[AUTOGRAPH LETTER, SIGNED, FROM BENJAMIN RUSH TO FELLOW PHYSICIAN NATHANIEL POTTER, DISCUSSING MEDICAL MATTERS AND THE LIBEL CASE AGAINST WILLIAM COBBETT]
by Rush, Benjamin
Philadelphia, 1800. p. plus address leaf. Folio. Old fold lines. Some light soiling and toning. Slight separation at folds. Address leaf moderately soiled, with small loss from wax seal. Very good. In a red half calf and cloth clamshell case, spine gilt. Dr. Benjamin Rush writes to his colleague in Baltimore, Dr. Nathaniel Potter, discussing the libel case of William Cobbett and mentioning the winter's diseases. Cobbett, one of the most scurrilous journalists of the Federal period, was an inveterate enemy of Rush. In his newspaper, PORCUPINE'S GAZETTE, and in various pamphlets, Cobbett attacked the Republicans and defended Federal interests. His downfall came with a direct attack on Rush, a series of pamphlets called THE RUSH-LIGHT, which culminated in accusing Rush of deliberately killing his patients during the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemics in the 1790s (Rush's harsh purgatives may have done in a few people, but the Doctor courageously stuck it out in the city when other doctors fled). Rush sued for libel and won, as he describes here. After the Philadelphia judgment against him, Cobbett fled to England to avoid payment. Rush writes: "Dear Sir, Accept my thanks for your kind congratulations upon the decision of our court against Wm. Cobbett. It has given general satisfaction in our city. Some of my brethren I have reason to believe are not pleased with it. 'Father forgive them' - I wish I could add, 'they know not what they do.' The winter with us has been sickly, but our diseases, though violent, have seldom proved mortal. The lament has been used freely by all our practitioners. The forms of disease are cynanche trachialis [sic], catarrh, pleurisy, and angina inflammatoria, accompanied nearly in every case with bilious discharges from the stomach and bowels. My class consists of 102 pupils who honour me with the most patient and regular attention. I have made many additions of facts to my lectures all of which I hope add support to my principles. Present my respects & congratulations to Dr. Alexander. I consider you & him as the pivots of my system in Baltimore. May you both be useful, and successful in all your pursuits and enterprises in medicine." Benjamin Rush was a delegate to the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence; he later served as surgeon general for the Middle Department of the Continental Army, though he resigned in outrage over the disorganization and corruption in army hospitals. He established several medical facilities in Philadelphia, including the College of Physicians in 1787. "Writing prolifically over nearly half a century, Rush was the first American physician to become widely known at home and abroad. More than any other physician, Rush established the reputation of Philadelphia as a center for medical training....His drive to understand mental illness and render the treatment of mental patients more humane earned Rush the title 'father of American psychiatry'" - ANB. ANB (online). (Inventory #: WRCAM42721)
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