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April 1, 1968

An American Medical Plutarch

Author Affiliations

From the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.

JAMA. 1968;204(1):11-14. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140140013003

Dr. Abner Hersey, until his death in 1817 one of the principal medical practitioners on Cape Cod, was competent and skilful in his profession; he was also, in the words of a pupil, "a mere compound of caprice and whim." He must certainly have seemed so to his colleagues, patients, and neighbors. So absurdly attached was he to simple living that he ate no meat and drank only water or milk, and wore clothes of his own design—a long, large, flapping cloak lined with baize in summer, a greatcoat made of seven calfskins for rain and cold. His abstemiousness was parsimony, and extended to the usual obligations of hospitality: notified by a sister-in-law that she intended to pay him a visit, and knowing that she lived in a more normal way than he, Hersey dispatched a note to keep her away:


I can't have you here; I am sick