Article Text

Download PDFPDF

What price dissection? Dissection literally dissected
  1. Norman Turner
  1. 36 Seymour Street, London W1H 7JF

    Statistics from

    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


    Francis and Lewis quote from The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz on his horror in the dissecting room.1 They surmise that this gruesome experience may have been responsible for his abandoning a medical career in favour of music.

    Had their quoted source immediately continued, they might have had their answer, and been surprised at the force with which it supports the thrust of their argument. The Faber Book of Science contains the more extensive extract, albeit in a different translation.2 It continues thus: “The shock of that first impression lasted for twenty-four hours . . .. In the end he got me to agree to make another effort. For the second time I accompanied him to the hospital and we entered the house of the dead. How strange! The objects which before had filled me with extreme horror had absolutely no effect upon me now. I felt nothing but a cold distaste; I was already as hardened to the scene as any seasoned medical student. The crisis was past. I found I actually enjoyed groping around in a poor fellow's chest and feeding the winged inhabitants of the delightful place their ration of lung. ‘Hallo!’ Robert cried, laughing, ‘you're getting civilised. “Thou giv'st the little birds their daily bread.”’ ‘“An o'er all nature's realm my bounty spread”’ I retorted, tossing a shoulder-blade to a great rat staring at me with famished eyes.”

    Dehumanisation of the soul of the great composer in twenty-four hours?