March 23, 2014

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The copy of Haemostatique for sale was interesting as well as beautiful. Its cover was stamped with the elegant arms of Samuel-Jacques Bernard Comte de Coubert, who was financial adviser to the Queen of France and to Voltaire, whose fortune he in part managed. For a time the Comte was the richest man in France, having inherited a fortune from his father, the banker Samuel Bernard. Unfortunately for his finances, though not perhaps for civilization in the long run, he was so great a lover of art (and fine books) that he managed to dissipate his vast inherited fortune, bankrupting himself and taking quite a lot of Voltaire’s money with him. Let that be a warning to me, who is not the richest man anywhere, not even on my street, not to succumb to the futile passion for possession!

Tempting for me also was Cesare Lombroso’s atlas of the tattoos and drawings of criminals, published in 1895, for I had long noticed in the prison in which I worked as a doctor that when prisoners take to drawing they draw in the same manner, on the same themes, and with the same aesthetic as tattooists. It is an aesthetic that, alas, is fast conquering the Western world, as millions have themselves tattooed. Modern man in the West, it seems, thinks and feels like a prisoner, if not a slave. When sent by a newspaper to report on the behavior of the young British in Ibiza, I noticed that the two largest nightclubs there were called Amnesia and Manumission, forgetfulness and release from slavery apparently being the nearest to pleasure that the young are now able to come. 

Yet this single 62-page antiquarian bookseller’s catalogue had enough in it to occupy me for more than a lifetime. It is my regret that I shall not live long enough to explore everything in it, let alone everything else beside, but it is the glory of the world that its interest is without end. As for my patients who were bored and who created convoluted difficulties for themselves to disguise that fact, I came to the conclusion that the world seemed dull and slow moving to them by comparison with videos, films, shows, and television. The greatest cause of boredom in the modern world is entertainment.



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