A Very Rare Edition: Cullen’s 1770 Textbook

It has long been assumed that the 1772 edition of Cullen’s textbook on the Institutions of Medicine, entitled Institutions of Medicine. Part I. Physiology. For the Use of the Students in the University of Edinburgh, was the first one Cullen printed.

But I have discovered, quite to my surprise, that this is not the case. Cullen in fact printed an earlier version of this textbook in 1770, and I have located what must be one of the only surviving copies.

In a certain sense, this is not a revelation. From fairly detailed and well-preserved student notes taken down during his 1770-71 lectures (see NLS MS 3535), we know that he gave his students some kind of text and that it appeared to be, at least in the parts that discussed the nervous system, very similar to—but not identical with—his published text from two years later.

While re-reading these lectures, I realised that Cullen clearly indicates that he has handed out a printed textbook to his students in 1770, one that he published (for, he says, he hazards his reputation by doing so). So I wondered whether any such book still survives. And, after some searching, I discovered that, yes, a copy exists in one—but, as far as I can tell, only one—library.

I still need to confirm that it is what the catalogue claims it is (I have ordered some images), but I am 95% certain that a copy of Cullen’s 1770 textbook survives. From NLS MS 3535, we already have a good sense of its contents, but to find the actual ‘published’ edition, which must be exceedingly rare, is a treat.

And it leads to a further query, for we know that Cullen handed out some kind of text or lengthy syllabus to his students as early as his 1768-69 Institutions course. I believe this was the first time he did so, with a view to publication. But it is unclear whether this text was ‘published’ in the same way that the later ones were. Cullen may have simply handed out pages in loose-leaf, for example. But he may have printed his 1768-69 text, and I am now on the lookout for that too. But, if it survives, it must be extremely rare and probably only survives among the collected papers of some of his students.

All of this material, I hope, feeds into the chapter(s) I am writing on Cullen’s views of the nervous system, and how they developed over the course of his lectures on the Institutions of Medicine. And that can be seen quite clearly in the different editions or variations that his textbook underwent from 1768 to 1772.

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One Response to A Very Rare Edition: Cullen’s 1770 Textbook

  1. Can’t remember when I was this excited to find such spectacular research. While my area is an 18th century woman printer in Barcelona whose firm, for generations, printed all of the University of Barcelona surgical textbooks and profited from their sale throughout Spain and their export to the Americas, there are obvious overlaps. Looking at the who printed the textbooks, whether the printer was listed on any Royal Warrants or was named on lists of censored publishers was helpful. Also finding out the paper mills used and their archival materials was incredibly helpful. Especially successful 18th printers often built their own paper mills. It was through getting into the grit of paper and supplies and real estate taxes that I was able to develop a fuller picture. Also mapping. Location was all in 18th printing. While the prized location in Barcelona was next to the houses of gov’t, religion, education, etc., in London, for example, the best printers were adjuncts to theatres, such as the famous Drury Lane Theatre printer. This is where my current research is leading me–to the locations of 18th century printers.

    I am so excited to learn about your work on Dr. Cullen, Jeff! It is spectacular in every way!

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