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This biography is from ANNALS of the Medical Society of the County of Albany, 1806-1851, by Sylvester D. Willard, M. D.

Theodric Romeyn Beck
By Mrs. Catherine E. Van Cortlandt.

It is with extreme diffidence that the writer approaches the biography of Theodric Romeyn Beck. Every man has a twofold life, and the life known to the indwellers of his home differs much from that known to the public. Therefore it may be that the following sketch will in some measure be drawn by the light in which his character appeared to those who knew and loved him best, and not be as recognizable as the various short biographies written of him by comparative strangers. Should it be thought too partial, surely the fault will be pardoned when the relation between the man and his biographer is remembered.

Dr. Beck was the eldest son of Caleb Beck and Catherine Theresa Romeyn. A brief notice of her life and the influence that surrounded the youth of her children has been written for this volume, in the notice of her youngest son, Lewis C. Beck. On the paternal side Dr. Beck was of English origin, his ancestors being among the earliest settlers of New England. A love of books would seem to have been hereditary on both sides, for in the will of his grandfather " Caleb Beck gentleman of Schenectady in the County of Albany," proved before Gov. Cosby, in 1728, one of the first articles named as a valuable legacy is, "my printed books to my son." It might have had its effect, for that son embraced a liberal profession and received his diploma as attorney at law, signed by George Clinton in 1757. Caleb Beck, the father of Dr. Beck, also studied law, but never entered upon its practice; he died when his eldest son was but a few years of age, and the education and rearing his five sons devolved upon his widow and her father, the Rev. Dr. Derick Romeyn. As allusion has already been made to Dr. Romeyn in the life of Lewis Beck, and also to the second of the sons, Abram, no further notice of them seems proper here, but a few words should be given to the remaining brothers of this gifted family, who preceded Romeyn Beck to the grave.

John B. Beck, the third brother, was a physician of much eminence and a writer of ability, one of the principal chapters in Beck's Medical Jurispnidence, that on infanticide, was written by him; and he also published several medical works well known to, and still used by the profession. He graduated first in his class in Columbia College, New York, and his life was spent in that city, where he died in 1851, after a long and painful illness, mainly induced by constant mental and physical labor. He had for many years filled the chair of Prof. of Materia Medica in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York. Nicholas F., the fourth brother, a young lawyer of great promise, died at the early age of thirty. At the period of his death he held the office of Adjutant General of his native state, an office conferred upon him by De Witt Clinton.

T. Romeyn Beck was placed in the grammar school at Schenectady at a very early age, and entered Union College in 1803, graduating when only sixteen. His mother, who entertained a wholesome horror of losing time, placed him immediately after his graduation in the office of Dr. Low and McClelland of Albany. The former was a man of great and varied talent, a fine classical scholar, and a lover of literature. With these gentlemen he remained until the last year of his medical studies, when he entered the office of Dr. David Hosack, who was at that period considered the first physician of the country. In 1811 he received his degree of Doctor of Medicine, presenting an inaugural thesis on insanity. This short treatise, written thus early in life, exhibits a wonderful knowledge of the history of insanity and its treatment. The deep interest he manifested for this afflicted class ceased only with his life. At that period their needs were only partially known and wholly disregarded. In this pamphlet, short as it is, Dr. Beck gives a succinct history of insanity and devotes a portion to the treatment of the insane, advocating public asylums and careful, kindly usage. He lived to see his views endorsed by the eminent men who have made this subject their study, and to witness the inauguration of a new and humane practice, calculating to cure these unfortunates or ameliorate their condition. He modestly introduces his thesis by these words: "It is all that can be expected from one whose opportunities of viewing the disease have been scanty and whose information has been derived chiefly from books."

Dr. Beck commenced the practice of medicine in Albany, and was appointed physician to the alms house the same year. On his resignation of this situation he wrote a memorial to the supervisors on the subject of work houses, replete with sound good sense.

He was but twenty-four years of age when he received the appointment of Professor of the Institutes of Medicine and Lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence in the Western College of Phys. and Surgeons located at Fairfield, N, Y. In 1826 he became Professor of Medical Jurisprudence; in 1836 Professor of Materia Medica; filling the two latter chairs until 1840, when it was judged expedient to give up the college in consequence of the establishment of a Medical School in Albany.

Dr. Beck continued the practice of medicine in Albany until 1817, when a growing dislike to practice, and an increasing love for the study of the profession and literature generally, induced him to accept the post of Principal of the Albany Academy. He was naturally sensitive, and the sight of suffering and distress that he could not remove or alleviate wore upon him, and his strength and health alike failed: his attachment to the profession he had chosen remained unabated, and amid the constant labor which his new occupation gave him, he found leisure to accomplish an amount of work that seems almost incredible. As early as 1813, his letters addressed to his uncle, Dr. John B. Romeyn, then in Europe, indicate the design which a few years brought to a full accomplishment, a work on legal medicine. In 1823, Dr. Beck published the volumes that have made his name familiar to every member of the legal and medical professions. In the words of an eminent lawyer of this state, 1 Dr. Beck, "known over the civilized world as the author and founder of medical jurisprudence, a science which he substantially created, he ranks, wherever law and justice are administered, with Blackstone and Bacon, Grotius and D'Aguessau." These volumes were received at home and abroad, with well merited favor. Besides the numerous American editions it has passed through one German and four London editions. In a notice of the German translation, says a bibliographer, "in his native language his work is as yet without a parallel." Since his death two editions have been published. The writer well remembers as each proof sheet arrived, the immediate preparation for a new edition with copious and carefully prepared emendations. While this great work progressed, its author was never unmindful of the claims of all classes of unfortunates; every public charity demanded and received not merely his notice but his ardent support. His carefully prepared statistics of the deaf and dumb, called public attention to their needs. True to his first interest in the insane, their treatment and care occupied much of his attention. Most wisely was he chosen by the governor and senate, one of the managers of the New York State Asylum, and he was reappointed at the expiration of each term of office until his death. In1854 he was unanimously chosen President of the board of managers. In the words of one of the ablest officers of the Asylum, the institution has, at all times, had the advantage of his wise counsels, efficient aid, and ardent devotion, and of his presence and immediate cooperation with his associates, whenever demanded by matters of unusual or special importance. Here, as well as in all other similar positions, he has ever consulted the highest and most enduring good of the interests committed to his charge, without regard to the prejudices or the more apparent benefits of the hour or the day, or any mere personal claims or advantages. His wisdom and experience, his independence, decision and energy, and his unflinching integrity, have made him a most valuable guardian of all the affairs of this great public charity.

After the death of the lamented Brigham, Dr. Beck was induced by the managers of the Asylum to undertake the charge of the Journal of Insanity which he conducted until 1854, when "advancing years and more imperative duties" compelled him to resign the charge. When the tidings of his decease reached the afflicted inmates of the Asylum, they requested their chaplain to deliver a funeral sermon on the death of "their friend," and the appropriate words chosen by them as a text for his discourse were, "Having served his generation by the will of God he fell on sleep." His children, deeply touched by the selection so deserved and so well chosen, have placed only this short inscription on the simple head-stone that marks his grave. 2

It is not only as a writer on medicine or insanity, or as an able instructor that Dr. Beck is known. He gave an impulse to every important scientific enterprise of this state. He was one of the originators of the great work of the Geological survey of NewYork, and under the successive governors intrusted with much of its supervision. The following dedication of the 5th vol. of the survey by Prof. Emmons, shows the light in which he was regarded by the workers in that survey. "To T. Romeyn Beck, M. D. LL. D.
"Sir: There is more than one reason why the concluding divisions of the present work, undertaken to explore and illustrate the Natural History of the State of New York, and conducted under legislative patronage, should be dedicated to you.

"You were among the first to foster the enterprise, and remained its consistent advocate in times when adverse circumstances seemed to jeopardize its continuance; much more than this, your whole life has been assiduously engaged in promoting the advance of science and the spread of popular education, and the published results of your scientific and literary labors, may be referred to as reflecting an honor upon our native state.

"Would that the merits of the present volume were such as to render it more worthy its dedication."

Not only was he conversant with the scientific workings of this great project, but he introduced a system of economy and order, when appointed a Commissioner to decide upon the various claims that grew out of the contracts, that reduced its expense and facilitated its completion.

As early as 1813, he delivered the annual address before The Society for the Promotion of Useful Arts. The object he states in his preferring to "exhibit at one view the mineral riches of the United States, with their various applications to the arts, and to demonstrate the practicability of the increase of different manufactures, whose materials are derived from this source." Of this address, his colleague and eulogist, Dr. Frank H. Hamilton, speaks in the following terms:

"This was eminently the field for Dr. Beck's peculiar talent; it was new, and everything had to be learned from the beginning; a host of persons and authorities had to be consulted, and the whole to be carefully digested, analyzed, and applied. The result could not have disappointed those who were familiar with his habits; but to one who had known him less, or who was at all acquainted with the difficulties which he was compelled to encounter in the little that was then known of the mineral resources of this country, the result seems astonishing; and to that elaborate and timely paper, we think, the American manufacturer is, to-day, in no small degree indebted for his wealth and prosperity. It was the lens which first brought the scattered rays of light upon this subject to a focus, and which now melts the ores in a thousand furnaces. If, as Dr. Beck asserts, American mineralogy was then in its infancy, he was the first to urge upon it a confidence in itself, and to demonstrate to others its unsuspected capacities, and it is through such early guidance and assistance that it has so rapidly grown to complete manhood, no less than to the persevering industry, the unconquerable enterprise, and the extraordinary ingenuity of our citizens."

In 1819, Dr. Beck read before the same Society a most valuable paper entitled a "Memoir of Alum." Like every paper that came from his hands, it showed wonderful industry and research. When this Society was merged with the Albany Lyceum into a new organization, the Albany Institute, Dr. Beck became one of its most active members, doing more to increase its library and its varied collection than almost any other person.

In 1841, he was chosen Secretary of the board of regents, and he succeeded in obtaining for them the entire supervision of the State Library and the State Cabinet of Natural History. The State Library alone is a noble monument of his faithfulness and diligence; he found a few volumes scattered, disorganized and partially destroyed; he left a library worthy of the state; nor did his work ceasewith his life. The catalogue of books is complete; its collections for years to come testify how thoroughly he completed his task.

To a stranger it will hardly seem possible for Dr. Beck to have done his duty fully in his capacity as instructor, when it is remembered how manifold were his occupations as Secretary of the regents alone, and yet he never neglected the smallest detail of duty. Hear the testimony of scholars who have distinguished themselves in the varied walks of life.

"There was ever the most faithful and vigilant attention to the daily work of the Academy, in all its departments. His capacity for labor, and his systematic, untiring industry have rarely, if ever, been surpassed. The written records of the Academy, of the Institute, of the board of regents, and of all the literary and scientific bodies with which he was connected, bear witness to an amount of patient labor which would seem beyond the power of any man to accomplish." 3

"The first of the belles lettres scholars in the state, he gave his illustrious mind, that would have dignified the proudest college in the land, to the Albany Academy, and if ever man was honored by his scholars, it is the man whose name is the central thought of the oration of this day." 4

"Theodric Romeyn Beck was a master workman in his profession—in moulding the mind and character of the young unequaled. Himself an untiring, indefatigable student, versed alike in solid learning and elegant literature, he inspired the pupil with similar tastes, lighted in his bosom the spark of noble emulation, elevated his desires and purified his ambition. In emotion, tender, delicate and sensitive as a woman—in perception of moral rectitude clear and undeviating—he still possessed a wonderful breadth and manliness of character. His brain was massive, his intellectual faculty strong and robust, his temper fearless, his conduct full of gentleness and dignity, modesty and courage. Such glorious qualities commanded respect and secured obedience, and withal presented in the scholar a model worthy of imitation. He was the Arnold of his Rugby. Around him clustered a troop of brave boys—Tom. Browns and all—who loved and honored him with full hearts and flowing affections." 5

During all these years Dr. Beck enjoyed universally good health, his labors never seemed to impair it. In 1848, he felt that he was doing too much, and he resignd his post as Principal of the Academy, a post which he had well and faithfully filled for nearly a third of a century. He was elected President of the board of trustees, filling this office until his death.

In February 1855 Dr. Beck was seized with what was supposed to be a slight attack of indigestion, but it did not yield readily to medical treatment. From that period until September he continued to have attacks of nausea at intervals of a fortnight, becoming gradually weakened by their recurrence. No danger was however apprehended until that month, when he became so feeble as to make it manifest that his disease approached a fatal termination. A consultation of physicians, Drs. Hun and Parker, and his faithful friend and physician Dr. Willard, pronounced his disease to be "a suspension, of the process of assimilation, his food digested but did not assimilate." He received their dictum with his wonted composure and cheerfulness. This was October 24th, and until November 11th no special change occurred. His last few days can best be told in the words of his physician: " He slept more than usual, and at night comfortably, awaking at his accustomed hour in the morning; he sat up nearly every day for a short time, and often devoted a part of this to business; his books and his papers were around him, and he still devoted himself to them with untiring industry; although he was sick, he did not know how to be idle. I visited him at all hours, and I always found him with a book in his hand; when he retired at night, it was with lights arranged by his bedside that he might read until he fell asleep.

With the first loss of sleep, (Nov. 11), came total prostration, he was unable longer to take nourishment, and soon began what appeared to be the process of dying; of this he was fully aware, yet no murmer escaped his lips, nor the wish that the termination might be averted. (Nov.14). His breathing became gradually more difficult, and his extremities cold; he was exceedingly restless, but uniformly answered "no" when asked if he was suffering. Each hour appeared for two or three days to be his last, but he rallied again however, and remarked of the wonderful tenacity of his constitution, and expressed surprise that he lived so long. "It is hard breaking the chain," and then he asked, "Is not this a long struggle?" "How long have I been in it?" To my reply "more than twenty-four hours," he asked, "do you think it will last much longer?" Addressing his daughters, who were by his bedside, he said "I had a coldness, a sort of spasm in my side last night, that was near my idea of the coming on of death; I have thought my case over, it is a remarkable complaint, don't you all think so?" And at the same time he expressed his conviction that he must have organic disease.

At another time, when he thought his daughters greatly fatigued by prolonged attention to him, gazing upon them with paternal tenderness, he said, "I am sorry to tire you so; I wish it was over." Thus, in his last hours, he did not fail to regard the comfort of others before himself. His hearing continued acute, and his mind clear and calm through those hours of protracted dissolution, although he was so weak that he could not converse. Thus he lingered until the morning of the 19th. A few hours preceding his death, Mrs. Parmelee was sitting by his side, when he asked, "Where is Catharine?" (Mrs. Van Cortlandt); immediately she was with him. He pressed her hand in token of recognition, gazed upon them for a moment, and then closed his eyes forever. His breathing became quiet, fainter, and still more faint, until at length, gently as sleeps a child, the slumber of death came upon him. And thus passed away this great man, on the 19th of November, 1855, at the age of sixty-four years and three months. Mr. and Mrs. Parmelee, Mrs. Van Cortlandt and myself, were with him when he died."

Dr. Beck was married in 1814, at Caldwell, Warren county, to Harriet, daughter of James Caldwell, a merchant of Albany, whose summer residence was at Lake George. She was a woman of fine literary culture and refined nature, and was taken from him at the early age of thirty-one.

Two daughters survived him. The youngest Mrs. Helen L. Parmelee, followed him to the grave in 1863. Like her father she possessed great industry and research, and a most retentive memory, with rare talents and attainments. She was unostentatious and modest, living and dying a truly Christian woman.

This short sketch of Dr. Beck would be incomplete without a notice of some of the peculiar characterics of his nature. He had the most intense horror of oppression and injustice whether practiced by corporations or individuals, and his lance was ever on the rest for a tilt with the oppressor. Never did he yield a foot but manfully fought the battles of the weak against the strong. Meaness and prevarication were his abhorrence: shatms of all sorts, whether found in high or low stations, excited his wrath to its utmost pitch. It may safely be asserted that the few enemies he made during hie useful life, some were made so by his manly outspoken defiance of "whosoever maketh a lie." His own standard was high, and he longed to bring all men up to it. It was only those who saw his daily life that knew how much self denial lie practiced, nor did they know it to its fullest extent until his death, when his correspondence revealed how incessant had been his benevolence. He had not given largely to great objects, but constantly and noiselessly dispensed the daily charities where the right hand knew not the benefactions of the left. Of his wonderful industry sufficient has been said. An early riser, the first hours of the day were given to study. Each hour had its appointed task. No duty was ever neglected. His greatest relaxation was the perusal of light literature, and he was thoroughly conversant with the poets and authors of his day. Seldom was he found at fault with any quotation. With all this learning and varied information he was modest and unassuming, ever ready and eager to acquire information, nor would any one dream when he mingled in general society that mentally he towered a head and shoulders above the generality of men. Dr. Beck loved his country with the intense love of such a nature, and among his manuscripts are many addresses written for various occasions breathing a spirit of the purest patriotism. Happy for him that he lived not to see calamities brought upon that beloved country by the insane ambition of misguided southern demagogues. In the words he wrote for the monumental stone of one of the revolutionary fathers, he was "blest in closing his eyes upon a country prosperous, united and happy."

Dr. Beck wrote a short sketch of the life of Clinton preparatory to an extended memoir undertaken at the request of the sons of that lamented statesman. Its opening words are these, "The Academy of Science at Dijon recently asked of their municipality that all houses in the commune which deserved to be historical might be marked by commemorative inscriptions. The council we are told readily acceded to the request, and among the birth places and residences thus designated are those of Buffon, Crebillon, Guyton De Morveau and the Marshal Favennes. We in this country fortunately or unfortunately live in too progressive an age to allow us to ask for similar remembrances." Surely even in this progressive age, while events crowd each other so rapidly, Theodric Romeyn Beck deserves and will receive from the men whose characters he has contributed to form, and who honor themselves in honoring him, some memorial that will tell strangers of his devotion to truth and to the best interests of the home he so loved.

1 Alexander W. Bradford, LL. D., Commemoration Address of Albany Academy.
2 Dr. Beck was buried in a beautifully retired spot in the old burial ground at Caldwell, on Lake George.
3 Orlando Meads's Historical Discourse.
4 Wm. H. Bogart.
5 Alexander W. Bradford LL. D.

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