Contributor: Caroline Bertonèche
Location: Keats House, Hampstead
Description: In 1815, John Keats (1795-1821) was a medical student at Guy’s Hospital, in London, studying to become a surgeon. To prepare for his lectures, Keats bought a series of dissection manuals, The London Dissector, and Outlines of a Course of Dissections for the Use of Students at St. Thomas’s Hospital, which was published in 1815, the year Keats arrived at the United Hospitals; in 1820 it was enlarged under the title The Dissector’s Manual. Since Keats entered Guy’s Hospital during the transition period between The London Dissector and the Outlines, it is probable that he owned both; he would certainly have owned the latter, which was recommended by his professor, Sir Astley Cooper. Cooper also recommended two other texts to his students: Fyfe’s Anatomy, and Blumenbach’s Physiology. Aside from these manuals and a case of dissecting instruments, Keats owned a couple of notebooks. One of these notebooks was this Anatomy notebook, containing his notes of Cooper’s teachings on anatomy and physiology (12 lectures in total, including chapters entitled “On the Blood”, the “Arteries”, the “Nervous system” or the “Muscles”). Keats paid, at the time, two shillings and two pence for this leather-bound, unpaginated notebook, wrote his name in the inside cover and left a few blank pages in the middle. The notebook is now part of the Keats House collection in Hampstead. It is being displayed open in a glass case at one of the most fascinating, and most famous, pages: the twenty-seventh page, where Keats drew some flowers in the left margin near a description of how to repair a dislocated jaw. This page therefore brings together Romantic poetry and science into intriguing relationship.
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Contributor: Alice Rhodes
Location: Wellcome Collection, London, UK
Description: This song sheet, titled “Mary’s Ghost or the Favorite Anatomy Song” and advertised as “being No 1 of The Ballad Singer, a Collection of Comical Comic songs,” started life as a poem, first published in Thomas Hood’s 1826 collection, Whims and Oddities. In Hood’s darkly comic ballad, and its musical setting by J. Blewitt, the eponymous ghost appears to her widowed fiancé to deliver the unfortunate news that she has been grave-robbed and that her material body is now scattered across the medical schools and laboratories of London. Together, Mary’s posthumous predicament, and the material afterlife of the poem itself, raise questions about the materiality or immateriality of body and text and about the relationship between dissection and collection which are as pertinent today as they were for late Romantic writers like Hood.
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Contributor: Bénédicte Prot
Translation: Susan Seth
Description: In 1819, in Paris, the Breton doctor René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec (1781-1826) published De l’auscultation mediate, the first edition of the treatise in which he presented the results of several years of clinical research as well as the uses of a medical instrument which he had invented: the stethoscope. Placed at the centre of clinical practice, the new tool was to contribute to the development of pathological anatomy and refine the diagnosis of cardiac and pulmonary illnesses. Henceforward the doctor disposed of a means of exploration and a form of mediation which come from a different relation to the patient and render the sick body not only readable but also audible.
There is nothing less romantic, it might seem, than this wood cylinder which, admittedly under a different form, has become the attribute by which we recognise the doctor from the first glance… Yet on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Laennec’s treatise, let us see how the stethoscope was able to become a link between medicine and literature during the Romantic period.
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