Whilst mulling over suitable topics for my first post of 2011, I happened across a catalogue record for the rather wonderfully-titled Evil results of over-feeding cattle. Given that I’m still recovering from the over-feeding which takes place in my house over the festive season, I thought that this was definitely worth further attention.

The following quote is take from page 10 of Evil results…: an excellent piece of observation, I feel, and one particularly worth bearing in mind whilst attempting to re-balance at this time of year!

“Our clothing may be insufficient, but the wintry wind will soon warn us of this deficiency; a bilious headache instinctively prompts more active exercise, while fatigue suggests the necessity of repose. Air, temperature, exercise, and sleep, are positive hygienic requirements which severally proclaim their own demand when defective, and thus the tide of life flows smoothly on, each bodily want being wisely suggested by an appropriate and almost unerring instinctive feeling. But it is otherwise with FOOD. True it is that we eat when hungry, but this does not prove an infallible guide in our choice of food, still less a criterion of its nutritive quality.”

Published in 1858, the book was written by the surgeon Frederick James Gant, and if your local library doesn’t happen to own a copy you can read it online via Google books. Gant began private surgical practice in London in 1852, also  lecturing on physiology and anatomy, before transferring to the Royal Free Hospital, and subsequently serving for a year as a surgeon in the Crimean war. His obituary in the British Medical Journal (from which these details were taken) makes for an interesting read.

Gant seems to have been inspired to write Evil results… after visiting the Smithfield Club cattle show, where he observed a number of animals (sheep, cattle and pigs) in various states of distress brought on by their breeding – I was under the impression that selectively breeding fundamentally unhealthy animals for food or show was a more modern phenomenon, but clearly not.

Details of the animals and their conditions take up the early part of his book, and Gant then goes to the abattoir to examine all sorts of internal indicators of their pre-slaughter health – a fascinating if slightly disconcerting account of muscular fibres, fatty tissue and the like, which I will leave you to read for yourself if you’re so inclined (well worth it for the pictures alone, which are fantastic).

Unfortunately, when I headed to the shelves to take a look at our printed copy I was disappointed to discover it was not shelved where it should have been (and I have as yet been unable to track it down). My search was not entirely fruitless, however, as it turned up John Gamgee’s The cattle plague instead, which was published in 1866. 19th century veterinary medicine is not a significant part of our holdings, but our book collection is full of strange and wonderful titles. However, it seems that cattle plague (or rinderpest) has not been something our readers have shown much interest in since as the pages of this volume are still uncut!

Despite this, Gamgee was apparently a notable veterinarian. He must also have been an interesting character, as he abandoned his career in order to pursue an interest in thermodynamics, pioneering (amongst other things) mechanically-frozen ice rinks. I am sad to report that we don’t hold any information about the latter.

I’ll leave you with a picture from the front of Gamgee’s book – and may I wish you a speedy recovery from any seasonal ailments or afflictions and the very best for 2011!

Picture of the head of a cow suffering from rinderpest

*Stop press* After reading this, Rupert went on a mission to rediscover Evil results, and I’m delighted to report that he was successful! (It was squished in further along the shelf, and as it has a very narrow spine with no text on it I’d completely missed it.) I do love a happy ending.

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