Lower, Richard. Tractatus de CORDE. Item De Motu & Colore SANGUINIS, Et Chyli in eum Transitu. Amsterdam: Daniel Elzevir, 1669. First Elzevir edition.
Richard Lower was educated at Westminster School and at Christ Church, Oxford (like John Locke, who was a year or so behind him), and it was in Oxford, a generation after Harvey fully described the circulation of the blood under the action of the heart, that his experiments concerning the flow of blood and its interaction with air began. In the Tractatus de Corde, Lower describes his pioneering research into the cardiopulmonary system (including distinguishing arterial and venous blood), the transfusion of blood, and the relation of the circulatory and gastrointestinal systems.
The distinction between arterial and venous blood had eluded medical men since before Hippocrates; indeed, the state of understanding of the circulatory system was dismal in the ancient world. Thus we might count this little book among the most important in the development of the modern conception of the human body (perhaps that’s an overstatement, but still).
As we might suspect in the case of such a monument, there was controversy. An Irishman called Edward O’Meara stood in the way of the progress that had been made of Lower’s master and friend, Thomas Willis, one of the founders of the Royal Society. O’Meara was a stubborn supporter of Galen, the commentator on the Hippocratic corpus, and slandered Willis’s work on the circulation of blood with respect to the brain (the Circle of Willis is named for him). Lower rose to the defense of his master, and published a searing response in 1665 (Diatribæ T. Willisii de Febribus Vindicatio). By 1669 the loyal pupil’s rage was unabated, and in the preface he slams the Irishman:
Inter quos summæ proterviæ & stuporis Meara quidam Hybernus cæteris omnibus palmam præripere videtur: Cui, | Imperito ipsi, alios scire quicquam dolet; id quod scripta ab illo, utcunque sub larvato titulo Conlonis Caßinii nuper edita, palam faciunt. [London A6r-v]
Among those [who have put up resistance to progress], a certain Irishman, O’Meara, seems to snatch the prize of supreme impudence and stupidity from all others; it is painful to him, so ignorant himself, that others know anything; that which has been written by him, recently published, somehow, under the hideous title Conlonis Cassinii, makes this clear.
But tell us how you really feel, Richard. The text above is not from our item but from the first issue of the London text (J. Redmayne), printed some three months before the Elzevir text. Soon after, Lower emends the text and Redmayne issues the book with a cancel. Here’s where the problems begin. The major bibliographer of Lower, John Fulton, acknowledges the cancel, and prints side-by-side photographs of the two issues A6r to demonstrate the differences between the original page and the cancel, explaining that “Lower attempted to modify (very slightly) a scurrilous remark that he had originally made concerning the Irishman O’Meara whom he had also attacked in the Diatribæ.” (Fulton item 4, p. 17). Careful examination of the two printed pages demonstrates, with small exceptions like superscript em’s (quidâ for quidam), that the text of the original and cancels of A6r are in fact identical. The change, pace Fulton, is to be found on A6v (I thank Mr. Rupert Baker, Library Manager at the Royal Society, for providing me with photographs of the original issue). In place of
id quod scripta ab illo, utcunque sub larvato titulo Conlonis Caßinii nuper edita, palam faciunt.
Lower writes in the second issue:
id quod scripta ab illo, utcunq; sub larvato titulo Conlonis Caßinii nuper edita, convitiorû non minus quam Errorum plena palam faciunt. (Emphasis mine.)
that which has been written by him, recently published, somehow, under the hideous title Conlonis Cassinii, no less full of sources for reproach than of errors, makes this clear.
Pace Fulton once again, “to modify (very slightly) a scurrilous remark” is not the force of the added words. Generally cancellations of this kind serve to moderate or to remove offensive or inflammatory passages (e.g., Swift’s Tale of a Tub (London, 1781) in its first state prints “furor uterinus” – rage of the womb, i.e., nymphomania – but in its second state omits “uterinus”), but in this case Lower caused Redmayne to reprint a page after the initial printing and to replace it with even more inflammatory language. Bravo, sir.
The Amsterdam text follows this second, whatever-the-opposite-of-redacted-is, issue (with some variations in capitalization, superscript or abbreviated characters, etc.; our ∗4r-v). This is at variance with the narrative, none too uncommon, that a Continental printing would allow the author to skirt controversy in Britain. Seeking the reasons for an Elzevir printing, we ought then to turn to concerns of economics and popularity in non-British markets.
Indeed, in our copy we have ownership markings that indicate where this book traveled. The first, a faint “RC” penned to the upper edge of the front paste-down, yields little. The last, a chipped red wax seal on the upper edge of the rear paste-down, is tantalizing but not terribly informative:
In the center of the stamp is a tree – a pomegranate? –in an elaborate pot with a sun-face in the center. Its legend reads [QVI⋅MISC]VIT⋅VTILE⋅DVLCI, a quotation from Horace (De arte poetica 343-4):
omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci
lectorem delectando pariterque monendo:
he who blends the beneficial with the sweet wins every point
by pleasing the reader and by teaching him as well
Doubtless the mark of a bibliophile, but who?
The middle ownership mark, a signature on the title-page, is the most informative:
I read “ex Libz:F:J: | Becquie med | audomar”, that is, “from the library of Doctor F.J. Becquie, St. Omer (France)”. Perhaps for Becquie we should read Decquie. At any rate, the signature was re-written in darker ink – perhaps a correction, or just a freshening-up. Searches of European databases yield little on a Becquie or a Decquie; there is a composer by the name Jean-Marie Becquié de Peyreville (1798-1876), but he was born in Toulouse (about as far from St. Omer as one can get within France) and the date seems too late for the hand. Still, a doctor in St. Omer, which is about as close to Amsterdam as one can get within France, is just the sort of buyer the Elzevirs would have had in mind.
This little book contains mysteries and multitudes, and that’s before considering its publication of ground-breaking medical discoveries that underpin our modern understanding of circulation.
Octavo (6 3/8” x 3 3/4”, 156mm x 94mm). Blank, ∗8 A-O8 P4, blank [$5 signed (–∗1, –P4)]; 124 leaves, 7 folding engraved plates at end; pp. , 232. Collated perfect with the copy in the BCU, Lausanne.