The Strange Case of Joannes Lethaeus

Nicholas Tulp
Nicolaes Tulp

Educated at the University of Leiden, Nicolaes Tulp became a well known and influential member of the  Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons, where he held the position of official city anatomist. While today he is most well known for his appearance in the Rembrandt painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (now in the Mauritshuis museum), he was also known for his involvement in creating  the first pharmacopoeia for Amsterdam, the Pharmacopoea Amstelredamensis (1636) and his book on his medical observations, Observationes Medicae (1641).

It is in the Observationes medicae, that we can find the following story:

Observations, Book IV, Chapter 31. Wherein a patient cuts a stone out of himself.

Joannes Lethaeus, a Smith, a courageous man, and very astute, who had already been treated twice by a stonecutter, desired so little to be treated a third time by such a man among his daily trials and repeated slayings, that he decided any wild adventure was more attractive to him than subjecting himself to the knife of the stonecutter ever again. Convincing himself that his health could only improve, and having decided that no one but himself would cut into his flesh, he sent his wife to the fish market, which she didn’t mind doing. Only letting his brother help him, he instructed him to pull aside his scrotum while he grabbed the stone in his left hand and cut bravely in the perineum with a knife he had secretly prepared, and by standing again and again managed to make the wound long enough to allow the stone to pass. To get the stone out was more difficult, and he had to stick two fingers into the wound on either side to remove it with leveraged force, and it finally popped out of hiding with an explosive noise and tearing of the bladder.

Now the more courageous than careful operation was completed, and the enemy that had declared war on him was safely on the ground, he sent for a healer who sewed up the two sides of the wound together, and the opening that he had cut himself, and properly bound it up; the flesh of which grew so happily that there was no small hope of health , but the wound was too big, and the bladder too torn, not to have ulcers forming.

But this stone weighing 4 ounces and the size of a hen’s egg was a wonder how it came out with the help of one hand, without the proper tools, and then from the patient himself, whose greatest help was courage and impatience embedded in a truly impenetrable faith which caused a brave deed as none other. So was he no less than those whose deeds are related in the old scriptures. Sometimes daring helps when reason doesn’t.

From: Geneeskundige Waarnemingen van Nikolaas Tulp. Oud Burgermeester der stad Amsterdam. Naar den zelfden Druk uit het Latyn vertaalt. Te Leiden, By Juriaan Wishoff. 1740

This article became the basis of the painting  by Carel van Savoyen (ca. 1621-1665) Jan Jansz de Doot (1655) which literally translates as Jan Jansz  ‘the Dead’. How long he survived after his self-operation is not known.

Jan Jansz de Dood by Carel van Savoyen (1655)
Jan Jansz de Dood by Carel van Savoyen (1655)

(The first two images and the translation of the Joannes Lethaeus article can be found at Wikipedea. The image of the painting by Savoyen is from the  Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren)

Leeuwenhoek Microscope to be Auctioned

24 Oranges, an English language blog on all things Dutch, is reporting that one of Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes is to be auctioned at Christies. The microscope (Lot 88, Sale 5808)  is to be sold at the London, South Kensington salesroom and is described as:

A highly important Dutch silver microscope
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), circa 1690
The lens held between two riveted silver plates; stage with rounded step design, specimen pin and focusing screw; main screw with rounded handle, with angle bracket and securing screw. Marked with an incuse
3, and two later Dutch sale marks (for the periods 1813-1893 and 1814-1831).
dimensions of plates 39 x 22mm.

The silver Leeuwenhoek microscope.
The silver Leeuwenhoek microscope.

The origins of this microscope are said to be:

Found in 1978 among a box of laboratory impedimenta from the Zoological Department of Leiden University and purchased by the present owner.
Believed to be no. 62 in the 1875 exhibition catalogue by Harting, and from the collection of the Dutch zoologist R.T. Maitland (1823-1904).
Bought at an unknown auction between 1814 and 1831.

Read the complete description and background here.

The auction date is 8 April 2009 and the price range is expected to be between $102,340 – $146,200.

Will a Dutch National treasure be lost?

Perhaps Delft should purchase this as the basis for a much needed Leeuwenhoek Museum!

(Image from Christies. Original news source for the 24 Oranges article is in the Dutch newspaper,  De Telegraaf.)

Born Today – Franciscus Sylvius

From Today in Science History:

Franciscus Sylvius and his Wife
Franciscus Sylvius and his Wife

Franciscus Sylvius, born 15 Mar 1614; died 19 Nov 1672 . Dutch (but German born) physician, chemist and physiologist who was the founder of the seventeenth century’s “iatrochemical school of medicine,” which related living processes to chemical reactions. Thus, Sylvius helped move medicine away from mysticism (with its “humours” of blood, phlegm and biles) and towards an approach based in physics and chemistry. Sylvius strongly supported Harvey‘s view of blood circulation, and viewed the body chemistry as a balance between base and acids, capable of neutralizing each other. Sylvius and his followers studied the digestive juices, with which they recognized saliva, and viewed digestion as a kind of fermenting process. He may also have organized the first university chemistry laboratory.

Sylvius’s students at the University of Leiden included Jan Swammerdam, Reinier de Graaf, Niels Stensen and Burchard de Volder.

Born Today – Govard Bidloo

Govard Bidloo
Govard Bidloo

Govert or Govard Bidloo (Amsterdam, 12 March 1649 – Leiden, 30 March 1713) was a surgeon, anatomist, court physician, professor, writer of stage work and librettist. Around 1670 he was initially trained as surgeon as a pupil of the anatomist Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731)

Bidloo studied medicine and graduated at the University of Franeker on May 8, 1682. In 1688 he became lecturer in dissection and anatomy in ‘s Gravenhage (The Hague). In 1690 he was head of the Dutch health service then three years later in England. During the visit of Stadholder Willem III to The Hague (February 1691) for talks with the anti-French League, Bidloo published  Departing from his Majesty William III, King of Great Britanje etc. in Holland. Romeyn de Hooghe designed a large number of decorations and made the prints in the book. In 1690 Bidloo and Romeyn de Hoogheproduced a number of pamphlets against the mayors of the city of Amsterdam. Bidloo lived in Golden Bay, at Herengracht 455.

Title Page

In 1694  Bidloo was professor of surgery and anatomy at the University of Leiden until 1701 when he was inivited to be court physician by King Willem III in London . The Stadholder king died in his arms (or those of Hans Willem Bentinck?). In 1702 he was again professor in Leiden, where he died March 30, 1713. Bidloo was succeeded by Herman Boerhaave.

Nicolaes Bidloo, his son, became personal physician to Peter the Great in 1702.

Govard Bidloo published Anatomia Humani Corporis (Dissection of the Human Body) in Amsterdam in1685. For the time, the book was considered an innovative anatomical atlas, with beautiful drawings by Gerard de Lairesse.

(All information and images adapted from the Dutch and English versions of Wikipedia)

The Legacy of Reinier de Graaf

Reinier de Graaf
Reinier de Graaf

It has been sometime since I have posted – recent changes in my life situation have left me somewhat pre-occupied. For now here is a link to a paper on Reinier de Graaf, the doctor who first introduced Leeuwenhoek to the Royal Society in London:

In the second half of the 17th century, a young Dutch physician and anatomist left a lasting legacy in medicine. Reinier (also spelled Regner and Regnier) de Graaf (1641–1673), in a short but extremely productive life, made remarkable contributions to medicine. He unraveled the mysteries of the human reproductive system, and his name remains irrevocably associated with the ovarian follicle.

De Graaf was born in Schoonhaven, Holland. After studying in Utrecht, Holland, De Graaf started at the famous Leiden University. As a student, De Graaf helped Johannes van Horne in the preparation of anatomical specimens. He became known for using a syringe to inject liquids and wax into blood vessels. At Leiden, he also studied under the legendary Franciscus Sylvius.

See The Legacy of Reinier de Graaf by Venita Jay, MD, FRCPC, for the complete paper.

(Image from Wikipedia Commons)

Born Today – Carolus Clusius

From Today in Science History:

Clusius paintingCharles de L’Écluse (a.k.a. Carolus Clusius). Born 19 Feb 1526; died 4 Apr 1609. French botanist who introduced the tulip to Holland. He travelled and collected botanical information throughout Europe, and introduced new plants from outside Europe. Leaving France to escape religious persecution as a Protestant, he spent time in Prague and Vienna. Late in life, in 1593, he succeeded Dodoens as the chair of botany at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He established the botanical garden there and grew a collection of flowering bulbs, including the tulip which initiated the Dutch bulb industry. He is also attributed with cultivating the peony, hyacinth, potato and chestnut.

(Image from Leiden University Library)