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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1981

Paracelsus furnace [Image: the anatomical furnace for the distillation and diagnosis of urine. From: Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance , second edition, Basel/New York 1982, page 193/194. the image also found on line here.]

While the ancient aspects of the inspection of urine as medical discovery seem distant, it is not so, the practice continuing for thousands of years, deep into the 17th century. There are some surprises, though, here and there, in the recent history of uroscopy, particularly involving Paracelsus (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493-1541), and specifically with his Anatomy, that is, the Dissection of the Living Body or of Distillation of the Urine, printed in 1577. This is one of the many of the works of Paracelsus printed posthumously–in his relatively short but very full life of 84 years, he published four books, but then in the 40 years or so following his death there were at least 14 more works that were published. (A general overview of the works by and about Paracelsus–who worked in the areas of medico-occult and philosophy, alchemy, astronomy/astrology, theology, magic and more–can be found by piecing your way through the always-useful OCLC/WorldCat, here).

In the practice of general uroscopy urine was seen as a window into the health of the body–rather the lack of health. For centuries urine was simply observed, its color plotted against color wheels. Paracelsus worked in a different vein, and although this approach seemed as antiquated as possible after hundreds of years of practice, he adopted a proto-scientific approach to his urine inspection. The idea of urine and his "anatomical furnace", wherein the urine was distilled in a cylinder the size of the subject for interpretation, was a wide but interesting sidestep in the history of uroscopy, filled with some slight hope and more-than-slight abundance of need in belief. The point though is that Paracelsus went about this scientifically–no longer just an observational inspection: the urine was distilled, and coagulated bits (the "morbid species") was separated from the urine, and the precipitated items were studied, a "chemical dissection" (according to Walter Pagels in his standard biography of Paracelsus 1982). The cylinder was graduated in proportion to the subject; there was careful collection and handling of the specimen, and attempts were made to see beyond the standard practice of centuries past. So there was some hint of scientific method in this work–something that Pagels notes but still labels the work "disappointing, albeit a subtle new brand of uroscopy".

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Weak women061
Women, weak women, women with iron-poor blood, were sought by the manufacturers of Nuxated Iron, a small-bottled mottled mess that promised to increase vigor and iron levels, mostly through miracle. It turns out that, according to various early studies, there was a very small amount of iron in the concoction, as well as small amounts of strychnine. An E.O. Barker, M.D., reported to JAMA in 1923 that a small boy he attended who had taken 32 of these Nuxated Iron tablets died from strychnine poisoning. There was no benefit from the iron, evidently; I wonder what the long term effects of small dosage ingestion of strychnine led to? ["Weak Women" ad for Nuxated Iron from Illustrated World, November 1920/]

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1969

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"Tears are the trails of plenty and of want, both of which are sometimes the same."–Not from Ambrose Bierce's Devils Dictionary.

"Let one rejoice in smiles, the other in tears;
Let the same labour or pain be the office of both…."-Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

The image above is a detail from one of the sixteen engraved images found in Ame Bourdon's fabulous anatomy, Nouvelles tables anatomiques (printed in Cambray and also in Pair by Laurens d'Houry in 1678). (A good description is found for this work, as well as the rest of the illustrations in their entirety, from the National Library of Medicine, the source for this diversion).

I'm not sure why the subject here is crying; and I'm also feeling that I've never seen an example of a crying figure in any antiquarian anatomy book before this one. I remember from another;project that eyelids and tears were of some considerable interest later on, finding no less than 25 books dedicated to the subject printed in the period 1825-1895 or thereabouts. (That bit of research was undertaken doing some background on a 19th c aboriginal torture of staking a victim to the high desert ground and cutting their eyelids off so that the sun would cause blindness from constant exposure). And I don't know when the eyelid is given its first anatomical drawing/consideration, displayed on its own and flattened out for inspection. And it would be interesting to know when the first extended modern scientific appraisal of tears was made. On the offhand I thought that Burton in his absolutely magnificent and very difficult book, The Anatomy of Melancholy, might have something to say about it, but it doesn't–as a matter of point, it seems that the word 'tear/s" appears less than ten times through the whole work, which I find a little surprising.

No matter. I just wanted this to be a quick diversion to consider if Bourdon really did intend to include tears for his model, or if the engraver took a little liberty and added some emotional elements to the image. It is certainly plausible, as human anatomical specimens had been presented in any number of different poses and posed with different items and in tremendously wide spectrum of emotion expression that crying would be but a small step to take for exhibition. There also seems to be perhaps no connection to any sort of physiology of crying–the subject just looks like someone with tears on their face, unassociated with any sort of muscle movement around the eyes, or glands or ducts or whatever. (Charles Darwin described a usual contraction of the muscles around the eyes when the subject cried, as he published in his Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)). The tears may just be Baroque ornamentation.

On the other hand, there may be a tenuous connection in the engraving to the tears and the sectioned brain. It wasn't too much earlier in the history of crying that it was thought that tears were a cathartic-purgative product of the brain, which is an idea that goes back to Hippocrates and his heirs and which held sway for more than a thousand years.

As Tom Lutz writes in his wonder Crying, the Natural & Cultural History of Tears (W.W. Norton, 1999) the English physician Timothy Bright poetically described tears in 1586 as "the excrementious humiditie of the brayne" (page 73), which were the "brai's thinnest and most liquide exrement". The idea of catharsis began to wane by the 17th century, and the four humours were identified more as a belief system than a medical reality, but the idea of the cathartic brain and its release of tears may have hung on to be included in Bordon.

But it does seem rare, crying does, in the annals of the history of anatomy–much less so in the history of art books that explore emotions and facial expression (like Chalres Le Brun (1616-1690) in his Méthode pour apprendre à dessiner les passions (1698)). At the end of the day, these tears may well just have been a sly way of the engraver to exercise a little creativity.

Bourdon-t08t08a full copy woman

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I bumped into these interesting video time capsules at the fantastic National Library of Medicine site for digital projects. They are mainly mid-20th century films made for soldiers (on malaria, keeping yourself clean, nutritional behavior in the field in tropical lands, so on) though there are some public service announcements dedicated to the public.


The Inside story "This film outlines the most common emotional illnesses that may be
suffered by a civilian upon entering a military service and suggests how
the individual serviceman can deal with them. Anxiety can be caused by
isolation from family and familiar circumstances, the pressures of
military training, lack of privacy in barracks life, and worry about
performing one's duty. Footage of a sailor in the above situations is
shown. A navy psychiatrist reassures a troubled seaman, helps him to
understand what is happening to him, and gives him material to read that
will guide him in his recovery. The seaman shares his reading material
and his new self-knowledge with his buddies. They too suffer in
greater or lesser degree from some of the effects of anxiety. Animation
is used to illustrate the workings of the unconscious mind."


Fight syphilis "This film outlines the individual's role in combatting syphilis through
education, blood tests, prompt medical treatment, and avoidance of
quacks. Shots includes montage of quack remedies for venereal disease".

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1968

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There is a murder of crows, a congress of owls, a charm of finches, a convocation of eagles, a labor of moles, a murmuration of starlings, and so on, but there is nothing for a group ("knot"?) of lawyers, or a collection (a "slick"?) of politicians…or for that matter a grouping of skeletons. Perhaps when you have a grouping of ten or more skeletons (standing and non-interred) they could be called a "Mall". They should be called something, I guess. But of course one wouldn't have many opportunities to describe a mall of skeletons, though one opportunity presents itself right now: in my experience of looking at antique scientific and medical images it is not very often that I have seen such an assembly as in the following image.

Anatomy Crisostomo_martinez-atlas detail

The skeletons are mostly in poses of some sort of relaxation, appearing in candid stances, far away from that of being in the anxious state of being a skeleton. Most of the skeletons have some degree of skin-in-outline, and a few entertain themselves with a casual object, like an apple or a plumb bob. (The two figures in the rear seem to be having an "I told you so" sort of conversation, with the sitting person making the point and the standing refusing it:)

Anatomy Crisostomo_martinez-atlas detail_edited-1
The engraving (which is the top half of the full plate engraving seen below) is from Crisostomo Martinez (1638-1694), an Enlightenment figure from Valencia who produced a lovely anatomical atlas that really wasn't terribly "Enlightenment-y", what with a deluge of unnecessary characterizations and Baroque decoration serving as miniature cartoons from one anatomical image to the next. That said, the images are quite beautiful, and creative, and imaginative, and clear, and concise…but perhaps not as detailed as they could be from the anatomical side.

Anatomy Crisostomo_martinez-atlas
The assembly of loose bones on the bottom half of the engraving is interesting but not as useful as it could be–close-ups would be nice for the details in the nicely-sectioned bones. But the purpose in these illustrations wasn't necessarily just the presentation of anatomical information, otherwise we would have had less nothing and more something. Making visions of thinly-skin-clad skeletons certainly had its use and a good purpose, but a lot of the utility of these investigations is lost in the artful and beautiful presentation.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

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Manuscript 1895055
I uncovered an interesting manuscript, a student's set of observations and notes, written in America at the end of the 19th century. The notebook–and I think clearly not a lecturing book–is interesting for what it has to say about its subjects, and in the selection of the subjects themselves. There are 223 pages, with approximately 22 lines per page, 8 words per line, making 176 words per page or about 25,000 words in the manuscript.

Manuscript 1895056
[This manuscript is available for purchase at our blog bookstore, here.]

The categories included here are


Bright's Disease

Bronchitis, capilary


Cholera morbus


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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1965

I dealt finally with something that I had overlooked for a long time: a medical manuscript written at about the turn of the 18th century, somewhere in the first decade or so, 1800-1810. Its a nicely written, neat journal, but with no identification for the writer or for the time, or place. Reading it through somewhat gives me the impression that it is a lecture book more so than a student's notebook–it is certainly something in the professional arena, though, and not a work put together by an amateur.

Medical manuscript open
The work is interesting and is dedicated mainly to suppuration and ulcers and fever and wounds (including a longish section on gunshot wounds). In the middle section of section dedicated to wounds is a section on wounds and incision, and there begins a short, three-page consideration of what we know today as rhinoplasty. And it is in this section that the author includes a then-famous and somewhat bawdy poem on plastic surgery–specifically, a failure in the surgery of one of the early founding surgeons in the field.

The quote is from Samuel Butler's popular and appreciated poem, Hudibras, and goes so:

To learned Taliacotius

the brawny part of porter's bum,

cut supplemental noses, which

would last as long as parents breech,

but when the date of nock was out

off dropped the sympathetic snout…

–Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Canto 1, volume 1, page 89. Source for full text via Google Books, here, the annotated and edited version by Zachary Grey, published in London in 1806 following the initial publication in 1674-1678.

Medical manuscript detail
The author referred to the mocking Butler's (in his mock-historical-epic) stab at the Italian surgeon Gaspar Taliacotius (1546-1599), who at the very least wrote about surgical procedures that would restore the appearance of lost noses and other body parts, and this mainly in his Chirurgie Nota, in the second edition of 1597. He may have claimed to be the first at this particular surgical procedure, though he wasn't (with a number of other medical folks reporting on it, including the great Vesalius who did so almost 50 years earlier); and he also clai8med to have performed the procedure, though perhaps he actually didn't. No matter for right now–the treatment was extraordinary, and during this period was utilized by a number of different doctors with varying degrees of success. Butler, on the other hand, had a pretty low opinion of the practice, and our unidentified author carried forward Butler's sentiments in his notes.

Here's an image of the Taliacotius procedure:

Medical manuscript nose
Illustration from Tagliacozzi's De Curtorum Chirurgia per Insitionem., plate 8, depicting the “Italian method” of total nasal reconstruction.

It should be noted that there was a statue of Taliacotius dedicated in the medical school at Bologna where he taught–a full, standing sculpture, with the doctor holding a nose in his hand.

Anyone interested in purchasing this medical manuscript can read about it in more detail, below:

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1962

"…something might perhaps be made out on this question…"

"WHEN on board H.M.S. 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was much struck with
certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South
America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past
inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the
latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin
of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of
our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in
1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by
patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could
possibly have any bearing on it."–from the introduction to On the Origin of Species…, fourth edition, 1866

Maupertuis detail
These eyes belong to Pierre-Louis Moreau Maupertuis (1698-1759), a French mathematician/ philosophe who worked himself wide and deep across many fields, from mud to blood (geology, physics, math, bio).

But what he saw particularly in regards to Darwin was the matter of relationship in bi-parental inheritance, that there was genetic basis for the inheritance of physical traits. Now he didn't use these terms of course , but he made this sexual generation argument in his Dissertation Physique a l'Occassion du Negre Blanc written in 1744 (and published in Leiden). There is an expanded version of this thought in his Venus physique (printed in 1745, and which is translated as The Earthly Venus), which was a direct confrontation with the belief and theories of the preformationists, who claimed that a being was preformed in either the spermatozoa or the egg. Maupertuis argued that the only way for the characteristics of both parents to be inherent in offspring was for the material to be a combination of the mother and father, and that the preformed theory did not allow for the equal distribution of hereditary characteristics1. Maupertuis is now generally seen as having anticipated the theory of nutation (according to the standard history of medicine bibliography by Garrison and Morton2, appearing in that work as number 215.1).

Darwin published the Origin of Species in a hurry in 1859–after having the idea in his head for 20 years, he was suddenly in the need to quick-publish given the fact that the very young Alfred Russell Wallace was about to scoop his great idea. Part of that quickness evidently resulted in Darwin leaving out his debt to history, not addressing the precursors to his idea, leaving out the bibliographic part. He heard about that very quickly upon the very successful publication of the Origin, which was sold out almost immediately upon publication. Over the next few months he heard from a number of quarters about those who came before whose ideas may well have presaged his own–which of course was the case, and Darwin made basically no mention of work that had come before his own, even though it seems as though he had made am effort to do so at least in notes more than a decade before the publication of the great book. This is a much longer story than I want to deal with right here, but Darwin set to work on addressing this issue and published an "Historical Sketch" which appeared in the authorized first American edition and the first German edition of the Origin in 1860. As Rebeccca Stott points out in the first chapter of her surprisingly good popular history of evolution, Darwin's Ghosts (2012), Darwin included 18 names in his intellectual legacy. Six years later in the fourth edition of the Origin of 1866, the list had expanded to 37 names. The vast majority of those included in the survey were modern to Darwin; generally all of the ancients were left out with but a scant nod to Aristotle, and there were two mentions of works before the 19th century, (which includes Geoffroy Saint Hilaire (1744-1829), who dips just slightly into the 18th century and Darwin's own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, with his great two-volume work of semi-revolutionary poetry medico-philosophico-botanico
Zoonomia; or the Laws of Organic Life, which was published in 1794 though formulated decades before).

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JF Ptak Science Books [Extending Post 1813]


I cannot think of another illustration by a scientist or philosopher who attempts to explain their own, literal, view of the world and then offer what this looks like to the reader from inside his own head, looking out through his own eye. That's exactly what Ernst Mach is doing right here on page 15 of his influential book Die Analyse der Empfindungen, the fourth German edition ("The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical", published in Jena in 1903).

There is nothing in this world for Mach that is not admissible to the human brain that is not empirically verifiable–that is, the world is nothing but awash in sensation and that sensation itself forms part of the experience of, well, experience. I've actually never been interested in the philosophy of science, and this is one of the reasons why. Nevertheless I boldly break through my own prejudices to enjoy this phenomenally original image, drawn from the inside of Mach's working mind, looking out through his eye socket, over his mustache, under his eyebrow, around his nose, out across his body and then leaping into the rest of the world. I think he does make his point about the essential.

Another interesting perspective is achieved by the one-and-only Fritz Kahn in 1926 with his imagery of viewing the world from deep within a human nostril.

Kahn, fritz nostrill
This is a different sort of interpretation (from his Das Leben des Menschen/"The Life of Man", printed in Stuttgart in 1931, volume 5) from the Machian view, Dr. Kahn's (1888-1968, a gynecologist and a reknowned popular science communicator) being more of a landscape with the solar apogee of the nostril opening to the outside world.


ANd similar in a way to the Mach's internal view of the outside world is this classic Saul Steinberg New Yorker cartoon of the world view of the New Yorker (and of course this includes only Manhattan). I know some number of people who have transposed their bodies much like Herr Mach into the Steinberg map–except that their worldview ends basically at the Hudson River (Mach's feet) with the rest of the world being the sliver out there beyond the river (Mach's window) until you go 359 degrees around the world to get back to the East River (and back inside Mach's noggin). It is an unusual world view to have, but someone has to have it so that we can at least identify it so.

I just like the picture.


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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1934

An entry in the series on the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things.

Anatomy--before and after
This is fascinating–the anatomist Francis Sibson (1814-1876) in his Medical Anatomy (London, 1869) provided descriptive/illustrative examples of what the body's internal organs look like in cadavers and in living patients. Offhand I am not aware of such a comparison being done before this date, and as he clearly demonstrates (and which you can see more clearly by expanding the above example) there is of course a huge difference in the anatomy of the living and the deceased.

This is an enormous observation that seems as though it should have been made earlier, but perhaps it wasn't–though it must be admitted that "the obvious" isn't until it is. For example, Etienne Durand was the first architect to include examples of plans of different buildings on the same scale side-by-side, and that wasn't until the mid-19th century–clearly this would be pro forma for just about describing two elements of anything, but it just simply wasn't done until 160 years ago or so. This also applies in a way (though there are more complexities involved as to why this is different) to the antisepsis practices of Joseph Lister who in simply washing surgical tools between use on different patients (and hand-washing and the use of surgical masks and so on) increased the chances of surviving surgery by at least 50% (though I think that number is much bigger than that), and these practices weren't begun until the mid-19th century.

So the business of identifying "the obvious" is very tricky, because, well, something isn't obvious if it hasn't been done/seen before. Or, if it has been seen, it hasn't been seen seen. As in clouds–as present as they have been for the whole of human history they basically escaped classification by the great human natural history classifiers until the very early 19th century.

And when I looked at the history of the word "obvious" it seems to have made its first appearance in print in 1603, so I went naturally to William Shakespeare for a quote using the new word. Evidently, the great wordweaver never used "obvious". (See here for an index of all the words of Shakespeare.)

[Image printed by chromolithography after the artwork of William Fairland, 1869. Source: the National Library of Medicine.]