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Making The Dust Fly


Among his various assignments during the war before joining the Surgeon General's Office in Washington, Billings was stationed during January and February 1864, at David's Island hospital in New York. While there he met and befriended the hospital's director, Dr. Warren Webster.

Webster's innate decency was shown by his court-martial late in 1863 for disobeying orders. A soldier wanted for desertion was under his hospital's care for a gunshot wound, and Webster refused to transfer his patient until he was well enough to travel. He was convicted but given a minimal punishment.

After the war he directed the medical staff of the Army of the Southwest, based in Austin, until he was furloughed for ill health and recuperated with his family in Massachusetts. While still there in early 1872, Dr. Billings asked his help in building the Library's collections. Webster promised "to make the dust fly among the old private medical libraries in New England," and offered the Library two items he had written himself.

In the note that accompanied the books, Webster asked a favor of Billings. He thought that his gesture would give the appearance of "motives of ostentation" without some qualifying information and asked that "printed by order of Mass. Medical Commission" and "printed by order of U.S. Senate" be added to the title pages, so it would be clear that they weren't self-published.



An Address Delivered at the Inauguration of the Dale General Hospital, U.S.A., by Warren Webster, 1865. Dr. Webster donated this book he had written to Billings for the Library, but was concerned that sending his own work to the Library would seem self-serving. Complying with his request, Billings himself added the note on the title page.

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Photographic portrait in black and white of Warren Webster, depicting a head and shoulders view of a middle aged man in a business suit, turned in profile, with dark hair and a large mustache.

Warren Webster (1837-1896). At Billings's suggestion, Webster began studying German in late 1872. He became so proficient that his translation of Ludwig Mauthner's Sympathetic Diseases of the Eye was published in 1881.

Title page of book, text in black, as follows: The sympathetic diseases of the eye by Ludwig Mauthner, M.D. royal professor in the University of Vienna - translated from the German by Warren Webster, M.D. surgeon, United States Army and James A. Spalding, M.D. member of the American Ophthalmological Society; ophthalmic surgeon to the Maine General Hospital. New York - William Wood and Company - 1881.
Bookplate, tan in color, with text in black, reading: Warren Webster, Surgeon U.S. Army.

Warren Webster's bookplate, from Photographs of Surgical Cases, Treated at De Camp General Hospital, Davids Island, New York Harbor, [1860], which he donated to the Library.