Bibliotheca Osleriana




THE Library here catalogued consists of literature illustrating the history of medicine and science, collected with a definite educational purpose by the late Sir William Osler, and bequeathed by him to the Medical Faculty of McGill University, Montreal. The books are now installed there in a room which has been specially equipped by the University in a manner attesting a warm appreciation of the gift. Besides this, his Bibliotheca Osleriana, comprising about 7,600 bound volumes and representing the more important part of his private library, he had also collected - or sorted out from his accumulations - two other groups. One of these, a collection of works, chiefly modern, on the heart, arteries, blood, and tuberculosis, he left to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore; the other, a collection of important editions in English literature, is now in the Tudor and Stuart Club, founded at Johns Hopkins University in memory of Edward Revere Osler, the book-loving son who was to have inherited it. 

In the Introduction which follows this preface, and in the Life by Dr. Cushing, may be traced the course of Osler's love of the literature of science, from his youthful enthusiasm for the text-books which he found on his inspiring teachers' shelves, to those last years at Oxford, half a century later, when the collecting of important volumes for his Bibliotheca Prima and the planning of a catalogue raisonné occupied his few leisure moments and helped in some measure to assuage the anxiety and sorrow which the War brought him. The scheme of classification which characterizes this catalogue was determined on as early as 1911, the eight sections into which the library was subsequently to be divided being all mentioned in a deed of gift drafted in that year. At the time of his death, at the end of 1919, the outline of the catalogue had been sketched and the form and general contents of the Bibliotheca Prima decided. The catalogue cards, formerly in one alphabetical series, were in process of rearrangement, but it had not been settled into which of the eight sections many of the works were to go. A great many of the books had been collated and described by an experienced bibliographer, Miss J. F. Willcock, whose painstaking work and whose knowledge of Sir William's plans have been of the greatest assistance to her successors. 

In memoranda written during his last illness he desired that his catalogue might be finished, if possible before the books went to Montreal: 'It would be a great disappointment to me not to see the catalogue prepared in the sections in which I have divided the Library, but it is a big job and much remains. There is no reason why this Library should not be kept in sections ... I should dearly love to see my Bibliotheca Prima idea carried out .... It was a great scheme and I had good fun over it.' The authorities of McGill University were content to wait patiently for the books, and it became the duty and privilege of the present editors, whom Sir William had specifically named, to carry out his wishes. This was made possible by Lady Osler, who whole-heartedly devoted the rest of her life to the task - a task which, alas! she was destined not to see quite completed. 

It had been Sir William's intention to prepare special introductions for the eight sections. These, unfortunately, were not written. It is necessary, therefore, to supplement the brief description of the classification, which he has given in the list of sections at the end of his general Introduction. 

The idea of the Bibliotheca Prima, which is the chief feature of the Library and of this catalogue, was outlined in May 1919 in a little leaflet presented to the members of the Classical Association, when Sir William invited them to view his treasures at Oxford and arranged a special exhibit of first editions of twenty of the great contributors to knowledge: ' Faced with a bewildering variety and ever-increasing literature, how is the hard-pressed student to learn, first, the evolution of knowledge in any subject, and secondly, the life and work of the men who made the original contributions? So far as concerns Science and Medicine, an attempt is made to answer the question by the collection of a Bibliotheca Prima .... The idea is to have in a comparatively small number of works the essential literature grouped about the men of the first rank, arranged in chronological order .... The fundamental contribution may be represented by a great Aldine edition, e.g. Aristotle, by the brief communication such as that of Darwin and Wallace in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1858, or by a three-page pamphlet of Roentgen.' 

So much for the aim. The source of the idea may perhaps be traced in the motto which he chose from his 'life-long mentor', Sir Thomas Browne; while the plan and scope of this Bibliotheca Prima may readily be realized by turning to the Table of Arrangement which precedes the catalogue proper. The literature of the Beginnings and Early Civilizations, largely anthropology, archaeology, and primitive science, is for the most part impersonal. Sir William had only just begun to collect for and arrange this part of the catalogue. The Greek period is very comprehensive, and many authors, either in groups or as individuals, have been placed in a subsidiary position which was clearly indicated on his catalogue cards. But a few names stand out from the rest, and it is here that the essential feature of the scheme becomes apparent. It will be seen that the table displays the names of 67 contributors of the first rank to the advancement of science, beginning with Hippocrates and ending with Röntgen. In one case the heading chosen is that of the subject rather than that of the contributor, possibly because, in the case of Anaesthesia, the gift was so infinitely greater than the unhappy giver - to whom, however, full credit is otherwise accorded. No two competent judges would perhaps agree to endorse the whole list; a few of the names must surprise them. Let us hope, however, that no one but an advocatus Diaboli will cavil at the reasons given at the end of entry No. 623 for the inclusion of Conrad Gesner. For these outstanding authors we thought we had coined the convenient term 'primarians'; nor have we been entirely discouraged by finding that the New English Dictionary applies it to school-children of elementary grade! The list represents Sir William's own choice, but not without expert advice, and is complete in the sense that it includes the names of all whom he considered contributors of the first rank to science, whether or not he had succeeded in acquiring their original works. Faraday, for instance, is represented in the catalogue only by biographies, and many gaps in other sub-sections of Prima remain to be filled. 

The chronological position of an author, in the modern centuries, is determined by the original date of issue of his chief contribution. That particular work (if in the collection) and those directly bearing upon it are placed first, then his other works, followed by commentaries, biographies, and bibliographies. Manuscripts and incunabula relating to Prima authors are catalogued here and not in their own sections, Sir William Osler's own arrangement of the books is well illustrated under Harvey and under Anaesthesia, the two sub-sections to which he had devoted most time and had most nearly completed. 

Bibliotheca Secunda, the largest section, contains medical and scientific works of authors not of the first importance. The arrangement of this and the following sections is the usual one, alphabetical under authors with secondary author- headings in smaller type. 

Bibliotheca Litteraria, another notable section, reflects its collector's individuality and his keen interest in the literary avocations and hobbies of physicians and in the relations of medicine and science with the world of letters. Besides literary works of physicians, it contains medical and philosophical poems, what (after Holmes) he called 'medicated novels' and the doctor in fiction, and medical works by laymen. It includes some important aggregations, notably the almost complete collection of the works of Sir Thomas Browne all of which have been kept together. Robert Burton and Ulrich von Hutten are well represented, also the literature on Rabelais. Scattered through this and other parts of the catalogue are many books and pamphlets on longevity, death, immortality, spiritualism, and witchcraft. On the shelves at Oxford these were grouped together in a section familiarly known as Death, Heaven and Hell. 

The next three divisions call for very little explanation. Works which would normally belong to them but which have reference to authors in the previous sections are catalogued in those sections. In the Bibliotheca Biographica individual lives are entered under their subjects. The Bibliotheca Historica, besides strictly historical and retrospective works, contains any literature on medical institutions, arranged either under authors or under geographical names. The contents of the Bibliotheca Bibliographica testify to Osler's interest in the subject generally, apart from its bearings on medicine and science. 

The Incunabula section contains 106 books printed before 1501, with cross- references to 30 others which are catalogued in Prima. These were not  considered sufficiently numerous to warrant a chronological or topographical arrangement. The method of description is based largely on that of the invaluable 'Catalogue of Books printed in the 15th. century now in the British Museum ' (referred to in the notes as 'B.M. Inc.'). References are given to Hain's 'Repertorium' and its supplements, to Proctor's 'Index', and to Mr. Scholderer's list in Osler's 'Incunabula Medica'.

For the cataloguing of the Manuscripts the Bodleian ' Summary Catalogue of Western MSS.' has been taken as a model. MSS. of Sir William's own writings, appended as 'Osleriana' to this section, have been more briefly described.

A supplementary section of Addenda contains the items classified or received too late to be placed in their appropriate sections. The great majority of these were donations, including some most important books, the two desideratissima of the Browne collection, the first edition of Harvey in English, and the original edition of Servetus's first work on the Trinity. A valuable donation of 181 Oriental books, which are briefly listed under Nos. 7784-7 occupies the last four entries of the catalogue.

The mode of cataloguing follows in the main the Bodleian 'Rules for the cataloguing of Printed Books published before 1920'; and the method of sizing is throughout that of the Bodleian. But many modifications have been adopted in view of the special arrangement and of the index. A classification such as this makes a good index indispensable; and its preparation has absorbed no small proportion of the editors' labours. Many authors are to be found in unexpected places. Harvey would be more astonished than we to see his name at the head of a page on which Calvin burns a heretic; but who would think of looking for Servetus in a 17th-century division! Virgil does not naturally belong to this collection, but a copy autographed by a philosopher brings him under Locke. Similarly, an edition of Seneca is entered under Lodge, the physician-translator. One of the rules laid down by Sir William Osler was that cross-references, except in the index, should be reduced to a minimum. When his scheme was criticized, and manifest objections were raised, such as the impossibility in many cases of deciding logically into which section a book should be put, science, literature, or history, when it might belong to all or none; or the disadvantage of dividing up the works of the same author between several sections, he had a ready if hyperbolic answer - 'We'll print in large letters at the top of each page, CONSULT THE INDEX FIRST'.

Sir William Osler was in the habit of writing his bio-bibliographical notes either in the books themselves or on the catalogue cards. In the printed catalogue care has been taken to distinguish his notes by retaining his signature or initials, if signed, or appending ' [W. 0.]' in brackets to those written in his hand but not signed. Under his name in the index is given a long list of references to the more original of his notes - original in the sense of expressing his own judgements on book or author and of not being taken from the usual sources. A good example of one of his annotated cards (Mead, No. 3369) has been reproduced in facsimile by Dr. Cushing (No. 7746, vol. ii, p. 560) in the biography for which all friends of Osler have much reason to be grateful. Of the unsigned notes many were originally prepared by Miss Willcock; others have been added by the editors. The sources of information have usually been indicated - often in abbreviated form. The initiated will not need to be told that 'B.M.' and 'Bodl.' represent the British Museum and the Bodleian libraries; 'S.G.L.' the great Index-Catalogue of the Surgeon-General's Library; or a ubiquitous 'D.N.B.' the Dictionary of National Biography. Other favourite mines of bio- bibliographical lore are referred to as 'Haller' (his Bibliotheca, No. 1163), 'Ferguson' (the model 'Bibliotheca Chemica', No. 7040); and useful dictionaries as 'Bayle' (No. 6590), Éloy (No. 6649), 'Hirsch' (No. 6600), and 'Jourdan' (or 'Panckoucke', No. 6641). Other abbreviations are largely those allowed by the Bodleian rules; but an attempt has been made, in giving the sources of journal articles, to distinguish between the ambiguous senses of the term 'reprinted' by using the abbreviation 'repr.' for the ordinary separate copy, and the full word for a new printing with type reset. Donations are acknowledged in the notes, except in the case of journal articles by contemporary authors, who, in most cases, may be assumed to be the donors.

Working at Oxford, the compilers have had the inestimable advantage of ready and expert help from the Bodleian Library and the University Press. Individual obligations, some of which we have been able to acknowledge in the annotations, are too many to be recorded here. But special acknowledgements are due to Dr. Cowley for descriptions of many of the Oriental MSS., and to Dr. Craster, who catalogued all the Western MSS. written before 1600; to Mr. T. R. Gambier-Parry for help with the Indian books; to Mr. F. Madan and Mr. S. Gibson for advice on various points; to Dr. J. Johnson, Printer to the University, and his predecessor, the late F. J. Hall; and, farther afield, to Mr. Victor Scholderer and Dr. A. C. Klebs, both frequently consulted about the incunabula. Sir William's life-long friend, Professor Ramsay Wright, whose interest in the work has been a constant encouragement, has given freely of his time and his wide knowledge. Another old friend, Mr. L. L. Mackall, of Savannah, one of the four of us to whom, with Lady Osler, the completion of the catalogue was entrusted, has read and criticized the proofs. His name appears throughout the book as a donor, often of the rarest items; as an adviser he has deserved much more frequent mention. Finally, we have also to thank our collaborator, Mr. R. R. Trotman, of the Bodleian, whose industry and efficiency, combined with inexhaustible patience and Oslerian equanimity, have earned him an undue share of the more tedious of our tasks.

Professor A. W. Pollard, doyen of bibliographers, in a recent letter to the Osler Club (London), has written thus of his much loved friend: 'He was a fine bookman, and had a dream of an ideal bibliography of epoch-making books which was almost religious in its enthusiasm. I think he really saw the projected catalogue of his library as a kind of pageant, which it will be hard to realize in print.'

With more hope than self-assurance we have tried to interpret the dream and to stage the pageant.


Librarian, Osler Library.

Bodleian Library.

Librarian, New York Academy of Medicine.