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AN ARTIFICIAL HEART REVIVES A CORPSE: SIR RONALD ROSS'S UNPUBLISHED STORY OF 1882, "THE VIVISECTOR VIVISECTED" ELI CHERNIN* Introduction In 1882, exactly 100 years before the first artificial heart was implanted in a human chest [1], Ronald Ross—then an obscure young medical man serving in India—wrote "The Vivisector Vivisected," a hair-raising short story in which a man who bled to death is revived by an artificial heart. When Ross (1857-1932) wrote "Vivisector" he was still some 15 years away from the famous researches in which he incriminated certain mosquitoes as the transmitters of malaria, a discovery that brought him the Nobel Prize. In 1882, however, he had only just qualified in medicine (studied at his father's behest but for which he felt "no predilection at all") [2, p. 29] and had left England to join the Indian Medical Service. Ross had for years been a serious writer and enjoyed many other intellectual interests, but now he found himself in South India among colleagues who "seemed to take interest in absolutely nothing. . . ." [2, p. 54]. Since his medical duties were negligible, the 25-year-old Ross devoted his considerable leisure to mathematics and the classics, and to writing poems, plays, and novels [2, pp. 48-54]. During a brief assignment away from his base he wrote (in his words) "a weird short story called 'The Vivisector Vivisected' " [2, p. 49]. Ross's biographer, Mégroz, found the story "as gruesome as the title suggests. The research was supported in part by a Research Career Award from the National Institutes of Health. The author thanks Alex. M. Rodger, librarian, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, for permission to study and to publish Ronald Ross's "Vivisector." He also expresses indebtedness to Harvard colleagues Clifford Barger, Gustave J. Dammin, and Richard J. Wolfe for helpful comments.»Department of Tropical Public Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.© 1988 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/88/3 103-0570$01 .00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 31,3 ¦ Spring 1988 \ 341 Rather more gruesome, indeed, for the horrible story of how a ruthless experimenter keeps a man's body alive by pumping hot blood into him is informed by a sardonic humor which makes one's scalp creep" [3, pp. 93-94]. Mégroz characterized "Vivisector" as perhaps "The longest, and most thoroughly completed" of Ross's unpublished stories [3, p. 93]. While the tale is unpolished and may be less than great literature, the medical science-fiction plot is unique because Ross has his protagonists implant a functional artificial heart a century before surgical reality replaced such literary fantasy. Ross's prescience must be counted as remarkable. The story involves yet another important matter—vivisection, specifically human vivisection, and thus the tale also mirrors a major issue of medicine and public policy in Victorian England [4, pp. 342-344]. Ross wrote his story when experimental medicine, with its use of animals, was beginning its rapid growth. It was also the time of such organizations as the International Association for the Total Suppression of Vivisection, the group Ross refers to in his "Vivisector." In later years Ross would himself come under attack by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, not for engaging in vivisection but for encouraging funding for experimental research; both were considered equally offensive by the antivivisectionists. Ross's personal contempt for prescientific "physic," his inclination toward physiology, and his distrust of authority are evident from the beginning of his "Vivisector." Equally evident, albeit on a different level, is Ross's penchant for contrived proper names, obscure and arcane words, neologisms, and dialect. In my view, a surfeit of brio mars most of Ross's poetry and prose, but despite this and other failings, critics such as John Masefield [3, p. 161], Osbert Sitwell [3, pp. 9-10], and Weir Mitchell [5] praised his works—almost to the point of fulsomeness. Ross's "Vivisector" is a Victorian-gothic tale leavened with the scientist 's boast that, in experimenting on humans, "We shall get at least some knowledge; either a useful negative...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 341-352
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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