The big cats are some of the most spectacular, iconic apex predators in the world . On the one hand, they inspire fear, wonder and awe in the human psyche , while on the other, they stabilise and help balance the ecological food webs to which they belong .
Alan Rabinowitz – Panthera
This week I received an email from Panthera which reduced me to tears . Even now I cannot describe the images . Except to say : The world’s big cats are endangered as never before . In addition to the existing cruelty and danger , poachers set snares for these magnificent creatures, whose very existence depends on mobility and speed . The images that accompanied the email were heartbreaking . And I decided the least I could do was to write a brief post on the work of Panthera and Dr Alan Rabinowitz .
As a child Rabinowitz was handicapped by a severe stutter . But then his father took him on a visit to Bronx Zoo .And to the Big Cat house . He was fascinated by the big cats . And he found he could talk to them without stuttering . At a very young age he decided he would make the care and protection of big cats his life’s work . And he has . He holds a Ph.D in Wildlife Ecology and has travelled the world on behalf of wildlife conservation .
A Boy and A Jaguar. – Dr. Alan Rabinowitz . Artist Cata Chien
A Boy And A Jaguar . Dr Alan Rabinowitz . Artist Catia Chien
In 2014 Rabinowitz wrote a book called A Boy and A Jaguar Speak To Children Who Feel Misunderstood . It not only tells Rabinowitz’ story , but speaks to children who feel misunderstood – whether because of stuttering, a disability – or just misunderstood . Rabinowitz found it painful and difficult to write his story .The book went on to win major literary awards . And has helped many young children .
In a line from the book Rabinowitz says : ” I promise if I can ever find my voice, I will be their ( the animals’) voice and keep them from harm .”
A reviewer and teacher wrote the following : ” The message of being a voice for the animals rings loud and clear… The story brings to the forefront the idea that animals don’t have human voices, so their pain and fear is not heard by humans . Readers learn that if they want to stop humans hurting animals then they are the ones who have a responsibility to stop it . The animals are powerless in this respect .” Katrina Fleming, artist, teacher, writer..
Panthera was founded in 2006 and is a non-profit organisation dedicated to saving the big cats . There are a dedicated team led by Rabinowitz, Tom McCarthy, Luke Hunter, Howard Quigley and George Schaller . As above though, ” the animals are powerless .”
Many species are near extinction . Many that live are suffering and struggling to survive . The planet would be sadly diminished without the beauty of the snow leopard, the majesty of the tiger, the roar of the lion echoing across the plains of the Serengeti…
We may not all be able to contribute needed dollars, but knowledge itself is strength . And a class full of children are wonderful in thinking up ideas . Panthera I hope this small personal tribute may help all you are fighting for . Keep on fighting Panthera !
Foss Dansant ~ loved companion of 19th Century English writer and artist Edward Lear . And master of nonsense verse . Who has left with us the lasting and incongruous images of the Owl and the Pussycat locked in loving embrace.
Afloat in ” a beautiful pea green boat ” they went to sea ” for a year and a day.” Then,given a ring by Piggy-wig ,they were married next day… and hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon, The moon,, the moon, They danced by the light of the moon .”
The Owl and the Pussycat, written in 1871 , remains to this day one of children’s most popular poems . The lilting cadence , the pairing of the Owl and the Pussycat , the detailed departure ” they took some honey and plenty of money ” , the wedding ceremony “they danced by the light of the moon ” – convey a sense of joyousness . And infinite appeal to children .
Edward Lear & Foss
Edward Lear’s pen and ink sketch of himself and important fur person Foss .
Foss, a tabby , was given to Edward and his family as a kitten . Lear became so devoted to Foss that the servants cut off half his tail in the superstitious belief it would stop Foss from straying . Foss now sleeps peacefully in his master’s garden – a villa in Italy designed especially to please Lear’s devoted fur person .
There have been / and are many fur persons of consequence .The devoted companions of writers, artists , musicians , poets… What is it about their presence that meets creative needs ? They intuitively know how to be there when needed . And they move with grace and beauty …
Balanchine and Mourka
Balanchine & Mourka
Mourka- le Grande Jete
Balanchine & Mourka . Mourka ~ le Grande Jete
Mourka – le chat, le grande jete – ballerina exutraordinaire . Mourka, famed fur person of choreographer George Balanchine . Balanchine is one of the 20th Century’s most famous choreographers . Russian born, he was initially choreographer for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes . And later, co-founder of the New York City Ballet .
An American newspaper in 1970 published the following tribute to Balanchine : ” The greatest choreographer of our time, Balanchine is responsible for the successful fusion of modern concepts with older ideas of classical ballet…new techniques… which have altered the thinking of the world of dance … he has created ballets that are celebrated for their imagination and originality .”
Balanchine is accredited with revolutionising classical ballet, adding a repertoire of energised moves and increased momentum . The credit for these in good part belongs to Mourka . Balanchine, fascinated by the grace and elegance of Mourka’s movements began to train her in a range of leaps and jumps that were then choreographed .
Balanchine working with the New York City Ballet
Balanchine & the NYC Ballet . le Grande Jete – Balanchine’s Jump
Mourka’s repertoire included the grande jete – informally known as Balanchine’s jump . A combination of movements requiring strength and skill on the part of the dancer . To Mourka of course , the jete came naturally . An ability found in many fur persons – but for Mourka enhanced by the love of a great choreographer
Solomon Dancing .
Solomon Dancing – no balletic finesse , just sheer exuberance and the joy of life . Siamese Solomon : ” I had never once seen him come into a room with that dawdling, elegant walk of his, without marvelling at the perfection of his beauty . He had the proud, high-boned features of the East from which he came . His face shone with dusky silk . And if his slanted , sapphire eyes had faded a little over the years, they were the most loving, communicative eyes I have encountered in a cat . ”
Doreen Tovey . Cats In the Belfry
Cats In the Belfry – first edition 1957
Cats In the Belfy – 2016 edition .
Cats In the Belfrey ~ Doreen Tovey . First edition 1957 , 2016 edition .
Solomon, Sheba, Sugeigh, Saska, Seeley… a succession of Siamese cats , their stories told by English writer Doreen Tovey over fifty years ago .And so loved by fur person devotees, they remain in print to this day . The story begins with the invasion of the Tovey’s Somerset cottage by an intrepid group of field mice – seen to be waving happily from the top of the bread bin early in the morning . Something Had To Be Done . Initial enquiries in the village were unsuccessful . Then they met Mimi . “Beautiful as an Egyptian queen carved out of ebony… from her tapered black head… to her elegant tail .” Her offspring Sugeih arrives in the Tovey household – and the chaos characteristic of the idiosyncratic Siamese breed quickly results . The field mice remain – and the Tovey’ s sucumb to the demands of a Siamese fur person
” After the noisiest marriage in the history of the cattery Sugeih embarked on a pregnancy… ” Her kittens arrived at the end of March . Among them Solomon . Sugeih quickly adopted the role of ” Perfect Mother .” And then, suddenly and unbelievably, she was dead . The Tovey’s had decided to let her have only one litter . And in those days spaying was not without risks . ” We buried her under the apple tree, where only the night before, we had watched her playing with her kittens . ” The Tovey’s kept two of her kittens – the irrepressible Solomon – and his sister Sheba .
I have written this story at length for a number of reasons : Firstly it describes with a delightful degree of English eccentricity an era now past . Tovey tells of the time when the vicar and his wife came to take tea – and to raise money for the church organ . The unsuspecting vicar’s wife leaves her hat, sans feather, on the hall table . On departure the hat is nowhere to be seen – but there are two very satisfied Siamese sitting on the stairs, with remnants of feathers still floating around them .
And Tovey cleverly imbues her Siamese fur persons with all the Siamese characteristics by creating a dialogue for them : ” It was always Solomon who led the way , shouting . .. Of Sheba he said ,What About Smacking Her Bottom For A Change he roared , in a voice that would have done credit to a lighthouse keeper … Then he bowled her over, just to show who was who .”
Tovey not only succeeds in creating distinct personalities for her Siamese team – but in writing what are the funniest fur person books written – and still loved more than fifty years later
The repertoire of English fur person stories would not be complete though, without The Minack Chronicles .
The Minack Chronicles – author Derek Tangye wrote thirty books on he and Jeannie’s life together in Cornwall .
The Minack Chronicles . In London , in the immediate post-war years a young couple, Derek and Jeannie Tangye, were busily occupied with their respective roles : Derek with MI5, Jeannie, a classical English beauty , as Publicity Officer for the Savoy Hotel . Then, to the consternation of their friends , they decided to leave their London lifestyle . And to buy a daffodil farm on the coast of Cornwall . They found an old stone cottage near Lamorna Cove . Then began a succession of fur persons – and a succession of books . Known collectively as the Minack Chronicles .
Like Doreen Tovey, Derek Tangye’s books remain in publication more than fifty years since being published . Both capture the very essence of cat . Tovey, with irrepressible humor, describes the idiosyncratic nature of the Siamese . Tangye’s books are a gentle intermingling of his love for Jeannie, of their love for the wild Cornish landscape , anecdotes of their life in London . And of the fur persons of consequence that shared their lives at Minack : Monty, Ambrose, Llama ..
There is a particularly beautiful passage in Tangye’s writing that captures perfectly the complete and utter happiness that their lives in Cornwall meant . Derek is walking through the fields of daffodils on a sunny morning with the little black cat Llama following .
” That September morning I lay… with Llama on my tummy purring… I lay there with that sound in my ears, and the sound of the sea caressing the rocks, a gull or two soulfully calling , and the poignant trilling of the oyster catchers..below Carn Barges . A moment of great happiness, complete, breeding no greedy wish for something better . This was the kind of moment which men and women, in old fashioned wars, were ready to die for, believing that the simple basic pleasures offered the key to happiness . A kind of moment which bypassed the sophisticated theories which try to govern our lives today ….. Llama, I can still hear her purring . ”
💥 The Minack Chronicles : Minack is now a Nature Reserve . There is a group called Friends Of Minack dedicated to the memory of Derek and Jeannie Tangye .
The Very Essence Of Fur Persons .
The Silent Miaow : Author Paul Gallico and photographer Suzanne Szasz .
The Silent Miaow . Paul Gallico . Writer Paul Gallico and photographer Suzanne Szasz in 1964 compiled the ultimate manual for fur persons on how to deal with the species known as human . If the human is at first resistant to any request for accommodation then keep on trying – quietly . A plaintive miaow is indicated – and eventually, permission is granted . However, once inside, there is further work to be done . That is to make the human think they cannot possibly exist without you. There are numerous techniques that can be used . Success is accomplished when you have the choice of the best chair in the house , the warmest place on the bed . And , of course , a selection of gourmet items .
The writer previously mentioned, Derek Tangye, describes his own efforts to resist the silent miaow . Tangye , from childhood, was a dedicated dog lover . Jeannie, a dedicated cat lover . Tangye was determined he was ” not going to be hypnotised by gentle purrs, soft kneading of paws… I most certainly would not have one in our home .”
Then , one day in Jeannie’s London office, Tangye meets a kitten . ” He was the size and colour of a handful of autumn bracken… the silky white shirt front , the smudge of orange on the left paw.. his tail with its dark rings against cream… Monty had entered our lives .”
Gallico, an American , wrote a number of books about fur persons . And like those of Tovey and Tangye, despite their publication dates, are still loved to this day .
” I am cat, I am honourable, I have pride, I have dignity, And I have memory, For I am older than you, I am older than your Gods ; the Tree Gods… The Thunder and Lightning and the Sun Gods.. Let us remain honourable friends .”
There are many wonderful books about fur persons of consequence . But I would like to make mention of two here not so well known and nonetheless beautiful in their own way :
John Brown, Rose and The Midnight Cat . An award winning children’ s book first published in 1977 . John Brown, an, English sheepdog is dedicated to the care and protection of the elderly widow Rose . The two are inseparable . That is, until the Midnight Cat appears at the window . John Brown sulks . Then Rose does the unthinkable and puts a saucer of milk out for the visitor . And John Brown in his doggy wisdom realises there is room for three of them . The book won multiple awards – both for the story and for the art work that accompanies the first edition .
John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat . John Brown was not going to have a cat in the house .
John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat . John Brown loved the elderly widow Rose ~ and he certainly was not going to have a cat in the house . Jenny Wagner. 1977
The Tale Of Toby Jug . The actual title of this book Paw Tracks In the Moonlight suggests a tizzy tale . Instead it is an endearing and funny account of a young university lecturer’s efforts to keep alive a kitten rescued one snowy English night . A kitten so small he keeps it in a softly cushioned Toby jug to ensure its survival . And Toby Jug does survive – and becomes a very fine cat indeed . A tale told with love and humour .
A Very Fine Cat Indeed. .
The title is taken from the 18th.Century English writer Samuel Johnson’s reference to his fur person Hodge, whom he describes as ” a very fine cat indeed .” Johnson ordered the servants that Hodge should be given an oyster for lunch every day . An Elegy On The Death Of Dr.Johnson’s Favourite Cat in 1778 says : ” Who by his master when caressed, warmly his gratitude expressed, and never failed his thanks to purr, when’ere he stroked his sable fur .”
A great deal deal has been written about fur persons of consequence and artists, writers , musicians… themselves persons of consequence . I will not presume to write again about Matisse, Hemingway, Collette, Twain, the Brontes … except to ask what is it about the fur person that finds such affinity with the creative spirit ?
” If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing… acquire a cat. .. The cat will be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding … And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you.so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost . You need not watch the cat all the time . It’s presence alone is enough .The effect of a cat on your concentration is very mysterious .” Muriel Spark. English writer .
Fur Persons Of Consequence In Art .
Japanese artist Miroco Machiko is accompanied in her studio by cats Soto and Bou . Her colourful, distińctive style is immediately recognisable .And she delights in the creative presence of her fur persons in her studio .
It is impossible to write about artists and cats without including some works . Miroco Machiko is a definite personal favorite because of the vibrant colours and idiosyncratic style .
Artist Miroco Machiko
Fur Persons Of Consequence On Stage and in Film .
The Lion King for the brilliance of the puppetry , the vivid colours, the music… The film version just to hear Jeremy Irons as Scar . And Cats. . TS Eliot’s book though is a first favourite .
My first encounter with TS Eliot was at age five when the school poetry reader for the year featured a black and nimble Skimbleshanks leaping all over the red cover : ” There’s a whisper down the line at 11:59 When the Night Mail’s ready to depart Saying Skimble ! where is Skimble…? … He will watch you without winking. and he can tell what you are thinking… He’s a Cat that cannot be ignored .. “It was this early encounter with Elliot and the definitive persona I assigned to each of Elliot’s fur persons as a child just did not accord with furry stage version . Apart from which :
The Naming Of Cats Is A Difficult Matter .
Unless of course one is TS Elliot and, in lieu of Tiger, Spot and Cat, can create a veritable cornucopia of exotic names : Rum Tum Tugger, Jellicle Cats, Mr.Mistoffoles, Growltiger, Gus / Aparagus, Rumpleteazer, Macavity and – from an unpublished manuscript – Grizabella… Memories : ( To this distinguished list I would add, in memory, that of a much loved dark chocolate Burmese with the exotic name Sharam Tashan . As a retired stud boy bestowed with a generous nether end, affectionately also known as Pumpkin Bum . )
Cats the musical . Lion King – the stage show
Cats ~ the musical The Lion King ~ stage show
Cats, the musical, opened in the West End of London in 1981 . And premiered on Broadway in 1982 . The musical, based on Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats, has been seen and loved by millions world wide.
Lion King, the Disney film version , premiered in 1994 .Made by a team of Hollywood’s top animators, music by Elton John and a caste of veteran actors providing the voices , the film won multiple awards .
Lion King – the stage musical , based on the Disney film, was first show was first shown in 1997 and was an immediate sensation. The stage show has extraordinary vitality and energy . The colours, the costumes, the puppets….. !
When Whiskers Start To Wilt .
The time inevitably comes when whiskers start to wilt . And the lion loses its spring . The English literary critic, AL Rowse, on retirement , moved with his fur person and his books to a home in Cornwall . The poem The White Cat Of Trenarren is dedicated to his ageing fur person .
When a fur person is of particular importance , the transition can be so significant, it can feel like a journey never completed . So I will end at the beginning . With artistic tributes to the Owl and the Pussycat .
Acknowlegments : Images : Miroco Machiko – from ilove cats.com . Origin the artist’s personal website . All images : Google search . Graphics AE
The tale of three physicians ~ Sir Thomas Browne 1605-1682 , Sir William Osler 1849-1919 and Sir Geoffrey Keynes 1887- 1982 . Three physicians, linked over the centuries by a shared love of literature and medicine . And by chance .
Sir Thomas, the goode physician of Norwich and writer of Religio Medici .- the Religion Of A Physician – first printed in 1642 . Sir William Osler – a founding father of Johns Hopkins and later Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University . Osler acquired his first copy of Religio Medici at age seventeen when , declaring himself ” athirst for good literature ” , he was given a volume while at Trinity College . Religio Medici became Sir William’s lifetime companion . And in 1908, Geoffrey Keynes , then a second year undergraduate at Cambridge first made acquaintance with Osler – through a shared love of the work of Browne .
” To read Sir Thomas Browne is always to be filled with astonishment , to remember the surprises, the despondencies, the unlimited curiosities of youth … We are in the presence of sublime imagination .” Virginia Woolfe
Yet Sir Thomas is not for the faint hearted reader . Woolfe describes ” the splendid pomposities, the astonishing conjectures ” of the Religio Medici . Browne reflects on the inner loneliness of humanity .There are confronting passages – the physician’s thoughts on the limits of mortality . “Oblivion is not to be hired… The night of time far surpasses the day, and who knows when was the AEquinox …. our longest sunne sets at right descencions , and makes but winter arches… ” ” But the iniquity of oblivion blindely scattereth her poppy and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity .” ( Urn Burial )
What is one to make of the quaintness of the quincunx . ( Garden Of Cyrus ) Quincunx : geometric pattern consisting of five points … ) ” For all things are seen Quincunxially ; for at the eye the Pyramidal rayes , from the object, , receive a decussation… ” ( Garden Of Cyrus ) . Browne is not without his critics . And passages such as ” Pyramids, Arches and Obelisks were but the irregularities of vain-glory, and wilde enormities of ancient magnanimity ” led one critic to describe Browne’s work as ” splendidly baroque arrogance .”
Yet Sir Thomas was not an arrogant man . Educated at Oxford, Leiden and Montpelier and knighted by King Charles, he chose to live his life with his wife and children in Norwich . And to write and to care for his patients . ” He was charitable and brave and adverse to nothing. He was full of feeling for others .” ( Woolfe )
Of himself he wrote : ” For my Conversation, it is like the Sun’s, with a friendly aspect to good and bad .” ” I rejoyce not at unwholesome Springs, nor unseasonable Winters : my Prayer goes with the Husbandman’s.” ( Husbandman – one who tills the soil . ” Sir, I am a true labourer .” Shakespeare . As You Like It . )
Browne wrote of the illnesses suffered by his patients saying that he would , like Caesar, ” wish rather to go off at one blow, than to be sawed in pieces by the grating torture of disease . Men that look no further than their outsides, think health an appurtenance unto life, and quarrel with their constitutions for being sick ; but I that have examined the parts of man, and know upon what tender filaments that Fabrick hangs… do thank my God we can die but once .”
Freed from the constraints of inward ponderings on the mysteries and maladies of mortality though Sir Thomas soars like a bird . ” Life is a pure flame and we live by an invisible sun within us . ” Darknesse and light divide the course of time , and oblivion shares with memory , a great part even of our living beings … Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves . Miseries… fall like snow upon us… ” Browne reflects however that ” The Caterpillar will shew again in the Butterfly .”
The emphasis here in not solely on Sir Thomas’ writings though – it is on that unique combination of skills – as a caring, compassionate physician and as among ” one of the greatest of English prose writers.” ( Keynes) Nowhere is this more evident than To A Friend Upon Occasion Of The Death Of His Intimate Friend . Browne combines clinical acumen with compassion , insight and writing of great beauty . ” Give me leave to wonder that News of this nature should have such heavy Wings… Upon my first visit I was bold to tell them who had not yet fall hopes of his Recovery, that in my sad Opinion he was not like to behold a Grasshopper, much less to pluck another Fig… He was fruitlessly put in hope of advantage by change of Air… but being so far spent, he quickly found the most healthful air of little effect, where Death had set her Broad Arrow . ( Broad Arrow: a mark made upon the trees in the King’s forests that were to be felled . ) … With what strife and pains we came into the World we know not ; but ’tis commonly no easie matter to get out of it … He was now past the healthful Dreams of the Sun, Moon and Stars in their Clarity and proper Courses.”
The physician notes in their friend the appearance of the Hippocratic facies . ( A diagnostic term derivative from the Hippocratic Corpus , meaning the facial appearance of a person close to the end . ) Death had indeed set its Broad Arrow Keynes writes of The Letter as ” one of Browne’s most remarkable compositions being a clinical report on one of his patients converted into a literary masterpiece.
” A man very well studyed .” Thomas Browne – Naturalist .
Sir Thomas : Sketch of a seabird . A Natural History Of Norfolk . (Graphic collage. )
The physician, writer – polymath was also a noted naturalist . References to the art of nature appear throughout his writings . And he observes that ” Right lines and circles make out the bulk of plants . In the parts therefore we find heliacal or spiral roundness, volutes, conicall Sections, circular Pyramids… And cannot overlook the orderly hand of nature .” ( Garden of Cyrus . Fibonacci Sequence . 12th Century . )
Sir Thomas Browne died in 1682 at the age of seventy seven . Writing as often of the iniquity of oblivion – ” We cannot hope to live so long in our names , as some have in their persons .” – what might he thought of the young Canadian student who nearly two hundred years later was first read Religio Medici ?
William Osler was born in Canada in 1849 . At age seventeen while a student at Trinity College he was undecided between the ministry and medicine . He had already attended lectures on medicine , but was uncertain . Sir Thomas Browne’s effect on the young student was profound . ” It moreover is an important thread which from this time weaves its way through Osler’s story to the end.” ( Harvey Cushing . The Life of Sir William Osler .)
It is not difficult to ascertain the appeal Browne’s work would have had for the young Osler . Already an ardent reader – and later a noted bibliophile – Osler would have delighted in being introduced to such a unique literary work . And Browne’s work is quite unique . It is not only a work of great literacy , but a strongly individualistic statement of a caring and compassionate physician . And a keenly curious and observant mind .
And for the as yet undecided medical student , it is not difficult to find in Browne’s writings – particularly Religio Medici and Letter To A Friend – the passages that would so strongly influence Osler’s practice of medicine . The physician’s struggles with illness and mortality : ” There be diseases incurable in Physick… I , that have examined the parts of man , do know upon what tender filaments that Fabrick hangs .” Religio Medici )
And Browne is unafraid to speak out against those physicians he views as making ” scarce honest gain.” “I feel not in me those sordid and unchristian desires of my profession ; I do not secretly implore and wish for Plagues… I am…. heartily sorry… there are diseases incurable; yet not for my own sake, or that they be beyond my Art, but for the general cause of humanity . ” ( Religio Medici) The strongly ethical element in Browne’s writing influenced and shaped the young Osler’s early years of practice and were a constant throughout the physician’s lifetime .
Osler began his medical studies in 1868 – the beginning of a long and distinguished career . ” Give me… the old Hippocratic service of the art and of the science of ministering unto man, and I will come .” ( Harvey Cushing ) Osler shaped the teaching of medicine in a way that continues to this day – the residency system, teaching at the bedside . And his maxims pertaining to good patient care and diagnosis seem more than ever relevant as technology increasingly influences and intrudes on the principles Osler defined : ” Listen to your patient , he is telling you the diagnosis .” ” Medicine is learned by the bedside and not in the classroom.” In an address to graduating medical students in 1889 Osler said : ” I desire no other epitaph … than … that I taught medical students in the wards.. ” Aequanimitas .
The writings of Sir Thomas Browne, his compassion for the patient and their illness find perpetuity in the writing and teachings of the Canadian physician throughout his lifetime .” Nothing will sustain you more potently than the power to recognise… the true poetry of life – the poetry of the commonplace , of the plain, toil-worn woman, with their loves and their joys, their sorrows and their griefs .” Sir Thomas : ” My prayer is with the Husbandman’s….” ” Of the three factors in practice, heart, head, and pocket, and to our credit, be it said, the first is most potent .” Osler . There was no clinical detachment in Osler’s approach to patient care – the emphasis was on ” the kindly word, the cheerful greeting, the sympathetic look.” ” The complex varied influences which mold the minds of developing physicians… Only come with that sustaining love that burns bright or dim as each are mirrors of the fires for which all thirst.”Osler on the ” work of clinicians – physicians dedicated to the care of their patients .” Osler 1894 The Leaven Of Science ( Ref.www.ericcassell.com)
Osler insisted that wide reading accompany his student’s learning . It is unlikely though that today’s busy medical student could find time for such indigestibles as the weighty tomes of Galen – physician to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius . Harvey Cushing writes of Osler : ” How he found time to acquire his familiarity with general literature has always been a source of mystery… Most medical students, alas, are too engrossed with their work for such literary pursuits, desirable though they may be .”
Given Osler’s extraordinary breadth of reading, it is not difficult to find in his writings acknowledgement of other physicians : the great Jewish physician Maimonides 12th. century CE : ” May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.” The Daily Prayer Of the Physician , attributed to Maimonides (?) is sometimes used in place of the Hippocratic Oath . ” Inspire me with love for my Art… Do not allow thirst for profit, renown or admiration, to interfere with my profession…”
And it is hard to resist here a comparison of one of Osler’s famous quotations with the writings of the ancient Indian physician and surgeon , Sushruta . Osler : ” He who studies medicine without books sails an unchartered sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all .” Sushruta : ” The student who hath only learning and not practice is like an ass laden with logs of sandalwood .” The sacred Sanskrit texts first became available in the early 20th Century and it is easy to imagine how the sayings interspersed throughout the text would have appealed to Osler’s notorious sense of humour . ” One should flee the incompetent physician as one would a conflagration .” Sushruta .
Among the items in Osler’s library was a text derivative from ancient Sanskrit and worth quoting – it epitomises Osler’s approach to life :
Salutation To The Dawn
“… Look to this Day ! For it is Life, the very Life of Life. In its brief course lie all theVerities and Realities of your Existence… Look well therefore to this Day .” Kalidasa 2500 BCE
Throughout Osler’s writings and teachings it is Browne that dominates . Not all are so loyal to Sir Thomas . Browne divides his followers for a variety of reasons . And his writings are in places difficult to navigate . Herman Melville termed him a ” cracked archangel .” But Coleridge described Browne as ” rich in various knowledge ; exuberant in conceptions and conceits ; contemplative, imaginative .” And, as stated , it is also the strong ethical principles in the Religio Medici – the Religion Of the Physician – that would have had such meaning for Osler . He was never without his copy of the Religio Medici .
Osler’s work as a bibliographer began in 1867 while still a student . He must have had prodigious energy to read and write as he did . His text The Principles and Practice Of Medicine became a standard teaching text for many years . At the time of his death , Osler’s library comprised thousands of volumes he had collected, most of which went to his alma mater , McGill University .
It was through a shared love of the writings of Browne that Geoffrey Keynes first made Osler’s acquaintance . Like Osler, Keynes was an avid reader and collector .The young medical graduate later went on to become a surgeon – and was responsible for a number of particularly innovative advances in surgery and medicine . He also became a noted bibliographer – of William Blake, John Donne, Jane Austen – and Sir Thomas Browne . Keynes had an early interest in the work of Browne .
And it was through this interest Keynes in 1909, still a young medical undergraduate at Cambridge, was granted the friendship of Osler , Regius Professor Of Medicine at Oxford . Keynes and a friend , having already having already begun work on a bibliography of Browne , decided to write to Osler on the pretext of being able to view Osler’s library . Despite Osler and his wife Dorothy being noted for their hospitality, Keynes was not optimistic of a response . Instead says Keynes , in his Oslerian Oration to the Royal College Of Physicians in 1968 , he was ” granted the friendship of a man thirty eight years my senior .” A friendship which lasted until Osler’s death in 1919 .
Osler acquired his first copy of Religio Medici in 1862 . Osler’s work on a bibliography of Browne’s work first began in 1899 says Keynes, when he acquired an authorised edition and two unauthorised editions of Religio Medici .” As likely as not, it was this purchase that led him into the bibliophilic pursuit of gathering a complete set of all the editions ..” Although Osler’s book collecting forays began much earlier and included Shakespeare, Harvey , Coleridge, Locke, Emerson – and particularly copies of Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica . The move from Johns Hopkins to Oxford in 1905 meant a reduction in his workload – and more time to devote to his beloved books .
In a 1902 address to the Association Of Medical Librarians Osler said that ” … the true bibliophile cares not so much for the book as for the man whose life and mind are illustrated in it .” But disappointment awaited Osler with regard to the completion of the bibliography of Browne . Keynes’ work was disrupted by the First War . As a surgeon in the Royal Army Medical Corps Keynes witnessed the unforgettable horror of war in the trenches . Keynes wrote ” The pattern of war is shaped in the individual mind by small individual experiences, and I can see these things as clearly today as if they just happened – the body of a terrier… lying near his master . ”
Osler too knew full well the sorrow of the First World War, when his loved son Revere was killed . An event from which Osler never recovered .
Returning to civilian life Keynes was quickly caught up in the demands of surgical practice . He continued though to search for Browne’s writings and work on the bibliography . Keynes writes with delight of his discovery of a manuscript Commonplace Book of Browne’s Letter To a Friend… in a London bookshop for the sum of three guineas .The manuscript contained an as yet unknown passage which Keynes had published in 1919 by Cambridge University Press .
Whether Osler ever sighted this is uncertain . In July, 1919 , at the time of his seventieth birthday Osler became ill with an episode of bronchial pneumonia . It was an illness from which he had suffered previously . However it became evident this time there would be no resolution – the illness was protracted . There were paroxysms of coughing, which he wrote ” Almost blew out my candle .” On a December evening , too weak to manage for himself, he asked to be read his favorite passage by Sir Thomas : ” But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy , and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity …. ”
The end came on December 29th . Among the many tributes paid to Osler was the following : ” He advanced the science of medicine, he enriched literature and the humanities … ” Osler left a legacy that will never know ” the iniquity of oblivion .”
Keynes finished his bibliography of Sir Thomas Browne in 1924 . While the work met with critical acclaim , it was to Keynes’ lasting regret that Osler never sighted the work . The very most Keynes could do was dedicate it to Osler – his friend and mentor . ” An outstanding clinician and a book collector… who used his books fruitfully and with generous consideration of the needs of others .” (The Gates Of Memory G.Keynes.)
The Tale Of Three Physicians is the tale of a bygone era in medicine ~ of the physician who in addition to the demands of practice , had time for reading and wide scholarship . The teaching maxims of Osler though remain of even greater importance as time and technology increasingly intrude on practice . ” Listen to your patient , he is telling you the diagnosis .”
And the aspiring medical student can find no greater insight into their chosen profession than to read Osler’s valedictory address to graduating medical students at the University of Pennsylvania in 1889 :
“.. you poor, careworn survivors of a hard struggle.. my tender mercy constrains me to consider but two of the score of elements which may make or mar your lives – which may contribute to your success, or help you in days of failure .
In the first place, in the physician or surgeon, no quality takes rank with imperturbability, and I propose for a few minutes to direct your attention to this essential bodily virtue… Impertability means coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm , clearness of judgement in moments of grave peril… Aequanimitas – a calm equanimity is the desirable attitude . How difficult to attain, yet how necessary, in success as in failure ! … Remember too that sometimes ” from our desolation does the better life begin.” … you may , in the growing winters, glean a little of that wisdom, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy… without partiality and hypocrisy …”
” … Farewell, and take with you into the struggle the watchword of the good old Roman – Aequanimitas . ” ( Aequanimitas – spelling as given by the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius . )
OslerLibrary Of the History Of Medicine at McGill University
Religio Medici – pressed leaves found in one of Osler’s volumes.