CABS book of the month – October

A review in the magazine Nature of Studies in the history and method of science, described Charles Singer’s book as “a notable contribution to certain branches of medical history and evolution.”1 We, in the Book Library, didn’t realize we had the author’s corrections, albeit only for the introduction and the two chapters he contributed to the work. His chief role was as editor of this seminal text.

Our volume was presented by Lord Conway to the library in 1933. It has lived in the Kilfinan Librarian’s office for some time until this summer when it was sent off to binding. Although just a pile of papers at the time we found it, evidence shows that it was, at one time, in a ring binder. Once compared with a couple of copies of the book at Kings College London, we realized that the thin paper and the cut and pasted illustrations were pre-publication versions of the texts; and the extensive annotations were corrections by the author, not overly-pernickety comments by Lord Conway.

Singer was born in 1876 in London and he attended the City of London School, where he distinguished himself as a Latin and Greek scholar. However he chose to study medicine at University College London, eventually graduating with a BSc, with a specialism in zoology. He then took a scholarship to study zoology at Magdalen College, Oxford. He returned to medicine in 1898 and graduated in 1903. He had a long, distinguished career holding several medical posts. He was also a founding member of the History of Medicine section of the Royal Society of Medicine.2

The first volume of Studies in the history and method of science was published in 1917, the second volume which the library does not hold, came out in 1921. Volume 1 includes the results of his investigation of Hildegard of Bingen’s manuscripts. It is likely this chapter which drew Lord Conway to it. However, we have no idea how he came to own this unique and quite special item. This chapter has the name Hugh of St. Victor corrected throughout, as it originally appeared as Hugo de St. Victoire. It also includes his handwritten addition of a note of thanks to a number of colleagues who permitted him access to the manuscripts.

The Wellcome Library holds a lot of correspondence between Singer and his wife Dorothea, who was herself a medieval scholar and who assisted with research and publications throughout his career.

Erica Foden-Lenahan
Special Collections Librarian

1. Nature 101, 82-83 (04 April 1918)
2. E. Ashworth Underwood. “Obituary: Charles Singer (1876-1960)” Medical history. V.4(4), 353-358 (Oct. 1960). Accessed 28 Sept. 2010 through the National Center for Biotechnology Information
Julia Sheppard. “Charles Joseph Singer, DM, DLitt, DSc, FRCP (1876-1960): papers in the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre.” Medical history. V.31 (4), 466-471 (Oct. 1987). Accessed 28 Sept. 2010 through the National Center for Biotechnology Information