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Osler, Sir William (1849–1919), 1st Baronet, physician
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Letter from Sir William Osler to R. B. McKerrow

13 Norham Gardens, Oxford.—Will find out if there is someone in London who administers ‘twilight sleep’.

(With envelope.)



13 Norham Gardens, Oxford.

Dear McKerrow

I do not know in London of a man who does the ‘Twilight Sleep’—but I will find out. Much difference of opinion about it—some strongly in favour—others against. Will let you know very soon.

With best wishes to your wife

Yours &c
Wm Osler

[Direction on envelope:] R B McKerrow Esq | 4 Phoenix Lodge Mansions | Brook Green | Hammersmith


The envelope was postmarked at Oxford at 6.30 p.m. on 9 January 1916.

{1} A combination of analgesia and amnesia induced by an injection of a mixture of morphine and scopolamine, most commonly used to relieve the pain of childbirth. The contents of this letter suggest that Amy McKerrow was pregnant at the time, in which case she presumably suffered a miscarriage on this occasion.

Letter from Sir William Osler to R. B. McKerrow

Oxford.—Refers to the gifts and tributes he received on the occasion of his seventieth birthday.




  1. vii. 19.

Dear brother Colophonist, {1}

You will be interested to know how your President survived his admission into the ranks of the “last-lappers”. From our standpoint the birthday was a great success. The anniversary volumes with articles from 150 contributors {2} are themselves a direct encouragement to bibliography. As for the Regimen sanitatis, {3} which you and others so kindly sent,—please accept very hearty thanks for such a gem—both author and printer have already stimulated my interest, which is the test of the value of any incunable. An untouched 1859 Omar, inscribed to Prof. Max Müller with the compliments of the translator, {4} was a pleasent† surprise on the breakfast table. A present of the snuff-box of our lamented friend Bannister, whose Vatican mixture had stimulated the pineal glands of all the chief continental bibliographers, h[as induce]d your President to take up a habit of such undoubted [anti]proge[ric val]ue. {5}

That a well ordered 70th birthday may have all the advantages of the final exitus is shown by the July number of the Johns Hopkins Bulletin, which leaves nothing to be said. {6} The end of the number brought the thrill of the day, where I saw the utter shamelessness of my life—and the true reason of our secretary’s attachment to me! a bibliography of my writings extending to 740 articles!—

An illuminated address from the staff at Bodley, (not to have worshipped at whose shrine I count the day lost,) the promise of [a] {7} medico-literary anthology in my honour,—with greetings from scores of dear friends helped to complete a very happy birthday.

Sincerely yours
Wm Osler


The background of this letter is discussed by Richard L. Golden in ‘William Osler and the Colophon Club: A Last Tribute’, The Osler Library Newsletter, No. 107 (2007), pp. 6–10.

{1} Osler was President of the Colophon Club, of McKerrow was also a member (H. Cushing, The Life of William Osler, p. 1318). The Club was composed of London members of the Bibliographical Society, of which Osler was also President. Osler sent letters similar to this one to the Club itself the following day (McGill University Library, CUS417/129.92), and to A. W. Pollard (Golden, p. 8).

{2} Contributions to Medical and Biological Research, dedicated to Sir William Osler, Bart. M.D., F.R.S., in honour of his seventieth birthday, June 12, 1919, by his pupils and co-workers, ed. C. L. Dana, 2 vols. (1919).

{3} Regimen contra pestilentiam, by Johannes Jacobi (Paris, c. 1498). See Bibliotheca Osleriana (1969), No. 7446, and Golden, p. 8.

{4} A first edition of Fitzgerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, published by Bernard Quaritch.

{5} The letter is damaged. The gaps in the text have been supplied by reference to the letter to Pollard as printed by Golden (p. 8).

{6} Osler’s birthday was commemorated by a special issue of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin.

{7} Omitted by mistake.

† Sic.