There were few who perished, during the pestilential and calamitous season of 1798, whose fate excited more universal regret, and whose memory will be more fondly and permanently cherished, than Dr. Elihu Hubbard Smith. In his domestic relations, the knowledge of his excellence is necessarily confined to few; but by those few his conduct as a son and a brother, will ever be regarded as a model of unblemished rectitude. Indefatigable in the promotion of the true interests of those allied to him, a casual observer would be disposed to imagine his whole attention to be absorbed by this object; and that he whose affections were so ardent, and his mind so active for their good, had no leisure for the offices of friendship, and for the pursuit of general happiness. To these valuable purposes, however, no one attended with more zeal and assiduity. To those who were blessed with his friendship, and the number was by no means small, his attachment was unwavering, and his efforts for their benefit without remission. To the cause of general happiness, he devoted his abilities with no less zeal.
He was a native of Litchfield, in Connecticut. The rudiments of knowledge were imbibed at this place. He entered the College of New-Haven at the early age of eleven. Here he gave proofs of intellectual energies and attainments, usually deemed incompatible with so immature an age. His education was completed under the care of the Rev. Timothy Dwight, who kept a school of considerable repute in Greenfield. He was admitted into this seminary at the age of fifteen, and left it two years after.
He then returned to Litchfield and commenced the study of medicine under the direction of his father. In the year 1791 he arrived in Philadelphia, and attended the medical lectures that are annually delivered in that city. In the succeeding year he took up his abode, as a practitioner of physic, at Weathersfield, in Connecticut. Finding little employment in this place for any but his social and moral virtues, he repaired, in the autumn of 1798, to New-York, where he remained till the time of his death.
His talents could not otherwise than slowly surmount the obstacles which were thrown in the way of his professional success by his youth, and by the want of patronage and support. His leisure, however, he devoted to the best purposes. Besides his medical pursuits, he cultivated, with zeal and success, almost every branch of literature. He was early distinguished by his attachment to the muses, which is attested by a great number of juvenile compositions. These have found their way, in different forms, to the world, and manifested a vigour of imagination and style, which, with the advantages of age and experience, would have rendered him an honour to his country.
As a physician, his loss is irreparable. He had explored, at his early age, an extent of medical learning for which the longest lives are seldom found sufficient. His diligence and activity, his ardour and perseverance, knew no common bounds. The love of science and impulse of philanthropy directed his whole professional career, and left little room for the calculations of emolument. He had formed vast designs of medical improvement, which embraced the whole family of mankind, were animated by the soul of benevolence, and aspired after every object of a liberal and dignified ambition. He was ripe for the highest honours of his profession; his merits were every day becoming more conspicuous, and nothing but his premature fate deprived him of that extraordinary degree of public confidence which awaited a longer continuance of his life.
In 1796 the corporation of the New-York Hospital appointed him one of the physicians of that charity. The zeal and assiduity with which he discharged the duties of his office afforded the strongest proofs of humanity, disinterestedness and public spirit.
His writings, already published, incessantly awaken regret, that the number of them is not greater. They will long do honour to his memory. They display singular diligence and acuteness of research, the talents of accurate and extensive observation, great force and precision of reasoning, and the range of a vigorous and comprehensive mind.
Though sunk into the shades of inaction and silence, his example cannot cease to offer instruction, nor fail to attract imitation. His plans for the alleviation of human misery, and the advancement of human happiness, though deprived of their author and supporter, will not entirely perish. No virtuous effort is lost: no portrait of excellence is exhibited in vain.