“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.


Sawday to Keynote CCC Conference at UIowa

Organizing the 13th annual Craft Critique Culture conference at the University of Iowa is just one of the many things keeping me from completing a new blog post, so I thought I’d let both projects serve the other by posting the CFP here. Our submission deadline has just been pushed back to February 8.

Most exciting in relation to the subject matter of this blog is our guest keynote speaker, Dr. Jonathan Sawday. Sawday, a cultural historian and author of The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture, is Walter J. Ong, S.J., chair in the humanities and currently serves as chairperson of the English department at St. Louis University. I once had dinner with Dr. Sawday, who told me that back in England he had perused a copy of Mikrokosmographia the pages of which were splattered with blood from the anatomy theater. Sawday’s current work on blanks and voids in literature, art, and culture ties into our conference theme, “Into the Void.” See CFP below (feel free to pass on/circulate):

The 13th Annual Craft Critique Culture Conference

Into the Void

March 29-30, 2012

University of Iowa

But in the midst of the long row there hangs a canvas which differs from the others. . . . on this one plate no name is inscribed, and the linen within the frame is snow-white from corner to corner, a blank page.

                                                                                                — Isak Dinesen, “The Blank Page”

As an interdisciplinary conference, CCC itself enters into the void between disciplines. We seek papers from the broadest variety of fields (English, philosophy, history, law, classical studies, anthropology, art, sociology, theater, political science, psychology, etc.), from the full range of approaches and time periods, as well as work that is itself interdisciplinary (cultural studies, book history, religious studies, bioethics and humanities, media studies, digital humanities, etc.). We want to hear about the voids you encounter in literature, art, culture, and even the sciences. Voids can be frightening areas of the unknown, the empty, the uncharted, but as such they can also be spaces for incredible opportunity and discovery.

The word “void” is both spatial and conceptual. As a noun, it can signify a blank page, an empty room, or ineffective speech; as a verb, it can render vacant, exhaust a subject, nullify or annul. The void is gap, absence, lack—but also possibility, purity, and potential. How is the void figured in art, music, literature, and film? Is there an aesthetic of the void? A language of the void? How does the artist or author negotiate the void? How does the audience or reader negotiate it? How is the void made productive? How does encountering the void affect/alter identity? How are voids deployed in order to manipulate or appease?

Topics could include:

  • Blank spaces in works of literature, film, art, etc.
  • Opportunity created by a void
  • Concepts of “impossible speech”
  • Performing the void
  • Voids in translation
  • Identity voids
  • Spatial voids
  • Poetics of the void
  • Anxiety of the void
  • Geographical voids
  • Ethics of the void
  • Ellipsis
  • Liminality
  • Marginality
  • Politics and the void
  • Anything related to gaps, spaces, fissures, emptiness, holes, darkness, blankness, unboundedness, openness, etc.

Craft Critique Culture is an interdisciplinary conference focusing on the intersections among critical and creative approaches to writing both within and beyond the academy. We invite the submission of critical, theoretical, and original creative work in a variety of media and across the humanities, sciences, and legal disciplines. In the past, submissions have included not only traditional scholarly papers but also film, video, music, writing, visual art and artists’ books, and performance. There are all kinds of voids to explore, in all kinds of ways.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 350 words. Full panels (featuring three papers) may also be proposed. Each panel proposal should consist of three abstracts and a brief explanation of the panel’s purpose and relevance to the conference. Each panel submission should total no more than 1,000 words. Please include name, institutional affiliation (if applicable), street address, telephone number, and email address on all abstracts and proposals.  Please submit all paper abstracts or panel proposals to Craft Critique Culture, studorg-c3conf@uiowa.edu. Submission deadline is February 8, 2013.


Peregrinations: Hearts and Harvey

One of my recent challenges with this blog has been an editorial one. How do I determine what information belongs?

When I first conceived of this project, the intention was simply to go through and create a modernized version of Crooke’s text. I didn’t intend to post every word, but a paragraph or two here and there that represented the really interesting parts, along with some interpretation/insights. In looking back over my posts so far, I realize that has become a rather small part of what I’ve done.

This is, I think, because that narrow focus is only a small part of what I’m pursuing with Crooke outside of the blog. He is, after all, a far larger character than just “author of Mikrokosmographia,” and my interest in him has led me to far broader intellectual pursuits. I still see the modernized version of the anatomy text as an important project, and one I want to continue. But there’s a lot of exciting related stuff happening outside of that text, too – stuff that (it seems to me, anyway) someone interested in the text of the anatomy book might also find interesting. And sharing it here has provided a convenient way of documenting and indexing those discoveries.

I’ve realized this situation reflects the tension in my own scholarly work between close attention to the text and the book as a material object on one side and broader historical, social, and theoretical contexts on the other. I see too many links between these things to accept them as mutually exclusive. And I’m too interested in them both to neglect either one completely. But I have yet to identify a clear way of balancing them together—or maybe not just balancing, but joining. Perhaps continuing my multivalent blogging will help with that.

In hope that it will, I’d like to share a short paper I recently wrote that only very briefly mentions Crooke. The assignment was a close reading of limited length, and so that is what I have here, but I think there may be potential for expansion. As I mentioned previously, I’ve been reading Crooke’s better-known contemporary William Harvey for this class, and his De motu cordis (or, at least, one paragraph of it) is the focus of this piece. That book recounts the discovery of the circulation of the blood, and I explore a remarkable moment in which Harvey does three very interesting things: 1) Experiments on an animal that allows anatomy without dissection, 2) Philosophically ponders the definition of life upon observation of a “disappearing” heart, and 3) Shares his experiments with friends. I welcome feedback/comments/questions (although I have no immediate plans for revision/expansion).

“The Beginning of Life”: Seeing and Being in William Harvey’s De motu cordis


The 1651 edition

While in Seattle for the PAMLA conference, I was able to make a brief visit to the Health Sciences Library at the University of Washington to view their copy of the 1651 edition of Crooke’s Mikroskomographia. Although I didn’t have time (or the resources handy) to closely compare the text itself (by which I mean the words that comprise the body of the work – is “text” the correct term?), I did notice several other distinct aspects of this edition and this individual book.

For one thing, the 1651 edition includes several new illustrations. Most striking is the completely made-over title page, part of which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. This title page also appears on the 1631 edition (and perhaps others; I suppose one thing to add to the “to-do” list is a catalog of title pages among editions). I apologize for the poor image quality; while my iPhone camera actually does quite a fine job when given the chance, I was in a bit of a hurry, and ended up with several blurs. I do have better photographs of each of the individual sections.

There are many interesting images packed into the tight space, and I’ll spend another post examining each more closely, including the tableau at the bottom which, supposedly, includes a portrait of Crooke himself. What I found most unfortunate about this UW copy is that the library has placed their identifying stamp directly on the back of the title page, causing the bright blue ink to bleed through right in the middle of the text at center. I mentioned this to Donna Hirst, curator of the John Martin Rare Book Room at the medical library here at UIowa. She explained that some sort of permanent identifying mark is necessary in case the book should be stolen; however, she agreed with me that the placement of the UW stamp was a travesty. I wonder if perhaps they were worried the title page itself might be torn out, given that it’s arguably the most interesting visual in the book. Although I’d rather see it some place more unobtrusive, I do like the idea of a permanent mark being placed on the book by each and every one of its owners, as a matter of provenance as well as narrative—it’s part of the book’s own story.

The images within the 1651 Mikrokosmographia also vary from the 1615 edition. There are new additions, as well as alterations to existing illustrations. One of the most striking changes to previous images that I noticed involves the illustration of the female reproductive system; the original detailed illustration of the genitals has been erased into a featureless blob.

1615 edition (UIowa copy)

1651 edition (UW copy)

Given that Crooke’s original inclusion of such explicit images caused vehement protest, but he insisted on printing them anyway (apparently to no consequence), I was initially surprised to see the more demure version in this later edition—until I double-checked my dates. Crooke died in 1648, meaning this later edition was published three years after his death. Thirty-six years later, the censors gained some ground, although I can’t help but think of this victory as rather little, and awfully late. I’m anxious now to check the intervening editions for this image.


The Irregulars; or, an Adventure in Prosopography

The book I mentioned at the end of my last post, Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross (2007), did prove an enjoyable read. As a grad student in English lit, I do a lot of reading, but far too little of it is honestly “enjoyable.” (Note: I am not complaining about reading, nor am I saying I dislike scholarly reading; I’m simply identifying a different type of reading.) This particular book did not mention Crooke, or, indeed, have much to say about the specific areas my own research currently focuses on. Still, it helped remind me why I’m interested in these areas; it was, in a very literal way, refreshing. I was sad when I reached the end and could no longer savor my little bits of “fun” reading each day. I need to look for something to follow it, something equally interesting and insightful but still light.

However, the Montross book did lead me back to Crooke in a new and exciting way by a rather unusual route. I had a break one Friday that was perfect for a bit of reading, and just as I was mentally bemoaning the fact that I’d finished Body of Work, I realized I was walking past the university library. Usually when I go into the library for a book, I have a call number ready in my hand, but this time, looking for something “fun,” I was determined to just walk into the stacks and find something that looked good; if it didn’t pan out, I’d simply bring it back.

I am a huge promoter of browsing the stacks at the library to find sources; this is why I go in with a list of three books to pull off the shelves and walk out with a stack of eleven. There is, of course, a method to the call number madness. (I think closed stacks are an absolute tragedy.) However, I have more than once discovered a section of great value to me when something simply caught my eye as I walked by. This time, just looking for anything, I happened across the history of medicine section. How had I not been there before?

As a narrative of my browsing is probably not of particular interest to anyone, I’ll cut to the chase. I found a fabulous book: Medical Conflicts in Early Modern London: Patronage, Physicians, and Irregular Practitioners, 1550-1641 by Margaret Pelling, published in 2003. Pelling is at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at Oxford, where she formerly worked with Charles Webster (he of From Paracelsus to Newton fame, for those of you familiar). As you might guess, Crooke falls handily into the category of “irregular practitioners,” and not only does Pelling mention him specifically multiple times (and provide some new information on him), but this book provides me with a new way of thinking about Crooke and his cohort and, I think, possibly . . . a dissertation idea.

Pelling explains that the College of Physicians of London was fairly new in Crooke’s time, having been founded only in 1518, and, simply put, it had control issues.

[T]he College had from the outset the task and intention of controlling all practitioners of physic in the capital, as well as the supervision of what it regarded as the subordinate institutions regulating the medical art. The College’s forms of control were primarily exclusionary and punitive: any practitioner of physic active inside a 7-mile radius in London was defined as illicit unless he (women were not eligible) had been licensed by the College, and illicit practice was punishable by fines and imprisonment. (Pelling 1)

The reality, of course, was that this prohibition meant that a sizeable group of various sorts of medical practitioners were left on the “periphery.” Many of those individuals are, unfortunately but inevitably, lost to history. While we know a good deal about the properly licensed physicians documented by the College’s official records, we know less about the rule-breakers; however, those same College records do provide some information on the rule-breakers they caught, punished, and/or attempted to thwart. Pelling describes the fringe group on which she focuses as “the 714 different medical practitioners—the ‘irregulars’—to whom the Annals or minutes of the College give us access during the ninety years between October 1550 and September 1640” (3-4). Crooke, interestingly, falls into both groups; while he did eventually become a “proper” member of the College, he also frequently found himself at odds with them.

In her study of the London physicians, Pelling employs prosopography, a term that was new to me; according to the OED, it refers to “A study or description of an individual’s life, career, etc.; esp. a collection of such studies focusing on the public careers and relationships of a group in a particular place and period; a collective biography.” Interestingly, one of the conclusions Pelling makes after studying “the irregulars” as a group is that they construe a “middling sort” of class in their society.

As is plain to see, the strength of the medical hegemony in modern western society has had the predictable effect of breeding its polar opposite; extremes of faith and cynicism flourish accordingly, and require histories to match. In these histories we have physicians and quacks, quacks and physicians, with variants which see pre-modern physicians and quacks as one and the same. Regrettably, some forms of cultural history may inadvertently reinforce this vicious circle, by denying medicine a material existence, and defining it instead as primarily performance, either in person or in print. However great their value, interpretations which avoid materiality are likely to do little to restore the ‘excluded middle’ which has been created by medicine’s largely successful attempt to separate itself from other crafts and trades, primarily but not exclusively at the artisanal level. As well as affecting our impressions of medicine itself, as strictly defined, this separation has also involved areas such as art, music gastronomy, and theatre. These activities were later brought back into the self-image of the accomplished, polymathic practitioner, once they were purged of their connection with the artisanal crafts and could be made to look cultivated (cultural) or artistic. (Pelling 12-13)

Pelling even ponders whether the physicians may form a sort of middle class in early modern London:

Were the collegiate physicians—with their dependency on decorum, their stress on what was later called the meritocratic intellect, their sensitivity about social privilege, their faith in rational negotiation, their appeal to legislation, and, above all, their definitive emphasis on (but not involvement in) education—providing a template for middle-class values in many respects ahead of their time? (Pelling 15)

After merely reading Pelling’s introduction (and the sections about Crooke, of course), I was really excited. This is not only a whole new way of thinking about Crooke; it’s a whole new way in which he matters. And, although I have to do more research, I think I may have a way here to turn my love of Crooke into a feasible dissertation project. Pelling, as a historian, bases her research solely on official historical records. As a student of literature, I can incorporate creative representations of physicians into the equation; I can consider what Pelling’s hypotheses can tell us about the plays, poems, and stories of early modern London, and what that literature can tell us about Pelling’s hypotheses.

BUT—now for the good stuff. Here’s a list of the intriguing new (to me, anyway) information Pelling offers on Crooke:

1) He “had first-hand experience of plague in London” (54).

2) The instance in which Jaggard’s wife was called before the College to defend her husband’s decision to print Crooke’s book in its entirety (remember, the Bishop of London and the College of Physicians tried to suppress the portions on the female reproductive system) was not unique, or simply a result of Jaggard’s syphilitic blindness; “Culturally, it might have been thought that the most effective complainant on behalf of a husband was his wife, just as clemency could be gained for irregulars by the pleadings of their wives” (Pelling 124).

3) Helkiah name has variously been recorded Elias, Helkiach, Hilkiah, and Hilkias; variants of his last name include Crook, Croke, Cruyck, and the latinate Crocus.

4) “In the 1610s he [Crooke] appears to have had a shop in which he employed Thomas Lord, first as his servant and then as his ‘private apothecary'” (Pelling 127 n.).

5) Crooke claimed, in a letter to James I, “that they [the College of Physicians] themselves in public dissections exhibited the human body of either sex to be seen and touched and that they cut up indecent parts and explained each separately in the vernacular” (Pelling 222).

6) Pelling finds Crooke’s mastery of Latin impressive; she notes an instance in which “Crooke abased himself by letter (in Latin) [in an attempt to appease the College after an offense] even more successfully [than another irregular], being able to put his own criticisms across at the same time”; in a note, she follows, “Crooke’s letter is an excellent (calculated) example of humanist Latin as ‘adulation’s language'” (278).

I am particularly excited about Crooke’s shop and “private apothecary”—this is something I’ll definitely be pursuing with further research.


Ustion & Adduction

In my capacity as a grader, I’ve been reading a lot (and I do mean a lot) of undergrad close readings lately. I feel a little bit stuck in close-reading mode right now, so I’m going to look rather closely at a few more bits from Crooke’s “Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.”

Afterward I descend to the operations in particular, as to Division, Simple & Compound; Simple in Section & Ustion; Compound with Extraction and Extirpation. To Junction also, Simple and Compound, Simple in Adduction, Adaptation, and the way how to Conteine them so fitted together.

To begin with, there were some new vocabulary words for me in these sentences. According to the OED (I’ve underlined the definitions I think closest to Crooke’s use of these words):

Ustion, n. Obs. 1. The act of burning, or fact of being burnt. 2. a. The act of searing; cauterization. b. A place or surface presenting the appearance of being seared or cauterized. 3. fig. Concupiscence; libidinous desire. rare. [Instances of use provided range in date from 1567-1802.]

Extirpation, n. The action of extirpating. 1. The clearing (ground) of trees, etc. Obs. 2. a. The action of rooting up trees or weeds; total destruction. b. Surg. The operation of removing, by excision or the application of caustics, anything having an inward growth. 3. The action of extirpating or rooting out; extermination: a. of a nation, family, sect, species, etc. b. of an immaterial thing, e.g. heresy, a religion, vice, etc.

Adduction, n.1 1. a. The action or process of conveying something, esp. toward another; the fact of being so conveyed. Now rare. b. The action of moving towards something. Obs. rare. c. In the writings of medieval and Renaissance theologians, esp. Duns Scotus: the action or process by which Christ’s body is brought into the bread during the Eucharist; an instance of this. hist. in later use. 2. Anat. and Zool. The action of bringing a part of the body toward the median plane or midline, or of bringing two parts together. Also: the condition of being adducted. 3. The bringing forward of facts or statements as evidence; an instance of this.

In the larger passage from which I’ve drawn these lines, Crooke describes the instructions he has included in his anatomy volume. He explains that first his reader must have “knowledge of the healthfull and sound constitution which is the rule of the rest”; he can then proceed to describe certain diseases “so farre as it necessarie a Chyrurgeon should know.” The barber-surgeons, of course, only need to be familiar with those diseases that might require manual manipulation of the body to heal; all other diseases are the territory of the physicians. Crooke proceeds, “In the next place I handle the Operations of Chyrurgery in generall, where you have all the Instruments of your Art”; he says he provides a catalog and description of the various tools the barber-surgeons might use.

Crooke’s use of the word “art” in reference to the practice of anatomy is one of the first things about his writing that caught my attention. For me, that term denotes a certain right-brained approach to the matter at hand; it implies creativity, flexibility, imagination. However, when I looked the word up in the OED, I was surprised to discover that the first definition of “art” is “skill; its display, application, or expression.” When I think of skill, I think of rigidity, discipline, repetition. Crooke, as a physician, is clearly trying to improve the barber-surgeons skills by providing them with an anatomy manual in the vernacular; however, the tension between the two groups, the physicians and the barber-surgeons, is constantly present in Crooke’s rhetoric. He alternately refers to “your Art” and “our Art.” I’ll have to keep a close eye on how this carries out in the rest of the volume, but in the preface at least it appears to me that Crooke uses “your Art” when he wants to instruct the barber-surgeons on the technical aspects of anatomy and “our Art” when he is writing about the philosophical aspects of anatomy practice. Although their specific professional roles may clearly delineate the physicians from the barber-surgeons, the ethical (“Philosophicall”) concerns both groups face may be one way of uniting them.

When Crooke “descend[s] to the operations in particular,” I think he uses “descend” in the sense of getting “down” to business. He has just described the various surgery tools, and now he is going to explain their proper use. One of the things to remember about this anatomy manual is that Crooke doesn’t just write about dissecting cadavers; he talks about the body as a whole, the body’s constituent parts, and how to heal and repair the living body. This book may have served as a manual for actual anatomies conducted in the barber-surgeons’ hall, but there’s plenty of other information that goes above and beyond that service included as well. To return to our vocab words above, “ustion,” “extirpation,” and “adduction,” as the OED definitions help illustrate, are all concerned with specific kinds of “operations” barber-surgeons would have conducted on their living patients (the poor souls—none of these sounds very pleasant).

Looking ahead: In the way of a bit of a preview, I’m getting ready to read a rather more recent piece of nonfiction prose: Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross (2007). This semester I’m taking a Bioethics & Humanities seminar over at the medical school; I’m the only humanities student involved, but the med students have been very welcoming, and one lovely woman who was an English major as an undergraduate lent me this book when she heard about my anatomy interests. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book (categorized as “autobiography/personal memoir”):

Christine Montross was nervous as she waited outside the anatomy lab on her first day of medical school. But a strange thing happened when Montross met her cadaver. Instead of being disgusted by her, she found herself utterly fascinated—intrigued by the person the woman once was and humbled by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve.

The story of Montross and Eve is a tender and surprising examination of the mysteries of the human body, an eye-opening account of the history of cadaveric dissection, and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead.

At the very least, I’m sure it will be an enjoyable read. My higher hopes are that it might help me step back from Crooke at look at some of the larger concepts that are of interest to me here so that I can adjust and refocus my larger aims and take another step closer to conceiving a workable dissertation project. If there’s anything that illuminates the Crooke book directly, I’ll blog about it here.


As it is a rule in Geometry

For this post I want to return to Crooke’s text, looking at a specific phrase in the second paragraph of “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.” The first part of this passage reads as follows:

In the next place shall follow a Discourse of the constitution of mans body, as he enjoyeth a perfect or apportioned health by a due Mixture of the principles whereof he consisteth; of the Temperament of each part arising from that mixture; of the Offices or Functions proceeding from that temperament, and such other things as will fall in with the same. For as it is a rule in Geometry, that Rectum est index sui & obliqui, That which is Right measureth both it selfe and that which is crooked; so in our Art, he that knowes what should bee the natural disposition of everie part will be best able to judge when Nature declineth from that integrity, and how far the declination is from the true and genuine constitution. This part indeede is Philosophicall, but I shall make it so plaine, if God will, that a very reasonable capacity shall be able to apprehend it.

The underlining is mine; Crooke’s mention of geometry caught my attention because it immediately brought to mind one of my favorite articles, “Lessons from Literature for the Historian of Science (and Vice Versa): Reflections on ‘Form'” by Henry S. Turner (currently of Rutgers), published in the journal Isis in 2010. When I first read Turner’s piece a year ago it helped me begin to sketch out what interdisciplinary work between literary studies and the history of science might and should look like. I’ve had difficulty tying my disparate interests together and focusing them into a conceivable project for graduate studies in an English department, and this article was quite helpful to me in articulating some of what I envisioned.

What made me think of Turner’s article when I subsequently re-read this line from Crooke is the specific use of the geometry metaphor. In this paragraph, Crooke describes the way he has constructed his anatomy; he attempts to explain its form. As part of Turner’s discussion of form, he notes

In my own work on early modern English drama and its debt to modes of prescientific thought, I sought to combine all four notions of form [stylistic, structural, material, and social] along with a fifth: mathematical notions of form that were typical of geometry in both its speculative and practical varieties. Geometry provides one of the oldest and most enduring ways of thinking about the problem of form (the geometrical “statement” is, in the end, purely a formal one); in the late sixteenth century, mathematical notions of form that were primarily structural, spatial, and quantitative began to compete with rhetorical notions of form that were primarily linguistic, stylistic, and qualitative, with the result that early modern writers began to develop new ideas of form for their poems and plays. (581)

Turner goes on to cite examples of early modern authors—Philip Sidney, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson—drawing on fields such as cartography and carpentry to help form their writing.

For modern readers, an anatomical text that references geometry might not be notable; in our contemporary mindset, math and science go hand in hand. But my sense of early modern medical practices does not jive with that. In this very passage (and extensively elsewhere), Crooke refers to anatomy as “our Art.” He and his fellow physicians were university trained, but the barber-surgeons Crooke addresses this preface to are apprenticed and unschooled. Crooke is trying to convey technical medical knowledge to a relatively illiterate (at least, by early modern standards) bunch. In order to be successful, he has to put that specialized information into a form they can process.

This is why I find Mikrokosmographia such fertile ground (don’t think about that metaphor too hard) for exploring rhetorical construction in the early modern period. I see plenty of evidence within the text to support the notion that Crooke is, above all else, trying to make his book accessible. I haven’t yet fully explored this, but my hypothesis is that he is heavily influenced by classical and contemporary creative writing in the construction of his protoscientific text. Sawday briefly notes this possibility in The Body Emblazoned, and Elizabeth Harvey wrote an article on Spenserian allegory in one part of Crooke’s text; I plan to build on their work for a conference paper I’ll be presenting at PAMLA in October. But this instance of geometry in “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons,” interpreted via Turner, may be another piece of supporting evidence. Like Sidney, Dekker, and Jonson, and perhaps in imitation of them, Crooke draws on geometry to help give form to his text. As he explains, “This part indeede is Philosophicall, but I shall make it so plaine, if God will, that a very reasonable capacity shall be able to apprehend it”; by drawing on the tangible concept of geometry to give shape to the intangible philosophical aspects of his text, Crooke believes he will be able to convey his information even to those of “reasonable [and not exceptional] capacity,” the barber-surgeons.

Addendum – 9/8/12: As I may have mentioned, I was really, really tired when I wrote this post; Fridays after teaching may not be the best time to blog, as it turns out. Anyhow, I’m not going to fuss with it (muddled as it is), but I do want to clarify my main point: Crooke’s use of a geometry metaphor is unremarkable, but the fact that he’s using it specifically to describe the form of his text is, I think, significant.