Dr Katherine Hall
In 1613, Johann Remmelin (1583-1632) published the first edition of his anatomy flap book. A 1667 edition, printed from the same printer blocks as the first, is held in the Health Sciences Library at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Recently, with colleagues Dr Simone Marshall and K. John Dennison, I had the opportunity to study it closely.
Vesalius published On the Fabric of the Human Body in 1543, but even prior to that, ‘fugitive sheets’ of anatomical drawings had begun to be published widely, reaching a varied audience and allowing for an explosion in access to knowledge of human anatomy. The term ‘fugitive sheets’ refers to published anatomical prints and drawings, sometimes with an accompanying text. These sheets were usually unbound, were probably relatively cheap to purchase and, due to their fragile nature, of limited durability. Many of the sheets that have survived were sewn into the binding of other books. One variant of these sheets has superimposed flaps, which add a wonderful three dimensional aspect to the print as well as the thrill of discovery as each layer is unfurled.
Such anatomy books with flaps are thought to have first been printed in 1538 in Germany, and continue even today in the form of children’s anatomy books. Remmelin’s work represents the most successful of these kinds of books, both in terms of longevity and breadth of readership. It was in print in one form or another from 1613 to 1753. It was translated from Latin into several languages and distributed throughout Europe and beyond, even as far as Japan.
It was an improvement on its forebears in many ways, being printed on much larger folio-sized sheets, having vastly more flaps, and illustrating, using figures based on Vesalius’, a much more complicated dissection. It was entitled a Catoptrum Microcosmicum. Catoptrum derives from the Ancient Greek KATOPTROV: a mirror into a small world. The small world, to be exact, was the world of the interior of a human being (as opposed to the Macrocosmicum, or the Great World of the Divine).
But how did an edition of this rare and important historical anatomical text come to find a home in Dunedin, New Zealand? In 2009, Albinia Willis, who lived in Waikanae (north of Wellington), donated the unbound folio pages to the Otago Medical School. Albinia was the grand-daughter of George Edward Wherry (1852-1928) who was born into a working class family of ‘corn millers and chandlers’ in Bourne, Lincolnshire. Wherry received a local education and then trained at St. Thomas’ Hospital London, eventually proceeding to Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, England, where he was an ophthalmic surgeon and Fellow of Downing College at the University of Cambridge. He was also a renowned mountaineer, and author of a book, Alpine Notes and the Climbing Foot, which contained this popular quote:
Truly it may be said that the outside of a mountain is good for the inside of a man.”
George Wherry purchased the Remmelin from a famous Cambridge book seller, Gustave David. His only child, Beatrix Albinia Oldfield, née Wherry, mother to Albinia, composed an etching of her father in the bookshop with Gustave David. A copy of this was donated with the Remmelin and the original still hangs in David’s Bookshop to this day.
Dr Katherine Hall is Senior Lecturer, Dept. of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, New Zealand.
Thanks to Dr Simone Marshall, Department of English, University of Otago, for analysing the watermarks in order to confirm authenticity.
Thanks to K. John Dennison who translated the inscriptions and sayings on the folio pages.
Details of George Wherry’s life are from Albinia Willis’ “An informal account of her grandfather…”(2009).