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J R Soc Med. 2007 December; 100(12): 535.
PMCID: PMC2121639

Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Medical Section 22 October 1907 Dr Gee, President of the Section, in the Chair

The President said the Council had requested him to make a few introductory remarks before the Section proceeded to business. Fellows would remember the tale told by Plutarch of the best of all his heroes, how that one day Phocion was seen to be walking in a thoughtful mood, when a friend came up to him and asked him what he was thinking about. The reply was that he was thinking how he could shorten what he had to say to the Athenians. A similar frame of mind had been his (Dr Gee's) during the last few days, and his hearers would rejoice to be told that he had succeeded in reducing what he had to say to two items which had occupied the attention of the Council. In the first place, theirs was the Section of Medicine. But what were they to understand by the term ‘medicine’? What was its domain? What did it include? An ancient Greek would have had no difficulty in answering the question; he would have replied, in the words of Plato, ‘Is not medicine the science of health?’ But in drawing up the list of Sections of the new Society the logic of fact had compelled them to disregard intellectual logic; in short, they had been unable to indulge in the luxury of any consistent principle of classification or, to use a technical term which he was taught when he learnt logic, in the present scheme of Sections there was no fundamentum divisionis. They had agreed to make medicine a Section of Medicine itself, and side by side with other Sections which were and were not medicine. For it had happened to medicine exactly as it happened to philosophy. He reminded his hearers of the vision which Boethius saw in his prison at Pavia. Philosophy appeared to him in the form of a woman, majestic and venerable, clad in an imperishable robe, which she had woven with her own fingers. But the beauty of her vesture had been defaced by violent hands, which had each torn away as much as it could clutch. Those were the many sects or sections of philosophy. It was the same with medicine. First, surgery arose, and made so huge a rent that she claimed and obtained equality in the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. Afterwards, and even within his own lifetime, sects and societies had arisen too numerous to mention, which had committed such ravages on Medicine's garment that they had hardly left that ancient parent raiment enough to clothe herself withal. Fellows would see the nature of the difficulty which confronted them, and he thought they must trust to time to solve it. The only advice he could offer was that they must never lose sight of the universal aspect of medicine: they must not forget that it remained primus inter pares. To put an extreme case or two, to make his meaning clear. Supposing a paper on a surgical subject were offered to the Section for reading. Well, yes, the great Hippocrates wrote two admirable treatises upon fractures and dislocations. Or should an obstetrical paper be brought before them, they would remember that the great Harvey practised midwifery. And so the Section would bear aloft the ancient banner, and look with a kindly eye upon Sections and Sub-sections, how numerous soever, for they were all their offspring, nor could they deny their pedigree, even if they would.

The other topic on which he must speak was the following. The attendances at the meetings of the old Society had become very small of late years. No doubt the main explanation of that fact was to be found in the increased number of medical societies. But the Council thought that the old time of meeting was inconvenient, by reason of the fashionable dinner hour becoming later and later. Therefore the Society proposed, by way of experiment, to follow the example of some other societies and meet at 5.30 p.m.

Nothing remained for him but, on launching the new Society, to send along with it, in the name of the Fellows, their best wishes for its prosperity and usefulness in the future.

Notes

In 1907, the Royal Society of Medicine was formed, and a new journal was created—the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine. At the first meeting of the Section of Medicine of the new Society, Dr Gee, President of the Section, gave a speech on the fragmentation of medicine into specialties. Here, the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is proud to reprint the Proceedings' report on that speech.


Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press