Morbus Anglicus

by poupa_bella on March 30, 2016 - 4:23pm

Empirical Observations

            Morbus Anglicus: or the Anatomy of Consumptions by Gideon Harvey, MD is a book that contains the nature, progress, subject, change, signs, prognosis, preservatives and several methods of curing all consumptions, coughs and spitting of blood. It introduces the remarkable observations touching the same diseases within the ulcers of the lungs. This book is the second edition novel, printed in London by Thomas Johnson for Nathanael Brook in 1674. It explains the proper balance of the four different humors and how using the methods of purging can cure diseases and illnesses. It also has sections about witchcraft in which it explains to readers how to prove that someone is rightfully a witch as well as the fact that it explains to people how to detect a witch once they’ve suffered from a severe illness involving their humors. This book is extremely old and practically falling apart. The pages have been in contact with water and therefore due to water damage, the book cannot sustain its original form. It’s about 10 x 15cm in width and length and it has a brown, leather hard cover surrounding its content. The book does not have a particular scent but it is written in both the present and past tense and is clearly printed from a printing press as long ago as the printing press was created.


            “Defining the Initial Shift” by Elizabeth Eisenstein is a chapter from The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe and is a situational chapter as to how the period of the printing press worked when it was first invented. Eisenstein tries to convey the point about the printing press being one of the most beneficial, life changing inventions that has ever been created. Johannes Gutenberg is the inventor of this magical tool which may be spoken about as a “basic change in a mode of book production or about a communications or media revolution or perhaps, most simply and explicitly, about a shift from script to print” (Eisenstein 14).  Back in the early period of the creation of the printing press, it was very difficult to know the exact number of books being registered without being destroyed. Everything being written needed to be accepted by the institutional church and made sure that the books were not spreading faulty beliefs of their paradigm. Creating books and having them printed is also a hard task of the past because “many valued texts [are] barely preserved from extinction” (16) due to the fact that “making even one “identical” copy of a significant technical work [is] such that the task could not be trusted to any hired hands” (16). Having access to this book by Gideon Harvey is something incredibly rare because it’s a book that lasted through many generations and many different paradigms, spreading knowledge to us about how people in the past understood medicine. Typically, modern medicine follows the scientific method and is based off of empirical tests and verifiable results that go with those tests. In the past, people believed in the four humors and therefore got sick due to humoral imbalances. Gideon’s book, gives detailed explanations about many different illnesses someone may be faced with and how to get rid of that illness by adjusting their humors. “Florentine bibliophiles were sending to Rome for printed books as early as 1470” (Eisenstein 21) which made booksellers of the past have a very difficult and risky job in the tricky years of the late fifteenth century and only survived based on their readiness and willingness to do it. Authors were therefore forced to believe in people they didn’t know with no guarantee of their books making it out or even into the printing house in that case. Gideon took a chance by allowing his book to go into “a store of valuable books [which] could be in one man’s possession through the help of the devil himself” (22). However by taking this chance, his book is now older than Queen Elizabeth and he is rightfully credited for his writing. The other point being conveyed relating both of these texts is that people of the past used to teach themselves about the things they know. It wasn’t common for many people other than more elite members of society to get a good education. People “swiftly achieve mastery on their own” (Eisenstein 38). They didn’t need others to be their teachers and it is said that a “sixteenth-century physician who used Latin was regarded as superior to the surgeon who did not” (36) which demonstrates how even qualified doctors were not seen as superior to regular people who could properly read something that gives them knowledge about how to cure themselves. The creation of the printing press allowed people to gain the knowledge of “learning to read [which] is different, moreover, from learning by reading” (38). Reading therefore exposed more and more people to the a way of producing knowledge for themselves and being satisfied with what they can say they know once it becomes a common way of actually knowing. Printed books became a new phenomenon in the early modern period and therefore became a new way of producing and transmitting knowledge to the people. The fact then became that “words simply had to take precedence over other forms of communication” (42) which brings us back to the idea of how people read books to become knowledgeable about specific aspects of the world, which definitely originated from the revolution of the printing press.










Works Cited

Elizabeth Eisenstein, “Defining the Initial Shift,” The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 13-45.

Harvey, Gideon. Morbus Anglicus: or the Anatomy of Consumptions. 2nd ed. London: n.p., 1674. Print.