Shifting, continuing or both?

by rachelwhite on October 20, 2016 - 12:49pm

Miroir des Urines, written by Jean Davach De La Rivière, was first published in 1696. The edition in my possession was the original one from 1700. It is roughly 9cm x 16cm x 2.5cm and is light weight - maybe weighing a few hundreds grams. The book tells us how we can figure out different temperaments, dominating humours and causes of certain sicknesses through a person’s urine. It was printed in Paris, France and written in the vernacular (French). The font of the book is pretty plain and in black. It almost has this cursive handwriting look to it. Interesting enough, this book does not contain any form of illustrations or images. However, it does contain some little symbols and emblems throughout certain parts of the it but that is all. It has a cover page with the author and publishers’ information. It also contains a table of contents entitled Table des Urines. It wasn’t very used considering the pages have barely been flipped and considering that there are no signs of marginalia and no signs of watermarks. With that being mentioned, the book has a certain smell; it almost has this freshly printed book sent in the sense that it has barely been used and this old and ancient sent to it in the sense that it was published 300 years ago. It has this light to dark brown leather cover with gold detailing and the stitching of the book was clearly done by hand. When the book is closed, you can see these reddish-pink markings on the borders of the pages. Finally, Davach’s work was too complicated for the common people to read and understand. Therefore, it was most probably used by medical students of the time and/or beginning practitioners. It was a portable and practical handbook carried by these students and physicians making it, most probably, have a low monetary value.

One noticable difference is how there are letters at the bottom of certain pages of Davach’s medical book. These were there in order to help the printer bind the book together. We certainty don’t encounter such numbers in a 21st century physics or chemistry book anymore because our printing methods have evolved. Elizabeth Eisenstein mentioned in her book how editing, correcting and experimenting with footnotes, running heads, table of contents, title pages and other elements were steps taken by the printer (Eisenstein, 69). Davach actually inserted a title page and a table of contents which he entitled Table des Urines. These are two elements of continuity that can be found in 21st century medical books. They help the reader find the specific information that they are looking for and also, find out on which page that information is on. One thing that has changed from Davach’s century is how the publisher presents himself in the book. “They put their firm’s name, emblem, shop address on the front page of their books. Indeed, their use of title pages entailed a significant reversal of scribal procedures; the put themselves first.” In Miroir des Urines, one thing that I have noticed is how the first page is almost completely about the printer; mentioning the names of the printers and their location. This is something that has relatively changed considering the emphasis is more on the author than on the printer in today’s medical books. Also, we find more publishing companies in today’s science books instead of actual individual’s names like seen in Davach’s work. Another thing is that Davach used quite a bit of emblems and symbols in his book which is something that is not really used today. Perhaps, if a 21st century science author wanted to symbolise his university, he would insert an emblem of it but other than that, these are not elements seen in more recent medical books. With that being mentioned, numbering pages is an aspect that has continued into today’s books. It has remained because it helps the reader discuss with others about his findings. Something that is also interesting in Davach’s book is how he inserts the title of his book on the top of each page which is something that can more or less be found in today’s books. What is important to note is that the “shift from script to print” created a new form of communication which is my next point (Eisenstein, 64). The printing and duplicating of images and illustrations appeared at the beginning of the printing era but this is one of the most important elements of continuity in today’s medical books. Unfortunately, Davach chose not to include any form of illustration nor images which can lead to maybe explaining why his book wasn’t greatly used by others. These “visual aids, signs and symbols” were a new way to communicate about medical knowledge (Eisenstein, 78). In fact, George Sarton once said that it was not the “printed word” but the “printed image” that acted as a “savior of Western science” (Eisenstein, 78). The use of elements of improvement such as correcting, editing, title pages, table of contents and page numbering and the use of images made printing medical books a much easier way for others to understand and communicate about their findings. These elements can be found in a 17th century medical book like one of the 21st century. However, there are major differences between the two. One element remains and it is that books like Davach’s are sources of evolution and amelioration in the printing world that is still changing and sifting today.  

Works Cited


Davach De La Rivière, Jean. Miroir des Urines. 1700 ed., Guillaume De Luyne and Nicolas Gosselin, 1700.

Elizabeth Eisenstein. “Defining the Initial Shift.” 345-101-MQ; Early Modern Knowledge, edited by Sarah Waurechen, Eastman, 2016, pp. 63-79.