But he admitted and advanced instances of certain persons who could drink largely during their whole lives without apparently suffering any evil effects, and he believed that he could often beforehand tell who would thus not suffer. He himself never drank a drop of any alcoholic fluid. This remark reminds me of a case showing how a witness under the most favourable circumstances may be utterly mistaken. A gentleman-farmer was strongly urged by my father not to drink, and was encouraged by being told that he himself never touched any spirituous liquor. Whereupon the gentleman said, 'Come, come, Doctor, this won't do--though it is very kind of you to say so for my sake--for I know that you take a very large glass of hot gin and water every evening after your dinner.' (This belief still survives, and was mentioned to my brother in 1884 by an old inhabitant of Shrewsbury.--F.D.) So my father asked him how he knew this. The man answered, 'My cook was your kitchen- maid for two or three years, and she saw the butler every day prepare and take to you the gin and water.' The explanation was that my father had the odd habit of drinking hot water in a very tall and large glass after his dinner; and the butler used first to put some cold water in the glass, which the girl mistook for gin, and then filled it up with boiling water from the kitchen boiler.
"My father used to tell me many little things which he had found useful in his medical practice. Thus ladies often cried much while telling him their troubles, and thus caused much loss of his precious time. He soon found that begging them to command and restrain themselves, always made them weep the more, so that afterwards he always encouraged them to go on crying, saying that this would relieve them more than anything else, and with the invariable result that they soon ceased to cry, and he could hear what they had to say and give his advice. When patients who were very ill craved for some strange and unnatural food, my father asked them what had put such an idea into their heads; if they answered that they did not know, he would allow them to try the food, and often with success, as he trusted to their having a kind of instinctive desire; but if they answered that they had heard that the food in question had done good to some one else, he firmly refused his assent.
"He gave one day an odd little specimen of human nature. When a very young man he was called in to consult with the family physician in the case of a gentleman of much distinction in Shropshire. The old doctor told the wife that the illness was of such a nature that it must end fatally. My father took a different view and maintained that the gentleman would recover: he was proved quite wrong in all respects (I think by autopsy) and he owned his error. He was then convinced that he should never again be consulted by this family; but after a few months the widow sent for him, having dismissed the old family doctor. My father was so much surprised at this, that he asked a friend of the widow to find out why he was again consulted. The widow answered her friend, that 'she would never again see the odious old doctor who said from the first that her husband would die, while Dr. Darwin always maintained that he would recover!' In another case my father told a lady that her husband would certainly die. Some months afterwards he saw the widow, who was a very sensible woman, and she said, 'You are a very young man, and allow me to advise you always to give, as long as you possibly can, hope to any near relative nursing a patient. You made me despair, and from that moment I lost strength.' My father said that he had often since seen the paramount importance, for the sake of the patient, of keeping up the hope and with it the strength of the nurse in charge. This he sometimes found difficult to do compatibly with truth. One old gentleman, however, caused him no such perplexity. He was sent for by Mr.P--, who said, 'From all that I have seen and heard of you I believe that you are the sort of man who will speak the truth, and if I ask, you will tell me when I am dying.