Daily Archives: March 6, 2007

Item of the Day: Bell’s System of Operative Surgery (1816)

Full Title: A System of Operative Surgery, founded on the Basis of Anatomy. By Charles Bell. The Second American, from the last London Edition. Vol. I. Hartford: Printed by George Goodwin and Sons, 1816.


WHEN a Surgeon first takes the knife in his hand, and is preparing, with oppressive feelings, to perform an operation which may termiante the life of his patient, he is not always aware of what is the most difficult to be accomplished. His ideas are vague; his mind not settled to what he is to expect; the circumstances which ought chiefly to engage him are not distinctly before him; and no man has ever performed this painful duty, without feeling that it is in the very course of the operation that he learns what it is most necessary for him to know and to practise. For myself, I confess, that it is only by reflecting on the doubts which have crossed my mind during the operation; by taking note of the ideas which crowd into my recollection when it is over: and by thus contemplating the subject in a light purely practical, that I have been encouraged in the hope of making this book useful to the profession, and that I have been able to compress it into so small a compass.

The reader will find that I have not attempted to impose upon him the notion, that this is a complete system by setting up in array a fair arrangement of Titles. This book is limited in its aim. I consider the student, while in the Lecture Room, in the Dissecting Room, and in the Hospital, as having attained a knowledge of Anatomy and of the Doctrines and Practice of Surgery. That is knowledge which cannot be compresed in two small volumes, nor explained in any books at all: it is to be acquired only by continual exercise, by daily and careful observation, by treasuring up the lessons which the passing occurrences of the Dissecting Room and Hospital suggest to his own mind, or draw from his teachers. But while I acknowledge this, and wish to inculcate it, I think that there ought to be a book in the hands of the pupil to direct him in his studies; to be associated with all he sees and hears; in which the lessons he has detailed to him at length by his teachers may be found more shortly expressed; to which, as a student, he can recur for a concise exposition of the points material in practice; to which, as a surgeon, he can turn for the detail of what is necessary to be done in preparing for an operation and in operating, unembarrassed by useless disquietudes.

Every surgeon on the eve of a great operation ought to bring his judgment maturely to bear on all the points of the case; the objects to be attained; the dangers to be expected; the resources which he ought to have in readiness against probable mischance. And he cannot do his duty to his patient or to his own reputation, without arranging the probable occurrences in his mind, that by anticipating he may avoid embarrassment, maintain his self-possession undisturbed, and save himself from the distraction of consultation and whispering during the crisis of his patient’s fate.

It is to aid the young surgeon in entering into this communing with himself that I have offered these volumes to the profession.

Tha a design so obviously useful has not before been executed is surprising. since the first appearance of this work several others have been announced, which had they preceded mine would have left me to follow other and more agreeable pursuits.

It is at all times a heavy task to compose a system, and the labour never yet was repaid by reputation, or otherwise. To those who know my situation and pursuits I shall not appear to arrogate much when I say, that I might have been more profitably employed; but I felt it to be a duty to my pupils to prepare them the present work, and I must not regret the time that has been employed on it.

London, 34, Soho-Square,

1st October, 1814.



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Filed under 1810's, Medicine, Posted by Caroline Fuchs