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The Surgeon's Warning Poster

The Surgeon's Warning Poster

The Surgeon's Warning Poster

The Surgeon's Warning Poster

The Surgeon's Warning Poster

Robert Southey lived from 1774 to 1843. He wrote the original Goldilocks tale and was Britain's Poet Laureate for over 30 years.

I was inspired by the famous 1906 photograph titled, "A Student's Dream" by A. A. Robinson and decided to create my own "A Student's Dream" which worked perfectly with Robert Southey's poem.

A Student's Dream

Because of the stigma attached to the anatomist, there were a few macabre poems written about the anatomists and the Resurrectionists.

In 1798, Robert Southy captured perfectly the dark gothic atmosphere that seemed to pervade those who traveled in the cliquey circles of the surgeons, lecturers, anatomists and students, who were also known as the "Surgeon's Prentices."

This of course included the newest crop of ever-abiding students, co-mingling with the lawless gangs of Resurrectionist thugs.

At times, the head anatomists would team up with the head Resurrectionist and go out hunting together, trying to scare up as many bodies as a night could handle.

And for the students, it was considered a right-of-passage to go out with the others and bag a fresh "thing," the preferred terminology of a fresh corpse. It made it easier I suppose to dehumanize the situation as much as possible. Some students couldn't go through with it and hired fellow students to go out and pick up their corpse for them.

The poem is rather long and repeats itself, so I will give it to you in a nutshell. It begins with the elderly surgeon who finds himself bedridden, he realizes that his end is near and before he leaves, has some things he needs to get off his chest.

He asks his nurse to call together his students for one last gathering and felt it imperative that the Parson and Undertaker should be given a call, too.

As soon as the Surgeon's Prentices heard the news "that their master was dying," they made haste and arrived quickly to the chamber of their esteemed old doctor. The students were led in to the old man's chamber and as soon as he saw his student Joseph, he let loose with a colorful barrage of expletives, all while foaming at the mouth. Apparently he knew something about Joseph that the others did not.

When the old man settled down, he began to ramble about his life, describing the multitudes of corpses he had cut open, and how he had, "made candles of infant's fat, The Sextons have been my slaves," and how he, "bottled babes unborn, and dried hearts and livers from rifled graves."

The old doc is consumed with the sordid memories of all the things he did to the dead, all in the name of science. And now he is worried the same thing will happen to him. While lying on his death bed, he is begging his loyal students to, "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."

He continues on in great detail his death list of last minute preparations upon his imminent passing. He describes exactly how his coffin should be soldered and then placed inside a sturdy patent coffin. His body was to be carted immediately to his brother's church, where there was safety and sanctuary far from the Resurrectionists shovels and grimy, greedy hands. He implores his students to lock the church door and to hide the key from the sexton!

Even that is still not enough of a sort of insurance for him in order to die peacefully, so he asks that three stout men would be hired and paid each a gallon of beer with a keg of Holland's gin. He added a bonus of five guineas if any man shoots one of the most elusive of animal and beast, the dreaded Resurrectionist man.

The old man even gives a detailed timeline for his grave watch:

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 old surgeon drew his last breath and died in his bed. His loving and ever-faithful students shrouded him, coffined him in lead with strong solder, which was immediately put inside a patent coffin, just as the old man instructed, right down to the letter.

They carted the body to the church of his brother and locked the key. Three very stout and loyal men were hired to do the night watch duty, betting who would be the first to bag the elusive Resurrectionist man first.

As their watch continued, the Sexton came for a visit and pulled out a brand new guinea of gold. He said that it was offered by that rascal Joseph. But no, that wasn't enough to swerve their conscience, and told the Sexton to tell Mister Joe, "To the Devil as he deserved."

The next night, the Sexton showed up again, not with one guinea but two. The men admirably held their ground and bade the Sexton a farewell, but not quite as gruff as the night before.

On the third night, as the saying goes, three's a charm. The Sexton showed up and pulled from his robe three lovely, shiny guineas and as he handled them, he made sure they clinked heavy in his hand. At this time, the men huddled together, hashed it about and figured the old man was dead and couldn't talk anyway, right? Soon afterwards, the men were celebrating their good fortune while draining their supplies of beer and gin, all while making merry clear up to midnight.

The Sexton had a spare key, and once the men had been paid off he opened up the gate and in that villain Joe crept, carrying with him the tools of the Resurrectionists trade: a dark lantern light, a sack, a pick axe and shovel.

They dug in the hard-pressed clay until they came to the patent coffin, from there they cut through the soldered lead of the regular coffin, and when they found their way to the shroud, they were giddy with laughter, buried treasure!

They gave the Sexton the burial shroud as payment for his services, and buried the busted up now empty coffin back inside the grave.

The old Surgeon was folded in half, his nose to his knees as they squeezed him into the Resurrectionists sack. They hoisted the old doc over the shoulder and carried him on back through the cemetery, passing the three watchmen deep in their cups. One roused up just long enough to mumble a curse and the Resurrectionists were gone as quickly as they came.

"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."

Here is the poem in its entirety.

A 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 eye-brow,
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.Southey's grave.

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.

This poster is 22 inches wide by 17 inches high, generous black ink lushly printed on parchment stock.

Dissection Humor

PLEASE NOTE: This poster image was hand-drawn by Madame Talbot using General's Cedar Pointe #333-2HB pencils on Crescent 201.6 Hot Press Medium Weight illustration board at original poster size. An antique Koh-i-Noor rapidograph pen and Dr. P. H. Martin's Bombay Black India ink were used for final inking.

After completion, the image was hand-delivered to Ryan Gwinner Press in Portland, Oregon and printed on an offset printing press.

Absolutely no computers were used in the creation of this poster - from start to finish.

The copyright notice is on the website image only and not on the printed poster.

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Madame Talbot's Victorian and Gothic Lowbrow