A study in anatomy

by Simon Collings

One of my poems is published today in the eZine Ink, Sweat & Tears edited by Helen Ivory. The piece was inspired by Wendy Moore’s book The Knife Man, about John Hunter, a pioneer of modern surgical practice who lived at the end of the eighteenth century. Hunter’s ideas were based on close observation of the human body and the function of its various organs. He performed hundreds of dissections of human corpses, many of them stolen from London graves and brought at night to the backdoor of his house. His interest did not stop with humans. Hunter dissected many animal carcasses including specimens collected in different parts of the globe, for example by his friend Joseph Banks who traveled with  Cooke. Many of the specimens he prepared still exist and are on display in the Hunterian Collection at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. Hunter was also interested in palaeontology and geology and knew that life had existed on earth for millions of years. He developed a theory of evolution which was not far from the view later made famous by Darwin, Hunter’s ideas remained unpublished until the mid-19th century, after Hunter was long dead, as his friends believed it too heretical.