FIRST PRINTED BOOK IN ENGLISH ON MIDWIFERY
The Birth of Man-kinde; Otherwise named the Womans Booke.London, Printed [by H. Lownes] for A. H[ebb] and are to be sold by Iames Boler, 1626.
4to. pp. , 204. Black letter, little Roman. Title within ornate architectural woodcut border, 8 full-page or smaller woodcuts of female generative organs (one printed in reverse), 17 small woodcuts of the birth chair and presentations of the foetus within the womb (including twins), decorated initials and ornaments. Title and last dusty, slight fraying and soiling to a few fore-edges, very little water stain to lower edge of initial gatherings. A very good copy in C20 crushed morocco by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, spine gilt-lettered.
Very handsome copy of the first printed book in English on midwifery. The authorship is debated. The original work – an English translation of Eucharius Rosslin’s famous ‘De partu hominis’ (1532) – was produced, with additions, by the obscure Richard Jonas; the printer/publisher Thomas Raynalde allegedly revised the text for the second ed., and was henceforward identified as the author of the book (Ballantyne, p.299ff). The 1560 ed. (the fourth) provided the basis for all later eds. The famous illustrations – of female reproductive organs, a birth chair and 16 presentations of the foetus within the womb, including 4 of twins – faultlessly reprise those in Rosslin’s ‘De partu hominis’. Rosslin’s were ‘the earliest obstetrical illustrations printed from wood blocks’, with ‘the four woodcuts of the egg membranes and the placenta being later taken from Vesalius’ “Fabrica” (Heirs of Hippocrates). As a vernacular work, ‘Birth of Man-kinde’ would have been used by physicians and midwives alike, in Britain. Indeed, the prologue is addressed to ‘women Readers’, as this book had been known to ‘frequent and haunt women in their labours, carrying with them this book in their hands, […] to be read before the Midwife’ – which suggests the book was also intended to be read aloud. Book I provides an overview of female anatomy, with reference to the anatomical woodcuts. Book II discusses types of birth (natural, unnatural, difficult, painful), remedies to make women’s labour ‘tolerable’, miscarriage, ‘untimely birth’ and stillborn babies. Book III examines how to take care of a newborn, including breastfeeding and the most common illnesses, e.g., colic, cough, blisters, swelling of the eyes, the navel or the body more generally, worms, epilepsy and squint eyes. Book IV is devoted to conception, causes and remedies for sterility, as well as remedies to beautify men and women (e.g., conceal freckles, eliminate warts and bad breath, smooth the skin, keep one’s teeth clean). A most important work for early modern medical practice in Britain, whilst renamed a vade-mecum on childbirth into the C18.Folger, NYAM, NLM and Yale copies recorded in the US. ESTC S113417; STC (2nd ed.), 21163; Durling 3909-3911 (earlier ed.); Osler 3821 (earlier ed.); Wellcome (earlier eds.). Not in Heirs of Hippocrates. J.W. Ballantyne, The ‘byrth of mankynde’: its author, editions, and contents (1907); J. Richards, ‘Reading and Hearing The Womans Booke in Early Modern England’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 89 (2015).