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.
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.