Osler, Milton and Tenneyson

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:      If we study greatness, perhaps we might become infected in some small part.


More gems from The Life of William Osler Vol 2  by Harvey Cushing, M.D.

Pub. Oxford at the Clarendon PRess 1926


“And some of us had indulged the fond hope that in the power Man gained over Nature had arisen possibilities for the intellectual and social development such as to control collectively his morals and emotions, so that the nations would not learn  war anymore. We were foolish enough to think that where Christianity had failed Science might succeed, forgetting that the hopelessness of the failure of the Gospel lay not in the message, but in its interpretation. The promised peace was for the individual – the world was to have tribulations; and Christ expressly said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace but a sword…


Prof. Haverfield shocked me the other day by remarking that the Greeks for all their refinement were a match for the worst of us today. This drove me to Thycydides where I found parallel with Belgium in the treatment of Milos by the Athenians. He gives the wonderful dialogue in a cold, clear style befitting the hard barbarity of the transaction. The delegates from Athens urged “what is right is estimated by the quality of power to compel”.  “The powerful exact what they can, the weak grant what they must”.   The Athenians added:  “We bless your simplicity; we do not admire your folly.”  And Book V  concludes in the 20th century “might is right” fashion: “They surrendered at discretion to the Athenians who put to death all the male adults and made slaves of the women and children… as for the country they inhabited for themselves.”  493-4


It has been already stated that men of Osler’s type rarely become great leaders of a cause.  Such men can see both sides too clearly, and theirs is a different role. So now, even though a better and more general preliminary education in science will undoubtedly be of benefit to the nation,  for reasons other than the more effective conduct of future wars,  Osler must leave with his address under discussion to go on with his rampage.   509



“ Life of course must be glukupicric – then I am not a good judge – except in one particular, I have had nothing but butter and honey.”  678



After describing one of the fearful processes of coughing which came in the early morning hours and left him but really exhausted,  Lady Austen wrote on the 27th her daily bulletin sent to Dr. Malloch: “Do you know Tennyson’s “Tithonus”? Sir  William was reciting it as he had his hot milk.  I have always expected this”.  679


He had his own little formulas to which he adhered. The last thing at night, after the hypodermic necessary to get him a rest, he would recite:

“And I rest so composedly now , in my bed,  that any beholder might fancy me dead, might start at beholding me thinking me dead”  673


The last verses of the Ancient Mariner I thought the time how well it fitted and then afterwards what an appropriate valedictory for this lover of men and books:  “He prayeth best who loveth best,  all things both great and small.”


When I took leave, he said to me as though I were still a child “nighty-night, a darling”.


“He advanced the science of medicine, he enriched literature and the humanities; yet individually he had a greater power.  He became the friend of all he met – he knew the workings of the human heart metaphorically as well as physically. He joyed with the joys and wept with the sorrows of the humblest of those who were proud to be his pupils. He stooped to let them up to the place of his wealth friendship, and the magic touchstone of his generous personality helped many of desponders in the rugged paths of life. He achieved many honors and many dignities but the proudest  of all was the unwritten title “the young man’s friend”  686



Tenneyson’s Tithonus



The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,

The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,

Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,

And after many a summer dies the swan.

Me only cruel immortality

Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,

Here at the quiet limit of the world,

A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream

The ever-silent spaces of the East,

Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.


Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man””

So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,

Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d

To his great heart none other than a God!

I ask’d thee, “Give me immortality.”

Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,

Like wealthy men who care not how they give.

But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,

And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,

And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d

To dwell in presence of immortal youth,

Immortal age beside immortal youth,

And all I was in ashes. Can thy love

Thy beauty, make amends, tho’ even now,

Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,

Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears

To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:

Why should a man desire in any way

To vary from the kindly race of men,

Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance

Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?


A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes

A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.

Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals

From any pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,

And bosom beating with a heart renew’d.

Thy cheek begins to redden thro’ the gloom,

Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,

Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team

Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,

And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes,

And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.

Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful

In silence, then before thine answer given

Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.


Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,

And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,

In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?

“The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.”

Ay me! ay me! with what another heart

In days far-off, and with what other eyes

I used to watch (if I be he that watch’d)

The lucid outline forming round thee; saw

The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;

Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood

Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all

Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,

Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm

With kisses balmier than half-opening buds

Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss’d

Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,

Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,

While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.


Yet hold me not for ever in thine East;

How can my nature longer mix with thine?

Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold

Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet

Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam

Floats up from those dim fields about the homes

Of happy men that have the power to die,

And grassy barrows of the happier dead.

Release me, and restore me to the ground;

Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave:

Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;

I earth in earth forget these empty courts,

And thee returning on thy silver wheels.




Other favorites: Milton’s Nativity


John Milton (1608-74)

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

This is the month, and this the happy morn

Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King,

Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,

Our great redemption from above did bring;

For so the holy sages once did sing,

That he our deadly forfeit should release,

And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.


That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,

And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,

Wherewith he wont at Heav’n’s high council-table,

To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,

He laid aside, and here with us to be,

Forsook the courts of everlasting day,

And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.


Say Heav’nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein

Afford a present to the Infant God?

Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,

To welcome him to this his new abode,

Now while the heav’n, by the Sun’s team untrod,

Hath took no print of the approaching light,

And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?


See how from far upon the eastern road

The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:

O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,

And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;

Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,

And join thy voice unto the angel quire,

From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.

The Hymn


It was the winter wild,

While the Heav’n-born child,

All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;

Nature in awe to him

Had doffed her gaudy trim,

With her great Master so to sympathize:

It was no season then for her

To wanton with the Sun, her lusty paramour.


Only with speeches fair

She woos the gentle air

To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,

And on her naked shame,

Pollute with sinful blame,

The saintly veil of maiden white to throw,

Confounded, that her Maker’s eyes

Should look so near upon her foul deformities.


But he, her fears to cease,

Sent down the meek-eyed Peace:

She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding

Down through the turning sphere,

His ready harbinger,

With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;

And waving wide her myrtle wand,

She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.


No war or battle’s sound

Was heard the world around;

The idle spear and shield were high uphung;

The hooked chariot stood

Unstained with hostile blood;

The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;

And kings sate still with awful eye,

As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.


But peaceful was the night

Wherein the Prince of Light

His reign of peace upon the earth began:

The winds with wonder whist,

Smoothly the waters kist,

Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,

Who now hath quite forgot to rave,

While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.


The Stars with deep amaze

Stand fixed in steadfast gaze,

Bending one way their precious influence;

And will not take their flight,

For all the morning light,

Or Lucifer that often warned them thence,

But in their glimmering orbs did glow,

Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.


And though the shady gloom

Had given day her room,

The Sun himself withheld his wonted speed,

And hid his head for shame,

As his inferior flame

The new-enlightened world no more should need:

He saw a greater Sun appear

Than his bright throne or burning axle-tree could bear.


The shepherds on the lawn,

Or ere the point of dawn,

Sate simply chatting in a rustic row;

Full little thought they than

That the mighty Pan

Was kindly come to live with them below:

Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,

Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep;


When such music sweet

Their hearts and ears did greet,

As never was by mortal finger strook,

Divinely warbled voice

Answering the stringed noise,

As all their souls in blissful rapture took:

The air such pleasure loth to lose,

With thousand echoes still prolongs each heav’nly close.


Nature, that heard such sound

Beneath the hollow round

Of Cynthia’s seat, the Airy region thrilling,

Now was almost won

To think her part was done,

And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:

She knew such harmony alone

Could hold all heav’n and earth in happier union.


At last surrounds their sight

A globe of circular light,

That with long beams the shame-faced Night arrayed;

The helmed Cherubim

And sworded Seraphim

Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,

Harping in loud and solemn quire,

With unexpressive notes to Heav’n’s new-born Heir.


Such music (as ’tis said)

Before was never made,

But when of old the sons of morning sung,

While the Creator great

His constellations set,

And the well-balanced world on hinges hung,

And cast the dark foundations deep,

And bid the welt’ring waves their oozy channel keep.


Ring out ye crystal spheres!

Once bless our human ears

(If ye have power to touch our senses so)

And let your silver chime

Move in melodious time,

And let the bass of Heav’n’s deep organ blow;

And with your ninefold harmony

Make up full consort to th’angelic symphony.


For if such holy song

Enwrap our fancy long,

Time will run back and fetch the age of gold,

And speckled Vanity

Will sicken soon and die,

And leprous Sin will melt from earthly mould;

And Hell itself will pass away,

And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering Day.


Yea, Truth and Justice then

Will down return to men,

Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,

Mercy will sit between,

Throned in celestial sheen,

With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;

And Heav’n, as at some festival,

Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.


But wisest Fate says no:

This must not yet be so;

The Babe lies yet in smiling infancy,

That on the bitter cross

Must redeem our loss,

So both himself and us to glorify:

Yet first to those ychained in sleep,

The wakeful trump of doom must thundcr through the deep,


With such a horrid clang

As on Mount Sinai rang

While the red fire and smould’ring clouds outbrake:

The aged Earth, aghast

With terror of that blast,

Shall from the surface to the centre shake,

When at the world’s last session,

The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.


And then at last our bliss

Full and perfect is,

But now begins; for from this happy day

Th’old Dragon under ground,

In straiter limits bound,

Not half so far casts his usurped sway,

And, wrath to see his kingdom fail,

Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail.


The Oracles are dumb;

No voice or hideous hum

Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.

Apollo from his shrine

Can no more divine,

With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.

No nightly trance or breathed spell

Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.


The lonely mountains o’er,

And the resounding shore,

A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;

From haunted spring, and dale

Edged with poplar pale,

The parting Genius is with sighing sent;

With flow’r-inwoven tresses torn

The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.


In consecrated earth,

And on the holy hearth,

The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;

In urns and altars round,

A drear and dying sound

Affrights the flamens at their service quaint;

And the chill marble seems to sweat,

While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.


Peor and Baalim

Forsake their temples dim,

With that twice-battered god of Palestine;

And mooned Ashtaroth,

Heav’n’s queen and mother both,

Now sits not girt with tapers’ holy shine;

The Libyc Hammon shrinks his horn;

In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.


And sullen Moloch, fled,

Hath left in shadows dread

His burning idol all of blackest hue:

In vain with cymbals’ ring

They call the grisly king,

In dismal dance about the furnace blue.

The brutish gods of Nile as fast,

Isis and Orus, and the dog Anubis, haste.


Nor is Osiris seen

In Memphian grove or green,

Trampling the unshower’d grass with lowings loud;

Nor can he be at rest

Within his sacred chest,

Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:

In vain with timbreled anthems dark

The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipped ark.


He feels from Juda’s land

The dreaded Infant’s hand,

The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;

Nor all the gods beside

Longer dare abide,

Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:

Our Babe, to show his Godhead true,

Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.


So when the Sun in bed,

Curtained with cloudy red,

Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,

The flocking shadows pale

Troop to th’infernal jail,

Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave,

And the yellow-skirted fays

Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze.


But see, the Virgin blest

Hath laid her Babe to rest:

Time is our tedious song should here have ending.

Heav’n’s youngest-teemed star,

Hath fixed her polished car,

Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;

And all about the courtly stable,

Bright-harnessed Angels sit in order serviceable.



Still searching for   Bridges anthology  “The Spirit of Man”  1917






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