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.

Crooke and censorship

My upcoming paper for the Society for Textual Scholarship conference meeting in Chicago, March 6-8, has afforded me the opportunity to return to one of the most intriguing mysteries surrounding Mikrokosmographia and, in doing so, I’ve be able to clarify some crucial information about editions and issues of this book. To summarize the issue I’m pursuing, let me quote from my abstract:

In 1612, William Jaggard, who would later print the first folio of Shakespeare’s works, required medical treatment for syphilis. He was seen by London physician Helkiah Crooke, and although the treatment was apparently unsuccessful (Jaggard later went blind from his illness), the two men struck up an ongoing relationship. For some time Jaggard, whose father was a barber-surgeon, had been considering publishing a medical volume, and he decided to take on Crooke’s own anatomy project, Mikrokosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man, a compendium of continental anatomy knowledge that Crooke hoped would forefront the development of more advanced dissection practices in England. The first edition was published in 1615.

However, copies of Crooke’s manuscript were in circulation as early as the summer of 1614, as evidenced by the scandal it created; Crooke’s book included a full description of the female reproductive system, and it was written in the vernacular. The first fact raised the ire of the Bishop of London, the second the objections of the College of Physicians, of which Crooke was a member. The church found the illustrations and description of the female body immoral, while the physicians protested the dissemination of their specialized professional knowledge to a broad audience. To add insult to injury, Crooke dedicated his book to the city’s other group of medical professionals, the barber-surgeons. While the physicians were university-educated members of the upper class, the barber-surgeons trained by apprenticeship with little or no formal schooling.

The printing of the anatomy was a substantial project; Crooke writes in his “Praeface to the Chyrurgeons” that he had to limit the book’s size because, at just over 1,000 pages, it had grown “too chargeable for the printer.” It seems clear that both author and publisher had much to lose, and the protests regarding Mikrokosmographia were adamant. The church demanded that the College reign in its errant member; the College called for Crooke to appear before them, and when he failed to show, they in turn called for Jaggard; his wife appeared in the blind printer’s place. The College threatened that if the offending sections (Books Four and Five) were not removed from the book, they would burn all copies of the volume upon publication.

Despite all this, Crooke and Jaggard printed the book in its original form. Astonishingly, there were no repercussions.

What adds further intrigue to what turned out to be apparently empty threats from the Bishop of London and College of Physicians is that the second edition of Crooke’s book, first published in 1631 while Crooke was still alive and well but by a different publisher (as Jaggard had died in 1623), was censored to some extent. The main alteration I am focusing on is one of the offending illustrations, that of an anatomized woman’s torso, sans head, sans arms, sans legs… but not sans everything. In the first edition of Mikrokosmographia (printed 1615, 1616, and 1618), the illustration includes detailed depiction of the vaginal cleft. In the second edition (printed 1631 and 1651), the anatomical detail in that area of the woodblock has been obliterated.

I first reported on this difference back in October 2012 when I first viewed a later copy at the University of Washington while at a conference in Seattle. I have since been able to view four additional copies of the book at the University of Chicago: a 1615, 1616, 1641, and 1651 (in addition to a 1634 copy of Alexander Read’s cross-indexed 8vo epitome). Mr. Ronald Sims of the Galter Health Sciences Library at Northwestern University kindly inspected their 1618 and 1631 copies for me yesterday. (I’m headed to Madison to visit special collections at the University of Wisconsin tomorrow to see their 1631 and 1651 copies.)

All of this observation has enabled me to confirm what I suspected from EEBO images—that the first edition of the book, the three issues of which were all printed by William Jaggard, features the illustration in its fully detailed form, while the second and third editions, printed by Richard Cotes, reflect the alteration to the woodblock.

Interestingly, although Jaggard both printed and sold the first edition, the second edition was printed by Cotes but sold by Michael Sparke. The Oxford DNB notes, “Sparke’s life and work were characterized by his maniacal devotion to the protestant religion.” Sparke’s relationship to women was also fraught: He was married twice, and although when he died he left a significant portion of his money to his second wife, he requested burial beside his first; he also banned all women, save his daughters and granddaughters, from his funeral. I intend to investigate whether Sparke’s role in the production of the second edition may have influenced the decision to the alter the image in question.

In addition to this possible influence from the second edition’s seller, I’m also conducting further research into print censorship in early modern England. We all know that history doesn’t follow a neat cause-and-effect trajectory; unfortunately, the human race does not learn from its mistakes and progress steadily forward, constantly improving. Although the publication of the first edition of Mikrokosmographia in its original form represented a step forward as the first medical description of the female reproductive system published in the English vernacular, any progress made was subtly undercut by the alterations made to this illustration in the second edition. I look forward to reading more about the social, personal, religious, and political forces that influenced this outcome.

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.

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.

A poxed printer

Printed by William Jaggard dwelling in Barbican, and are there to be sold, 1615.

This final line of the title page identifies one more important relationship for Crooke. William Jaggard (1568-1623) is best known as the printer of the first folio of Shakespeare, which was completed the year of his death. However (unsurprisingly, I suppose), I find his role in the production of Mikrokosmographia equally interesting.

Jaggard was the son of a barber-surgeon; he met Crooke when he required treatment for syphilis. In his ODNB entry on Jaggard, Stanley Wells writes that Jaggard went blind from the disease “about 1612”; O’Malley records that the printer “suffered from a syphilitically induced blindness in 1612 and turned to Dr. Crooke in what was a vain effort to recover his lost sight” (5). (Both cite Sloane manuscript 640 at the British Museum as the source of this information, but I’ve been unsuccessful in my attempts to find any images of that manuscript online.) According to O’Malley, “the two men became friends,” and when Jaggard told Crooke of his plans to publish a translation of Paré, the physician convinced the printer to take on his own “extensive anatomical treatise for which Crooke had long been collecting material” (6). I find it intriguing that both O’Malley and Wells use the verb “persuade” to describe the way Jaggard was hired as a printer (O’Malley in regard to Crooke; Wells in regard to Thomas Pavier, for whom Jaggard printed the Shakespeare folio). At this point in my readings, I have the impression that Jaggard was rather malleable in his business dealings, perhaps in part because of his blindness. I’m not saying that Crooke and Pavier were aggressively manipulative, but Jaggard does come across as somewhat passive in his transactions with these men. This could be important because it would also have bearing on the issue of the origin and verifiability of the title-page claim about Crooke serving as James I’s personal physician; although Jaggard would have had more to lose for publishing a false claim, he could have been “persuaded” into it by Crooke, if that was the nature of their relationship.

In addition to Crooke and Jaggard’s documented doctor-patient relationship, a search of the Map of Early Modern London reveals that Jaggard’s location in the Barbican was not far (to the north) from St. Anne’s lane, where Crooke lived at the time his book was published, and that the Barber-Surgeons hall, where Crooke’s book was used and the company’s anatomies were conducted, was located in between. I find the physical proximity of these locations a point worth noting. I wonder, for instance, if this nearness is the reason Crooke was called upon to treat Jaggard for his syphilitic blindness in the first place. The College of Physicians was some distance away, on Knightrider Street (south of St. Paul’s). Ironically, because of Jaggard’s blindness, when the College called on the printer to threaten him regarding the objectionable parts of Crooke’s work, it was his wife Jane who appeared before them on his behalf. She apparently was either free from or did not suffer such severe symptoms of the disease.

Moving on down…

. . . the title page, that is.

I continue to be surprised by the tangents this project takes me on, but then I have to remember that was part of my goal in creating this blog. My current knowledge base is incredibly limited, so exploring the various issues that arise in the Crooke book gives me the opportunity to read further and learn more about aspects of seventeenth century England I would never have thought to explore. I have a lot more research to do before I can offer any real insight on the true nature of the relationship between Crooke and James I, so I’m going to continue that work behind the scenes and keep moving with the book here.

Oh, but look! That’s easier said than done. The next line on the title page reads:

Published by the Kings Majesties especiall Direction and Warrant according to the first integrity, as it was originally written by the AUTHOR.

As I’ve mentioned, we’ll come back to Crooke and the king. But I believe that the second part of this sentence – “according to the first integrity, as it was originally written by the AUTHOR” – refers to another significant event related to Mikrokosmographia: the attempted suppression of its publication.

C. D. O’Malley explains, “Although the Microcosmographia bears imprint of 1615 and Crooke’s preface is dated ‘last of May’ of that year, parts of the work had been printed and were in circulation as early as November 1614″ (7).* The preview caused consternation among two groups, one religious and one professional. John King, Bishop of London, objected to both the text and illustrations of the sections devoted to human reproduction, particularly the elucidation regarding the female reproductive system, on grounds of indecency. He appealed to the College of Physicians, who had their own objections to the use of the English vernacular being used to disseminate knowledge they considered part of their professional domain. O’Malley writes,

The result was a decision that the President of the College, Sir William Paddy, and one of the Censors, Dr. Edward Lister, should wait upon the Bishop of London to propose that the Microcosmographia not be published at all and that some compensation be awarded the publisher for the costs he had endured; or, at the very least, book four [“Of the natural parts belonging to generation”] be deleted. (8)

Called before the College, Crooke took a month to make an appearance and then apparently refused to accede, as the College next tried to intimidate his publisher and the President threatened to burn all copies of the book he could get his hands on. In a final effort to induce the cooperation of the author and publisher, the College delegated two of its fellows to emend the offensive portions, but with no greater success, and finally the book was printed in its original form, “according to the first integrity, as it was originally written by the AUTHOR.” I find it intriguing that after all this righteous indignation and furious threatening, there appears to have been no real negative consequences to Crooke’s blatant defiance – aside from its cooling affect on his relationship with the College of Physicians, which was none too warm to begin with. This relationship, like that of Crooke to James I, is another complicated one I need to research further before I can offer any greater insight.

* For complete bibliographic information on this source, see “Further Reading