Friday, 21 June 2013

Dr Robert Toope.

Aubrey Burl recorded a letter sent to John Aubrey, from one Dr Robert Toope written in 1678.

Dr Toope, a physician of Marlborough describes a cemetery on Overton Hill.

Unfortunately the only record I have of this is in a bad re-print of Crania Britannica. Google have Crania as a free read, as it is probably the source of my book, the words are missing from the Google edition, too.

Dr Toope tells me two things of interest:
  • First he describes a temple on Mill Hill as a large spherical (word missing) with a diameter of 40 yards. This is the diameter of The Sanctuary. Around The Sanctuary, says Dr Toope, there is another circle.

    A circle of skeletons.

    Laid so close that "scul toucheth scull", their feet pointing towards the temple.

    Dr Toope describes the bones as "large but much decayed" and then describes something else, probably teeth which were "wonderfully white, hard and sound".

    Though Dr Toope makes it sound as if the skeletons were a continuation of The Sanctuary, another circle, radiating outwards, no one has corroborated this.

    It is likly that the location for the bones was over the road from The Sanctuary, on the Ridgeway side. And that the bones were a part of a Saxon cemetary.
The second thing Dr Toope has to say is:
  • That he returned to the temple at Mill Hill- The Sanctuary- and dug for bones, "many bushels" out of which he brewed a "noble medicine" for his neighbors.
Sometimes the famous 'many bushels of bones' quote, is applied to West Kennet. Giving the impression that the insatiable Dr Toope ravaged West Kennet for ingredients for his 'noble medicine'.

But clearly the location described in Crania, is The Sanctuary.

I expect he sacked West Kennet too!

But what was this medicine Dr Toope beleived to be so efficacious?
How normal was it for doctors to use human remains to concoct remedies?
The word mummiya comes to mind.

Richard Suggs' book:
  Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires- The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians sheds a sickly green light on this subject: Karl Dannenfeldt's research into the medieval period shows that the term for an agent known as mummy underwent a curious transformation. In early Arabic medicine a natural substance found solidified on mountain sides in Darabjerd in Persia had been used as medicine.

It was known as 'mummiya' from 'mum' meaning wax.

Of course in our time the word is indelibly linked to preserved bodies, but mummiya was never used for preservation.

The link between mummy (medicine) and mummy as preserved body came about as a result of translation, how the location and nature of this substance was described. Constantinus Africanus rendered the definition mummy by the Baghdad physician Rhazes  as 'the substance found in the land where bodies are buried with aloes by which the liquid of the dead, mixed with the aloes, is transformed, and is similar to marine pitch'.

Latter translations create confusion.
Cordo (Latin from Arabic) translated a description of mummia as a mixture of aloes and myrrh, mixed with fluids from a human corpse.

Though mummy was not then what we think it is now...
It has had a long history as a medicine.

That is to say, mummy was always a medicine made from bitumen, and latter on, from human remains.

Oswald Croll provides a recipe.
The Paracelsian mummy:
One should take the cadaver of a reddish man, whole, fresh and without blemish, of around twenty-four years of age, dead of a violent death, exposed to the moon's rays for one day and one night, but with a clear sky. One should then cut the muscular flesh of this man and sprinkle it with the powder of myrrh and a little aloe, then soak to make it tender, finally hanging the pieces in a dry and shady place...

The sudden death guaranteed that the body would be full of vitality.

Illness drains life.

Therfore execution provided a source of medicine, for those willing, or desperate enough to avail themselves of the fresh blood or body parts.

Clearly Dr Toope did not concern himself with the vitality remaining in the body and tissues, or the nature of the death that had befallen the owners of the bones he took. The vital force, or heat within the blood had long gone.

The body- the source of the soul in Egyptian and Mesopotamian theories- likewise had long since decayed and vanished into the ground.

On the other hand, flesh- the flesh of the dead- could be dangerous. Robert Fludd, on applying the flesh of a hanged man to himself felt that the spirits remaining in the dead man began to suck greedily to draw off his "mummial and vivifying spirits" as if it were some kind of vampire sponge.

Afterwards he was convinced that the dead flesh felt and smelt different as a result of contact with the living.

Professor Rudolph Goclenius believed that the spirits of a strangled corpse would remain within the skull for up to seven years.

Perhaps Dr Toope was after the moss that grows on bones?
 Or more likely the 'oil' of bones.

Ultimately, the bones Dr Toope took were ancient and anonymous, so no one would worry that they were eating their dead granny, and no doubt Dr Toope was making a profit.

Bones were often for sale at that time, especially ones with moss growing upon them...