The narrator recalls a boyhood encounter with Rab, a majestic dog. Rab causes the lad to make friends with his master, James Noble, a simple horse-cart driver. Six years later, James brings his beautiful old wife, Ailie, to the hospital where the narrator is now a medical student. She has breast cancer and the surgeon tells her that it must be operated the following day. James and the dog are allowed to remain nearby.

Ailie endures the operation in brave silence, commanding silent respect from a lively group of students. James nurses her tenderly, but she develops a fever and dies a few days later. Shortly after her burial, he too falls ill and dies. Rab refuses to eat, becomes hostile, and is killed by the new driver.


First published in 1858 about an 1830 experience, this story contains a vivid description of a mastectomy as it may have been witnessed by the physician-author in the pre-anesthetic clinics of his famous surgical teacher, James Syme. The dignity and devotion of the elderly couple are reflected in the dog's "noble" behavior toward his owners and the annoying, lesser canines who taunt him in the opening. Life is not worth living for James without his Ailie, nor for Rab, without James.

The introduction is rambling, ill-focused and awkwardly jocular, while the ending fairly drips with Victorian bathos. Nevertheless, the account of Ailie's operation, the surgeon's direct honesty, and the careful nursing by James provide hauntingly realistic vignettes.

Primary Source

Rab and His Friends and Other Papers and Essays by John Brown


J. M. Dent & E. P. Dutton

Place Published




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