1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 28

Jean quickly recovered his good humor. “Someone I’ve never seen before. A Dr. Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, and he was almost as good as you, Papa. But that wasn’t what was so funny.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Gaspard said. “So if Dr. Gribbleflotz showing Ambrosius up for the fool he is wasn’t so funny, what was?”

“That.” Jean struggled to speak though his laughter. It took a few attempts before he could explain without bursting out laughing. “Dr. Laurent’s accused Dr. Gribbleflotz of trying to make a fool of him, but Dr. Gribbleflotz said to Dr. Laurent that he didn’t have to try and make a fool out of him, because he was doing a good enough job of that himself.”

Gaspard joined in the laughter. They managed to stop laughing, several times, but every time they made eye contact they started again. Eventually they were all laughed out. With tears still streaming from his eyes he looked at his son. “I haven’t laughed like that in years.”

Jean was glad his father was in such a good mood, because there was something he wanted. “Papa . . .”


“But I didn’t ask for anything,” Jean protested.

“I’m your father, and I knew you were going to ask for something.”

“But I only want to attend a private anatomy course,” Jean pleaded.

Gaspard raised a brow. “I thought you weren’t impressed with Ambrosius’ course.”

“I’m not,” Jean admitted. He started pacing around his father’s study, glancing at his father every now and again. “Three of the students happened to bump into Dr. Gribbleflotz during a break in Dr. Laurent’s course. They say that if there’s enough interest, he’s prepared to deliver a short course on anatomy.” He paused to give the next statement added emphasis. “With real cadavers.”

“Ambrosius still economizing by only using animal carcasses?”

Jean nodded. “Not that I think Dr. Gribbleflotz would be against using animals, Papa. I think that if he were to demonstrate an amputation, he would use a live animal, just to show how difficult it could be in reality.”

“This Dr. Gribbleflotz sounds very interesting,” Gaspard said. “Yes, you may attend, and I might drop in and watch myself.”

A few days later: the first day of Dr. Gribbleflotz’ anatomy course

Professor Bauhin stood in the gallery beside his son and watched as Dr. Gribbleflotz cleared up from the morning session of his public dissection. He was impressed. The man certainly knew what he was doing, but more impressive than his obvious knowledge of anatomy and surgery was the way he managed to involve the audience. Not just the half dozen young hopefuls, who he was sure, were pleasantly surprised at just how much of the actual dissection they were doing, but also the people who were just watching.

He felt an aggressive tug on his hand and looked down into the pleading eyes of his son. With a rueful smile he let Jean lead him onto the dissection floor where Dr. Gribbleflotz was taking off his surgical apron.

“A most impressive display, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Gaspard said. He smiled at the startled look in the eyes of Martin Stoler before he hastily whispered into Dr. Gribbleflotz’ ear.

“A pleasure to meet you, Herr Professor Bauhin,” Philip said as he hastily wiped his hand clean on the folds of his still relatively clean surgical apron before reaching out to grasp the hand Gaspard held out. “I hope my poor efforts haven’t bored you.”

“No. I wasn’t bored. You’re a credit to your teachers.”

“Thank you, Professor Bauhin. I studied for three years under Professor Casseri,” Phillip said, “and he would be pleased to know his efforts weren’t in vain.”

“Ah, Professor Casseri. He was merely Giulio Casseri when I was studying at Padua under Professor Fabricius. Were you there when Giulio gave his anatomy course in the public anatomy theater?” Gaspard had read reviews of that course and was envious of those who had been there.

Phillip nodded. “I took comprehensive notes, which you are welcome to borrow, Professor.”

“I might take you up on that offer. Meanwhile, you may not be aware that human dissections are supposed to only be done with the approval of the university.” Gaspard held up his hands to silence Phillip’s immediate response. “However, having seen you at work, I’m sure that I can persuade the university to backdate its approval of your demonstration.”

Phillip’s jaw dropped. He hadn’t expected that kind of support. “Thank you, Professor Bauhin,” he managed to mutter.

Gaspard clapped his hand on Phillip’s shoulder. “Come, let’s have lunch together.”

Next day

Peter Hebenstreit was a survivor. Chronologically he was fifteen, but his soul was much older. Right now he was cursing his lack of forethought. He’d heard Professor Bauhin invite Dr. Gribbleflotz to lunch. He’d seen the two men, with Professor Bauhin’s son trailing behind, leave the anatomy theater together the previous day. He should have realized that after his performance that first day, and with the apparent endorsement of Dr. Gribbleflotz by Professor Bauhin, that places on the anatomy course would be in high demand. Foolishly, instead of raising the price for the remaining spaces in the audience, he’d actually sold them at a discount, thinking that no one would pay full price for a five day course after missing the first day.

Two men with entry tokens hanging from strings around their necks approached. Peter checked off the numbers written on the wooden tokens and let them into the theater. That was everyone. He then turned to the group of hopefuls who had turned up hoping to attend the lectures. “I’m sorry, but there are no vacancies. Maybe there will be some no-shows tomorrow,” he told them.

“But I have money,” one of them protested.

“There is no more space in the theater,” Peter apologized. And that really annoyed him. He could have sold another twenty places if they’d been available. “I’m sure Dr. Gribbleflotz will put on another series of lectures soon.” Certainly he would be doing so if Peter had anything to do with it, and in a much larger theater. Peter backed through the door and bolted it before heading over to the preparation room where Dr. Gribbleflotz was tying on a clean apron. “You have a full house, Herr Doctor Gribbleflotz.”

“Very good, Peter. You may occupy yourself as you will until the noon break,” Phillip said as he waved for his assistants to carry the body into the theater.

Now the dissection was starting Peter took his position at the entrance to the dissection level. The previous day Dr. Gribbleflotz had only had one stoppage during his lecture, for lunch. Members of the audience had got hungry and sent him out to buy snacks. They’d also needed the chamber pot, and rather than miss any of the demonstration they might have relieved themselves in a convenient corner. Dr. Gribbleflotz had provided Peter with some buckets and told him to see that the audience used them.

A hand waved and Peter made eye contact with the man who’d waved — his first customer of the day. Peter slipped back through the entrance and made his way up to the gallery.

Three days later

Johann Rudolf Glauber walked up to the Riehen-tor, where he was stopped by one of the gate guards.

“Name and purpose for entering the city?” Hans Keisser asked.

Johann leaned on his hiking stave as he answered. “I am a student looking for teachers.”

“What kind of student?” Sergeant Niklaus Heffelfinger asked as he walked over to join Hans and Johann.

“I’m a student of the alchemical arts. Would you know where I might look for suitable teacher?”

“You might try Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Hans suggested.

“No.” Niklaus shook his head. “You’re forgetting that he is running an anatomy course this week.”

“But today was the last day, Sergeant,” Hans said. “Dr. Gribbleflotz should be in his laboratory tomorrow morning.”

Niklaus turned to Johann. “There you are, Herr Glauber. Dr. Gribbleflotz might be willing to provide the training you seek, otherwise you could ask around over by the paper mill.”

At only eighteen Johann didn’t have much experience of doctors, but ones he’d met so far hadn’t known anything about practical alchemy. Too many of them were, as Paracelsus had written, lazy and insolent. Too idle and given to displays of wealth to actually dirty their hands in the pursuit of alchemical knowledge. So he had no intention of contacting this Dr. Gribbleflotz, but the other suggestion had merit “Where might I find this paper mill?” he asked.

Niklaus pointed vaguely to an area on the other side of the Rhine. “You cross the bridge and turn left. Keep walking past the St Alban cloister. You can’t miss it.”

Johann thanked the guards and entered the city.


“You want alchemical training?” the man at the paper mill asked.

Johann nodded. “That’s right. The guards at the north gate said you might know where I can find a suitable teacher.”

The man chewed on his mustache and looked around. Seeing another worker he called out. “Hey, Kuntz. This youngster wants to find someone who can teach him alchemy,” Tobias Brunner said.

Kuntz Hegler wandered over to join his colleague. “There’s Herr Ackhermann. I heard he was looking for a new laborant.”

Johann was suspicious of the grins on his new acquaintances’ faces. “What happened to his last one?” he asked.