[ NOTE: There is no additional Editor’s Introduction for this Roses e-publication. ]
E D I T O R ’ S N O T E
The following article, “The Original of a Polypus Discover’d, by Mr. Giles ...,” is Hans Sloane’s English reissue (published in No. 226 of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London for March 1697) of a French text by Monsieur Giles, renowned Chirurgien-Juré of Saint-Cosme (in the Alsace region of northeastern France), describing a French woman’s nasal polyp which arose in June 1684. Giles treated the woman by first removing the polyp in her right nostril, and then removing an “extraordinary” polyp from behind her uvula. His patient survived for 2 more years, dying at year-end 1686 “of a malignant Fever,” possibly a complication from her recurring cancer.
Giles’ own relation of the case was first published by the French philosophe and physician Claude Brunet in his Le Progrès de la Médecine, Contenant un Recueil de Aout ce qui s’Observe d’Utile à la Pratique (Paris: L. d’Houry, 1697), from whence Hans Sloane selected it for English translation.
Although Claude Brunet brought out multiple medical titles documenting the “observations des plus fameux médecins, chirurgiens et anatomistes de l’Europe” (Journal de Médecine, Paris: Horthemels, 1686), he is best known today for his “egoist philosophy,” having long been regarded as “the first to draw solipsist conclusions from Cartesian idealism.” But received wisdom concerning the egoist Brunet is now in question. A recent scholarly reappraisal paints Brunet’s radical dualism — “which assumes two separate worlds, the world of consciousness and the external world” — as not really paving the way to solipsism. (Sébastien Charles, “Skepticism and Solipsism in the Eighteenth Century: Revisiting the Egoist Question,” in Skepticism in the Modern Age: Building on the Work of Richard Popkin ..., ed. by José Raimundo Maia Neto, Gianni Paganini, and John Christian Laursen, 2009, 333 and 335)
Hans Sloane (1660–1753) served as first secretary of the Royal Society from 1695, and in this capacity, was tasked with editing and publishing the London Society’s Philosophical Transactions. In all, Sloane translated into English and republished three articles from Brunet’s journal, Le Progrès de la Médecine (Paris, 1695–1709), two of which documented the surgical treatment of diseased growths in female patients who had been autopsied by Monsieur Giles.
I believe that Sloane chose to reissue “The Original of a Polypus Discover’d, by Mr. Giles ...” because, with his post-mortem dissection of the anonymous French Madam’s affected organs, Giles had discovered important new information concerning the origins and spread of a prevalent form of cancer then known as noli me tangere. The most famous Briton to fall victim to noli me tangere was Thomas Hariot, the great mathematician-philosopher and explorer-scientist who surveyed pre-Anglo-Virginia (present-day North Carolina, into Virginia) for Sir Walter Ralegh from June 1585 to June 1586. Although his intimates knew him to be a “most pious cultivator of the Triune God,” Hariot was persecuted by religious and political authorities in England for atheism and necromancy, and his death from cancer was recast by the establishment as a judgment of God for his impiety.
The findings of Monsieur Giles expanded the treatment options for a deadly cancer which, for centuries, had taunted the medical community to “touch me not.” And indeed, in the concluding paragraphs appended to Giles’ narrative, the editor of Giles’ piece (Sloane and/or Brunet?) cautions against too-hasty or too-universal an adoption of Giles’ masterful surgical technique, noting that “the extirpation of them is not always so successful as it has been in this.”
In particular, Giles’ new discoveries appeared to substantiate prior fears about uncontrollable haemorrhaging in some patients, and the journal editor was at pains to provide readers with alternatives to radical surgical action. He thus concludes Giles’ relation with a recipe, which has met “with better Success” in some circumstances, for in situ treatment of a polypus using “Caustick Waters,” as recommended by one of the most influential authorities on medicine during the late Renaissance, Johannes Schenck von Grafenberg (1530–1598).
And he also mentions, with some skepticism, the “pastes” (sometimes applied to the skin, sometimes taken internally) promoted in the almanacs (or ephemerides), the first mass medium of popular advertisement. It has been estimated that, “by the 1660s,” English men and women “were buying an average of 400,000 annual astrological almanacs a year,” and by the end of the 17th century, almanac-makers and astrologers had new-found global reach. John Gadbury began publishing an almanac for the West Indies and Jamaica in the 1670s, while the elder John Seller issued the Barbadoes Almanack and the Jamaica Almanack in 1684, adding a Barmudas Almanack, An Almanack for the Province of Virginia and Maryland, a Carolina Almanack, a Pensilvania Almanack, a New Jarsey Almanack, and A New England Almanack in 1685. No book, other than the bible, reached such a broad and diverse audience as the affordable almanac, readily accessible to everyone from the illiterate peasant to the college-educated peer — scullery-maids, research physicians (such as Sloane), and royals alike.
Almanacs often combined astrological predictions and medicine, deploying a crude woodcut figure of “The Anatomy of Man’s Body” (sometimes with limbs extended in the familiar pentagon shape), known as the Zodiacal Man, to illustrate “The Moon’s Dominion over the several Parts of Man’s Body, as she passeth the Twelve Zodiacal Constellations.” This medical image was juxtaposed with lists, tables and explanations of the ailments to be expected as the stars exerted a malevolent influence on different parts of the human body at a given time and place.
Many almanacs also included advertisements for proprietary technologies, medicines and cure-alls offered by a range of unlicensed empirics in the burgeoning medical marketplace. E.g., in 1681, the Widow Pippin, who made state-of-the-art surgical appliances used for treating abdominal hernias, advertised her “trusses” in Apollo Anglicanus, the almanac associated with the medical practitioner and astrologer Richard Saunders (perhaps not coincidentally, that year’s Apollo Anglicanus was printed and published by another woman entrepreneur, Mary Clark, who also profited from the growth in medical consumerism in the latter half of the 17th century).
As Sloane (and/or Brunet) hints in the final sentence of “The Original of a Polypus Discover’d, by Mr. Giles ...,” the quality of medical advice in the almanacs (much of it recycling boiler-plate copy grounded in Galenical therapeutics and psychology) varied greatly, and satirists such as Thomas Brown found plenty of fodder for their wit in what the anonymous author of Curious Enquiries. Being Six Brief Discourses ... (1688) called “the tricks of astrological quacks.”
as originally published in the
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
for March 1697, Vol. 19, No. 226, pp. 472–474
The Original of a Polypus discover’d, by Mr. Giles, sworn Surgeon at St. Come, being translated from the Progres de la Medecine of Monsieur Brunet, Art. III. Journal. III.
by Monsieur Giles and Claude Brunet
(Englished and edited by Hans Sloane, M.D.)
In the Month of June 1684, I was called to see Madam ----- who had a Polypus in the right Nostril; after I had examin’d the marks of it which were to be soft, white, and without pain; I endeavour’d to pull it out, which I did without pain or any bad accident. But after this Extraction, she still felt some trouble in her Nose, and moisture did pass with difficulty from the Nose to the Throat. This engaged me, seeing no more in the Nostrils to look into the Mouth, where I perceived behind the Uvula, a strange body of the bigness of half a Nut, which I judged to be a portion of the same Polypus. In view of this I determin’d to draw it out, being encouraged by the advice of Monsieur Fede, curious both in Physick and Philosophy, and of Monsieur Vary a most expert Surgeon. Having pulled it out in their presence, we found it of an extraordinary shape; the Piece by which I laid hold of it was hard, and of a dark brown; it was fastned by two Branches, which seem’d to have taken their shape in the Nose, being each of them as big as a sweet Almond; their substance was softer, and whiter. Besides these three parts, it had a little stalk something red, of the bigness of a Cherry-stalk: There was not a drop of Blood spilt, and the Patient felt no pain in the Operation; all trouble was removed, and the liquor passed easily.
In all this there is nothing extraordinary for many Practitioners might have met with the like. At the end of two Years the Patient died of a malignant Fever; and forasmuch as sometime before her Death, she complained of a new trouble in her Nose. I earnestly desired leave of the Family to open this Organ, which was granted me; I did it in the presence of the same Persons I have named. Being desirous to find the original of this Polypus, we broke the Bone to omit nothing; after we had broke all, we found nothing in all the Nose, but a little piece of Flesh very soft, which came out of a cleft of the Processus Pterygoides; we follow’d it exactly, which brought us into the Sinus of the upper Jaw; we broke this Bone also, and perceiv’d in this Sinus a ropy and clear humour, in the middle of which there was a body like in figure consistence and colour to a greater one, which we had before taken out; we took notice also of a little red speck, which seem’d to be the root of this Polypus.
The Polypus’s are spungy excrescencies, which according to Authors are form’d upon the Membrane that covers the Noses within, by some alteration made there; some are form’d also in other parts, as in the Cavities of the great Veins. But this Membrane is more dispos’d to the production of them than others, because it is the most spongy of the whole Body, and most full of Blood Vessels.
The Discovery of Mr. Giles, gives us to understand, that it may be produc’d in the Sinus, over which this Membrane is extended, and into which it filters the Snot which is spread over this Organe, and for this reason probably ’tis that ’tis so difficult radically to cure these Polypus’s.
Moreover the extirpation of them is not always so successful as it has been in this; when they appear very red and full of Blood, the Extirpation of them is dangerous, for fear of an Hemorhagie, which is not easily stopt. Therefore some do use Caustick Waters, and that with better Success; some have been recovered, as Schenkius says, by the use of a Remedy prepared thus, Take an ordinary Bucket with 6 or 7 Holes in the bottom, upon which lay the thickness of four Fingers broad in Quick-Lime, upon, which lay as much Ashes of Oak, continue this Stratification till only four Fingers be left a top, which is filled with Water, that passes through all the Beds, to fall into a Vessel under the Bucket, pour this three or four times upon these Beds, then leave it on the Fire till it thicken like a Gelly. This Matter is preserv’d in Bottles well stopt, of which one may take the bigness of a Bean in a little Leaden-Spoon, which must be thrust into the Nose, so that the Matter do not touch any thing but the Carnosity, upon which it must remain near an Hour. After ’tis taken off, they apply Butter to take off the Escharr; this Remedy is repeated ’till the Excrescence be entirely consum’d. The Ephemerides of the Curious Brag of Pastes made of good Sublimate, the Rust of Copper and Leven, q. s. which is used as other Causticks.
“History of a Tumor in the Lower Part of the Belly, Related by Mr. Giles ...,” trans. and ed. by H. Sloane (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, No. 225, February 1697)
“A Letter from Mr Jonathan Kay, Chyrurgeon in Newport, Shropshire, Concerning a Strange Cancer, of which His Father Dyed,” ed. by H. Sloane (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, No. 277, January–February 1702)
“An Observation Concerning a Very Odd Kind of Dropsy, or Swellings in One of the Ovaries of a Woman,” by H. Sloane (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, No. 252, May 1699)
4-part series, “An Account of a China Cabinet, Filled with Several Instruments, Fruits, &c. Used in China,” by H. Sloane (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Nos. 246, 247, 249 and 250, November–December 1698 and February–March 1699)
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