The Don Quixote of Psychiatry by Victor Robinson
HAVE you ever heard of Dunning? That’s the town, seven miles from Chicago’s center, where the Insane Asylum of Cook County is located. Had you lived there in 1880, when Dunning was only a patch of prairie, with nothing hut the asylum and some saloons to indicate that civilization had reached the spot, you would often have noticed a person walking along the road, holding in his hand a tightly-closed tin-bucket on which the sun glittered.
He seemed to be a friendly sort of man, and acquaintances who passed him, called out, ‘Hello, Doc.’ As he was not far from forty years of age, you might have supposed that he had been practising for some time, but your name is not Sherlock Holmes, for S. V. Clevenger was an M.D. of only one year’s standing.
There had been too many cross-roads in his journey to enable him to reach his destination sooner. His adventures began with his birth, for altho springing from strictly American stock— in 1690 John Clevenger signed a petition to the king ‘for better government of East Jersey,’ and during the Revolution Captain Job Clevenger of the Burlington Militia was killed by the British at Crosswicks, while his mother’s family was related to bold John Hancock—yet he himself drew the first breath of life beneath the bluer skies of Florence.
His father had worked in Cincinnati as a stone-cutter—until the day that he chiseled a man’s head in a rock and all the city recognized the editor of the Cincinnati Evening-Post. The stone-cutter had grown into a sculptor, and the workingman’s quarry-yard became an artist’s studio. He traveled to other cities, to see who would trade gold for marble. Memorable men sought this gifted boy: two presidents of the United States, William Henry Harrison and Martin Van Buren, and the best-known statesmen of the day, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and Edward Everett, were among his sitters. Old Judge Hopkinson who signed the Declaration of Independence, young Julia Ward the poetess, Washington Allston the painter, and John Ebeule the physician who helped to found the Jefferson Medical College, were featured for futurity by his chisel.
There came into his life the call of Italy, and with his family he sailed for the artist’s Holy Land—and by the Arno, on the twenty-fourth of March, 1813, Shobal, Vail Clevenger, Jr, came into the world. The sculptor toiled hard and learnt much, and when the time caine for him to exhibit bis handiwork, it was found he had not carved a worn-out Roman theme, but the first distinctive American figure done abroad —the Indian. But what has become of this Indian no man knows; he seems to have disappeared like the living members of his race.
Only thirty years of age, Ins genius recognized, bis fame increasing, full of plans, mapping out his work, the future beckoned brightly to the sculptor. But that same enemy which wrote Finis to the poems of Keats, and hushed the music of Chopin, was already shaking the plaster from Clevenger’s hand. Tuberculosis marked him, and the stricken youth prepared to return to America—to die at home. Whatever we are, wherever we are, when the final summons comes, we want to die at home.
A ship passed Gibraltar with furled sails, for a passenger had died on the boat, and lay draped in the American flag. The captain read the burial service, and when he reached the words, ‘We consign his body to the deep,’ a board was lifted, and the corpse of Clevenger slid into the waters of the Atlantic. He had a grave to which his widow could bring no flowers. Only Junior did not weep, for he was six months old, and did not understand that he had lost a brilliant father.
When the widow arrived in New York, John Jacob Astor, the founder of Astoria, advised her in disposing of the statuary that had caused the vessel to dip below Plimsoll’s mark. Henry Clay also called in reference to the bust that he had ordered, and when the tall orator bent over to shake hands with Shobal’s little sister, she mistook him for a giant stepping out of one of her fairy-tales.
Shobal himself stared at the man who claimed he would rather be right than president, but only said ‘Boo,’—perhaps he didn’t believe him, even then. Years later, the government used Clevenger’s Webster for its fifteen-cent postage-stamp, and today his marbles are found in the Boston Athenasum, in the Academy of Fine Arts at Philadelphia, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The builder was frail, and his body fed the fishes, but his work shall not perish.
The Clevengers had relatives along the Mississippi, and there they went. Matters were talked over, and it was decided that Mrs Clevenger should open a fashionable hotel—a high-class hoarding house it really was. To remain a widow when you are young, and have three children and an hotel on your hands, is not always convenient, especially if the handsome star-boarder is importunate, and before long Mrs Clevenger became Mrs Thwing, and the three children—thru no merit of their own—acquired a step-father, while the hotel gained a new manager.
The second husband showed marked ability in spending the first husband’s money, but otherwise he was not talented. He was a Southern gentleman, and in those days Southern gentlemen did not work. Altogether, Mr Thwing failed to play an important role in the lives of the family, for not many years later he too was silenced by tbe Captain of the Men of Death, as John Bunyan quaintly called tuberculosis….
I The Formative Years
II Аt the Chicago Medical College
III Medicine Under King Mike
IV The Kankakee Affair
V Dreaming and Drifting
VI Books and Essays
VII The Philadelphia Group
VIII Friends in New York
IX Letters from Spitzka
X The Closing Years
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