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WELHAVEN, Johan Ernst (1775–1828)

Beskrifning öfver de spetälske i S:t Jörgens hospital i staden Bergen i Norrige. In Svenska Läkare Sällskapets Handlingar, vol. III.
[Stockholm, A. Gadelius, 1816]. WELHAVEN, Johan Ernst

Unique iconography of leprosy. St Jörgen’s Hospital in Bergen, Norway, is one of the oldest hospitals in Scandinavia, founded already in the early fifteenth century. It was a leprosy hospital, where the last patients died in 1946. In 1816 the Swedish Society of Medicine received a report by Dr.Thulstrup regarding the conditions at St. Jörgen’s, where leprous patients of both sexes and various ages were kept together. It was written and sent in by Johan Ernst Welhaven, father of the famous Norwegian poet. Since 1801 he served as priest at the hospital. In 1815 there were 66 patients and Welhaven tried his best to alleviate the miserable conditions among the totally poverty-stricken lepers. His call for help among the citizens of Bergen resulted in 1814 in a sum of Rdr. 9650, and from then on gifts in form of food, clothes and medicines arrived regularly every week. Also charity fairs and theatre performances were arranged for the relief of the poor patients. Welhaven’s detailed report of the disease and the individual life-destinies gives a horrible picture of these outcasts of society. The report was accompanied by 32 hand-coloured drawings, 28 of which are full-figure portraits of the patients. The superb drawings must be the work of a most talented artist, possibly Welhaven himself. They were, however, never engraved, printed or published, but are here bound into a volume together with the printed report extracted from the Transactions. It was at St. Jörgen’s Hospital that Danielssen and Boeck began their studies of leprosy which resulted in their epoch-making work on leprosy in 1847 with its extremely fine atlas in folio with 24 lithographed colour-plates. In 1873, stimulated by the work of Danielssen and Boeck, their assistant, Henrik Armauer Hansen, discovered the lepra bacillus, one of the earliest observations of pathogenic bacteria.

Collation: Hybrid book: ff. [14] (1 ternion, of which the first two leaves are pasted to the cover, and 1 quinion: all leaves are blank except for the later added handwritten title on f. [2]); pp. 187–220 (printed on blueish paper) extracted from Svenska Läkare Sällskapets Handlingar, volume III (page 187 and 220 are pasted onto adjacent blank leaves); 28 hand-coloured plates (single leaves pasted together at the fold to create bifolia); ff. [18] (i.e., 2 quaternions, the first of which holds handwritten text on unnumbered pages 5, 7, 9, 11-14, and also has 4 more plate leaves inserted: 2 plates after p. [6], 1 plate pasted to p. [8] along the fold, and 1 plate likewise to p. [14] of this quaternion; the second quaternion is blank and its last two leaves are pasted to the back cover). The 32 inserted plates carry original hand-coloured ink drawings (28 portraits of leprous patients, and 4 plates showing close-ups of some of the patients' afflicted body parts). The first 28 plates (A-I, K-U, V, W-Z, Æ, a, b) are referred to in the printed text. In Welhaven's additional handwritten notes, "Tilläggningar af Hr Welhaven d. 30 jan. 1817," he describes in text and depictions the progression of the disease and the aggravated condition of four of the aforementioned patients (patients Z, A, U, and F). He also mentions that now, a year later, patients V, R, T, and L, have passed away.

Binding: Contemporary full binding in tree-marbled calf. Sewn on three recessed supports, hollow back, smooth spine, no endbands. Gilt double fillets across spine demarcating six panels; brown morocco spine title label with the text "LEPRA". The gilt stamp of Sv. Läkare Sälllskapet on front cover. Integrated endleaves. At the time of the printed publication, the plates were apparently kept in the collections of the Swedish Society of Physicians; cf. note on printed p. 191. In other words, the volume would at the earliest have been bound in 1817 or later.

Provenance: Svenska Läkare Sällskapet. The handwritten title on f. [2] is in the same hand as the shelfmark note on left pastedown (Bakt.). SLS's red ink stamp on f. [1] and their gilt stamp on cover.

References: Hagelin SLS, pp 146-49.

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