Friday, 13 June 2014

Researching the provenance of seventeenth century anatomy books

This week we installed a small display about anatomy books from Worcester Cathedral Library published in the seventeenth century, called “Dissecting, discovering and depicting”. We had many interesting books to include in this display, yet not a lot of space to work with. As a result, it was difficult to talk about the provenance of the Cathedral library’s anatomy books, a subject which is itself very interesting. Why did clergymen collect or acquisition anatomy books? Do the anatomy books reflect the collecting habits of one individual, or is it by chance that they’ve ended up in Worcester Cathedral library?

Julius Casseri, Nova Anatomia (1622), p. 277. Image Copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K., 2014.
To answer these questions, some background on the anatomy books is important. By my count, there are 11 anatomy books published between 1616 and 1683 that are held in Worcester Cathedral library. Of these 11, two are monographs on animal anatomy (the first is work on birds, the second a book on equine anatomy). Nine take human anatomy as their primary subject but, because dissecting animals in order to compare and contrast their internal structures with those in humans was popular with anatomists working from the late 1500s to around 1800, most of these also contain illustrations and discussions of animal anatomy.

 Title page of Helkia Crooke's Microcosmographia (1616) with Prideaux's signature. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K., 2014.

The provenance of certain anatomy books is traceable. Bishop John Prideaux, who occupied the See of Worcester between 1641 and 1650, signed his name in two: Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia (1616) and  Andreas Laurentius’ Historia Anatomica (1627). In the case of Microcosmographia, Prideuax was not the first owner. On leaves at the front of the book we find the signatures pictured below, of Francis Whiddon M.A., and Jacob Browne. There is also a hand that has been censored, beneath which you can read “Henery Hodges His Booke”, written in what looks like a late seventeenth or early eighteenth century style of handwriting. The signature of Jacob Browne appears to have the earliest style of handwriting, making it probable that Browne was the first owner of the book c. 1616.
Whiddon's signature (first below); Browne's signature and Hodges' erased signature (furthest below)
Nothing is known about Henery Hodges or Jacob Browne. The Annals of the University of Oxford (1815), however, record that Francis Whiddon was created a Master of Arts at Oxford in the first half of the seventeenth century. He attended Exeter College, though it is unclear at which dates exactly he was at the College. Afterwards, he went on to become the minister of Morton Hampstead in Devon, the county where he was born. He was rector at Morton Hampstead from 1617-1650. Whiddon and Prideaux likely knew each other from Exeter College, and the former probably gave the latter Microcosmographia. Prideaux studied for a BA at Exeter College beginning in 1596 and was awarded an MA by 1603. After taking Holy Orders, Prideaux returned to Exeter College Oxford 1611 and 1612 as Rector to the College.

A still burning question is why two MA students who would later become clergymen would be so interested in a book on anatomy, a racy one at that- Microcosmographia caused outrage because it printed explicit illustrations showing the sexual and reproductive organs of men and women, and discussed regeneration at length.
If we look at the other anatomy books that Prideaux owned, namely Laurentius’ Historia Anatomia (1602), it appears that he mainly acquired compendiums of historic anatomical writings produced for the general reader, rather than books written for budding scientists or practitioners of anatomy (physicians and surgeons). Laurentius’ Historia Anatomia, did not cover any new ground or document any discoveries within the human body when first published in 1600. The book discussed what earlier authors and dissections had revealed about a specific parts of the body, and the author mainly stuck to Galen’s beliefs, despite many contemporary anatomists, for example Vesalius, Ruini, Casseri, seeking to disprove Galen’s theories on the structure of the human body. Laurentius’ book was nonetheless exceedingly popular in its time. We might therefore think of it as a good introductory guide to anatomy and anatomical writing, which is probably the reason someone like Bishop Prideaux acquired it.
Preliminary research into the provenance of other anatomy books has been less fruitful. The largely plagiarised monograph on equine anatomy by Andrew Snape titled, The Anatomy of An Horse (1683), contains a rather handsome signature belonging to a Richard Mason, which is pictured below. We were able to trace the book back to a collection of 18 books donated by a “Lady Mason” c. 1694. The donation of these books is recorded in the libraries earliest book of donors, which includes bequests and donations given from  1675 to 1941! Below and to the right, is a picture of Lady Mason’s bequest.

Richard Mason's signature on the fly leaf of Snape's Anatomy of An Horse. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K., 2014.
Lady Mason's donations to the library. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral library, U.K., 2014.
I was not able to find anything concrete about the Masons. If you look through the list of books donated though, several items indicate the likelihood of Mason being a practicing physician or surgeon with a keen interest in science, such as “Morison’s Herbal” and “Wiseman Chirugical Obseruations”. Many of our science books and anatomy books could well have been donated by local professionals like Mason, who considered the cathedral library worthy of furnishing. Others like Microcosmographia were very popular in their time and produced for the general reader, so it is feasible that scholarly clergymen could well have picked them up as bit of extra reading. Notably we have two copies of Laurentius’ Historia Anatomica, suggesting this book wasn't necessarily an acquired taste, or only read by physicians and surgeons.
If you found this week's blog interesting then be sure to call into Worcester Cathedral nave where you can learn more about our anatomy books in the new display, "Dissecting, discovering and depicting", located in glass cases in the South west nave aisle.

Deirdre McKeown


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