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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

V. The Progress of Social Literature in Tudor Times

§ 18. William Bullein

Boorde was not the only physician who advanced the culture of his age. In those days, chirurgeons and doctors were men of general knowledge. Thomas Vicary insists that, besides his professional training, a chirurgeon should be versed in natural philosophy, grammar, rhetoric and abstract science. John Halle adds astronomy, natural history and botany to the list. These sciences were needed to equip the practitioner with the skill and ability to put his own art to the fullest use. And thus the physician kept in touch with the knowledge of his time. Robert Recorde, said to have been physician to Edward VI and Mary, wrote dialogues on arithmetic, geography, mensuration, astrology, astronomy and algebra. But no writer has embodied so much sentiment, learning, eloquence and dramatic power in his scientific treatises as William Bullein. In his first book, The Gouvernement of Healthe, we find a reflection generally considered the property of Shakespeare:

  • In dede the poore sylly shepehard doth pleasantly pipe with his shepe, whan mighty princes do fight amonge their subjectes, and breake manye slepes in golden beds, whan bakers in bags and brewers in bottels, do snorte upon hard strawe, fearing no sodaine mishappe.
  • In 1562, he produced Bullein’s Bulwarke of Defence againste Sicknes, Sorues, etc., obviously modelling his title on Elyot’s successful Castel of Helth. Bullein’s attitude to his subject can best be expressed in the words of his own dedication:

  • I beyng a child of the Commonwealthe am bounde unto my mother, that is, the lande, in whom I am borne: to pleasure it with any good gift that it hath pleased God to bestowe upon me, not to this ende to instructe the learned but to helpe the ignoraunt, that thei maie resort to this little Bulwarke.
  • The book is divided into four separate treatises, the second in the form of a dialogue, and it contains what he had learnt from travel and study about herbs, surgery, the cultivation of health and the practical part of a physician’s work. But the scholars who were carrying on this work of enlightenment had many other things of which to tell the people besides remedies for their bodies. Although the College of Physicians had been incorporated as early as 1518, the position of medical men was far from established. Bullein ascribes their low estate to the impostures and frauds of empirics and mountebanks. Here, again, the curtain is lifted which hides the low life of the Middle Ages, and, in a passage of bitter eloquence, we hear of the escaped criminals, idle labourers and runaway serving-men that sell worthless or poisonous drugs, practise witchcraft and necromancy, doing more harm, according to Bullein, than limitours, pardoners or vagabonds. The whole work has many digressions and touches of autobiography. But the personal note is sounded to most effect when the physician who had undergone the insult of a prosecution for murder and was then languishing in prison for debt, utters the lament beginning: “Truely there is none other purgyng place or purgatorie but this”—not only in bodily suffering but in anguish of soul,
  • continuall thought, sometyme wishyng that Death might conquere life, broken hart and vexed spirite, full of sondrie inwarde affections and alteracions of minde, small rest or quietnes, sorowful for the death of kindred, or frendes, being changed into bitter enemies, whiche is a greate plague.