The Life of William Osler


by Dr. Harvey Cushing. London and New York: The Oxford University Press. 1925. 2 vols. Large Svo. xx+1370 pp. Illustrated. $12.50.
A BEVY of fairies attended William Osier’s birth. A happy blend of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic blood gave him toughness and elasticity. His parents, soon after their marriage, migrated to a frontier settlement in Canada, of which Mr. Osier was clergyman. Their life was simplicity itself — indeed, for the first years, hardship, He was one of nine children, an education in itself. What better soil for planting character?
Again, in boyhood the young William came into close contact with two marked men, both close students of nature, especially as revealed by the microscope. One had left the army for the church; the other, a physician, later turned to the priesthood.
Zoölogical curiosity, accurate and close observation, were thus stimulated and, under the subtle guidance of the queen fairy, William was led from the church, for which he was intended, into the career for which be was seemingly predestined. Finally, he was fortunate in his biographer. Dr. Pushing has done his work exceedingly well, in a way to appeal to a lay as well as to a medical public. He has effaced himself and vivified his subject. The illustrations are numerous, well chosen, and revealing. With his book as a basis it is to be hoped that someone may write an abridged life such as would be within the reach of every practitioner and student of medicine.
His early educational advantages were meagre. But at school, college, and as a medical student he was facile princeps. At the same time, as allround, lightweight athlete, he exuded a joie de vivre to the end of his life.
After one year at Trinity, Toronto, came the clarion call to medicine. Graduating from McGill at twenty-three, two intensive years in Great Britain and on the Continent followed. A teaching position, soon passing into a professorship, awaited him at McGill, giving him a support — all he desired — and leaving him free from the shackles of practice. After ten years in Montreal he was called to the Chair of Medicine in the University of Pennsylvania. Five years later the temptation of the opening of the Johns Hopkins Hospital was irresistible. Here was the chance to organize dc novo a teaching hospital and medical school, integral parts of a university, free from the dead hand of tradition, local or general. To him and a small group of associates, backed to the limit by President Gilman and the Trustees, is due not only the enviable rank of the Hopkins among the medical centres of the world, but also a far-reaching and profound stimulation of medical progress. So overwhelming did the demands from far and near become that, after fifteen years at. the Hopkins, he accepted the Begins Professorship of Medicine at Oxford, the imperative duties of which are not onerous. But his life in England proved to be no less full. Only by reading the story can one realize his lifelong intense and varied activities. How he found time and strength to do all he did excites wonder, even making due allowance for the share of the silent partner. Their hospitality was ever unbridled. Their house in Oxford was well called the ‘Open Arms.’ Guestrooms and table were filled, more than filled, especially during the war and after the entrance of the United States.
While in Baltimore he wrote his Practice of Medicine, as high in literary as in scientific merit. Nine editions have appeared. It is doubtful whether any other medical work at all similar has ever met such a reception. Addresses and papers came from him in a steady stream through life. His bibliography covers nearly twelve hundred titles, and many addresses were not published. His last published address, 1919, was that delivered as President of the Classical Association, a hint as to the catholicity of his knowledge and interests. An accidental reading of his Practice of Medicine by Mr. Gates turned the attention of Mr. Rockefeller to the possibilities of medicine as a servant of humanity, and thus influenced the great benefactions that have been so fruitful.
He made no great discovery; but he advanced medicine all along the line more than any man of his time. Unusually intelligent, enthusiastic, of the highest character, always sane, generous in word and deed, with a remarkable memory and an unexampled personal charm, he wielded enormous influence, always for good. In him a hard head and soft heart were happily married. He sought the best in every man he met, and found it, leaving it better. Success brought out no weakness or flaw in him. His thought was not of himself; but, spontaneously, of others. He was a stub twist of the best human qualities, each in high degree. Herein, perhaps, lay his outstanding preeminence. Tolerant of frailty in others, he seemed to be devoid of it himself. He could hit. hard on occasion, and yet the person hit bore him no grudge.
No medical man of his time was so widely known, so beloved, even so worshiped. Work and Æquanimitas were his master words. Verily, the wonder-child of medicine!