Some time ago I wrote that I'd revisit the case of Anne Home, who married John Hunter, the 18th-century carpenter turned (what else?) surgeon-pathologist and patron of body snatchers. Anne was a minor poet who wrote stuff Haydn set to music (one notable piece: "My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair") and was known for her talkative drawing-room lit-crit parties (on one occasion an exasperated Hunter chucked them all out).
In 1792 a 17-year-old nice young man, recommended by an old school chum of hers, fetched up at Anne and John's home in London and was given a freebie apprenticeship to sketch Hunter's work (bits of pieces, so to speak) and to look after the growing confusion of anatomically related bric-a-brac Hunter had amassed in his back-room museum. This pile eventually became famous as the Hunterian Collection, and after Hunter's death in 1793 the nice young man, William Clift, looked after it for more than 50 years. Night and day, they said. Clift became the indefatigable research resource on Hunteriana for such luminaries as Cuvier, Lyell, Davy and Banks and a walking encyclopedia on anything anatomical.
Surprisingly, in view of all this, he also had time to marry and have a daughter, Caroline Amelia. When, in turn, another nice young man arrived to become Clift's assistant, in 1835 Caroline married him. The new hubby, anatomy whiz Richard Owen, had already burst upon the scientific scene three years earlier with his boffo "Memoir on the Pearly Nautilus," thus establishing himself in an area of shell study too arcane for me to appreciate. But not others. Soon after taking over all matters Hunterian from Clift, Owen had catapulted to fame and the natural history department of the British Museum. Where his dynamism went over like a lead balloon with the local snoozers. Which is why there isn't one anymore (nat. hist. dept. at B.M.).
This article was originally published with the title Home from Home.