Purchase of historical medical books

from Francesca Galligan, Rare Books, Dept. of Special Collections

The Birmingham Medical Institute, established in 1875, offered a first part of its historical medical books at auction in April. The Bodleian purchased six lots, of fifteen editions, adding important new texts and editions to our extensive medical collections. Many of the books were chosen for their focus on women, and include a group on midwifery.


Fielding Ould, A Treatise of midwifry (1748; Vet. A4 e.3676)
This is the rare first London edition of a book striking in its concern for the wellbeing of and respect for the mother, and in its focus on observations from nature and on natural delivery. It includes a glossary: “To make this treatise of more general use, (especially to women who live in the country remote from the assistance of skilful persons) the editors have here subjoined an explanation of the tems of art”. Most of the words in the glossary are of a technical nature, though some are very general: ‘adult’, ‘pregnant’, ‘spine’, ‘intestines’. Ould discusses the work of several others in this field, including Henry Deventer, whose The art of midwifery improv’d was purchased in its 4thedition (1746, Vet. A4 e.3676).

Fig. 1

Deventer’s book contains a series of illustrations of the foetus in utero [Fig. 1].

Illustrations were, for some, a point of concern. Edmund Chapman notes in the preface to his Treatise on the improvement of Midwifery, purchased in its 2nd and 3rd editions (1735 and 1759, Vet. A4 e.3678, Vet. A5 e.7466), that plates of the body would only “serve to raise and encourage impure thoughts” (p. xx). He states “my design, on the contrary, was to compose such a treatise as one of either sex might read without a blush”, and the only illustrations present are forceps and another extraction tool called the fillet. [Figs 2 and 3.] The author recommends the book specifically to midwives, though he hopes that surgeons will also find it useful.

Fig. 2

Women’s health – general

Jean Astruc, Treatise on the diseases of women (1762, in two volumes, together with the rarer third volume, 1767), Vet. A5 e.7469 and Vet. A5 e.7470
An English translation of this important French work that includes an extensive “Chronological catalogue of the physicians, who have written treatises, particularly on the diseases of women…”, divided into four periods. In his preface, Astruc likens his task to that of Vergil, picking over the poetry of Ennius: “I acknowledge it is not without being surfeited with them, that I have gone over so great a number of such collections: and I question whether Virgil was ever so much so in reading the verses of Ennius. But we had both the same design: for I endeavoured, like him, to extract something useful from this heap of things, that contained so little of what was good; and this supported my patience” (p. iv).

Fig. 3

Also purchased were:

William Rowley, A treatise on female, nervous, hysterical, hypochondriacal, bilious, convulsive diseases; apoplexy and palsy; with thoughts on madness, suicide, &c. in which the principal disorders are explained from anatomical facts, and the treatment formed on several new principles(1788), Vet. A5 e.7468  [Fig. 4].

Fig. 4

John Friend, Emmenologia (1752), Vet. A5 e.3
An edition in English, with a typographical error corrected in manuscript [Fig. 5].

Fig. 5

Charles Perry’s rare A mechanical account and explication of the hysteric passion (1755), Vet. A5 e.74711st and 3rd editions of Pierre Pomme’s Traité des affections vaporeuses des deux sexes(Lyon, 1763 and 1767), Vet. E5 f.549 and Vet. E5 e.1221

General medical

William Salmon’s Parateremata: or Select physical and chyrurgical observations: containing divers remarkable histories of cures, done by several famous physicians (1687); Vet. A3 e.2219
One of three editions of this year, all rare, and all thus far absent from the Bodleian. [Figs 6 and 7]

Fig. 6
Fig. 7

Domenico Panaroli, Discorso delle stufe da bagni di Roma, e suoi nocumenti. (Rome, 1646); Vet. F3 e.66
A treatise on the perils of Rome’s modern public baths, known in only a few copies. [Fig. 8]

Robert Bunon, Essay sur les maladies des dents, (Paris, 1743); Vet. E4 e.92
One of the first books devoted to children’s teeth.

An Edinburgh edition of Anton Störck’s An essay on the medicinal nature of hemlock (1762).
Vet. A5 e.7465

Fig. 8