Minnie Wright Blogg.

Sir William Osler, bart. Brief tributes to his personality, influence and public service online

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By Marcia C. Notes, Librarian

Associations of Dr. Osier are so interwoven with the library
of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty that what we have
become is, in reality, but an expression of what we felt he
would have us be.

The name of Osier is writ large in the history of the library
from the time of his first connection with it in 1890; and the
impression made by his character on the lives of those with
whom he came in contact has been a powerful influence for
the betterment of medicine in Maryland and in the upbuild-
ing of the state society and its library.

Dr. Osier was elected a member of our Library Committee
in 1892 in which jeai the committee reported difficulties, finan-
cial and otherwise, in the management of this " most valued
and noble inheritance." Although never serving as chairman,
that he lent himself to the surmounting of these difficulties
we know, and what was accomplished between 1892 and 1905,
his tenure of office on the Library Committee, is given, in
part, herewith.* From a collection of a few thousand old
books in 1892, it grew to 14,590 volumes in 1905, and has
grown steadily ever since.

The library, which dates from 1830, had been partially
revived in 1881 and was housed in rooms in the basement of
the old Maryland Historical Society in 1885; but it was
Dr. Osler^s interest which brought about its renaissance and
the purchase of and its removal to the home at 847 N. Eutaw

* When abroad for his annual outing, Dr. Osier always had the
needs of our Library in mind, and we owe many of its greatest
treasures to his interest. Some of these were a direct gift from
him, and others selected for purchase on the Frick Fund.


98 Sir William Osler, Bart.

Street (Hamilton Terrace) in 1895. After a year without
proper supervision it was owing to Dr. Osier, who personally
saw to it, that the Library Committee employed a trained
worker and the present librarian took charge. To him we owe
the founding of the Charles Frick section of the library, in
1896, which was made possible by the generosity of Messrs.
William F. and Frank Frick; and the establishment of the
Book and Journal Club at about the same time. These funds
gave the library a definite income for the first time in its

Dr. Osier was president of the Faculty in 1896-1897, and in
his presidential address, April, 1897, in outlining the purpose
of the Book and Journal Club, and of the Frick memorial
said : " I envy Charles Frick the good fortune to go down to
the future generations in this Faculty with his name linked
to an important section of our library. Posthumously and by
proxy, as it were, thus to carry on, though dead, the work
he was interested in while living, is the nearest approach a
man can make to cheating the great enemy, and in Charles
Frick^s case it is in a measure a compensation for the untime-
liness of his taking off.^^ He also spoke of the approaching
centennial as follows : " We can try in the centennial year to
obtain a proper endowment for the Faculty from our friends
among the citizens. We shall need a larger hall, more in
keeping with the rank and work of the profession of this
city — quarters as complete as our brethren enjoy in Philadel-
phia and 'New York. And an endowment yielding a few
thousand dollars annually is absolutely essential for the proper
development of the library." At the centennial of the Faculty
in 1899 he gave the first thousand dollars toward such an
endowment fund; and it may safely be said that it was prin-
cipally due to his influence that the Charles M. Ellis bequest
was made in 1910.

It was because of the widespread desire to honor Dr. Osier
that the present home of the library, at 1211 Cathedral Street,
became a fact in 1909; and because of a further expression of
this desire that the Osier Testimonial Fund for the purchase,

Medical and Chirurgical Faculty Library 99

in his name, of books on medicine was presented to us in 1917.
It is singularly fitting that his name should be linked for all
time with that of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty and
its library, for he delighted so keenly in the phrasing of the
old title — the chirurgical, so hard for the uninitated to pro-
nounce — and in the usage of the word faculty instead of
society. The development of the library, to its fullest extent,
interested him beyond measure, for he was not only a lover,
but a user of books, and he insisted that his students should
learn the art. The familiar slip bearing his reference was
presented almost daily by some one of them, and our reading
room on Saturday afternoons became a rendezvous for students
and physicians who thought to meet him there to seek his
advice. In those days, the pausing of a hansom at the door,
if followed immediately by a cheery whistle, presaged his
advent to the initiated. Hardly a Saturday passed without
Dr. Osier coming to scan the shelves containing the new
journals and to browse among the books to be found in the
Charles Frick Eeading Eoom.

Akin to his interest in books is his interest in medical
libraries in general, and he was intimately familiar with and
always a welcome guest at the library of the Surgeon General's
Office, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the N"ew
York Academy of Medicine, the Boston Medical Library and
the library at McGill University, as well as the libraries in
Baltimore and many of the smaller medical libraries elsewhere,
some of which he fostered. He was not only familiar with the
books in these collections, but he knew intimately the cata-
logers and workers who do not usually come in contact with
the readers, as well as the Librarians in charge.

This interest found expression in the founding, in conjunc-
tion with Dr. George M. Gould, of Philadelphia, of the Medical
Library Association in 1898. Owing to his generosity our
library was a member from the beginning, and has become an
influence in the medical world because of this membership and
our connection with the exchange of the association.

100 Sir William Osler, Bart.

ISTo one man has so left his imprint on the libraries of two
continents as has Sir William Osier, and a quotation from his
address " Books and Men " delivered in 1901 at the opening
of the new building of the Boston Medical Library, at 8 The
Fenway, sums up what his example has meant to this library
and Faculty:

It is hard for me to speak of the value of libraries in terms
which would not seem exaggerated. Books have been my delight
these thirty years, and from them I have received incalculable

benefits For the teacher and the worker a great library

such as this is indispensable. They must know the world's best

work and know it at once For the general practitioner

a well-used library is one of the few correctives of the premature
senility which is so apt to overtake him. Self-centered, self-
taught, he leads a solitary life, and unless his everyday experi-
ence is controlled by careful reading or by the attrition of a
medical society it soon ceases to be of the slightest value and
becomes a mere accretion of isolated facts, without correlation.





By Henry M. Hurd

In September, 1883, while on a vacation trip with a friend,
I stopped at Kingston, Ontario, and found myself in a busy
throng of physicians in attendance upon the Canadian Medical
Association in annual session there. The physicians were
diligent in their attendance upon the meetings of the associa-
tion, proud of their mutual calling and eager to advance it.
The secretary of the organization, and one of the leading
spirits, was Dr. Osier, a resident of Montreal, a young man of
34 years, who then, as always, appeared younger. He knew in
person every physician present and was easily the guiding
force in the association. He participated freely in the discus-
sions which followed the reading of papers and did not hesi-
tate to express his mind freely and frankly on all important
questions. In the meetings there were the usual differences of
opinion between the rank and file of the profession and the
members of the medical examining board and verbal en-
counters sometimes took place between many men of different
minds. Osier spoke boldly and without reserve and had an
opinion upon all matters, but never seemed to excite ill feeling
or lasting resentment on the part of those who differed with
him. He was an excellent secretary and carefully watched
the progress of the special work of the meetings. He was
spare in figure, with a sharp, piercing eye, and although of
sallow complexion, was vigorous and in excellent health. He
was neatly and quietly, but carefully dressed and in manner
and bearing displayed the characteristics which I later learned
to recognize and appreciate as peculiar to him. One circum-
stance in the meeting attracted my attention in a special way ;
a prominent member read a paper entitled " The Conduct of
Medical Men Towards Each Other and Towards Each Others'


103 Sir William Osler, Bart.

Patients/^ wMch displayed great wrong-headedness and per-
versity of feeling in reference to the relations of physicians to
each other in the matter of consultations over very ill patients.
He held that a physician was justified, when called in con-
sultation, in getting control of his brother practitioner's
patient and concluded by saying : ^' Take all the cases you
can get and keep them if you can without reference to the
rights of any other attending physician.^' He also deemed it
justifiable to report one's cases of operations or extraordinary
cures in the newspapers and inquired, "Why should not
medical men report their cases as well as a lawyer his speeches
or a clergyman his sermons ? " When he had concluded read-
ing his paper he was called sharply to order by several members
and referred to the Code of Ethics which existed in Canada to
govern the relations of physicians to each other. Whereupon
the offender announced that he had never seen any such code
and that it had no meaning to him. Dr. Osier sprang to his
feet and drew from his pocket a pamphlet copy of the Code of
Ethics which he waved about his head and in a loud, clear
voice announced that he took great pleasure in supplying a
copy to his innocent and untutored friend and was glad to
learn that he had " sinned unwittingly through ignorance."

In 1889, when I came to Baltimore, I found Dr. Osier in
temporary charge of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, which had
been open in part for a few weeks. He lived at the hospital
and guided its work in company with Dr. Halsted and such
members of the early staff as Lafleur, Brockway, Clarke and
others. I remember on my first visit while walking along
Broadway in company with Osier and President Oilman, the
day being very hot, the latter, as usual, had an umbrella which
he used to protect himself against the rays of the sun. He
invited Osier to walk with him, who declined saying, " The
chill of nearly 40 Canadian winters is still in my veins and I
do not need any such shelter."

He was a delightful companion with children and took much
pleasure in conversing with them and even mystifying them
by detailing remarkable personal experiences and sometimes

Early Reminiscences 103

tragedies. Once he invited two young girls to a luncheon at
his house on Monument Street, where his niece, now Mrs.
Abbott, kept house for him. He came late to luncheon and
explained his delay by the fact that he had been caught in a
down-pour of rain when crossing Monument Square which
had produced a flood sweeping him off his feet; that he had
escaped only after vigorous swimming and had barely saved
himself by grasping the shaft of the Washington Monument
with both arms. A more harrowing tale was that of the loss
of a young friend by falling from his row-boat into the
St. Lawrence River. He explained that he might have rescued
her had he not resolved never to act hastily and without due
consideration. He had accordingly tossed up a coin to deter-
mine what his action should be. It fell adversely and he
rowed ashore alone weeping bitterly ! Fancy the difficulty of
duly impressing high moral precepts upon the young in the
light of such a confusing example. Children delighted in his
presence and were charmed by him, but very naturally were
always uncertain as to the logical nature of his conclusions
and equally puzzled by his apparent indifference to conven-
tional conceptions of duty and obligation. There was also in
his attitude towards pupil nurses a similar light-hearted
irresponsibility which marked some portion of two addresses
to nurses to which reference is made later. It is possible,
however, to perceive that under the cloak of these apparent
trivialities there lurked a seriousness of purpose and a keen
desire to point a painful moral in a kindly way. With
children, however, it was simply an expression of his ample
imagination and of his desire to please and puzzle them. Even
older people were sometimes at a loss to follow his moods and
strange fancies. He was invariably cheerful, hopeful, and
optimistic even under circumstances of discouragement and
doubt. I remember on one occasion one of his colleagues,
mystified by his imperturbability in a trying emergency said,
" Osier drop your mask, let us know what you actually think
of the situation," but no one ever did gain that knowledge.

104 Sir William Osler, Bart.

Osier's habits of work, wMle lie resided at The Johns Hop-
kins Hospital, were exemplary and somewhat "unusual for a
man of literary taste. Such men are usually inclined to turn
night into day. but he rose promptly at 7 a. m., took his bath
and breakfast and was ready for work at 8 o^ clock. He seemed
to have a faculty for setting his mental machinery in motion
immediately and accompKshed effective work without delay.
When his secretary- came he generally began to dictate and by
practice acquired great facility in terse and vigorous expres-
sion. This quality also was undoubtedly assisted by his
famiharit}" with King James' version of the Bible, the
Prayer Book, and Sir Thomas Browne. His method of the
preparation of the Principles of Medicine was worthy of
being followed by other writers. He gathered the literature
of any subject which he had on hand by judicious foraging in
his library and elsewhere. The volumes thus collected were
piled four square generally, open at the page to be consulted
upon the table, as long as room sufficed and later upon the
floor until movement about the room was much restricted. I
remember that when after seven months of strenuous labor
he completed the first draft of his treatise on medicine I
chanced to look into his room and found that it contained an
immense heap of books piled as high as the table like an
ancient sacrificial altar. The first draft was carefully revised
with no great amount of change in sentences and forms of
expression. Such changes as were made, however, did not
destroy the crisp, breezy style or the epigrammatic form of
expression which has always been characteristic of his literary
work. The book contained many personal references which
gave peculiar satisfaction to his friends by reason of the good-
natured personal touches he frequently gave to the cherished
beliefs and traditions which he did not share. I remember
in speaking of the use of turpentine in typhoid fever, he said,
" The routine administration of turpentine in typhoid fever
is a useless practice for the perpetuation of which, in this
generation, H. C. Wood is largely responsible." This some-
what pointed condemnation of a generally recognized method

Early Eeminiscences 105

of treatment at that time brought forth a vigorous rejoinder
from Dr. Wood in a medical journal, but fortunately there
was no loss of friendship on the part of either Osier or Wood.

Osier was also very scrupulous in fulfilling his duties in
attendance upon the meetings of medical societies. When
once informed by a student that he did not attend the meeting
of a medical society because he was not sure that he could get
anything out of it he replied, " Do you think I go for what
I can get out of it or for what I can put into it ? '^ Those who
knew him felt a deep impression that in all activities in
medical societies and in behalf of his students he labored solely
to inspire them with a love of work for its own sake and for
what he felt to be its final effect upon their growth and

This fact was brought out in his relations to the Training
School for Nurses, established at the hospital in October, 1889,
which were of an ideal character. He had a warm friendship
for Miss Hampton, the organizer of the school and its first
principal, and also for Miss Nutting, her successor. He gave
much assistance in the way of advice and in teaching and was
warmly interested in its success. He gave two graduating
addresses also, one entitled, " Nurse and Patient,'^ and the
other, " Doctor and Nurse." He was appreciative of the work
of nurses and touched lightly and gracefully upon the mutual
relations of the nurse to her co-worker, the doctor, and to the
object of her care, the patient. There was, however, a sus-
picion of an attitude of reserve towards trained nurses as a
class as may be inferred by the quotations which preceded
these addresses when published. One, for example, had this
significant motto, from the Psalms of David, " I said I will
take heed to my ways that I offend not in my tongue. I will
keep my mouth as it were with a bridle." The other quotation
was from Sir Thomas Browne, " Think not silence the wisdom
of fools, but if rightly timed the honor of wise men who have
not the infirmity, but the virtue, of taciturnity and speak not
out of the abundance, but the well-weighed thoughts of their

106 Sir William Osler, Bart.

hearts. Such silence may be eloquence and speak thy worth
above the power of words."

Osier in fact seemed always appreciative and helpful while
at the same time he had an air of detachment as one who was
endeavoring to see whither the movement for the education of
nurses would ultimately lead. In the end I am sure that he
learned to understand and appreciate the work of the training
school and felt the great importance ©f it to physicians and to
the advance of the science of medicine.


By Howard A. Kelly

I find myself wondering, in these days of pleasant retro-
spection, now that our much loved friend Sir William Osier
is so splendidly rounding out his seventh decade, whether, of
all his friends here, I may not claim the credit of having
known him first.

I was living in Philadelphia up in the big mill district of
Kensington, culling a surgical out of a large general practice,
and at the same time keeping in close touch with things at the
University of Pennsylvania, for eight years my college, when
it became manifest that some fresh and stirring blood had
entered the college life.

The university, with so many eminent men camping on her
very doorstep in Philadelphia, and with that tendency to
nepotism, a form of paternal pride seen in all successful
institutions, had, as we younger men thought, driven John
Guiteras of brilliant promise in general medicine, away from
her doors to protect Pepper from rivalry, and now, not without
great hesitation as we understood, she had actually broken
her shackles, thrown traditions to the winds and pulled
William Osier down from McGill in Montreal.

Fresh invigorating currents of life and new activities in our
stereotyped medical teachings began at once to manifest them-
selves, and every sturdy expectant youngster in short order
lined himself up as a satellite to the new star. Osier breezes
were felt everywhere in the old conservative medical center,
and yet it was not without some difficulties that he securely
established himself. Weir Mitchell, who had reason in his
later days to cultivate kindlier feelings towards the university
than in his young manhood, was from the first Osier's devoted
and intimate friend, and one by one the faculty was won to


108 Sir William Osler, Bart.

appreciate him, perhaps including even Pepper too, though I
am not so sure. My own life touched Osier's in the Kensing-
ton mill district in northeast Philadelphia. Aside from
anatomy and chemistry, I got most of my real medical educa-
tion while a resident in the Episcopal Hospital and next in
the homes of the Kensington folk. Wood's physiological
therapeutics and Stille's didactic lectures on medicine seemed
deadly to me, and worst of all was Tyson's pathology elucidated
by Formad's quizzes. So it remained to get the education at
the bedside, and here Osier came to my aid. It was more than
a Sabbath day's journey in those days to go to Kensington
from the heart of the city; it was an hour in the street car,
and a long drive over bad, very bad, Philadelphia streets, but
Osier came and Agnew came with their lamps in their hands
to illuminate a few of the problems in the vast domain in which
all medical graduates are presumed to be exj)erts.

I think the first patient that Osier saw was suffering from
anorexia nervosa, a condition which I had never seen before,
and of which I was ignorant. He stayed to dine in Morris
Square, and was particularly interested in my collection of
old medical books.

Then he was whisked awa}^ to Baltimore, and then after a
yearns time, I followed at his behest, glad to have a more
concentrated field of work.

Here I can add nothing, for his record is known and read
of all men, and what a blessing he, and Welch, and Halsted,
and Hurd proved to be in this community. I leave others to
appreciate Osier's skill as a medical man, and his love of the
classics. I always think of him first of all as one who brought
order out of the chaos in the medical profession of this city, a
great task effected by his kindly personality, his insight into
human nature, and the genuine affection he ever felt for all
men who were even half way good.

It was a settled poHcy of Osier's life never to speak ill of
any one but always to find the good, and in that way he con-
verted the hostile camp of Baltimore into a kindly family of
cooperating doctors.

In Philadelphia 109

Medicine here had fangs in the old days. Osier and Welch
more than any others drew them ; and so made possible medical

I want to lay claim to the gift of prophetic insight (a role
I doubt not in which many of my colleagues have anticipated
me) ; I had said from the first that Osier was bound for
London, and in the old days I longed to be ready to go with
him when he went. The outcome has exceeded, I think, all our
anticipations, and who but he would have maintained unabated
the same interest in all his old friends, and who else could
have turned the ocean into a highway, and his new position,
detached as it is from any vast clinical facilities, into a veri-
table medical Mecca for all our American medical world. That
many lustra may still be added to the kindly years of Lady and
Sir William Osier is the wish of many hearts.

By Thomas E. Boggs

Adequate treatment of this important side of Dr. Osier's
activities would far transcend the present writer's abilities and
the space allotted to this article. But it may be of some value
to discuss briefly Dr. Osier's interest in old books as reflected
in his informal talks with the students.

In looking back it seems to the writer that the interest in
the early editions was a development of the fundamental value-
he placed in the study of the history and evolution of the
science and art of medicine, and that it was in connection with
his studies of the fathers of medicine in all times and countries
that he began that collection of first and rare editions which
has now reached such remarkable proportions.

When the plan of collecting the works of the founders of
British Medicine was first originated is unknown to the writer,
but it had already reached a large degree of perfection at the
time when the class of 1901 began to make the Saturday even-
ing visits to the old house at No. 1 West Franklin Street.

Most of us will ever retain the delightful recollection of
those informal gatherings about the big table in the dining-
room, when after the discussion of the week's work in the
wards was finished, " the chief " would bring out some of the
books from the special shelves devoted to the masters of
medicine and show us the first editions, tell us the story of

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Online LibraryMinnie Wright BloggSir William Osler, bart. Brief tributes to his personality, influence and public service → online text (page 8 of 14)