Category: Vignettes

Introductory post

A Scattering Of Petals

A Scattering Of Petals ~ an eclectic collection of things academic and profound, nonsensical and frivolous, of vignettes integral to one’s being ~ literature, poetry, art music, dance . The petals may scatter, but the memories remain .

Of Things Academic and Profound :  The Tale Of Three Physicians , The Panchatantra ~ The Legacy Of A King’s Son , The Time Quintet ~ A Child’s Guide To Quantum Physics ~ and witches Which, Whatsit and Who . Madeleine L’Engle .

Of Things Nonsensical and Frivolous :

” A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men .”  Roald Dahl

Of Vignettes : Literature, Poetry, Art, Music, Dance ” The love of learning, the sequestered nooks And the sweet serenity of books .”  Longfellow

Sakura ~ in Japan the cherry blossoms signify the fleeting nature of life . Then in the Spring comes renewal …

Reference : The Meaning Of Cherry Blossoms In Japan : Life, Death, Renewal .                  ”

Associated with the Buddhist themes of living in the present, Japanese cherry blossoms are a timeless metaphor for human existence … ”  Helen Suk.

A Scattering Of Petals – Introduction

Graphics AE . Apps : Juxtaposer, Word Swag .

A Beginning …

The Eagle Has Landed

The beginning of a dream…  Several years ago  I began a chaotic – and as yet incomplete journey –  to start a Word Press site .Interruptions, disruptions. The intention to write an impressive, thought provoking , diverse collection of great importance has shrunken to a mere few articles . But from the disappointment and frustration something surprising emerged – the beginning of a dream .

Even if your Word Press site is profoundly profound it requires an adjunct – something that will immediately attract  interest and entice the reader to travel further. And that of course is the illustrative material. The internet offers a generous , endless selection  of material . But I wanted something different . Something not only original , but something specific to what I was writing, something that was integral to the subject and visually arresting .

So began a discovery, a journey completely unexpected . Graphic design was once the unassailable and expensive territotory of the graphic designer . But as the internet continued its relentless onward progression a rapidly increasing collection of graphic apps began  Simple apps that would allow the proud parent a showground for the photos of their offspring . And increasingly complex apps – again the territory of the trained graphic artist .

I was intruiged . And I needed and wanted good graphics for my posts . So began months of experimentation . A solitary journey replete with splotches and blotches . And brain wracking encounters with technical data about which I knew nothing . But I kept trying . I have always  had a creative streak, but with the demands of family and work – the whirlpool that engulfs most of us – creativity mainly found expression in the garden .

This was completely new , unexplored territory . And slowly, increment by time consuming increment I found something quite unexpected happening . On my trusty workhorse of an old iPad and a humble stylus – and stretching a few brain cells – interesting colourful splotch free images began to emerge .And instead of  a catastrophic mess that had to be immediately deleted , there were surprisingly creative images . All of which further impelled my desire to explore and experiment .

I began the whole experiment using the simplest of apps and techniques . Ideas came flooding in . I learned by time consuming degrees to accept those ideas beyond my capabilities . And rejoiced when things suceeded far beyond my expectations . Finally I felt brave enough to create the image I have used here as a header .


I began by taking the unsuspecting eagle out of his natural habitat, erased the background and placed him on a rocky outcrop, using what is called an overlay technique . Then the fun began – swirling clouds gently encircled the eagle . The next choice of habitat was not so gentle . The intention was to create an alien environment that was was far different from the bird’s usual surroundings . For this I used a collection of apps especially designed to create a range of alien effects . The eagle had now landed – but where ?   * (All apps used will be identified at the end of this post . )


For the final indignity inflicted on the unsuspecting eagle , more alien effects were created . This time a threatening, unfriendly planet . And I was pleased with the final result . The image was well balanced and imaginative . If affirmed for me that I could competently create the images needed for my Word Press site . But the most exciting thing was the discovery of a creative ability , a skill I had no previous awareness of . Something I will delight in exploring.. the beginning of a dream .


❄️ I have described at length here the journey taken . And the way in which the images were created . Very much hope this will encourage someone like me – unsure of what they can achieve . Begin with something simple . The apps that allow you to erase background and overlay images are a good starting point . And don’t be disappointed at initial results . It took me several months and a lot of hard work before I was happy with the results . Many apps are user friendly . Make full use of online tutorials . And if an app is too difficult to navigate or cluttered with ads , don’t waste your time – there are plenty of apps to choose from .

And, if , as above , you have a time consuming workload , the graphic art is something that can be done at short intervals. In fact it is wonderfully relaxing  – a great way of taking time out .

Finally enjoy yourself ! Maybe you don’t have the necessary skills, but there is always something else to explore . And, if like me , you find an unexpected ability, have a wonderful and exciting journey !

{ Apps used :  #BrainFeverApps _FFA , Juxtapose  . Google search images }



Necessary Nonsense




Nonsense necessary in a nonsensensical world .

” To write about nonsense is like going to sea in a sieve .”  W Tiggs

Nonsense  is necessary in an increasingly nonsensical world . ” A little nonsense now and then is cherished  by the wisest men ” said Roald Dahl  . To which Dr. Seuss added” I like nonsense … It’s more than a matter of just laughing . If you can see  things are out of whack, you can see how things can be back in whack .” Nonsense is a double edged sword . It is not just a matter of hysterical laughter .  It is a finely honed balance of  recognising the levity  and nonsensical nature  of whatever it is – and at the same time acknowledging reality  and acting on that awareness .

We do need that levity – things can’t all be solemnity .    There are the masters  of  nonsense for the sake of nonsense . Edward Lear is a past master . Lewis Carroll an obvious choice . But because Carroll , when open to present day interpretation, is far more complex Carroll will be discussed separately . For the present several uncomplicated examples : As a child  I loved the American poet Ogden Nash :

” The ant has earned a name illustrious , by proving constantly industrious  But who can blame him, would you be placid  If you were full of formic acid ? “

Valley Of the Ants  ~ Miniscule.

And the Australian artist John Olsen’ paintings of the frog .  ” The frog is a key motif … The artist is attracted to the theatre of the frog, their flamboyance… the big eyes.. elongated legs .” John Olsen Art Series .

Frogs.  ~  Artist John Olsen

Artist John Olsen                             ” Be kind and tender to the frog… ”  Hillaire Belloc

” Be kind and tender to the frog  And do not call him names  The frog is justly sensitive  To epithets like these .”  Hillaire Belloc

The ant and the frog . Nonsense in its simplest form – just nonsense for the sake of nonsense, Nonsense though has, as above , a further purpose . As in work of another Australian artist .


Michael Leunig is an Australian  artist, writer, philosopher and poet . His unique artistry and humour – which can vary from gentle contemplation to blistering satire – mean there are few Australians who do not have a Leunig among their possessions . The whimsical Mr.Curly , accompanied by his whimsical duck, offer a curly view of  a curly world .  Then from the security of a seaworthy ship officials shout at refugees huddled in an open, sinking boat . No humour in that .  But this is part of what makes Leunig’s social commentary so effective .There is an expectation of humour . Instead Leunig deftly twists the knife .

For over forty years Leunig has provided Australia and the world with gentle humour and critical insight . Leunig’s personal website  describes him as exploring the ” fragile ecosystem of human nature and its relationship to the wider natural world – a related and recurrent theme .” Leunig himself describes his work as ” regressive, humorous, messy,  mystical, primal and vaudevillian  . “

I am restricting  myself in writing on nonsense to simplistic ants and frogs . Were I to venture into Monty Python and the Holy Grail  and the Goons territory I would be treading on sacred ground . So I will restrict myself to the celebrated Charles ” Dodo ” Dodgson ~ Lewis Carroll  – and a few others  such as Roald Dahl .

Lewis Carroll

” I know what you’re thinking about ” said Tweedledee ” but it isn’t so, no how .Contrariwise … if it was so , it might be ; and if it were so, it would be, but as it isn’t , it ain’t . That ‘s logic . “

Charles ” Dodo ” Dodgson  was a mathematics lecturer at Oxford – a studious, retiring unknown  . He assigned the nickname Dodo to himself as he stuttered .Then an idyllic rowing boat trip on a sunny Oxford afternoon changed everything . ” Thus grew the tale of Wonderland .”  In 1865  Alice In Wonderland was published . And in  1871 Through the Looking Glass .

Carroll’s work  would seem the very epitome of nonsense . Alice asked for a story with ” lots of nonsense in it . ” And the characters are surely among the most extraordinary, rich and diverse created – the time rattled rabbit , the mad cheshire cat and his equally  mad acquaintances…  In their simplest form they are absolute , utter nonsense .


Yet Carroll was not only a particularly clever writer , he was a mathematician and a scholar with a vast wealth of knowledge to which was added a fine sense of irony and wit . Reading – and re-reading  – Alice as an adult reveals a  world of  significant ideas hidden in the fantasy genre of a children’s book . Read it – and read it again . And supplement with present day analysis  written about Carroll . The reading provides thought provoking perceptions . As an example : Alice In  Quantumland : An Allegory Of Quantum Physics  written by physicist Robert Gilmore has Alice exploring the “nonsensical ” world of quantum physics .

The following may be taken as personal nonsense , but I wonder at Alice’s fall down an extremely large rabbit hole – down, down , down . What sort of world was the mathematician creating ?

Alice , for the artist  , offers an extraordinary cornucopia of images. For me, with due respect to  John Tenniel – the first artist to illustrate the Alice books – the artist who most effectively captures  the imagery and inanity of Alice is Salvador Dali . In 1969 Dali created an extraordinary  series of lithographs – characteristically surreal , a style which evokes the complex and surreal Alice herself . And the unreal  wotld Carroll created .

The Lobster Quadrille  .                    Down the Rabbit Hole   –  Dali

Jabberwocky  – Through The Looking Glass,

Jabberwocky : ” ‘ Twas brillig and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe All mimsy were the borogroves And the mome raths outgrabe… ” Surely the ultimate in nonsense . And the lilting, rythmic , alliterative , extraordinarily creative mastery of the English language : .” Twas brillig… gyre and gimble.. snicker-snack ! ” ” O frabjous day ! ” What a wordfest !

Jabberwocky though is not all nonsensical nonsense . With ” eyes of flame ” and ” jaws that bite… ” it is monster made all the more frightening by the alien world Carroll’s wordplay creates .

It is tempting to write at indeterminate length on the complexity of Carroll’s character . In addition to Alice… Carroll/Charles Dodgson was also the author of a Manual Of Euclid ” its main features (the) sequence and numbering of Propositions and… Parallels ” .  In the context of the Manual  though he manages to call into question the undue solemnity of scientific reasoning . ” Thinking it far better that the purchaser of this little book should read it… with a smile .” And who better than Dodgson to leaven the seriousness  of science with a little necessary nonsense ?


In writing on nonsense one could also be entirely serious . And follow a scholarly approach beginning with the work of the ancient Greek playright Aristophanes . And The Frogs  – singing a chorus of nonsense verse . ” A shoal of little songsters…  mere degraders of their art .”  Dionysus says ” Search where you will, you’ll never find a true Creative  genius… ” And Heracles replies ” I vow its ribald nonsense .” Shakespeare layers sense and nonsense – with a ” hey nonino .” (As You Like It .) And there are modern masters aplenty .

I would like to conclude though with personal choices . Initial choices were  Maurice Sendak and Roald Dahl . Sendak for his talent in entering the world of childhood and at the same time making meaningful nonsense of the adult world . When Where The Wild Things Are was published in 1963 , an American reviewer wrote that the book was entirely unsuitable for adults as it may well scare them . Dahl I have chosen for his unique ability to make something seemingly nonsensical carry a significant meaning .

Sendak’s work , like Carroll’s , is also replete with ” terrible teeth and terrible eyes .”- (Where The Wild Things Are .) Sendak’s monsters though have a very special meaning – Max conquers the Wild Things .and becomes their king . But unlike Carroll’s Alice who would find pleasure in ” remembering her own child-life and the happy summer days ” , Sendak’s memories are sombre . There is a little known and particularly  haunting photo of Sendak’s cousin . A solemn little six year old, still resident in wartime Poland , in a dark jacket – and stitched to it a yellow star . Sendak never saw his childhood friend and other members of his family again . And the loss affected him deeply . So while Sendak makes a nonsense of the constraints of adulthood, he is also seeking to capture the unconstrained delights of childhood . As in the The Sign On Rosie’s Door – make beleive that most young children act out when growing up . Sendak, as an adult , sought to recapture ” the simple pleasures  ” of childhood . Imbued with a rich and vivid imagination . And again from Alice :” Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality .”

Maurice Sendak – wartime photo of his six year old cousin in Poland  .

And eventually  I decided I could not place Sendak in the context .of nonsense . There was too much underlying sadness in his life .The final choice then is Dahl – aided and abetted by the wonderful Quentin Blake. The artist’s exaggerated line drawings – as in James and the Giant Peach and The BFG  – complement Dahl’s writing perfectly . And the exuberant illustrations for Matilda convey perfectly Matilda’s indefatigable spirit . The original meaning  of the word Matilda  is ” mighty in battle . “

There is ” rommytot ”  aplenty  in Dahl’s writing . ” A catasterous situation is very bad indeed, and a catasterous disastrophe is the the worst of all .”  Dahl’s work, like Sendak’s could well have an underlying solemnity . His eight year old daughter daughter Olivia died of measles related encephalitis . And his first wife suffered a series of debilitating strokes . Yet Dahl’s genius  somehow allowed him to turn these savage losses into a deeper understanding of childhood tribulations – and allow them to inhabit  a courageous and wonderful, highly imaginative world . Matilda is not squashed by her appalling parents , but instead travels far and wide . ” She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyatd Kipling …”   Matilda says.     ” Be outrageous . Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbeleivable . ” Dahl’s courageous little character carries a timeless message for both children and adults .

Dahl created a Phiz Wizzing collection of characters  –  Willy Wonka, Fantastic Mr Fox,, James and the Giant Peach , the BFG – forty five books in all .And each with its own unique characterers . And Dahl’s writing is enhanced by Quentin Blake’s artwork . And further enhanced both by the  writer and the artist’s sense of nonsense .

Frabjous Beasts and Frumious Birds  .     Artist Quentin  Blake

In conclusion I would like to quote the words of a student of Bryn Mawr College . From Serendip Studio – and with the kind authorisation of Ann Dixon – a definition of nonsense : ” Nonsense . It is the absence of logic … At the  same time, nonsense is a challenge . It forces us to encompass a different mindset… Nonsense is a tool that can aid us in discerning our reality .”(  Shayna 26/3/2010 ) Nonsense entertains and amuses, relaxing inherent defences . And arousing a search for sense iñ the nonsense . Presented with a perfectly coherent, logical, well structured academic proposition , we would seek to answer in a similarly coherent manner . But a generôus helping of nonsense allows us the freedom to explore and to question .


Artist Quentin Blake . Road Dahl-The BFG . Quote Robert Frost

And  I will finish with my own piece of nonsense :

A Nonsense Verse
WHAT ? A Nonsense Verse

Acknowledgements :  Serendip Studio, Michael Leunig, John Olsen, Graphics AE:  Adobe Photoshop, Typorama,  @gpiczoo#PICZOO . Google search free images  .

Alien Sea..

Tall Ship In An Alien Sea


 TALL  SHIP IN AN ALIEN SEA . This post is a collection of graphic images . The effect I was seeking was to take the majesty of a stately, tall ship and create a contrasting, alien and threatening environment .

Alien Sea
Tall Ship On An Alien Sea


The image created shows an increasingly stormy sea and darkening sky .The ship is being pulled further and further into alien territory .


An alien planet begins to appear in the sky  . The crew have disappeared .

The ship is pulled in by the force and power of the planet .

The ship begins to break up .


Ship In An Alien Sea Alien Sea

The wreckage of the ship  is pulled closer and closer to the alien planet . Prehistoric birds begin to  appear .


Finally the wreckage of the ship sinks below the water and is lost forever .


Only remnants of the tall ship are left. And a prehistoric  bird .


Fantasy – or reality  ?


Acknowledgements :  Graphics AE . Apps : #BrainFeverApps_ FFA , Juxtaposer , InstaSize,  Google search free  images .

Phi ~ the Golden Mean , Fibonacci , Mandelbrot ~ and The Artist



Phidias – the Golden Mean.

Fibonacci ~ mathematician . Fibonacci Sequence : ” the orderly hand of nature .”

Mandelbrot – mathematician and the geometry of fractals .

The Artist – to the artist a gift of infinite complexity  and  beauty .

This is in no way a learned mathematical treatise , nor a treatise on art and architecture . Rather it is an attempt by the writer and artist to understand the history and discovery of fractals – their complexity and their beauty . And the extraordinary gift of the mathematician to the artist . To the mathematician whose learning I may offend , my apologies . And to those who have made an academic study of art and architecture  a similar apology .  For anyone just interested in the beauty of fractals – but find the concept hard to understand  – if I have added to their insight and understanding  , then  I have achieved what I had hoped .

The Golden Mean or Golden  Ratio  . The Golden Ratio has unique mathematical properties and is defined by the ancient Greek letter Phi . It was used by the Greek sculptor and mathematician Phidias to determine the ratios  in his sculptures . In the simplest of mathematical terms it describes a numerical ratio. Mathematically the definition is more complex, but for the purpose of this post, it can be described as a ratio of harmony , of equilibrium .


The ancient Greeks observed its appearance in nature and the harmonious  repetition of patterns  and scale .The ancient Egyptians are said to have used the ratio of the Golden Mean in the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza .The Golden Mean is used throughout history  . In art and in architecture  . In the work of da Vinci and Michaelangeo .   The Golden Mean is found not only in the work of the great artists  and architects , but in the beauty of nature ~ the formation of a cloud, a nautilus shell , a daisy …p

Fibonacci . The famed Italian mathematician was  born in Pisa in 1175 .He was widely travelled and as a mathematician made an extensive study of ancient civilizations and their numerical systems. His sequential system of numbers to determine the perfect ratio means the terms Golden Mean and Fibonacci Sequence are often used together .                  ( Mathematicians – please forgive the imprecise definition .  )

The Fibonacci Sequence has been described as ” nature’s numbering system ” . The wonderful whorls and spirals at the centre of a sunflower are the result of constant numerical repetition .




The. 17th  Century physician and naturalist, Sir Thomas Browne describes the Fibonacci Sequence in nature : ” Right lines and circles make out the… plants ; In the parts thereof we find heliacal or spiral roundles… And cannot overlook the orderly hand of nature .. The seeds of many … flowers diffuse themselves circularly… conformable  to the spider’s web .”

” The orderly hand of nature .” Sir Thomas Browne

All of the above suggest order and regularity . But in  the early 20th.  , a Lithuanian mathematician , Benoit Mandelbrot ( b.1924 ) , found in the harmonious repetitions  of patterns and ratios , irregularities ..  Mandelbrot used the term fractal to describe these irregularities – the word is derived from the Latin ” fractus ” , to break . Mandelbrot ,  known as the father of fractal geometry  used the term to    ” describe objects and surfaces  which are irregular at various dimension of scale .” The particular fractal, named after him, was called  the Mandelbrot set .

Fortuitously, Mandelbrot’s work was concurrent with the development of computers and their ” number crunching ” capabilities . What began to emerge were images ofextraordinary beauty . In pragmatic terms Mandelbrot’s work had application to many of the sciences . And for the artist opened an extraordinary vista of creative exploration .

Mandelbrot Set

Fractured Fractal .  At the time of Mandelbrot’s death in 2010, the Guardian wrote the following tribute to him : ” Few have woven such a beautiful braid of art and science as Mandelbrot … They are icons of modern understanding of the universe’s complexity . . The Mandelbrot Set… with its fizzing fringe of chrystal-like microforms blossoming out of a conjunction of black circles … is the outcome of geometrical calculations… Mandelbrot’s startling fractals created a visual manifesto for a non-Euclidean universe… Mandelbrot was a modern Leonardo … he gave us a visual lexicon for our complex world .” ( Mandelbrot : the man who made geometry an art .” Jonathon Jones The Guardian . )

Fractal  Art .

Fractal Art is popularly defined as  a genre belonging to the 20th  Century and the age of computers .   There are fractal images throughout history – but it is only through Mandelbrot that their complex mathematical structure is seen for the first time .

Mathematics : The following images are to show the beauty of mathematics that surrounds us every day . To these images will then be added  images of fractal art – the dimension they add to the artist’s palette .


Guggenheim Museum ~ Phi.

Fractal Art : These images have been designed by me – the first image derives from the fractal , the second derives from the Latin fractus – to break .

Flaming Fractal       Artist AE




Phideas , Fibonacci  and Mandelbrot .  A tribute to Benoit Mandelbrot. 1924 ~2010

Fighting For the World’s Big Cats ~ Panthera


The big cats are some of the most spectacular, iconic apex predators in the world . On the one hand, they inspire fear, wonder and awe in the human psyche , while on the other, they stabilise and help balance the ecological food webs to which they belong .

Alan Rabinowitz –  Panthera

This week I received an email from Panthera which reduced me to tears . Even now I cannot describe the images . Except to say : The world’s big cats are endangered as never before . In addition to the existing cruelty and danger , poachers set snares for these magnificent creatures, whose very existence depends on mobility and speed . The images that accompanied the email were heartbreaking . And I decided the least I could  do was to write a brief post on the work of Panthera and Dr Alan Rabinowitz .

As a child Rabinowitz was handicapped by a severe stutter . But then his father took him on a  visit to Bronx Zoo .And to the Big Cat house . He was fascinated by the big cats . And he found he could talk to them without stuttering . At a very young age  he decided he would make the care and protection of big cats his life’s work . And he has . He holds a Ph.D in Wildlife Ecology and has travelled the world  on behalf of wildlife conservation .

A Boy And A Jaguar . Dr Alan Rabinowitz . Artist Catia Chien

In  2014 Rabinowitz wrote a book called A Boy and A Jaguar Speak To Children Who Feel Misunderstood . It not only tells Rabinowitz’ story , but speaks to children who feel misunderstood – whether because of stuttering, a disability – or just misunderstood . Rabinowitz found it painful and difficult to write his story .The book went on to win major literary awards . And has helped many young children .

In a line from the book Rabinowitz says : ” I promise if I can ever find my voice, I will be their ( the animals’) voice and keep them from harm .”

A reviewer and teacher wrote the following : ” The message of being a voice for the animals rings loud and clear… The story brings to the forefront the idea that animals don’t have human voices, so their pain and fear is not heard by humans . Readers learn that if they want to stop humans hurting animals then  they are the ones who have a responsibility to stop it . The animals are powerless in this respect .” Katrina Fleming, artist, teacher, writer..

Panthera was founded in 2006 and is a non-profit organisation dedicated to saving the big cats . There are a dedicated team led by Rabinowitz, Tom McCarthy, Luke Hunter, Howard Quigley and George Schaller . As above though, ” the animals are powerless .”

Many species are near extinction . Many that live are suffering and struggling to survive . The planet would be sadly diminished without the beauty of the snow leopard, the majesty of the tiger, the roar of the lion echoing across the plains of the Serengeti…

We may not all be able to contribute needed dollars, but knowledge itself is strength . And a class full of children are wonderful in thinking up ideas . Panthera I hope this small personal tribute may help all you are fighting for . Keep on fighting Panthera !


Foss Dansant ~ and Other Fur Persons Of Consequence

  • image

Foss Dansant ~ loved companion of 19th Century English writer  and artist Edward Lear . And master of nonsense verse . Who has left with us the lasting and incongruous images of the Owl and the Pussycat locked in loving  embrace.

Afloat in ” a beautiful pea green boat ”  they went to sea ” for a year and a day.”  Then,given a ring by Piggy-wig ,they were married next day… and hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon, The moon,, the moon, They danced by the light of the moon .”



The Owl and the Pussycat, written in 1871 ,  remains to  this day  one of children’s  most popular poems . The lilting cadence , the pairing of the Owl and  the Pussycat ,  the detailed departure ” they took some honey and plenty of money ” , the wedding ceremony  “they danced by the light of the moon ” – convey a sense of joyousness  . And infinite appeal to children .

Edward Lear & Foss


Edward Lear’s pen and ink sketch of himself and important fur person Foss .

Foss, a tabby , was given to Edward and his family as a kitten . Lear became so devoted to Foss that the servants cut off half his tail in the superstitious belief it would stop Foss from straying .  Foss now sleeps peacefully in his master’s garden – a villa in Italy designed especially to please Lear’s devoted fur person .

Foss Dansant

Foss Dansant ~ sketch Edward Lear
There have been / and  are many  fur persons of consequence .The devoted companions  of writers, artists , musicians , poets… What is it about their presence that meets creative needs ? They intuitively know how to be there when needed . And they move with grace and beauty …

Balanchine and Mourka

Balanchine & Mourka .             Mourka ~ le Grande Jete

Mourka – le chat, le grande jete  – ballerina exutraordinaire . Mourka,  famed fur person of choreographer George Balanchine . Balanchine is one of the 20th Century’s most  famous choreographers .  Russian born,   he was initially choreographer for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes  . And later, co-founder of the New York City Ballet .

An American newspaper in 1970 published the following tribute to Balanchine : ” The greatest choreographer of our time, Balanchine is responsible  for the successful fusion of modern concepts with older ideas of classical ballet…new techniques… which have altered the thinking of the world of dance … he has created ballets that are celebrated for their imagination and originality .”

Balanchine  is accredited with revolutionising classical ballet, adding a repertoire of energised moves and increased momentum . The credit for these in good part belongs to Mourka . Balanchine, fascinated by the grace and elegance of Mourka’s movements began to train her in a range of leaps and jumps that were then choreographed .

Balanchine & the NYC Ballet .   le Grande Jete – Balanchine’s Jump


Mourka’s repertoire included the grande jete – informally known as Balanchine’s jump . A combination of movements requiring strength and skill on the part of the dancer . To Mourka of course , the jete came naturally . An ability found in many fur persons –  but for Mourka enhanced by the love of a great choreographer

Solomon Dancing .

Solomon Dancing . Writer Doreen Tovey’s drawing of her beloved Siamese, Solomon .

Solomon Dancing – no balletic finesse , just sheer exuberance and the joy of life . Siamese Solomon : ” I had never once seen him come into a room with that dawdling, elegant walk of his, without marvelling at the perfection of his beauty . He had the proud, high-boned features of the East from which he came . His face shone with dusky silk . And if his slanted , sapphire eyes had faded a little over the years, they were the most loving, communicative eyes I have encountered in a cat . ”

Doreen  Tovey . Cats In the Belfry


Cats In the Belfrey ~ Doreen Tovey . First edition 1957 ,  2016 edition .

Solomon, Sheba, Sugeigh, Saska,  Seeley… a succession of Siamese cats , their stories told by English writer Doreen Tovey over fifty years ago .And so loved by fur person devotees, they remain in print to this day . The story begins with the invasion of the Tovey’s Somerset cottage by an intrepid   group of field mice – seen to be waving happily from the top of the bread bin early in the morning . Something Had To Be Done .  Initial enquiries in the u were unsuccessful . Then they met Mimi .  “Beautiful as an Egyptian queen carved out of ebony… from her tapered black head… to her  elegant tail .” Her offspring Sugeih arrives in the Tovey household – and the chaos   characteristic of the idiosyncratic Siamese breed quickly results . The field mice remain – and the Tovey’ s sucumb to the demands of a Siamese fur person

” After the noisiest marriage in the history of the cattery  Sugeih embarked on a pregnancy…  ” Her kittens arrived at the end of March . Among them Solomon . Sugeih quickly adopted the role of ” Perfect Mother .” And then, suddenly and  unbelievably, she was dead . The Tovey’s had decided to let her have only one litter . And in those days spaying was not without risks . ” We buried her under the apple tree, where only the night before, we had watched her playing with her kittens . ” The Tovey’s kept two of her kittens – the irrepressible Solomon – and his sister Sheba .

I have written this story at length for a number of reasons : Firstly it describes with a delightful degree of English eccentricity an era now past . Tovey tells of the time when the vicar and his wife came to take  tea – and to raise money for the church organ . The unsuspecting vicar’s wife leaves her hat, sans feather, on the hall table . On departure the hat is nowhere to be seen – but there are two very satisfied Siamese sitting on the stairs, with remnants of feathers still floating around them .

And Tovey cleverly  imbues her Siamese fur persons  with all the Siamese characteristics  by creating a dialogue for them : ” It was always Solomon who led the way , shouting  . .. Of Sheba he said ,What About Smacking Her Bottom For A Change he roared , in a voice that would have done credit to a lighthouse  keeper … Then he bowled her over, just to show who was who .”

Tovey not only succeeds in creating distinct personalities for her Siamese team – but in writing what are the funniest fur person books written – and still loved more than  fifty years later

The repertoire of English fur person stories would  not be complete though, without The Minack Chronicles .

The Minack Chronicles . In London , in the immediate post-war years a young couple, Derek and Jeannie Tangye, were busily occupied with their respective roles :   Derek with MI5, Jeannie, a classical English  beauty , as Publicity Officer for the Savoy Hotel . Then, to the consternation of their friends , they decided to leave their London lifestyle . And to buy a daffodil farm on the coast of Cornwall . They found an old stone cottage near Lamorna Cove . Then began a succession of fur persons  – and a succession of books . Known collectively as the Minack Chronicles .

Like Doreen Tovey, Derek Tangye’s books remain in publication more than fifty years since being published . Both capture the very essence of cat  . Tovey, with irrepressible  humor, describes the idiosyncratic nature of the Siamese . Tangye’s books are a gentle intermingling of his love for Jeannie, of   their love for the wild Cornish landscape , anecdotes of their life in London . And of the fur persons of consequence that shared their lives at Minack : Monty, Ambrose, Llama ..

There is a particularly beautiful passage in Tangye’s writing that captures perfectly the complete and utter happiness that their lives in Cornwall meant . Derek is walking through the fields of daffodils on a sunny morning with the little black cat Llama  following .

” That September morning I lay… with Llama on my tummy purring… I lay there with that sound in my ears, and the sound of the sea caressing  the rocks, a gull or two  soulfully calling , and the poignant  trilling of the oyster catchers..below Carn Barges . A moment of great happiness, complete, breeding no greedy wish for something better . This was the kind of moment which men and women, in old fashioned wars, were ready to  die for, believing that the simple basic pleasures offered the key to happiness . A kind of moment which bypassed the sophisticated theories which try to govern our lives today ….. Llama, I can still hear her purring . ”

Coast of Cornwall

💥 The Minack Chronicles : Minack is now a Nature Reserve  . There is a group called Friends Of Minack dedicated to the memory  of Derek and Jeannie Tangye .

The Very Essence Of Fur Persons .




The Silent Miaow :  Author Paul Gallico and photographer Suzanne Szasz .

The Silent Miaow . Paul Gallico . Writer Paul Gallico and photographer Suzanne Szasz in 1964 compiled the ultimate manual for fur persons on how to deal with the  species known as human . If the human is at first resistant to any request for accommodation  then keep on trying – quietly . A plaintive miaow is indicated – and eventually, permission is granted . However, once inside, there is further work to be done .  That is to make the human think they cannot possibly exist without you. There are numerous techniques that can be used . Success is accomplished when you have the choice of the best chair in the house , the warmest place on the bed . And , of course , a selection of gourmet items .

The writer previously mentioned, Derek Tangye, describes his own efforts to resist the silent miaow . Tangye , from childhood, was a dedicated dog lover . Jeannie, a dedicated cat lover . Tangye was determined he was ” not going to be hypnotised by gentle purrs, soft kneading of paws… I most certainly would not have  one in our home .”

Then , one day in  Jeannie’s London office, Tangye meets a kitten . ” He was the size and colour of  a handful of autumn bracken… the silky  white shirt front , the smudge of orange on the left paw.. his tail with its dark rings against cream… Monty had entered our lives .”

Gallico, an American , wrote a number of books about fur persons . And like those of Tovey and Tangye, despite their publication dates, are still loved to this day .

Honourable Cat



” I am cat, I am honourable, I have pride, I have dignity, And I have memory, For I am older than you, I am older than your Gods ; the Tree Gods… The Thunder  and Lightning and the Sun Gods.. Let us remain honourable friends .”

There are many wonderful books about fur persons of consequence . But  I would like to make  mention of two here not so well known and nonetheless beautiful in their own way :

John Brown, Rose and The Midnight  Cat  . An award winning children’ s book first published in 1977 . John Brown, an, English sheepdog is dedicated to the care and protection of the elderly widow Rose . The two are inseparable . That is, until the Midnight Cat appears  at the window . John Brown sulks . Then Rose  does the unthinkable and puts a saucer of milk out for the visitor . And John Brown in his doggy wisdom realises there is room for three of them . The book won multiple awards – both for the story and for the art work that accompanies the first edition .

John Brown,  Rose and the Midnight Cat . John Brown loved the elderly widow Rose ~ and he certainly  was not going to have a cat in the house . Jenny Wagner.  1977

The Tale Of Toby Jug .  The actual title of this book Paw Tracks In the Moonlight suggests a tizzy tale . Instead it is an endearing and funny account of a young  university lecturer’s efforts to  keep alive a kitten rescued one snowy English night . A kitten so small he keeps it in a softly cushioned Toby jug to ensure its survival .  And Toby Jug does survive  – and becomes a very fine cat indeed . A tale told with love and humour .

Ronald Searle ~ artist
A Very Fine Cat Indeed. .

The title is taken from the 18th.Century English writer Samuel  Johnson’s reference  to his fur person Hodge, whom he describes as ” a very fine cat indeed .” Johnson ordered the servants that Hodge should be given an oyster for lunch  every day .  An Elegy On The Death Of Dr.Johnson’s Favourite Cat in 1778 says : ” Who by his master when caressed, warmly his gratitude expressed, and never failed his thanks to purr, when’ere he stroked his sable fur .”

A great deal deal has been written about fur persons of consequence and artists, writers , musicians… themselves persons of consequence . I will not presume to write again about Matisse, Hemingway, Collette, Twain, the Brontes … except to ask what is it about the fur person that finds  such affinity with the creative spirit ?

” If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing… acquire a cat. .. The cat will be serene,  with a serenity that passes all understanding … And the tranquility of the cat  will gradually come to affect that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost . You need not watch the cat all the time . It’s presence alone is enough .The effect  of a cat on your concentration  is very mysterious .”  Muriel Spark. English writer .

Fur Persons Of Consequence In Art .

Artist Miroco Machiko
Miroco Machiko in her studio with one of  her two cats, Soto and Bou. Ref.: – origin Miroco Machiko’s personal website .Fur persons are esteemed subjects for Art Of Consequence .
Japanese artist Miroco Machiko is accompanied in her studio by cats Soto and Bou . Her colourful, distińctive  style is immediately recognisable .And she delights in the creative presence of her fur persons in her studio .

It is impossible to write about artists and cats without including some  works . Miroco Machiko is a definite personal favorite because of the vibrant colours and idiosyncratic style .


Artist Miroco Machiko

Fur Persons Of  Consequence On Stage and in Film .

The Lion King for the brilliance of the puppetry , the vivid colours, the music… The film version just to hear Jeremy Irons as Scar . And Cats. . TS Eliot’s  book  though is a first favourite .


My first encounter with TS Eliot was at age five when the school poetry reader for the  year featured a black and nimble Skimbleshanks leaping all over the red cover :              ”   There’s a whisper down the line at 11:59 When the Night Mail’s ready to depart Saying Skimble ! where is Skimble…? … He will watch you without winking. and he can tell what you are thinking… He’s a Cat that cannot be ignored .. “It was this early encounter with Elliot and the definitive persona   I assigned to each of Elliot’s  fur persons as a child just did not accord with  furry stage version . Apart from which :

The Naming Of Cats Is A Difficult Matter .


Unless of  course one is TS Elliot and, in lieu of Tiger, Spot and Cat, can create a veritable cornucopia of exotic names : Rum Tum Tugger,  Jellicle Cats,  Mr.Mistoffoles, Growltiger, Gus / Aparagus,  Rumpleteazer, Macavity and – from an unpublished manuscript – Grizabella… Memories : ( To this distinguished list I would add, in memory, that of a much loved dark chocolate Burmese  with the exotic name Sharam Tashan . As a retired stud  boy bestowed with a generous nether end, affectionately also known as Pumpkin Bum . )


Cats ~ the musical                        The Lion King ~ stage show

Cats, the musical, opened in the West End of London in 1981 . And premiered on Broadway  in 1982 . The musical, based on Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats, has been seen and loved by millions world wide.

Lion King, the Disney film version , premiered in 1994 .Made by a team of Hollywood’s top animators,  music by Elton John and a caste of veteran actors providing the voices , the film won multiple awards .

Lion King – the stage musical , based on the Disney film, was first show was first shown in 1997 and was an  immediate sensation. The stage show has extraordinary vitality and energy . The colours, the costumes, the puppets….. !

When Whiskers Start To Wilt .

The White Cat Of Trenarren ~ literary critic A Rowse’ tribute to his elderly cat -~ ” a mighty hunter in his youth “.
The time inevitably comes when whiskers start to wilt . And the lion loses its spring . The English literary critic, AL Rowse, on retirement , moved with his fur person and his books  to a home in Cornwall .  The poem The White  Cat Of Trenarren is dedicated to his ageing fur person .

When a fur person is of particular importance , the transition can be so significant, it can feel like a journey never completed . So I will end  at the beginning . With artistic tributes to the Owl and the  Pussycat .





Acknowlegments : Images : Miroco Machiko – from ilove . Origin the artist’s personal website . All images : Google search .  Graphics  AE








The Tale Of Three Physicians



The tale of three physicians ~ Sir  Thomas Browne 1605-1682 , Sir William Osler 1849-1919 and Sir Geoffrey Keynes  1887- 1982 . Three physicians, linked over the centuries by a shared love of literature and medicine . And by chance .

Sir Thomas, the goode physician of Norwich  and writer of Religio Medici .- the Religion Of A Physician  – first printed in 1642 . Sir William Osler – a founding father of Johns Hopkins and later Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University . Osler acquired his first copy of Religio Medici at age seventeen when , declaring himself ” athirst for good literature ” , he was given a volume while at Trinity College  . Religio Medici became Sir William’s lifetime companion  . And in 1908, Geoffrey Keynes , then a second year undergraduate at Cambridge first made acquaintance with Osler – through a shared love of the work of Browne .

” To read Sir Thomas Browne is always to be filled with astonishment , to remember the surprises, the despondencies, the unlimited  curiosities of youth … We are in the presence of sublime imagination .”   Virginia Woolfe

Yet Sir Thomas is not for the faint hearted reader . Woolfe describes ” the splendid pomposities, the astonishing conjectures ” of the Religio Medici .   Browne reflects on the inner loneliness  of humanity .There are confronting passages – the physician’s thoughts on the limits  of mortality . “Oblivion is not to be hired… The night of time far  surpasses the day, and who knows when was the AEquinox ….  our longest sunne sets at right  descencions , and makes  but winter arches… ” ” But the iniquity  of oblivion blindely scattereth her poppy and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity .” ( Urn Burial )

What is one to make of the quaintness of the quincunx . ( Garden Of Cyrus ) Quincunx : geometric pattern consisting of five points … ) ” For all things  are seen Quincunxially ;  for  at the eye  the Pyramidal rayes , from the object,   , receive a decussation…  ”   ( Garden Of Cyrus ) .  Browne is not without his critics . And passages such as   ” Pyramids, Arches and Obelisks were but the irregularities of vain-glory, and wilde enormities of ancient magnanimity ”  led one critic to describe Browne’s work as  ” splendidly baroque arrogance .”

Yet Sir Thomas was not an arrogant  man . Educated at Oxford, Leiden and Montpelier and knighted by King Charles, he chose to live his life with his wife and children in Norwich . And to write and to care for his patients . ” He was charitable and brave and adverse to nothing. He was full of feeling for others .”  ( Woolfe )

Of himself he wrote : ” For my Conversation, it is like the Sun’s, with  a friendly  aspect to good and bad .” ” I rejoyce not at unwholesome Springs, nor unseasonable Winters : my Prayer  goes with the  Husbandman’s.” ( Husbandman – one who tills the soil . ” Sir, I am a true labourer .”  Shakespeare . As You Like It .  )

Browne wrote of the  illnesses suffered by his patients saying that he would , like Caesar,   ” wish rather to go off at one blow, than to be sawed in pieces by the grating torture of disease . Men that look no further than their outsides, think health an appurtenance unto life, and quarrel with their  constitutions for being sick ; but  I that have examined the parts of man, and know upon what tender filaments that Fabrick hangs… do thank my God we can die but once .”

Freed from the constraints of inward ponderings on the mysteries and maladies of mortality though Sir Thomas soars like a bird . ” Life is a pure flame and we live by an invisible sun within us . ” Darknesse and light divide the course of time , and oblivion shares with memory , a great part even of our living beings … Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves . Miseries… fall like  snow upon us… ” Browne reflects however that ” The Caterpillar will shew again in the Butterfly .”

The emphasis here in not  solely on  Sir Thomas’  writings though – it is on that unique combination of skills – as a caring, compassionate physician and as among     ” one of the greatest of English prose writers.” ( Keynes) Nowhere is this more evident than To A Friend Upon  Occasion Of The Death Of His Intimate Friend . Browne combines  clinical acumen with compassion , insight and writing of great beauty   .      ” Give me leave to wonder that News of this nature should have such heavy Wings… Upon my first visit I was bold to tell them who had not yet fall hopes of his Recovery, that in my sad Opinion he was not like to behold a Grasshopper, much less to pluck another Fig… He was fruitlessly put in hope of advantage by change of Air… but being so far spent, he quickly found the most healthful air of little effect, where Death had set her Broad Arrow . ( Broad Arrow:  a mark made upon the trees in the King’s forests that were to be felled . )  … With what strife and pains we came into the World we  know not ; but ’tis commonly no easie matter to get  out of it  … He was now past the healthful  Dreams  of the Sun, Moon and  Stars in their Clarity and proper Courses.”

The  physician notes in their friend the appearance of the Hippocratic facies . ( A diagnostic term derivative from the  Hippocratic Corpus , meaning the facial appearance of a person close to the end . ) Death had indeed set its Broad Arrow Keynes writes  of The Letter as  ”  one of Browne’s most remarkable compositions being a clinical report on one of his patients converted  into a literary masterpiece.

” A man very well studyed .” Thomas Browne – Naturalist .



Sir Thomas : Sketch of a seabird .  A Natural  History Of Norfolk .  (Graphic collage. )

The physician, writer – polymath was also  a noted naturalist . References to the art of nature appear throughout his writings  . And he observes that ” Right lines and circles make out the bulk of plants . In the parts therefore we find heliacal or spiral roundness, volutes, conicall  Sections, circular Pyramids… And cannot overlook the orderly hand of  nature .” ( Garden of Cyrus . Fibonacci Sequence . 12th Century . )

Sir Thomas  Browne died in 1682 at the age of seventy seven .  Writing  as often of the iniquity of oblivion – ” We cannot hope to live so long in our names , as some have in their persons .” – what might he thought of the young Canadian student who nearly two hundred years later was first read Religio Medici ?

William Osler  was born in Canada in 1849 . At age seventeen while a student at Trinity College  he was undecided between  the ministry and medicine . He had already attended lectures on medicine , but was uncertain . Sir Thomas Browne’s  effect on the young student was  profound . ” It moreover  is an important thread which from this time weaves its way  through Osler’s story to the end.” ( Harvey Cushing . The Life of Sir William Osler .)

It is not difficult to ascertain the appeal Browne’s work would have had for the young Osler . Already an ardent reader – and later a noted bibliophile – Osler would have delighted in being introduced to such a unique literary work . And Browne’s work is quite unique . It is not only a work of great literacy , but a strongly individualistic statement of a caring and compassionate physician . And a keenly curious and observant mind .

And for the as yet undecided medical student , it is not difficult to find in Browne’s writings – particularly Religio Medici and Letter To A Friend – the passages that would so strongly influence Osler’s practice of medicine . The physician’s struggles with illness and mortality : ” There be diseases incurable in Physick…  I , that have examined the parts of man , do know upon what tender filaments that Fabrick hangs .” Religio Medici )

And Browne is unafraid to speak out against those physicians he views as making     ” scarce  honest gain.”  “I feel not in me  those sordid  and unchristian desires of my  profession ; I do not secretly implore and wish for  Plagues… I am…. heartily sorry… there are diseases incurable; yet not for my own sake, or that they be beyond my Art, but for the general cause of humanity . ”  ( Religio Medici)   The strongly ethical element in Browne’s writing  influenced and shaped the young Osler’s early years of practice and were a constant throughout the physician’s lifetime  .

Osler began his medical  studies in 1868 – the beginning of a  long  and distinguished career   . ” Give me… the old Hippocratic service of the art and of the science of ministering unto man, and I will come .” ( Harvey Cushing ) Osler shaped the teaching of medicine in a way that continues to this day – the residency system, teaching at the bedside . And his maxims pertaining to good patient care  and diagnosis seem more than ever relevant as technology increasingly influences and intrudes on the principles Osler defined : ” Listen to your patient , he is telling you the diagnosis .” ” Medicine is learned by the bedside and not in the classroom.”  In an address to graduating medical students in 1889 Osler said : ” I desire no other  epitaph … than … that I taught medical students in the wards.. ” Aequanimitas .

The writings of Sir Thomas Browne, his compassion for the patient and their illness find perpetuity in the writing and teachings of the Canadian physician throughout his lifetime .” Nothing will sustain you more potently than the power to recognise… the true poetry  of life – the poetry of the commonplace , of the plain, toil-worn woman, with  their loves and their joys, their sorrows and their griefs .” Sir Thomas : ” My prayer is with the Husbandman’s….”  ” Of the three factors in practice, heart, head, and pocket, and to our credit, be it said, the first is most potent  .” Osler . There was no clinical detachment in Osler’s approach to patient care – the emphasis was on ” the kindly word, the cheerful greeting, the sympathetic look.” ” The complex varied influences which mold the minds of developing physicians… Only come with that sustaining love that burns bright or dim as each are mirrors of the fires for which all thirst.”Osler on the  ” work of clinicians  – physicians dedicated to the care of their patients .” Osler 1894 The Leaven Of Science (

Osler insisted that wide reading accompany his student’s learning . It is unlikely though that today’s busy medical  student could find time for such indigestibles as the weighty tomes of  Galen – physician to  the Emperor  Marcus Aurelius . Harvey Cushing writes of Osler : ” How he found time to acquire his familiarity with general literature has always been a source of mystery…  Most medical students, alas, are too engrossed with their work for such literary pursuits, desirable though they may be .”

Given Osler’s extraordinary breadth of reading, it is not difficult to find in his writings acknowledgement of other physicians :  the great Jewish physician Maimonides 12th. century CE : ” May I never see in the patient anything but a  fellow creature  in  pain.”  The Daily Prayer Of the  Physician , attributed to Maimonides (?) is sometimes used in place of the Hippocratic Oath . ”  Inspire me with love for my Art… Do not allow thirst for profit, renown or admiration, to  interfere with my profession…”

And it is hard to resist here a comparison of one of Osler’s famous quotations with the writings  of the ancient Indian physician and surgeon , Sushruta . Osler : ” He who studies medicine without books  sails an unchartered sea, but  he who  studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all .” Sushruta : ” The student who hath only learning and not practice is  like an ass laden with logs of sandalwood .” The sacred Sanskrit texts first became available in the early 20th Century and  it is easy to imagine how the sayings interspersed throughout the text would have appealed to Osler’s notorious sense of humour . ” One should flee the incompetent physician  as one would a conflagration .” Sushruta .

Among the items  in Osler’s library was a text derivative from ancient Sanskrit and worth quoting  – it epitomises Osler’s  approach to life :

Salutation To The Dawn

“… Look to this Day ! For it is Life, the very Life of Life. In its brief course lie all theVerities and Realities  of your  Existence… Look well therefore to this Day .” Kalidasa    2500 BCE


Throughout Osler’s  writings and teachings it is Browne  that dominates . Not all are so loyal to Sir Thomas . Browne divides his followers for a variety of reasons . And his writings are in places difficult to navigate . Herman Melville termed him a ” cracked archangel .”  But Coleridge described  Browne as ” rich in various knowledge  ; exuberant in conceptions and  conceits ; contemplative, imaginative .” And, as stated , it is also the strong ethical principles in the Religio Medici – the Religion Of the Physician – that would have had such meaning for Osler   . He was never without his copy  of the Religio Medici .

Osler’s work as a bibliographer began in 1867 while still a student . He must have had  prodigious energy to read and write as he did . His text The Principles and Practice Of Medicine became a standard teaching text for many years . At the time  of his death , Osler’s library comprised thousands of volumes he had collected, most  of which went  to his alma mater , McGill University .

It was through a shared love of the writings of Browne that Geoffrey Keynes first made Osler’s acquaintance .  Like Osler,  Keynes  was an avid reader and collector .The young medical graduate later went on to become a surgeon – and was responsible for a number of particularly innovative advances in surgery and medicine . He also became a noted bibliographer – of William Blake, John Donne, Jane Austen – and Sir Thomas Browne . Keynes had an early interest  in the work of Browne .

And it was through this interest  Keynes in 1909, still  a young medical undergraduate at  Cambridge, was granted  the friendship of Osler  , Regius Professor Of  Medicine  at  Oxford . Keynes and a friend , having already  having already begun work on a bibliography of Browne , decided to write to Osler on the pretext of being able to view Osler’s library . Despite Osler and his wife Dorothy being noted for their hospitality, Keynes was not optimistic of  a response .  Instead says  Keynes , in his Oslerian Oration  to the Royal  College Of  Physicians in 1968 , he was ” granted the friendship of a man thirty eight years my senior .” A friendship which lasted until Osler’s death in 1919 .

Osler acquired his first copy of Religio Medici in  1862 . Osler’s work on a bibliography of Browne’s work first began in 1899 says Keynes, when  he acquired   an authorised edition and two unauthorised editions of Religio Medici   .” As likely as not, it was this purchase that led him into the bibliophilic pursuit of gathering a complete set of all the editions ..” Although Osler’s  book collecting forays began much earlier  and included  Shakespeare, Harvey , Coleridge, Locke, Emerson – and particularly copies of Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica . The move from Johns Hopkins to Oxford in 1905 meant a  reduction in his workload – and more time to devote to his beloved books .

In a 1902 address to the Association Of Medical Librarians Osler said that ” … the true bibliophile cares not so much  for the book as for the man whose life and mind are illustrated in it .” But disappointment awaited Osler with regard to the completion of the bibliography of Browne .  Keynes’ work was disrupted by the First War .  As a surgeon  in the Royal Army Medical Corps Keynes witnessed the unforgettable horror of war in the trenches . Keynes wrote ” The pattern of war is shaped in the individual  mind by small individual experiences, and I can see  these things as clearly today as if they just happened – the body of a terrier… lying near his master . ”

Osler too knew full well the sorrow of the First World War, when his loved son Revere was killed . An event from which Osler never recovered .

Returning to civilian life Keynes was quickly caught up in the demands of surgical practice .  He continued though to search  for Browne’s writings and work on the bibliography .    Keynes writes with delight of his discovery of a manuscript Commonplace Book of Browne’s Letter To a Friend… in a London bookshop for the sum of three guineas .The manuscript contained an as yet unknown passage which Keynes had published in 1919 by Cambridge University Press .

Whether Osler ever sighted this is uncertain . In July, 1919 , at the time of his seventieth birthday Osler became ill with an episode of bronchial pneumonia . It was an illness from which he had suffered previously . However it became evident this time there would be no resolution –  the illness was protracted . There were paroxysms of coughing, which he wrote ” Almost blew out my candle .” On a December evening  , too weak to manage for himself, he asked to be read his favorite passage by Sir Thomas : ” But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy , and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity …. ”

The end came on December 29th . Among the many tributes paid to Osler  was the following : ” He advanced the science of medicine, he enriched literature and the humanities … ” Osler left a legacy that will never know ” the iniquity of oblivion .”

Keynes finished his bibliography of Sir Thomas Browne in 1924 . While the work met with critical acclaim , it was to Keynes’  lasting regret that Osler never sighted  the work . The very most Keynes could do was dedicate it to Osler – his friend and mentor . ” An outstanding clinician and a book collector… who used his books fruitfully and with generous consideration of the needs of others .” (The Gates  Of Memory G.Keynes.)

The Tale Of Three Physicians is the tale of a  bygone era in medicine ~ of the physician who in addition to the demands of practice , had time for reading and wide scholarship . The teaching maxims of Osler  though remain of even greater importance as time and technology increasingly intrude on practice . ” Listen to your patient , he is telling you the diagnosis .”

And the aspiring medical student can find no greater insight into their chosen profession than to read Osler’s valedictory address to graduating medical students at the University of Pennsylvania in 1889 :


“.. you poor, careworn survivors of a hard struggle.. my tender mercy constrains me to consider but two of the score of  elements which may make or mar your lives – which may contribute to your success, or help you in days of failure .

In the first place, in the physician or surgeon, no quality takes rank with imperturbability, and  I propose for a few  minutes to direct your attention to this essential bodily virtue… Impertability means coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm , clearness of judgement in moments of grave peril… Aequanimitas – a calm equanimity is the desirable attitude . How difficult to attain, yet how necessary, in success as in failure ! … Remember too that sometimes ” from our desolation  does the better life begin.” … you may , in the growing winters, glean a little of that wisdom, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy… without partiality and hypocrisy …”

” … Farewell, and take with you into the struggle the watchword of the good old Roman – Aequanimitas . ”  ( Aequanimitas – spelling as given by the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius  . )


                     Osler Library Of the History  Of Medicine at McGill University



Religio Medici – pressed leaves found  in  one of  Osler’s volumes.