The Surgeon’s Warning

Robert Southey (1834-1899) wrote the original Goldilocks tale and was Britain’s Poet Laureate for over 30 years. “The Surgeon’s Warning” is his comically macabre poem that tells the tale of the last moments of a dying surgeon, who fears he will not be allowed his eternal rest, and what happens after his death. The poem starts with the surgeon desperately negotiating his protection from the ‘resurrection men‘: his own students…

The Surgeon’s Warning

The Doctor whispered to the Nurse
And the Surgeon knew what he said,
And he grew pale at the Doctor’s tale
And trembled in his sick bed.

Now fetch me my brethren and fetch them with speed
The Surgeon affrighted said,
The Parson and the Undertaker,
Let them hasten or I shall be dead.

The Parson and the Undertaker
They hastily came complying,
And the Surgeon’s Prentices ran up stairs
When they heard that their master was dying.

The Prentices all they entered the room
By one, by two, by three,
With a sly grin came Joseph in,
First of the company.

The Surgeon swore as they enter’d his door,
‘Twas fearful his oaths to hear,
Now send these scoundrels to the Devil,
For God’s sake my brethren dear.

He foam’d at the mouth with the rage he felt
And he wrinkled his black eyebrow,
That rascal Joe would be at me I know,
But zounds let him spare me now.

Then out they sent the Prentices,
The fit it left him weak,
He look’d at his brothers with ghastly eyes,
And faintly struggled to speak.

All kinds of carcasses I have cut up,
And the judgment now must be –
But brothers I took care of you,
So pray take care of me!

I have made candles of infants fat
The Sextons have been my slaves,
I have bottled babes unborn, and dried
Hearts and livers from rifled graves.

And my Prentices now will surely come
And carve me bone from bone,
And I who have rifled the dead man’s grave
Shall never have rest in my own.

Bury me in lead when I am dead,
My brethren I intreat,
And see the coffin weigh’d I beg
Lest the Plumber should be a cheat.

And let it be solder’d closely down
Strong as strong can be I implore,
And put it in a patent coffin,
That I may rise no more.

If they carry me off in the patent coffin
Their labour will be in vain,
Let the Undertaker see it bought of the maker
Who lives by St. Martin’s lane.

And bury me in my brother’s church
For that will safer be,
And I implore lock the church door
And pray take care of the key.

And all night long let three stout men
The vestry watch within,
To each man give a gallon of beer
And a keg of Holland’s gin;

Powder and ball and blunder-buss
To save me if he can,
And eke five guineas if he shoot
A resurrection man.

And let them watch me for three weeks
My wretched corpse to save,
For then I think that I may stink
Enough to rest in my grave.

The Surgeon laid him down in his bed,
His eyes grew deadly dim,
Short came his breath and the struggle of death
Distorted every limb.

They put him in lead when he was dead
And shrouded up so neat,
And they the leaden coffin weigh
Lest the Plumber should be a cheat.

They had it solder’d closely down
And examined it o’er and o’er,
And they put it in a patent coffin
That he might rise no more.

For to carry him off in a patent coffin
Would they thought be but labour in vain,
So the Undertaker saw it bought of the maker
Who lives by St. Martin’s lane.

In his brother’s church they buried him
That safer he might be,
They lock’d the door and would not trust
The Sexton with the key.

And three men in the vestry watch
To save him if they can,
And should he come there to shoot they swear
A resurrection man.

And the first night by lanthorn light
Thro’ the church-yard as they went,
A guinea of gold the sexton shewed
That Mister Joseph sent.

But conscience was tough, it was not enough
And their honesty never swerved,
And they bade him go with Mister Joe
To the Devil as he deserved.

So all night long by the vestry fire
They quaff’d their gin and ale,
And they did drink as you may think
And told full many a tale.

The second night by lanthorn light
Thro’ the church-yard as they went,
He whisper’d anew and shew’d them two
That Mister Joseph sent.

The guineas were bright and attracted their sight
They look’d so heavy and new,
And their fingers itch’d as they were bewitch’d
And they knew not what to do.

But they waver’d not long for conscience was strong
And they thought they might get more,
And they refused the gold, but not
So rudely as before.

So all night long by the vestry fire
They quaff’d their gin and ale,
And they did drink as you may think
And told full many a tale.

The third night as by lanthorn light
Thro’ the church-yard they went,
He bade them see and shew’d them three
That Mister Joseph sent.

They look’d askance with eager glance,
The guineas they shone bright,
For the Sexton on the yellow gold
Let fall his lanthorn light.

And he look’d sly with his roguish eye
And gave a well-tim’d wink,
And they could not stand the sound in his hand
For he made the guineas chink.

And conscience late that had such weight,
All in a moment fails,
For well they knew that it was true
A dead man told no tales,

And they gave all their powder and ball
And took the gold so bright,
And they drank their beer and made good cheer,
Till now it was midnight.

Then, tho’ the key of the church door
Was left with the Parson his brother,
It opened at the Sexton’s touch –
Because he had another.

And in they go with that villain Joe
To fetch the body by night,
And all the church look’d dismally
By his dark lanthorn light.

They laid the pick-axe to the stones
And they moved them soon asunder.
They shovell’d away the hard-prest clay
And came to the coffin under.

They burst the patent coffin first
And they cut thro’ the lead,
And they laugh’d aloud when they saw the shroud
Because they had got at the dead.

And they allowed the Sexton the shroud
And they put the coffin back,
And nose and knees they then did squeeze
The Surgeon in a sack.

The watchmen as they past along
Full four yards off could smell,
And a curse bestowed upon the load
So disagreeable.

So they carried the sack a-pick-a-back
And they carv’d him bone from bone,
But what became of the Surgeon’s soul
Was never to mortal known.


Old letter

Literary Medicine

…ramblings

Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also the Innovation Lead for the Australian Centre for Health Innovation at Alfred Health and Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.

After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.

He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE.  He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.

His one great achievement is being the father of two amazing children.

On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.

| INTENSIVE | RAGE | Resuscitology | SMACC

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