New database available from the Osler Library


Our newest database is now live! The William Osler Letter Index provides a way of locating information about the letters and other material that Dr. Harvey Cushing (1869-1939) gathered for his Pulitzer-winning biography The Life of William Osler (1925)Cushing collected thousands of letters to and from Osler, having them copied and returning the originals, and made many notes throughout his research. A guide to these was previously available only to on-site users. The online index contains descriptions of these letters, Cushing’s notes and manuscript excerpts, and further Osler material from other archival collections and fonds, including the Sir William Osler Collection (P100), the Malloch Family Fonds (P107), and the Maude Abbott Collection (P111). Each description provides information on the sender, the recipient, the place and year of writing, and a brief abstract of the letter’s contents. Please visit and let us know if you have any feedback!


New subject guide

microscopesThe McGill Library subject guides are your first stop for finding out how to search for resources in your subject area. Each one lists periodical databases that are especially relevant for particular subjects; dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other places to go for background information; and things like other catalogues and internet resources. We’re offering a new subject guide related to the history of medicine all about Osleriana.  Find here biographies, some digitized works, links to digital photograph collections, and more.

(Note: History of Medicine is categorized under the Health and Biological Sciences, rather than Humanities.)


Darwin, Osler, and McGill

Forget Valentine’s Day, did you wish someone Happy Darwin Day this week? International Darwin Day, which the Darwin Day Foundation describes as a “global celebration of science and reason,” is marked annually on February 12th, the birthday of the intrepid naturalist himself.

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) was an admirer of Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) and counted in his personal library many of Darwin’s works, including a 3rd edition of his On the origin of species, containing the theory of evolution based on a process called natural selection, his 1871 The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, examining the process of natural selection of humans, and his Journal of researches (also known as “The voyage of the Beagle”), a compilation of zoological and geological notes and observations made while on expedition with the HMS Beagle.

In his introductory essay to the catalogue of his collection, “The collecting of a library,” Osler shares some personal recollections that point to Darwin’s influence on his own intellectual development. As a student at the Toronto School of Medicine during the 1860s, the future Sir William lived, worked, and studied with Dr. James Bovell, for whom he kept the books and prepared specimens for microscope slides. Osler writes of the “mental tumult” of the sixties, during which “really devout students, of whom Dr. Bovell was one, were sore let and hindered, not to say bewildered, in attempts to reconcile Genesis and Geology.” Dr. Bovell himself was the sort of instructor, according to Osler, “more likely to lecture on what was in his mind than on the schedule, and a new monograph on Darwin or a recent controversial pamphlet would occupy the allotted hour.” Osler also waxes nostalgic over his student vacations spent with a microscope and copies of Darwin’s “’Voyage’ and the ‘Origin.’” (Bibliotheca Osleriana, xv-xxvi [McGill users])

In his catalogue notes for his copy of Darwin’s On the tendency of species to form varieties (1858), Osler recounts a meeting with Charles Darwin:

I only saw Darwin once. During the winter of 1872-3 his son Francis worked at the table next to me in Burdon Sanderson’s laboratory at University College. Several times in the spring he talked on taking me to Down for the week-end, but his father was ailing. It was, I think, the next spring, I mean in ’74, that I saw him at the Royal Society reception (?) He spoke much of Principal Dawson of McGill, for whose work on fossil botany he had a great regard. I remember how pleased I was that he should have asked after Dr. Dawson. He was a most kindly old man, of large frame, with great bushy beard and eyebrows. (B.O. 1565)

From the Osler Library Prints Collection. Photo-mechanical reproduction (photogravure). Published in Leipzig by Georg Thieme in 1909.

From the Osler Library Prints Collection. Photo-mechanical reproduction (photogravure). Published in Leipzig by Georg Thieme in 1909.