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The William Osler Papers

Letter from W. A. Johnson to William Osler pdf (6,549,195 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from W. A. Johnson to William Osler
Johnson comments on Osler's offer to become the Chair of Botany at McGill University. He agrees with R.P. Howard's advice that Osler should concentrate on general medicine. He is glad that Osler is enjoying his time in London and envies his Church privileges.
[Description courtesy of McGill University.]
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. Many of the original documents were returned to the owners. The originals that were retained, together with 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.
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
4 (6,549,195 Bytes)
1873-01-09 (January 9, 1873)
Johnson, W. A.
Osler, William
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.
Exhibit Category:
Medical Education and Early Career, McGill University, 1870-1884
Box Number: 161
Folder Number: 69
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
"The Parsonage" Weston Jany. 9th. 1873.
My dear Osler,
Yours of the 8th Ult. is at hand, & it is the kind you have very kindly & thoughtfully written without an answer from me. Had it not been for a passing thought who came across to me while calling at your dear sisters [ . . . ] Last autumn you would have had many a letter from me. I was proud of, & delighted with the letter I had just received from you & added I hope to hear from him very often: she, kind soul, full of true love for you said, her countenance more than speaking at the same moment, "I hope he will find time for us too, we do so love to get a letter from him." I was ashamed at my selfishness. Surely if it were pleasant for me to hear, how much more so for them. How would I have felt to hear a stranger even suggesting that he stood in possession of my sons first recollections. I tried to make amends for all I had said but have never forgotten it. Pride, pride, self, self, in everything. How the old [ . . . ] does peep out; & creep in again too, even when one tries to drive & keep him out altogether! Remember your relations & friends. Write to them when you have a moment to spare: and & from them I shall hear of your welfare. Presently, when you have less to claim your attention, & are more your own master; if God wills, we may let the flame of mutual love & sympathy rise higher, & I must! [ . . . . ] freely while life lasts. You are in the midst of an early harvest. England is really a great harvest field in every thing. Good & bad, love & infidelity, science & learning seem occasionally as rare & lonely flowers, hidden from the passing gaze, even like a shy & fragile
Calypso Borealis, scarcely resting here on earth, hereafter, below, around, damp, wet, cold & dark, so humble as to be seen & unknown, yet beautiful, surprisingly beautiful, such as the eyes of God alone, who made it, could really appreciate, and on the other side, "science", falsely so-called, & "learning" wh never comes to a knowledge of the truth, like way side thistles, claiming with pretentious insolence to thrive & make itself seen in the way side field, but man has broken up & tilled for better fruits. A harvest you have on every side of you. Sitting in my little den close to that dear spot, wh the world now so sadly neglects, (the altar of God,) I can only muse on your life, & then pray God you may be able to choose the good & refuse the evil. But this, is angels work, the year Guardian Angel be with you. That dear loving spirit which shall offer to lead you into the swamp now & then. Many a bright gun needs much seeking & working with before it can be fully known. Many a true character, has no beauty, or attractions but you might desire it. And even when one has by toil & self-denial found a "tree of life" it will not yield its fruits at every season, therefore says the wise son of Sirach "If thou art a man of understanding, get thee betimes unto him, & let thy foot wear the steps of his door."
Reasoning on personal principles, no doubt your friend Dr. Howard's advice to devote yourself to general medicine is good. I cannot be expected even to offer an opinion on anything I know nothing of: but surely it is early for you to choose a specialty unless you feel within yourself a constant & necessary desire to follow one specialty, if so, it ought not to be neglected. This is no time for quick inquiry. It is not difficult to examine & prove it fairly. And having done so set yourself some limited time to see if the special desire continues a strong as ever.
Many, probably most young Doctors [ . . . ] a preference for Surgery. It is more satisfactory fitness. But this wears off if it is not so clean or nice. Time skews they have made a mistake. If you are [ . . . ] of a very marked inclination towards one specialty you will follow it whether or no. I did of disciplining yourself no doubt you can't bring yourself to follow any specialty, but from my point of view it would appear better to devote yourself with energy to all until circumstances seem to favoring your specialty & then gradually & increasingly follow. What I would say it is may you not necessarily lessen your usefulness & knowledge, by passing by general information to pursue a specialty? You know I think I am a great hater of technology though I know no man can be a jack of all trades without at the same time being master of none. I think I was turned from botany as a specialty early in life, by some old medical man who lived near those steps wh from Oxford St. by his saying "don't think of a specialty until you are forty," or some such words. I really must not write so much I think I know nothing about. Is it likely that the faculty of McGill College can afford to answer you directly in writing concerning your future position with them. I do not see how they can, because you would have a claim upon. Perhaps they will: but if they do, they surely rate you very high. It is quite likely they will extend the offer, but not definitely, & it will be for you to consider what it may lead to eventually: provided there is a reasonable remuneration for the present. If you are obtaining a present remuneration (i.e.) if you are in a position where you are regularly paid, though it be
only a small amount, look well before you leave it for future increased salary, or something indefinite: for one bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. I am very glad you got comfortably settled in London. It is a great thing. It leaves you free to work, regularly, & hard. I do envy you your Church privileges. Do not be afraid to use them freely & lovingly. Many Churches in London, from what I hear & read must be doing a good work. I suppose many of them freely & openly admit every sensible usage of the Roman Churches without any reference to papal authority, or the errors wh have grown up from it. This is the end, if I see plainly of the All-Catholic movement. It is just what I could enjoy, & seems to me right. I return to the old paths. Tell me all you can about these matters when you write, but remember dear fellow I do not expect a letter. Lose no time for me just now. Be just [?] generous, to me at any rate. I must close so as to catch the mail. May God bless & prosper you & lead you so that you may always glorify His name. Make time somehow or other to ask Him. It cannot be time lost for He will never be any mans debtor. Take a minute frequently to ask Him to "[?] His ministers with righteousness," then depend on it. "His chosen people will be joyful". With my love & best wishes & constant prayers for your success.
Believe me
Your affect. friend
W. A. Johnson
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