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21.11.03 Harvey et al. (eds.), Liber Uricrisiarum

21.11.03 Harvey et al. (eds.), Liber Uricrisiarum

The latter half of the fourteenth century saw significant developments in the vernacularisation of medical writing across a broad range of European languages. Great progress has been made by scholars of recent decades in advancing our understanding of the English dimension of this phenomenon, not least through the creation of searchable databases such as Scientific and Medical Writings in Old and Middle English: an Electronic Reference (eVK), compiled by Linda Ehrsam Voigts and Patricia Deery Kurtz (2000; revised and expanded in 2010 as eVK2) and the Corpus of Middle English Medical Texts (MEMT), produced by researchers at the University of Helsinki in 2005. Individual vernacular medical texts, such as the Middle English translation of Gilbertus Anglicus’s widely-circulated Compendium medicinae, have also been subject to detailed editorial attention, while other studies have highlighted the value of this genre of technical material as a window into the nature of literacy, education and multilingualism in late-medieval England. [1] Collectively, this work has served to establish key research methodologies that could be fruitfully applied to the similarly copious, but comparatively less-studied, corpora of medical writing in other contemporary European vernaculars of the same general region, such as Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Welsh.

The present volume makes a further very substantial and important contribution to the field of medieval English medical literature by presenting the first complete edition of Henry Daniel’s Liber Uricrisiarum, an extended treatise on uroscopic diagnosis that is the earliest known work of academic medicine written in Middle English. Although records of its author do not occur outside of his extant writings, which include both the Liber Uricrisiarum and a large text on herbs and simple medicines, it can be determined from references within these two treatises that Daniel was working around the end of the 1370s. By this time, uroscopy was a long-established and defining feature of the medical profession: urine was believed to provide the means to diagnose a wide variety of illnesses and to enable one to predict a patient’s chances of recovery. It is thus unsurprising to find that Daniel’s treatment of the subject is encyclopaedic in nature, encompassing not only the urinary symptoms of diseases, but also the composition of the body as a whole and its relationship to the macrocosm.

Following a brief prologue in which Daniel sets out his motivation for composing a treatise on uroscopy in the vernacular, the core of the Liber Uricrisiarum is divided into three books that broadly deal with the definition, colours and contents of urine, respectively. Within this wider framework, however, are numerous digressions on topics such as humoral theory, anatomy and astronomy. While the details of Henry Daniel’s own medical training are not entirely clear, it would appear that he had a university education: he possessed a strong command of Latin and was familiar with many of the standard medical authorities whose writings circulated in continental centres of learning during the later medieval period. It is possible that Daniel gained access to these books while a friar at a Dominican convent in England. Of equal interest, however, is the fact that he supplements his citations from widely known Latin sources with observations and cures attributed to a variety of more local, amateur practitioners, whose views Daniel finds interesting enough to record even if he “is wary of endorsing” them (17). He also acknowledges teachers who had helped him acquire an extensive knowledge of herbs, a subject that he had apparently studied for several years while travelling; indeed, he claims to have cultivated numerous types of medicinal plants in his own garden. On the whole, Daniel’s aim in compiling the Liber Uricrisiarum seems not to have been to address an academic audience of medical doctors, but rather to reach out to those who might have felt the need for more academic medical knowledge and lacked the necessary training in Latin to allow them to pursue it. However, the more diverse range of authorities upon which he draws in his treatise serves to paint an intriguingly nuanced picture of medical practise in medieval England that extends well beyond the confines of the universities.

Readers unfamiliar with the broader context of Henry Daniel and his work are aided in this publication by a lucidly written introduction discussing the place of the Liber Uricrisiarum in the wider context of medieval uroscopic tradition; the background, writings, sources and audience of its author; the manuscript tradition of the text; and the editorial approach adopted for the work. The bulk of the volume consists of the textual edition itself, but it also includes five appendices containing 1) the Latin original of the prologue to the Liber Uricrisiarum; 2) the Latin original of the Regule Isaac, one of Daniel’s key sources; 3) an English translation of the Latin verse epilogue to the text; 4) tables showing the variation between astronomical measurements and authorities cited in Daniel and other Latin works; and 5) a discussion of the language of the scribe who wrote the primary witness of the text used for the edition. Along with detailed and useful explanatory notes on the text, the editors also provide a general glossary, guide to proper names, list of works cited and an index.

The volume arises from an ongoing project based at the University of Toronto that aims to make the works of Henry Daniel accessible to scholars for research purposes (, and its authors acknowledge the substantial contribution of a team of graduate students at that institution who volunteered to produce a full transcript of the base manuscript, conduct research on Daniel’s cited sources, and draft glossary entries (p. xi). The value of this collaborative approach is well evidenced by the breadth and depth of the textual notes, which provide an indispensable guide to the reader in navigating the rich array of texts and authorities mentioned by Daniel. The editing of the Liber Uricrisiarum is no easy task: more than thirty-five manuscript witnesses of the work or excerpts from it survive, attesting to two principal versions of the full text that are distinguished in part by the length of their chapters. This edition uses the copy in London, British Library MS Royal 17 D.i (s. xiv ex / xv in) as a base text, with five further witnesses collated for the apparatus. The editors recognise that, while they have not published “a critical edition in the usual sense of the phrase” (30), the present volume nonetheless serves the purpose of making a good and representative version of Daniel’s work readily available to scholars and students in a more expeditious manner than would otherwise be possible.

In a field where so many important texts still remain unedited and therefore not widely known to scholars of the medieval world, the decision to publish a ‘Reading Edition’ of Henry Daniel’s Liber Uricrisiarum is sensible and fulfils a clear desideratum of current research in the area of medieval medicine. This well-executed volume will undoubtedly prove to be a very useful resource not only for scholars concerned with the history of science in late-medieval Europe and the development of technical writing in various vernaculars, but also for those interested in many other aspects of English literature and language in the fourteenth century. It is to be welcomed as a valuable contribution to scholarship that significantly advances our understanding of medical writing in Middle English and the broader intellectual culture that gave rise to it.



1. See for example Faye Marie Getz, ed., Healing and Society in Medieval England: A Middle English Translation of the Pharmaceutical Writings of Gilbertus Anglicus, Wisconsin Publications in the History of Science and Medicine 8 (Madison, WI, 1991), and the essays in Irma Taavitsainen and Päivi Pahta, eds., Medical and Scientific Writing in Late Medieval English (Cambridge, 2004).