[Florence Nightingale's short handbook on nursing first appeared early in 1860 and was revised and enlarged later that year, remaining in print until 1901. - Graham Law]

Miss Nightingale's Notes

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here are very few men who will feel competent to enter upon a criticism of the art of nursing, and, unfortunately, we are not of the chosen few. Almost all men, indeed, have this especial disqualification for such a task that they underrate the importance of good nursing. Miss Nightingale, with a keenness of perception which she carries into every detail, observes that there are two kinds of sick people who must be nursed differently - namely, those who like to suffer out all their suffering alone, to be as little looked after as possible, and those who like to be perpetually made much of and pitied, and to have someone always by them. We should say that nine out of ten men when they are ill, unless the illness is very protracted, belong to the former class. They have something of the savage and the wild beast in them; when they feel themselves stricken they seek a solitary den; they do not see all the advantages that Miss Nightingale sees in good nursing, all the disadvantages that she sees in bad and they prefer discomfort without disturbance, and suffering without distraction to all the attention and pressure of kind and anxious watchers. The sense of being constantly watched is to some men a frightful punishment, and almost all are, for some reason or other, as impatient as they are ignorant of nursing. Nevertheless, a work on the subject written by one who has seen more of nursing than perhaps any one in Europe fully commands our attention, and we have at least one qualification of a critic, in being able most fully to appreciate what the authoress principally insists upon. It is a common belief that nursing is an easy thing, that kindness is the only point necessary, that almost any woman will make a good nurse. Miss Nightingale maintains, on the contrary, that it is a difficult art, that the elements of it are all but unknown, that good nurses are exceedingly scarce. It thus appears that our ignorance of the art is nothing extraordinary, for those who ought to know it are as ignorant as we are, while they are not nearly so ready to acknowledge the difficulty of practising it. Moreover, there are certain chapters in Miss Nightingale's little work which it does not demand a special acquaintance with the requirements of nursing to be able to appreciate - the chapter, for example, which she has devoted to the sort of conversation indulged in by those who visit the sick. No one who reads that chapter or any other in this most valuable pamphlet can fail to be struck with the wonderful accuracy of her observations and the practical turn of her mind. When we close the book we feel that it is the work of a woman of warm heart and of great earnestness, but in the book itself it would be difficult to select any sentences in which she gives way to feeling. She has something to say under a dozen different heads. She says it in the most straightforward way, in the most colloquial language, without any noise of words and without any play of sentiment. We see at once that whatever power she has she uses; she allows none of the steam to escape. She states innumerable facts, and gives reasons upon reasons all leading to a definite end, but she never plays with her subject, and so relentlessly avoids sentiment that an unthinking reader might mistake her abstinence for coldness. The tenderest nurse doing her duties well must suppress her feelings, and go through her business with a coolness and self-possession that will always be in contrast, though by no means unfavourable contrast, to the weeping and sympathizing of less practical attendants; and Miss Nightingale writes her book with the same calm force, the same immoveable precision, with which she went her round of painful duties in the hospital at Scutari. We have never read any book on any subject in which so much is said, and said so well in shorter space. Whether Miss Nightingale is always right we cannot say; perhaps at times she exaggerates, as all persons who are very earnest in their work do; but we know that she has given an immense number of hints on a subject of great importance, that these are expressed in the most pointed and pithy terms, and that her book is a boon to the public, only second to that of her example and of what she may yet effect in the organization of an establishment for nurses. . . . [7e]

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[Dallas, Eneas Sweetland]. "Miss Nightingale's Notes," The Times (24 January 1860): 7e-f. [Review of Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not, London: Harrison, 1859.]

Created 2 February 2024