JF Ptak Science Books Post 1677
The Laws of Irritability was a marvelous-sounding title (to our ears, in this year) for a rather important medical treatise on the contraction of muscles. It was a medical treatise by Felice Fontana1 (1730-1805), and had nothing to do with what we would think of as irritability, and certainly was a long way from a book like Robert Burton's beautiful and slightly unreadable (and fairly unendurable) Anatomy of Melancholy, even as much as we would like it to be. After all, wouldn't it be lovely, somehow, in a automated-Dickensian way, to see that there were 32 laws of irritability, and that this was the first of the afflictions like ennui and depression and so on that could be modified and codified, and I guess eventually commodified? (Making these things into commodities didn't have to wait for anything at all in the way of proof or scientific merit went; after all, they were published in published books, which would have to be purchased, so there's an instant commodification to them.) But alas the Laws of Irritability were nothing of the sort, referring to a set of observations and deductions more real than half-imagined self-references.
But all of this leads me in a very uncommon route to articulated clowns and skeletons, and of course artificial leeches.
This entire post started with the imaging that this book (below) by Fausto Nicolini, Vita di Arlecchino ("Harlequin's Life", published in 1958) and which contained a rather unusual bit to it-actually it didn't so much "contain" it but displayed it. The front and back covers were both illustrated with clown images--clown images that could be copied, its sections cut apart, and re-assembled into a working cut-out paper puppet. Now I've been dealing with scarce/rare/non-existent books for 30 years, and I cannot recall a similarly-covered book, where the reader could turn its cover into a puppet. But here it was.
It reminded me of another work, a beautiful anatomical treatise by Jean Baptiste Sarlandiere, first published in France but eventually printed and published in New York in 1837 as Systematized Anatomy, or Human Organography. The sample below shows exactly how the book was laid out, almost as an instructional on how to reconstitute the body--a cut-out book, made to be separated and then pulled together again as a whole, the joints articulated with string or brass brads, a book no longer now a little puppet, "A real live boy". (And yes it happens to be an Italian author--Carlo Collodi--who gave life to that naughty marionette...this is a tough story for kids, I think, even though I muscled my way through it with our younger daughter, leaving out some of the brutal stuff.)
And it is via Sarlandiere that we get to our leeche issue, because it was he who fashioned the response tot he endemic leech shortages of the 1820's and 1830's with his creation of the artificial leech.
Oh to be in France in the 1830's and be a illegal leech importer, for your fortune would have been made. Leeches were still very important in medicine--as a matter of fact Francois Broussais2 saw the leech as a cure to virtually every diseases, saw them as a way of relseasing the inflammation and swelling and other complaints caused the body via strange and odd assaults on the body--the leech was a good and measured response to external insult, applied frequently and very liberally.
Evidently consumption on all fronts was on the rise, prices went high, but the availability of leeches went down. In France alone, leech production (in 1836) fell from 50 million to about 18 million, all but 1 million of those staying within the country. And so it was Sarlandiere who came to the rescue with his "artificial leech"3, something that would replace venthouses and bleeding cups and of course the leech itself. It was something that he had already developed years before, but perhaps time had caught up to it.
His devices are shown below4 (expandable):
I'm unsure of the disposition of the artificial leech; Sarlandiere's medical instrument lay in wait for the Dutch leech crisis, and seems to have gotten everyone through the sorrowful state of leechless affairs as they existed. At least he published images of what his invention looked like for the rest of the medical world to see and comment upon, and possibly use, and replicate. This unlike other "advances" in instrumentation which were kept under wraps, and secret, such as in the case of the foreceps kept secret by the Chamerlains for several generations. At least the widespread trust in the leech didn't last much longer.
[Source: Philosophy of Science Portal ]
1. The work was published as De irritabiltatis legibus, nunc primum sancitis, et de spirituum animalium in movendis musculis inefficacia, revised and translated into Italian as Ricerche filosofiche sopra la fisica animale (1775)Fontana leges irritabilitatis constituit, ingeniosus homo et accuratus, published in 1767.
"Formulated after the model of Newton's principles in physics, the laws of Fontana on muscular irritability were an important but neglected contribution to the subject of muscular contractility. The first law concerned Haller's concept of contractility as a property of muscle fiber itself, and pointed out that a contraction follows only after some stimulus. The discussion displayed insight into the underlying nature of tetanic muscular contraction. The second principle was the refractory period discovered by Fontana in heart muscle and applied to better understanding of the function of other muscles. The original third principle was a disproof of the efficacy of a theoretical entity, the 'animal spirits' . . . In his fourth law, Fontana pointed out the loss of contractility which results from stretching or compressing a muscle, and certain medical applications of this principle. The fifth law was concerned with problems arising from atrophy of disuse."--Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 5.
2. François Joseph Victor Broussais (1772–1838). Marie-Luce Jardin, Les Thérapies par les sangsues: les pratiques les plus anciennes aux traitements actuels hautement scientifiques, Université de Franche-Comté, Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie de Besançon, 2005, Thèse, pp. 32–3.
3. Jean-Baptiste Sarlandière, Bdellomètre du Docteur Sarlandière, Paris, Firmin Didot le jeune, 1819.