H.C., poet

Helkiah Crooke is best remembered for his anatomy book, Mikrokosmographia, which was first printed in 1615. However, he had an earlier foray into authorship when he wrote the prefatory materials for Paramythion: Two Treatises of the Comforting of an Afflicted Conscience, published in 1598.

Paramythion (transliterated Greek, meaning “comfort”) is a posthumous collection of the works of Richard Greenham, a clergyman beloved by English Puritans such as the Crookes. It may have been Helkiah’s brother-in-law, the Rev. Stephen Egerton, who enlisted the young medical student’s help on the volume. In 1598 Crooke was 21 years old and in between studies at Leiden and Cambridge, where he would go on to earn his MD, and where he had previously earned his BA.

In life, Greenham had been known for “the nature of his ministry to afflicted persons” (Carlson, n.p.) and “his charity to bodies and souls” (Parker and Carlson, 6). He was charmingly remembered as “that excellent Physitian of the Soule” by his contemporaries (Carlson, n.p.). Although the term “conscience” is commonly associated with a sense of morality, since the fourteenth century the word has also been used without a moral dimension, as “inward knowledge or consciousness of something within or relating to oneself; internal conviction, personal awareness” (OED def. II.7.a), which is the sense in which it appears in Paramythion. Similarly, despite the book’s religious context, the “afflictions” referred to do not necessarily or exclusively mean sin or guilt, but rather all nature of “trouble” and “dismay” from which the sufferer “cannot tell how to be delivered” (B1v). The book collects not all but many writings of Greenham’s, including the two treatises promised by the title as well as several letters and sermons and “A great number of grave and wise counsels and answers” (A4r).

To this volume Crooke contributed a dedicatory epistle, a two-page note “To the Reader,” and a prefatory poem titled “An Epigrame to the Reader.” Crooke’s verses are sympathetic and encouraging, even if he is not a gifted poet. Although still only a medical student, Crooke shows a physician’s predilection for diagnosis, prescription, and treatment; the steps of the healing process seem to correspond with his three stanzas, in which he describes the ailment, suggests a remedy, and explains the outcome:

The thirstie soule, that fainteth in the way,

Or hunger-bit for heavenly foode doth long:

The weared Hart, that panteth all the way

Oppressed with feares, & home-bread griefs among;

The blinded eye, that hunt’s the shining ray,

Or minde enthralde, through Satans wily wrong:

Let hither fare for comfort in their neede;

For smothered flames a greater fire will breede.


Here silver streames shall quench thy boyling heat,

And hony dewes thy hungrie stomacke fill,

Heere sweete Repose with Comfort shall intreate

Thy wounded breast to cure with busy skill,

Hence fetch thy ransome howsoever great,

A mine of treasures are in this faire hill;

From whose hye top thy scaled eies may see

A glorious light that shall enlighten thee.


The streames are bloud, the dew is bread frō heavē

The Rest and Comfort are cœlestiall joys;

The ransome from the crosse was freely given,

The light is faith, which darknes all destroyes.

THrise happy man that guides his steps so even,

As his pure light no gloomy darke annoyes.

His ransom’d soule æternall joys shall win

When timelye death shall blessed life begin.

Although the prefatory materials in the 1598 edition are only signed, “H.C.,” a later (and more complete) edition of Greenham’s works edited by Henry Holland identifies their author as Helkiah Crooke.

Works cited:

Carlson, Eric Josef. “Greenham, Richard (early 1540s–1594).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 6 Sept. 2016.

Parker, Kenneth L., and Eric J. Carlson. ‘Practical Divinity’: The Works and Life of Revd Richard Greenham. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998.

Greenham, Richard. Paramythion: Two Treatises of the Comforting of an Afflicted Conscience. London: Richard Bradocke, 1598.

Holland, Henry. “The Preface to the Reader.” The Works of the Reverend and Faithfull Servant of Jesus Christ M. Richard Greenham. Ed. Holland. London: Felix Kingston, 1599.

34 Copies of Crooke

As it turns out, I was lucky enough to be awarded a University of Iowa Graduate College T. Anne Cleary International Dissertation Research Award, which enabled me to take a two-and-a-half week trip to England to look at copies of Crooke’s books, along with some other things. I’ve just been back a week.

This was an intense research trip. I saw a library per day–sometimes more. I visited London, Cambridge, and Oxford. And I viewed every copy of Crooke on record in those locations: 34 copies of Mikrokosmographia and 13 copies of Somatographia Anthropine.

This bibliographic research was crucial to my dissertation work. But perhaps even more vital were the manuscripts I saw, which included Crooke’s 13 theses on anatomy from the University of Leiden, held at the Royal Society of Medicine; the Annals of the College of Physicians, with their many, many references to Crooke at varying stages of his career; and the Sloane Manuscripts at the British Library, which record printer William Jaggard’s treatment for syphilis (perhaps at the hands of Crooke himself) and several quotations from/references to Mikrokosmographia.

The trip was a pivotal event in the course of my PhD degree. It validated for me the work I am undertaking in my dissertation as well as reinvigorating my enthusiasm. Although the research I completed does not hardly represent a comprehensive survey of Crooke’s anatomy, it is a sizeable step in that direction. There were also a couple of surprises that hadn’t been on the agenda, including not one but two amazing hand-colored copies I had no idea existed. I waited until after I’d visited all the libraries to counted up the individual copies I had actually seen, and it made for a nice surprise as well as a real feeling of accomplishment. I look forward to returning to England someday to spend more time with Crooke!

Crooke at Cambridge

I have been looking up copies of Mikrokosmographia located in London and Oxbridge in preparation to apply for funding to enable a dissertation research trip late this summer/early fall.

My starting place is the English Short Title Catalogue online. Although the lists of copies provided there are notoriously unreliable, it gives me a good idea of where to go looking, including places I would otherwise never identify as a possible location for a library, much less a copy of Crooke’s book. I then visit the corresponding online library catalogs to perform searches for copies of any edition or issue of Mikrokosmographia or Somatographia Anthropine, the epitome. I very much enjoy this virtual detective work, although it tests the limits of my technological skills and proves the vagaries of various online cataloging systems and practices. It also makes me incredibly anxious to complete the investigation, which absolutely requires a physical trip to the archives.

One particularly tantalizing tidbit I uncovered is a copy of Mikro at the University of Cambridge. I should say, first of all, that there appear to be nine Crooke books at Cambridge total:

  • Mikrokosmographia
    • First edition
      • 1615 issue: 2 copies
      • 1618 issue: 2 copies
    • Second edition
      • 1631: 3 copies
  • Somatographia Anthropine
    • First edition
      • 1616: 1 copy
    • Second edition
      • 1634: 1 copy

It is also little surprise to find such a plethora of Crooke at Cambridge, as it is his Alma Mater; at age fifteen he matriculated as a sizar, earning his B.A. with John Bois at St. John’s College in 1596. After studying medicine for a time in Leiden, he returned to Cambridge and earned his medical degree in 1604.

Although the copies of Crooke’s books are scattered around the University, there is some online documentation of the one owned by Crooke’s own college, St. John’s. It is a 1618 Mikrokosmographia (third issue of the first edition). The volume–donated by Hugh Gatty, another St. John’s alum–features a contemporary binding stamped in gilt with the coat of arms of its original owner: Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (1593-1641), and, you guessed it, also a graduate of St. John’s. Images of the binding and Strafford’s signature inside the front board of the book as well as more info about Wentworth can be found on the St. John’s College website.

I’m very much hoping that the funding comes through and I am able to complete this research. I’ve located over 30 copies to see between Oxford, Cambridge, and multiple London locations including the British Library, the Wellcome Institute, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Royal College of Physicians. There are several other potential copies whose existence and location have been less possible to verify online. In addition to copies of Crooke’s books, I hope to view the Sloane Manuscripts that contain mentions of him, the Annals of the Royal College of Physicians in which he appears multiple times, and the manuscript copy of Crooke’s Leiden thesis at the Royal Society of Medicine.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Crooke

Today I spent some time reading and revisiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries for all the people I could find related to Helkiah Crooke’s early life. There are entries for:

  • Thomas Crooke, Helkiah’s father
  • Samuel Crooke, Helkiah’s older brother
  • Stephen Egerton, Helkiah’s brother-in-law
  • John Bois, Helkiah’s tutor at Cambridge

In addition to a few amusing anecdotes, I was able to piece together some interesting information about the Crooke family. One thing I hadn’t previously realized is that there were nine siblings in all! From eldest to youngest, the four older children were Sara, Thomas, Samuel, and Helkiah. The five younger were two boys and three girls—John, Richard, Rachel, Anne, and Elizabeth—who were all still minors at the time of their father’s death in 1598.

I looked to the entry for Helkiah’s father, Thomas Crooke, hoping to find the name of Helkiah’s mother. In her husband’s will, she is identified as “Samuell my wief.” Apparently Helkiah’s older brother Samuel had the rare distinction of being named after his mother. I haven’t yet come across any other women named Samuel in the early modern period (or any other), but I’m keeping an eye out.

Interestingly (if not particularly usefully), I also discovered that, by marriage, twice-removed, Helkiah has a distant connection to John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts. Helkiah’s older sister, Sara, married Stephen Egerton; Egerton’s younger sister Anne had a daughter, Margaret, who married Winthrop in 1618.

Helkiah’s relationship to Egerton, a puritan preacher, is far more consequential for other reasons, however. Egerton and his associate Robert Dexter gave Helkiah his first chance to appear in print. The two men were undertaking a collected edition of the works of Richard Greenham (he has his own ODNB entry), a beloved puritan clergyman who had recently died. Helkiah apparently helped with the volume’s editing and wrote an introduction and some verses that appear in its opening pages. The book, Paramthion: Two Treatises of the Comforting of an Afflicted Conscience, was published in 1598 and can be found on EEBO, complete with the portions Crooke authored.

It was not only Helkiah’s brother-in-law and father who were clergymen, however. His older brother Samuel also entered the church. Although the two men lived very different lives, I can see parallels between them. The brothers were born only a year apart, and I find it hard not to believe that they would have been close growing up. Both brothers attended Cambridge. Like his younger brother Helkiah, who at times struggled with his governing professional body (the College of Physicians), Samuel encountered complaints from the church courts. The records of both institutions show that the brothers were equally vociferous defendants of their own actions. Both men, in the course of their careers, became published authors of some fame. Ultimately, however, time was kinder to the memory of Samuel Crooke, who passed away one year after his younger brother. Although Helkiah died relatively poor and friendless, Samuel’s funeral was attended by “many hundreds,” far more than the church could hold.

On a lighter note, the entry on Helkiah’s tutor John Bois provides an amusing anecdote. Bois was a Greek scholar who is now best remembered for his work on the King James Bible, which he helped translate and annotate. Crooke initially studied with Bois for his BA degree at Cambridge, but after a brief stint at the University of Leiden, Crooke returned to England to earn his MD. Back at Cambridge, Crooke resumed his study of medicine with Bois, who had originally “thought of studying medicine but, imagining he had every disease of which he read, gave it up” in favor of Greek; Bois’s biographer amusingly describes the scholar’s attitude toward his own health as “a fetish” (David Norton, ODNB). Surely, if nothing else, Crooke’s early medical training was fastidious.

Together, along with many others we’ve lost to history, these people shaped and influenced the young physician who would become the author of Mikrokosmographia. I am grateful to have the invaluable resource of the ODNB available to shed light on some of the lesser-known connections that played important roles in Crooke’s early life.

When “nothing” goes missing

As promised, the full version of the paper I recently presented at the Society for Textual Scholarship conference is linked below. I’ve revised it slightly, both in response to the wonderful feedback I received at the conference and to make it more readable, as it was originally intended to be heard. Please forgive the clunky documentation; I believe it is complete, but, as so often happens with conference papers, it is rather ungraceful.

When “Nothing” Goes Missing: The Impotent Censorship of Helkiah Crooke’s Mikrokosmographia

Although I don’t have immediate plans for this piece, questions of censorship will certainly continue to be a part of my general inquiry into Crooke’s book, and I welcome further insights/questions, etc. As soon as I find time, I’ll be following up on Whitney Trettien‘s excellent suggestion to take a look at some anatomical flapbooks, such as the Hardin Library’s Johann Remmelin’s Catoptrum microcosmicum (1619) here at the University of Iowa that Whitney has blogged about.

Crooke and censorship

My upcoming paper for the Society for Textual Scholarship conference meeting in Chicago, March 6-8, has afforded me the opportunity to return to one of the most intriguing mysteries surrounding Mikrokosmographia and, in doing so, I’ve be able to clarify some crucial information about editions and issues of this book. To summarize the issue I’m pursuing, let me quote from my abstract:

In 1612, William Jaggard, who would later print the first folio of Shakespeare’s works, required medical treatment for syphilis. He was seen by London physician Helkiah Crooke, and although the treatment was apparently unsuccessful (Jaggard later went blind from his illness), the two men struck up an ongoing relationship. For some time Jaggard, whose father was a barber-surgeon, had been considering publishing a medical volume, and he decided to take on Crooke’s own anatomy project, Mikrokosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man, a compendium of continental anatomy knowledge that Crooke hoped would forefront the development of more advanced dissection practices in England. The first edition was published in 1615.

However, copies of Crooke’s manuscript were in circulation as early as the summer of 1614, as evidenced by the scandal it created; Crooke’s book included a full description of the female reproductive system, and it was written in the vernacular. The first fact raised the ire of the Bishop of London, the second the objections of the College of Physicians, of which Crooke was a member. The church found the illustrations and description of the female body immoral, while the physicians protested the dissemination of their specialized professional knowledge to a broad audience. To add insult to injury, Crooke dedicated his book to the city’s other group of medical professionals, the barber-surgeons. While the physicians were university-educated members of the upper class, the barber-surgeons trained by apprenticeship with little or no formal schooling.

The printing of the anatomy was a substantial project; Crooke writes in his “Praeface to the Chyrurgeons” that he had to limit the book’s size because, at just over 1,000 pages, it had grown “too chargeable for the printer.” It seems clear that both author and publisher had much to lose, and the protests regarding Mikrokosmographia were adamant. The church demanded that the College reign in its errant member; the College called for Crooke to appear before them, and when he failed to show, they in turn called for Jaggard; his wife appeared in the blind printer’s place. The College threatened that if the offending sections (Books Four and Five) were not removed from the book, they would burn all copies of the volume upon publication.

Despite all this, Crooke and Jaggard printed the book in its original form. Astonishingly, there were no repercussions.

What adds further intrigue to what turned out to be apparently empty threats from the Bishop of London and College of Physicians is that the second edition of Crooke’s book, first published in 1631 while Crooke was still alive and well but by a different publisher (as Jaggard had died in 1623), was censored to some extent. The main alteration I am focusing on is one of the offending illustrations, that of an anatomized woman’s torso, sans head, sans arms, sans legs… but not sans everything. In the first edition of Mikrokosmographia (printed 1615, 1616, and 1618), the illustration includes detailed depiction of the vaginal cleft. In the second edition (printed 1631 and 1651), the anatomical detail in that area of the woodblock has been obliterated.

I first reported on this difference back in October 2012 when I first viewed a later copy at the University of Washington while at a conference in Seattle. I have since been able to view four additional copies of the book at the University of Chicago: a 1615, 1616, 1641, and 1651 (in addition to a 1634 copy of Alexander Read’s cross-indexed 8vo epitome). Mr. Ronald Sims of the Galter Health Sciences Library at Northwestern University kindly inspected their 1618 and 1631 copies for me yesterday. (I’m headed to Madison to visit special collections at the University of Wisconsin tomorrow to see their 1631 and 1651 copies.)

All of this observation has enabled me to confirm what I suspected from EEBO images—that the first edition of the book, the three issues of which were all printed by William Jaggard, features the illustration in its fully detailed form, while the second and third editions, printed by Richard Cotes, reflect the alteration to the woodblock.

Interestingly, although Jaggard both printed and sold the first edition, the second edition was printed by Cotes but sold by Michael Sparke. The Oxford DNB notes, “Sparke’s life and work were characterized by his maniacal devotion to the protestant religion.” Sparke’s relationship to women was also fraught: He was married twice, and although when he died he left a significant portion of his money to his second wife, he requested burial beside his first; he also banned all women, save his daughters and granddaughters, from his funeral. I intend to investigate whether Sparke’s role in the production of the second edition may have influenced the decision to the alter the image in question.

In addition to this possible influence from the second edition’s seller, I’m also conducting further research into print censorship in early modern England. We all know that history doesn’t follow a neat cause-and-effect trajectory; unfortunately, the human race does not learn from its mistakes and progress steadily forward, constantly improving. Although the publication of the first edition of Mikrokosmographia in its original form represented a step forward as the first medical description of the female reproductive system published in the English vernacular, any progress made was subtly undercut by the alterations made to this illustration in the second edition. I look forward to reading more about the social, personal, religious, and political forces that influenced this outcome.

“Early Modern Practitioners” at Exeter

There’s a new website up for the exciting prosopographical project underway at the University of Exeter, “The Medical World of England, Wales and Ireland, c. 1500-1715.” The website is called Early Modern Practitioners and provides an overview of the project, sample data, a “practitioner of the month,” and more. Ultimately, this project will take the form of a database containing biographies of all the active medical practitioners during the time period and in the locations of the project’s title as well as a study of the data compiled which will be published as a major monograph.

This project will build in part on the work I’ve previously mentioned completed by Margaret Pelling. As someone with keen interest in this subject and who has conducted a considerable amount of research in this area, it is my opinion that this is work that very much needs to be done. Although there has been excellent and extensive work on the key players in this time period—think William Harvey—the truth is, there aren’t that many William Harveys. A lot of the big names in medicine (and related fields) are coming out of other parts of Europe; Great Britain is noticeably behind the continent in medical advancement (as well as most other areas) during the Renaissance.

But this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a vibrant medical scene in England, Wales, and Ireland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In fact, as the website explains:

The sheer numbers of people who practised medicine in some form or other during the medieval and early modern periods are overwhelming. Medical practitioners were, quite literally, everywhere. From ‘formal’ trained and licensed physicians across to the village blacksmith who might perform a secondary role as tooth-drawer, the types of practitioner are also legion. All of the terms below can be found in early modern sources as descriptive terms for practitioners, including their various derivatives and alternative spellings) and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Physic (Phisic, Physick, Phisique, Fisick(e)), Physician, Doctor (of medicine), licentiate, Practicer, Practitioner, Apothecary (pothecary, poticary), Surgeon, Chirurgeon (Chirurgion), Barber, Barber-Surgeon, Mounteban(c)k, Druggist, Chemist, Midwife, Peruke-maker.

This legion of individuals is indeed a rich cross-section of early modern culture, and it will be vastly interesting to see what insights this project develops.

Although I certainly hope that Crooke will be a part of this database, in truth he falls somewhere between this vast majority of medical practitioners and those well-known names like Harvey. Although not widely considered a major contributor to his field, and certainly not a readily recognizable name for most people, Crooke has in fact received much more attention than many of his contemporary physicians, as William Birken has reminded me. But it may be precisely because of this in-between role that he maintains—his part as an “irregular,” as Pelling calls this group—that Crooke may be particularly situated to lend helpful insight to some of the questions raised by this project and related inquiries.