Sunday 15 January 2012

You are Ricardus Anglicus and I claim my five pounds

In 1897, a 26-year-old Prussian named Wilhelm Herkner received his doctorate in Medicine and Surgery from the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universit├Ąt in Berlin, where his inaugural dissertation was duly published under the title Kosmetik und Toxicologie nach Wilhelm von Saliceto (13. Jahrh.). This slim octavo of 32 pages has long been hard to find – I know of one copy in France, one in Switzerland, and a handful each in Germany and the US – but it's now available online.

Herkner's focus was ostensibly on the northern Italian surgeon William of Saliceto's Summa conservationis et curationis (c1280), and in particular on Books III and IV, which deal with cosmetics, dermatology, and toxicology. Half of the dissertation, however, is taken up with an interpolation that Julius Pagel had found between these books in MS Erfurt Amplon. F. 240 (c1300). Herkner quoted this in full, saying that its identification would have to await further research – a challenge that has gone unanswered for 114 years.

In 1922, meanwhile, a 28-year-old ex-Prussian named Hermann Beusing received his doctorate in Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics from the University of Leipzig, where his inaugural dissertation was duly published under the title Leben und Werke des Richardus Anglicus, samt einem erstmaligen Abdruck seiner Schrift “Signa”. A more substantial booklet of 48 pages, this survives in over 20 copies (including at least two in the UK) but has yet to be digitized.

Beusing's dissertation provides almost exactly what the title suggests: a biobibliography of the elusive 12th-century physician Ricardus Anglicus, followed by an edition – based on MSS Erfurt Amplon. F. 288 (c1300) and Leipzig Univ. 1179 (1472), and lacking an apparatus criticus – of most of the Signa prognostica or De signis, the fifth and final part of his medical compendium Micrologus (?1180s).

Almost exactly, because it claims to provide an editio princeps, an honour that actually belongs (at least for the first three-quarters of Beusing's text) to Herkner's dissertation. Compare these incipits:

Finis medicine laudabilis ita dumtaxat existit cum auctor in singulis rationibus [?] quid futurum sit perpendat, quamvis omnis [!] curare non possit. (Beusing) Finis medicinae ita dumtaxat laudabilis existit cum auctor in singulis valetudinibus quod futurum sit perpendit, quamvis curare omnes non possit. (Herkner)
And compare Herkner's ending with the relevant sentence in Beusing:
In alio autem ordine bonitatis et malicie vitae et mortis sunt signa, sed inter signa bonitatis primum. (Herkner) In alio autem ordine bonitatis et malitie, inter signa bonitatis primum est signum tussis non laboriosa … (Beusing)
Beusing's text continues for 2½ more pages, ending on a promissory note about ‘critical days’ (a topic he considered too familiar to need printing). But that still leaves 8 pages that can now be checked against a printing from a third (and comparatively early) manuscript. This should be a godsend for anyone using this text; and all thanks to Google – for who would have thought to look for such a thing in Kosmetik und Toxicologie nach Wilhelm von Saliceto (13. Jahrh.)?