Thursday, June 2, 2011

"No Lib[rar]y is Complete Without the HORRORS!!” or, How the National Library of Medicine got its "Thesaurus of Horror"!

Last week, my friend Michael Sappol of the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine sent me a fascinating clipping relating to a book published in 1817 and entitled, amazingly, Thesaurus of horror; or, The Charnel-House Explored!! (exclamation marks and all! See above title page for verification). I asked him if he would be so kind as to write a guest post for this blog on the subject; he and his colleague, Jim Labosier, kindly and thoroughly obliged!

Following is the story in their own words and images:
How the National Library of Medicine got its "Thesaurus of Horror!"
In the spring of 1872 John Shaw Billings (1838-1913), on a quest to make the Surgeon General’s Library into “a great national medical library,” corresponded with Dr. Henry S. Jewett, the son of an old medical acquaintance, Dr. Adams Jewett of Dayton, Ohio. Billings asked for assistance in collecting books and medical journals. Jewett passed on the letter to his father, who offered Billings a variety of titles, including John Snart’s Thesaurus of Horror; or, the Charnel-House Explored!! (London, 1817), about which he wrote, “No Lib[rar]y is complete without the HORRORS!!”

Billings wrote in blue pencil on the letter “Wanted!!”

and accepted the Thesaurus, which still resides in the collection of the National Library of Medicine.

One of many contemporary works on premature burial (and perhaps a source for Edgar Allan Poe’s 1844 story, “The Premature Burial”), the Thesaurus comes equipped with this extensive subtitle:
…being an historical and philanthropical inquisition made for the Quondam-Blood of its Inhabitants! by a contemplative Descent into the Untimely Grave! Shewing, by a number of awful facts that have transpired as well as from philosophical inquiry, the re-animating power of Fresh Earth in Cases of Syncope, &c. and the extreme criminality of Hasty Funerals: with the surest methods of escaping the Ineffable Horrors of Premature Interment!! The Frightful Mysteries of the Dark Ages Laid Open, which not deluged the Roman Empire, but Triumphed over All Christendom for a Thousand Years! entombing the sciences, and subsequently reviving all the ignorance and superstition of Gothic Barbarity!
Snart (d. 1834?), a British optician who was strongly anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish, also wrote An Historical Inquiry Concerning Apparent Death and Premature Interment (1824); The Power of Numbers Exemplified by the Laws of Permutation (1819); Table of Four Hundred and Fifty Specific Gravities (1813); Mathematical Synopsis (1816) and several articles on astronomy.
You can peruse this book in its entirety on Google Books by clicking here. Also, I highly encourage you to click on the images to view much larger, entirely readable versions!

Thanks so much to Jim Labosier & Michael Sappol, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine for this post!

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