Obituary: Theodore Dalrymple

Melaten-Friedhof cemetery, Cologne

Dalrymple supposes that a doctor

is growing middle-aged when he goes straight to the obituary columns of the British Medical Journal and the Lancet instead of to the scientific papers, and starts to recognise the names that appear there.

Dalrymple is

a devotee of medical obituaries, with their mixture of post-mortem piety and snide remarks. They have a language of their own.

He recalls the Lancet obituary of a recently deceased physician,

from whose passport photograph alone it was possible to deduce that he had been a mean-spirited, bullying, pedantic stuffed shirt.

By The Death Bed, 1893. Munch Museum, Oslo

The obituary read:

Though not immediately likeable, those who knew him well detected many sterling qualities.

Dalrymple, while describing himself as one of

the highly replaceable dregs of the profession,

has not given up hope of an obituary, for this reason: he has discovered that the BMJ‘s obituary pages carry this italicised note to authors: ‘Self-written obituaries are welcome.’ What, then, he asks, should he write of himself? Perhaps

Outwardly he often appeared compassionate towards his patients, but inwardly he was seething with irritation that they should have been so feckless, foolish, ignorant, fat, importuning, immature and unrealistic.


Sometimes he wanted to have an affair with a patient, but he always resisted the temptation, unlike some other doctors he could name.

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