Letter from William Osler to Harvey Cushing [Transcript]
Osler describes his voyage to Egypt. He visited the Hospital of the American Mission at Assiut. He tells of his acquaintance
with a Pasha and reflects on the Muslim religion. He saw great books in the Khedival Library, where the Librarian offered
Osler beautiful versions of the Koran in exchange for important 16th century Arabic texts held in the Bodleian Library.
[Description courtesy of McGill University.]
About this transcript: Soon after Osler's death in 1919, Lady Osler asked their good friend Dr. Harvey Cushing to write
a biography. For this project, Cushing gathered a wide variety of material, including a substantial amount of Osler correspondence
and other memorabilia borrowed from Osler's family, friends, and colleagues. He employed three secretaries to transcribe
these documents, and later donated the transcripts (along with his other working materials) to the Osler Library. Because
many of the original documents were returned to the owners, the Cushing transcripts constitute the largest and most accessible
collection of Osler's correspondence.
Harvey Cushing's "Life of Sir William Osler" was published by Oxford University Press in 1925, and was awarded
a Pulitzer Prize in 1926.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (1,633,500 Bytes)
1911-02-22 (February 22, 1911)
Transcriber: [Cushing, Harvey]
Original Repository: Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University. Osler Library Archive Collections, P417: Harvey Cushing Fonds
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Osler, Medical History, and Medical Libraries
Feb. 22nd, 1911
S. S. "Seti"
Such a trip! I would give one of the fragments of Osiris to have you two on this boat. Everything arranged for our comfort
in the dearest old dragoman who parades the deck in gorgeous attire with his string of 99 beads - each one representing an
attribute of God! We shall take about 10 days to the Dam (Assouan), 580 miles from Cairo. Yesterday we stopped at Assiut and
I saw the Hospital of the American Mission - 200 beds, about 20,000 outpatients. Dr. Grant is in charge with 3 assistants
and many nurses. I found there an old Clevelander . . . who had fallen off a donkey and broken his ribs, and on the 8th day
had thrombosis of left leg. He was better, but at 76 he should have stayed at home. The Nile itself is fascinating, an endless
panorama - on one side or the other the Arabian or the Libyan desert comes close to the river, often in great limestone ridges,
200-800 feet in height; and then the valley widens to eight or ten miles. Yellow water, brown mud, green fields and grey sand
and rocks always in sight; and the poor devils dipping up the water in pails from one level to the other. We had a great treat
yesterday afternoon. The Pasha of this district has two sons at Oxford and their tutor, A. L. Smith, a great friend of his,
sent a letter about our party. He had a secretary meet us at Assuit and came up the river to Abutig. We had tea in his house
and then visited a Manual Training School for 100 boys, which he supports. In the evening he gave us a big dinner. I wish
you could have seen us start off on donkeys for the half-mile to his house. It was hard work talking to him through an interpreter,
but he was most interesting - a great tall Arab a very distinguished appearance. A weird procession left his house at 10 P.M.
- all of us in eve. dress, which seem to make the donkeys very frisky. Three lantern man, a group of donkey man, two big Arabs
with rifles and following us a group of men carrying sheep - one alive! Chickens, fruit, vegetables, eggs, etc., to stock
our larder. We tie up every eve about eight o'clock, pegging the boat in the mud. Beards are fine; our Reis, or pilot,
is a direct descendent, I am sure, of Ramses II, judging from his face. After washing himself he spreads his prayer mat at
the bow of the boat and says his prayers with a really beautiful somatic ritual of the Moslem. The old Pasha, by the way,
is a very holy man and has been to Mecca where he keeps two lamps perpetually burning and tended by two eunuchs. He's
holy enough to do the early morning prayer from 4 to 6 A.M. with some 2000 sentences from the Koran. It is a great religion
- no wonder Moslem rules in the East. Wonderful crops up here - sugarcane, cotton, beans and wheat. These poor devils work
hard but now they have the satisfaction of knowing they are not robbed. We are never out of sight of the desert and the mountains
come close on one side or the other. Today we were for miles close under limestone heights - 800 to 1000 feet, gray and desolate.
The river is a ceaseless panorama - the old Nile boats with curved prows and the most remarkable sails, like big jibs, swung
on a boom from the top of the masts, usually two and the foresail the larger. I saw some great books in the Khedival Library
- monster Korans superbly illuminated. The finer types have been guarded jealously from the infidel, and Moritz, the librarian,
showed me examples of the finer forms that are not in any European libraries. Then he looked up a reference and said - "You
have in the Bodleian three volumes of a unique and most important 16 cent. Arabic manuscript dealing with Egyptian antiquities.
We have the other two volumes. Three of the five were taken from Egypt in the 17th century. We would give almost anything
to get the others." And then he showed me two of the most sumptuous Korans, about 3 feet in height, every page ablaze
with gold, which he said they would offer in exchange. I have written to E. W. B. Cyclops Nicholson urging him to get the
curators to make the exchange, but it takes a University decree to part with the Bodley book! Curiously enough I could not
find any early Arabian books (of note) in medicine, neither Avecenna or Rhazes in such beautiful form as we have. I have asked
a young fellow at school who is interested to look up the matter . . .
We shall have nearly a week in Cairo on a return. I went over the Ankylostoma species with Looss and the Bilharzia with Ferguson
- both terrible diseases here (not the men!) - the latter, a hopeless one and so crippling. There were a dozen or more bladder
cases in the hospital and the polypous cholitis which it causes is extraordinary. They must spend more money on scientific
medicine. Looss has very poor accommodations. The laboratories are good, but the staffs are very insufficient. The hospital
is impossible. I am brown as a fellah - such sun - a blaze all day. We reached Cairo in one of those sand storms, the air
filled with a grayish dust which covers everything and is most irritating to eyes and tubes. This boat is delightful - five
-six miles an hour against the current, which is often more very rapid. The river gets very shallow at this season, and is
fully eighteen feet below flood level. I have been reading Herodutus, who is the chief authority now on the ancient history
of Egypt. He seems to have told all of the truth he could get and it has been verified of late years in a most interesting
way. Tomorrow we start at 8 for the Tombs of Denderah - a donkey ride of an hour. We are tied up to one of Cook's floating
barge docks, squatted outside is a group of natives and the Egyptian policeman (who is in evidence at each stopping-place)
is parading with an old Snider and a fine stock of cartridges in his belt.
P. S. 24th. Have just seen Denderah in the Temple of Hathor. Heavens, what feeble pygmies we are! Even with steam, electricity
and the Panama Canal . . .