I began with Anatomy

The title page of Mikrokosmographia is followed by an epistle to the king . . . which I look forward to translating once I learn Latin, but which we must skip for now. This is, obviously, not the only Latin in the book, but it is the only substantial portion of text presented in that language, a choice I will explore when Crooke addresses it (which he does within his first few pages).

Setting that aside, however, brings us (finally!) to the English-language content of the book, beginning with “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.” Crooke addresses his audience thus:

T O   T H E   W O R S H I P F U L L

Company of the Barber-Chyrurgeons, the

Maister, Wardens, Assistants, and Comminalty of the same;

HELKIAH CROOKE, Physitian and Professor

in Anatomy and Chirurgery to His MAJESTIE,

wisheth Happie and prosperous successe in


Crooke, of course, is not himself a member of the barber-surgeon’s company; he is a physician. In this time period, the  barber-surgeons and the physicians were two distinct groups with distinct professional roles. Barber-surgeons had little or no formal schooling and entered the profession by apprenticeship and joining the guild. Physicians entered their profession through college education and membership in the College of Physicians:

A small group of physicians led by the scholar Thomas Linacre petitioned King Henry VIII to establish the College in 1518. They wanted the power to grant licenses to those qualified to practice medicine and to punish unqualified practitioners and those engaging in malpractice.

As the founding charter decreed, the College would: “curb the audacity of those wicked men who shall profess medicine more for the sake of their avarice than from the assurance of any good conscience, whereby many inconveniences may ensue to the rude and credulous populace.” In 1523 an Act of Parliament extended the College’s licensing powers from London to the whole of England.

Linacre wanted to found an academic body for physicians rather than a trade guild of the kind which regulated surgeons and apothecaries. Physicians were seen as the educated elite of the medical world: a degree was required to gain a College’s license. Candidates for Fellowship underwent an oral examination to demonstrate that they were “groundedly learned” (classically educated) in addition to their medical knowledge.

From the start the College was involved in battles with other medical bodies in the struggle to control medical licensing in London. Until the 19th Century there were usually fewer than 60 College Fellows at any one time and under 100 licentiates. It is not surprising that the more numerous surgeons and apothecaries felt they had a strong mandate to treat the rapidly expanding population of London without restrictions from physicians. The College did not always grasp opportunities to lead the broader medical profession and critics saw it as a conservative and protectionist body. (http://old.rcplondon.ac.uk)

As this brief history from the Royal College of Physicians website hints, these two professional organizations were frequently at odds with each other, even though the nature of their work was closely related. Crooke recognizes the counterproductivity of this situation. Although he may have had additional motives (many of Crooke’s actions appear to have been taken in the primary interest of financial gain), Crooke presents his volume as a gesture of goodwill toward the barber-surgeons, an effort to aid them in improving their knowledge of their trade. His preface begins:

My Maisters and Worshipfull Friends. As from the first I intended this Labor unto your behoofe; so now having by Gods assistance brought it to an end, I offer it unto you as a token of my Love: Not that I doubt but there are some among you who as themselves stand in no neede of my helpe, so they are also able to have set out this Banquet with greater variety and to have Cooked it fitter for you as being better acquainted with your diet and appetites. But because it is now a long time since your Banister (that good old man) first presented you with a service of this kind, and no man hath seconded him; I have adventured to commit unto you these first fruites of my untainted fame: which if you shall kindly entertaine and make such use thereof as I may not think my labour misbestowed, you shall encourage me cheerefully to run on that course which I have propounded to my selfe to further your profiting in that Noble Art which you have taken upon you to professe. For when I first began, I intended the Anatomy to be but an entrance into a worke of Chyrurgerie, which I had digested into a forme fit, as I thinke, first to ground and establish you in the Principles and Theory or Contemplative part of your profession, and after to builde you up unto the practise of the same. And because the Body of Man is the Subject of your Art, without the knowledge whereof it is impossible for a Chirurgeon to work with any confidence or certainty of successe, I began with Anatomy.

Crooke positions his endeavor in writing his anatomy manual as a “service” to his “friends” the barber-surgeons. He acknowledges his predecessor, John Banister, who published his less-comprehensive The Historie of Man in 1578. (The fact that he makes no mention of Thomas Vicary’s Anatomie of Mans Body, originally published in 1548 and reprinted in 1577, leads me to believe that volume had less bearing on English surgery and anatomy practices than the other, at least after 1600 or so.) Crooke seems to be planning a much larger career in medical writing than he will actually accomplish, not only in his larger plan for this book but in the other endeavors he hints at, this volume being just the start of his “untainted fame.” Best laid plans aside, it does seem a little bizarre that Crooke begins discussing his self-proclaimed “description of the body of man” in food metaphors, calling the volume his “first fruites” and a “banquet” that has been “cooked” for the “diet and appetites” of the barber-surgeons. The relationship between the body and food is an intriguing one in Mikrokosmographia and resurfaces many times.

Revisiting this first paragraph of “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons” gave me a feeling of camaraderie with Crooke. My efforts in undertaking this blog seem to echo his own in drafting Mikrokosmographia in the way the project has burgeoned beyond my expectations. My summer schedule has been fuller than I anticipated, and while I enjoy the work, it takes up so much more time than it seems it ought to. However, this, I fear, is the nature of all such academic endeavors. Although the end result may not be what I originally anticipated, with Crooke, I’ll carry on.


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