Amsterdam: L. Elzevir, 1648. Hardcover. Small 4to, 2 works in 1 vol. , 800 (i.e. 808) pp.: 3 parts in 1. , 110, 115, 88 pp. Small library stamp on first title-page repeated in blank margin. Woodcut printer's device on both title-pages and 1 engraved double-portrait in the first volume; early ownership inscription "Antonii Mensonis" of Amsterdam; subsequently in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland; some light marginal foxing. Contemporary or near-contemporary vellum, red leather title labels on spine, the lower one chipped with loss of the name of the place of imprint ("Amstelodami"). A crisp and attractive copy, completely unsophisticated, complete with the engraved double-portrait of the author and his son. Very good. Item #1435
The chemical nature of living processes. First Collected Edition of what PMM describes at "the transition from Alchemy to Chemistry." It was written by "one of the founders of biochemistry. [Helmont] was the first to realize the physiological importance of ferments and gases, and indeed invented the word 'gas'" (Garrison-Morton).
¶ "Although [Helmont] was inclined to mysticism, he nevertheless became a remarkable scientific investigator and made significant contributions to the progress of chemistry and medicine. He believed that the processes in diseased organs are of a chemical nature, due in each case to the action of a specific ferment, and he gave a new impetus to the application of chemical remedies to diseases. [...] Helmont's significance in the development of chemistry is perhaps even greater [than his contributions to medicine]; he was the first to use the term 'gas' (derived from the Greek work 'chaos'). Helmont, who was himself an alchemist, marks the transition from alchemy to chemistry in the modern sense, and it is not surprising to find that he was much studied by Robert Boyle who adopted many of his ideas. Hemont therefore stands at the very beginning of the chemical revolution which was completed by Lavoisier in the eighteenth century" (PMM). The second volume consists of his four Opuscula Medica (De Lithiasi, De Febribus, Tumoris Pestis, and De Humoribus Galeni) each with its own title-page.
Among the many the many extraordinary aspects of this work is the author's instigation of randomized "control groups" in the service of medicine. Helmonst boldly challeges to physicians who prescribe bloodletting and purging for the treatment of fevers. Tantamount to a randomized medical comparison, Helmont proposed casting lots to decide which patients should be treated by "orthodox" physicians, and which patients should be treated by him without bloodletting or purging. That Helmont is addressing treatment uncertainty and treatment bias was not lost on the editors of the James Lind Library Illustrative Timeline (online). Whereas earlier examples of medical "control groups" were suggested (i.e. al-Razi, 10th-century C.E.), this is the earliest proposal of a truly randomized medical experiment known to us, namely the casting of lots in the form of a contest. JLL provides an English translation of long passages of Helmont's text, of which we reproduce a portion (pp. 527-8):
"If you speak the truth, you Schoolmen, that you are able to cure any kind of fever without purging but that you are not willing to do so for fear of a worse relapse, come down to a contest, you believers in the Humours. Let us take from the itinerants’ hospitals, from the camps or from elsewhere 200 or 500 poor people with fevers, pleurisy etc. and divide them in two: let us cast lots so that one half of them fall to me and the other half to you. I shall cure them without blood-letting or perceptible purging, you will do so according to your knowledge (nor do I even hold you to your boast of abstaining from phlebotomy or purging) and we shall see how many funerals each of us will have: the outcome of the contest shall be the reward of 300 florins deposited by each of us."
¶ Printing and the Mind of Man 135; Garrison-Morton 665; Krivatsy 5447 & 5442; Wellcome III, 241; Willems 1066; Heirs of Hippocrates 253-4; Norman 1048; Waller 4306-7; Partington II, 209ff.; Thorndike VII, 218ff; Neville I, 613.