“Wherefore it often happens that unwise doctors, which are these days called dog-leeches, these busybodies and bold braggers that act in chattering and clattering but not in cunning, and that only care about earning money…”
Henry Daniel’s major work, the Liber Uricrisiarum, has had a complex array of audiences over the years. Starting from the fourteenth-century recipients to whom he explicitly and implicitly addressed his work, his readership has evolved to later medieval and early modern owners, annotators, and antiquarians, and ultimately to twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholars.
Explicit Contemporary Audiences
The most obvious audience for Daniel’s treatise was its immediate dedicatee, Walter Turner of Ketoun, Daniel’s “beloved comrade (socius) in Christ,” who may have been a fellow Dominican, a fellow medical or herbal practitioner, or both. According to Daniel’s Prologue, Walter had requested “a handful of flowers” about the judgement of urine, written briefly in the vernacular. Though Daniel was never one to offer a bouquet when a whole garden was available, his friend’s request does seem to have helped him realize the broader demand for an English treatise on uroscopy:
Considering that a large number and wide variety of men desire to be expert in judging urines, because that knowledge is fair, and wonderful, and very beneficial to men, and seeing that very many men – yes, practically all men – are suffering in doubt about its reliability or truth,
says Daniel, he has collected the materials in the following treatise not only for Walter and people affiliated with or like him (“thine and them that be like thee”), but also for “all those who desire to profit in this field of knowledge.” Here, and again a few lines later, Daniel clearly suggests that there may be worldly benefits to understanding uroscopy, but he sees that expertise as something that should serve spiritual as well as material needs:
he that well and perfectly studies this book made in the vernacular will be able to be a perfect judge in this craft; and without a doubt he will acquire goods and riches and health of his soul, but only if he does not live an arrogant and boastful life, full of words, fables, and lies (as healers who live now are accustomed to do).
Besides describing why readers might want to study his book, Daniel seeks to gently shape the behaviors of his audience in advance, asking for “a true reader […] a meek hearer […] a loyal and benevolent corrector”; he also asks future scribes to be careful to preserve his language and spelling, and hopes that anyone who cannot understand the book will find someone to explain it. In support of this direct appeal to readers’ good will, Daniel offers several self-deprecating comments throughout the Prologue, a modesty strategy common among medieval authors.
During the years of writing required to finish the Liber Uricrisiarum (different versions of the Prologue indicate two, three, and even five years), Daniel may have realized that some readers would find the theoretical explanations or sheer volume of the treatise overwhelming. Whether or not this is so, he introduces the final chapter of the work – a long but streamlined series of uroscopic diagnoses taken directly from Isaac Israeli’s Liber urinarum (part 10) – by acknowledging that some readers may find a simplified set of rules easier to absorb:
Now I will say the rules that Isaac gives at the very end of his Book of Urine, so that whoever cannot understand the substance and the rationale of the things said above, or perhaps cannot remember them by heart, let him be satisfied with common rules briefly given. Just as if someone cannot reach the good strong marrow inside the bone, let him be satisfied with what is outside, and if anyone cannot gather the sheaves of wheat, let him glean after those who tie up the sheaves.
Implicit Contemporary Audiences
Throughout the Liber Uricrisiarum, Daniel also gives us implicit clues as to the readership that he envisioned. His work is far more ambitious than the relatively common Anglo-Norman and still-rare English uroscopy texts available in the third quarter of the century: simple lists of rules, ranging from four or five to around thirty in number. In the Prologue, he says he will indeed give “rules of judging of urines,” but he also promises “the definitions and expositions of terminology of sickness [i.e., explanations of diseases] and of members [i.e., anatomy and physiology] and many other notable things [perhaps the humoral, astronomical, calendric, case history, and other materials].” He must have imagined an audience who needed – and would be receptive to – definitions and etymologies of medical terms, digressions on medical theory, and even such “wandering” discussions as his lengthy excursus on the planets, leap-year, and Easter calculations.
Another implicit clue to Daniel’s expected audience may be found in his characterizations of ideal and unacceptable behaviors by physicians, which could have been aimed at medical practitioners or patients seeking practitioners, or both. The good physician is “wise and ware,” attentive to multiple details, discreet, deeply studious and knowledgeable about diverse things (many of which can be found in the Liber Uricrisiarum), but still humble before the mysterious powers of nature. The bad physician – an all too common figure, in Daniel’s view – is ignorant, too lazy to study, more interested in the acquisition of wealth than of knowledge, a “bold bragger,” always “chattering and clattering,” and an “entremetour” or busybody (curiously, a term of opprobrium often employed in anti-friar satire). He even contemptuously calls such practitioners “dog-leeches” (leech is a Middle English word for doctor, distinct from the similarly pronounced word for a water-leech). One can easily imagine Daniel, writing in his old age, and hoping that he could promote the ideal and prevent the undesirable, or at least help non-practitioners know the difference between the two.
Late Medieval and Early Modern Audiences
Henry Daniel probably died in the last decade or two of the fourteenth century, but his most famous work continued to be used, copied, and even adapted to different audiences, for more than two hundred years. Its success as a comprehensive treatise is reflected in the many complete (or originally complete) copies that survive, reaching the very respectable number of twenty extant manuscript witnesses, especially striking given the time required to make each copy.
Another measure of the work’s success lies in the several different adaptations of the Liber Uricrisiarum from the early fifteenth to early sixteenth century, most of which condense the original to a greater or lesser extent. Rather than seeing these abridgements as evidence that readers had rejected Daniel’s expansive style and non-uroscopic digressions, one might interpret the phenomenon to mean that the medical background knowledge Daniel needed to explain had started to become common knowledge among vernacular readers; or it might signify an increasingly diverse market for medical information in varying formats.
Ownership and annotation of manuscripts is another way of judging audience, and some copies of Daniel’s work give us some evidence along these lines. One copy (Huntington MS 505) was probably owned by the fifteenth-century London barber-surgeon Richard Dod; another (CUL MS Gg.3.29) appears to have been owned sequentially by two sixteenth-century apothecaries, both named David Harris, who lived on the “Bridge at Bristol” and practiced medicine there, as well as collecting medical books as collateral from Portuguese and Spanish physicians who needed to borrow money. Gloucester Cathedral MS 19 was owned in the seventeenth century by another father and son, both named Henry Fowler. Although the younger Fowler became a physician, whereas his father was the Rector of Minchinhampton, it is the father who has left extensive and often dated annotations throughout the volume, revealing careful comparison of Daniel’s text to other works and to illnesses and deaths among named persons known to him.
Other owners were doctors too: Bodleian Library MS e Musaeo 116 has the inscription “Folvylle & fisician” a page after its copy of the Liber Uricrisiarum ends; Henry Savile of Banke, whose personal binding of Cambridge, St. John’s College MS B.16 still survives, was a graduate of St Alban Hall, Oxford, a book collector, and licensed (1601) to practice medicine. Philemon Holland, now known best for his translations of Livy, Pliny the Elder, and Plutarch, was a Cambridge-educated physician and the owner of Cambridge University Library MS Ff.2.6; among many other translations, he rendered the medieval Regimen sanitatis Salerni (also called Flos medicine) into English verse. Like Savile and Holland, other possessors of Daniel manuscripts were known antiquarians and bibliophiles, but indications of ownership in several copies remain mere names, as yet unidentified.
After the seventeenth century, most copies of the Liber Uricrisiarum cease to show signs of active use, and many of them start fetching up in the libraries where they still reside. One manuscript may have continued as a working medical book into the later eighteenth century: Massachusetts Historical Society MS P-361 was given to the library in 1791 by one of the Society’s founding members, Jeremy Belknap, but when or how it crossed the Atlantic and how it was read before its donation is unknown.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Daniel’s works went largely unread, or read superficially at best. The compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary began using words from the Gloucester manuscript of the Liber Uricrisiarum in the letter U (published 1921). A few slips recording words from that manuscript, but earlier in the alphabet, were included in the Middle English Dictionary and in more recent OED editions. After the 1983 appearance of a dissertation edition of a manuscript of the Liber Uricrisiarum (beta version: Wellcome MS 225), a much larger number of Daniel’s words (about 625, from the letter S onward) made their way into the MED. But most scholarly descriptions of Daniel until the late twentieth century were extremely sparse. Many of them identify him only as a translator, rather than as the far more sophisticated compiler and synthesizer that he was. Daniel certainly translated many passages from his sources “near-hand word for word,” but such translated passages were always interwoven with other sources, whether translated or paraphrased, and with his own observations, and served the larger end of transmitting entire fields of learning. Only in the last two or three decades have scholars such as John Harvey, George Keiser, Ralph Hanna, E. Ruth Harvey, and Jake Walsh Morrissey begun to point out Daniel’s ground-breaking accomplishments in his own right, and those observations have been inevitably limited by the lack of published editions of either of his two principal works, the Liber Uricrisiarum and the Herbal – a scholarly gap that the Henry Daniel Project seeks to eliminate.
It is difficult to predict what future audiences of Daniel’s writing will discover in his work, though it will most likely be scholarly in nature. However, the range of information included in his treatises means that many different kinds of academic readers and not a few interested amateurs are likely to find material to intrigue them. The following list of potential topics for study is merely a sampling, and can no doubt be expanded in any number of directions:
- history of medicine: diagnosis, nosology, anatomy, physiology, embryology, women’s health, case histories, etc.
- medieval English literature (for example, ideas about the body, about healing, women, death and dying, etc.) and language (esp. the introduction and reception of Latinate learning, vocabulary, and technical prose in English)
- intellectual history and the transmission of learned, university-based culture to vernacular audiences
- medieval astronomy and calendar science
- friars and their engagement with medicine and popular audiences
- medieval English herbal and pharmaceutical practices
Page header image: London, British Library, Sloane MS 1977.