Four versus Five: A little conundrum in John Milton’s Christian Doctrine

Sunday, June 16th, 2013 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

John Hale writes…

The editing of Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana which Donald Cullington and I have now completed (September 2012), is prompting fresh enquiries, mercifully shorter. One tiny specimen is the conundrum, Why Milton’s text makes a mistake in saying (MS 362, Oxford edition p. 762) that the celebrant at a Roman Catholic Mass “murmurs four words [Hoc est corpus meum, This is my body]” whereas a celebrant, now as then, must say five [Hoc est enim corpus meum, For this is my body]. The five are required by papal ordinance, many times printed so, millions of times said. The words of the institution of the Eucharist are parataxis, but in the liturgy are run into the syntax of the whole utterance by Jesus at the Last Supper so as to give the reason why (enim, “for”) the disciples, then believers, are to “take and eat.” Although the discrepancy makes no substantive difference, what does its occurrence signify?

In context, Milton is taking over from his main theological source, Wollebius, a forthright listing of some seven points of difference between the Roman and the Protestant versions of the Eucharist, ranging from liturgical practice to high theology (transubstantiation, what happens to the bread when eaten). Milton keeps close to the seven points, and keeps much of the Latin wording, for instance the point here that the celebrant of a Mass “murmurs the words downwards” (demurmurat) by contrast with their open proclamation in a Protestant, commemorative rite. So the differentiating between four and five is part of the appropriating. It may be casual or deliberate: the fact remains that Wollebius knows what the priest says, in the obligatory Latin of the Mass, while Milton distorts the wording. The little puzzle is compounded by the fact that in the original Greek of the biblical words of institution there were not four, but five (1 Corinthians 11. 24, touto mou estin to soma. The three Synoptic gospels have the same five words, albeit with mou at the end). Milton’s change is purely within the Latin, and concerns his use of the Protestant Latin translation of Junius-Trenellius-Beza. What reasons, conscious or unintended, may have led him to think in Latin and say “four”?

Possible reasons include: (a) scribal error in Milton’s manuscript (b) Milton couldn’t count (c) he couldn’t read Wollebius, being blind (d) he omits what is a mere detail of Catholic liturgy (e) he insists on the biblical Latin (f) something else and (g) some combination of these. The lengthy experience of transcribing the MS, and editing and translating it, should have some speculation or inference to offer. I think it does.

Mere scribal error is unlikely. The scribe at this point is Jeremie Picard, a professional scribe making a fair copy. The evidence abounds that Milton, despite blindness, had his MS read back to him, and made changes both small and large, from piffling corrections to rethinking matters of substance. So even if the scribe misheard or couldn’t count, Milton checked.

Milton’s scheme of exactly fifty chapters, both for De Doctrina and for his connected Art of Logic, suggests he could count adequately. Not to wax indignant about a slur on his numeracy, this suggestion should be dismissed because of the manifest care he took, for decades, with the arrangement and detail alike in the work he termed his most valued possession.

The third idea is no better. Milton had teams of readers to read out to him. In hearing not reading Wollebius, he did not lose his grip.

The fourth reason has more to it. In hearing Wollebius read to him, Milton might well, in composing on that basis, take on board his source’s gist as much as his wording. There are plenty of instances of his varying and changing or extending Wollebius while essentially agreeing with his view. In that case, he heard “five” but dictated “four.”

This reason would blend into the next, that he ignored what was a mere detail of Catholic practice. It made no material difference to his argument.

But the next reason is alternative to that last one: it did matter to him, and he overrode exactitude in favour of the words of “scripture alone,” scriptura duntaxat as he insists in his title and everywhere. By this reasoning, he would be insisting on the Latin wording, where it was four, not the Greek or whatever underlay that. If this looks pedantic, at least it is not carelessness. And Milton was well capable of pedantry, as any consideration of his remarks about Latin lexis or pronunciation would confirm. Etymology is a favourite weapon.

A wider question arises: how did Milton know the Roman belief and practice? How well did he know it? How did he inform himself? Was it mainly from Protestant printed polemic? Or from any practising Catholics, for example from the friends made in his Italian Lehrjahre and its subsequent correspondence? Which Catholic writers does he quote in De Doctrina, and has he read them in the original?


Locke, Species, and Money

Sunday, October 21st, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | 2 Comments

Dan Carey (Galway) writes…

The early modern debate over species – whether they exist in nature or merely represent a convenience imposed by language – featured an important intervention by John Locke. Locke famously attributed the designation of species to so-called nominal essences defined by observable qualities and properties of things. Natural philosophy was tasked with enhancing observation and thereby creating a better match between ideas and the words applied to them. One of the questions raised in recent criticism has been whether Locke believed in the real existence of species in nature despite his conventionalism about classifying them, and if so, how their existence might serve to constrain our nominal essences.

The widespread use of the word ‘species’ was not confined to natural history in the early modern period. Another area in which it arose was in the context of disputes over money which proliferated in the 1690s in England during the recoinage crisis. Locke also intervened in this debate. Faced with currency radically depleted of silver by clipping (on average by 50%) the choice was whether to opt for a devaluation or to ‘revalue’ it at the existing legal standard – recalling all the coin in circulation and reminting it at full weight. Locke favoured this solution and a plan largely supported by his principles prevailed in Parliament.

In Locke’s philosophy, money constituted a ‘mixed mode’ – basically a concept formed from what he called ‘voluntary combinations’ of ideas, known by definition rather than ostensive reference. In the case of mixed modes, ‘the essence of each species’ was made ‘by men alone’ (Essay, II.xxxii.12) and therefore no distinction existed between their real and nominal essences.

The scope for introducing new species – allowed by money’s status as a mixed mode – appears in several innovative proposals made during the monetary crisis of the 1690s. Three of the main advocates of a land bank to generate funds, John Asgill, John Briscoe, and Hugh Chamberlen, all referred to their schemes as creating a new species of money. Asgill made this explicit in the title of his book Several Assertions Proved, in Order to Create another Species of Money than Gold and Silver (1696). Not everyone was so cheerful at the prospect of such innovation. One of Locke’s economic supporters complained that, in the case of the Bank of England, its failure to honour the promise to exchange bank notes on demand for hard currency led to decline in the value of paper, which merited describing it as ‘perfectly a new Species of Clip’d Money’.

We can gain an insight into Locke’s attitude to species, I would argue, by attending to his position on money. Rather than endorsing changes of meaning at will (like the kind proposed by advocates of devaluation) he sought to anchor the definition of money in something outside of personal fancy or expediency. For him, the value of coin was set by the amount of silver it contained by weight – not by any stamp or arbitrary denomination given to it. Furthermore, the standard had been set at the Mint at 5s. 2d. per ounce and it should not, like other systems of measurement, be tampered with. Many arguments compelled this conclusion, but one of the most telling was that international exchange dictated that the value of money rested on ‘intrinsic’ silver quantity.

On his own analysis of mixed modes, Locke could have arrived at a different assessment. He could have seen devaluation as merely a new definition of money, agreed by common consent. What he searched for, evidently, was a secure criterion of meaning that was external and invariable – in other words something to constrain the freedom associated with mixed modes. We cannot, of course, conclude directly from this that Locke was similarly committed to the idea that nature constrains our species terminology, but there is at least a pattern worth observing in which a radical nominalism held no appeal for him. In nature, the standard might come from observable properties rather than discernable ‘real essences’ but here too he sought a more regulated system, governed by intersubjective criteria.

Looking back: PATS workshop on Interdisciplinarity

Monday, September 17th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

Juan Gomez writes…

A few weeks ago the Early Modern Thought Research Theme here at Otago hosted a colloquium on “Practical Knowledges and Skill in Early Modern England.” After two days of great talks, postgraduate students were able to take part in an ANZAMEMS sponsored workshop on “Interdisciplinarity in Medieval and Early Modern Research.” I took part in the workshop and in today’s post I want to share my thoughts on what turned out to be an outstanding event.

The main purpose of the workshop was to give postgraduate students tools to enhance current and future research projects. With this in mind, the speakers shared how they had each in their own way been engaged with this interdisciplinary aspect of the Early Modern period. The talks were followed by practical sessions where we had the opportunity to think about and develop our research projects from an interdisciplinary perspective. The whole workshop was a huge success and I am sure I am not the only one that now has a better idea of how beneficial it is for research in the early modern period to look at/borrow from/collaborate with other disciplines.

Of special interest to me were the talks given by Peter Harrison on “Disciplinary boundaries in intellectual history: science, religion & philosophy” and Andrew Bradstock on “Religious language in early modern texts.” Harrison’s talk was a very clear example of the interdisciplinary nature of the Early Modern period. It highlighted how three disciplines–science, religion, and philosophy, disciplines that to our modern eyes seem very distinct–drew on each other constantly. As readers of this blog know, I have done some research on George Turnbull’s work on Jesus Christ and miracles that exemplify this interaction between science, religion, and philosophy in the eighteenth century.

Andrew Bradstock’s talk made me think about how my research on Turnbull can be tremendously enhanced by drawing on the religious context of the time. For example,Turnbull’s Principles of Christian Philosophy draws heavily on passages from the bible, some of them with which am not that familiar or might not know their significance at the time. By working with someone emersed the history of religion or acquiring knowledge of it, I can add another layer to my research that will enrich our understanding of Turnbull’s thought.

The workshop made it clear that crossing the boundaries of a particular discipline is not only fruitful, but even necessary when engaged in early modern research. Given that there is a natural characteristic of interdisciplinarity to the early modern period, we must leave the comfort zone of our own discipline if we want to carry out our research projects properly. Most of us have actually done this without noticing that we are engaged in interdisciplinary research. The workshop brought this to my attention, and I started thinking about the many ways in which my research would have been improved if I had consciously made an effort to enrich my understanding of any given topic by allowing myself to explore what other disciplines have to offer. And this enrichment of knowledge works both ways: there are projects stationed in other disciplines that would be enhanced by what I have to offer as a researcher from a specific discipline, with a specific skill set.

This is not to say that early modern research cannot be carried out other than in an interdisciplinary manner, but rather that through interdisciplinarity we can enhance tremendously the research projects we are all developing from our specific discipline.


Interdisciplinarity in Medieval and Early Modern Research Postgraduate Workshop Complete

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

The Otago Early Modern Thought Research Theme, in conjunction with ANZAMEMS, has successfully completed our first postgraduate workshop on “Interdisciplinarity in Medieval and Early Modern Research.”  The workshop attracted eighteen postgraduates and early career researchers from across five disciplines (English, History, Music, Philosophy, and Religion) from twelve Australasian universities, all who came to work through practical issues faced in interdisciplinary research and to engage with scholars presently engaged in interdisciplinarity.  The two-day workshop had papers and sessions from the following facilitators:

Peter Marshall (Warwick) “Confessions of an accidental interdisciplinist”

Lyn Tribble (Otago) and John Sutton (Macquarie) “‘Mapping’ disciplines other than your own”

Peter Harrison (Queensland) “Disciplinary boundaries in intellectual history: science, religion & philosophy”

Andrew Bradstock (Otago) “Religious language in early modern texts”

Stephen Clucas (Birbeck) “Whose disciplines are we between? The case of John Dee’s Mathematicall Praeface (1570)”

Peter Anstey (Otago) “Theoretical reflections on interdisciplinary research”

Takashi Shogimen (Otago) “Metaphor and the reconstruction of context in intellectual history”

The workshop proved successful not only in gathering such diverse early and more-established researchers together, but also in exhibiting that the future of early modern and medieval research looks promising indeed.


A few thoughts on early modern skill

Monday, August 20th, 2012 | EVELYN TRIBBLE | No Comments

One of my favourite accounts of skill comes from Roger Ascham’s Toxophilus: or the Art of Shooting. Writing in 1545 to promote the ancient English art of shooting with the longbow, Ascham describes the tight connection between expert performance and the pleasures associated with watching skilled action.

For this I am sure, in learning all other matters, nothing is brought to the most profitable use, which is not handled after the most comely fashion. As masters of fence have no stroke fit either to hit another, or else to defend himself, which is not joined with a wonderful comeliness. A cook cannot chop his herbs neither quickly nor handsomely, except he keep such a measure with his chopping-knives as would delight a man both to see him and hear him. Every handcraftman that works best for his own profit, works most seemly to other men’s sight. Again, in building a house, in making a ship, every part, the more handsomely they be joined for profit and last, the more comely they be fashioned to every man’s sight and eye.

The key word for Ascham here is ‘comeliness,’ a word which conveys the union of beauty, grace, and utility. He seems to be reaching for the same concepts that Olympic commentators invoke when they say of  a pole vaulter, a diver, or a weightlifter that ‘she makes it look easy.’ Fluid rhythms, economy of movement, efficiency of technique –the actions that are the most pleasing to the eye are also those that produce the greatest utility. In archery, Ascham admires the almost seamless integration of the instrument with the skilled body of the archer (one wonders what he would have made of technology of modern bows).

Our colloquium next week on Practical Knowledge and Skill in Early Modern England will look at skill and practical knowledge in domains as diverse as science, natural philosophy, religion, and theatre. Will we find a common vocabulary for discussing skill across these fields?

Milton and the Radicals

Sunday, July 15th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

John Hale writes…

During his recent U3A lecture series on radical religion 1640-1660, Andrew Bradstock asked me about John Milton’s relationship, if any, with the radicals, and notably the Quakers. He said, “Was he, as Christopher Hill famously maintained, carrying on a dialogue with them, sharing their intellectual convictions but held back from commitment by ‘patrician social prejudices’?”

Our exchange came at a time when I had finished editing Milton’s Christian Doctrine for Oxford Complete Works of John Milton: does this position me to comment on what he believed, and how and why? Anyhow, I want to get out from the trees and think about the wood, and relate both to wider terrains, from a rare and relevant perspective.

Yes, Milton knew Quakers, as friends and benefactors in his blindness. And at points in De Doctrina he comes within an ace of naming them. But his ideas about interpreting scripture by the light of the spirit only sound like the Quakers’ inner light until we see that he get them from scripture itself (Book 1, Chapter 30), from which everything he believes in must come, by his announced programme (see Epistle).

Similarly he agrees with the Independents on the nature of the church: it is the gathering of local believers, just as the church of Corinth or Thessalonica was for Paul. This, or rather these, “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17: 6; this is about conversion, so Hill’s title is metaphor). So with infant baptism: with the Baptists, he is against it because scripture tells (mainly of the baptizing of believing adults. He finds the biblical evidence insufficient to establish that worship should emphasize Sunday: on this he exceeds the Quakers in informality. Paul explicitly refused to be paid: a paid clergy is therefore unbiblical anathema.

Why, then, would Milton join any one of these groups which stress some single feature of the early church, when he is driving towards reform which recovers all of the early churches’ observances? He is eager, rather, to strip away from worship — and conduct too — whatever does not get scriptural warrant. The civil power shall have no standing in church matters. Implicit faith has no standing. “Bishop” and “presbyter” are general terms or functions, nothing to do with orders and ordination. No paid clergy and no tithe. And so on.

To my mind, negatives are many, and clearer than positives. They include what offends him in England’s church and state relations, and what (without offence, just a negative negative) is simply not there in scripture. Milton does not advocate political action, beyond insisting that curbs on freedom of worship are abominable. Masters and property owners keep that standing: just as slaves remain slaves for Paul (and are not to get above themselves because of the faith), so servants, or usury, or inequalities of wealth stay put.

It’s true he owned property, which might be termed having “social prejudices” in favour of ownership, but most people did and do. His beliefs follow the pastoral Paul. This is bound to disappoint any modern radical for whom it is social–not religious–equality which makes a radical; but that is not how Milton sought to be “radical.” Milton has no programme for “having all thing in common” [Acts 2: 43-4 and 4: 32]. He doesn’t cite those verses in De Doctrina, an absence which may or may not be a significant negative.

Negatives of another kind throw more light on his belief-system. Going outside De Doctrina for a moment, I find in his other writings two great rejections, based on bitter experience. He had had a bellyful of the bishops, and of Laudian regulation in particular (coerced changes in worship, changes which gave double offence, aggravated further by an apparatus of snoops and informers to aid the coercion). And Presbytery in turn disappointed him, when it (nearly) got its hands on the levers. In the same way that elections now put into office any group which is not the one which has been abusing office (improbable coalitions preferred to jack-in- office-too-long), Milton wanted to avoid repetitions of the old order in church and state. How often we know best what we don’t want. Once bitten, twice shy.

Monarch and bishops and tithes and regulation all came back in 1660. The regime almost took his life, and compelled him into silence (and stopped publication of De Doctrina, twice over). But for our questions here, he did not budge in the negatives of experience, conviction, and — for De Doctrina — method of finding out truth.

It seems inexact, therefore, to think of Milton as “patrician.” He was not of the ruling class by origin. His father was a self-made man. Milton was not so much an “intellectual” as a zealot. His commitment was to a method. He may look “eclectic,” another term used by Hill. However, reliance “on scripture alone” will tend to take you in more than one direction, just as the mid-century paralleling of England with ancient Israel did.

Why would he be a joiner? His unnerving, doctrinaire adherence to consistency (not to mention his confident sense of vocation, and the isolation of blindness) overrode the priorities of other radicals. He seems less, not more, eclectic than they do.

I don’t fully accept Hill’s idea of Milton as an “intellectual” on these subjects. Certainly he had strong views, and availed himself of print and the cessation of censorship to write book about them. In De Doctrina, however, he reads more like a conscientious and well-organized believer, in whom strong views break out from time to time under pressure. There is something home-grown, and endearingly personal about this compilation.

If so, that could encourage a return to the older question, of the relation between De Doctrina and Paradise Lost. Do they conflict or say the same? Can one be used to gloss the other? My hunch, after long immersion, is that both works took a long time to evolve into the forms in which they are now read. That they overlapped, so that their relations shift from one topic to another. (The poem doesn’t deal in topics, but the treatise indeed does, and the MS exposes some shifts of position.) The relations between the two masterworks are asymmetrical. Closer attention is needed to growth within Milton’s thinking. Though it would be easy to get that wrong in detail, and to lapse from objectivity, some progress can be made, with the help of a new transcription of the MS and a linguistic attention to Milton’s own (Latin) words.

Rembrandt’s hand – in praise of God or Man?

Monday, June 25th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

Terence Doyle writes…

‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholaas Tulp’ is an enigmatic painting. Firstly, Tulp was not the praelector’s real name and secondly, whatever else this is, it is not a usual anatomy lesson. Many interpretations of it have been given but none, as far as I know, have suggested the one which I am about to offer.

At the age of 26, Rembrandt was commissioned by the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons to paint the picture in 1632. It shows Dr Tulp lifting the flexor digitorum superficialis muscle of the cadaver forearm and at the same time flexing the fingers of his left hand to demonstrate the effect of contracting this muscle. The flexor digitorum profundus muscle can be seen deep to Tulp’s forceps and importantly the insertion arrangement of the two tendons at the fingers is shown in superb detail. Inspection shows how the superficialis tendon inserts on the middle phalanx after splitting and passing on either side of the profundus tendon, which carries on to insert into the distal phalanx. But why is the painting paradoxical?

Nicholaas Tulp was born in 1593 Claes Pieter or Nicholaus Petrus, son of Pieter Dirks, a prosperous Amsterdam merchant. As part of a successful medical career, Tulp became Praelector in anatomy in 1628 to the Surgeons Guild in Amsterdam. He seems to have adopted the name Tulp (tulip in Dutch) early on for reasons that are not clear. The individuals in the painting, including the cadaver, are all known. The spectators are Amsterdam surgeons – none medically qualified – who are named on the list held by the one to Tulp’s right. The surgeon standing upright at the back originally wore a hat, the outline of which can just be made out, and the figure to the far left of the group was added later by a hand inferior to that of Rembrandt (note the different skin tones). The inner three are looking at Tulp’s hand but the outer four are not.

Members of the Surgeon’s Guild, in England as well as in Holland, were required to attend anatomy demonstrations as part of their continuing education. However, this is not a usual anatomy demonstration for several reasons. Dissection always followed a set pattern of the abdomen being examined first since its organs putrefied rapidly, then the chest and brain for the same reason, and finally the limbs. In the painting, only the forearm has been dissected – with the fingers shown in great detail and the flexor muscles in just enough detail to show their function. The dissected hand is noticeably larger, and the left arm longer, than the right. Finally, the only spectators are surgeons (and only half of them are watching the ‘lesson’), whereas there would commonly be other prominent persons who came to witness the spectacle for a fee. We might therefore suppose that this painting is largely to do with surgeons and the hand.

The idea of Man as microcosm was common in the Early Modern Period and thus the study of anatomy was a study of the works of the Almighty – cogitio sui and cogitio Dei. Moreover, the hand was emblematic of such miraculous works. This was a view of Aristotle who considers the hand the physical counterpart of the human psyche, being an instrument for using other instruments. Galen, in book XVII of On the use of the parts, says of the tendons: ‘their insertions in the bones and their relations with each other are amazing and indescribable.’

The anatomist John Banester says of the hand: ‘no member more declareth the unspeakable power of almighty God in the creating of man.’ (John Banester. The historie of man, sucked from the sappe of the most approued anathomistes, London, 1578, p. 61).

Helkiah Crooke, in his ‘μικροκοσμογραφία [mikrokosmographia]: a description of the body of man . . . collected and translated out of all the best authors of anatomy especially out of Gasper Bauhinus and Andreas Laurentius’, London, 1615, considers that the hand ‘may justly be compared to the soule . . . By the helpe of the hand laws are written, temples built for the seruice of the Maker’ (p. 729). The hand is ‘the most Noble and prefect organ of the body;’ and Laurentius, whom he refers to as ‘one of the outstanding Doctors and teachers of divine wisdom’ noted the wonderful artistry ‘with which nature perforated the tendons of flexor superficialis in order to provide the passage for the profundus tendons’ (p. 730). This encomium on the hand comes from the chapter de praestantia manus in Laurentius’s Historia anatomica humani corporis, Frankfurt, 1599, pp. 61-3.

I think the painting is an allegory on the word ‘surgeon’. In this period, the word was often written (even in Dutch) something like ‘cheirurgeon’ which derives from the Greek χείρ (hand) ἔργον (work). Since the painting is so clearly about surgeons and hand function (as Tulp is demonstrating), the connection seems to me compelling. Perhaps it also suggests that those individuals are metaphorically closer to God by association – they did pay for the painting after all. An interesting area for future research might be the use of the hand as emblem of the Divine in Early Modern period.

What killed Charles II?

Sunday, June 17th, 2012 | Peter Anstey | No Comments

Terence Doyle writes…

Charles II, at the age of 54, laid down his earthly crown for an immortal one at noon on Friday February 6th 1685. His last illness is surely the best documented case history in the seventeenth century. There were multiple eyewitness accounts. The official version was penned by the Chief Royal Physician Sir Charles Scarburgh and later transcribed in The Last Days of Charles II by Raymond Crawfurd, (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1909). It makes disturbing reading.

Charles was an apparently healthy man, reputed to have had thirteen mistresses and fifteen illegitimate children. On Monday morning, February 2nd 1685, while at his ablutions, he suffered a seizure with convulsions and temporary slurring of speech. Two physicians were on hand and one, Edmund King, withdrew 16 ounces of blood (450ml) from the king’s right arm, apparently with immediate relief. Six more physicians soon arrived and removed another 8 ounces with cupping glasses applied to deep scarifications in the shoulders. He was then given both an emetic and a purgative to empty his stomach and bowels. This was followed by two enemas and further purgatives. Then, according to the official account, Praeterea ut nullum lapidem immotum reliquerent (to leave no stone unturned) blistering agents were applied all over his head, after his hair had been shaved.

It was then decided to relieve the pressure of the humours on the brain by inducing sneezing, with a powder of white hellebore roots and later Sal Ammoniac applied to the nostrils. So as to keep his bowels active at night, more laxatives were given two hourly. At the same time, to counteract the scalding of his urine, from the Cantharides in the blistering drugs, a soothing emulsion of barley with liquorice was given. Et ne quid intentum relinqueretur (so as to leave nothing untried), plasters containing Spurge and Burgundy Pitch were applied to the soles of his feet.

On Tuesday he was bled ten ounces from the jugular veins. On Wednesday he was given further laxatives but that night he became so ill that his doctors prescribed Spirit of Human Skull (40 drops). This was commonly used in convulsive disorders and thought to act through the power of suggestion, since the skull had to be from someone who had died violently. On Thursday the King’s ministers were asking just what was wrong with him – a piece of intelligence the doctors themselves would have been happy to have. It was then suggested that he was suffering from intermittent fever and so was given syrup of Chinchona (Jesuit’s) bark three hourly, according to a prescription signed by 14 doctors.

On the morning of Friday 6th he was bled again and given an extract of a very large number of herbs, powdered oyster shells and Goa stone. This latter was a concretion (bezoar) formed in the stomach of an East Indian goat and was believed to have mystical ability to counteract poisons and strengthen the vital powers.  By mid-morning he was severely short of breath compelling him to sit upright. By ten he was comatose, and at noon he died.

On Saturday 7th an autopsy was performed, presumably because the illness was unexplained. The results of the autopsy are well documented.

 In Cerebri Cortice Venae et Arteriae supra modum repletae. (The veins and arteries on the brain surface were abnormally full).

Cerebri tum ventriculi omnes serosa quadam materia inundati, tum ipsa substantia consimili humore haud leviter imbuta. (The cerebral ventricles were filled with a kind of bloody material and the brain substance contained a similar humour).

The lungs were Sanguine referta (congested with blood). The heart and abdominal organs were unremarkable.

Crawfurd confidently sums this up with: ‘From these accounts one may assert with considerable confidence that his death was due to chronic granular kidney (a form of Bright’s disease) with uraemic convulsions, ‘He was a large eater and mainly of albuminous food. Alcohol he had taken freely, at times to gross excess: he had been the slave of sexual passion’ (p. 16).

This is manifestly incorrect. At autopsy the kidneys were normal and so Bright’s disease (chronic glomerulonephritis) is most unlikely. Overindulgence in eating, alcohol and sex, although lamentable, rarely results in death. The clinical history sounds like cerebral bleeding, probably subarachnoid. This is due to leakage from an arterial aneurysm, minor at first but irritating to the coverings of the brain. Charles remained conscious and there was no limb weakness. The first subarachnoid haemorrhage has an increased likelihood of a second more catastrophic bleed after a few days, this time into the brain substance. This pattern fits Charles’ clinical course. Just before he died he became severely short of breath. This is likely to have been caused by neurogenic pulmonary oedema, sometimes associated with intracerebral events. Finally, the autopsy findings state that the cerebral ventricles were filled with bloody fluid and a similar kind of material in the brain substance. This is just what would be expected in subarachnoid and secondary intracerebral bleeding.

Who performed the autopsy is not recorded. However, since Richard Lower had much the most experience of intracranial examination after working with Thomas Willis, he must have been involved.

Despite theoretical advances in medical science at this time, practical treatment as shown in the King’s management was still rooted in humoural theory. Towards the end of his illness Charles made his famous remark about being an unconscionable time a-dying, which sounds more like a prayer for deliverance than an apology.


Astronomy and Astrology

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 | Greg Dawes | No Comments

Greg Dawes writes …

One often reads, at least in popular works, that pre-modern European thinkers made no distinction between astronomy and astrology. A Wikipedia article, for example, begins by claiming that “astronomy and astrology were archaically one and the same discipline (Latin: astrologia), and were only gradually recognized as separate in Western 17th century philosophy.” Another website claims that “astronomy and astrology cannot be separated in the Middle Ages and the early modern period,” while a third asserts that in the early university faculties, “astronomy and astrology were not separate,” but were “indivisible sciences.”

Galileo Galilei in 1636 (Portrait by Justus Sustermans)

But is this correct? It is true that in medieval and early modern thought astronomy and astrology were closely associated. Furthermore, many authors of this time regarded both as reliable sources of knowledge.  Indeed astrology continued to be taken seriously well into the seventeenth century.  As H. Darrel Rutkin has noted (Galilaeana (2 [2005]: 107–142), early seventeenth century mathematicians, even those employed by universities, were often called on to cast horoscopes. No less a figure than Galileo seems to have taken astrology seriously, casting horoscopes not only when he was requested to do so, but also, for example, to predict the characters of his two daughters.

Nonetheless, it is wrong to say that pre-modern European thinkers made no distinction between astronomy and astrology. There was, first of all, a long tradition of scepticism regarding what is known as “judicial” astronomy, with its claims to be able to predict the course of an individual’s life. This tradition dates from Cicero’s De divinatione and continues with the work of St Augustine. It finds a late medieval expression in the criticisms of Nicole Oresme (1320–82) and reaches its high point in the work of Pico della Mirandola (1463–94). These writers rejected judicial astrology, but there is no reason to think they were rejecting astronomy. They offered no arguments against a mathematical treatment of heavenly movements, the science which had found its fullest expression in Ptolemy’s Almagest.

A sixteenth-century edition of a thirteenth-century work on Ptolemaic astronomy. (Photograph by Wolfgang Sauber)

Even among those who approved of astrology, a distinction was made between astronomy and astrology. It can be found, for instance, at the very beginning of the work known as the Speculum astronomiae, the “mirror of astronomy,” generally attributed to Albert the Great (ca, 1200–80). While using the same word (astronomia) for both astronomy and astrology, it begins by making a clear distinction between them. “There are two great wisdoms,” it begins, which go by this name: the first has to do with the configuration and movements of the heavens, while the second has to do with “the judgements of the stars.”

Still more interesting is a second work, the De fato, which dates from the same period. This not only makes the distinction, but spells it out in terms of the differing kinds of knowledge that are involved. The passage in question is responding to the objection that astrological prediction is not a science: what demonstrable connection is there, the objector asks, between (for example) the position of the moon in Leo and the type of clothing one should wear? The author’s response is to note that

as Ptolemy says, in astronomy we must distinguish two parts: the first concerns the positions of the superior bodies, their measures and their passions; this part of astronomy can be reached through demonstration. The other part concerns the effects of the stars in inferior things, effects which are received differently in these mutable objects [qui in rebus mutabilibus mutabiliter recipiuntur]. Thus, the second part can only be reached through conjecture. … From conjectures, which derive from mutable data [cum sit ex signis mutabilibus], comes a mental attitude endowed with less certainty than science or opinion. (De fato 4.7, translation by Paola Zambelli)

As the reference to Ptolemy suggests, the author considers that he is doing nothing new in making distinctions of this kind. They are already ancient, going back to the work of the great second-century astronomer, who wrote one work, the Almagest, on what we would call “astronomy,” and another, the Tetrabiblos, on astrology. The latter begins by making just the same point.

Of the means of prediction through astronomy, … two are the most important and valid. One, which is first both in order and in effectiveness, is that whereby we apprehend the aspects of the movements of sun, moon, and stars in relation to each other and to the earth, as they occur from time to time; the second is that in which by means of the natural character of these aspects themselves we investigate the changes which they bring about in that which they surround. (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos I.1, Loeb translation)

What about the early modern period? Was the same distinction made then? It seems that it was, at least by some thinkers. I have already noted that Galileo does not deny the possibility of astral and planetary influences on human affairs. Indeed, his practice of astrology assumes it. But he does deny that it can produce the kind of certain knowledge that he, like his predecessors, regarded as essential for a science. Again, H. Darrel Rutkin provides evidence of this, drawing our attention to a letter of 1633 in which Galileo comments on the views of Jean-Baptiste Morin (1583–1656). Galileo criticises Morin, not for believing in astrology itself, but for believing that astrology could attain to certainty and for placing it at the head of the sciences.

So do premodern European thinkers make a distinction between astronomy and astrology? Yes, they do. Is their distinction identical with ours? No, for the most part it is not. But it would be wrong to overlook the way in which late medieval and early modern thinkers distinguished between what they considered differing forms of knowledge and the degree of certainty to which each could aspire.

Notes and Announcements

Monday, June 4th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments


The Shakespeare Institute, the University of Warwick, and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have launched Year of Shakespeare, a “digital project that will include reviews of each of the productions [from the World Shakespeare Festival]; special features from academics, artists, and educators involved in the festivities.”


Saturday, 15 September 2012 at Queen Mary, University of London there will an interdisciplinary conference “Text and Trade: Book History Perspectives on Eighteenth Century Literature.”  Keynote Speakers will be Professor James McLaverty (English Department, Keele University) and Dr. John Hinks (Chair of the Printing Historical Society and Honorary Fellow at the Centre of Urban History, University of Leicester).  To submit proposals (deadline: 15 June) or to make informal inquiries please contact the conference organizers, Dr. Jenn Chenkin and Dr. Tessa Whitehouse at


On 8 September 2012 Leeds Trinity University College will have the Northern Renaissance Seminar, ‘Disability and the Renaissance.’  Proposals for 20-minute papers are invited on the ways in which disability can be conceptualised in/through/by the Renaissance (deadline: 30 June).  Please send your proposals or any queries to Susan Anderson: