Crimson in Memory

By Emily Miranker, Events and Projects Manager

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Canadian doctor John McCrae wrote this poem on a May morning in 1915 in Ypres, what had been a stunning Belgian medieval city then horribly bombarded in the ghastly slaughter of the First World War. The evening before McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields, he presided over the burial of his friend Lt. Alexis Helmer, who died by German shellfire on May 2.[1]


John McCrae in uniform circa 1914.  Source: William Notman and Son – Guelph Museums, Reference No. M968.354.1.2x

McCrae was one of many soldiers serving in WWI who found writing poetry an outlet for the horrors and grief, hope and homesickness of the conflict; others include Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rudolf Binding, and Laurence Binyon. In Flanders Fields may be among the best known poems from the era today, in part due to the power and symbolism of the poppy flowers he evoked.

The flowers McCrae was looking at that May were Papaver rhoeas, the corn poppy beautifully shown in The British Flora Medica by Benjamin Barton. The sensation caused by the publication of McCrae’s poem got the flower rechristened the Flanders poppy.


Red or corn poppy. Source: The British flora medica: a history of the medicinal plants of Great Britain by Benjamin H. Barton and Thomas Castle (1877).

In the popular mind, the corn (or Flanders) poppy is often confused or conflated with its cousin, Papaver somniferum –bringer of sleep- the opium poppy. Papaver somniferum pods contains a resin that has morphine and codeine (the only flowering plant known to contain morphine).[2] Both species spread to Europe and across Asia from the Middle East, helped along by trade routes as well as the Crusades. Since ancient times the opium poppy was used as a pain killer, making it a constant companion throughout history to the battlefield wounded, to veterans, and to civilian populations. In high enough doses, it can cause death. By contrast, the corn poppy’s milky sap contains alkaloid rhoeadine, a sedative. From ancient times to the present, the corn poppy has been used to make soporific tea, a milder respite than that offered by its cousin.

Woodville_opium poppy_1793_watermark

Opium poppy. Source: Medical Botany by William Woodville (1793).

The corn and opium poppies have had a long relationship with people and war. Indeed, the opium poppy gave its name to conflicts over British trade rights and Chinese sovereignty in the min-19th century,  called The Opium Wars.

Poppies have been on many battlefields as relief from pain, a resource to fight over, and as a vivid, little sign of hope or remembrance. The flower as an official symbol for remembrance has roots in New York City.

University of Columbia professor and humanitarian Moina Belle Michael wrote a response to McCrae’s poem, We Shall Keep the Faith, in 1918. Inspired by McCrae’s imagery, she wore a silk version in remembrance of the war’s dead, and spearheaded the American movement to have the flower officially recognized as a memorial symbol, and for money from its sale to help veterans. Across the Atlantic, another Poppy Lady, Anna Géurin, campaigned for selling flowers particularly to aid the women and orphans of France.[3]


Eastern poppy. Source: The Botanical Magazine, v2, plate 57 (1788).

Poppies grow most readily in churned earth, so they flourish around people who constantly disturb, till, and work soil for various reasons: to build, to garden, to bury the dead. Before the upheavals of trenches and bombardment, poppies grew in Flanders, but not to the extant described by American William Stidger working for the YMCA in French battlefields in WWI:

“a blood-red poppy…[by the millions] covering a green field like a blanket…I thought to myself: They look as if they had once been our golden California poppies, but that in these years of war every last one of them had been dipped in the blood of those brave lads who died for us, and forever after shall they be crimson in memory of these who have given so much for humanity.”[4]

A grisly fact underlay the profusion of poppies on the Western Front. The soil of Flanders had not been rich enough in lime to sustain massive numbers of poppies. The infusion the earth received from the rubble of towns and the calcium from human bones allowed the poppies to flourish in greater numbers than ever before; a fitting beacon of regeneration as well as an ever present sign of the dead and destruction.

[1] David Lloyd. Battlefield Tourism: Pilgrimage and the Commemoration of the Great in Britain, Australia and Canada. Oxford: Berg; 1998.
[2] Nicholas J. Saunders. The Poppy: A History of Conflict, Loss, Remembrance & Redemption. London: One World; 2013.
[3] The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy. The Great War 1914 – 1918. Accessed April 13, 2017.
[4] William Stidger. Soldiers Silhouettes on our Front. New York, Scribner’s Sons; 1918.

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“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.

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

2. Chalou, Barbara Smith. (2006). Struwwelpeter: Humor or Horror? Lanham: Lexington Books. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from

3. Hoffman, Heinrich. (n.d.)  Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures. New York: Frederick Warne & Co. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from

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

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.

Syphilis, or the French Disease

By Rebecca Pou, Project Archivist

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

Portrait of Fracastorius from Homocentrica, Venice: 1538.

Portrait of Fracastorius from Homocentrica. Venice, 1538.*

Syphilis seems like an unlikely topic for a poem, yet it is the subject of an important and popular work. Syphilis, or the French Disease, was first published in 1530. At that time, syphilis was new to Europe and spreading fast. To the Italians it was the “French disease,” to the French the “Italian disease,” with many other countries blaming one another for bringing the infection to their citizens. Written in Latin by the multi-faceted Italian physician and poet Fracastorius, the poem was translated into many languages, reflecting the great desire to understand this disease. Our collection holds multiple editions, including the original, pictured above, and several English versions (this post features two English translations – one is pictured below and another as the excerpts).

In the poem, which is broken into three parts, we learn of the disease and some popular treatments of the time, including mercury and the plant remedy guaiac. We also read the tale of a shepherd named Syphilus, supposedly the first person afflicted with the disease, which was his punishment for spurning the sun. Excerpts from each of the poem’s books, taken from William Van Wyck’s translation, are below.

Book 1

Within the purple womb of night, a slave,
The strangest plague returned to sear the world.
Infecting Europe’s breast, the scourge was hurled
From Lybian cities to the Black Sea’s wave.
When warring France would march on Italy,
It took her name. I consecrate my rhymes
To this unbidden guest of twenty climes,
Although unwelcomed, and eternally.
O Muse, reveal to me what seed has grown
This evil that for long remained unknown!
Till Spanish sailors made west their goal,
And ploughed the seas to find another pole,
Adding to this world a new universe.
Did these men bring to us this latent curse?
In every place beneath a clamorous sky,
There burst spontaneously this frightful pest.
Few people has it failed to scarify,
Since commerce introduced it from the west.
Hiding its origin, this evil thing
Sprawls over Europe

Albrecht Durer's woodcut of a syphilitic man.

Albrecht Durer’s woodcut of a syphilitic man, 1496.*

Book 2

Soon is repaired the ruin of the flesh,
If lard be well applied that’s good and fresh,
Or dyer’s colors of a soothing power.
If some poor soul, impatient for the hour
Of sweet release, should find too slow this cure,
And yearning for a quicker and more sure,
Then stronger remedies without delay
Shall kill this hydra another way.
All men concede that mercury’s the best
Of agents that will cure a tainted breast.
To heat and cold sensitive’s mercury,
Absorbing the fires of the this vile leprosy
And all the body’s flames by its sheer weight…

Book 3

An ancient king had we, Alcithous,
Who had a shepherd lad called Syphilus.
On our prolific meads, a thousand sheep,
A thousand kine this shepherd had to keep.
One day, old Sirius with his mighty flame,
During the summer solstice to us came,
Taking away the shade from all our trees,
The freshness from the meadow, coolth from breeze.
His beasts expiring, then did Syphilus
Turn to this horror of a brazen heaven,
Braving the sun’s so torrid terror even,
Gazing upon its face and speaking thus:
‘O Sun, how we endure, a slave to you!
You are a tyrant to us in this hour.
The sun went pallid for his righteous wrath
And germinated poisons in our path.
And he who wrought this outrage was the first
To feel his body ache, when sore accursed.
And for his ulcers and their torturing,
No longer would a tossing, hard couch bring
Him sleep. With joints apart and flesh erased,
Thus was the shepherd flailed and thus debased.
And after him this malady we call
SYPHILIS, tearing at our city’s wall
To bring with it such ruin and such a wrack,
That e’en the king escaped not its attack.

* From Van Wyck, William. The sinister shepherd: a translation of Girolamo Fracastoro’s Syphilidis; sive, De morbo gallico libri tres. Los Angeles, 1934.

The Craniad

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

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

In 1817, the work of two fathers of phrenology, Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, inspired poetry.

As explained by authors Francis Jeffrey and John Gordon in the preface of The Craniad: Or, Spurzheim Illustrated. A Poem in Two Parts:

“It is not our intention to conduct our readers through all the delightful mazes of the Craniologic paradise. We shall give them a bird’s-eye view of this garden of intellectual sweets; but should they feel disposed to examine every object minutely, they can leave the point of view which we have chosen for them, descend, and lose themselves, at leisure, in the charming confusion of the romantic labyrinth.”

Here is an excerpt from this “bird’s-eye view,” emphasizing the view of the poets (and their inspiration) that the shape of our heads and brains determine our futures—our criminality, careers, and guilt or innocence in a court of law.

Why do men fight,—and steal,—and cheat,—and
String crime on crime, till strung on ropes they die?
“ Because within and on their skulls are found,
“ First known to Gall’s and Spurzheim’s tact pro-
“ Organs, which mark the cause with obvious case,
“ Nature is sick, and crime is her disease.
. . .
To one thing more than others, not inclined—
Some think that education forms the mind.
Hence view we talents every day misplaced ;
Great public situations, too, disgraced !

Hnce [sic] have we preachers in our courts of law,
And lawyers in the pulpit—that’s a flaw.
We’ve some physicians who should nurses be,
And tend on those from whom they take a fee.
We’ve barbarous bungling surgeons, now and then,
Fit only to be barbers’ journeymen ;
Poor paltry puling poets,–who, Lord knows,
Should try to learn to write some decent prose.
Horse-jockies sometimes sit in Parliament !
On jockeying there, by dangerous habits bent,
Whilst many a genius lives by grinding knives,
And many a dunce without a genius thrives.
. . .
When Barristers learn Craniology,
Closer examinations we shall see ;
They then can make each witness shew his skull,
To see if ‘twill his evidence annul,
And if there’s evidence that this is so,
They’ll render it more evident, we know.
And poor unhappy criminals may then
Get leave to feel the skulls of jury-men ;
And when a man’s indicted for a rape,
His neck may then be saved by its own shape.
. . .
Behold a new employment for the blind,
With sense of tact so wondrously refined.
Let them be Craniologers, have schools,
In which succeeding blind may learn their rules ;
Let them have rank and titles with the great,
Be called, “ Prime Craniologers of state.
Such intellectual feelers, of the land,
Would form a useful, and important band ;
They could correct all errors in our courts,
And wavering doubts decide by their reports.”