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Heirs of Hippocrates

The Development of Medicine in a Catalogue of Historic Books

From the Printed Volume: Introduction

Of the many new books to be found in this edition of Heirs of Hippocrates, certain ones are truly rare. Many are outstanding in their place of influence in the story of medical science. Some have a specially interesting provenance. Others, milestones in this history, are, as well, examples of the craft of bookmaking and the art of book illustration. Each has its own particular value. With the publication of this third edition of Heirs of Hippocrates the location of these important books, and their availability for use in historical studies, are thus made known to research libraries, scholars, bibliographers, rare book dealers, collectors, and readers who are interested in the history of medicine for its own particular attractions. Such a book, therefore, serves practical purposes.

William Caxton, the noted English printer, said the “The spoken voice perishes, the written word remains.” The written word frees the mind and leaves room for new thoughts. It leaves behind a record, a history, and a sense of accomplishment. That is so well demonstrated in many old medical works, where the authors were comfortably content with their conclusions, confidently recorded them, and, right or wrong, over the centuries worked their way with trial and error out of darkness into light. Across the centuries, the reader can follow those errors, new concepts and discoveries, doubts, corrections, regression back to old beliefs, and the repetition of principles which now seem unworthy of any endeavor called scientific. Yet, withall, over all those ages the reader senses a slow but onward movement with changes and additions until the facts as we know them were finally established. The gropings and blunders of scientific history do have a way of eventually becoming purged. Furthermore, a collection of books in the history of medicine necessarily includes much concerning the social, political and intellectual progress of man. Words and books allow a continuity in human experience. Only by books and the ideas they express can the age of Hippocrates be related to the age of the exploration of space.

Read as a history of medicine, Heirs of Hippocrates chronologically depicts the unfolding history of medical science in the books in the Iowa collection, which have been acquired in a systematic, reasoned manner. This collection has been built along traditional lines; that is, most items are bound volumes, actual books. There is an ongoing effort to collect major authors to cover the various special areas of importance in the wide range of medical science, to obtain first editions of specially important works, and to acquire books which are famous for their sheer magnitude and beauty, such as the great atlases of Cheselden, Albinus and Mascagni. Facsimiles are on the shelves for use in the study of those books no longer available, as Vesalius’ Tabulae Sex. Pertinent source material for reference use is continuously added. The acquisition of many of the more famous books in the collection is due to the interest and special friendship of rare book dealers in both Europe and the United States, and to them we are most grateful.

But a new direction will have to be taken in collecting works which have advanced our medical knowledge, for in the past one hundred and fifty years there has been an increasing tendency for original work to appear first in journals. Older, rare and highly desirable books are more and more difficult to obtain, for most have found a final resting place in institutions. With passing years the journal articles will assume increasing historical importance and be specially sought by the collector. The time has already arrived when such publications in journals should be collected and put into their own special place.

The heirs of Hippocrates were many, and they live yet today in all the truths of the art of medicine. Their works remain permanently useful. Celsus, Galen, Dioscorides, Oribasius, Rhazes, Guy de Chauliac, Vesalius, Pare, Harvey, Sydenham, Morgagni, Charles Bell, Bernard, Pasteur, Lister, Osler, the Currie’s, Fleming—these, and hundreds of others are such heirs. Every student of medicine is privileged to have them as teachers. Practicing physicians consult with them daily. Patients are granted the benefits of the accumulated wisdom of centuries.

In this modern era of sophisticated and expensive instrumentation for research, diagnosis, treatment, and other fields which widen the medical spectrum, it is easy to forget the primitive beginnings with their limitations, discouragements, failures, experimentation, persistent labors in new fields without precedent, and even personal dangers, which made possible the impressive accretion of present-day technology. We need constantly to renew our acquaintance with our history. We need to renew our humility. We need to repeat with Thoreau, that “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations ….. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings and emperors, exert an influence on mankind”.

Much time and effort have gone into the making of this book, and it is a pleasure to acknowledge with gratitude the support and expertise of the following: Sheila D. Creth, John W. Eckstein, M.D., Darrell Wyrick, Dale M. Bentz, William Anthony (1926-1989), and David S. Curry. Special recognition is made of the skill and efforts made by Richard Eimas in his role as editor and compiler of this book.

John Martin, M.D.

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