Esteemed Canadian physician Sir William Osler is known by many as the “Father of Modern Medicine”. He both practiced and taught at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, of which he was a founding professor, and helped to revolutionise medical education by introducing the now commonplace residency system: the training of doctors within the hospital itself. His status as one of the world’s greatest doctors was further strengthened in 1892 with the publication of his indispensable textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine, aka the “Physician’s Bible”. Sadly, a year after the book was released, William’s first child, Paul Revere Osler, died a week after being born. In an effort to console his distraught wife, Grace, William wrote her a letter, from Heaven, in Paul’s voice.
Note: The Emma Osler referred to in the letter is William’s sister, who died at the age of two; “Julius Caeser” refers to a stillborn baby from Grace’s first marriage.
(This letter features in the More Letters of Note book alongside many other fascinating pieces of correspondence -- more info at Books of Note.)
Heaven July 1st
My dear Mother
I for one am good & get on nicely with our singing and if our earthly parents continue to show an interest in us by remembering us in their prayers, we are allowed to write about every three or four tatma's (i.e. months). I got here safely with very little inconvenience. I scarcely knew anything until I awoke in a lovely, green spot, with fountains & trees & soft couches & such nice young girls to tend us. You would have been amused to see the hundreds which came the same day. But I must tell you first how we are all arranged; it took me several days to find out about it. Heaven is the exact counterpart of earth so far as its dwellers are concerned; thus all from the U.S. go to one place--all from Maryland to one district & even all from the cities & townships get corresponding places. This enables the guardian angels to keep the lists more carefully & it facilitates communication between relatives. They are most particular in this respect and have a beautifully simple arrangement by which the new arrivals can find out at once whether they have connections in heaven. I never was more surprised in my time--we say that here not life & not eternity, for that has not started for us--when the day after my arrival Althea brought me two quill feathers on one of which was written Julius Caesar & the other Emma Osler. I knew at once about the former as I had often heard you and father talk of him and had so longed to wear his little cap; but the latter I did not know at all but she said she had been father's little sister & she had been sent to make me feel happy and comfortable.
You must know that all the souls coming here are grouped in 6 divisions
1. Those who have never lived and have not seen the sun. The angels have no end of trouble with them, largely Althea says because they are so stupid and learn so slowly, not having seen the sun-light. They are allowed to grow until equal to the size of the body of a 2 year old child & at which point they stop. They never obtain a full knowledge but always remain childlike. This is their great attraction & in their gardens may be seen hundreds of thousands of middle aged & old soul-bodies refreshing their memories of happy days on earth by playing with these angel children.
2. Those who have not lived a full year are also in a separate division and we are gradually taught and within a very short space of time have beautiful soul-bodies about the size of an earthly child of five. We have however full knowledge and have not many childish ways.
3. Children between 1 & 5 years look here about 10 years in earthly-size; & though they say that their voices are better & their education more perfect than ours we do not think so.
4. From 5 to 15 years the children who come attain in their soul-bodies the earthly size of about 15 and are of great use to the angels in helping with the younger ones & in showing all the beauties of the place and in tuning harps in the great days of the chorus.
6. The grown soul-bodies--about which we do not know very much only seeing those very nearly related to us by earthly ties. We play all day & talk so much with each other about earth and take a great interest in all that you do. We cannot always see you, why I do not know, but at intervals we have such clear and definite sights of our earthly homes. Julius Caesar is very well and a great favorite. He looks a dear little fellow of about two years old (earthly count) and he told me when his guardian angel was not near that he felt a little badly that I should have been in the Amarathyn division--i.e. the one in advance of his. He and Aunt Emma are to come very often and we know now all about our many relatives. Unlike the real angels we have no fore-knowledge and cannot tell what is to happen to our dear ones on Earth. Next to the great feast days, when we sing choruses by divisions in the upper heavens, our chief delight is in watching the soul bodies as they arrive in our divisions. I am helping the angels to get them in order & properly trained. In the children's divisions not a friad (i.e. about an hour of earthly time) passes without the excitement of a father, a mother, a brother or a sister united to one of us. We know about 1000 of each other so that it is great fun to see our comrades & friends making their relatives feel at home.
The other day my kind Althea said there was a baby-soul in the 1st division from New Hampshire, which had left her kind regards for me at the general intelligence office of the heavenly United States. It was chorus day so I could not go, but I am to see her tomorrow if she is advanced enough to receive visitors. It takes about ten days to get our beautiful plumage in order.
If you keep as you are I shall be able (Althea says) to write again in three months. I send you much love--also to pop!
Your loving son