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THE PALPABLE OSLER: A STUDYIN SURVIVAL CHARLES G. ROLAND* Although he died in 1919 and did not live in North America after 1905, Sir William Osier's name is still recognized by most physicians on this continent—and by many nonphysicians as well. A remarkably large coterie read about Osier, collect Osleriana of all kinds, join clubs and societies eponymizing the man, and write articles about him. For at least a few observers of this phenomenon, the adulation seems extreme and unwarranted, and so a small but occasionally vocal group of "antiOslerians " has arisen. Some of these sceptics have suggested that Osier really did little or nothing to deserve his immortality. He did not win the Nobel Prize. He made no epoch-making discoveries. He invented no important procedures or tests or devices. His clinical writings are dated. With minor qualifications, I believe these criticisms are correct. But the fact ofOsier's continued preeminence stands before us to confute (or at least confuse) the sceptics. And so the question arises quite naturally: Why Osier? I propose to attempt to answer that question. Biographical Outline William Osier was born onJuly 12, 1849, in the hamlet ofBond Head, 40 miles north of Toronto [I]. He was the eighth of nine children born to Ellen Osier, an indomitable lady who survived past her onehundredth birthday, living to see one son Canada's most distinguished trial lawyer, another ajudge ofthe Ontario Court ofAppeals, a third son a highly successful financier, and a fourth the best-known physician in the English-speaking world. William's father, Featherstone Osier, was the Anglican clergyman in Bond Head, having accepted an evangelical calling that took him from an exciting youth in the Royal Navy to what must have been an equally exciting maturity battling God's enemies and This paper was presentedjointly to the American Osier Society and as a presentation in the Leaders in American Medicine series, Francis A. Countway Library, Boston, Massachusetts , April 29, 1980. ?Professor of the history of medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5, Canada.© 1984 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/84/2702-0383J01.00 Perspectives inBiology and Mediane, 27, 2 · Winter 1984 | 299 the elements in the sparsely populated bush of early nineteenth-century Ontario. The Osiers came to their new home in 1837, 12 years before Will's birth. As the Osier family grew, and began to grow up, the lack of educational opportunities in the area of the tiny hamlet of Bond Head made a move imperative. In 1857, when Will was 8, the opportunity came. The rectorship of Ancaster and Dundas became vacant, and the family moved to Dundas, which was to be the Osier family home for 25 years. Will was an active and mischievous child, and numerous stories have survived ofjokes and pranks—the most extreme of which ended in an overnight stay injail—that have the aura of prediction about them. But Osier was also a fine student and a God-fearing young man who planned to pursue his father's vocation in the church. Fate, however, ruled otherwise. Before entering university, he was sent to a private school in Weston, Ontario (now a suburb of Toronto), run by the Reverend W. A. Johnson. Father Johnson was not only an Anglican priest and schoolmaster ; he was also an ardent biologist who introduced many of his pupils, including young Will, to the mysteries of microscopy. Osier collected specimens, sliced preparations, made slides, studied them—and discovered a more compelling world than the church and the manse: science. He did go on to enroll at Trinity College, in Toronto, in divinity, but after 1 year he switched to medicine. By this time he had been further influenced by his growing friendship with Dr.James Bovell, a prominent physician and naturalist in Toronto. It was probably Bovell who advised Osier to leave the Toronto School of Medicine and to study at McGiIl instead. So in the autumn of 1870, aged 21, Osier transferred to McGiIl Medical College for the final 2 years of medicine, graduating in 1872. And at McGiIl he came to know, to love, and to be loved by, the great teacher...


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