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When John Fawthrop, MRCS, bought his copy of Gray’s Anatomy in 1860, he inscribed it with his name and new status in large-ish letters, followed by the date, in a fi ne proclamatory script. He had qualifi ed as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons only the year before, and the purchase was a real statement of success, and intention to treat. Once he was satisfi ed with the lettering, Mr Fawthrop started drawing curls of foliage around the inscription, little fronds of fern-like stalk and leaf, which went on fl owing delicately from his pen until he had enveloped the inscription, and fairly established his occupation of the entire top quarter of the page. The work must have taken him a good while. The leaf of the book he had chosen to inscribe was the dedication page, so there was a fair bit of room for his botanical curlicues.
When one looks now at how the top of the page appeared when he had fi nished, it feels as if John Fawthrop was beautifying a book he loved, and had every intention to cherish for the rest of his life. There is a sense of pride in the inscription rooted in his own achievement, but it has also a feeling of thanksgiving, somehow expressed privately, towards the book. If it was to Gray’s that John Fawthrop owed his qualifi cation, if this is why he inscribed his own copy so beautifully, he would not have been alone. This book had been created for him: Gray’s Anatomy had been designed for medical students, designed to help them go sailing through exams, designed to make anatomy accessible and useful. Fawthrop was among the earliest generation of medical students for whom the book’s promise worked its magic.
The great book known to generations as Gray’s Anatomy is widely thought to have been created single-handedly by its famous author. But in fact it was the work of two young men: Henry Gray, anatomist, pathologist, and surgeon, and Henry Vandyke Carter, apothecary-surgeon, microscopist, physician, and artist. Both had trained, and were teachers, at the famous medical school attached to St George’s Hospital, at London’s Hyde Park Corner. The book— its full title was Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical—was a joint project, to which each young man made his own joint and separate contribution. Gray wrote the words, and Carter created the illustrations. The title page credits both young men with the dissections on which the book was based.
Gray’s Anatomy is a phenomenon: a textbook which has been in continuous publication ever since 1858. Its publishing history has never been written, so the reasons for its uniqueness are neither properly understood nor appreciated. I focus right down on the 1850s, the decade between the Great Exhibition and the death of Prince Albert, to look at the fi rst edition of Gray’s Anatomy from gestation to reviews. The nub of the story concerns the small constellation of individuals without whom there would have been no book.
Gray’s Anatomy inhabits a vital intersection between the histories of medicine and publishing—and this is a study of Gray’s as a book: as an intellectual, an artistic, and as a physical artefact. This book is about the making of the book Fawthrop, and many thousands—possibly millions—of medical students worldwide, have used on their way to becoming doctors and surgeons, the book that founded an ongoing institution: Gray’s Anatomy.
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Somes Guha, FRCS says