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Vesalius The Anatomist
by [?]

One would wish, too, for a glimpse of what was passing through the mind of another man, who has been daily in that sick chamber, according to Olivarez’ statement, since the first of the month: but he is one who has had, for some years past, even more reason than Alva for not speaking his mind. What he looked like we know well, for Titian has painted him from the life–a tall, bold, well-dressed man, with a noble brain, square and yet lofty, short curling locks and beard, an eye which looks as though it feared neither man nor fiend–and it has had good reason to fear both–and features which would be exceeding handsome, but for the defiant snub-nose. That is Andreas Vesalius, of Brussels, dreaded and hated by the doctors of the old school–suspect, moreover, it would seem, to inquisitors and theologians, possibly to Alva himself; for he has dared to dissect human bodies; he has insulted the medievalists at Paris, Padua, Bologna, Pisa, Venice, in open theatre; he has turned the heads of all the young surgeons in Italy and France; he has written a great book, with prints in it, designed, some say, by Titian–they were actually done by another Netherlander, John of Calcar, near Cleves–in which he has dared to prove that Galen’s anatomy was at fault throughout, and that he had been describing a monkey’s inside when he had pretended to be describing a man’s; and thus, by impudence and quackery, he has wormed himself–this Netherlander, a heretic at heart, as all Netherlanders are, to God as well as to Galen–into the confidence of the late Emperor Charles V., and gone campaigning with him as one of his physicians, anatomising human bodies even on the battle-field, and defacing the likeness of Deity; and worse than that, the most religious King Philip is deceived by him likewise, and keeps him in Madrid in wealth and honour; and now, in the prince’s extreme danger, the king has actually sent for him, and bidden him try his skill–a man who knows nothing save about bones and muscles and the outside of the body, and is unworthy the name of a true physician.

One can conceive the rage of the old Spanish pedants at the Netherlander’s appearance, and still more at what followed, if we are to believe Hugo Bloet of Delft, his countryman and contemporary. {390} Vesalius, he says, saw that the surgeons had bound up the wound so tight that an abscess had formed outside the skull, which could not break: he asserted that the only hope lay in opening it; and did so, Philip having given leave, “by two cross-cuts. Then the lad returned to himself, as if awakened from a profound sleep, affirming that he owed his restoration to life to the German doctor.”

I owe this account of Bloet’s–which appears to me the only one trustworthy–to the courtesy and erudition of Professor Henry Morley, who finds it quoted from Bloet’s ‘Acroama,’ in the ‘Observationum Medicarum Rariorum, lib. vii.,’ of John Theodore Schenk. Those who wish to know several curious passages of Vesalius’ life, which I have not inserted in this article, would do well to consult one by Professor Morley, ‘Anatomy in Long Clothes,’ in ‘Fraser’s Magazine’ for November, 1853. May I express a hope, which I am sure will be shared by all who have read Professor Morley’s biographies of Jerome Cardan and of Cornelius Agrippa, that he will find leisure to return to the study of Vesalius’ life; and will do for him what he has done for the two just-mentioned writers?

Dionysius Daza, who was there with the other physicians and surgeons, tells a different story: “The most learned, famous, and rare Baron Vesalius,” he says, advised that the skull should be trepanned; but his advice was not followed.

Olivarez’ account agrees with that of Daza. They had opened the wounds, he says, down to the skull before Vesalius came. Vesalius insisted that the injury lay inside the skull, and wished to pierce it. Olivarez spends much labour in proving that Vesalius had “no great foundation for his opinion:” but confesses that he never changed that opinion to the last, though all the Spanish doctors were against him. Then on the 6th, he says, the Bachelor Torres came from Madrid, and advised that the skull should be laid bare once more; and on the 7th, there being still doubt whether the skull was not injured, the operation was performed–by whom it is not said–but without any good result, or, according to Olivarez, any discovery, save that Vesalius was wrong, and the skull uninjured.