REMINISCENCES OF SARATOGA AND BALLSTON.
WILLIAM L. STONE.
Dr. Richard L. Allen .
"How sweet the task, to lighten human woes,
And soothe the troubled heart to soft repose!
How sweet the task, the poor man’s heart to cheer,
And wipe from sorrow’s eye the falling tear!
To clothe the naked, give the hungry bread,
And calm the tumults of the dying bed."
RICHARD L. ALLEN was born in Greenfield, Saratoga County, N.Y., of Quaker parents, in February, 1808. His parents came from New Bedford, Mass., his father being a retired sea-captain. He studied medicine at Skaneateles, and afterwards graduated at Fairfield, Herkimer County, N.Y. After a brief period spent in teaching, he came to Saratoga in 1832, and entered into partnership with the late Dr. John H. Steel – a connection which was dissolved by the death of the latter in 1838. In 1836, he married Miss Aurelia Putnam, a daughter of the late Benjamin R. Putnam, and a granddaughter of Gideon Putnam, one of the pioneers of Saratoga. He filled the office of postmaster under President Van Buren; was quite prominent in politics, and, being a pleasant, logical, and effective speaker, took the "Stump" in several campaigns. He was for many years a member of the National Medical Association of the United States, as well as of the New York Medical Society. He was several times President of the Medical Association, comprising the counties of Saratoga, Washington, and Warren; filling, indeed, that office at the time of his decease. In addition to his large practice, he was in the habit of reading valuable papers before the different medical associations, besides devoting a considerable portion of his time to scientific pursuits, especially that of geology, in which he was recognized as an authority in regard to the mineralogy of this section of the State. He was also a frequent contributor to scientific and medical journals, and great value was always placed upon his productions. He ever took great pleasure in literary pursuits; and no matter what amount of daily duties devolved upon him in his extensive practice as a physician, he always found several hours daily in which to apply himself to those studies in the seclusion of his library.
Coming to Saratoga when it was yet in its infancy, Dr. Allen settled in the town with a determination to identify himself with its interests, to become a part of its growth, and to make its welfare his own. After practising here, first as a pupil, and then as the partner of the late Dr. Steel, it was his good fortune to become intimate with Nicholas Hill and Sidney J. Cowen – a circumstance which proved of great benefit to the young student, not only in cultivating his taste for "book" learning, but in giving him a more extensive knowledge of men and things. To Sidney J. Cowen, especially, he was in this regard greatly indebted; nor was it long before an opportunity was presented of reciprocating his kind offices. Mr. Cowen was about to go abroad for his health, and, although a lucrative practice was just beginning to open upon him, young Allen at once laid aside all personal considerations, and offered himself to the former as a friend and companion.
Returning from abroad with a mind well stored by travel and observation, and refusing an advantageous offer of settlement in a large city, he came back to Saratoga and resumed the practice of his profession. In the year 1852 he formed a partnership with Dr. M.N. Babcock, under the firm name of Allen & Babcock, and continued in the same business relation until a few days before his decease, which occurred on the 13 th of May, 1873.
The memory of Richard L. Allen should always be honored by the inhabitants of Saratoga Springs. For a number of years before his death his attention, outside of his large practice, was exclusively devoted to the study of the county and the springs of the village in which his lot was cast. In this he labored unceasingly; and numberless are the times when, after returning home from a drive, spent since dawn in professional visits, he has consumed the entire night in writing down the result of some particular historical observation made during the day. Indeed, it was only shortly before his death that, ill as he was and totally unfitted for either mental or physical labor, he went to Quebec and penetrated into the wilderness near the head-waters of the Ottawa to obtain a fact which he thought might be of use in elucidating a point in connection with the history of Saratoga. Many have been the times when he and myself have ridden day and night through driving storms of sleet and snow, merely to see some octogenarian whose life might be terminated at any moment, and with it any chance of gaining possession of some fact relating to the early settlement of Saratoga known only to that person. "Time is short," he would say, "and life is uncertain. We must be up and doing." With one or two exceptions, he was probably better acquainted with the history of Burgoyne’s campaign than any one now living. In the prosecution of these designs his energy was most marvellous. Nor with all these outside duties was he neglectful of his profession. A large practice, constantly calling for the exercise of every faculty, and the demands upon his time as one of the chief officers of the County Medical Society, would naturally have taxed the powers of an ordinary man; yet, with all this, he found leisure to do his work, and to do it well . His "Guide to the Springs" will, up to the period of its date, always remain an authority. At his death he left unfinished an exhaustive work upon the "History of Saratoga County" and an "Historical Guide to the Battle-Ground." These last works will, it is hoped, be completed by competent hands and remain a monument to their author, which, among the people with whom his life was spent, shall be more enduring than those of brass or iron.
From the above sketch an idea may be gleaned of the character of the man. It was his aim to make himself of use to his species . As a friend he was staunch, as a physician he was faithful and conscientious, equally learned in theory and skilful in practice. Naturally of a shrewd, original cast of mind, he united to large native endowments high cultivation. An extensive library, whose stores were carefully enriched with the latest publications, both American and Foreign, kept him fully abreast of the ripest thought and the best achievements in medical science. He possessed also a keen taste for general literature; and, besides being a successful physician, was a gentleman of genial culture, the lack of an early classical education being in a large measure supplied by a varied acquaintance with the best models of English composition. His heart was large; his benevolence to the poor great. Indeed, these qualities were, in him, faults, as they frequently led him to open his purse to those who abused his generosity for their own interests. With a nature a simple as a child’s, and as easily worked upon, he dissipated large sums for the benefit of others, and thus impoverished himself.
With a natural perception of the beautiful, rare spiritual insight, and a tenderness mingled alike with sweetness and strength, he gave a freshness and a glow to all with whom he came in contact. His deeds will be remembered as the overflowing of his love for his fellow-men. In his death, Saratoga Springs lost one of her best and most highly-esteemed citizens, and literature and science an earnest student, contributor, and worker.
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