I always took for granted that pet lovers knew James Herriotand had read every word he ever wrote.
I was wrong.
For the uninitiated, of whom I’ve met many in the last few weeks, James Herriot was the pen name for a veterinarian who practiced in Yorkshire, England, and whose real name was James Alfred Wight. He took a pen name partly because it was considered unethical for veterinarians to advertise in those days in England.
I don’t recall who introduced me to Dr. Herriot’s books. I do recall that I managed to consume every book in the series even while ingesting massive amounts of textbook words on Anatomy, Physiology, Histology and Microbiology during our class’ first year at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
The books obtain their name from the words of an Anglican Church hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful. The hymn may have been inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, although experts consider that there are other possibilities.
The first volume was named All Creatures Great And Small, (the second line of the hymn) followed by All Things Bright And Beautiful (the first line of the hymn).
I always assumed that Dr. Herriot kept a meticulous diary of his daily activities. His stories have such detail and hold one’s interest in a way that convinces the reader of their validity. However, according to his son, James Alexander Wight, also a veterinary surgeon (the title used for all veterinarians in the United Kingdom), many of the cases Herriot set in the 30s to the 50s actually were seen in the 60s and 70s. Son Jim goes on to say that the books are actually only partly biographical.
Which knowledge makes them no less magical.
James Herriot shows us the charm and idiosyncracies of Yorkshire country life, focusing as much on the humans as the animals. He performs heroically at times, and fails tragically at times.
Commentary on his fellow man shows immense insight into human personality, both for nemeses and allies.
Commentary on his patients shows a similar insight, and repeats the compassion he felt for all living things, regardless of species. Even the dog, cow or horse that sought to do him harm received the same level of care and consideration as the cat who purred into his stethoscope.
The only difference, from James’ point of view, was that man possessed the ability to improve his personality, whereas a mean dog was simply programmed to behave that way.
At least that’s the way I read Herriot’s work.
We have included a link in today’s post to a portion of the immense volume of material available to read by and about the Yorkshire vet: Click here
See you next week, Dr. Randolph.
Our thanks to JamesHerriot.org for some biographical information