+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

Such a question, if put to the officials, would
most likely obtain a very vague and misty
reply; but a glance behind the scenes at the
College will afford an ample and curious explanation,
and show how one section of the
Searchers for Facts, silently and unheeded,
work on in their self-chosen, quiet, scientific
pathundisturbed by the noises and the
bustle, the excitements and the strife of
the modern Babylon, that heaves and throbs
around them.

Leave the handsome rooms, with their clear
light, and polish, and air of neatness, and come
with us up the side stair that leads to the
unshown recesses, where, high up in the roof,
the workers in anatomy carry on their strange
duties. As we open the side door that leads
towards these secret chambers, we should go
from daylight to darkness, were it not for the
gas that is kept burning there. Up the stairs
we go, and as we ascend, the way becomes
lighter and lighter as we rise, but the stone
steps soon change for wooden ones, and at
length bring us from the silent stairs to a silent
and gloomy-looking passage, having three
doors opening into it, and some contrivances
overhead for letting in a little light, and
letting out certain odours that here abound,
greatly to the discomfort of the novice who
first inhales them. We are now in the roof of
the building, and on getting a glimpse through
a window, we may see the housetops are below
us, the only companions of our elevation being
a number of neighbouring church-spires.

The feeling of the spot is one of almost complete
isolation from the world below, and a
neighbourhood to something startling if not
almost terrible. Like Fatima in Bluebeard's
Tower, impelled by an overbearing curiosity,
we turn the lock of the centre door, and enter
the chamber. A strange sight is presented.
The room is large, with the sloping roof-beams
above, and a stained and uncovered floor
below. The walls all round are crowded with
shelves, covered with bottles of various sizes
full of the queerest-looking of all queer things.
Many are of a bright vermilion colour; others
yellow; others brown; others black; whilst
others again display the opaque whiteness of
bloodless death. Three tables are in the room,
but these are as crowded as the walls. Cases
of instruments, microscopes, tall jars, cans, a
large glass globe full of water-newts, hydras,
and mosses; small cases of drawers filled with
microscopic objects, and a thousand other odds
and ends. Here is a long coil of snake's eggs,
just brought from a country stable-yard; there
some ears of diseased wheat, sent by a noble
landlord who studies fanning; beside them lies
part of a leaf of the gigantic water-lily, the
Victoria Regia, and near that a portion of a
vegetable marrow is macerating in a saucer
to separate some peculiar vessels for exhibition
under the microscope. There are two windows
to the room, besides some ventilators in the
roof; and before one of these, where the light
is best, are ranged microscopes complete and
ready for use, and round about them all sorts
of scraps of glass and glaziers' diamonds, and
watch-glasses, and forceps, and scissors, and
bottles of marine-glue, and of gold-size, these
being the means and appliances of the microscopic
observer. Before the second window
is a sink, in which stand jars of frogs and
newts, and other small creatures. A lathe, a
desk, and writing utensils, the model of a
whale cast ashore in the Thames, an old stiff-backed
wooden chair, once the seat of the
Master of the Worshipful Company of Surgeons,
a few cases of stuffed birds and animals,
and some tall glass-stoppered bottles that
went twice round the world with Captain
Cook and Dr. Solander, make up the catalogue
of the chief contents of an apartment, which,
at first glance, has the look of an auctioneer's
room filled with the sold-off stock of a broken
down anatomical teacher. A closer inspection,
however, shows that though there is so great
a crowd of objects, there is little or no confusion,
and the real meaning of the place, its
intention, and labours, reveal themselves.

We are in a storeroom of the strange productions
of all corners of the earth, from
the air above and from the waters below.
Every particle in every bottle that looks
perhaps to the uninitiated eye only a mass of
bad fish preserved in worse pickle, has its value.
A thin slice of it taken out and placed under
the microscope, illustrates some law of the
animal economy, or displays, perhaps, some
long undiscovered fact, or shows to the surprise
of the gazer, a series of lines beautifully
arranged, or perhaps curiously mingled, and
rich in their figured combinations as the frozen
moisture of a window-frame on a winter's
morning. To this room as to a general centre
come contributions from all corners of the
earth; the donors being chiefly medical men
employed on expeditions, or in the public
service, though other medicos, who go to seek
fortune in strange lands, often remember their
alma mater, and pack up a bottle of curious
things "to send to the College." Doctors on
shipboard, doctors with armies, doctors in
Arctic ships, or on Niger expeditions; in the
far regions of Hindûstan, and in the fogs and
storms of Labrador, think now and then of
their " dissecting days," and of the noble collection
in Lincoln's Inn Fields, which every
true student feels bound to honour, and to help
to make complete. Many, when going forth
into distant countries, are supplied from this
place with bottles specially adapted to receive
objects in request, and receive also a volume of
instructions, how the specimens may be best
preserved. " When a quadruped is too large
to be secured whole, cut off the portion of the
head containing the teeth," says one direction.
"If no more can be done," says another, " preserve
the heart and great blood-vessels." " Of
a full-grown whale," says a third of these
notes, " send home the eyes with the surrounding
skin, their muscles and fat in an
entire mass." " When many specimens of a