To break or not to break (part 1): Reading Van Beverwijck´s Steen-stuck

By Saskia Klerk, with Sietske Fransen

Johan van Beverwijck (1594-1647)
Portret of Johan van Beverwijck (1594-1647)

Johan van Beverwijck (1594-1647), who we introduced in our first post, was one of the most prominent medical authors of the Dutch seventeenth century. His Steen-stuck [Treatise on the Stone] (1637, 1649, 1656) was the first of his publications in which he proposed not only how to prevent a disease, but also how to cure it. The treatise was rather conventional in its structure however. Being a learned physician, Van Beverwijck discussed where in the body gravel and stones occured, their cause and signs or symptoms and prevention as well.

The compiler of our manuscript (BPL3603) was exclusively interested in chapter eleven, about both medicinal and surgical treatments.

Similar to his dealings with Van Helmont´s work on the plague, the compiler consulted a treatise about the particular affliction he was interested in. He copied five passages from Steen-Stuck into the manuscript, alongside his discussion of master Reijmers, which I examined previously.

As a “Nota” to Reijmers´ recipe, the compiler first copied a recipe that Van Beverwijck singled out amongst several compound medicines.

University Library Leiden, MS BPL3606, p. 121 (selection): first passage copied from Steen-stuck under the page heading "Tried remedies to break the stone".
University Library Leiden, MS BPL3606, p. 121 (selection): first passage copied from Steen-stuck under the page heading “Tried remedies to break the stone”.

The use of the word “Nota” signals that Van Bever-    wijck´s recipe functioned as a comment on Master Reijmers´ , as another example of a stone-breaking remedy. The compiler cited Van Beverwijck as its source, rather than “Dr. Quercetanus´ Pharmacop. Dogm.”, to which Van Beverwijck referred.

The compilers´ choice for this recipe as the first passage to copy from Steen-stuck, deserves further attention because it shows how he read Van Beverwijck´s treatise. The recipe wasn’t the first in the chapter and earlier passages in the source text are copied later in the manuscript.

The content description at the start of the chapter explains the compilers´ choice. The eleven chapter parts are numbered and named. They move from the lightest treatments to the severest: that is, from treatments that would make it easier for a stone to move out from the bladder naturally, to those requiring an operation to remove it. The compiler disregarded this structure and skipped to number six, “on compound medicines to break the stone“. This brought him straight to the recipe that he copied under the page headingTried remedies to break the stone. The content description thus helped him find what he was looking for, information about stone-breaking compounds.

Van Beverwijck had built in a structure by which Steen-stuck could be read from front to back, from the causes of stones to their cure. The content descriptions at the beginning of each chapter however, facilitated different ways of reading the treatise. From this manuscript, we can tell that the compiler used this navigation aid quite effectively.

After including the anecdote about the hare-catching boy in the manuscript, the compiler apparently returned to this chapter in Steen-stuck. His interest in stone-breaking remedies brought him to number four in the chapter, to “those <medicines> that break the stone”. From there, he read through the rest of the treatise and selected four more passages to copy into his manuscript. These selections I will cover in part two of this post.


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