Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland

  • link to blog on George Jameson Johnston, born on 18th April 1866 in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, which stimulated this page.

Posts from libraries with Special Collections inspire me. While our Medical Library is not a special collection repository, we do have some older material. One such book arrived on my desk today. “Sir William Osler aphorisms from his bedside teachings and writings”,  edited by William Bennett Bean and published in 1951 by Charles C. Thomas in Illinois.

My first encounter with Osler was in an article in the British Medical Journal many years ago. I don’t even remember the article itself, but the following quotation was used:

 “To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.”

This resonated with me so much that I had it prominently displayed in the library when  I worked.  It stimulated many discussions between readers and myself, even arguments among doctors and admiration from others.

This little book which I have on my desk just now, is a treasury of Osler’s sayings or aphorisms as the editor, William Bennett calls them.  William’s father, Robert Bennett Bean was a student of Osler’s. Robert, while on ward rounds with Osler during 1903 – 5, made notes of Osler’s sayings, these notes were the foundation of this little book.

Osler as those familiar with medicine may know is regarded as the father of modern medicine, among many other practices is noted for advocating  the teaching of medicine away from the classroom,  at the patient’s bedside.

“Aphorism” comes from the Greek meaning “a short phrase that expresses a true or wise idea”, Merrian-Webster online.  The word was first used in connection with Hippocrates, whom Osler himself believed to have laid down the foundations of modern medicine. The aphorisms of Hippocrates are numerous and outdated, as indeed are some of Osler’s own..Here is one of his more famous sayings:

“LIFE is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate.”


“Drinking strong wine cures hunger”


“Those diseases which medicines do not cure, the knife  cures; those which the knife cannot cure, fire cures; and those which fire cannot cure, are to be reckoned wholly incurable.”


Osler’s aphorisms are perhaps not so archaic:

“There are only two sorts of doctors; those who practice with their brains, and those who practice with their tongues”




3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. debhuntinbrokenhill
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 01:08:35

    Love this post, and now I know what aphorisms are!



  2. Rosemary C
    Jun 13, 2014 @ 10:27:12

    A great resource for quotations for any HSC staff giving lectures. To be reccomended for reading lists



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