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.”

Mother Eve’s Pudding

By Rebecca Pou, Project Archivist

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing a poem from our collection each week during April. With the support of the Pine Tree Foundation of New York, we are currently cataloging our manuscript recipe collection, which is the source of our first poem. The rhyming recipe was in both English and American cookbooks through the end of the nineteenth century, but this particular version is most likely from the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

To try out a modern take on this recipe, see “Mother Eve’s Pudding Redux.”

A recipe in verse for Mother Eve’s Pudding, late 18th-century.

To Make Mother Eves Pudding

To make a good Pudding pray mind what your taught

Take two penny worth of Eggs when twelve for a groat

Six ounces of bread Let Moll eat the Crust

The Crumb must be grated as small as the Dust

Take of the same Fruit that Eve once Cozen

Well pared and Chop’d at Least half Dozen

Six ounces of Currans from the Grit you must sort

Least they break out your teeth and spoil all the Sport

Six ounces of Sugar wont make it to sweet

Some Salt and a nutmeg will make Compleat

Three Hours it must boil without any Flutter

Nor is it Quite Finished without melted Butter