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.

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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


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.


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

Your PROFESSION.

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.


Fiction or Fact?

Collected and Translated out of all the Best Authors of Anatomy, Especially out of Gasper Bauhinus and Andreas LaurentiusBy HELKIAH CROOKE Doctor of Physicke, Physitian to His Majestie, and his Highnesse PROFESSOR in Anatomy and Chyrurgerie.

This is where things start to get sticky, for Crooke and for me.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the biggest problems Crooke faces in academic circles is the issue of authorship. If, on the very title page, he himself admits he didn’t write this book, why should we be interested?*

For one thing, it matters who the “we” is. A book such as this holds interest for a variety of parties with (perhaps surprisingly) varied interests. It has value as a physical object in being a book from 1615. From a history-of-medicine standpoint, it’s significant as the first comprehensive English-language anatomy volume.** But what about those of us who live in the realm of literary analysis?

Even making accommodation for my biases, I still think there is obvious reason for us to give this book closer attention. It sort of dovetails bizarrely with my own efforts in creating a modernized version of the text. Any time you create another “version” of any kind, the editor/translator/transcriber has bearing on the work. It’s inevitable.

If we take that as a given, the next question is how much of an effect the editor/translator/whatever has. In the case of Crooke, my hypothesis is that he has quite a lot of impact. Okay, so he doesn’t make any valuable original scientific contributions. The bulk of his anatomy knowledge may be translated from other sources. But Crooke is still heavily present in this text, in three distinct ways.

First, as translator, Crooke chooses not only which words to use but also how to portray the tone and and intentions of his sources. Second, as editor of the volume, he makes crucial decisions about what material to include, what to cut, and in what order to position things. Third, Crooke has originally authored some portions of the text. Although he himself did not conduct any new anatomies in the process of writing this book, he is an educated and experienced practicing physician, and he draws on his experiences in that capacity to add to this text in multiple places. One of the things I’ll be cataloging as I make my way through the book in this blog is just how much of the text is his own original writing—with 1,000+ pages to sort through, even if it’s only a small percentage it may still be a significant amount.

Cumulatively, as author, editor, and translator, Crooke makes clear rhetorical choices in assembling his text and constructing his arguments, helping me to build my case in defense of studying his book. Where he doesn’t help himself is in making completely fallacious claims like the one above: Crooke may have been a “Doctor of Physicke,” but he was not ever “Physitian to His Majestie,” who in 1615 was, of course, James I.

It is not surprising that Crooke would make a claim like this; at the very least it seems a likely bit of marketing. Crooke had certainly met the monarch and was even “in his favor”—James I would later grant him the keepership of Bethlem Hospital (in 1619). Crooke’s few biographers agree on this: O’Malley says, “in a manner . . . unknown, he [Crooke] became attached to the royal medical service, but certainly not, as it is sometimes said, as one of the king’s personal physicians” (3); O’Donoghue reports that Crooke was “a familiar figure in the city [of London] and at court” (164); and Birken asserts Crooke had a strong ally in James I who offered the physician “continuing support” (ODNB).***

I do admit I am a little perplexed by the final part of the phrase, “and his Highnesse PROFESSOR in Anatomy and Chyrurgerie.” I’m assuming this also refers to James I; it seems not unlikely that the monarch would be attributed all sorts of titles he wasn’t practically prepared to hold. But if I’m wrong about this, please let me know. I simply can’t conceive of any other individual who would warrant the concurrent titles of “his Highnesse” and “Professor in Anatomy and Chyrurgerie.”

“Chyrurgerie” is a fun one, though – this is the word we now know as “surgery.” I think we should bring it back. Next time you’re faced with a medical operation, don’t call it surgery; tell your friends you’re “having chyrurgerie” instead. Doesn’t that make it sound much more fun?

*Of course, there is something ironic here post-Foucault, but I haven’t fully explored the theoretical implications yet. I plan to start with Barbara Traister’s work on early modern works by anonymous authors – but that’s a future post.

**In regard to English-language anatomy texts, Crooke is preceded by, at least, Thomas Vicary (Anatomie of Mans Body, 1548) and John Banister (The Historie of Man, 1578). What sets Mikrokosmographia apart, as I hint at above, is its scope—particularly that it includes a full, illustrated description of the female reproductive system in the vernacular, which cause significant problems in Crooke’s professional and religious circles – but again, that’s another post.

***For further bibliography of these sources, see “Further Reading”