Friday, 3 November 2017

‘Rare Secrets Brought to Light’ : Highlights from the Milnes Walker Medical Collection

A project is currently underway to enhance the online catalogue records for the University of York’s Milnes Walker collection, adding details about the special characteristics of each book, such as handwritten annotations, as well as extra search terms.

The Milnes Walker collection consists of c. 200 fascinating early medical books, mainly from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, many with an association to Wakefield, Yorkshire. As the project cataloguer I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take a close look at this collection. Here are a few favourites that I have come across so far:

One of the more important items in the collection is this beautiful early volume of anatomical plates. Bernhard Albinus of Leiden (1697–1770) was a leading eighteenth-century anatomist. For his Tabulae sceleti et musculorum, first published in 1747, Albinus collaborated with the artist Jan Wandelaar to produce a series of highly accurate engravings from life. Many of the engravings are given additional interest with architectural and landscape backgrounds. Two feature a rhinoceros, a result of drawings Wandelaar made in 1741 of a calf named Clara, the first rhinoceros to be exhibited in modern Europe.
Pharmacopoeia Radcliffeana: or, Dr. Radcliff's prescriptions, by John Radcliffe (London: Charles Rivington, 1716)
A pharmacopoeia is a book that lists approved drugs and their uses. This one contains the prescriptions of John Radcliffe (1650–1714), who was born in Wakefield and became a hugely successful society physician, giving his name to the Radcliffe Camera and Hospital at Oxford. Prescriptions were traditionally written in Latin, but these have been translated into English, resulting in some rather intriguing names such as ’The Hysterical Milky Mixture’, for use in fits, and ‘The Appeasing Pills’, for coughs, shown above.
The Compleat Midwife's Practice Enlarged, in the Most Weighty and High Concernments of the Birth of Man . . . with the Addition of Sir Theodore Mayern's Rare Secrets in Midwifry, with the Approbation of Sundry the Most Knowing Professors of Midwifry Now Living .. . A Work so Plain, that the Weakest Capacity May Easily Attain the Knowledge of the Whole Art. (London: Nathaniel Brooke, 1663)
Some detective work was required to identify this book. The title page in the library’s copy, which reads 'Rare Secrets Brought to Light', actually belongs to a section in the middle of the volume. This copy was evidently well used and at some point lost its original title page and many of the original engraved plates. It was then rebound, using this title page as a makeshift. The book is really The Compleat Midwife's Practice, a handbook on midwifery compiled from several sources, including the case notes of the French midwife Louise Bourgeois. The single remaining plate, shown above, depicts the different positions of infants in the womb.
Horti academici Lugduno-Batavi catalogus exhibens plantarum omnium nomina, quibus ab anno M DC LXXXI ad annum MDCLXXXVI hortus fuit instructus ut & plurimarum in eodem cultarum & à nemine hucusqueeditarum descriptiones & icones [Catalogue of the botanical garden of Leiden, showing the names of all the plants by which the garden was built from 1681 to 1686, with descriptions and images of the many plants cultivated in the garden and thus far undescribed], by Paul Hermann (Leiden: Cornelis Boutesteyn, 1687)

The Hortus Botanicus of Leiden, founded in 1587 for the instruction of university medical students, is one of the oldest botanical gardens still in use. This catalogue was prepared by the botanist and traveller Paul Hermann (1646–1695). It contains thousands of entries, many with engraved illustrations, including a number of specimens from the Dutch East Indies, Dutch Cape Colony, and America. The image is the allegorical frontispiece depicting plants being carried into the garden by personifications of the four continents, Asia, Africa, America, and Europe, and presented to Athena and her owl, representing wisdom. This copy has been extensively annotated by an early 18th-century owner who noted down the names of various plants and the dates of their flowering.  Based on the signature ‘ W. Stonestreet’ on the flyleaf, this owner can be identified as the London antiquary and botanist William Stonestreet (1659–1716).
Find out more about the Milnes Walker collection
All these books are on YorSearch (the Library catalogue) and are available for study. Contact Sarah Griffin, our Rare Books Librarian, for more information.
Written & researched by Jessica Lamothe

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