PRINTER’S NOTE TO THE READER [Vesalius's instructions to the printer]


Since the letter sent from Italy by Andreas Vesalius, which we received along with the illustrations made for these books of De humani corporis fabrica and their Epitome, seemed to us to contain many things about which we thought the reader should generally be informed at the outset, and which seemed noteworthy to printers, especially those who have such little regard for the decrees of princes and are born to degrade things published for literary use, we judged it worthwhile to communicate it to our kind readers just as it was sent to us.

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TO JOHANNES OPORINUS, PROFESSOR OF GREEK LITERATURE AT BASEL, his very dear friend.

Greetings.

You will soon receive with this letter, by way of Milanese merchants, the Danoni, the wood blocks engraved for my books De humani corporis fabrica and their Epitome. I hope they will be delivered to Basel as safe and sound as when I packed them lest they be damaged in any way, or their transport cause any harm. In this I was aided by the meticulous engraver and by Nicolaus Stopius, the trustworthy business agent of the Bombergs here, a young man with a first-class humanistic education. 69


Between the wood blocks we have placed an exemplar 70 of each illustration, piece by piece, together with a printed copy of each figure on which I have written where each should be placed, lest by chance their order and arrangement cause trouble for you or your workers and they be printed out of order. You will readily see in the exemplar where the type style must be changed: I have distinguished with lines the [roman] part of the text, which contains my account of the organs and is separated into chapters of running text, from the [italic] part explaining the characters engraved in the illustrations, which is for that reason called the index of figures and characters. In the running text, which is uninterrupted with figures to be identified, you will use small letters which in printing shops you call superlinear. These will correspond to annotations that I have added to the inside margins with less industry than tedious drudgery to serve as a kind of commentary for the reader, explaining in what illustration the part being mentioned can be seen. In the same way, the annotations on the outer margin set forth a summary of the narrative. For the inside marginalia, I have used a system to avoid prolixity: whenever an illustration is cited which stands at the head of the chapter where the note is seen, I do not state the chapter number; I add such a number elsewhere if the illustration is at the head of another chapter. Again, if an illustration is found in the book where the note occurs, I do not include the book number. You will find fully explained in the titles of the books and in the figure legends why I thought illustrations should be placed in one spot or another. For markers to locate anatomical parts in a particular illustration, we engraved on our blocks characters in constant use in printing shops, usually beginning with capital letters, then the other [lower-case] roman letters, then small Greek letters, followed by Greek capitals which are not cognate to the roman; when all these were not enough, we used numerical figures and whatever other signs occur in ordinary type sets.
In the description of these identifiers it has been my practice to place an identifying letter by itself in the margin when it has a single, separate legend. If a description does not apply to a single item and is written for another letter as well, I put a period after the letter in the margin to make it clear to the reader that it is together with others in a series. I have already written to you at greater length about this system, and particularly why I thought the figure legend must not be combined with my account of the anatomy. 71 Now, in every way I can, I urge you and ask that everything be printed as elegantly and swiftly as possible, so that with the aid of my efforts you may fulfill the expectation that all have formed about your printing house, now for the first time established for the great convenience of scholars and by happy omen of the Muses.
Special attention will have to be paid while printing the plates, because they are not just simple outlines drawn in the common schoolbook manner; the artistic style (except sometimes where the surface is outlined on which the specimens are resting) is nowhere neglected. Although here your judgement is sound and I have the highest expectations regarding your meticulous craftsmanship, I cherish this one hope, that while printing you imitate as closely as possible the sample made by the engraver as his proof copy, which you will find packed together with the wooden forms. Thus no identifying character, however hidden in shading, will escape the sharp-eyed and careful reader; and the thickness of the lines in certain parts, which is the most artful feature of these illustrations and thoroughly delightful for me to view, will appear along with the elegant darkening of the shadows.

But I should not write these things out for you, since it depends on the smoothness and solidity of the paper, and particularly on the diligence of your efforts, that each of the illustrations issued from your printing shop be like the specimens we are now sending, of which we have printed a number here, and uniform through many copies. I shall take pains to set out soon to see you and will stay over in Basel, if not for the entire duration of the printing, at least for some time, and I will bring with me a copy of the decree of the Venetian senate forbidding anyone from


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printing any of my illustrations without my consent. 72 Though you have a general writ of copyright for all the copies of a book that you are the first to publish, my mother will send you the Emperor’s from Brussels. It was obtained for me some time ago, but I did not arrange to have it written out until now to make it more recent and valid for more years. The bishop of Montpellier, the ambassador to Venice, undertook to obtain copyright of the French king for me.


Granted, I have little worry on that score: indeed, I would not think that even a page should be taken up with copies of the official letters of copyright. For what the decrees of princes are worth among booksellers and the printers who are now so densely planted on every corner, can be seen abundantly in the fate of my Tabulae anatomicae, originally published three years ago in Venice and afterward hideously plagiarized everywhere even while it was being dressed up in more pretentious titles. At Augsburg, my dedicatory letter to Narcissus Vertunus, chief physician of the Emperor and the kingdom of Naples, certainly a rare model of the physicians of our age, 73 was deleted and some ranter wrote a preface in German, blathering ill-deserved attacks on Avicenna 74 and other Arabs, describing me as one of the condensed Galens, and (to delude the buyer) falsely claiming I had compressed into six illustrations what Galen covered at length in more than thirty books. After that he adds that he has rendered Latin terms into German, and claims that he has employed Greek and Arabic terms, when in fact he has not only removed them completely, but omitted the ones he was unable to translate — the very terms for which the plates should have been particularly suitable, except for the fact that the plates bore only a distorted resemblance to the original Venetian engraving. The man at Cologne who put his hand to these plates was considerably less skilled and experienced than the Augsburg engraver. 75 Much as someone there may write in the printer’s defense that human anatomy can be better examined in my illustrations than in a dissection of the human fabric, and also that the forgers greatly improved on my excellent illustrations, nevertheless they completely spoiled the art work and added a bungled diagram of the nerves, of which I had made a rough sketch and added a figure legend for one or two friends who asked me for it until I should publish the finished plate. 76 At Paris they did a good job of printing the first three plates but left out the others, presumably because of the difficulty of engraving them, though if they had taken students into account the first plates are the ones they should have omitted.
The Strasburger 77 whom Fuchs 78 so fiercely castigates for certain repeated plagiarisms, and whom I could call a plagiarist with much greater cause than he, has done the worst disservice to medical study because he has so disgracefully reduced illustrations which could never be made large enough for students, colored them execrably, arbitrarily surrounded them with the Augsburger’s version of the text, and published them as his own work. His glory, it seems, is the envy of another 79 who is still indiscriminately compiling pictures from other people’s books everywhere and publishing books of that kind at Marburg and Frankfurt. As a result, I am well content with the divine and most felicitous talents of the Italians, and I feel great affection for them because they are seeking a different judgement regarding the doctors of Germany, because of the lackeys 80 of certain unscrupulous printers; such persons dare to assemble every kind of publication for the sake of snapping up some cheap reward from the printers: they alter, copy, and publish them under their own name to look like some new publication and pass over the decrees of princes in silence.
I write this so you will understand how little I believe such practices apply to your printing; I should rather have it understood that I would much more happily send my woodblocks to any hardworking printer, and contribute as best I can to a literary purpose rather than that some incompetent, whom I for one shall endeavor in all ways to obstruct, should copy illustrations engraved with so much labor for the use of all studies, and that they should come into the hands of men under some pretentious title, 81 just as if I had personally sent them out in such poor condition. This is the chief reason why I prepared the plates at my own expense, and now again and again beg you that they be preserved by your workmen as undamaged and clean as possible.
Good health, your Andreas Vesalius

Venice, Sept. 9