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Letter from Joseph Lister to Professor Lutz, 6 June 1905, in the Bernard Becker Medical Library

Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
Letter from Joseph Lister to Professor Lutz, 6 June 1905 page 1
Letter from Joseph Lister to Professor Lutz, 6 June 1905 page 1
Letter from Joseph Lister to Professor Lutz, 6 June 1905  page 2-3
Letter from Joseph Lister to Professor Lutz, 6 June 1905 page 2-3
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Portland Place

6 June 1905

Dear Professor Lutz

I thank you for your kindness in sending me a copy of your lecture on the great anatomist, with whose works, except as regards the discovery of the parotid duct, I confess to have been very ignorant.  I read it with deep interest.

In his description of the arrangement of the muscular fibres of the heart, he seems to have, in some degree anticipated Pettigrew’s discovery of their figure of 8 disposition.   What a fine man he seems to have been.  I greatly admire the extracts you have given from his introductory lecture.

Will you forgive me for reminding you that his name was not Steno, but Stenonis, i.e. Son of Steno, Anglice Stenson.  The words “Nicolai Stenonis Episcopi“ at the beginning of the inscription at Florence, being in the dative case, are of themselves sufficient evidence.  Had his name been Steno, the name on the inscription would have been Stenoni.

My revered teacher of physiology, Dr. Sharpey used to caution his class against this mistake. So in English anatomical works (e.g. Quain’s Anatomy) the duct is spoken of as Stenson’s duct.

Excuse me for dwelling thus on what was probably a mere inadvertence and 

Believe me

Very sincerely yours

Lister

This is the only letter from Joseph Lister (1827-1912) in Frank J. Lutz (1855-1916) correspondence.1  He writes concerning Frank J. Lutz’s article from 1904,  “Nicholas Steno, “ Medical Library and Historical Journal. 1904 Jul; 2(3): 166–182.   Nicolaus Stenson (1638-1686) discovered the parotid duct.2

From this letter in the Frank J. Lutz Papers in our archives, I formed a positive opinion of Joseph Lister as a living man who took the time to write Lutz a letter. He took genuine interest in in Lutz and his biography of Stenson.  He took the time to pass along the little that he learned about Stenson from his own teachers.  In so doing he corrected Lutz’s mistake concerning Stenson's name in a gentle way.   From the letter, I see evidence that he was a scholar, a teacher, a gentleman, a gentle man in the best sense of the word.1

Lister was a living man in 1905 who had made history.  "Lister realised the surgical implications of Louis Pasteur’s fi ndings on the role of microorganisms in fermentation, and developed a system of antiseptic wound management, which he first implemented in 1865."3 While treating a woman with a compound fracture and an abscess in 1865, Joseph Lister soaked the dressing with carbolic acid. Lister was astounded when the abcess healed and her underlying fracture knit beautifully.   In these years, Joseph Lister , Esq, F.R.S,  was professor of surgery in the University of Glasgow. The 1865 case history is in his first published paper on the subject: Joseph Lister , “On a new method of treating compound fracture, abcess: preliminary notice on abcess.  Lancet, volume 90 (volume 2), issue 2291, July 27, 1867, pages 95-96.4&5

This was only the beginning of his work on antisepsis.  As he treated more cases over the next thirty years, he and colleagues made improvements in the antiseptic method or  “Listerism.” Lister spread the word through training students, writing papers on his experience applying antisepsis, listening to critics and learning from them.  The Lancet is full of his improvements and so is the British Medical Journal.   He went on proselytizing trips first to Europe and then to the U.S.A in 1876. Lister lectured to and met many American doctors like  F.J. Lutz in 1876. Frank J. Lutz was at the beginning of his surgical career having earned his medical degree from the St. Louis Medical College that year.5

Bibliography

1. Letter from Joseph Lister to Professor Lutz, 6 June 1905, Series 1, Box 1, Folder 2, Frank J. Lutz Papers, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University School of Medicine.

2. Frank J. Lutz,  “Nicholas Steno, “ Medical Library and Historical Journal. 1904 Jul; 2(3): 166–182,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1692086/

3. Brian Hurwitz, Marguerite Dupree, "Why celebrate Joseph Lister?" Lancet, Vol 379 March 17, 2012, pages 39-40.

4. Joseph Lister , “On a new method of treating compound fracture, abcess: preliminary notice on abcess.  Lancet, volume 90 (volume 2), issue 2291, July 27, 1867, pages 95-96.

5. Rutkow I "Joseph Lister and his 1876 tour of America." Annals of Surgery  Volume 257, Number 6, June 2013, pages 1181-1187.

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