Temperatures have been dropping in Cambridge over this past week, and it has started to feel a bit more like a winter wonderland. The changing seasons set me wondering about what winter-related books we hold in our Special Collections here at the Whipple Library. A previous blog post discussed a handbook of ‘winter amusements’ meant to be enjoyed on cold, dark nights, but our only other Special Collections item that makes clear reference to winter in its title is an eight-page pamphlet entitled Some remarks on Alpine winter. A paper read before the Harveian Society of London, October 21st, 1886 (see slideshow above).

One of Foster’s Pamphlets

The pamphlet was collected by Sir Michael Foster (1836-1907), ‘the father of experimental Physiology in Cambridge’, and it is now bound together with eight other references in a tome labelled ‘General Metabolism. Vol. I.’ Foster originally taught physiology at University College London, but assembled a large collection of unusual and often unique reference materials during the 30-plus years of his career spent in Cambridge. The gold lettering on the cloth cover of ‘General Metabolism. Vol. I’ is typical of the circa 200 volumes that Foster compiled as reference materials for the Physiological Laboratory that he established at the University of Cambridge (see slideshow above).

Some ‘Wise’ Advice?

This pamphlet is credited to A. Tucker Wise, M.D., M.R.C.S., and its title page notes that Wise authored a previous publication entitled Alpine winter in its medical aspects. Aside from our pamphlet, the Whipple Library does not hold any copies of Wise’s publications. The University Library, however, boasts several editions of Alpine winter in its medical aspects and cares for some of his other classics, including How to avoid tubercle (3rd ed., 1900), Contra-indications for visiting the high altitudes (1886) and The Alpine winter cure (1884). Judging from his publishing record alone, it is likely that Wise was an active voice in British medical circles during the 1880s.

Wise devotes most of the pamphlet’s content to extolling the virtues of winter in the Alps. ‘[W]ith the thermometer ranging between 20° and 30° Fahr., on still days, the dazzling spectacle,’ he writes, ‘may without stretch of the imagination, be characterised as a summer of snow.’[1] In a no-holds-barred assault on ordinary Britons choosing to spend their winters on domestic soil, Wise asserts that the feelings ‘produced by the vivid beauty of the [Alpine] scene, the purity in colour of the blue sky in contrast with the overpowering whiteness and brilliance of the snow, are unknown to the stay-at-home Briton.’[2]

After ruminating on the wintry superiority of Alpine scenery and climate, Wise turns his attention to the health-giving and, dare I say, fashionable aspects of Alpine dress and recreation. He advises that ‘all persons who visit the mountains for health, or who desire comfort, should wear woollen materials next the skin’[3] to retain warmth and that the ‘Alpine pleasures of skating, sleighing, and coasting, are to many far more enticing and health-giving than other sports one can mention.’[4] Wise argues that judicious Alpine exercise and outdoor recreation become ‘natural therapeutic agents of great power’ and that ‘[n]o drugs in the whole Pharmacopœia produce any effects resembling the inflation of an unexpected apex of a lung, or the expansion of an indolent thorax, in comparison to the delights of coasting and tobogganing, or climbing a mountain side.’[5]

In a moment of reflexivity, Wise characterises Alpine sports as ‘rational remedies if used rationally, but dangerous if abused,’[6] though he quickly regains his laudatory tone by commenting that those people unacquainted with Alpine pursuits ‘can never truly appreciate the exhilarating sport except from personal experience.’[7] Wise devotes much of the second half of his pamphlet to describing in detail coasting—‘the term applied to runs made with a small iron-shod sledge over the polished roads’[8]—and tobogganing—‘sliding down inclines where the snow is not firm enough to bear the narrow runners of the sled.’[9]

The author closes his pamphlet by listing eight conditions which should disqualify prospective holiday-makers from visiting the Swiss Alps:[10]

Figure 1. List of conditions that may preclude those afflicted from Alpine holidays.

It remains unclear as to how Wise’s readers should interpret No. 8 on his list, as ‘somewhat advanced in years’ is not necessarily specific enough of a descriptor to be of medical use.

Alpine Medicine in Context: A. T. Tucker Wise (1849-1928)

Little published evidence describes the early life of A. T. Tucker Wise, but an obituary published in the 31 March 1928 issue of The Lancet provides some useful information about the man. Born 04 February 1849 at Plymouth, Alfred Thomas Tucker Wise was the son of a Royal Navy Fleet Paymaster and pursued a similar career path to his father before taking his clinical medical training at St. Mary’s Hospital, London.[11] ‘Consideration for his own health, however,’ the obituary notes, ‘led to a period of residence at various places in the High Alps, among them the Kursaal at Maloja, where he acted as resident physician.’[12]

The obituary observes that Wise conducted ‘one of the first serious studies of the Alpine climate’ in 1881 and notes that Alpine winter in its medical aspects was successfully published in five editions.[13] Wise is also said to have addressed American medical congresses ‘on more than one occasion’ and to have obtained the Swiss Federal Diploma in medicine in 1891.[14] At its conclusion, the obituary identifies woodwork, forestry and billiards as Dr Wise’s ‘favourite recreations.’[15]

Wise’s name appears within a number of British newspapers and medical journals beginning in the early 1880s. Aside from scholarly articles investigating pulmonary afflictions and consumption, popular publications allude to Wise in a variety of contexts. For example, the book reviewer for the 04 October 1884 issue of the Graphic states that ‘consumptive patients cannot do better than study’ what Dr Wise has written in The Alpine winter cure.[16] Wise’s name even appears in advertisements for the newly-opened Hotel Kursaal beginning in October 1886.[17] Wise’s reputation was further bolstered by a book review in the Glasgow Herald that remarks that ‘many of [Wise’s] medical observations might be profitably read by all sorts and conditions of people.’[18]

Wise’s Alpine Drama?

Although evidence indicates that Dr Wise enjoyed a profitable career in Alpine medicine, his life was not without its share of drama. The 19 May 1888 edition of the British Medical Journal includes an article entitled ‘Swiss Persecution of English Doctors,’ and it describes Wise’s plight in considerable detail. The article decries a ‘war which is now being waged’ against ‘the few English medical men’ who reside at Swiss health resorts, observing that Wise had been fined £20 merely for practising his craft.[19] ‘Dr. Wise, to take a conspicuous example, has, it is well known, done much, to speak quite moderately, to develop the prosperity and resources of Maloja and St. Moritz and Wiese,’ the article observes.[20] In spite of Wise’s service to his patients and the resort in his charge, the article presents a grim future for English practitioners of Alpine medicine.

Figure 2. The Hotel Kursaal, where A. T. Tucker Wise was a resident physician

Two years later, Wise submitted his own testimonial in the 30 August 1890 issue of the British Medical Journal. In his letter, Wise notes that ‘the unreasonable agitation against the two English practitioners in the Swiss Alps has recommenced’ and that he and his colleagues face ‘heavy fines or expulsion.’[21] Wise emphasises that he had appeased the Swiss authorities by obtaining local authorisations to practice medicine in the Cantons of Geneva and Grisons, but the overall tone of his letter is one of exasperated resignation. At the conclusion of his letter, Wise observes that ‘[i]t is impossible to see what valid objections there can be to English practitioners under these circumstances, much less when it is taken into consideration that the present English medical men have been practising in the Grisons for several years.’[22]

We cannot locate definitive evidence explaining the resolution of Wise’s Alpine drama. It is likely that his attainment of the Swiss Federal Diploma in medicine (1891) enabled him to continue working at Switzerland’s Alpine resorts, and we know from his obituary that he eventually returned to England and served as a medical superintendent at the Devon County Sanatorium before passing away at a London nursing home on 23 March 1928.[23]

Interesting Tales from a Short Pamphlet

Starting from a small, eight-page pamphlet held in the Special Collections here at the Whipple Library, this blog post has shed light on the interesting life of Alfred Thomas Tucker Wise. Without piecing together a picture of Dr Wise’s life, modern readers of his 1886 pamphlet may have assumed he was an amateur medical practitioner who favoured Alpine travel and recreation for purely personal reasons. Instead, historical research has shown that Wise enjoyed a favourable reputation with his contemporaries and that he played a significant role in establishing the Swiss Alps as an attractive destination for Anglophone tourists.

Post researched, written and produced by Andrew Lorey.


[1] A. Tucker Wise. Some Remarks on Alpine Winter: A Paper Read Before the Harveian Society of London, October 21st, 1886. London: [s.n.], 1886, p. 1

[2] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 2.

[3] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 3.

[4] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 4.

[5] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 5.

[6] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 5.

[7] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 5.

[8] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 5.

[9] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 6.

[10] Tucker Wise 1886, p. 8.

[11] Obituary. The Lancet, Vol. 211, Issue 5457, 31 March 1928, p. 678.

[12] Lancet, p. 679.

[13] Lancet, p. 679.

[14] Lancet, p. 679.

[15] Lancet, p. 679.

[16] Graphic [London], 04 October 1884, p. 363.

[17] Morning Post [London], 22 October 1886, p. 7.

[18] Glasgow Herald [Glasgow], 14 January 1887, p. 9.

[19] Swiss Persecution of English Doctors. British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, Issue 1429, 19 May 1888, p. 1073.

[20] British Medical Journal 1888, p. 1073.

[21] English Medical Practitioners in Switzerland. British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 1548, 30 August 1890, p. 528.

[22] British Medical Journal 1890, p. 528

[23] Lancet, p. 679