1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 35

Chapter 5

Dr. Phil’s Piles

Saturday December 7, 1624, Basel

Phillip chewed at his mustache as he read the letter from his landlord’s lawyer. Bad news came in threes. On Thursday his friend Professor Gaspard Bauhin died. Today he had been served notice that his lease would not be renewed. He didn’t want to image what the third event would be.

He slowly turned; staring at the various aspects of the laboratory he’d been using for the last thirty months. It had started to feel like home, and had collected the detritus of living a home usually accumulated. Did he really want to go through the experience of moving everything to a new laboratory, or should he take this as a sign that it was time to leave Basel?

He was busy contemplating his future when, after a perfunctory knock on the door, Jean Bauhin walked in. The sight of the youth in his laboratory so soon after his father’s death didn’t bode well. “How are you?” Phillip asked

“Surviving,” Jean said. He stood back and looked at Phillip; his eyes failing to maintain eye contact.

“Do you have more bad news?” Phillip asked.

“More? Oh, you mean in addition to Papa?” Tears started to form in Jeans eyes, and he let them fall.

Phillip passed him a clean handkerchief and pulled out the letter from his landlord and offered it to Jean. “I’ve been given notice that my lease won’t be renewed.”

Jean snorted vigorously into the handkerchief. “That didn’t take them long,” he said as he wiped his nose.

“What didn’t take who long?” Phillip asked.

Jean gave Phillip a grim smile. “There are people at the university who are scared of you.”

Phillip’s brows shot up. “Scared? Of me?” he asked, pointing to his chest. “Why would anyone be scared of me?”

“Because you manage to show them up,” Jean said.

Phillip still didn’t understand. “Show who up?”

“Doctors like Dr. Laurent.”

Phillip blew a snort of contempt. “Who worries about a man of his poor talent?” he asked.

“There are people who respect Dr. Laurent, Dr. Gribbleflotz, and they remember what you did to him a couple of years ago.”

“All I did was show his paying customers the correct way to conduct an amputation.” Phillip started pacing. “It’s just like Padua. People like Professor Fabricius would hold demonstrations where they pontificated on their favorite topic, which had little to do with the knowledge the examiners were going to test the students on. Phillip smiled at Jean. “Really, I was doing the university a favor.”

Jean nodded, but there was still a sign of worry on his face. “Dr. Laurent and his followers have managed to engage Professor Stupanus in the proposal to ban all private dissections.”

That was bad news. Professor Emmanuel Stupanus’s inaugural lecture when he joined the University of Basel faculty had been entitled De fraudibus Paracelsistarum, and from what Phillip had heard, the man’s opinion of anyone who claimed to follow the Paracelsian school of thought hadn’t improved. “Maybe it is time for me to move on,” he mumbled.

“Are you thinking of leaving?” Jean asked.

Phillip nodded. “I miss your father and our discussions, especially his ideas of how to classify botanical discoveries. There’s nothing here for me now.”

“Where will you go?”

Phillip smiled. “Give me a chance. I’ve only just now decided to leave. For now I think I’ll take a barge down the Rhine.”

February 1625

The trip down the Rhine turned into a trip down the Waal and eventually Phillip found himself in Dordrecht, in the United Providences. He’d barely landed his baggage when a colleague from his days in the service of the counts of Nassau-Siegen discovered him.

“Phillip, how have you been?” Wilhelm Dorschner asked as he approached and hugged Phillip.

“Okay. And yourself?”

“I can’t complain.” Wilhelm put on a smile. “After Gradisca I went north and joined the forces of Ernst von Mansfeld. I’m still with him.”

Phillip recognized the name and winced. “Were you at Wimpfen?” he asked, naming the 1622 battle which von Mansfeld had lost.

Wilhelm nodded. “We were holding our ground,” he sighed and dropped his head, “until a cannon shot hit the magazine and . . .” He shook his head again. “I was lucky to get away unhurt.”

“So you’ve been in the United Provinces since then?” Phillip asked.

“Sort of,” Wilhelm said. “We’ve just recently crossed from Dover with an army to relieve Breda, which has been besieged since August. If you’re looking for a position, I’m sure they’ll be happy to take you on.”

Phillip hesitated. He had a supply of maggot extract that he was simply dying to try out, and a siege would be an ideal situation in which to test his new treatments. One tended to stay in one place, and few if any of the casualties that passed through his hands would have family who were likely to interfere with his experiments.

“We need you, Phillip. We are almost seven thousand soldiers, and only a handful of physicians.”

Phillip had to smile. It seemed his opportunities to experiment would be even greater than he’d thought.


The campaign produced a lot of work for Phillip and his colleagues. The only way for Sir Horace Vere and his seven thousand Englishmen to approach the siege lines was along a network of causeways. After a short engagement they managed to capture a redoubt, but the resulting Spanish counterattack forced Sir Horace to retreat, taking heavy casualties.

His work didn’t end there as, with Sir Horace’s attempt to break the siege failing, the siege lasted another four months. When in June of 1625 Breda finally surrendered only about half the original seven thousand man garrison survived, including about six hundred Englishmen. Phillip accompanied the English wounded when they were repatriated back to England, where he stayed with them for a year while he improved his English before taking to the road and working his way north, stopping in villages as he passed to offer his professional services or to learn medical uses of plants from the locals. It was thus that he finally ended up near Kingston upon Hull, known locally simply as Hull.

May 1630, Anlaby, 3 miles west of Kingston upon Hull, England

Phillip paid the messenger from the book shop he patronized in Hull for the letter and package he’d delivered and retired back into his laboratory to inspect them. He laid the post on his work bench and washed the grease from the spit-roasted duck he had been eating from his hands before hunting out his letter opener.

The letter was from his old colleague from the Dalmatian expedition. Michael Weitnauer was in Jena, working at the university’s botanical gardens, and he wrote that he had hopes of being put in charge of the facility. His letter went on to describe some of the changes he wanted to make. Phillip could only feel that Jena would be well served by employing Michael as the director of the botanical garden.

He laid down Michael’s letter and picked up the package. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Phillip carefully untied the string and added it to the ball of string he was creating from short lengths he saved. Then he carefully opened the brown paper wrapping to reveal a brand new copy of Dr. William Harvey’s De Motu Cordis. It was bound in human skin, just like his copy of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, which probably explained why it had taken so long to arrive. He placed the manuscript to one side while her folded up the wrapping paper and put it into a drawer for use at some later date. Only then did his eyes turn to his new book.

At a mere seventy-two pages, including illustrations, Phillip didn’t think it would take him long to skim through the manuscript. That meant he could probably afford to look at it while his laborant ground green vitriol, because, he thought, not even Robert could get into trouble doing that.

He was wrong. It wasn’t that he was wrong thinking Robert couldn’t get into trouble grinding green vitriol, he was wrong in assuming that he could afford to read the manuscript instead of closely monitoring what Robert got up to. The youngster was the latest of a line of hopefuls he’d tried as assistants, and Phillip was having trouble repressing his delusions of grandeur.