An oration on the utility of public infirmaries: Occasioned by the opening of the Radcliffe Infirmary at Oxford. By Joseph Bromehead, ...




LONDON, Sold by J. and F. RIVINGTON, in St. Paul's Church-Yard; and D. PRINCE, in OXFORD.


[Price One Shilling.]



THE following little Piece was haſtily drawn up in the Year 1769, when the Heads of the Univerſity announced their Intention of opening the Radcliffe Infirmary with an Encoenia. They afterwards dropped this Deſign. But the Author having lately employed a leiſure Hour in correcting and ſomewhat enlarging his ORATION, now begs Leave to lay it before the Public.



IF we cloſely examine the moral Qualities, which are denominated Virtues, and which Mankind have agreed to honour with Applauſe, we ſhall find that almoſt all regard Man, as he is a ſocial Being, born to do good Offices to others. Upon this Principle it is found likewiſe, that our Approbation of virtuous Actions, is uſually proportioned to the Extent of their Influence and Utility. Thus a Legiſlator and a Patriot muſt ever be more admired than a Man of Prudence, Wiſdom, and Integrity, exerted only in the contracted Sphere of private Life.

BUT of all the ſocial Qualities, Benevolence is the moſt immediately uſeful. It is indeed the Source of all the reſt, [Page 6] and naturally induces that great End and Cement of Society, mutual Beneficence. This Virtue too, like all others, becomes more illuſtrious in Proportion as its Conſequences are more extended.

To the ſtrong and univerſal Prevalence of this amiable Quality it is owing, that the Magiſtrates and Legiſlators, in moſt Countries, have inſtituted ſome Proviſion to alleviate the Miſeries of the Indigent and Helpleſs. This alſo, in the opulent, the liberal, and the ingenuous, has produced the undertaking of Works of the preſent Kind, of Hoſpitals, Infirmaries, and Receptacles for the Relief of various Diſtreſſes.

INDEED the Goods of Fortune, the Means of Health and Felicity, which come to the Rich by Inheritance or Acquiſition, are not their ſole excluſive Property. The Poor have a Claim of Right for their Share. And the Relation that ſubſiſts between them and the Rich, certainly obliges the latter to aſſiſt them under Diſeaſes, Caſualties, and heavy Calamities.

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IT perhaps may not be unneceſſary to remind the Sons of Eaſe and Affluence, that the laborious Poor not only form the Bulk of the Nation, but are likewiſe the Part on which the Strength, the Proſperity, and even the Exiſtence of the Whole depends. To them, as diſtributed through the humbler and more toilſome Offices of Society, we owe all the Neceſſaries of Life, and all its Conveniencies. The Labour of the Huſbandman, the Manufacturer, and Mechanic, is confeſſedly eſſential to the Welfare of the Community; and yet a preſent Subſiſtence for themſelves and their Families is their only Recompence. Every Sun riſes to light them to their fatiguing Labour, which often ends not with the cloſing Day. They contentedly toil on from Youth to Age, and while they perhaps repoſe their weary Limbs in the Hut of Poverty, ſee their Sons entering upon the ſame Courſe of unnoticed Hardſhips and unrewarded Induſtry. Surely then their Lot at the beſt is not to be envied. But what a deplorable Change muſt they feel, ſhould they be attacked by any one of that Hoſt of Diſeaſes which make ſuch Havock amongſt the human Race? That Strength which ſupported them in their daily Toil, now [Page 8] fails them; that Health of Body and Eaſe of Mind which lightened the Burthen of Poverty, are now no more. Sickneſs, by diſabling them from earning a Subſiſtence, occaſions Want, and Want excludes the Means of Recovery from Sickneſs. The two greateſt of natural Evils united, double each other's Weight, and accumulate Diſtreſs. Thus, in more ſultry Climes, the ſcorching Sun every where oppreſſes the fainting Traveller with his Beams, but ſhould they be reflected from the Declivity of ſome barren Mountain, the Heat becomes intolerable, the very Air is tainted, and all Nature ſickens.

WITHOUT Health, without the Means of recovering it, or even of ſubſiſting, whither then muſt theſe abandoned Sons of Affliction look for Relief? To the caſual Munificence of private Benefactors? Uncertain, hopeleſs Proſpect! To their own Friends or Kindred? Alas! their Pity is all they have to beſtow. To their Children (ſince ſome of them no doubt are Fathers of Families)?—But here the Scene is truly calamitous. The little Mourners ſtand round the ſick Bed of their Parent, and while they feel, deeply feel for his [Page 9] Sufferings, cannot be inſenſible to their own. He turns an hopeleſs Eye towards them, perceives them in Want of that Bread which he had hitherto provided for them by his Labour, perceives them foretaſting thoſe Diſtreſſes which, at his Death, are to be their ſad Inheritance.

BUT waving theſe peculiar Circumſtances of Miſery, let us only reflect on that Variety of Diſtempers to which Poverty is expoſed, without the Means of Relief. And in this View, what Objects of Compaſſion preſent themſelves before us? Objects which muſt awe the Pride of Man, and awaken his Tenderneſs.

"Numbers of all diſeas'd, all Maladies,
Of ghaſtly Spaſm, or racking Torture, Qualms
Of heart-ſick Agony, all feverous Kinds,
Convulſions, Epilepſies, fierce Catarrhs,
Inteſtine Stone and Ulcer, Colic Pangs,
Demoniac Phrenzy, moping Melancholy,
And Moon-ſtruck Madneſs, pining Atrophy,
Maraſmus, and wide-waſting Peſtilence,
Dropſies and Aſthmas, and joint-racking Rheums."
[Page 10]

WHAT a Group of human Miſeries! All various, yet all languid, deformed, and loathſome. A benevolent Mind ſhudders at their very Names. But could you have the wretched Sufferers before your Sight, could you mark the dire toſſing of reſtleſs Anguiſh, and liſten to the deep Groans of Deſpair, ſurely every Eye would drop a ſympathizing Tear, and every gentle Heart would bleed.

IT may juſtly be a Matter of Wonder that our civil Police has made none, or at leaſt no adequate Proviſion for the Poor when labouring under theſe Calamities. They are the Servants of the Public, and therefore entitled to its Protection. Beſides, a ſtronger Tye ſubſiſts. They whoſe Diſtreſſes thus loudly implore our Compaſſion, what are they? Want, indeed, and Misfortunes have much diſguiſed them, and Miſery hath worn them to the Bone. Yet they have the ſame Nature, and except a few accidental variable Diſtinctions, are the ſame with us. They have an Original alike divine, a Mind alike intelligent. To be a Man, and to be miſerable, is a ſufficient Claim on the generous and humane. Shall we then leave thoſe to periſh, whom it is the Intereſt of their Country, and the Duty of [Page 11] all Mankind to aſſiſt and preſerve? Medicine, and every other Relief in the Calamity of bodily Diſeaſes, are natural Proviſions for the preſent indigent and infirm State of the Sons of Men. In Spite, indeed, of all theſe Aſſiſtances, Sickneſs will ſtill ſlay its Thouſands, and thin the World by its deſtroying Sword. But nothing ſurely can more contradict the Order of Nature and the Will of Providence, than that Numbers ſhould fall Victims, not ſo much to the Fury of Diſeaſe, as to the Neglect and Cruelty of thoſe who ought to ſupply them with the Means of Recovery. Yet how many of our ſick and diſabled Poor muſt be left to this unhappy Lot, if no public Infirmaries are eſtabliſhed to receive them?

THESE, indeed, open their friendly Doors for ſuch poor deſerted Wretches, theſe bind up their Wounds, and exert all the Power of Medicine to heal their Diſeaſes.

WHERE no charitable Aſylums of this Kind are erected, it is a common Reſource with our ſick Poor, though a fatal one, to apply to mercenary and pernicious Empirics, whoſe Ignorance either immediately deprives them of their [Page 12] Lives, or injures their Healths beyond Reparation. But in theſe Houſes of Charity they are ſure to find able Phyſicians, and every Thing provided for their Conveniency and Cure that Art can ſuggeſt or Munificence ſupply.

PUBLIC Infirmaries are not only the beſt, but the only Means by which the neceſſitous can procure the ſeveral Kinds of Aſſiſtance which their various bodily Diſeaſes require. In large commercial Towns, what other Proviſion can be made againſt thoſe Caſualties which ſo frequently happen to the poor labouring Part of the Inhabitants, or to the ſtill more unfortunate Stranger?

HERE give me leave to add to theſe general Advantages, one peculiar to this Place. A Faſhion has of late prevailed, to ſend ſuch of our Youth as are deſigned for the Profeſſion of Phyſic, to foreign Academies, which, though far inferior to our own in every other Reſpect, have been thought ſuperior in this. The Reaſon of a Cuſtom ſo injurious to the Intereſt of our Country, and the Honour of our Seats of Learning, is far from being ſatisfactory; however, by the preſent Inſtitution, the very Shadow of it is [Page 13] removed. Important as every public Infirmary muſt be, the Importance of this is ſtill more extenſive. It affords not only the beſt Aſſiſtance to the ſick and diſabled, but likewiſe the beſt Opportunities of Obſervation and Improvement to young Students in the medical Science, on whoſe future Skill ſo much depends. It has the happy, the ſingular Excellence of at once relieving the Miſery of Individuals, and making that Miſery beneficial to the Community. We now, at length, may juſtly boaſt that ours is the moſt compleat Seminary in Europe for ſo important a Study, whether we regard Botany, Anatomy, the Theory or Practice of Medicine. To no Profeſſion is Learning more neceſſary: and here Students can beſt conſult the rich Treaſures of Antiquity, and the Parents of the healing Art: here they may add every liberal Accompliſhment, and acquire that general and extenſive Knowledge for which the Engliſh Phyſicians are deſervedly diſtinguiſhed. When we conſider the general and local Advantages of the Infirmary here erected, what public Honours and Benefits may we not date from this auſpicious Aera? May we not foretell, that as our Alma Mater already reckons in the liſt of her [Page 14] Sons, the greateſt Names in Medicine, ſhe will now add to the glorious Catalogue, and ſee in her Train future Linacres, Willis's, Radcliffes, and Friends, who ſhall emulate the Science and Reputation of thoſe who have gone before them?

BUT enough perhaps has been ſaid to prove how much theſe Inſtitutions concern the public Intereſt and Honour: Indeed one would think it impoſſible that any Perſons ſhould object to, or refuſe ſupporting theſe excellent Undertakings, which are ſo beneficial in all their Views: one would think it, I ſay, impoſſible. But if any ſuch ſhould be, with ſuch we will not contend. Let Avarice refuſe its Aſſiſtance, and, if poſſible, its Applauſe.

THOUGH publick Infirmaries have political Advantages ſo undeniable and ſelf-evident, yet we may ſafely affirm that they ſtand on a firmer Baſis, that they are ſupported by Arguments ſtronger than the Deductions of Reaſon; Arguments which every generous Breaſt muſt feel. When we reflect on the Malignity of the Diſeaſes, the Weight [Page 15] of the complicated Afflictions which they are intended to relieve, we are, we cannot but be intereſted and diſpoſed to compaſſionate the Sufferers, partly from the Conſciouſneſs of being liable to the ſame Evils, and partly from thy nobler Impulſes, O Benevolence! Here the truly humane Mind, like a well-tuned Inſtrument of Muſick, obeys the ſudden Touches of Pity, and the ſweet Harmony of its ſocial Affections, wholly paſſive in the Sympathy of its own Goodneſs. While the Rich and Powerful indulge the tender Senſations of Humanity, and promote ſuch well-plann'd Works of Beneficence as the preſent Inſtitution, they at once communicate Happineſs to others, and inexpreſſibly augment their own. They feel, that they are obeying the Dictates of pureſt Nature, and wiſeſt Reaſon; that they are fulfilling the Ends of Society, and the Will of its great Author, whoſe darling Attribute is Mercy, whoſe very Eſſence is Love. Moſt wiſely did he diſtribute Men into theſe ſubordinate Ranks, and implant theſe generous Principles.

—"He form'd a Whole, the Whole to bleſs,
On mutual Wants built mutual Happineſs."
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WHATEVER may be the Vices of the preſent Age, the moſt cenſorious Cynick muſt allow that it has its Share of that Philanthropy and Tenderneſs which we would here recommend. Hiſtory informs us that it was the barbarous Policy of ſome ancient States to expoſe Infants if infirm, to abandon diſeaſed Perſons, and even to deſtroy thoſe who were rendered uſeleſs to the Community by Age and Decrepitude. But poliſhed Times and Nations are Strangers to ſuch unfeeling Sentiments. A Diſpoſition to Compaſſion and to Offices of Kindneſs will ever gain Ground in Proportion to Civilization, and improved Elegance of Manners. Perhaps this Virtue expands itſelf moſt, when the Powers of the Mind are ſoftened by Luxury, and all other Virtues are in the Wane. It is certain that the earlieſt Societies had leſs of it; Warriors and Heroes were their greateſt Characters.

HOWEVER this may be, I need not heſitate to congratulate my Country, ſince a bountiful and beneficent Spirit is, and has ever been its national Characteriſtick. For this, I may appeal even to the ruder Ages of Ignorance [Page 17] and Superſtition, to thoſe hoſpitable and intentionally Religious, to thoſe venerable and princely Foundations, over whoſe general undiſtinguiſhed Ruins, Humanity and Piety muſt for ever mourn. Through the miſtaken Zeal of our Anceſtors, theſe abounded more in our Iſle than in any other Chriſtian Country. And if at their Diſſolution, theſe noble Edifices and Endowments had been applied to the Uſes which the publick Intereſt required; Poverty, Sickneſs, and decrepit Age had never wanted an Aſylum, nor had the ſacred Will of the Dead been ſo flagrantly violated, or their Aſhes ſo impiouſly diſturbed. Some of them it muſt be owned in the Capital, by the Care and Earneſtneſs of an excellent Prelate, were ſaved from the ſacrilegious Talons of Court-Harpies, and conſecrated to the Relief of Miſery and Diſeaſe. But ſo ſmall was the Number, that it ſeemed only to point out how much might and ought to have been done, had the leaſt Degree of publick Spirit, Juſtice, or Honour influenced thoſe infamous Plunderers. Here then was loſt the grand Opportunity of eſtabliſhing Receptacles for Diſtreſs in every Part of the Kingdom; and with equal Indignation [Page 18] and Sorrow muſt we look back on this deep, this indelible Stain of the Annals of our Reformation.

BUT now indeed we ſee fairer and brighter Proſpects around us. A Spirit of Charity has diffuſed itſelf amongſt all Ranks of People, amongſt our Merchants, our Lawgivers, and Nobles. The Liberality of our Forefathers is at leaſt equalled, and their Wiſdom in chooſing Objects of that Liberality much ſurpaſſed. In our Metropolis, almoſt every Species of Diſtreſs has been conſidered, pitied, and relieved.

THE deſerted Infant, whoſe Misfortunes begin with its Exiſtence, meets that Redreſs for which it cannot petition.

THE unhappy Proſtitute, though ſhe has ſurvived Innocence, finds ſhe has not ſurvived Compaſſion, ſhe ſees an hoſpitable Retreat open for her Miſery and Shame, ſees a friendly Hand reached out to recover her ſtumbling Feet to the Paths of Virtue and Peace.

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I MIGHT lead your Attention to that Manſion within whoſe Walls we behold the noble Fabrick of the Human Mind in its melancholy Ruins.—But this is a Sight of all others, the moſt humiliating and painful. For Perſons in a State ſo conſummately calamitous, the bleeding Pity of their Fellow-Citizens has made a munificent Proviſion; —like the wounded Tree of Arabia, it weeps healing Balm.

WORTHY the Kings of a martial and generous People are thoſe royal Foundations, which receive the maimed Veteran, who has fought the Battles of his Country. There after all his Toils and Dangers he ſits down to recite in the honeſt Loquacity of Age his hardy Deeds, and count his glorious Scars.—Brave Man! Peaceful ſhall be the Evening of a Life expoſed in the Service of Britain; —thy hoary Head is covered with well-earned Laurels!

I NEED not mention the various Infirmaries and Hoſpitals for the Sick. Enough has already been ſaid on the Excellence of theſe Houſes of Mercy; and this is a Species [Page 20] of patriotick Charity which has not been confined to our chief City. In other Parts of the Kingdom, Receptacles have been eſtabliſhed for thoſe who groan under the complicated Wretchedneſs of Poverty and Diſeaſe. And every one of this illuſtrious Audience, every one (I doubt it not) will join me in wiſhing that the Streams of Beneficence may ſtill flow in ſo uſeful a Channel, and that each of our provincial Towns may be bleſt with ſuch an Inſtitution as that which Oxford at length enjoys.

WHILST the benevolent Speculatiſt, the ſincere Lover of his Country contemplates all theſe Eſtabliſhments as the Monuments of national Virtue, and the Sources of innumerable Advantages to the State; the Lover of the Arts will conſider them in an additional Point of View, will regard the Structures which are deſtined to the Purpoſes of public Munificence as exhibiting to foreign Nations and to Poſterity, the moſt ſtriking Proofs of the Taſte and Magnificence of his Countrymen and Contemporaries. The Houſes of private Citizens (however opulent) are ſeldom equal in the Beauty of their Structure [Page 21] to Edifices of publick Uſe and Contrivance. Where the Purpoſes of private and domeſtick Utility are only to be anſwered, the Genius of the Artiſt is neceſſarily circumſcribed: He may indeed in theſe give Proofs of the Elegance of his Taſte, and the Correctneſs of his Ideas; but from the Grand and Magnificent he is unavoidably precluded. But public Edifices of every Kind, have moſt of all, contributed to diſplay the Arts of Deſign in their full Luſtre, in every Age and Country where thoſe Arts have been cultivated. To them we owe the Memory both of laudable Actions and of illuſtrious Artiſts; and by them the flouriſhing Nations of Antiquity have tranſmitted to us the moſt durable Records of their former Splendor and Greatneſs. To them the firſt, and moſt celebrated Cities of the World at this Day owe their chief Ornament.

THE Number of magnificent Churches, Colleges, and other publick Buildings throughout the Chriſtian Boundaries, and eſpecially in Italy, have afforded an ample Field to the Genius of the Architect, the Statuary, and the [Page 22] Painter. In one City only, the immenſe Fabrick of St. Peter's, the Church of St. John Lateran, the Vatican Library, the Hoſpital of the Holy Ghoſt, and almoſt innumerable other Edifices of public Uſe, will always preſent Rome, though fallen from her ancient Glories, as highly deſerving the Attention of the curious Traveller, and will immortalize the Names as well of thoſe Artiſts who contributed their Talents to their Erection and Embelliſhment, as of the Popes their Patrons.

IN Spain, in France, in our own Country, and in every Nation where the Arts have fixed their Reſidence, their Influence is moſt conſpicuous in the Beauty and Grandeur of publick Structures.

No City or People can be more indebted for Decorations of this Kind to the Munificence of a private Citizen, than we are to that admirable Perſon, from whoſe extenſive Benefactions to this Seminary hath ariſen the Deſign and Eſtabliſhment of an Infirmary in this Place. It would therefore be unjuſt to cloſe theſe Reflections without ſome Tribute to his Memory.

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SUPERIOR to the common Views of a lucrative Profeſſion, he eſteemed Wealth only valuable, as it enabled him to extend his good Offices to Mankind. Hence the vaſt Fortune which he acquired by his ſingular Talents in the important Science of Phyſick, was while he lived, a Fund of Charity and Beneficence; and the noble Bequeſts made by him at his Death to this Place of his Education, will continue the good Effects of his Liberality and his Gratitude to the remoteſt Times.

HE was a Man undoubtedly born for the Benefit and Ornament of his Country. His Virtues were of that Kind whoſe Luſtre will appear more amiable to the undazzled Eye of Wiſdom than the Trophies of Conquerors, and the ſplendid Qualities of thoſe whom the ill-judging Multitude calls Great. Amongſt the military Honours of ancient Rome, the only one perhaps, with which a benevolent Man would wiſh to intwine his Brow, is the Civic Crown. And if he who preſerved the Life of a ſingle Citizen deſerved to be ſo diſtinguiſhed, what Crowns muſt we weave for RADCLIFFE?—Such was [Page 24] the Wiſdom which guided his beneficent Soul, ſuch was the Propriety which regulated the Diſpoſition of his Wealth, that though dead he ſtill remedies the Diſtreſſes and Diſeaſes of Men, and claims from them a daily-increaſing Tribute of grateful Applauſe. The helpleſs Objects, who are relieved from Miſery, or reſcued from Death by his Bounty, ſhall hang around his Monument, the uſeleſs Crutch, and the votive Tablet.—Even thoſe on whom Providence has beſtowed Affluence, though they are not affected by his Munificence, may be animated by his Example.

BUT it is unneceſſary to expatiate on Merit ſo tranſcendent, and I will not obſcure his Praiſes by my feeble Attempts to diſplay them. As the Benefits reſulting from his well-directed and boundleſs Liberality, will aſſuredly extend to future Ages, we may ſafely truſt his Fame to Poſterity.