William Cowper (c. 1666–1709) was a British surgeon and anatomist best known today for describing “Cowper’s Gland,” part of the genito-urinary system. He has also been described by at least one scholar as “the first of the surgeon-scientists of Great Britain… the first to bring the power of the experimental method to bear on practical surgical problems… [anticipating] the celebrated Hunterian school of surgery by more than half a century.” (In the last half of the 18th century, famous London surgeon John Hunter made his reputation in part by advocating for the scientific method in medicine.)
Cowper’s book Myotomia reformata: or an anatomical treatise on the muscles of the human body, first published in 1694 (NYAM’s copy is from 1724), is filled with grimly literal anatomical and dissection-themed initial capital letters, and charming, if somewhat rough, illustrations.
This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.
Great illustrations! Wonder who did them, and how long it took to make those intricate (and idealized) renderings of the body parts.
Cowper did the illustrations and may have done the engravings. How long they took is a mystery, but we do know that when Cowper died in 1709 the plates were complete, while the text was not quite finished. (The first edition from 1694 has 10 plates and the edition from 1724 has 66.)
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