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Book of the Month

November 2008

The Horse

 Its treatment in health & disease

London: 1906
Sp Coll Morris Add. q5-11

We feature a comprehensive manual on the horse this month. Generously illustrated throughout, this monumental nine volume work gives us an insight into the veterinary practices of one hundred years ago. Originally held in the University's Veterinary Faculty Library, this copy would at one time have been a useful reference text for students of equine medicine.

Form of the head: fig. 30 - narrow face
(vol. 1: p. 39)

The horse: its treatment in health and disease aimed to produce in "one compact whole" all of the most useful information relating to the horse, including its origin and development, varieties, breeding, training, management, health and disease.

Published in nine divisional volumes, the overall work is divided into over twenty main sections. The introduction boasts of each section being "virtually a book in itself, dealing exhaustively with every phase of its subject ... To the owner or responsible custodian of any horse or pony it is absolutely indispensable". There would potentially have been a large market for it: at the time that this book was written, the horse was still common in society as a working animal for transport and farming, as well as for providing leisure. It has been estimated that at the end of Queen Victoria's reign (1901), there were some four million horses in Great Britain.

According to a slip still tipped into the first volume, the volumes were issued quarterly, handsomely bound in cloth, at eight shillings per issue: orders were only accepted for the entire work.

(Vol. 1: detail from top of page)

The text was edited by Professor J. Wortley Axe. He is recorded in The Times as having been admitted to the "members of the body corporate" of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1866, and he was evidently very experienced by the time the book was compiled. The title-page credits him with an impressive list of qualifications for the job: ex president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; late lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College and at the agricultural college of Downton and Wye; chief veterinary inspector to the Surrey county council; and consulting veterinary surgeon to the British Dairy Farmers' Association. He was also the successful author of several other works on horses and livestock, such as The mare and foal and Anthrax in farm stock.  

A group of ponies (Irish, Exmoor, Shetland, English, Dartmoor, Welsh)
(vol. 1: colour plate between pp. 154 & 155)

Axe was not responsible for the whole text, however. As the introduction explains, different sections were written by experts on the various topics covered. Although authors are not attributed throughout the work itself, several contributors are thanked in the preface for their co-operation - Sir George Brown, Dr Fleming, Professor Shave, Harold Leeney, Mr Hunting, Vero Shaw, Mr Lupton, Mr Malcolm "and others".

Note on the plates
(vol 1: tipped before list of illustrations)

It is also made clear that the book is derivative, drawing upon the many works already published on different aspects of the horse. But the selling point of this work was its massive comprehensiveness. Written in simple language, it was clearly aimed at the general reader rather than the veterinary specialist. Filling "a hiatus in the literature relating to horses", the objective was to render its content as intelligible as possible to the unscientific.

The greatest care was taken in the selection and production of its large number of illustrations, many of which are in colour. There are several portraits of prize winning animals to illustrate the characteristics of leading breeds, as well as many complicated anatomical and pathological lithographs and engravings. Many of these were drawn from original specimens, although it is also acknowledged that some were reproduced from other text books.

The exterior of the horse: fig. 13 - front view
(vol. 1: p. 21)

The preface also mentions that "to ensure absolute accuracy, advantage has been freely taken of the art of photography, which has recently made such vast strides towards perfection".

Photographs are used to good effect in the opening section of the first volume which deals with the exterior of the horse, and its conformation and defects. To the right are shown two examples from a series of photographs that eloquently document defects of the back. Hollow or "sway backed" horses are seen here. As well as being an eyesore, this is described as being potentially a serious defect, such animals lacking the "power and pace" of more perfectly constructed specimens. It is explained that the condition may arise from subjecting horses to overwork and heavy burdens while young.

This section examines each part of the horse exhaustively, drawing attention to possible faults. However, it does end with the heartening admission that the perfect horse is "unknown", most animals being a "combination of excellencies and defects". There is even a table that lists the compensations of specific defects. Apparently a back that is long and sway-backed, for example, is often compensated for by a strong croup, muscular body, short, well-attached loins and a small abdomen.

Conformation and its defects: back hollow from age
(vol. 1: plate 6, detail)

Conformation and its defects: back naturally hollow
(vol. 1: plate 6, detail)

Champion shire mare, Rokeby Fuchsia
(vol. 2: frontispiece)

Volume one also begins to describe the different breeds of horses, starting with the thoroughbred. This topic is continued into the second volume.  Each variety is examined in turn with notes on the breed's history and development, as well as its characteristics. Some of the entries are very long: that discussing the shire horse, for example, covers some 14 pages, much of it devoted to the ancestry of this colossal heavy horse, and its uses in medieval warfare and as a draught animal. By the end of the 19th century, after years of careful breeding, this type had reached the threshold of perfection resulting in "an equine giant of huge strength and magnificent proportions". At the time that this book was written, such horses were indispensable for pulling heavy weights, having no equal in size or power.
The huge subject of health and disease concerns the latter half of volume two. An introductory section discusses the causes of diseases before moving on to the physiology and diseases of the digestive system.

The urinary system is tackled next, continuing into volume three. It will be noted that although the overall work was divided into nine volumes, it obviously proved impossible to divide the subjects covered neatly into its physical units. Several subjects begin in one volume and end in the next. The initial impression of the work as a practical reference manual with easily consultable separate volumes is therefore somewhat diminished.

Anatomy of the horse's head
(vol. 3: colour plate between pp. 402 & 403, detail)


Anatomy of the horse's head
(vol. 3: colour plate between pp. 402 & 403)



The nervous system, absorbent system, organs of circulation, organs of respiration and the respiratory process are also discussed in the third volume.

The subject coverage is detailed and, at times, very technical - despite the book's claim to be aimed at domestic rather than professional use. There are occasions, however, when the text does advise calling in qualified veterinarians.

Veterinary science was a well established discipline by the time the book was compiled. Formerly referred to as "farriers", veterinary surgeons were so named in 1796 by the British Army's Board of General Officers to distinguish animal specialists from human surgeons. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) was chartered in 1844.

James McCall (1834-1915) was the founder and first Principal of the Glasgow Veterinary College. After practising as a vet in Ayrshire, he was Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at the Royal (Dick) College in Edinburgh for two years before setting up a veterinary practice in Glasgow in 1859. He began to provide classes in veterinary medicine for Edinburgh students who lived in Glasgow, and built up premises consisting of a surgery, shoeing forge and rudimentary hospital; his main patients were sick and injured dray horses. In 1863, he obtained a Royal Warrant for his college, to prepare students for the examinations of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The first vets qualified from the Glasgow Veterinary College in 1865; it was incorporated into the University in 1909.

The section on respiration is concluded at the beginning of volume four. Constitutional diseases (such as rheumatism) and contagious diseases are then discussed. The background, symptoms and treatment of each disease is explained in depth.

A stage in the treatment of the contagious disease Strangles is shown to the right. This is a catarrhal disease, common in young horses; it only occurs in the equine race. It is described as beginning with mild catarrh and a nasal discharge which soon becomes increasingly purulent; a swelling under the throat will form into an abscess. The text assures that "good nursing appears to be all that is really necessary in dealing with strangles of the ordinary type": fumigations to the throat and poultices (as shown here) are "commonly employed for the purpose of assisting the suppurative process". When mature, the abscess is opened, the matter discharged, the pus cavity well syringed out and then plugged with cotton wool. "Soft diet and warm clothing, with thorough ventilation of stables, constitute the additional treatment which is required". Such a disease is evidently deemed to be treatable by the amateur, although the commentary warns that occasionally the disease can become chronic and even malignant - in which cases, the reader is advised to seek skilled professional aid.

Strangles of the horse: fig. 217 - poulticing for strangles
(vol. 4 - p. 41)

Epizootic Lymphangitis
(vol. 4: colour plate between pp. 60 & 61)

Farcy is another horrible disease described in volume four. A slow, progressive form of Glanders, in which swellings or "farcy buds" erupt and ulcerate, this disease could kill and was potentially harmful to humans. The main problem was its contagious "insidious" nature, which the text refers to as being plague like. The 'Glanders and Farcy Order' of 1894 made it the only disease of the horse that was publicly notifiable.

The organs of reproduction, the eye, the skin, and parasitic diseases are the other topics covered in volume four.

Bones, joints and muscles are examined in turn in volume five.


(vol. 4: frontispiece colour plate)

Second layer of muscles exposed
(vol. 5: colour plate between pp. 314 & 315)

Fracture of the sesamoid bones
(vol. 5: plate 39, detail)

This distressing picture shows a broken down race horse, suffering from fractures of the sesamoid bones in both front legs. According to the text, this is "by no means of uncommon occurrence", happening frequently in old hunters and chasers when carrying heavy weights over deep ground, mostly at the end of a long and tiring run.

The accident often involves both fore-limbs. The characteristic deformity of the fetlock joints shown here is caused by a break completely across the bone. As is still often the case with broken bones in horses, rectifying the damage was very difficult and the injury was sometimes catastrophic - although the text suggests that if the horse was valuable for stud, depending upon the severity of the problem "it may be made serviceable for that purpose" .The treatment outlined is to take the strain off the suspensory ligament by the application of a high heeled shoe, to support the joint in a starch bandage, and then to place the unfortunate animal in slings for 8-10 weeks, keeping it "as quiet as possible".

The contents of the sixth volume are: the muscular system (continued); diseases of the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments; diseases of the feet; defective action and injuries arising out of it; wounds and their treatment; first aid to the sick and injured; medicines and drugs.

The section on the hoof is accompanied by a practical "model" with pull out sections showing the different layers and structure of the foot. This is found at the end of the volume and shown below.

Clydesdale stallion, Holyrood
(vol. 6: colour plate frontispiece)

Model: the hoof of the horse
(vol. 6: back pastedown)

Malformations of the legs
(vol. 6: plate 42)

Unfortunately, our copy of The horse is imperfect, our set lacking volumes seven and nine*.

It is possible that the University never owned the work in its entirety, since the volumes that we do have today have been 'put together' from two separate donations. Volumes one, two and eight were presented to the University by Mr. T. M. Eadie Palfrey of Glasgow, on 25th April, 1925. Volumes three, four, five and six, meanwhile, were donated by Mr. J. Y. Bogue on 10th February, 1926. The volumes were originally housed in the Veterinary School Library.

Volume eight - the final volume in our set - covers equine locomotion; breeding; horse training; stables and stable management; the examination of horses as to soundness; the teeth of the horse; and warranty.

Forty three pages are devoted to the topic of stabling. The introduction states that in no country so much as in Britain is the horse so well housed;  "indeed it is to be feared that in some cases the accommodation provided [by man] for his equine servants claims more thought and care than that provided for his human ones".

According to Dunlop, before the 19th century, many had regarded horses simply as working machines. A shift to treating them more humanely was largely the work of writers such as Edward Mayhew, who argued that well cared for horses were ultimately more productive, with potentially longer working lives.

Incisors: of horse at 8 years & of mare at 10 years
(vol. 8:  figures 616 & 617, p. 400)

A modern stable: fittings by Messrs. Musgrave
(vol. 8: colour plate between pp. 324 & 325)

There are several plans provided for different schemes of accommodation, incorporating a mix of stalls and loose boxes for the horses as well as other necessary rooms such as for harness and hay. It is emphasised that in the modern stable "strict cleanliness is almost as much a desideratum as in a hospital yard. Everything should be clean, bright, and pleasing to the senses". Although the ideal is described, the author is realistic about what can be expected in the stables for cart and other working horses; these will be much simpler since "he is looked upon as a unit of business that is expected to 'pay his way' and must therefore dispense with luxury".

The book was actually published towards the end of the era of the working horse. In 1901, it is estimated that there were 300,000 horses in London alone, the vast majority of them working in harness for passenger transport or goods traffic. But by  1906, the year our first volume was produced, the Veterinary Record noted that there were "about 600 motorbuses now running in London ... the ... horse-drawn omnibuses cannot compete with a motor" (quoted by Pattison). The transition from horse drawn vehicles to motorised transport was so rapid that by 1908 there was considerable hardship amongst those who had earned a living by horses. By 1911, the London General Omnibus Company was selling off horses at the rate of 100 a week.

Shire mare and foal, Wykeham Mabel
(vol. 8: colour plate between pp. 268 & 269)

Equine locomotion: the canter
(vol. 8: plate 59)

But the march of technology also benefited the understanding and treatment of horses. In this work, the different paces of the horse are explained by reproducing the groundbreaking photographs that originally appeared in 1887 in Eadweard Muybridge's Animals in motion. Photography at this date was itself still a relatively new science. By using a series of 24 cameras - set off by the breaking of a cotton thread - Muybridge was able for the first time to document the different stages of each pace - confounding, for example, the earlier notion that in the gallop all the legs were at one point suspended off the ground, as seen in horses depicted in many early works of art.

There is a dedicated Equine Hospital (the Weipers Centre for Equine Welfare) in the University's Vet School today. Although the ailments and illnesses that horses suffer may be largely the same as those described by Axe, the treatments available one hundred years later are a world apart. Operating at the cutting edge of technology, the latest pioneering equipment to be acquired by the centre (in September this year) is a Dynamic Respiratory Endoscope. This allows veterinarians to look inside a horse as it gallops at full speed. The close examination of the airways as the horse exercises will revolutionise diagnosis of disease.

Equine locomotion: the canter
(vol. 8: plate 59, detail)

Binding (volume 8)

This publication is also a good example of the period's book design. While much of its appeal today lies in its large number of illustrations, the distinctive bindings of the volumes are also very striking.

Incorporating a swirling grasses pattern blocked in black, light green and gold, on dark green cloth, the binding was in fact designed by Talwin Morris (1865-1911). A promoter of the "Glasgow style", Morris was some time art director of the Glasgow publishing firm Blackie & Son in 1893, as well as a friend and patron to the leading figures of the movement in its early years. Morris did a great deal to spread the influence of the Glasgow style in commissioning and designing book covers for popular mass market titles. His designs were characterised by the inclusion of dots, architectural frames, whiplash lines and stylised flowers - all motifs favoured and instantly recognizable as being of the Glasgow style.

Gresham, the publishers of this work, was a subsidiary company of Blackie's. Founded in 1898, its remit was to publish books by subscription, concentrating on scholarly works of reference, produced luxuriously. Formats were to be large, with only a selected number of titles being published every year. According to Cinamon, Morris produced his best work for Gresham titles - the larger formats being a welcome release from the limitations of the smaller formats of the juvenile titles which made up most of Blackie's output. 

As well as being an historically important text that records early 20th century equine practice, the volumes together form a very handsome set.

* update: January 2009

Since this article was written, Dr Julian Axe has donated a complete set of the volumes to Special Collections: these are now shelved at Sp Coll Morris Add. q12-20. Volume 7 contains sections on medicines (continued), nursing, poisoning, veterinary hygiene and operations. Volume 9 (the final volume) contains sections on warranty (continued), horse-shoeing, the transit of horses, the horse and its position in the animal world, and the history of the horse; it ends with a glossary and complete index to all the volumes.

Other manuals on the horse in Special Collections:

Armatage, George Every man his own horse doctor 4th edition, revised and considerably enlarged London/New York: Frederick Warne and Co., 1892 Sp Coll RQ 1968

Mayhew, Edward Mayhew's Illustrated horse management ... Embellished with numerous engravings Fourteenth edition London: 1890 Sp Coll 3009

Miles, W. J. Modern practical farriery : a complete guide to all that relates to the horse; its history, varieties, and uses, breaking, training, feeding, stabling, and grooming, how to buy, keep and treat a horse in health and disease ... forming a complete system of the veterinary art, as a present practised at the Royal Veterinary College, London London: William MacKenzie, [ca.1885] Sp Coll RF 821

Nimmo, James Nimmo's art of horsemanship: with general remarks on the management of horses Aberdeen: J. Daniel & Son, [ca.1900?] Sp Coll RB 4653

Reeves, John The art of farriery both in theory and practice : containing the causes, symptoms, and cure ...  London: Printed for J. Newbery ... and B. Collins, 1758 Sp Coll RB 1528

Taplin, William The gentleman's stable directory, or, Modern system of farriery: comprehanding the present entire improved mode of practice; likewise all the most valuable prescriptions and approved remedies, accurately proportioned and properly adapted to every known disease to which the horse is incident ... Fourth edition, corrected, improved, and considerably enlarged. London: Printed for G. Kearsley, at Johnson's Head, No. 46, in Fleet Street, 1788 Sp Coll RB 4655

See also:

Muybridge, Eadweard Animals in motion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal progressive movements, commenced 1872, completed 1885 London: Chapman & Hall, 1899 Sp Coll q250

Our Morris Collection contains over 100 books designed by Talwin Morris.

The University's Archives Services hold the records for the publishing companies Blackies and their subsidiary Gresham: search for these using their online catalogue.

The following have been useful in creating this article:

'Biography of James McCall' from The University of Glasgow Story website [page accessed 28/10/2008]

Cinamon, Gerald Talwin Morris, Blackie and the Glasgow style [London]: Private Libraries Association, 1987. Sp Coll Morris Add 3

Dent, Anthony Austen The horse through fifty centuries of civilization [anthology selected by Julian Hall] London: Phaidon Press, 1974 Level 5 Main Lib Agriculture qT6 1974-D [NB. see particularly the chapter on 'The horse in the railway age' which quotes extensively from other sources such as W. J. Gordon: The horse world of London, 1893).

Dunlop, Robert H. Veterinary medicine: an illustrated history St. Louis, Mo/London:Mosby, c1996  James Herriot Library Medicine qY11 1996-D

Michael Moss The origins of the Glasgow Veterinary School Faculty of Veterinary Medicine webpage: [page accessed 28/10/2008]

Pattison, Iain The British veterinary profession, 1791-1948 London: J.A. Allen, 1984 Level 5 Main Lib Medicine Y11 1984-P

William Morris Gallery (London) Talwin Morris: an exhibition [at the] William Morris Gallery ... London ... 23 August-2 October 1983 London: William Morris Gallery, 1983 Sp Coll Morris Add 2


Return to main Special Collections Exhibition Page
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Julie Gardham November 2008