To illustrate a current series of lectures by Dr. Douglas Guthrie on "The Historical Background to Modern Medicine", there has been placed on view a collection of early printed medical books in the Upper Library Hall of the University of Edinburgh. Founded in 1580 as a "Town's Library" three years before the foundation of the University, or "Town's College", the University Library remained the only public library in Edinburgh until the establishment of the Advocates' Library a hundred years later. Naturally it contains many treasures, including a number of works of medical interest from which the present selection has been made. The most important and valuable items in the exhibition are Vesalius's "De Corporis Humani Fabrica" and Harvey's "De Motu Cordis". The beautifully bound copy of the former is the first edition, from the press of Oporinus of Basel, 1543. Beside it lies the fine two-volume edition, printed at Leyden in 1725 by Boerhaave and Albinus. The first edition of Harvey's account of the circulation of the blood is now an extremely rare little book, dated from Frankfurt, 1628. Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity of seeing two perfect copies, one of which belonged to Alexander Monro, the third of the dynasty of professors of anatomy of that name. The first Alexander Monro, when appointed to the chair in 1720, kept a list of his students which is now shown, as also is a printed copy of the first thesis to be presented for the degree of M.D., Edinburgh. It is entitled "De Dolore", by John Monteith, and the date is 1726. Later works on view are the second edition (1800) of Edward Jenner's "Inquiry into the causes and effects of variolae vaccinae", the first British edition of Beaumont's "Experiments and Observations on the gastric juice, etc." (1838), Morton's "Remarks on the mode of administering ether" (1847), and J. Y. Simpson's "Account of a new anaesthetic agent" (chloroform) (1847). Another landmark of medical literature is Lister's "Introductory Lecture", delivered in 1869 when he succeeded James Syme in the chair of clinical surgery at Edinburgh, and with it may be seen a manuscript set of notes of Lister's lectures, in the writing of one of his most distinguished students and successors, Prof. Caird. A feature of the exhibition, and the most spectacular item, is a fine collection of illustrated herbals, including a magnificent copy of "De Historia Stirpium", by Leonard Fuchs, dated 1542, with coloured wood-cuts, and a catalogue of the Physic Garden of Edinburgh (1683), by the first professor of botany, James Sutherland. The exhibition, which has been arranged through the kindness of Dr. L. W. Sharp and the Library Committee of the University, will remain open until June 3.
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Early Medical Books at Edinburgh. Nature 153, 647–648 (1944). https://doi.org/10.1038/153647c0