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The William Osler Papers

Letter from W. A. Johnson to William Osler pdf (4,260,686 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from W. A. Johnson to William Osler
Johnson cannot forget Osler, the way a good student learns his lessons well. He writes of Bovell and his new position with the Church. Johnson hopes to go to Montreal to see Osler, Wood, and others. He asks after Jimmie.
[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 (4,260,686 Bytes)
1875-03-04 (March 4, 1875)
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
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
"The Parsonage", Weston, March 4, 1875
My dear Osler,
I suppose you are getting to the close of a first term now & are getting a little breathing time. I never seem to forget you. Like a boy who was learnt a lesson well, there is some spot where it stays, in spite of all else he does & learns; & when least thinking it comes before him again & again. How much more may this be the case, where we have formed affections, & encouraged hopes for the future, -- hopes not for a period, or even for life alone, but forever. There are few, very few, conditions in this world, in which men may not, & do not jostle one another, cross one another's path, get into one another's way, so to speak. Friendships may be formed, but circumstances interfere with them. The nearer our calling or occupation or profession is alike, the more likely to cross one another. I always had, & have still the highest esteem for our mutual friend Dr. Bovell as a Dr. but I do not know how to address him as a Priest. With his medical opinion I could not differ; and do as he told me to: is not so with religious opinions, there might be different opinions leading to different ends or doctrines, & demanding diverging or crossing courses of action. It is pleasant to have a friend in whose case these things can not occur. It is pleasant to feel that what your friend is doing, is right (for you can not even surmise it is wrong) & ask a blessing on it. This is the kind of spot left in my memory of yourself. I see & hear nothing to change it; the spot ever & again reveals you as one
in whose welfare I am intimately concerned; & in whose path through life there is nothing that can cross my own, or excite a wish but for its present & future peace & happiness. If you can moralize a little, & of course you do; how strangely few friends we have (visible ones, I mean) of whom we can say this! How early we learn to use our neighbor as a stepping stone for something we want; & measuring others by our bushel, think they are doing the same with us. I really intended, & earnestly hoped to be able to spend a week in Montreal last autumn. It would have been very pleasant for me. If it please God to remove me from here, I hope he will open my way to spend a few days with you yet, & see Mr. Wood & others in Montreal. I am still as much interested as ever in the "book of nature"; though with less time to observe it, & fewer opportunities. This seems only to make me more eager; but alas! this curiosity about many things, in which the sight is the chief sense occupied, does not minister much, I think, to devout meditation. Perhaps it is intended to be only as a "pool in the wilderness"; a resting place for an hour; a wholesome recreation. Be it so, it is refreshing, & delightfully new at every turn. Are you working specially at any one point this winter? I look for a specimen or two; anything: it will be interesting, & always serve as a remembrance. How is Jimmie doing? By his letters I have been hoping he has worked; with what success, his examination must show. His brother Arthur wants him to pass at Trinity School of Medicine the spring. I must own and do not see the point very clearly, but it may be fairly argued I can not, because I do not understand anything about it. What you think of it? If you see any benefit please let him (Jimmie) know it, & me too. I tell him I will furnish the money, if he finds it necessary. The word money reminds me that Jimmie has
twice or thrice mentioned, when sending an a/c of fees paid or not paid, that you had [ . . . ] him his ticket; & intimated or said, it was not necessary to pay for it. I know your kindness would suggest this, but you are not indebted to me in any way to warrant such a deprivation. Of course anything you can throw in his way, or anything you can employ him in, will be a great & additional kindness to me, & I shall be ever thankful for it; & doubtless he will too, for he is not generally inexcusable to such acts of kindness; but I have no reason to look for a remission of fees. I suggested to Jimmie, it was a mistake, but he is imperative in thinking he must not offer to pay. If the boys mistaken, let me enclose it to you, & that would satisfy us, & leave him in ignorance; if not, I can but thank you, & add it to many kind remembrances I enjoy, both of yourself in particular, & of your very kind friends.
I suppose you must have noticed that, to all appearance, I did not do the kind thing to your dear Father & others on the Comm who the Bp. Appointed to find charges against me. Whether you thought so or not, there was good reason from all the public is seen, to think so. I was very peculiarly placed, & saw no way but irony to meet it. I was waiting the Bp's decision before writing a last letter, apologizing for seeming rude, & knowing why that was the only course open to me. Two most important principles were assailed. I told the Bp. I dare not be a party to the proceedings. He tried to force me. I could not submit. I must meet the Comm. Or my case would go by default: I could not appear, or the principal was compromised: I could not touch the subject by way of evidence, or reason upon it, because it had not been heard: & having assured the Bp. He had no authority
whatever to create the commission, irony was the only way to show I meant all I said, & defy further proceedings. I know irony & sarcasm driveway once friends, therefore you had better never attempt to use them: but they have the time & place, & looking at it now with calm & unbiased view, I still think I did well, & if the same causes arose would treat them as I did these. The private correspondence between the Bp. & myself is the only means of understanding the matter, but this shall never be made public with my consent alone. The poor Bp. whose kindness to me is uncoerced[?] & real, expressive of high praise also, is really in a "tight" "place". I have promised to obey his orders immediately & without a murmur; but neither to gainsay or accept his opinions. I have removed every obstacle to his decision that I know of, & I hope daily to receive it.
Is there any chance of your coming up this way after Easter? I suppose the small-pox hospital keeps you more or less busy; but the number of patients decreases a good deal towards spring & summer, so you might get away for a trip to see, & gladden old faces again. Everything much as usual here. I have not paid the [ . . . ] Ponds a single visit this winter, & now we are snowed in in every direction. With my best wishes for your success, health & happiness, & hoping to have a line, when you have time & inclination.
Believe me, as ever,
Your sincere & affect friend,
W. A. Johnson
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