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Published in The Serpentine Muse,

Vol. 10, No. 3, Spring, 1992

used with permission



                Marilynne McKay


Doctors' titles in England can be a real mystery.

Let's begin with some background: a bit of our history.

First barbers let blood (hence the red-and-white pole).

They were cutters, a clearly non-doctorly role.

They weren't "Dr." but "Mr.," non-medical men,

Knife-handlers, not doctors who wielded a pen.

Then Surgery started, and blood flowed in rivers

As doctors with scalpels carved arms, legs, and livers.


The barbers were history when bloodletting went—

"Cutting doctors" sought glory, for which they were meant.

How best to stand out from the rest of the crowd?

Pretend to be modest—deny that you're proud!

British surgeons dropped "Dr." as snobs in reverse

And called themselves "Mr."—it's clearly perverse,

But doctors in England are used to all this...

(By the way, lady surgeons are addressed as "Miss.")


Canonical doctors are easy to find—

Watson, of course, comes quickest to mind,

But remember, some doctors are "Mr." or "Sir."

(And naturally all are "him" and not "her.")

There are surgeons, physicians, professors, and fakes,

Consultants and colleagues, agents and rakes.

Doctors intrigue me (perhaps they don’t you),

And they're mentioned all over—let's look at a few.


Young Stamford at Bart’s showed Sherlock to John

And started a friendship that's gone on and on.

When the game was afoot, Watson bolted the halls—

Anstruther or Jackson would cover his calls.

He bought patients from Farquhar (with St. Vitus' dance)

And sold them to Verner, when given the chance.

And let's not forget Watson's colleague in toil,

The lit'rary agent, Sir A. Conan Doyle.


To Holmes' door came doctors seeking his aid,

While others were pawns in games villains played.

Trevelyan's concern bared a bank-robbing gang;

Mr. Mortimer's "lawyer" came from Penang.

Dr. Barnicot's Napoleons ended in shards;

Dr. Somerton enjoyed a fast game of cards.

Dr. Ernest played chess, then was murdered by fumes,

And Mr. Kent's patient feared leaving his rooms.


Sir James Saunders for skin care was much in demand,

And Armstrong of academe wrung Holmes' hand.

When called to see bodies, Dr. Wood remained hale,

But Doc Richards reeled back in a faint, looking pale.

When Sherlock was "dying," Watson offered to seek

London's best: Fisher, Ainstree, and Sir Jasper Meek.

Oakshott took stitches in Holmes' own head,

Dr. Agar recommended complete rest—in bed.


Bogus doctors included Hill Barton and Starr:

In Topeka, the latter was known near and far;

The former was Watson, commenting on Ming.

(His performance was quite a remarkable thing.)

Few medics were evil, of criminal ilk,

Except Grimesby Roylott, whose snake favored milk.

Dr. Sterndale used poison on brother Tregennis,

But Sherlock resolved it was none of his business.


In summary, then, to get back to the toast

Doctors read about doctors more often than most.

Holmes was well-known for incisive precision,

So his genius appeals to the perplexed physician.

Like Watson, we marvel at Sherlock's quick mind,

Then sigh and go back to our usual grind.

We practice all day, but once we're nocturnal,

We'd rather read Holmes than The New England Journal!