1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 54

All eyes turned to the lawyer in response to what Casper could only consider a very good question.

“For reasons which I have not been made aware, there is a matter of urgency surrounding my esteemed colleagues’ client’s requirement to secure a doctorate from a reputable institution,” Johannes said. “My esteemed colleagues hope that you will consider awarding their client a doctorate based on relevant life experience.”

Casper snorted. “And what relevant life experience does this man,” he checked the name on one of the papers in front of him, “this Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz have that should cause us to award him a doctorate?” he asked.

“Phillip!” Wilhelm said in surprise before flicking through the pages to find the page Casper had read from.

“Do you know this man?” Casper asked, waving the page in question from his pile of papers in front of Wilhelm.

“If it’s the same man I knew,” Wilhelm said as he finally found the page in question, “then he was apprenticed to Professor Casseri in Padua for three years, and studied medical botany under Professor Alpini at the same time.”

“He studied at Padua?” Casper asked. “Then why does he need us to award him a doctorate?”

“Professor Casseri died before he was ready to sit the exams,” Wilhelm said, “and for reasons he never went into, he left Padua without a degree.”

Casper did some rapid calculations. “Professor Casseri died nearly sixteen years ago. What’s he been doing since then?” he asked.

“He served in the army of the counts of Nassau-Siegen as a physician and surgeon between 1618 and 1623,” Johannes said.

“That’s when I met him. We worked together most of that time,” Wilhelm said.

“And that is when he saved the leg and life of my niece’s son,” Jacob added.

Casper glanced at Jacob. That bit of information went some way towards answering the unasked question of why Jacob and Andries were willing to see Mijnheer Gribbleflotz awarded a doctorate. He checked the paper in front of him. “It says here that he worked with Professor Bauhin for two years while he was in Basel.” Casper looked at the lawyer. “Why didn’t he take the exams in Basel? With three years study under Professor Casseri and four years as a military physician and surgeon, he should have had little trouble passing the exams.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that question,” Johannes said. “However, is what is laid out before you a satisfactory collection of relevant life experiences?” he asked.

Casper was still hesitant. He trusted that Wilhelm had actually worked with the man, but why, he wondered, had Mijnheer Gribbleflotz, in all that time, not taken his medical exams at some institution. He glanced at Jacob and Andries, wondering what was in it for those two for them to be so willing to push for the Atheneaeum Illustre to become a university.

“Of course the Collegium Chirurgicum will also become a part of the new University of Amsterdam,” Jacob said into the silence that permeated the meeting room.

That, Casper was aware, was both a promise and a threat. If the Atheneaeum Illustre promised to award Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz a doctorate, then the medical school would be the senior department in the new university, and if they didn’t, the Collegium Chirurgicum would be given the option. He glared at Jacob. “We would like some time alone to discuss this,” he said.

Jacob nodded affably. “Of course you do.” But then he ruined it by adding, “but don’t take too long,” before leaving the meeting room with his nephew and the lawyer.

Early January 1632, Jena

“This is outrageous,” Professor Rolfinck said as he slammed the newspaper down on the table.

Willi, Kunz, and Zacharias all jumped at the noise the paper made. “What’s outrageous?” Willi asked.

“Haven’t you read the newspaper?” Werner demanded.

Willi pursed his lips and shook his head.

“Well look at it now,” Werner told him.

Willi unfolded the four page newspaper and skimmed through it from front to back. “What am I looking for?” he asked after his first pass.

“It’s on the front page,” Werner said. “That charlatan!”

“What’s Dr. Gribbleflotz done this time?’ Zacharias asked.

Werner turned to glare at Zacharias. “You call him doctor as if he’s entitled to the title,” he accused.

“I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary,” he answered.

“No evidence?” Werner demanded. “What about his claim that he can make gold?”

“Hearsay,” Zacharias said. “No one I’ve spoken to can verify that he ever made such a claim.”

“And his hemorrhoid ointment works,” Willi said.

Werner turned to glare at Willi. Meanwhile Kunz had been scrutinizing the newspaper. “It says that the Grantville papers are calling him the Aspirin King.” Kunz turned to Werner. “What’s aspirin?”

“It’s the name the Americans gave to a pill made from the power left when you evaporate willow bark tea,” Zacharias said.

Kunz continued reading. “Sales of Dr. Gribbleflotz’ little blue pills of happiness are rumored to exceed ten thousand a week, at ten dollars each.” He whistled and looked at his colleagues. “That’s a fortune.”

“For a pill that costs less than a dollar to make,” Werner said. “That proves he’s a swindler.”

“There’s a shortage of suitable willow bark, Werner,” Zacharias said. “I believe Dr. Gribbleflotz has had to buy his supplies from as far afield as Dresden.”

“That would certainly add to the price,” Willi said.

“But not enough to justify charging ten dollars a pill,” Werner said.

“A simple article in a newspaper doesn’t explain your anger, Werner. Why’re you so upset?” he asked. “What else has happened?”

“That happened,” Werner said, pointing at the newspaper. He looked up at Zacharias. “This morning I had a visit from Johann Selfisch, of the respected Rudolstadt law firm of Hardegg, Selfisch, and Krapp. He informed me that if I did not immediately cease and desist making defamatory comments about his client, he would be forced to bring an action against me.”

“I don’t see the connection,” Willi said.

“Don’t be silly, Willi,” Kunz said. “It’s obvious that with his income from the sale of Gribbleflotz Sal Vin Betula he can afford the best legal representation.”

“And that’s another thing,” Werner muttered. “The names he gives his products; Sal Aer Fixus, Vin Sal Aer Fixus, and now Sal Vin Betula. The man has no sense of what is right and wrong.”

“Well,” Zacharias said, “you’ll just have to be careful what you say about Dr. Gribbleflotz in future.”

Werner shook his head. “The threat of legal action is the sign of a worried and desperate man. As soon as I get responses to my letters to Padua and Basel I’ll have the proof I need that he has no right to call himself a doctor and I’ll be able to run him out of Jena no matter how many lawyers he employs.”


Phillip stood in front of the mirror and frowned. He turned to the left, then to the right. “No,” he sighed, “it doesn’t work.” He turned to the young laborant as he struggled out of the jacket. “I need the green shirt, Hans.”

Hans Saltzman dashed over to the open wardrobe and carefully removed the lime green linen shirt and hurried back to Phillip, who’d been distracted by a sight out the window.

While he changed his shirt Phillip watched the men unloading the barge from Grantville. Another load of urine for the American’s silly cooking powder, he thought. Still, it did pay for his fine clothes. He glanced at his image in the mirror. “That’s better,” he declared. The lime green of the shirt perfectly set off the puce lining of his dark blue, almost black, jacket. He turned to the waiting Hans. “Off you go. I’ll catch up with you in the laboratory.”

With his personal laborant gone Phillip returned to the window. Nine tenths of every barrel was little more than water, and it made no sense to pay to transport water when there was plenty of perfectly adequate water in the river. That money could be better spent elsewhere, such as on some new trousers to compliment the new boots he’d ordered. The problem, Phillip reminded himself, was that there was no one he trusted to turn urine into Spirits of Hartshorn without his supervision. He was going to have to pick someone out from his best laborants and train them especially. The question was who?

With the question of who to train bringing a frown to his face, Phillip left his room and headed for the laboratory.