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Header: Volcanoes, Slugs and Comets: Rare Scientific Books at UCL.

UCL has a proud tradition of scientific endeavour and this is ably supported by the Rare Book collections. Our collections are particularly rich in astronomy, mathematics, natural history and medicine, with smaller specialist collections covering malacology, vulcanology, palaeontology and orthopaedics.

UCL's Library opened in January 1829 with some 4,000 volumes. The collections have grown considerably since then, mainly by donation and bequest.

This exhibition was originally delivered as an oral presentation at a meeting of the UCL Natural Science Club in December 2004. It was intended to give a very brief overview of the collections. It has been slightly updated and expanded for this on-line exhibition.

Part One: Incunabula

Printing with moveable type began in Europe in the mid fifteenth century. The first established printer in Europe was Johann Gutenberg who set up shop in Mainz in the 1450s. He produced his famous 42 line Bible in 1456.

Printing spread across Europe very quickly. There had already been a thriving trade in copying manuscripts for lawyers and scholars but printed books were much quicker and cheaper to produce.

Books printed before 1501 are called Incunabula, which comes from the Latin for swaddling clothes, meaning any art or craft in its infancy.

UCL Library has 180 incunabula, in 160 volumes, covering a range of subjects, including history, theology, medicine, witchcraft, and literature as well as science.

Special Collections imageCato Supinas, De cometa, 1472.

Cato Supinas, Angelus. De cometa anni 1472. [Naples: Sixtus Riessinger], 1472. 31 ff.
Unsigned. Graves Library.

The image (right) is the opening page of a work by Cato Supinas called De cometa anni 1472, published in Naples in 1472. There are no more than six recorded copies of this book known and it is one of the earliest astronomical texts to be printed.

(The comet of 1472 was a brilliant appearance that lasted from Christmas Day 1471 to 21 February 1472).

Special Collections imageGranollachs, Summario de la luna, c. 1490 .

Granollachs, Bernardus de. [Lunarium ab anno 1490 ad annum 1550.] Summario de la luna. Venice Guilelmus Anima Mia, Tridenensis, c.1489-90. 31 unnumbered leaves. Imperfect: lacking at least 2 leaves from gathering a. Full page woodcut.
Graves Library.

This is probably the Library's rarest book, one of only three recorded copies in the world. It is a little book of tables of the moon, compiled by Bernardus de Granollachs and called Summario de la luna. It was printed in Venice c.1490 and written in the Venetian dialect, with a charming full-page woodcut at the front.

Special Collections imageEuclid, Elementa, 1482.

Euclid. Elementa. Latin. Translated by Adelard of Bath, edited by Giovanni Campano Novarese. Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 25 May 1482. 137 ff. Diagrams. First heading in red, paragraph marks and underlining in red throughout. Large woodcut initial and woodcut border on a2, woodcut initials and diagrams throughout.
Graves Library.

Euclid's Elements was an immensely important text in the Middle Ages but printing of it was delayed by the technical difficulties of producing the diagrams. The problem was solved by one of the most skilled and innovative of the early printers, Erhard Ratdolt. Ratdolt was born in Augsburg and printed both there and in Venice. He was the first printer to use colours and introduced the title-page.

In 1482 he produced probably the finest piece of mathematical printing ever . Euclid, Elementa, complete with integrated diagrams. It is a technical masterpiece.

More Incunabula images from Digital Collections:

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Sacro Bosco's Astronomy
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Latin Herbal, 1485
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The Nuremberg Chronicle
Special Collections image
Liber Chronicarum

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Part Two: Astronomy and Physics

Special Collections imageCopernicus, De revolutionibus, 1543.

Copernicus, Nicolaus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Libri VI: Habes in hoc opere iam recens nato, & aedito, studiose lector, Motus stelllarum, tam fixarum, quam erraticarum, cum ex veteribus, tum etiam ex recentibus observsationibus restitutos: & novis insuper ac admirabilibus hypothesibus ornatos. Habes etiam Tabulas expeditisimas, ex quibus eosdem ad quodvis tempus quam facillime claculare poteris. Igitur eme, lege, fruere. Norimbergae: Apud Joh. Petreium, 1543. [6], 196 ff. Woodcut initials, tables and diagrams.
Graves Library.

This is the opening page of the first edition of Nicolas Copernicus' s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, printed in Nuremberg in 1543. We tend to think nowadays that this book caused a huge furore on publication but the truth is that it did not. The ideas were not actually that new. The Medieval view of the universe was literally earth-centred. All heavenly bodies were believed to rotate around the earth in a neat circular fashion. The theory was not without its critics and Copernicus's work had circulated in manuscript for some years prior to publication. The book has an anonymous preface, by Andreas Osiander, presenting the Copernican planetary model purely as a hypothesis for discussion. The theories were commented on by scholars, notably the leading Jesuit astronomer, Christoph Clavius. There was even a second edition published in 1566.

Galileo, Il saggiatore, 1623. Special Collections image

Galilei, Galileo. Il saggiatore / nel quale con bilancia esquisita e giusta si ponderano le cose contenute nella Libra astronomica e filosofica di Lotario Sarsi Sigensano [i.e. O. Grassi], scritto in forma di lettera. In Roma: Appresso Giacomo Mascardi, 1623.[12], 236, [2] pp. Engraved titlepage within an architectural border, with the arms of Pope Urban VIII and the Lincei device.
Graves Library.

The man who suffered most for Copernicus's ideas was Galileo Galilei. Born in Pisa in 1564, he studied medicine, mathematics and philosophy. In 1592 he was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics at Padua . His early researches were mainly on motion, particularly of falling bodies, but he became interested in astronomy. He developed a new type of telescope and announced his discoveries in his 1610 book Sidereus Nuncius . His revelations of the valleys and mountains on the surface of the moon caused a stir and his observations of multitudes of faint stars gave credence to Copernicus's suggestion that the universe might be much larger than had been previously believed. Galileo's most startling discovery was that of the four moons orbiting Jupiter which contradicted the Aristotelian theory that the Earth was the centre of motion for all heavenly bodies. He went on to observe the phases of Venus and sun spots, and wrote on comets in Il saggiatore, published 1623.

Gradually the Church was taking notice of the new theories and in 1616 it issued a decree suspending further publication of De revolutionibus for revision and an injunction not to hold or defend Copernican doctrine.

Galileo ignored the injunction and published in 1632 Il dialogo sopra I due massimi sistemi del mondo, in which he endorsed the Copernican heliocentric system.

Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition where he was forced to recant his views and was put under permanent house arrest, which lasted until his death in 1642. Il dialogo, De revolutionibus and several works by Kepler were placed on the Index of prohibited books, where they remained until 1835.

This is the first edition of Il saggiatore (1623 ), with an inscription on the title-page recording the gift of the book form the author to his friend Orazio Morandi.

Kepler, De cometis, 1619. Plate from Kepler's treatise De Cometis

Kepler, Johann. De cometis libelli tres: Astronomicus, theoremata continens de motu cometarum ... qui annis 1607 et 1618 conspecti sunt, etc, Physicus, continens physiologiam cometarum novam, etc, Astrologicus, de significationibus cometarum annorum 1607 et 1618... II. Physicus, continens Physiologiam Cometarum novam ... III. Astrologicus, de significationibus Cometarum Annorum 1607 & 1618. Augustae Vindelicorum: Typis Andreae Arpergeri, Sumptibus Sebastiani Mylii, 1619. [8], 138 pp. 5 plates.
Graves Library.

Another staunch supporter of Galileo was Johann Kepler . Born in Stuttgart in 1571, Kepler studied mathematics and astronomy. From 1599 he was based in Prague and became Imperial Mathematician to the Emperor Rudolf II in 1601. After Rudolf's death in 1612 Kepler moved around, mainly because of religious persecution, and died in Regensburg in 1630.

It was Kepler who brought scientific precision to Copernicus's ideas. He realised that heavenly bodies do not move in nice neat circles but in elliptical orbits. His laws of motion could be applied to planets, moons, stars and comets.

The image (right) is a plate from Kepler's treatise called De Cometis, published in 1619. It describes comets observed by the author in 1607 and 1618.

Wilkins, The discovery of a world in the moone, 1638. Image: Wilkins,
          The discovery of a world in the moone, 1638.

Wilkins, John. The discovery of a world in the moone. Or, a discourse tending to prove: that 'tis probable there may be another habitable world in that planet. London: Printed by E.G. for Michael Sparke and Edward Forrest, 1638. [7], 209, [4] pp. Illus.
C.K. Ogden Library.

This is one of our more unusual works. The notion of there being life on other planets is an ancient one. Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Plutarch and Lucian all considered the idea. Nicholas of Cusa believed that there was life on the moon, though he believed that the beings who lived there were probably free from original sin. This work, called The discovery of a world in the moone, was published in London , in 1638, anonymously. The author was John Wilkins, philosopher, linguist and Bishop of Chester.

Galileo's discoveries of spots and mountains on the moon had caused intense speculation and Wilkins writes:

"The spots represent the Sea, and the brighter parts land . that there are high mountains, deep valleys, and spacious plains in the body of the moon . That there is an atmosphere, or an orb of gross vaporous air, immediately encompassing the body of the moon . That it is probable that there may be inhabitants in this other world, but of what kind they are is uncertain..."

Hevelius had called these moon inhabitants 'Selenites'.

In later editions Wilkins included "A discourse concerning the probability of passage thither ." He writes that it should be possible "to make a flying chariot; in which a man may sit, and give such motion unto it, as shall convey him though the air".

By the early 19 th century improved telescopes and better mapping had persuaded most scientists that life on the moon was an impossibility.

Special Collections imageNewton, Principia, 1687.

Newton , Sir Isaac. Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. Londini: jussu Societatis Regiae ac typis Josephi Streater, 1687. [8], 510, [2] pp. Illus.
Graves Library.

The towering genius of his age, perhaps indeed of British science, was Sir Isaac Newton. A reclusive, often difficult man with a brilliant and original mind. He produced, in 1687, one of the most important scientific books ever published. Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica covered the motion of material bodies and expounded an universal theory of gravitation that made sense of all astronomical observations. The moon and planets moved in a clockwork universe guided by the force of gravity. The theoretical principles were entirely Newton 's but the book was a collaborative effort, co-ordinated by Edmund Halley. It was Halley who wheedled, flattered and bullied Newton into giving up his manuscript, and who saw it through the press, paying all the costs out of his own pocket.

Newton 's work remained unassailed for more than two centuries.

More Astronomy and Physics images from Digital Collections:

Image link to Special Collections Digital Gallery
Newton's Principia [1st ed.]
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Newton's Opticks [Latin]

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Part Three: Earth Sciences and volcanoes

Special Collections imageKircher, Mundus subterraneus, 1665.

Kircher, Athanasius. Athanasii Kircheri e Soc. Jesu Mundus subterraneus, in XII libros digestus; : quo divinum subterrestris mundi opificium, mira ergasteriorum naturæ in eo distributio, verbo pantamorphon Protei regnum, universæ denique naturæ majestas & divitiæ summa rerum varietate exponuntur. Abditorum effectuum causæ acri indagine inquisitæ demonstrantur; cognitæ per artis & naturæ conjugium ad humanæ vitæ necessarium usum vario experimentorum apparatu, necnon novo modo, & ratione applicantur. Amstelodami: Apud Joannem Janssonium & Elizeum Weyerstraten, 1665. 2 vols. [in 1]. Illus; plates. Added engraved title-page, title vignette, decorated initials, tail pieces.
Johnston Lavis Collection.

These plates are from a remarkable book by an even more remarkable man. Athanasius Kircher was a true polymath. He published prolifically on many subjects, he invented a type of calculating machine, explained a kind of symbolic logic, constructed an early camera obscura and computed the speed of a swallow's flight. He wrote on cryptography, music, phonetics, magnetism and gravity, sundials, hieroglyphs, calendars and bubonic plague, which he attributed to microscopic creatures (the first notion of germs).

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Kircher observed the 1630 eruption of Mount Etna and subsequently visited Vesuvius. In 1665 he published a huge work called Mundus subterraneus, probably the first work on geophysics and vulcanology.

Kircher believed the earth to be about 6,500 years old. He declared that it had a fiery centre, connected to fire-filled chambers by numerous passages. These chambers were eventually vented to the surface through volcanoes.

Finch, Eruption of Mount Etna , 1669. Special Collections image

Finch, Heneage, Earl of Winchelsea. A true and exact relation of the late prodigious earthquake & eruption of mount Etna, or Monte-Gibello : as it came in a letter written to His Majesty from Naples  by the Right Honorable the Earle of Winchilsea, His Majesties late ambassador at Constantinople, who in his return from thence, visiting Catania in the island of Sicily, was an ey-witness of that dreadful spectacle. Together with a more particular narrative of the same, as it is collected out of severall relations sent from Catania . Published by authority... 1st edition... [ London ]: Printed by T. Newcomb in the Savoy, 1669. 30 p: fold. Frontispiece.
Johnston Lavis Collection.

The image (right) is the title-page and frontispiece of Heneage Finch's A true and exact relation of the late prodigious earthquake and eruption of Mount Aetna, printed 1669.

Finch was the 3rd Earl of Winchelsea and former British Ambassador at Constantinople. He happened to be in Sicily when Mount Etna roared back into life in 1669. He was visiting the port of Catania and had a first-hand view of events as they unfolded. In his narrative he described how the lava stream advanced 600 yards into the sea and how it carried huge boulders with it.

The 1669 eruption is particularly notable for the first recorded attempts to disrupt the lava flow. Effusion began 11 March 1669 after three days of violent ground shaking. Lava advanced at 4-9 km a day, and within two weeks had destroyed at least eight villages. On 29 March a new major flow emerged and was the first to reach Catania's city wall on 16 April. As the lava invaded the city houses were demolished, inflammable material removed and stone barriers erected across the flow paths. At several locations the lava flows were halted and even diverted.

In the end, whole tracts of Catania were destroyed by one of Etna's largest historical effusions but he events showed the possibility of diverting or retarding a flow's advance.

Special Collections image Hamilton, Campi Phlegraei, 1772 .

Hamilton, William, Sir. Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the volcanos of the two Sicilies as they have been communicated to the Royal Society of London / by William Hamilton... To which, in order to convey the most precise idea of each remark, a new and accurate map is annexed, with 54 plates illuminated from drawings taken and colour'd after nature, under the inspection of the author, by the editor Mr. Peter Fabris = Observations sur les volcans des deux Siciles telles qu'elles ont été communiquées à la Société Royale de Londres par le Chavalier Hamilton... Auxquelles pour donner une idée plus precise de chaque observation, on a ajouté une carte nouvelle & trés exacte avec 54 planches enluminées d'aprés les desseins faits & coloriés sur la nature même, sous l'inspeciton de l'auteur, par l'editeur le Sieur Pierre Fabris. Naples: [s.n.], 1776-79. 2 vols + supplement. Illus. Plates, hand coloured.
Johnston Lavis Collection.

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Mount Vesuvius is Italy's most famous volcano. To the west of Naples is a large complex of craters and fumaroles known as the Campi Phlegraei or Phlegraen Fields. The term does not usually include Vesuvius, which lies to the east of Naples, but most observers rightly concluded that both sites were the result of the same geological forces.

Special Collections imageSir William Hamilton was British Envoy to the Court of Naples from 1764 to 1779. He saw Vesuvius erupt several times and climbed the volcano over seventy times, sometimes at great risk, sending accounts to the Royal Society in London.

Hamilton employed an artist living in Naples, one Pietro Fabris, to illustrate his work which was published in 1772 as Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the volcanoes of the two Sicilies. It was the best scientific work of its time on volcanoes and volcanic activity. The printed work contains very fine hand-coloured plates.

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Part Four: Natutal History, Zoology and Botany

Gesner, Historia animalium, 1555-58. Image of octopus

Gesner, Conrad. Historiae animalium liber IV qui est de piscium & aquatilium animantium natura: Cum iconibus singulorum ad vivum expressis fere omnibus DCCXII / Continentur in hoc volumine, Gulielmi Rondeletii, ... & Petri Bellonii, ... de aquatilium singulis scripta paralipomena quaedam ad finem adiecta sunt. Editio secunda . Francofurti: In Bibliopolio Henrici Laurentii, 1620. Illus. Title vignette, decorative initials, head and tail pieces.

Malacological Society Library.

The Sixteenth century saw a movement towards identifying and classifying as many living things as possible. One of the best of these encyclopaedists was Conrad Gesner. His magnum opus, the Historia animalium, was published in four volumes between 1555 and 1558, with a fifth volume in 1587, and marks the beginnings of modern zoology. This is a later edition, published in 1620.

The image (right), a handsome octopus, comes from volume 4, dealing with fishes and aquatic animals. Gesner included full descriptions of the animals and their habits as well as the associated myths and Biblical references. He gathered observations from ancient and contemporary scholars.

Plate from Dissertatio
          epistolica de bombyceMalpighi, The silkworm, 1669.

Malpighi, Marcello. Dissertatio epistolica de bombyce. Londini: Apud Joannem Martyn & Jacobum Allestry, 1699. [9], 100 pp. plates.

The image (right) is a plate from Marcello Malpighi's Dissertatio epistolica de bombyce, of 1669. This detailed study of the silkworm was the first monograph on an invertebrate. Malpighi was the founder of histology and the greatest of the microscopists. He dissected and observed silkworms, publishing his findings in this treatise. It had been believed previously that silkworms had no internal organs.

Special Collections imageHooke, Micrographia, 1665.

Hooke, Robert. Micrographia: or, some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses: with observations and inquiries thereupon. London: Printed by Jo. Martyn and Ja. Allestry, 1665. [35], 246, [10] pp. [28] fold. Plates. Donated by William Sharpey.

This was the first work in English entirely devoted to the microscope, Robert Hooke's Micrographia , first published in 1665.

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Robert Hooke was a restless genius, he wrote on physics, meteorology, astronomy, geology, botany, biology, combustion and respiration, among other things. He was resolutely practical. His response to any scientific problem was to invent a piece of equipment to resolve it. He was Curator of Experiments to the Royal Society and designed clocks, telescopes and microscopes, quadrants for Greenwich Observatory, self-levelling compasses for sea voyages, barometers, thermometers, and wind and rain gauges.

Hooke was a difficult man, fiercely competitive, touchy, quarrelsome, and a vicious critic. His savage criticism of Newton 's telescope caused Newton to delay publication of his theories for many years.

Hooke drew the images for the Micrographia himself from his own observations and oversaw the production of the plates. He made his observations with a compound microscope which created a distorted image. The plates are remarkably vivid and the book was an instant bestseller. Pepys described it as "the most ingenious book" he had ever read. These are the famous plates of the flea and the louse.

Image: Albin's RobinAlbin, Natural History of Birds, 1731-38.

Albin, Eleazar. A natural history of Birds: illustrated with. copper plates, curiously engraven from the life and exactly coloured by the author, Eleazar Albin. To which are added, notes and observations by W. Derham. London: Printed for W. Innys and R. Manby, 1738. 3 vols. Col. Plates.

Eleazar Albin was an artist and amateur zoologist who supported himself by teaching watercolour painting. His Natural History of Birds (published in parts between 1731 and 1738) was the first book on birds to illustrated with colour plates. The plates were hand coloured after printing by Albin and his daughter Elizabeth. There were 306 colour plates in the whole work. The original watercolours are now preserved in Marsh's Library, Dublin.

Many of the illustrations are more charming than strictly accurate.

Special Collections image"John Gould - Bird Man"

Gould, John. A monograph of the Ramphastidae: or family of toucans. London: Published by the author, 1834. [47] leaves, [34] leaves of plates: lithographs, col.

Gould, John. A century of birds from the Himalaya Mountains. London: Published by the author, 1831. [72] leaves, [80] leaves of plates: lithographs, col.

These are among the finest images of the 19th century. John Gould was born in Dorset in 1804. His father was a gardener in the royal gardens at Windsor and John helped him in his work, developing particular interest in birds. By 1827 he was working for the Zoological Society, looking after their ornithological collections. In 1829 he married Elizabeth Coxon, an accomplished artist, who helped him in his work. Together John and Elizabeth Gould published seven major works with nearly 700 coloured plates. Edward Lear assisted with two works and c.150 plates are his work.

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Elizabeth died in 1841 but John continued to produce beautifully illustrated works on birds and other animals. He was a shrewd businessman, publishing his works himself, and made a considerable fortune. He died in 1881 and chose his own epitaph: "John Gould the Bird Man."

Smith, Lepidopterous insects, 1797. Special Collections image

The natural history of the rarer lepidopterous insects of Georgia: Including their systematic characters, the particulars of their several metamorphoses, and the plants on which they feed / Collected from the observations of Mr John Abbot, ... by James Edward Smith, ... London : printed by T. Bensley, for J. Edwards; Cadell and Davies; and J. White, 1797. 2 vols. Colour plates.

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This is a plate from The Natural history of the rarer lepidopterous insects of Georgia, 1797.

The original drawings were the work of John White Abbot who settled in Georgia, USA, and sent thousands of drawings and specimens home to England. Some went to Sir James Edward Smith, President and founder of the Linnean Society of London. Smith selected 104 of Abbot's watercolours of moths and butterflies for publication and edited the accompanying text. It was the first illustrated work on American insects.

Mollusca Special Collections image

Taylor, John William. Monograph of the land & freshwater mollusca of the British Isles, by John William Taylor; with the assistance of W. Dennison Roebuck, the late Charles Ashford and other well known conchologists. Leeds: Taylor Brothers, 1894-1921. 4 vols. Illus, some col. From the Malacological Society Library.

The image (right) is the frontispiece from Monograph of land and freshwater mollusca of the British Isles, 1894, by J.W. Taylor. It is from the Library of the Malacological Society of London which is housed here at UCL. The library includes many wonderfully illustrated books on malacology and conchology . that is molluscs and shells.

Related link: The Malacological Society of London

Smith: Exotic botanySmith, Exotic Botany

Smith, Sir James Edward. Exotic Botany: consisting of coloured figures and scientific descriptions of such new, beautiful, or rare plants as are worthy of cultivation in the gardens of Britain ... / The figures by J. Sowerby. London: Printed by R. Taylor & Co. , 1804-5. 2 vols. 120 col. plates.

This is a typically beautiful plate from Sir James Edward Smith's Exotic Botany, published in 1804, with plates based on drawings by James Sowerby. Sowerby was a trained artist who became a renowned illustrator of natural history books. He illustrated books on botany, conchology and fossils. He also wrote a book on colours.

Image: Withering's
          FoxgloveWithering's Foxglove

Withering, William. An account of the foxglove, and some of its medical uses: with practical remarks on dropsy*, and other diseases. Birmignham: M. Swinney for G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1785. xx, [1], 207, [1] pp. [1] folded leaf of col. plate.

This is a classic work of medical botany. William Withering was physician to the Birmingham General Hospital and a member of the famous Lunar Society.

After observing old folk remedies Withering conducted extensive clinical trials with the foxglove, digitalis purpura. He published his findings in his Account of the foxglove, and some of its medical uses, 1785.

Withering describes his findings in the treatment of dropsy* and heart disease, and described the symptoms of digitalis toxicity. Digitalis improves the speed, force and pace of cardiac contractions, Withering is credited as the first British doctor to use it thus.

(* Dropsy: Pulmonary and systemic edema, what is now called congestive heart failure).

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Part Five: Medicine

Gersdorff Special Collections image

Gersdorff, Hans von. Feldtbuch der wundartzney. Newlich getrucht und gebessert. Strassburg: Hans Schotten, 1530. [5], 106 ff. 2 fold. tables, illus; woodcuts (some col.). Presented to UCH Medical School Library by Sir John Tweedy.

In the 16th century the most innovative practical medicine tended to be practised on the battle field. This plate is from a book on military surgery by Hans Gersdorff , called Feldtbuch der wundartzney. It was first published in 1517 and went through several editions. This is the 1530 edition, with crudely coloured plates.

Gersdorff is said to have performed some 200 amputations. In his book he describes in detail the extraction of arrows and bullets. He also describes his method of amputation very exactly, employing a tourniquet to control the bleeding, treating bleeding vessels with compression or cauterisation, and covering the stump with a beef or pig bladder. He mentions the administration of a soporific drink and gives its formula. This is illustrated by what is probably the first depiction of an amputation in a printed work.

Special Collections image    Special Collections image

Vesalius Special Collections image

Vesalius, Andreas. De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. Basileae: Ex Officina Ioannem Oporinum, 1555. [12], 824, [i.e. 826], [48] pp. Illus. Illustrated title-page, portrait of the author, historiated initials.

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Probably the greatest medical book of the 16 th century was the De humani corporis fabrica libri septem of Andreas Vesalius. First published in 1543 and in a second, much expanded and improved edition in 1555, it heralded the beginning of true scientific anatomy. UCL has three copies of the 1555 edition.

Vesalius enjoyed imperial patronage and a steady supply of bodies for dissection. In this, his magnum opus, he spared no effort or expense, hiring the best draughtsmen, engravers and printers. The superb engravings are attributed to the workshop of Titian, particularly to his pupil Jan Stephen van Calcar. The plates are remarkable, not just for their quality, but also for their relation to the text. It was the first time that the illustrations in a medical book related precisely to and were intended to clarify the text. They form a sequence from skeletons to the various muscle layers and nerves. The illustrations were heavily plagiarised for centuries.

Tagliacozzi Tagliacozzi image

Tagliacozzi, Gaspare. De curtorem chirurgia per insitionem, libri duo: in quibus ea omnia, quae ad huius chirurgiae, narium scilicet, aurium, ac laborium per insitionem restaurandorum cum theoricen, tum practicen pertinere videbantur, clarissima methodo cumulatissime declarantur. Ventiis: apud Gasparum Bindonum iuniorem, 1597. Illus., plates. Extra engraved title-page, head and tail pieces, initials and plates. From the UCH Medical School Library.

Cosmetic surgery is nothing new. This is a plate from De curtorem chirurgia per insitionem, by Gaspare Tagliacozzi, published 1597.

Tagliacozzi was an Italian surgeon who pioneered plastic surgery. He was the first to repair noses and ears lost in duels or through syphilis (which was rife in the 16th century). He took flaps of skin from the arm and grafted them into place. The plate show the instruments and methods used.

Tagliacozzi was condemned by the Church for interfering with God's creation; his body was exhumed and reburied in unconsecrated ground.

Harvey's De motu cordis Special Collections image

Harvey, William. Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus. Francofurti: Sumptibus Guilielmi Fitzeri, 1628. 72 pp. plates. Presented by William Sharpey.

This has been described as the most important medical book ever published. In it William Harvey sets out his discovery of the circulation of the blood. He denied the Galenic theories which had stated that there were two types of blood, each with its own distinct pathways and functions. Many Renaissance anatomists had questioned these theories but it was Harvey who improved upon the theories and set them out in his book, Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus, 1628.

Harvey concluded that the heart worked as a muscle. He noted the enormous quantity of blood forced out of the heart and realised that it must circulate around the body or the arteries would explode under the pressure. He concluded that:

"All things show that the blood passes through the lungs and heart by the force of the ventricles, and is sent for distribution to all parts of the body... it is absolutely necessary to conclude that the blood in the animal body is impelled in a circle, and is in a state of ceaseless motion."

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Part Six: Anthropology and Genetics

Special Collections imageTyson's Orang-outang

Tyson, Edward. Orang-outang: sive Homo sylvestris: or, the anatomy of a pygmie = compared with that of a monkey, an ape, and a man: to which is added, a philosophical essay concerning the pygmies, . wherein it will appear that they are all either apes or monkeys, and not men, as formerly pretended. London: Printed for Thomas Bennet and Daniel Brown, 1699. Plates. Presented by William Sharpey.

Special Collections image This is the first true work of comparative morphology, Edward Tyson's Orang-outang: sive homo sylvestris; or, the anatomy of a pygmie, published 1699.

Tyson was a physician to the Bridewell and Bethlem hospitals. He had the opportunity of examining the remains of a young chimp from Angola that had died in London. This book is the result of his work. It is a landmark in anthropology and comparative anatomy, remarkable for its empirical approach. Tyson's precise measurements, complete exploration of the internal and external structures of the animal and his minutely detailed sketches enable him to analyse in the great detail the similarities and dissimilarities between a chimp and a man.

Tyson recognised that man was probably a close relative of certain "lower" animals - what became known as the "missing link" theory. His work contributed to the eventual formation of the theory of evolution.

Special Collections imageDarwin

The exhibition ends with not a book but an image of the author of one of the most controversial books of the 19th century, a book that is still controversial today. This is the only known depiction of Charles Robert Darwin with one of his children. It is a daguerreotype and comes from the papers of his cousin, Sir Francis Galton, whose papers are held in Special Collections.

Darwin became interested in fossils and variation in species on his trips to the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s. He agonised over his theories for years, only finally publishing them in 1859 as On the origin of species by means of natural selection or, the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

Darwin's thesis was that species slowly evolve from common ancestors through the mechanism of natural selection. The book was an instant bestseller; the entire first edition sold out on the day of issue. Darwin himself was a quiet man who disliked publicity and controversy. He refused to defend his ideas in public, nor did he apply his theories explicitly to man . he left that to others.

If you have any comments or queries to make about this exhibition, or if you would like to know about any future exhibitions / events please email the Special Collections team. Alternatively, you can write to us at: Special Collections, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT.

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Last modified 17 March 2005

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