Bibliotheca Osleriana




IN Harvey Cushing's Life of Sir William Osler some forty libraries are listed by name in the index. Perhaps half a dozen of these are casual references, but many point to long and cherished associations, and a few, such as the entries for the Boston Medical Library,  the College of Physicians Library in Philadelphia, or the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland Library, indicate special personal commitments. All this leaves out of account the libraries of McGill, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, and Oxford. Nor is it certain that even the longer list is complete. The private libraries of Johnson and Bovell helped to satisfy Osler's curiosity and to form his taste at early stages in his career, and thereafter, wherever he went - Montreal, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Oxford - he not only sought out and used the libraries, he became in almost every case an active and generous friend. Medical libraries received needed books and journals, journals more especially, and some were even introduced thereby to the new journals which spoke for the new disciplines. But the older medical literature, speaking for the older ideas, had its place as well. Old ideas, formulated by the men of old, and good ideas which at some time sparkled with novelty, belonged on the shelves of a good library. Certainly they belonged in Osler's library.

Bibliotheca Osleriana is subtitled A Catalogue of Books Illustrating the History of Medicine and Science. Newton's Principia is here in the first issue (it cost £18 18s and Osler muses sadly, 'I missed a copy at 16s'); this and the Opticks are two of the many books presented in the Catalogue with notes by W. 0.

Copernicus, Gilbert, Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, Cavendish, Joule, and Darwin (one of the first 1250 copies of the Origin) are also here, in Bibliotheca Prima. So that, along with Vesalius, Harvey, Pasteur, and Virchow, great names in the history of science which are not obviously medical are by no means neglected. Nevertheless, they are greatly outnumbered, even in the Bibliotheca Prima and by a very great margin elsewhere, and Osler of course writes of Harvey and Haller with a good deal less reliance on the D. N. B. and other such works of reference than when he has to deal with Newton. His comments are interesting and are often valuable, and some of them have entered into the literature of medical history. What he has to say of the clinicians is naturally of particular interest. Even in what is usually thought of as predominantly medical territory, however, Osler sometimes chose to strike another chord. Writing of Boerhaave and his work in organic chemistry, Osler found it 'not a little surprising that our medical historians pass over the very work on which his reputation in science rests, and which brings him into my Bibliotheca prima.'

Along with Vesalius, Sydenham, Richard Bright, Walter Reed, and hundreds of figures of the first and second orders, Osler included some men, and some books, of a different kind, for different reasons. Even a few of his student textbooks are here. Certain books are present, Osler tells us in his Introduction, for the sake of auld lang syne. This is by no means the complete story. The whole matter, much wider than this, is summed up in three short sentences: 'A library represents the mind of its collector, his fancies and foibles, his strength and weakness, his prejudices and preferences. Particularly is this the case if to the character of a collector he adds - or tries to add - the qualities of a student who wishes to know the books and the lives of the men who wrote them. The friendships of his life, the phases of his growth, the vagaries of his mind, all are represented.' A large part of the work was bio-bibliographical. He speaks of some of the pioneer American physicians he most admired: 'To know and to make known to students the lives and works of these men was a labour of love." He also wanted to reveal, and to share, his pleasure in book collecting. The Bibliotheca Bibliographica includes, along with famous bibliographies (not omitting Ferguson's remarkable Bibliotheca Chemica, a catalogue of the library of James Young) some ephemera which meant much to Osler, such as important sale catalogues, like that of the great Van Antwerp sale of 1907 (No. 7373 and A Record Day at Sotheby's).

Of Ferguson's Bibliotheca Chemica (No. 7040) Osler wrote: 'The most useful special bibliography in my library…. The merit that appeals to one is a combination of biography and bibliography - beside the book is a picture of the man sketched by a sympathetic hand. Would that in other subjects students as accurate and as learned could be induced to follow this example! ' Accurate and learned students of medicine and science, the editors of the Bibliotheca Osleriana, did in fact take Ferguson to be their mentor. Not one but three, sympathetic artists in bio-bibliography set to work soon after Osler's death.

Merits beyond learning and accuracy were to be displayed. It is not very often that one can find examples of humour in a work of reference and there are few examples in Bibliotheca Osleriana. If, however the catalogue is consulted on the date of the death of Francesco Redi, this is what the enquirer will learn: 'Death is almost a habit with Redi - in the books of reference. He died, perhaps for the first time, in 1676 ... again in 1694 ... and then more frequently. Autopsied in 1696, he was found dead in March 1697 and made his will the following December.... His final dissolution occurred in 1698 . . . and the Crusca Academy held a memorial meeting in 1699.'

It is perfectly true, as W. R. LeFanu has observed, that the catalogue 'has its personal idiosyncrasies - Osler was not made in everyman's little mould'. The 'idiosyncrasy' just quoted, however, must not be attributed to Osler. It is the work, by no means uncharacteristic, of Dr. W. W. Francis, whose death in 1959 robbed the world of medicine of one who made no contribution to medical science, no more than a brief contribution to the practice of paediatrics, a whole-hearted but limited contribution to the hospital medicine of World War I, but who earned deep respect as a scholar, not to speak of the occasional premium of amusement he gave, through his work on Bibliotheca Osleriana, and who was also respected as a medical journalist and librarian, while winning gratitude and affection as teacher and friend. His part in the preparation of this superlative guide to Osler's rich collection was immense. Osler once wrote, in recommending Dr. Francis for editorial work, ' His meticulosity exceeds anything you ever met with.' The mixture of meticulosity with a touch of humour went far toward making the catalogue unique; his labour, however, was augmented - if constructing several walls of a building can be called 'augmentation' - by the scholarship of his distinguished colleagues, R. H. Hill and Archibald Malloch.

A slender volume in gold-stamped red cloth, published in Montreal in 1956 in an edition limited to 500 copies, bears the title W. W. Francis: Tributes from his friends on the occasion of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Osler Society of McGill University. It was published by the Society and is composed of some thirty-seven tributes to the Librarian of the Osler Library, varying in length from a few lines to a dozen pages, introduced by Spyros C. Gonticas, then a medical student in McGill's senior year and President of the Osler Society. Three of the thirty- seven pieces are devoted to Bibliotheca Osleriana, 'if by its Latin title we may distinguish the Catalogue from the Library' - these words opening a capsule review, after twenty-six years, contributed by Mr. LeFanu. In addition there is the very brief 'Story of the Osler Catalogue, 1922-1929, By A Somewhat Prejudiced Observer', the late Professor John F. Fulton of Yale, and a rather longer piece, 'W. W. Francis and Oxford, 1919-1929', by R. H. Hill, Librarian of the National Central Library, London. Dr. Francis was occupied from 1922 to 1929, with Hill, Malloch, and also with Leonard Mackall, in the compilation of Bibliotheca Osleriana, the late Dr. Malloch being memorably associated, in later years, with the library of the New York Academy of Medicine. Those who were chiefly responsible, after Osler himself, for the famous catalogue of a famous library were subsequently to be found, then, in Montreal, in New York and in London. This may be regarded as a sort of bibliographical postscript to that story of three countries which was the story of Osler's career.

It was in 1912, according to Harvey Cushing's Life of Sir William Osler, that Osler gave to Casey Wood the first hint of what he planned to do with his library: 'I am adding treasures to my collection every few months, and it will finally be housed in Montreal. I am collecting on two lines - books that are of historical importance in the evolution of medicine, and books that have interest through the character or work of their authors.' Works by Robert Koch might be nineteenth-century examples of the first type, those of Oliver Wendell Holmes of the second. Crawfurd said of Osler at this time, referring to the part played by the Regius Professor in setting up the Section of History of Medicine at the Royal Society of Medicine, 'his own contributions were few and mainly biographical, and I do not think anyone could have discovered from them how fully he possessed the true historical sense'. Both things - Osler's historical sense and his interest in the lives and opinions of doctors - may be deduced from Bibliotheca Osleriana. If he could have found a book of great historical importance, the work of an author whose character, philosophy and prose appealed to him particularly, then he would have found something prime in a very special sense. If Sir Thomas Browne had discovered the circulation of the blood, let us say, De Motu Cordis would have been Religio Medici indeed! As it was, Osler was content to own both books, and thousands of others which belonged, in some degree, to one category or the other, along with a smaller number which had a certain claim to both kinds of distinction. With Harvey, it is worth noticing, he did not link the name of Browne, but rather the, names of Linacre and Sydenham - to make up that glorious triumvirate of scholarship, science and practice. In any case, what was the criterion of historical importance in the evolution of medicine? Pierre Louis ranked as a figure of true historical significance because of what he did to bring statistics into the service of medicine, but did he not furthermore prove himself the chief attraction of Paris for a very large number of Americans studying abroad? Louis was one of the heroes of Boston, and partly for this reason he was one of Osler's heroes. Which was the more important factor to Osler? It is difficult to imagine that what really moved him, what caused him to convene an international meeting of doctors at the Paris tomb of Louis, was enthusiasm for statistics. Yet if a certain kind of sentiment entered into Osler's choice of books, this in no way restricted the works of the first, the historically important, group. And who is to say that the influence of Louis on early nineteenth-century American medicine is not historically important also?

There are more important books in the Osler Library than any by Louis, and there are many others, a great many others, which are much less important and which owe their places to different, less austere considerations. That Osler at last restricted himself to two kinds, broadly speaking, was for the obvious reason, mentioned to Casey Wood. 'In that way I limit the field, which is large enough! '

In this large field, Bibliotheca Osleriana remains a useful, reliable and delightful guide. It is something other and more, however, than a guidebook to history. It has a distinctive character, a diathesis all its own, which sets it off from the catalogues of the Wellcome Library or the National Library of Medicine, which are in any case vast collections of different character. Hans Sallander's admirable Bibliotheca Walleriana is the catalogue of a much larger library, too, but one which nevertheless closely resembles the Osler Library in several respects. The Books Illustrating the History of Medicine and Science Collected by Erik Waller and Bequeathed to the Library of the Royal University of Uppsala - so the subtitle reads. Waller in place of Osler, Uppsala for McGill, and a statement from the Uppsala Librarian that Osler and Cushing collected some 8,000 items each whereas Waller's total rose as high as 21,000 - this will at least demonstrate that Osler's inspiration has been widespread and lasting! A fine photograph of Dr. Waller is the frontispiece of the first volume of Bibliotheca Walleriana. The two volumes do not, however, contain, and perhaps were not meant to contain, any such portrait of the collector, or any such gallery of portraits, as may be found in Bibliotheca Osleriana. The accuracy and usefulness of the volumes from Stockholm are beyond question and the library they record is magnificent. Its catalogue is a cool and precise and altogether admirable reference work. Bibliotheca Osleriana is also wonderfully exact but at the same time relatively discursive, which the smaller size of the library permits, and often much more elaborate bibliographically. Not only when compared with Sallander's volumes but when placed beside almost any other catalogue of its kind, Bibliotheca Osleriana is a book to pore over and ponder, even to read! In a variety of ways it is richly informative. There is, in fact, no other with which to compare it. When one says ' other catalogues of its kind ' a pause ensues. What other catalogue can be suggested? Very superior records of great collections come to mind. One thinks of collections more or less directly connected with Osler's, such as Cushing's, which was united with the books of Fulton and Klebs in New Haven, the three being joined in one very rich library as the three collectors were joined in friendship. These and other collections have been catalogued, in whole or in part, in useful ways. But the books brought together by Osler, and the great catalogue assembled by Osler, Francis, Hill, and Malloch, remain not only at the beginning of a sequence but in certain respects at the top of it. Not in excellence of library and certainly not in size - in these things the Osler Library has been matched or far surpassed. But the library is nevertheless superb, and as set forth in Bibliotheca Osleriana it is unique in character and in the character of its catalogue. This catalogue has long been in demand - has never ceased to be in demand - and is now available once more. 'Not in Osler' was never a useful notation. The catalogue number from Osler, on the contrary, has been for forty years, and remains today, a very worth-while reference.

The Osler Library of McGill has grown far beyond the limitations of the collection described in this remarkable volume of 1929, particularly since receiving a generous, long-term grant for the purpose from the Wellcome Trust. Its growth has included some of the books, and many more books of the same kind, that Osler sought. It has not been confined, however, to this pattern, for it would have been nearly impossible to add to the portraits of Osler, each of them sketched by a sympathetic hand, and to the self-portrait which Bibliotheca Osleriana, amid all its other riches, undeniably contains. The new library is a library of the history of medicine which encompasses and at the same time supplements his personal collection. This catalogue describes his personal collection only. It is a rich collection, illustrating the history of medicine and science, collected, arranged, and annotated by Osler himself, and completed in the decade following his death, according to the pattern he had left imperfect, by the skill, learning, and devotion of Dr. Francis, Mr. Hill, Dr. Malloch, Mr. Mackall, and a number of others, sustained by the dedicated purpose of Lady Osler.

Not long before Bibliotheca Osleriana was published, A, W. Pollard wrote that Osler had dreamed of an ideal bibliography and that 'he really saw the projected catalogue of his library as a kind of pageant'. Forty years after it first appeared, the pageant is as bright as ever. Fifty years after his death, Osler may be looked upon as one of the rearguard of the glorious company that began with Hippocrates or as one who earned a place in the van, particularly in his role in medical education, of another pageant, marching forever onward toward the last quarter of the twentieth century and the larger future beyond. He himself thought a good bibliography one of the best tickets to immortality. If he was right, he and his editors produced a most impressive ticket and established a remarkable claim. In 1969 the ticket is still bright and new and the claim still seems valid.