The question ‘Which games and pastimes should medical students play?’ was answered on Sunday nov 9th 1823, in one of the very first editions of The Lancet, ‘A journal of British and foreign medicine’. It was founded, edited (and often written) by the eminent surgeon, member of parliament and radical political reformer Thomas Wakley MRCS – and issue number 6 carried an article expounding the virtues of Chess (and setting an example problem).
“This is perhaps the only game to which the medical student may profitably devote any portion of his time and attention. It is liable to none of the objections which apply to games of chance; it holds out no encouragement to cupidity; and while it affords an agreeable relaxation from more serious pursuits, it strengthens the intellectual faculties, by the unremitting attention which it demands; and may even have some influence on our moral habits, by the lessons of foresight, patience, and perseverance, which it inculcates.”
Subsequent issues of the journal had further Chess problems for readers to solve – but with the proviso :
“ … it cannot he too strongly impressed upon the student in Chess, that the whole benefit to be derived from the study of problems must depend on his solving them proprio marte, and resolutely forbearing to consult solutions.”
This recommendation for Chess as ‘the only game’ was soon challenged though. A reader’s letter in the Dec 7th 1823 issue suggested, somewhat cheekily perhaps, other games which might benefit the students. Draughts, Push-Pin, Nine-Pins, Bowls, Cards, Flux, Pille, and Blind-Hookey for example. And the correspondent ends –
“Put the fool to bed, is a game little used ; but it conveys an useful instruction as to the mode of dealing with a patient.”
And adding, with a tongue now firmly in his or her cheek “Sed quid plura de hoc joco addam?” before signing him or herself cryptically as H.U.M.D.
Despite our best endeavours, Improbable has been unable to track down the identity of ‘H.U.M.D.’ Who was this person who dared to challenge the wisdom of none other than Thomas Wakley himself?
Improbable is most ready to entertain relevant and elucidating readers’ correspondence with verifiable solutions to this as yet unresolved and perplexing matter.