Monday, October 19, 2009

Crusty with history

This weekend, I traveled down the valley to meet a donor and collect a book. John D. "Jack" Flanagan, M.D., is a 1944 graduate of the University of Oregon Medical School who has spent the greater part of his life in Coos Bay, Oregon, where he maintained a surgical practice until his retirement in 1980. In 1998, Dr. Flanagan participated in our Oral History Program; the transcript from that interview is available from the Main Library.

The item being donated is probably the fourth edition of Thesaurus chirurgiae: the chirurgical and anatomical works of Paul Barbette, printed in London in 1687. (I say probably because the title page is lacking--about which, more in a minute.) It is bound with Medicina militaris: or, A boby [sic] of military medicines experimented (London, C. Shortgrave, 1686) and Cista militaris, or, A military chest, furnished either for sea, or land, with convenient medicines, and necessary instruments. Amongst which is also a description of Dr Lower's lancet, for the more safe bleeding. Written in Latin, by Gulielmus Fabritius Hildanus (London, printed for C. Shortgrave, 1686).

The text of the work is remarkable on its own. Translated out of the Dutch and into English, it is a practical manual for the busy 17th-century surgeon (and they were busy: think Thirty Years' War, English Civil War, Dutch Revolt, etc.). Barbette was highly regarded in his day, though he contributed little that was new. Nevertheless, the writing sheds light on the continuing struggle, in these years of Harvey and Tulp, between the wisdom of the ancients and the discoveries of contemporary scientists. Barbette writes:
"But seeing that the study of some most curious Anatomists, hath found out many excellent things in this happy age, altogether unknown to the Ancients (though some foolishly affirm the contrary, with great pains, ascribing those things to them, which they never so much as dream'd of)..."
and elsewhere "we assent not to Galen," but then describes in precise terms the nature of the sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic types and the proper treatments for each.

The text also provides insight into 17th-century warfare and military medicine, from the treatment for gunshot wounds to the more mundane aspects of the surgical service:
"I had all these instruments, and many more, made me by a skilful Artist in Silver, which I used only within the Town, Patients being less afraid of them than of Iron: but at Sea and at Camps it is not so safe for a Chirurgeon to have them of Silver, therefore they may be very conveniently made of Iron or Steel, except the Probes, which ought to be made of Lead, Copper, or Latin."
And we even get advice on medical cooperation and organization: "These two, physitians and chirurgeons, are to be intimate friends together, assisting one another without envy and pride, for the better relief and the greater safety of their patients."

Inside the front cover of this particular copy is a list of "Owners of this book", starting with John Anderson's acquisition of it in 1690 and continuing down to J.D. Flanagan, who was given it at Christmas time in 1963 by I.R. Tower. The book was heavily used by its previous owners, as evidenced by its spine (completely broken in two places), the frequent underlining and marginal marking, and the fact that at least a few pages seem to be stained with drops of blood. Additionally, the book went through at least two major fires, both in Coos Bay, in 1919 (the same year as the fire at the Medical School on 23rd and Lovejoy) and in 1922. It had been kept in a jewelry box in a safe for the past several years, to safeguard it from further vicissitudes. A few photos are included here.

Definitely a "working copy," this Barbette is nevertheless priceless to us for its rich history--scribbles, soot, stains, and all.

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