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De pulsuum scientia…Theophili…retrimentorum vescicae commentariolus.

Basle, Henricus Petrus, [1533].


WILLICH, Jodocus. Urinarum probationes.

Basle, Sebastian Henricus Petrus, [1582].


FIRST EDITIONS. 8vo. 2 works in 1, pp. (xvi) 94 (ii), (xxii) 341 (iii). Roman letter, little Italic or Greek. 96 woodcut diagrams of urine containers, woodcut printer’s device on verso of last leaves, decorated initials and ornaments. 1) t-p slightly dusty, two tiny holes to outer blank margin, nearly unnoticeable water stain to lower outer blank corner of first few ll., 2) variable browning (poor quality paper), small stain to upper gutter of T5-6. Good copies in vellum over boards c1600, traces of ties, double blind ruled, yapp edges, small vellum fault to lower cover. Autograph 1737 to front pastedown, another earlier ‘Basileae. M. Elias Mock’ to ffep.

The early owner, Elias Mock, trained as a physician probably at Basle, with a specialisation in uroscopy; his works ‘De causis concretionis et dissolutionis’ (Fribourg, 1596), ‘Lithokope iatrike, seu de calculo in homine’ (Basle, 1601) and ‘De lithiasi, seu morbo calculoso’ (Fribourg, 1614) were among the earliest devoted solely to kidney stones.

An interesting combination of the first editions of these medical manuals—on the pulse and uroscopy—two connected disciplines in the world of early diagnostics.  Attributed to Philaretus, a Greek medical author of whom little is known, the version of ‘De pulsuum scientia’ which reached the C16 came from the Byzantine revision of a lost original, sometimes attributed to Philagrius. A derivative C11 compendium blended Philaretus’s and Galen’s theories on the pulse into this accessible reference work, long used for the training of physicians. Inspired by Pneumatist theories which saw in the physiology of the blood pulse a fundamental instrument for medical diagnosis, the work listed the meaning and physiology of major conditions which could be understood from the pulse, and techniques for analysing it. For instance, its variation between the sexes, in different seasons, in pregnant or labouring women, sleeping people, and in the dying sick ‘vermicularis’, which feels like the creeping of a worm, and, closer to the end, ‘formicans’, like the walking of an ant. Its second section, ‘De urinis’, is a short tract on urine by Theophilus Protospatharius, a seventh-century medical author whose works have been connected with, or even attributed to, Philaretus, and vice versa. It was a clear compendium of ancient urological theories, traditionally used for the education of Western physicians. Theophilus considered urine as ‘the percolation of the blood that takes place in the kidneys’; the ten possible colours and two consistencies of urine could therefore be used to formulate diagnosis on 20 kinds of urine, with the addition of 4 kinds of urinary sediments (‘History’, 83-84). Among these was the whitish hue and copious quantity revealing diabetes, a word first recorded in 1425, from the Greek ‘diabainein’ (flow through), referring to the resulting excessive flow of urine. The second work, on the examination of urine, was written by Jodocus Willich, a Lutheran professor at Frankfurt, author of several pamphlets on medical issues including the plague and contagion. Despite its focus on uroscopy, ‘Probationes’ also mentioned the science of the pulse because ‘by means of the pulse one could determine the condition of the internal heat and of the vital force, while the urine indicated the quality and quantity of the humours’ (‘Early History’, 154). Willich discussed the nature, composition and colours of urine, diagnostic techniques, and the various kinds (of children, young adults, men and women, or urine typical of different seasons). Sections are also devoted to each colour, accompanied by its Latin and German names and by a woodcut urine container. Those small illustrations were meant to be hand-coloured by the reader accordingly, so as to summarise visually the content of the description.

A fascinating collection on the history of important, though lesser known, branches of early medicine.

1) Wellcome I, 6259; Durling 4334; BM STC Ger., p. 691. Not in Osler or Heirs of Hyppocrates.

2) Wellcome I, 6745; Durling 4744; BM STC Ger., p. 917. Not in Osler or Heir of Hyppocrates. P. Prioreschi, A History of Medicine (Omaha, 2001), IV; ‘Philaretus’, in Brill’s New Pauly; M. Neubuerger, ‘The Early History of Urology’, Bulletin of the Med. Lib. Ass. 25 (1937), 147-65.