It’s the Chinese Year of the Horse – not much Quaker material there you might well think. If you were researching horses and equine veterinary practice, our Library would hardly be your first port of call. You might – perhaps – have heard of the trouble the Quaker chocolate families got themselves into by owning a “racing newspaper” which promoted gambling, or come across remonstrations against the sport of horse racing from Quakers like Thomas Cash (To those inhabitants in and about Wilmslow, who have lately been the cause of great uanity and uuickedness … by horse races, 1799), but you’d not think there would be much else.
However, the Library does have in its collections two surprising volumes containing 36 separate and varied works on horses by Quaker Bracy Clark (1771-1860), accessioned in 1925 but presented many years earlier by the author to Friends’ Tea Room and Library (later the Friends Institute, Devonshire House).
The individual items in the volumes have recently been added to our on-line catalogue, as part of the retrospective cataloguing project. All told, Bracy Clark wrote around fifty treatises on the history, care, diseases and treatment of horses, published from 1807 to the 1840s.
Bracy Clark (1771-1860) was born to John Clark and Hannah Hitchman of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. His father, a Quaker in the leather trade, died when Bracy was just two. He was educated at the school run by the Quaker Thomas Huntley at Burford, then apprenticed to another Quaker, Joseph Tresher, a surgeon, during which time he studied Greek, chemistry and natural history, and even started the first cricket club in Worcester.
He qualified as a veterinary surgeon at the newly established veterinary school in London, as a pupil of the eminent Scottish surgeon John Hunter FRS (1728-1793). During his lifetime Bracy Clark “devoted an enormous amount of time and labour to the subject of the horse’s foot and the horse-shoeing”.
He was a member of the Linnæan Society, the Paris Académie des Sciences, the Natural History Society of Berlin and Copenhagen, the Royal Agricultural Society of Stuttgart, and in 1817 was made an honorary member of the Natural History Society of New York. He was one of those many nonconformist contributors to Abraham Rees’s Cyclopaedia (published as a weekly serial between 1802 and 1820), writing on the anatomy of horses, bits, bleeding, blindness, blisters, bots, broken wind, canker, corns, curb and collar (Do all the bad things that go wrong with horses begin with B or C?).
He was very concerned with the health of horses’ hooves, the circulation of blood, how to cure cracked hooves and, particularly, new shoeing techniques. For the latter significant discoveries he was ridiculed by many, including members of the Royal Veterinary College.
Shortly before his death, his nephew James Hurnard relates, he sold to the Veterinary College of Edinburgh the skeleton of the celebrated, undefeated race-horse Eclipse (“Eclipse first and the rest nowhere”), which he kept in his study. Hurnard went on to write a splendid equine elegy to his uncle – the unsung Hampden of his day:
To Bracy Clark, F.L.S.
Descendent not unworthy of a sire!
The Hampden of the common where he dwelt,
Bracy, this tribute of a deep, heartfelt,
And honest admiration, I desire
To offer to thy name. The world has dealt
Unkindly with thee; and the heart must melt
To see a genius, which could not tire,
Cramped, like the hoof within its iron belt.
But so it is; the dead, whom we admire,
At whose proud tombs past centuries have knelt,
Were, when alive, the men the world could pelt,
And see in chains or banishment expire.
One comfort still remains to gild our earth,
Men cannot crush the consciousness of worth.
What finer tribute to a horse lover?