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”William Osler, the younger son in a family of 9, was born on 12 July 1849 in a parsonage at Bond Head, Tecumseth County near the edge of the wilderness in what was Upper Canada. How this came about, as to place, time and circumstances, needs telling from the very beginning.” It was with these words that Harvey Cushing began The Life of Sir William Osler, the autobiography for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1925. Osler was at various times Professor Medicine at McGill (at the age of 26), the University of Pennsylvania, John Hopkins, and finally Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. He was one of the first to describe platelets (1876) and wrote monographs on abdominal tumours (1895) and malignant endocarditis. (1908). Osler described polycythemia rubra vera (1903), but later learned of and insisted on the priority of Vaquez. The disorder is also known as Vaquez-Osler disease or Osler disease. Hereditary telangiectasia with recurrent haemorrhages described by Osler in 1908 is also known as Osler disease. Osler also drew attention to Osler’s nodes of endocarditis.
At Baltimore he soon became a commanding figure in American medicine. There he pioneered new teaching methods in medicine, including ward tuition and an emphasis on laboratory techniques. His close friends included Mitchell and Cushing in America as well as most of the leading English neurologists including Ferrier, Horsley, Sherrington and Gowers, whom Osler referred to as “that brilliant ornament of British medicine”. His monographs onChorea and Choreiform Affections (1894) andThe Cerebral Palsies of Children (1889) were written from his experiences in Philadelphia where he was closely associated with Mitchell. In The Cardiac Relations of Chorea he emphasised the extraordinary frequency with which mitral valvitis “lays the foundation of organic heart disease”. Other neurological contributions were papers on cerebral haemorrhage, concussion, brain tumours, aneurysms, cerebral emboli, infantile paralysis, meningitis, and cerebrospinal fever.
Osler’s Principles and Practice of Medicine was the leading English textbook of medicine at the time. In this he wrote an extensive section on diseases of the nervous system. His contributions placed Osler among the foremost neurologists of the period, and he was one of the greatest physicians of his time. The Principles and Practice of Medicinewhich appeared in 1892 went through eight additions during the author’s lifetime and was translated into French, German, Spanish, and Chinese. He was editor of Modern Medicine, (1910) and editor and founder of the Quarterly Journal of Medicine, (1908). His writings, like his personality, had an elusive charm. Osler was an inveterate collector of books and bequeathed the bulk of his library to his alma mater, McGill University in Montreal. Although Osler did not make profound or fundamental discoveries, there was no other of his day who in his life and teaching radiated such an inspiration to fellow physicians. Osler had one son, Revere, named after his great great grandfather, Paul Revere. Paul Revere’s midnight ride to Lexington and Concord (April 1775) to warn the people of the approach of British troops was rendered famous by Longfellow’s poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. The death of his son in the first world war was a great loss. Osler was created Baronet in 1911 and received honorary degrees in America and across the Atlantic from McGill, Toronto, Harvard, John Hopkins, Edinburgh, Oxford, Leeds, Christiania, Dublin, Durham, and Cambridge.
He was honoured philatelically by Canada in 1969 on the 50th Anniversary of his death (Stanley Gibbons 637, Scott 495)
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