Spreading Knowledge about a Healthy Life
by Box of Carrots on October 20, 2016 - 2:08pm
The book The Way to Health by Thomas Tryon, a “physick” student, is written in 1691 and is published in English. It weighs around 2 pounds and its dimensions seem to be 7.5 x 5 inches. There are little to no illustrations in the book and it suggests that it is not an official medicine book for physicians and doctors since it only shows very basic medical knowledge. Also, it appears to be a guide for the common people to make their own medicine to be able to live a long and happy life. One could quickly tell that the book has been consulted quite a few times because of the tears on the used cover. Concerning the book cover, it appears to be made with cheap leather because it did not feel as heavy as a good quality one and through a small ripped side, there is presence of torn cardboard inside it. The book smells like old, rotten paper, something to be expected from a 300 years old book. The papers in the book are very dry, have many stains on them and are yellow with time. Finally, the text is written in a font that can be compared to a “italic” one and it is very small and tight.
The book by Tyrion lets us see how it helped spread medical knowledge during the early modern period. It served quite a precise purpose: to inform people about different ways to maintain a healthy and happy life. Indeed, the full title, which can be found inside, is “The Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness of a Discourse of Temperance” and the content of this book is mostly about food and drinks that you should make in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle. This can be linked to the theories of medical “institutes” in the early modern period that mentioned that “air, food and drinks, sleep and waking, […]” could affect the body the body, “tipping it into illness, or keeping it healthy” (Cook, 409-410). This is still true for today. Even if we added many more criteria to “being healthy” nowadays, the quality of your food and sleep is still a major factor that influence your health.
Furthermore, it is written in vernacular, English, the common language of the people, instead of Latin. This highly suggests that it was produced for a wider audience who do not possess much medical knowledge since only elites and highly literate people would understand Latin. For example, physician Petrus Severinus was able to popularize his views among the physician communities “by explaining them in Latin” (Cook, 422). This suggests that this book helped spread medical knowledge among the population in the 17th century because Tyrion, a “physick” student agreed to share his own knowledge by producing a book in vernacular.
Although there were some books written in vernacular that helped spread knowledge during the early modern period, they still remained scarce and were difficult of access to the general public since most knowledge was written in Latin and was only consulted by “highly literate group”, mostly physicians (Cook, 407). Nowadays, while people can still learn medical knowledge by browsing books, for example, biology book or a textbook on the anatomy of the body, knowledge is much easier to access with the evolution of technology, like the invention of the internet and having people becoming more and more literate.
All in all, the book of Thomas Tyrion shows the differences in how knowledge was created during the early modern period versus today.
Harold J. Cook, “Medicine,” in Katherine Park and Lorraine Daston (eds.) The Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003): 407-434