“Alas, Poor Daft Jamie’s Pickled!”: Poetry Concerning the Resurrectionists

By Carrie Levinson, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian

You may have heard about “Resurrection Men” – people who robbed graves and even killed people to fill the unprecedented demand for cadavers in medical schools in the nineteenth century. You may have even heard the names William Burke and William Hare: two of the most notorious body-snatchers and murderers who ever lived. But did you know that there is poetry about these bizarre and tragic events?

 The New York Academy of Medicine Library has a digital collection, The Resurrectionists, which contains broadsides, ballads, pamphlets, poetry, and other literature concerning Burke and Hare, their accomplices, and their victims. Since it is National Poetry Month, we’ve decided to feature some of the poetry contained in this collection.

First, however, a little bit of background. William Burke and William Hare were two ne’er-do-wells in 1820s Scotland who enjoyed drinking and working as little as possible (Barzun, 1974). When another occupant in their lodging house passed away from natural causes, they sold the body. Soon they found that bodies for the medical schools (particularly, the anatomy and physiology class in Edinburgh taught by Dr. Robert Knox) were in high demand, but not in ready supply. To capitalize on this newly-discovered stream of funds, the group quickly turned to murder. Their first victim was likely a miller by the name of Joe, and more followed (Barzun, 1974).

Unfortunately for them, Burke, Hare, and their accomplices made a number of mistakes resulting in their capture: they murdered a prostitute by the name of Mary Paterson, who was a client of one of the doctors and whom he recognized (though he kept quiet at the time); they also killed a well-known and -liked young man known in town as Daft Jamie, whose disappearance was immediately noted and speculated upon (bringing suspicion upon Dr. Knox as well); and they also began to quarrel amongst themselves. Their arrest came after a couple who knew their last victim, Mrs. Docherty, went to the police (Barzun, 1974).




Hare was offered immunity to testify against Burke and Helen MacDougal, Burke’s mistress. After the trial, deliberations took less than an hour: Burke was declared guilty, while MacDougal went free. Burke’s punishment: he was to be publicly hanged, his skin to be tanned and sold in strips, and his body to be dissected and then lectured upon, much like the bodies he had murdered for profit (Barzun, 1974). Burke was hanged on January 28, 1829, and his skeleton is still on view in the Anatomical Museum of the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare left Edinburgh in disguise and soon disappeared. One enduring legacy was a new verb, to burke, originally meaning to kill by smothering (in order to leave a good body to dissect!), and now broadened to mean to suppress.


A huge amount of literature was generated from these morbid events, including, arguably, the genre of crime fiction (Barzun, 1974). Here are a few examples of the poetry: one, an elegy for William Burke, and two poems lamenting the death of Daft Jamie (Jamie Wilson).


We hope you will peruse this collection and marvel at the many effects Burke and Hare’s dastardly deeds had on the law, medicine, and literature. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to write a poem of your own!


Barzun, J. (1974). Murder for profit and for science. In J. Barzun (Ed.), Burke and Hare: Resurrection men: A collection of contemporary documents including broadsides, occasional verses, illustrations, polemics, and a complete transcript of the testimony at the trial (pp. v-xii). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

“How Many Stamens Has Your Flower?” The Botanical Education of Emily Dickinson

By Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

So unsuspected violets
Within the fields lie low,
Too late for striving fingers
That passed, an hour ago.

Emily Dickinson (1858)1

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, from the collection of Amherst College.

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, from the collection of Amherst College.

Emily Dickinson fell early and fast for flowers. Her poetry is full of the blooms and buds that signal the awakening of spring. There’s her crocus, “Spring’s first conviction” (Letter 891) “stir[ring] its lids,” (J10) her May-Flower, “pink small and punctual,” (J 3) and her “chubby” daffodil with its “yellow bonnet” (J 10 and J4), among an army of many other blossoms that decorate her pages.

As her biographer Alfred Habegger has noted, the poet spent hours as a girl in the 1840s roaming the woods and fields near her Amherst, Massachusetts home, looking for flowers. In many cases, these were sent to friends, but the poet also kept some for herself. Her first assembled collection was not, as one might expect, a collection of writing, but a collection of plant specimens.2

Dickinson likely began her herbarium when she was 14, in 1845.3 It has been fully digitized by Harvard’s Houghton Library (all 66 pages can be viewed here). Several of the texts that influenced Dickinson’s flower collection are available in our library.

A page of Dickinson's herbarium, courtesy of Harvard University's Houghton Library.

A page of Dickinson’s herbarium, courtesy of Harvard University’s Houghton Library, including specimens of Liriodendron tulipfera and of the rare Chenopodium capitatum (strawberry blite).

In 1845, Dickinson was enrolled in both botany and Latin at Amherst Academy. Coursework in both subjects was instrumental in her identification and labeling of plants.

In use at Amherst during Dickinson’s time was Almira Lincoln Phelps’ textbook, Familiar Lectures on Botany, first published in 1829.4 Phelps, a pioneer educator and only the second woman elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was the sister of the American education reformer Emma Willard.5 Phelps probably taught at Amherst Academy for at least one term, using the Familiar Lectures. Her textbook was certainly known and used by Dickinson.6

Our copy of Phelps’ Lectures on Botany contains a sweet floral treasure pressed within, with the ghost of its outline visible on its pages. If you can identify the flower, please let us know.

Our copy of Phelps’ Familiar Lectures on Botany (1838) contains a sweet floral treasure pressed within, with the ghost of its outline visible on its pages. If you can identify the flower, please let us know. Click to enlarge. [N.B.: Thanks to Julie Shapiro, Curatorial Associate and Herbarium Plant Specimen Technician at Harvard University Herbaria for her canny ID of the pressed flower in our 1838 copy of Phelps’ Familiar Lectures on Botany as a geranium.]

In the prefatory note to Familiar Lectures, Phelps describes how as a teacher of botany she struggled to find suitable textbooks, and composed the lessons within to fill this gap.7 Benjamin Smith Barton’s The Elements of Botany, while beautifully illustrated, was very out of date by the late 1820s, and written in an archaic language unsuitable for young students.8

Plate VI from Phelps, Familiar Lectures on Botany, 1838. Click to enlarge.

Plate VI from Phelps, Familiar Lectures on Botany, 1838. Click to enlarge.

Familiar Lectures, sometimes called Mrs. Lincoln’s Botany, became the standard textbook for young students, and went through at least 39 editions. The volume contains a prefatory note directed at teachers that tells us about Phelps’ pedagogical style, and what Dickinson may have experienced in her classroom:

Each member is presented with a flower for analysis….The names of the different parts of the flower are then explained; each pupil being directed to dissect and examine her flower as we proceed. ..After noticing the parts…the pupils are prepared to understand the principles on which the artificial classes are founded, and to trace the plant to its proper class, order, & c. At each step, they are required to examine their floors, and to answer simultaneously the questions proposed; as, how many stamens has your flower?9

Phelps taught her students the Linnaean system of identifying specimens: the number of stamens in a flower would determine its class, and the number of pistils, its order. Successive editions of Phelps’ text acknowledged the new “natural” system of classification, a system that moved away from stamen and pistil counting, but discarded the new method as too complex for students.10

“Of leaves.” In Phelps’ Familiar Lectures on Botany, 1838. Click to enlarge.

Dickinson’s biographer Alfred Habegger emphasizes Phelps’ belief that botany was a subject well-suited to females, and that Dickinson herself characterized plants most frequently as female, and, by extension, as central to the role of playing female:

That the poet thought of flowers as female suggests her love of plants owed more to culture than science….Pressed between the pages of a letter, they became a medium of exchange between her and her friends, those of her own sex especially. Cultivated indoors, especially after a conservatory was added to the Dickinson Homestead, they became a consuming avocation.11

Emily Dickinson seems to have consulted another book for the organization of her specimens. That book was Amos Eaton’s Manual of Botany, for the Northern and Middle States of America.

Title page of Eaton, Manual of Botany, 1822.

Title page of Eaton, Manual of Botany, 1822.

Eaton, a botanist and geologist, had mentored Phelps during her time at Emma Willard’s Female Seminary in Troy. It was Eaton who had first encouraged the publication of Familiar Lectures.12 Dickinson likely used Eaton’s manual to identify the specimens she gathered on walks in the woods. She labelled her specimens in accordance with Eaton’s Linnaean numbering system, in which the class and order correspond to number of stamens and pistils, probably unaware that by this time, the method had been largely discounted.13

Dickinson also consulted Edward Hitchcock’s Catalogue of Plants growing without cultivation within thirty miles of Amherst College in the creation of her herbarium. The text Dickinson used was published in 1829, but our copy, revised by Edward Tuckerman, dates to 1875. Hitchcock was president at nearby Amherst College, and the area’s most eminent naturalist. He’s especially remembered for his geological contributions (Hitchcock led the first geological survey in Massachusetts after studying dinosaur footprints). “Hitchcock’s guide includes many rare plants native to Massachusetts also collected by Dickinson, including the very rare strawberry blite, cancer root (found near Mt. Holyoke), and verbena (found in South Hadley).14

Title page of Tuckerman and Frost's A Catalogue of Plants, 1875.

Title page of Tuckerman and Frost’s A Catalogue of Plants, 1875.

Dickinson refers to Hitchcock in an 1877 letter to T.W. Higginson:

When Flowers annually died and I was a child, I used to read Dr Hitchcock’s Book on the Flowers of North America. This comforted their Absence–assuring me they lived.” (Letter 488)15

Dickinson seems to have confused the authorship of the book she mentions above; here, too, she’s likely referring to Eaton’s Manual of Botany for North America.

Phelps, Eaton, and Hitchcock’s texts all influenced Dickinson’s impressions of the natural world in girlhood. As a mature poet, as her physical reach and exploration of the natural world became more and more limited, the plants familiar to her from girlhood stuck, fixing their roots all the more deeply in her mind.

Perhaps you’d like to buy a flower?
But I could never sell.
If you would like to borrow
Until the daffodil

Unties her yellow bonnet
Beneath the village door,
Until the bees, from clover rows
Their hock and sherry draw,

Why, I will lend until just then,
But not an hour more!16


1. Johnson, Thomas ed., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960. 7; Johnson, Thomas and Theodora Van Wagenen Ward, eds., The Letters of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: Harvard, 1958.

2. Habegger, Alfred. My Wars are Laid Away In Books The Life of Emily Dickinson. New York: Random House, 2001.

3. Habegger, 154.

4. Habegger, 155.

5. Rudolph, Emanuel. “Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (1793-1884) and the Spread of Botany in Nineteenth Century America.” American Journal of Botany, Vol. 71, No. 8 (Sep. 1984), pp. 1161-1167.

6. Habegger, 155.

7. Phelps, Almira Hart Lincoln. Familiar Lectures of Botany. New York: Huntington, 1839. Pp.8-9.

8. Rudolph, 1162.

9. Phelps, 8-9.

10. Rudolph, 1163-1164.

11. Habegger, 156.

12. Rudolph, 1163.

13. Habegger, 158.

14. Habegger, 158-159.

15. Johnson, Thomas and Theodora Van Wagenen Ward, eds., The Letters of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: Harvard, 1958.

16. Johnson, Thomas ed., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960. 4.

Medical Rhymes

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

Cree, WJ. In memoriam: Hugo Erichsen M.D. Detroit Medical News. 1944;36(12):9.

Cree, WJ. In memoriam: Hugo Erichsen M.D. Detroit Medical News. 1944;36(12):9.

In 1884, Dr. Hugo Erichsen (1860-1944) published Medical Rhymes, a collection of rhymes and illustrations from a variety of sources. The subtitle speaks volumes of the books contents: “A collection of rhymes of ye Ancient Time, and Rhymes of the Modern Day ; Rhymes  Grave and Rhymes Mirthful ; Rhymes Anatomical, Therapeutical and Surgical, all sorts of Rhymes to Interest, Amuse and Edify all Sorts of Followers of Esculapius.”

Erichsen wrote in his preface that “The purpose of my book is to amuse the busy doctor in leisure hours. Some of the serious poems will no doubt furnish food for reflection.”1 Erichsen, was a busy doctor himself, working as a Detroit physician, a prolific writer, and proponent of cremation.2

In the introduction of Medical Rhymes, Willis P. King, M.D., writes, “There are a thousand and one things in the life of every doctor which are calculated to cause him to ’break out’ with violent attacks of rhyming.”3 Poetry was one area of life where normally stoic doctors could break free of societal expectations.

Erichsen divided his book into seven chapters: Anatomical Lore, For Ye Student Men, The Doctor Himself, Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics, and Miscellaneous Poems. All poems are given attribution, where available, and some include illustrations.

This selected poem includes a little anecdote as to its origins:

"Lines to a Skeleteon." In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

“Lines to a Skeleteon.” In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

This next poem is attributed to a London medical student and is quite telling of the time, where K is for kreosote and O is for opium. This one even has a little repeating chorus!

"The Student's Alphabet." In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

“The Student’s Alphabet.” In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

Let’s not forget the book’s compiler. Erichsen included a poem of his own, “The Physician,” in which he pays tribute to all the good a doctor does to “save another life.”

"The Physician." In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

“The Physician.” In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

The image below accompanies a 12-page poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, M.D. The poem, “Rip Van Winkle, M.D.,” recounts the story of young Rip as a doctor who took a “vigorous pull” of “Elixir Pro,” then fell off his horse fast asleep. For 30 years he lay, until the sounds of Civil War battle woke him. But his doctoring was no use, as his methods were 30 years out of date. When he consulted with the modern day doctors, they cried murder and suggested he go back to sleep. Today, he can be found by his mildew-y air.

Rip van Winkle, M.D. illustration. In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

Rip van Winkle, M.D. illustration. In Erichsen, Medical Rhymes, 1884. Click to enlarge.

Want more Medical Rhymes? You’re in luck: The book is available in full online.


1. Erichsen, H. Medical Rhymes. St. Louis, MO: J.H. Chambers. 1884.

2. Cree, WJ. In memoriam: Hugo Erichsen M.D. Detroit Medical News. 1944;36(12):9.

3. Ibid.

A Thousand Ways to Please

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

Two of my favorite books in the library’s collection have, by all accounts, not aged well.

Novelized household and cooking guides, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband (1917) and its sequel, A Thousand Ways to Please a Family (1922), present the life of Bettina, her husband Bob, their oft-visiting friends and family, and in the sequel, their son Robin and daughter Sue. Bettina constantly doles out advice to her friends (who, as this is fiction, are always happy to receive it), including this look back on how to select a refrigerator in the 1910s:

Bettina's refrigerator-buying tips. Pages 84-85 of Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, 1917.

Bettina’s refrigerator-buying tips. Pages 84-85 of Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, 1917. Click to enlarge.

That Bettina sure knows everything.

Both books span the course of a year, and each month begins with a poem. Here are the poems for April from both volumes:

April poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, 1917.

April poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, 1917.

April poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Family, 1922.

April poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Family, 1922.

And from May:

May poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, 1917.

May poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, 1917.

May poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Family, 1922.

May poem from Weaver, A Thousand Ways to Please a Family, 1922.

Though the gender politics are dated, the household advice based on nearly 100-year-old technologies and trends, and the food not always tempting to the modern palate, these books (both available in full online) remain fascinating looks into an idealized home life in the 1910s and early 1920s.

Beyond “The Yellow Wallpaper”: Silas Weir Mitchell, Doctor and Poet

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

Today, Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914) is best known as the purveyor of the Rest Cure, made infamous by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” But while he was alive, he was renowned as a pioneering doctor of nervous diseases and a successful author.

Mitchell began his medical career researching rattlesnake venom. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he shifted focus, beginning work as a contract surgeon at Philadelphia’s Turner’s Lane Hospital, specializing in nervous diseases.

"Ward at the Civil War Hospital." In Burr, Weir Mitchell: His Life and Letters, 1929.

“Ward at the Civil War Hospital.” In Burr, Weir Mitchell: His Life and Letters, 1929.

Here, he treated and studied patients with nervous system injuries and syndromes, including one he named causalgia (a form of neuropathic pain). These studies informed his numerous pamphlets and books and helped establish his reputation as a father of American neurology.1–3 After the war, Mitchell continued his research at the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases. He determined that eyestrain could cause headache, and also discovered the rare vascular pain disorder erythromelalgia, or Weir Mitchell’s disease.1

Dr. Mitchell examining a Civil War veteran at the Clinic of the Orhopaedic Hospital, Philadelphia. In Burr, Weir Mitchell: His Life and Letters, 1929.

“Dr. Mitchell examining a Civil War veteran at the Clinic of the Orthopaedic Hospital, Philadelphia.” In Burr, Weir Mitchell: His Life and Letters, 1929.

More controversially, Mitchell also developed the Rest Cure, a treatment for the now passé diagnoses of neurasthenia (physical and mental exhaustion) and hysteria. Women most often received the Rest Cure, which typically involved six to eight weeks of isolation, bed rest, a high calorie diet, massage, and electrotherapy.4 Though the Rest Cure seems problematic to modern eyes, it was an accepted and popular practice for decades, seen as a valuable alternative to drug treatment.3

And what about men experiencing neurasthenia? For them, Mitchell developed the West Cure. Men—including Walt Whitman and Theodore Roosevelt—were sent West to “engage in vigorous physical activity … and to write about the experience.”5 The different treatments used for the same diagnosis—neurasthenia—speak volumes to how differently men and women can be viewed and medicalized.5

The Sargent portrait of Dr. Mitchell. In Burr, Weir Mitchell: His Life and Letters, 1929.

“The Sargent portrait of Dr. Mitchell.” In Burr, Weir Mitchell: His Life and Letters, 1929.

In addition to his medical research and private practice, Mitchell also enjoyed a career as an author. He published numerous short stories, 19 novels, a biography of George Washington, and 7 books of poetry.3 We have one of these poetry books, A Psalm of Deaths and Other Poems (available in full online), in our collection. We feature two poems from the volume here.

When Mitchell wrote “Of Those Remembered” in 1899, he was no stranger to loss: he had experienced the death of his father (1858), his first wife (1862), his mother (1872), and his sister (1874) in quick succession, along with the deaths of so many Civil War soldiers.2

Of Those Remembered

There is no moment when our dead lose power;
Unsignaled, unannounced they visit us.
Who calleth them I know not. Sorrowful,
They haunt reproachfully some venal hour
In days of joy, and when the world is near,
And for a moment scourge with memories
The money changers of the temple-soul.
In the dim space between two gulfs of sleep,
Or in the stillness of the lonely shore,
They rise for balm or torment, sweet or sad,
And most are mine where, in the kindly woods,
Beside the child like joy of summer streams,
The stately sweetness of the pine hath power
To call their kindred comforting anew.
Use well thy dead. They come to ask of thee
What thou hast done with all this buried love,
The seed of purer life? Or has it fallen unused
In stony ways and brought thy life no gain?
Wilt thou with gladness in another world
Say it has grown to forms of duty done
And ruled thee with a conscience not thine own?
Another world! How shall we find our dead?
What forceful law shall bring us face to face?
Another world! What yearnings there shall guide?
Will love souls twinned of love bring near again?
And that one common bond of duty held
This living and that dead, when life was theirs?
Or shall some stronger soul, in life revered,
Bring both to touch, with nature’s certainty,
As the pure crystal atoms of its kind
Draws into fellowship of loveliness?

The volume closes with a poem perfect for National Poetry Month: “Of a Poet” (1886).

Of a Poet
Written for a child

He sang of brooks, and trees, and flowers,
Of mountain tarns, of wood-wild bowers
The wisdom of the starry skies,
The mystery of childhood’s eyes,
The violet’s scent, the daisy’s dress
The timid breeze’s shy caress
Whilst England waged her fiery wars
He praised the silence of the stars,
And clear and sweet as upland rills
The gracious wisdom of her hills.
Save once when Clifford’s fate he sang,
And bugle-like his lyric rang,
He prized the ways of lowly men,
And trod, with them, the moor and fen.
Fair Nature to this lover dear
Bent low to whisper or to hear
The secrets of her sky and earth,
In gentle Words of golden Worth.


1. Silas Weir Mitchell, Papers, 1788; 1850-1928; 1949. Available at: http://www.collegeofphysicians.org/FIND_AID/hist/histswm1.htm. Accessed April 7, 2016.

2. Bailey P. Silas Weir Mitchell, 1829-1914. National Academy of Sciences; 1958. Available at: http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/mitchell-silas.pdf. Accessed April 7, 2016.

3. Todman DH. History of Neuroscience: Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914). IBRO Hist Neurosci. 2008. Available at: http://ibro.info/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Mitchell-Silas-Weir.pdf. Accessed April 7, 2016.

4. Science Museum, London. Rest cure. Brought to Life. Available at: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/restcure. Accessed April 7, 2016.

5. Stiles A. Go rest, young man. Monit Psychol. 2012;43(1):32. Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/01/go-rest.aspx. Accessed April 7, 2016.

The Journey of Dr. Robert Bongout and his Lady, to Bath

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

Anyone who has read a Jane Austen novel or seen an adaptation knows about taking the waters at Bath for medicinal benefit and societal gain. But Dr. Robert Bongout would not be considered decorous company for the genteel gentlemen and ladies in her works.

Robert Bragg’s 1778 The Journey of Dr. Robert Bongout and his Lady, to Bath. Performed in the Year 177- is a satirical poem about perhaps the most gleefully gluttonous character to ever grace the page (read it online in full). As Phillipa Bishop writes in an article for Bath History, “Dr Bongout’s exploits in the demolition of food, with all their crude natural consequences, are described with the same sort of gusto as the gluttonous orgy depicted by Thomas Rowlandson in his archetypal scene of green, ‘The Gourmet’s Dinner’”1

Comforts of Bath: Gouty Gourmands at Dinner (Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827). Image via Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1669855

Comforts of Bath: Gouty Gourmands at Dinner (Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827). Image via Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1669855

Bragg (not credited in print) describes the characters thus:

Over the course of their trip, Dr. Bongout spends copious funds on enormous amounts of food behind his wife, Lady Bongout’s, back. At the same time, she attempts to convince him to save money and eat less, but to no avail.

An example of his gluttony: After agreeing to a light supper at his wife’s bidding, he makes the following request to a cook once she is out of sight:

“Friend cook, quoth he, (first half a crown

Pop’d in his hand) are there in town

Such things as ducklings to be got?

The price I value not a jot.”

“Sir, quoth the cook, I have not less

Than ten fine ducklings fit to dress;”

“Then, quoth the Doctor, if you please,

Stew half a dozen down with pease;

And when enough, where I shall lie,

Be sure you send them instantly” (33-34)

He tucks in after his wife has gone to bed; half asleep, she stumbles upon him eating the stewed ducklings, thinks him a ghost, and faints (so true to life).

At first, it seems that Lady Bongout’s maladies—the real reason for the trip to Bath—are psychological effects of her many years of dealing with her husband. But soon after the Bongouts reach their destination, they take physical form. Her illness offers a satirical look into the services of physician and apothecary, who are “well-pleas’d to hear she was not dead; / Such welcome tidings cou’d but please, / (For what, alas! were one day’s fees).”

Her maladies lead to blindness, which does nothing to slow her charming husband: “Then while she’s blind, I wou’d know why / I may not live in jollity” (78). Despite her lack of vision, she still suffers the knowledge of his ever-increasing girth: “For tho’ she could not with her eyes / Distinguish his enormous size; / Yet she cou’d feel to what a bulk / His worship had increas’d his hulk” (80).

Dr. Bongout himself goes through a medical crisis after eating “for dinner half a stone in weight” (93). Be warned, gentle readers: these verses are not for the faint of heart.

Even this incident does nothing to slow Dr. Bongout’s appetite. At the end of the poem, news of his imminent departure from Bath brings tears to the eyes of the local pastry chef and causes him profound worry about the future of his business:

“To lose of customers the chief

Was matter of the greatest grief:

Quoth he, “And must you then depart?

The very thought will break my heart!

But if you must—I cannot stay—

My shop will fail—I’ll run away.” (136-137)

The Journey of Dr. Robert Bongout and his Lady is part of a larger tradition of satirical writings related to gout (though Bragg only refers to Dr. Bongout’s condition through the character’s name). Perhaps because gout was a disease of the wealthy, its merits “have been extolled over the centuries by physicians and laypersons. In the past, gout was regarded as a badge of nobility, a talisman against other afflictions and an aphrodisiac, and these beliefs were preserved in 16th-to 18th-century literature.”2 In addition, writers often approached the painful disease with humor. “Gout was…a diverting disease,” one that inspired new uses of language and playfully coined words.3

Bragg’s playful look at gluttony does not end with a moral, only the expectation that Dr. Bongout’s enormous gut will continue its expansion. Nor does it seem that his gluttony will have tragic consequences, only humorous ones. Clearly, he’s called Dr. Good Gout for a reason.

1. Bishop P. The Sentence of Momus: Satirical verse and prints in eighteenth-century Bath. Bath Hist. 1994;5:51–80. Available at: https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/Media/CHC Images/Vol 05 – 03. Bishop – The Sentence of Momus – Satirical Verse and Prints in Eighteenth-Century Bath.pdf.

2. Scholtens M. The glorification of gout in 16th- to 18th-century literature. Can Med Assoc J. 2008;179(8):804–805. doi:10.1503/cmaj.080312.

3. Porter R, Rousseau GS. Gout: The Patrician Malady. New Haven: Yale University Press; 2000.

Lessons from the Good Doctor

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

Cover of Der Gute Doktor. Click to enlarge.

Cover of Der gute Doktor. Click to enlarge.

This week, we’re celebrating national poetry month with some medical children’s verse. Der Gute Doktor:ein Nützlich Bilderbuch für Kinder und Eltern (The Good Doctor: a Useful Picture Book for Children and Parents) is a colorful children’s book written by Max Nassauer, a German gynecologist and writer.1  The first edition was published in 1905; our copy is the 9th edition, probably printed in 1926.

The book contains fourteen cautionary tales with medical morals. While the stories, and especially the illustrations, are amusing, they certainly aren’t lighthearted. The consequences of poor health habits are unpleasant. One boy falls ill after walking through the rain and snow. Another gives himself a painful stomachache because he is too embarrassed to use the bathroom at school. Sometimes the repercussions for ignoring the doctor’s orders are far more tragic. In one tale, a stubborn young man refuses the doctor’s medicine and dies the next day.

I found little information on the history of medically-themed children’s tales, but Der Gute Doktor falls into the larger tradition of didacticism in children’s literature. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, translated from oral stories between 1812 and 1857, include cautionary tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood.2 Der Gute Doktor especially brings to mind another children’s book written by a German doctor, Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, published 60 years earlier.2 Struwwelpeter includes similar tales of unruly children suffering for their bad behavior. The tale of Augustus, a boy who refuses to eat his soup and starves to death, would easily fit among the tales of Der Gute Doktor.3 Struwwelpeter was hugely popular and is one of the most well-known German children’s books.2 Undoubtedly, Nassauer was familiar with and influenced by this iconic book.

Here are a few more lessons from the good doctor (translating credit and my thanks go to Mascha Artz):

Franz, the pip swallower

The original German text. Click to enlarge.

The original German text. Click to enlarge.

On the tree
Grows the plum.
In the arcade
hangs the grape,
Apples, pears of all kinds,
cherries grow in the garden.
Oh, how fruit is healthy!
Makes the cheeks red and round.

But there has been Franz,
Who has picked up all,
That was unripe and green.
Well, how bellyache catches him!
Plums, grapes he must snack on,
Without rinsing them.
Dirt and dust he partakes,
Until of cramps he suffered.
But what was the worst:
He cursed the pips in fact!

One time there was a big bawling,
That the mother comes running.
There laid Franz on the ground
And was like dead.

The doctor came, took a tube,
Sticks it into Franz’s tummy
And takes like this, horror of horrors,
Twelve cherry pips out.
If the doctor was not there,
Franz would be living nevermore.
The belly would have burst,
his disobedient tongue

Franz, the Pip Swallower. Click to enlarge.

Franz, the Pip Swallower. Click to enlarge.

Hans, who teased the animals

The original text. Click to enlarge.

The original text. Click to enlarge.

At uncle’s place there is a parrot;
who sings and talks and screeches.
It eats the fruit along with the pip.
Hans liked to watch this.
The uncle said: “Dear Hans,
Don’t touch the parrot by its tail!
Don’t go to close to the cage,
because the parrot can bite you!”
But Hans laughs and says:
“This cannot be that dangerous.”
His hand he put into the cage
and teased the parrot,
tried to grab it by the tail…
The parrot wants to hack him,
catches the finger… what crying!…
Hans’ finger is in pieces!
Blood runs down from his hand.
Hans’ limbs are shaking. –
The doctor put around his hand
Quickly a wound dressing
And gives Hans a severe look,
Nods his head and says:
“One mustn’t tease the animals!
In their fear they easily get frightened
And bite, with shock…
And crack, then the finger is gone.”

Hans, who teased the animals. Click to enlarge.

Hans, who teased the animals. Click to enlarge.

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth

The original text. Click to enlarge.

The original text. Click to enlarge.

Anna was perfectly healthy.
But she did not like rinsing her mouth
and she did not want to brush her teeth,
especially not using a tooth brush.
And soon she was not healthy any longer.
She smelled awful from her mouth.
The teeth rot and fell out…
How horrible Anna looked!
And all girls moved away from her
And sat down at the other corner.

And when she was older at a ball
all of her girl friends were dancing.
And nobody looked at Anna,
She did not have a single tooth left!
So she cried all day,
because nobody wanted to dance with her,
And sobs, although it doesn’t help now:
“Had I only brushed my teeth!”

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth. Click to enlarge.

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth. Click to enlarge.


1. Gerabek, Werner E. (1997). Nassauer, Max.  New German Biography. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd116884150.html.

2. Chalou, Barbara Smith. (2006). Struwwelpeter: Humor or Horror? Lanham: Lexington Books. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://books.google.com/books?id=2UE2AAAAQBAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s.

3. Hoffman, Heinrich. (n.d.)  Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures. New York: Frederick Warne & Co. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12116.

Limerick Anatomy

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Andrew Gordon, Systems Librarian

The cover of The Limeratomy.

The cover.

Anthony Euwer, an American poet and painter, published The Limeratomy in 1917. Subtitled A Compendium of universal knowledge for the more perfect understanding of the human machine, The Limeratomy features poems “done in the Limerick Toungue” and is illustrated by Euwer himself. Its contents comprise the more conventional components of human anatomy (the eyes, the nose, the brain, the ears) alongside more intangible or abstract qualities (the soul, the conscience) and some that are more poetic than scientific (the cockles, the funny bone).

On giving anatomy the limerick treatment, Euwer writes in the preface:

In this clinic-limerique the author has endeavored to put within the common grasp, certain livid and burning truths that have been dragged from heaped-up piles of scientific expression and kultur. It is hoped that the appearance of this little volume may prove a happy psychology at this time—an age of self-examination—an epoch when the human machine is coming into its own.

Throughout this book are not only descriptions of the anatomy, but also humorous suggestions at living healthfully. In “The Epiglottis” he writes:

Have a heart for you poor epiglottis,
Don’t crowd down your victuals, for what is
More sad than the sight
Of a wind-pipe plugged tight
When the food fails to see where the slot is.

Euwer's epiglottis illustration. Click to enlarge.

Euwer’s epiglottis illustration. Click to enlarge.

While full of humor, the pithy nature of the limerick also lends itself to concise understanding of otherwise baffling parts of the human body. In “The Medula Oblongata,” Euwer writes:

Though it sounds like a sort of sonata,
‘Tain’t confirmed by our medical data,
I’m referring of course
To that centre of force—
The medula-ah-ah-oblongata

The illustration accompanying . Click to enlarge.

The illustration accompanying “The Medula Oblongata.” Click to enlarge.

Not limited to those parts of the anatomy that exist, Euwer writes of “The Cockles”:

Now the function of cockles, we’re told
Is just to get warmed, hence I hold—
And I’m quite sure that you
Will agree with me too—
That the cockles are usu’lly cold.

The cockles. Click to enlarge.

The cockles. Click to enlarge.

There are 70 limericks in this volume. You can find them all digitized at the Internet Archive.

A Hospital Stay in 28 Poems

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

On our shelves of poetry sits In Hospital, a small, inconspicuous tome by British poet, critic, and editor William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), printed in 1908.

Henley was no stranger to hospital visits. As a child, doctors amputated one of his legs below the knee due to tuberculosis of the bone. Later in life, doctors recommended amputation of the other leg; Joseph Lister treated Henley at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and managed to save the leg.1

Queen Victoria visiting the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh (1881). This Infirmary building opened shortly after Henley's stay at the hospital. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.

Queen Victoria visiting the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh (1881). This Infirmary building opened shortly after Henley’s stay at the hospital. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.

Henley’s time at the Infirmary inspired In Hospital,1 a collection of 28 poems written between 1873 and 1875. Samuel Treat Armstrong, a physician and army surgeon who had chaired NYAM’s Section on Public Health and Hygiene, donated the book to our collection.2,3 In the volume’s endpapers, Armstrong pasted a New York Times article from September 1, 1912: “Ernest Henley: A Study of the Great Swashbuckler Poet.” The article notes:

To [Henley], life was the supremely important fact; art one of its manifestations. He never separated the work from the man behind it. He did not believe mere skill in the pretty arrangement of words sufficient excuse for writing . . . A man must have a sense of language (which makes literature an art) but he must also have something worth saying, and, having said it adequately, need not trouble about trimmings.

Here are some poems worth saying:

Like as a flamelet blanketed in smoke,
So through the anaesthetic shows my life;
So flashes and so fades my thought, at strife
With the strong stupor that I heave and choke
And sicken at, it is so foully sweet.
Faces look strange from space—and disappear.
Far voices, sudden loud, offend my ear—
And hush as sudden. Then my senses fleet:
All were a blank, save for this dull, new pain
That grinds my leg and foot; and brokenly
Time and the place glimpse on to me again;
And, unsurprised, out of uncertainty,
I wake—relapsing—somewhat faint and fain,
To an immense, complacent dreamery.

As with varnish red and glistening
Dripped his hair; his feet looked rigid;
Raised, he settled stiffly sideways:
You could see his hurts were spinal.

He had fallen from an engine,
And been dragged along the metals.
It was hopeless, and they knew it;
So they covered him, and left him.

As he lay, by fits half sentient,
Inarticulately moaning,
With his stockinged soles protruded
Stark and awkward from the blankets,

To his bed there came a woman,
Stood and looked and sighed a little,
And departed without speaking,
As himself a few hours after.

I was told it was his sweetheart.
They were on the eve of marriage.
She was quiet as a statue,
But her lip was grey and writhen.

Staring corpselike at the ceiling,
See his harsh, unrazored features,
Ghastly brown against the pillow,
And his throat—so strangely bandaged!

Lack of work and lack of victuals,
A debauch of smuggled whisky,
And his children in the workhouse
Made the world so black a riddle

That he plunged for a solution;
And, although his knife was edgeless,
He was sinking fast towards one,
When they came, and found, and saved him.

Stupid now with shame and sorrow,
In the night I hear him sobbing.
But sometimes he talks a little.
He has told me all his troubles.

In his broad face, tanned and bloodless,
White and wild his eyeballs glisten;
And his smile, occult and tragic,
Yet so slavish, makes you shudder!


1. William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2014, from http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/williamernesthenley.aspx

2. Transactions of the New York Academy of Medicine. (1894). New York: Press of Stettiner, Lambert, and Co.

3. Herringshaw, T. W. (1914). Herringshaw’s American Blue-book of Biography. Chicago: American Publishers’ Association.

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog

By Rebecca Pou, Project Archivist

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing a poem from our collection each week during April.

Our last poem, An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog, is by Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774). Our Rare Book Room contains an Oliver Goldsmith Collection, which includes 112 editions of his novel The Vicar of Wakefield, along with many of his other works. Most of the collection was donated by Mrs. Alberta Clay, the daughter of NYAM’s first director, Linsly R. Williams, M.D., in 1942.

Goldsmith port_1863Oliver Goldsmith may seem to be a bit out of place in a medical collection, but NYAM has an interest in works of literature by and about physicians. Before establishing himself as an essayist, poet, and novelist, Goldsmith attempted a career in medicine. Goldsmith studied medicine in Edinburgh and Leyden, although it is not certain he ever received his medical degree. In London, he worked for a time as an apothecary’s assistant and a physician, but ultimately he devoted himself to writing. Still, despite his questionable credentials, Goldsmith was considered a doctor and often attributed as “Oliver Goldsmith, M.B.”

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog is found in The Vicar of Wakefield, where the Vicar asks his son to recite it, and in collections of Goldsmith’s works and poetry. This version and the images are from The Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B. from 1863.

Goldsmith Mad dog 1863

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song ;
And, if you find it wondrous short –
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man
Of whom the world might say,
That still a godly race he ran –
Whene’er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes ;
The naked every day he clad –
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found :
As many dogs there be ;
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp, and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends ;
But, when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad, and bit the man.

Around, from all the neighbouring streets,
The wondering neighbours ran ;
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seem’d both sore and sad
To every christian eye ;
And, while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That show’d the rogues they lied :
The man recover’d of the bite ;
The dog it was that died.


“Oliver Goldsmith.” Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Biography In Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

“Oliver Goldsmith.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.