Osler Day 2017

Please join the library on this year’s Osler Day, Wednesday, November 1st, for a presentation of essays by the three finalists chosen as part of the Pam and Rolando Del Maestro William Osler Medical Students Essay Awards. The presentations will be held at 11:30 a.m in the Wellcome Camera of the Osler Library, McIntyre Medical Building3rd Floor. The winner will be announced at the Osler Banquet.

William Osler at His Desk at 1 West Franklin Street, Baltimore (Osler Library, Cushing Collection, CUS_046-025_P)

The following students will be presenting their research:

Philippe-Antoine Bilodeau – “A Tale of Two Brains: Cortical Localization and the Neuron Doctrine in the 19th and 20th Century” (Mentor: Professor Thomas Schlich)

Clare Fogarty – “Sanitation, Sanity, and (Moral) Suitability: The History of the Medical Inadmissibility of Immigrants into Canada (1840s-1950s)” (Mentor: Professor David Wright)

André Lametti – “Ars uero longa: Teaching Hippocrates in Medieval Italy” (Mentor: Professor Faith Wallis)

Faculty, students, and friends are all welcome to attend and show their support for this year’s finalists. Our special thanks to Pam and Rolando Del Maestro, the Medical Students’ Osler Society, and the Board of Curators of the Osler Library.

Illustrated Talk: The Maude Abbott Medical Museum 1822-2017

You’re invited! Please join us next Tuesday February 14th, 4pm for an illustrated talk by Dr. Richard Fraser, Professor of Pathology at McGill Faculty of Medicine, Senior Pathologist at MUHC, Director of the Maude Abbott Medical Museum.

Learn about the repository’s treasured history at McGill and observe a carefully curated selection of specimens and preserved curiosities from this unique collection!

Winter Session 1878-1879

Think you’ve got a busy schedule this semester? Here’s what Winter Session 1878-1879 looked like for McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. The course schedule shown below belonged to Sir William Osler – Professor of Physiology, General Pathology, Histological & Physiological Demonstration (1st and 2nd year) and Pathological Demonstration that year. This historical piece of mcgilliana is part of our P100 collection – a collection that recently received a handful of new acquisitions generously donated from an Osler family relative (more on these new acquisitions coming soon!).


Instructors (listed in alphabetical order): Dr. Buller, Professor Craik, Professor Dawson, Professor Fenwick, Professor Gardner, Professor Godfrey, Professor Howard, Dr. MacDonnell, Professor McCallum, Professor Osler, Professor Roddick, Professor Ross, Professor Scott, Dr. Shepherd, & Professor Wright.


Courses (listed in no particular order): Anatomy, Hygiene, Medical Jurisprudence, Ophthalmic Clinic, Botany, Surgery, Practical Chemistry, Pathological Demonstration, Midwifery, Clinical Medicine, Clinical Surgery, Materia Medica, Histological & Physiological Demonstration, Physiology, General Pathology, Practice of Medicine, Chemistry, & Practical Anatomy.


Version 2Aequanimitas — a term that derives from late-15th century Latin — means imperturbability, or one who is incapable of being upset, or agitated; one who is calm, and not easily excited.

William Osler’s Valedictory address entitled Aequanimitas was first presented at the University of Pennsylvania, May 1st, 1889. In this short speech, Osler advised imperturbability as one of two essential qualities of the physician and of the surgeon. He defined this quality as a coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm, clearness of judgement in moments of peril, immobility, and impassiveness. The second quality he spoke of, equanimity, was described as being the mental and physical equivalent of the first.

It has been said that ‘in patience ye shall win your souls,’ and what is this patience but an equanimity which enables you to rise superior to the trials of life? Sowing as you shall do beside all waters, I can but wish that you may reap the promised blessings of quietness and of assurance forever, until

Within this life,

Though lifted o’er its strife;

you may, in the growing winters, glean a little of that wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

For those interested in reading the full address and others made by Sir William Osler, we have several regular loan copies and various translations listed in the Classic Catalogue, in addition to rare and archived materials that are part of the Osler Library Archives collection.

History of biology in the Osler Library

The history of natural history and biology is heavily represented in the collection of the Osler Library, not just because of their important place in the history of medicine, but also in the life story of the library’s founder.

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson. William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson.
William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

William Osler (1849-1919) grew up in Bond Head, Ontario, surrounded by books. His father’s theological library had around 1,500 items. The young Osler had his first glimpse of a scientific library when he left home to attend Trinity College School (located today in Port Hope, Ontario). The Warden of the school, Reverend W.A. Johnson (1816-1889), according to Osler, “a good friend, botanist, a practical palaeontologist, an ardent microscopist,” inspired Osler with a passion for natural history.

While studying Anglican divinity at Trinity College, Toronto, Osler spent two years living with James Bovell, the Chair of Natural Theology at Trinity College and a member of the Toronto School of Medicine faculty, assisting him in his work. He would often go out to collect various samples of algae and other specimens to fix onto slides for Bovell. His first publication, “Christmas and the Microscope” (1869) demonstrated his love for and proficiency at microscopy. Osler transferred from Trinity College to the Toronto School of Medicine, and then ultimately to the Medical Faculty at McGill University to pursue the greater clinical opportunities available to medical students in Montreal.

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson. William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson.
William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Osler’s affinity for natural history flourished during his stay at McGill. Through another mentor, Dr. Palmer Howard, Dean of the McGill Faculty of Medicine, Sir William was introduced to some of the foundational works in the field of life sciences, including those of Laennec, Stokes, and Graves. Osler’s thesis was based on the preparation of gross and microscopic slides from twenty autopsies. After graduation, he considered the India Medical Service, but opted to remain in Montreal, so as to pursue his work in microscopy. He was offered the Chair of Botany at McGill because of this expertise, but turned the position down in favour of a lectureship in Physiology. He became Chair of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1884, where he was a member of the Biology Club. His bibliophilia was inspired by places such as the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. Osler moved to the Johns Hopkins University in 1889, where in 1893 he played an instrumental role in the creation of the Johns Hopkins Medical School and teaching hospital.  He was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University in 1905. At Oxford he served equally as a curator of the Bodleian Library and was heavily involved in the work of the Bibliographical Society of London. In Oxford, he had the leisure time to devote himself to his passion for book collecting, designing a library that would contain the most significant works produced in the history of medicine and science.

Come see a selection of works of natural history and biology in a special exhibition up now in the Osler Room of the Osler Library.


Taking a closer look at the Fabrica


Image 1: Author Portrait from the Fabrica

Andreas Vesalius was born on the last hour of the last day of 1514 in Brussels to a family that had seen four generations of physicians before him. Of particular notoriety, his grandfather was the personal physician to the Emperor Maximilian. At an early age Andreas’s mother sent him to attend university in the neighboring city of Louvain, where he went on to develop an affinity for ancient languages and human anatomy. The few human dissections Vesalius witnessed at Louvain were his first exposure to the value of using cadavers to learn about the human body. He began his own anatomical studies by dissecting the bodies of mice, moles, rats, dogs and cats – the only readily available tissues he could practice with at the time. Vesalius travelled to Paris in 1533 to obtain a proper medical education from the world-renowned University of Paris, which had already established itself as a center for medical education. One of his mentors was Jacobus Sylvius, who is known for being the first professor of medicine in France to use a human cadaver for anatomical lessons. While his lectures were indeed well attended, he professed a kind of blind faith for the works of Galen. Whenever a body part in his demonstrations deviated from the ancient’s writings, he would simply say that the human body has changed since Galen’s time. Vesalius eventually came to the conclusion that the only way his knowledge could rival that of the Alexandrian teachers, those pioneers into the world of human dissection, would be if he also took human dissection into his own hands. He began by studying human bones taken from cemeteries around Paris. Eventually his knowledge of the skeletal system became so complete that he was said to be able to identify a bone while completely blind-folded. This ultimately won him the respect of the entire faculty and he, too, began to teach.

After some years of lecturing in Louvain and then Padua, Vesalius began his 3 years of tireless effort to compile the masterpiece De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. The first edition of the work, published in 1543, is upheld as the cornerstone of modern anatomy and holds a coveted place in the history of medicine. It has been said that in 1543, with the publishing of the Fabrica, a revolution of sorts occurred. While it was indeed the most accurate, best illustrated, and complete anatomical treatise that had even been produced, it also mostly rejected the teachings of Galen that had been accepted as medical fact for the thirteen centuries prior. The beautiful composition of De humani corporis fabrica libri septum was a huge step forward for both anatomists and artists, alike. This copy of the Fabrica, now housed in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, was printed on the press of Johannes Oporinus of Basel in 1543 (when Vesalius was only 28 years old). While Johannes was also at the center of other noteworthy publications, such as the first Latin edition of the Koran in 1542/43, the Fabrica now certainly stands out as the most famous. Prior to Vesalius, human dissection was only conducted within universities by a professor who read aloud a Latin text (which at this time was almost always Galen) while a barber-surgeon handled the cadaver to show the body part being discussed. The purpose was not to verify these ancient writings, but rather to demonstrate their unquestioned knowledge. Medical illustration at the time was not based in a naturalistic representation of anatomy, but stylized schematic diagrams that correlated with the text rather than what was witnessed. When Vesalius published the Fabrica and scholars began to understand how he developed it, these tendencies began to radically change.

The illustrations of the Fabrica were so ground-breaking that plagiarized versions began to emerge in Western Europe almost immediately after the first print. Works appeared from various authors between the years of 1553 – 1564 that out-right copied the illustrations from Fabrica and substituted Vesalius’s text with words of their own. The publication of the first two editions of Fabrica didn’t go without controversy in terms of their contents. Sylvius, Andreas’s Galenist mentor from the University of Paris, had gathered a camp of supporters that drastically opposed Vesalius’s radical departure from the words of the ancients. These scholars claimed that Vesalius was effectively falsifying Galen’s words and regularly criticized him for his departures from the lessons of the ancients. After the publishing of the Fabrica, Vesalius continued to delve deeper into his own anatomical understandings by continuing with his human dissections until the end of his days (apart from a consultant physician job meant to support himself). However, the exact events of these last days are shrouded in mystery. Rumor has it that when Vesalius was conducting dissections in Spain, he opened the chest of one individual to only find that the heart was still beating. What he thought to be a dissection suddenly became a vivisection, which was entirely illegal to perform on a human being. Supposedly he was sentenced to death by the inquisition, but the king commuted his sentence on the grounds that he make a trip to Jerusalem to expiate his sins. While the journey to the Holy Land was accomplished safely, Vesalius fell ill on the return trip and died on the island of Zante (present day Zakynthos) on October 15th, 1564. He was survived by his wife and daughter but, due to the location where he died, he was buried in an unmarked grave rather than be returned.


Image 2: A page from the Fabrica

Despite his inglorious death, his De humani corporis fabrica libri septum has allowed Vesalius’s name to live in infamy. The Fabrica holds a special place of significance in the history of science since illustrations and scientific text had never been brought together before in such a way. The use of the printed book as a medium for scientific knowledge in terms of both text and illustrations was considered to be ground-breaking at the time. Dr. Cushing, who published a biography about William Osler, also published a biography about Vesalius in 1943 to commemorate the 400 years since the creation of the 1st edition of the Fabrica. To be in possession of an original copy of the Fabrica is certainly a privilege, considering any surviving copies of the 1st edition prints are not extremely plentiful in contemporary times. Brown University’s John Lay Library is known to have received a copy which is bound in tanned human skin. Two other copies have been sold at auctions, one of which sold for $412,994 and the other – the only fully colored copy known to exist – for $1,652,500. Luckily William Osler came across many 1st edition copies of the Fabrica as they were plentiful around the turn of the twentieth century. In the Bibliotheca Osleriana, Osler explained that it would be a regular occurrence to see these masterpieces with price tags ranging from £10 to £20. Interestingly enough, Sir William didn’t entirely credit the emergence of modern anatomy to Vesalius. Rather, he gave that credit to the Alexandrians in making the claim that Vesalius “remade” their teachings. Osler explained that during his career 6 copies had come through his hands and were given away to various libraries. The importance he ascribed to a 1st edition Fabrica is simple: it is the manifestation of a moment when the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge underwent a critical turning point. In speaking about this copy of the Fabrica, Sir William wrote the following: “I am glad to be able to send this beautiful copy of the first edition to the library of my old school, in which anatomy has always been studied in the Vesalian spirit— with accuracy and thoroughness. William Osier. Rome, March 9th, 1909.”



Ball, James M. Andreas Vesalius, the Reformer of Anatomy. Saint Louis: Medical Science Press, 1910. Print.

Christie’s. Sale 8002, Lot 70. 23 November 2011.

Christie’s. Sale 8854, Lot 213. 18 March 1998.

Fulton, John F. Vesalius four centuries later: Medicine in the eighteenth century. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press. Print.

Hansen, Kelli. William Osler, W.J. Calvert, and MU’s Vesalius. University of Missouri. 2014. Online.

Oldfield, Philip. Vesalius at 500. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Print.

Osler, William. Bibliotheca Osleriana: A Catalogue of Books Illustrating the History of Medicine and Science. Montreal [Que.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1969. Internet resource.



Profiles of Science and “Great Man” Dr. Osler

The National Library of Medicine has just launched the section on William Osler on its Profiles in Science project, working in collaboration with the Osler Library and the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives at Johns Hopkins. Profiles in Science is designed to make digitized documents and photographs of leading medical researchers available online.

And have a look at this excellent entry on the NLM’s blog Circulating Now on the inclusion of William Osler, and one historian’s newfound appreciation for the man behind the myth:

He was legendary during his lifetime, and for nearly a century, he’s been practically a deity in some medical circles. Often called the “father of modern medicine,” and the “greatest physician of all time,” his name is still spoken and his words quoted in reverent tones.