Who is Crooke?

Helkiah Crooke, b. 1576, was a British physician from Suffolk, educated at Cambridge and Leiden. Early in his career he moved to London where he encountered William Jaggard (who would later publish Shakespeare’s First Folio) when the printer required treatment for syphilis. In 1615, Jaggard published Crooke’s 1,000+ page Mikrokosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man, an anatomy manual Crooke had compiled from a combination of classical sources, translated continental texts, and his own observations and experiences. The most comprehensive anatomy volume to be published in the vernacular at that point in time, the book was enormously popular and was reprinted multiple times.

In 1619, Crooke managed to secure the keepership of Bethlem Hospital and became the first medical man to hold that position. Crooke instituted some much-needed reforms, but his tenure was fraught with scandal, and he was finally ousted in 1634 under accusations of financial fraud.

Based on a comment in his brother’s will, Crooke seems to have had at least one daughter, but little else is known about his family life. Later editions of his book were less successful than the early printings, as its information became outdated. Legal proceedings regarding his ouster from Bethlehem took their toll on Crooke’s finances. He was poor enough to be motivated to sell his fellowship back to the College of Physicians for £5 in 1635 and was buried in Clerkenwell when he died in March of 1648.

Crooke has been regarded dubiously by many, and as a downright fraud by some. Some view Mikrokosmographia as little more than a work of plagiarism, but his contributions cannot be discarded simply because they draw on other sources. In this book, Crooke functions as author, editor, and translator, all of which are rhetorically important roles.

*The best source for a more complete biography of Crooke is the entry composed by William Birken in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (see Further Reading)

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