Friday, March 4, 2011

Bass on Rhus Vernix and Magnolia Glauca

A watercolor illustration of a magnolia branch, including a blossom, bud, and leaves.The College Archives collection of theses from the Dartmouth Medical School covers the years 1815 to 1882. Seth Bass' 1815 A Dissertation on the Poisonous qualities and on the Medical properties of the Rhus Vernix and on the Medical Properties of the Magnolia Glauca, includes this beautiful watercolor sketch of a Magnolia Glauca, along with sketches of other magnolias and of the Rhus Vernix. Unfortunately, most of the theses are far less decorative. They do, however, cover a wide range of medical topics and diseases, from diabetes to animal magnetism, documenting the progress of medical knowledge and practice during most of the 19th century.

A watercolor illustration of Rhus Vernix, a stem of several pointed leaves with smooth edges.
Rhus Vernix
We know very little of Dr. Bass’ life and medical career. He was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1780, and received his medical degree from Dartmouth in 1815. In 1824, he was hired by the East India Marine Society in Salem, Massachusetts, to organize and oversee the Society's extensive collection of artifacts. In 1825, he became the librarian of the Boston Athenaeum, a position he held until 1846. Upon his retirement, the trustees of the Athenaeum gave Dr Bass $1,000 as an indication of their esteem and gratitude for over 20 years of service. Ultimately, Dr. Bass removed to Stow, Massachusetts, his eyesight too poor to allow the practice of medicine. He died there in December 1867.

A handwritten title page for a thesis on the poisonous and medicinal properties of Magnolia Glauca and Rhus Vernix.
Title page to Bass' thesis.
Ask for DA-3 to see this and other theses.  Box 9873 contains Bass' thesis.

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