Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.). Alexander Ramsay.
Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.)
Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.)
Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.)
Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.)
Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.)
Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.)

Collection of materials, including 2 autograph letters signed and "A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain" (2nd ed.)

Publisher Information: 1813.

Ramsay, Alexander (1754-1824). (1) Autograph letter signed to Mr. John Bradley. 4pp. Portland [Maine], Nov. 20, 1809. 314 x 195 mm. A few tears along folds, lacuna where seal was cut with loss of a few words. (2) Autograph letter signed to Samuel Bradley. 1 sheet. N.p., n.d. [docketed Nov. 1, 1823]. 153 x 94 mm. Some tears along folds, light soiling. (3) Three printed / engraved tickets to Ramsay’s lectures. N.p., n.d. (ca. 1818). One ticket with manuscript note signed “R. Bradley” on the verso, dated August 5, 1818. (4) “Anatomy, physiology, medicine and surgery. Dr. Ramsay will open a course of anatomy . . .” Cutting from an unidentified newspaper. June 23, 1824. 71 x 60 mm. (5) Lock of hair enclosed in a folded slip of paper, labeled “A. Ramsay’s taken after death.” N.p., 1824. (6) A series of plates of the heart, cranium, and brain, in imitation of dissections. Second and best edition. Title-leaf; 15 hand-colored aquatint plates drawn by Ramsay and finished by Robert Scott (1777-1841); plates VII – XII with cut-outs for seeing through to the next plate, to give the effect of an actual brain dissection. Edinburgh: George Ramsay for Archibald Constable . . . and Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London, 1813. 282 x 231 mm. 19th-century quarter morocco, boards with linen ties (defective), front hinge split, lower corners gnawed. Portions cut from corners of front free endpaper, minor fraying to lower corners of a few leaves. Together 6 items. Overall good to very good.

Archive featuring an extraordinary letter from the eccentric Scottish physician Alexander Ramsay, famous for his outstanding series of engravings of the brain (see no. [6] above). Ramsay enjoyed a well-deserved contemporary reputation as a gifted anatomist and teacher, but this was unfortunately marred by his extremely irascible and egocentric personality, which no doubt stemmed from his unprepossessing physical appearance—he was barely five feet tall, hunchbacked and bowlegged, with a head too large for his body. One contemporary described him as

"a rickety fellow, not four feet high, but with a face large enough, and a body big-enough round for a man of 7 feet. The hump on his back is a large as a Pedlar’s-Wallet, and his legs are semi-circles. He has a mighty commanding air, however, and his looks seem to say, 'stand off, for I am holier than Thou'” (William Tully, quoted in Hayward & Putnam, p. 89).

Ramsay spent most of the last two decades of his life traveling throughout the United States teaching and lecturing on anatomy. For much of this time Ramsay was in New England, and in 1808 he was hired by Nathan Smith, the founder of Dartmouth Medical School, to serve as the college’s full-time anatomist. Ramsay’s 1809 letter to John Bradley dates from around this period, although he may have left Dartmouth by then—Hayward and Putnam note that Ramsay lasted only a single term at the school.

Ramsay’s arrogance and pugnacity can be seen in full force in his 1809 letter to John Bradley:

". . . I have been distressed on account of you kind folks, respecting the conduct of this unhappy lost man Lyman—you now find out I know more of the human heart than any of you. I know him ever a low incorrigible miscreant, with tolerable talents, a strong memory (like all fools & knaves) and unconquerable indolence, envying & detracting in others what he never can acquire himself. I therefore, you recollect, ever held it as dangerous, in my case, to admit him to any communication whatever—I have ever avoided evils, by knowledge of connections, & never yielding to good natured hopes, when reason vindicates none such. I have therefore taught you a new lesson, never to hope to convert a bad man by confiding in him—that group of people do, & ever shall hate me . . ."

Ramsay also mentions his public lectures: “Altho my Portland friends surely took not the most handsome manner of introducing me to public notice (quite democratic meanness) yet surely we came to understand each other, as a compensation they supported my Sunday lectures for charitable purposes $32-80 of which falls due for bibles for your Fryeburg [Maine] & Conway [New Hampshire] schools which I shall send from New York . . . I gave a three weeks course agreeably to my engagements which (I understand a liar in your place had misrepresented) and indeed gave several double lectures, you know my delight is in giving rather than receiving my fees in Brunswick came to $372, and had I pleased $500 would have been made up . . .” The unfortunate “lost man Lyman” reappears in the letter, accused of stealing and drinking the “spirits of wine” Ramsay had been prescribed for an illness: “This, and many bottles, our faithful brother Lyman pry’d into (by stealing into my room unsent for) hence your sad reports in Pig-wacket [Native American name for Fryeburg] at which I must smile, were it not for the distress it has given you all.”

Also included in this archive are: Ramsay’s briefer but no less colorful 1823 letter to Samuel Bradley (“The snowball of report, when our Illustrious Commander reaches our Huts, after sniveling in your metropolis of Fryburg is verily not promising . . .”); a copy of the atlas to the second edition of Ramsay’s Anatomy of the Heart, Cranium, and Brain (1813), which includes a remarkable series of “cut-away” plates of the brain; a lock of Ramsay’s hair, taken postmortem; a newspaper cutting advertising Ramsay’s lectures on “Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, and Surgery”; and three tickets to Ramsay’s lectures, one of which bears a manuscript note on the back reading “Received of John Stuart Barrows five dollars for admission to Doct. Ramsay’s Anatomical and Popular Lectures—August 5th 1818. R. Bradley.” We have not been able to identify Ramsay’s correspondents, and “Lyman” is equally obscure—this is probably not a reference to Lyman Spalding, co-founder of Dartmouth Medical School, since Ramsay had a very high opinion of Spalding (see Spalding, Dr. Lyman Spalding, the Originator of the United States Pharmacopoeia [1916], pp. 287-88). Hayward & Putnam, Improve, Perfect & Perpetuate: Dr. Nathan Smith and Early American Education, pp. 88-91.

Book Id: 44973

Price: $3,750.00

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