical student, and at the same time became a private medical pupil of his kinsman, Dr. Valentine Seaman. At the age of twenty-one he graduated with the degree of M.D.; but feeling that he had not acquired as good a medical education as the schools of the Old World could afford, he sailed for Europe in 1806, within a few weeks after his graduation at Columbia College. Proceeding to London, he was for more than a year a regular attendant upon St. Thomas', Bartholomew's, and Guy's hospitals, where he conducted his clinical studies under the direction of Abernethy, Sir Charles Bell, and Sir Astley Cooper. He chose Sir Astley Cooper as his private instructor, and became one of his favorite pupils; and also attended the lectures of Currie and Haighton. From London he went to Edinburgh, where he attended the lectures of Hope, Playfair, and Gregory, as well as the prelections of Dugald Stewart. From Edinburgh he went to Paris, and completed his studies in the great hospitals of that city.

He gave evidence at an early day of his great surgical abilities. He was indeed a born surgeon, possessing in a remarkable degree that peculiar adaptation to this branch of his profession, without which no amount of study can make a great operator. While a student in the Old World, he performed leading operations with a skill and natural readiness which astonished his instructors as much as they delighted them. He was possessed of a firmness and dexterity of hand, a calm, cool brain, a quick, unfailing eye, a calmness of nerve, a strength of will, and a physical endurance which were Nature's gifts to him, and which rendered him a great surgeon even before he had received his diploma. He did not trust to these natural gifts alone, however, but applied himself to the theory of his profession with a determination and eagerness which nothing could daunt. He was an enthusiast in his studies, and soon became known as the most profoundly-learned young physician of his day. As he advanced in life, he maintained his reputation, keeping up his studies to the last. The great men under whom he studied abroad were delighted with him, and Sir Astley Cooper was loud in his praise. He exhibited so much skill as an operator that he was often called upon to perform operations which the professors would never have dreamed of intrusting to any one else, and he went through each trial of this kind with a readiness and precision which few even of his instructors excelled.

His reputation was unusually flattering to one who had not yet entered upon the practice of his profession, and upon his return to the United States, in 1809, he was met with an offer of the chair of surgery in Columbia College, his alma mater. He promptly accepted the position, and held it until 1813, when the medical department of Columbia College was merged in the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was at once called to the same chair in the new college, and occupied it until 1826. In that year he resigned his place in the faculty, in consequence of a misunderstanding between the professors and the trustees of the college on the principles of college government. Withdrawing entirely from the school, he united with Drs. Hosack, Mitchell, Francis, and several others, in founding the Rutgers Medical College. This college, after a short career of four years, was compelled by the Legislature to discontinue its operations, in consequence of an alleged invalidity in its charter.

In 1830, Dr. Mott returned to the College of Physicians and Surgeons as Professor of Surgery, and in 1840 he became President of the Faculty and Professor of Surgery and Relative Anatomy in the new University Medical School. The science of Relative Anatomy is of the highest importance to the surgeon, and of this science Dr. Mott is generally regarded as the author. He held his position in the University for twenty years, and in 1860, after a period of fifty years spent in the active duties of his professorship, retired from the immediate discharge of them, and was made Professor Emeritus, in which capacity he occasionally lectured to the classes during each of the remaining years of his life.

As a professor and teacher of surgical science Dr. Mott won a brilliant reputation, and was considered one of the most thoroughly successful instructors in the Union. He had the power of winning the attention of his pupils at the opening of his lectures and of retaining it until the close. He made even the most difficult operations so clear and simple in his lectures that the dullest intellects could comprehend them; and his system of practical demonstration of his subjects was vastly superior to any thing that had ever been seen in America. He was the first to introduce into this country the system of delivering clinical lectures, or lectures at the bedside of the patient, whose ailments were operated upon during the course of his remarks. This system is naturally the most repugnant to the patient, but its advantages to the student are so great that they outweigh all other considerations. Other professors had shrunk from subjecting their patients to such an ordeal, but Dr. Mott had seen enough, during his attendance upon such lectures abroad, to satisfy him that it was the only method by which a thorough knowledge of the profession of surgery could be imparted, and immediately upon establishing himself in this country he introduced it. He met with opposition at first, but he gradually overcame it, and made the advantages of his system so apparent to all that at length the opposition entirely ceased.

The greatest difficulty to which American medical schools have always been subject has been the almost utter impossibility of procuring dead bodies for dissection. It was this want that compelled Dr. Mott, as it has compelled so many others, to seek a practical education in Europe; and when he came back to the college as professor, he was met by the same drawback to thorough instruction. The law forbade the taking of dead bodies for dissection, under severe penalties. If a student was ever found in possession of a limb, he was liable to fine and imprisonment; and popular sentiment was so strong against the practice of dissection that those who engaged in it ran serious risk of incurring violence at the hands of the mob. Dr. Mott was often driven to desperate expedients in the procuring of subjects. He was fond of relating one of his adventures of this kind, which will show the reader how he was enabled to carry on his lectures.

It was in the winter of 1815, and it had been found impossible to procure a supply of subjects for the season. They could not be obtained at any price, and it was evident that if any were to be had, the doctor and his pupils would have to take the matter in their own hands. There was a grave-yard just outside the city, in which a number of interments had recently been made, and the doctor resolved upon securing these bodies for his dissecting-room. It was a dangerous undertaking, as discovery would subject all engaged in it to the direst penalties of the law, if, indeed, they should be lucky enough to escape being lynched by the people. In spite of the dangers, however, the students volunteered to assist the doctor in the attempt, and at an appointed time proceeded to the cemetery, properly disguised, and began the removal of the bodies from the graves. The night was intensely dark, and the wind was high, both of which circumstances favored their undertaking, but every sound, every snapping of a twig or rustling of a leaf caused them to start with alarm and gaze anxiously into the darkness. It was near midnight when they had finished their task, and, this done, they waited in anxious silence for the arrival of the means of removing their prey. Their movements had been accurately timed, and they had scarcely completed their labors when a cart, driven by a man dressed in the rough clothing of a laborer, approached the cemetery at a rapid pace. Signals were exchanged between the driver and the students, and the latter fell to work to place the bodies, eleven in number, in the cart. Having accomplished this, they covered them over in such a manner as to make it appear that the cart was loaded with country produce, bound for the city markets. When every thing was properly arranged, the students disappeared in the darkness, each seeking the means by which he had come out from the city, and the driver, turning his cart about, drove off rapidly in the direction of New York. It was a long ride, and to an imaginative man, carrying eleven dead bodies that had been torn from their quiet graves through the darkness of that winter night would have been a terrible undertaking. But this man was not imaginative, and, besides this, he was keenly alive to the tremendous consequences of discovery. He knew that he was carrying his life in his hand, and that he needed all the coolness and decision of which he was master. Reaching the city long after midnight, he drove rapidly down Broadway and turned into Barclay Street. The lights of the college shone out brightly, and they had never seemed so welcome as then. The cart was driven rapidly to the college entrance, where the students were in readiness to receive it. In a few moments the bodies were removed from the cart and conveyed to the dissecting-room, and the cart turned over to its owner. The driver accompanied the students to the dissecting-room, and, throwing off his disguise, revealed the handsome but excited and eager countenance of Dr. Mott. He had shared the dangers to which his pupils had subjected themselves, and had even borne the part in the enterprise attended with the greatest risk. The affair had succeeded admirably, a winter's supply of "subjects" had been obtained, and after this the lectures went on without interruption.

"A story is told of his readiness in the lecture-room. A mother brought into the amphitheater, one morning, an extre

mely dirty, sickly, miserable-looking child, for the purpose of having a tumor removed. He exhibited the tumor to the class, but informed the mother that he could not operate upon the child without the consent of her husband. One of the students, in his eagerness to examine the tumor, jumped over into the little inclosure designed for the operator and his patients. Dr. Mott, observing this intrusion, turned to the student and asked him, with the most innocent expression of countenance: 'Are you the father of this child?' Thunders of applause and laughter greeted this ingenious rebuke, during which the intruder returned to his place crestfallen."

He was equally as successful in his private practice as in his labors in the medical school. His brilliant reputation preceded him in his return to his native country, and immediately upon opening his office in New York he entered upon a large and lucrative practice. His skill as a surgeon was in constant demand, and it is said that during his long career he tied the common carotid artery forty-six times, cut for stone one hundred and sixty-five times, and amputated nearly one thousand limbs. His old preceptor, Sir Astley Cooper, proud of the distinction won by his favorite pupil, said of him exultingly: "He has performed more of the great operations than any man living, or that ever did live."

When he was but thirty-three years old (in 1818) he placed a ligature around the bracheo-cephalic trunk or arteria innominata, within two inches of the heart, for aneurism of the right subclavian artery. This was the first time this wonderful operation had ever been performed, and the skill and success with which he accomplished it stamped him as one of the brightest lights of his profession. "The patient survived the operation twenty-eight days, and thus demonstrated the feasibility of this hazardous and thus far unparalleled undertaking. He discovered in this case that, though all supply of blood to the blood-vessels of the right arm was apparently cut off, the circulation was kept up by the interosculating blood-vessels, the pulsation at the wrist maintained, and no evidence of loss of vitality or warmth manifested in the limb. The patient finally died from secondary hemorrhage."

In 1828 he performed successfully the most difficult and dangerous operation known to surgery. A clergyman called upon him to remove an enormous tumor in the neck, in which were imbedded and twisted many of the great arteries. In this operation it became necessary to take out entire the right clavicle or collar bone, to lay bare the membrane which surrounds the lungs, to search for and dissect around the arteries which ran through the tumor, to make forty ligatures, and to remove an immense mass of diseased matter. This terrible operation had never been attempted before, and was performed by Dr. Mott without the aid of chloroform; yet it was done so skillfully that the patient survived it, and in 1865 was still living and discharging his ministerial duties. It was thirty years before it was attempted again in any part of the world. It was a great triumph of the genius of the operator, and won him praises from men of science in all countries.

In 1821 "he performed the first operation for osteo-sarcoma of the lower jaw. In 1822 he introduced his original operation for immobility of the lower jaw. He was the first surgeon who removed the lower jaw for necrosis, and the first to tie successfully the primitive iliac artery for aneurism. Other of his original operations were cutting out two inches of the deep jugular vein, inseparably imbedded in a tumor, and tying both ends of the vein, and closing, with a fine ligature, wounds of large veins of a longitudinal or transverse kind, even where an olive-sliced piece had been cut out."

It was invariably his practice before attempting an operation on a living subject to perform it on a dead body, and by the most minute and patient examination to render himself absolute master of the anatomy of the parts to be operated upon. He was a thoroughly conscientious man in the exercise of his profession, and was always on his guard to resist that greatest danger of the skillful surgeon-the temptation to use the knife needlessly. It was his practice to investigate his cases thoroughly, and never to use the knife unless his judgment was satisfied that an operation was necessary. "That he decided in favor of operating when some of his associates hesitated, was due rather to his large experience than to an overweening fondness for the use of the knife." In his operations he was firm and decided. Gifted with an unusual steadiness of nerve and strength of muscle, he never allowed his sympathy for the patient to cause him to hesitate or inflict one pang less than the case required. He was prompt and ready in the event of unforeseen complications, and never permitted any thing to take him by surprise. His manner toward his patients was tender and sympathizing to a remarkable degree, and his brother surgeons used to say of him, that he seemed to have the power of cutting with less pain to the patient than was possessed by most operators. During forty years of his practice an?sthetics were unknown, and he had to operate with the full consciousness that his patient was suffering the keenest agony. Besides attaining such an exalted position as a surgeon, Dr. Mott won an enviable reputation as a physician. His practice was confined almost entirely to the best class of the people of New York, and he was for many years the favorite accoucheur in a large circle of families in that city.

He was an eminently progressive man. He fully recognized the advance of science with the growth of the world, and was always prompt to welcome any valuable discovery in medicine or surgery. He was among the first to adopt and advocate the use of an?sthetics, for no man had had more cause to understand the necessity of such assistants. He was himself the inventor of many valuable surgical instruments, but he gladly welcomed the introduction of others, even though they superseded his own in use. To the close of his life he was a diligent student, and watched the progress of his science with a keen and intelligent eye. He was the author of several works of merit, including a volume of travels, and the translator of "Velpau's Operative Surgery," to which he made extensive and valuable additions and annotations. He received numerous literary and scientific honors from colleges, universities, and learned bodies in the United States and Europe.

In 1835 he visited Europe for the purpose of resting from his arduous labors, and spent several years in traveling extensively in England, on the continent, and in the East. His great achievements had made him as famous in the Old World as at home, and he was received wherever he went with great distinction. He was cordially welcomed by the most eminent surgeons of Paris, and Louis Philippe conceived a warm friendship for him. During his visit to Constantinople, he was called upon to attend professionally the reigning Sultan Abdul Medjid, who was suffering from a tumor in the head. Dr. Mott successfully removed this tumor, and was afterwards invested by the Sultan with the order of Knight of Medjidechi, of Constantinople.

During his visit to Paris, a circumstance occurred which he related upon his return home, and which will serve to show the extremes to which professional skill and vanity will sometimes carry men. One of the most eminent surgeons in Paris asked him if he would like to see him perform his original operation. Dr. Mott replied that nothing would give him more pleasure. "Then you shall see it to-morrow," said the Frenchman. "But stay," he added, "now I think of it, there is no patient in the hospital who has that malady. No matter, my dear friend, there is a poor devil in ward No. -- who is of no use to himself or any body else, and if you'll come to-morrow, I'll operate beautifully on him." Dr. Mott at once declined to attend the operation or to countenance in any way so horrible an outrage.

In person Dr. Mott was a thorough gentleman of the old school. He was an exceedingly handsome man, and was possessed of an erect and well-developed figure. His hair was as white as snow, and his dress, which consisted of a simple suit of spotless black, with linen of matchless purity, was in the most perfect taste. He was grave and dignified in his deportment, and polished and courteous in every action. Even in his most difficult and trying operations the services of the assistants were always promptly acknowledged with scrupulous politeness. He was possessed of many friends, and was regarded with pride and veneration by his profession throughout the world.

During the last winter of his life he had lectured once or twice at the Medical School, and had performed several operations of importance in his private practice. Although nearly eighty, he was still erect and vigorous, and was far from considering himself too old for his work.

On the morning of the 15th of April, 1865, he sent for his barber, as was his custom, and submitted himself to the hands of the man who had been his attendant in this capacity for years. He was sitting in his dressing-room, and, being in fine spirits, began conversing with the barber, who, during the conversation, asked him if he had heard the terrible news of the day.

"What is the news?" asked the doctor.

"President Lincoln was killed last night at the theater in Washington," was the reply.

The doctor turned as pale as death, and, trembling violently, motioned the barber aside, and tottered into the chamber adjoining, in which his wife was dressing.

"My dear," he gasped, scarcely able to speak, "I have received such a shock. President Lincoln has been murdered."


His agitation had now become so great that he could say no more. He sank down into a chair, pale and trembling, and so feeble that he could scarcely sit up. He was seized in a short time with acute pains in the back, and at the same time his vigor seemed to desert him entirely, and he became a weak and broken old man. He was obliged to seek his bed, from which he never rose. He grew feebler every day, and died on the 26th of April, 1865.

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