John Barclay Biddle, M.D., 1815-1879.
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Among the many physicians and citizens of note who have died in Philadelphia since last autumn, the name of John Barclay BidDle holds a prominent position.
The writer of this memoir knew him well; knew him as boy and man for more than fifty years. Our knowledge of each other was more than a mere personal acquaintance; it was, indeed, during several years, little short of a close intimacy, an intimacy which had been transmitted to us through two generations preceding our own; so that if the writer were to detail what he knows of Dr. Biddle's entire life, the account would far overrun the limits to which such an article as this should be confined.
William Biddle, the first of Dr. John B. Biddle's paternal ancestors in this country, emigrated from the Old World to America about the year 1680, and settled in New Jersey.
Passing over intervening years, Dr. Biddle was born on the 3d of January. 1815. He was the eldest son of Clement C. Biddle of this city; his mother was Mary, daughter of John Barclay, a merchant of Philadelphia—one of those who made the " Philadelphia merchant" a synonym of honor and integrity. Some are still living who remember Mr. Clement C. Biddle as not only a gentleman, but a man of high culture, a profound political economist, honored in his immediate social circle, and highly respected by those of inferior social status, with whom circumstances called him to intermix.
Dr. Biddle's primary education was one of the best; and after his boyish school days, he received a thorough and elegant collegiate education at St. Mary's Roman Catholic College in Baltimore, Maryland. After leaving this literary college, he entered, as a student of medicine, the office of Dr. Nathaniel Chapman, Professor of Practice, Institutes, and Clinical Medicine, in the University of Pennsylvania. Having passed through the regular term of pupilage under this distinguished teacher, and having attended the prescribed courses of medical lectures at the University, he graduated in the spring of 1836, as Doctor of Medicine, at the age of twenty-one years.
After receiving his diploma, Dr. Biddle served a term as resident physician in the Philadelphia Hospital, Blockley, and afterward went to Europe, to avail himself of the greater advantages then offered in the Old World for a more thorough medical training, and made full use of the opportunities there afforded to the pupil. After spending somewhat more than a year in the pursuit of professional knowledge abroad, he returned to Philadelphia, and, presently, in conjunction with Dr. Meredith Clymer, established a medical journal entitled The Medical Examiner, which soon became popular with the profession, and which continued to be a successful and useful periodical for many years.
In 1846, Dr. Biddle'was chosen Professor of Materia Medica and Therapeutics in the newly established " Franklin Medical College" in Philadelphia. This institution was but short-lived, and after its close Dr. Biddle assumed the same chair in the " Pennsylvania Medical College." His reputation as an earnest, capable, and convincing instructor was now an established fact.
In 1850 he married Caroline, daughter of William Phillips, of this city, by whom he had six children, two sons and four daughters. The eldest son is an officer in the United States Navy, and the other is a graduate in medicine.
Dr. Biddle did not limit himself to the ordinary duties of his professorship, and to the practice of his profession. He published, in 1852, a treatise on materia medica and therapeutics, which attained a rapid popularity, not only among the students for whom especially he prepared it, but among others more or less remote from Philadelphia. This work had reached its eighth edition before the author's death, and, in the last yeai-s, was used as a text-book, in various parts of the United States, by many who were not, and did not expect to be, recipients of the author's oral instruction.
Dr. Biddle was elected, in June, 18(55, to the Chair of Materia Medica and Therapeutics in " The Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia," which was left vacant by the death of Professor Thomas D. Mitchell, and which was next vacated by the death of the subject of this memoir. He proved an effective and popular teacher in this position, as he had already shown himself to be, while holding the same chair in the colleges above referred to. His bearing before his classes was dignified and commanding; insuring alike the attention and the respect of his auditors. His voice was clear and capacious, and his enunciation thoroughly distinct, though generally his style of speaking was more slow and studied than is usual among such as speak extempore. Punctual to his hour, prompt in appearing in his place, graceful and courteous in his manner, he taught—beyond the mere instruction of his chair—precision in duty, and refined and gentlemanly deportment to those who sat under his tuition. He was appointed Dean of the Faculty in May, 1873, and by his caution in forming his opinions, by the impartial justice of his decisions, by his promptitude and accuracy in his official business, and by a true courtesy extended to such as had need to confer with him, he generally gained the reliance, and even won upon the regard, of those with whom he was, in this position, brought into contact; though, occasion ally, his decision and his action in what he deemed the course of right, in cases where no appeal from his ipse dixit could be held, would cause him to be considered as unduly dictatorial. In this relation of Dean, he exhibited constant proof of the possession of executive capacity of a very high order.
He was connected with, and physician to, sundry public institutions for many years. He was Physician to the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb for upwards of thirty years ; to the Girard College for Orphans for nearly five and twenty years; and he was President of the Board of Directors of the County Prison for more than twenty years. His long terms of service in these institutions sufficiently endorse his faithful performance of the duties entailed upon him, as was still further shown by the resolutions passed, after his death, by the authorities of the said institutions.
He suffered for several years from gout, which had, at length, materially crippled him. Yet, often, when his couch should have been his resting place, his lecture hour would find him in his position before the class, giving no sign of his physical distresses, and fulfilling the duties of his chair with—frequently—an unusual energy. His general health and strength had been failing for some few years, perceptibly to those who were in close communication with him, far more so in fact than to himself. Indeed, he seemed to consider his weakness, to which he would sometimes refer, as no more than the natural and necessary consequence of advancing years, and of the varied duties which rested upon him.
Dr. Diddle was attacked by his last illness in the latter part of December, 1878. It opened in the form of a low grade of pleurisy, from which he was slowly improving, when suddenly peritonitis set in, without apparent cause, if we except the general dyscrasy under which he had been laboring for some time. Some four to five days after the onset of this formidable malady, which was accompanied by severe and almost constant pain, he passed quietly away from earth at 7 o'clock in the evening of the 19th of January, 1879.
(The personal edited research notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or may not be completely documented)
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Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016