John Abernethy FRS (3 April 1764 - 20 April 1831) was an English surgeon, the celebrity he attained in his practice was due not only to his great professional skill, but also in part to his eccentricity. He was very blunt with his patients, treating them often brusquely and sometimes even rudely. He resigned his position at St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1827, and died at his residence at Enfield.
He is reported to have been consulted by the late Duke of York; and he stood before his royal highness, whistling, with his hands in his breeches-pockets, as usual. The duke, astonished at his conduct, said, 'I suppose you know who I am?' 'Suppose I do,' said he, 'what of that?' And his advice to his royal highness was given thus: 'Cut off the supplies, as the Duke of Wellington did in his campaigns, and the enemy will leave the citadel.' Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, Medical Portrait Gallery.
One of the brightest points in Abernethy's character, was, that, however he might sometimes forget the courtesy due to his private patients, he was never unkind to those whom charity had confided to his care. One morning, leaving home for the hospital, when some one was desirous of detaining him, he said: 'Private patients, if they do not like me, can go elsewhere; but the poor devils in the hospital I am bound to take care of. George Macilwain, Memoirs of John Abernethy, F.R.S.
A man of rank consulted Mr. Abernethy, and was received by him with remarkable rudeness. Upon some severe remark being made, the patient lost his temper, and told Mr. A. he would make him eat his words. 'It will be of no use', said Mr. A., coolly, 'for they will be sure to come up again!' Ibid.
When Abernethy was canvassing for the office of surgeon to St. Bartholomew Hospital, he called upon such a person, — a rich grocer, one of the governors. The great man behind the counter seeing the great surgeon enter, immediately assumed the grand air towards the supposed suppliant for his vote. 'I presume, sir, you want my vote and interest at this momentous epoch of your life'. Abernethy, who hated humbugs, and felt nettled at the tone, replied: 'No, I don't: I want a-pennyworth of figs; come, look sharp and wrap them up: I want to be off!' Samuel Smiles, Self-help.