Friday, August 28, 2009

Larrey letter lands at HC&A

Today, Dr. Donald D. Trunkey, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Surgery at OHSU and former department chair, historian and soldier, donated to the Historical Collections & Archives an original manuscript letter from Dominique Jean Larrey, Napoleon's surgeon, to "Monsieur Le Duc" dated Paris, 6 August 18[?]0. The item was purchased at that great old ramshackle book lovers' paradise, the Old Hickory Bookshop in Maryland for $400, and is the single best find Dr. Trunkey has yet come across in his collecting.

The English translation included here was provided by a graduate student in the anatomy lab of Reid S. (Sam) Connell, Ph.D.
Paris, 6 August [1820?]

Since I had a paper to present to the Institute the day after you took the trouble to come see me, I didn't have a chance to draft the immediate response you wished to your letter which you were kind enough to write, asking me my advice on the type of climate to be found in the cities of London and Florence, and which of these two cities would best suit the health of the Duke of Survilliers [Charles Bonaparte], since he has proposed to establish his residency definitively in one of the other of these two cities.

Of course, unless there are very specific and important reasons which would lead this prince to establish himself in London, this city seemed to offer considerable inconveniences to the health of sensitive persons used to warmer climates. First, this city is constantly shrouded in a thick, humid fog, loaded with carbonized hydrogen gas coming from the great number of factories in this city, and from the burning of coal--the only fuel used in this country. Secondly, the winter is that much more aggravating since the humidity dominates constantly--the effects of these influences will in the first case predispose individuals to cerebral congestion and in the second to rather intense catarrhal afflictions, and to scorbutic diathesis.

The climate in Florence is very good, the air is pure and healthy, and the countryside around this city is delightful, and abounds with all kinds of production, especially the delicious fruits found there. The houses and especially the palaces are built in a way to temper the summer heat, the atmosphere is condensed in the rooms of these mansions by a specific alignment of windows, which allows breezes in from the north and northeast, and blocks those from the meridian circle. The diet common in this country is very appropriate for maintaining the elasticity of our organs, and fluidity in the liquids running through it--which conserves the health and prolongs life. In Cairo and Syria, whose climates have a lot in common with that of Florence, we saw a large number of centenarians--we counted more than 30 in the capital of Egypt and we saw a Samaritan in the camp in front of St. Jean Diacre, he had come to present his sixth generation before General Bonaparte, he had been around for 120 years (see my campaigns). In any case, whichever residence the king should choose, I will give the young doctor presenting to his majesty the health and medical instructions he will need.

I await his orders concerning this doctor. While awaiting his departure, please pass on my humble respects to his majesty, and accept, M. Le Duc the assurance of the great consideration with which I am your devoted servant and also physician [signature]
Along with the manuscript letter, we received photocopies of two other Larrey letters already in institutional collections, (possibly the Wellcome Library), and an early colored print by Thomas Rowlandson, "The Harvest Home".

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