HOLMES VIEWER

August 13, 2015

 

Holmes viewer, a mechanical optical contraption, was named for the great Bostonian, Fireside poet, philosopher, and eloquent scientist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., not to be confused with the other great American, his son, Civil War general, Chief Justice, and member of the Metaphysical Club, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Apart from his prescient essay extolling the wonders of the stereoscope, Holmes wrote other tracts, including his great triplet set on the evils of Western quackery—his thunderous “Astrology and Alchemy,” which made him persona non grata among several wishful thinkers on Minetta Street; his scathing taxonomy of Occidental ignorance, “Medical Delusions of the Past”; and his most elegant screed, “Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions,” in which he called his subject a "mingled mass of perverse ingenuity, of tinsel erudition, of imbecile credulity, and of artful misrepresentation, too often mingled in practice." His work on hygienic prophylaxis, that is, the need for surgeons to wash their hands, was ahead of its time. In 1854, a glory year in science!, obstetricians, incensed at the implied libel against their killing kind, fought back, writing that doctors are gentlemen and “gentlemen’s hands are clean.” It is imagined he would have gone against anti-vaccinators and Jim Carrey, too. Kudos and bravo to you, Mr. Holmes, after all these years! (He also invented the word anesthesia, an antidote to trauma.)

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