Methinks It Would Lead a Flinty Soul to Pity Us

in about Warren

by William Eustis

Date: November 17, 1773

[to Dr. John Warren] Auspicious Youth,

These are to congratulate you on the pleasing smile w[h]ich Madame Fortune has been pleased to cast upon you. Your happy success serves to confirm me in the opinion that superior merit seldom fails to meet with its reward. We poor delvers view you as the favorite of Heaven, snatched from among us to inherit the kingdom of bliss, which is always open to receive great minds. Last evening, I had the pleasure to receive by Mr. Gowers your kind favor of the 13th instant, and I would beg you would steal one hour from the Salemites, to give us a full detail of your circumstances, -what say they of you –how business comes in –how Bond [Nathan Bond, Harvard BA 1772; also a Spunker; not to be confused with James Bond 007, a fictional British loyalist] is –how the hectic woman is? etc., etc.

The Sp—-rs often speak of the loss of their last member, with sorrow which can only be felt among themselves. Good heavens! To reflect on the continued bars we are meeting in our pursuits. It seems as if fate has placed medical knowledge profunda in puleo, saxis et vix mobilibus submerse. Could any one be a spectator of our honest, laudable intentions, and, at the same time, observe the momentous difficulties with which we are continually perplexed, methinks it would lead a flinty soul to pity us; but

Descende O Salemite, omnesque aspicte Sp—-rs,

“Quos neque Pauperics, nesque vincula terrent.”

I wish I had time to say many more things, sed fata vetant. I remain, much valued Doctor, your very humble servant,

W[illiam]. Eustis

P.S. Sir, pray remember that Mr. Townsend [David Townsend, Harvard BA 1771] speaks in this letter as well as myself, -that we twain are one flesh, that one souls animates us both, and that we have not differed in sentiment with regard to you one iota, since you left us. But as my other half is gone to the dressings, and don’t see what I write, I must justly beg that you would impute all the folly you read to W.E., and if perchance you should meet anything tolerably clever, attribute half of it to Mr. T. We remain jointly and severally your humble D.T. & W.E. Tuesday morning.

Source: in Edward Warren’s Life of John Warren, Noyes, Holmes & Co., Boston, 1874.  Original ms is in The John Collins Warren Papers, Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society

Commentary: William Eustis {Harvard BA 1772} writes to his former fellow apprentice, Dr. John Warren. John had completed his medical apprenticeship with eldest brother Joseph Warren, and had relocated to Salem Massachusetts, to set up a new medical practice. Earlier Joseph had recommended John to the most active physician in Salem – Dr. Holyoke.

Eustis and Townsend were Joseph Warren’s medical apprentices at the time this letter was written. Townsend had been in training for about a year prior to William Eustis in the two year apprenticeship. Eustis was still Warren’s apprentice on the eve of the revolutionary war. He was likely present in the Hanover Street office in the North End of Boston for the decision making precipitating the iconic Midnight Rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes.

This personal letter is one of the few contemporary documents referring to the Spunkers, Harvard students and recent graduates aspiring to medical careers. Their study of anatomy was clandestine and involved resurrectionist adventures in order to obtain anatomical specimens. Joseph Warren’s guiding hand is inferred by the circumstance that most all known Spunkers where his medical apprentices. The existence of the Spunkers or an anatomical club at Harvard during Joseph Warren’s undergraduate years in the late 1750s is conjectural.

No official records survive at Harvard University concerning any medically related clubs during the 18th century. John Warren was appointed Harvard’s first professor of medicine in 1782 and is considered the founder of its medical school.

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