Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arderne, John

ARDERNE, JOHN (fl. 1370), the first Englishman who displayed much skill in surgery, was a layman, not a doctor of medicine, and practised in the time of Edward III. In the prologue to his 'Practice', or treatise on the fistula, he says: 'I, John Arderne, from the first pestilence, which was in the year of our Lord 1349, till the year 1370, lived at Newark, in the county of Nottingham.' In 1370 he came to London, and in the same year wrote his book, 'De Arte Medicinæ', as he tells us in the preface to that work. Arderne gives the names of many patients whom he cured; and among them were persons of distinction, who had served in the French wars; such as Sir Adam Everingham, who was in Gascony with Henry (afterwards Duke) of Lancaster, 'then named Earl of Darby'. His successful treatment of Sir Adam's case, and the consequent favour of the Duke of Lancaster, brought Arderne, as he says, a large practice. He seems also to have been favoured with the patronage of the Black Prince, who apparently gave him a grant of land in Connaught (Collections of John Guillim, Bibl. Bodl. Col. Rawlinson, B. 102, No. 4). He is said to have been present at the battle of Crécy. Beyond this his career cannot be traced: but he mentions many notable cures which he effected in London, on citizens, clergy, and other persons. Fragmentary as his biography is, the works of Arderne are of great interest, both as showing his own skill as a surgeon and as throwing light on the surgery of the time. They still exist, chiefly in Latin, as manuscripts in public libraries, a portion only of one of them having been printed in 1588, translated into English by John Read. The arrangement of the manuscripts is confused, but there seem to be two books, the best known called either 'Practica Johannis Arderne,' or ' Liber de Fistulis,' containing forty-four chapters in some copies; and the other a treatise 'De Arte Medicinæ,' chiefly concerned with herbs and simples. Some copies are illustrated with figures of plants and surgical instruments, and with rude pictures of surgical ailments. In his treatise on fistula, which is the most important part of his works, Arderne exhibits a surgical knowledge far in advance of that of his immediate English predecessors, John of Gaddesden and Gilbertus Anglicus, or Gordon of Montpelier (whom he quotes). He may be better compared with his French contemporary, Guy de Chauliac, whose works he does not appear to have known. His operation for the fistula, which he describes with great minuteness, is virtually the same as that of Paulus Ægineta, and of his Arabian copyists, but pronounced to be impossible by most of the mediæval surgeons; so that from whom Arderne derived it is not clear. His chief authorities are Salernitan and 'Arabistic' writers, especially Constantine and John of Damascus; and he quotes the one book of Galen commonly known in mediæval times, the so-called Pantegni (τέχνη). But in general Arderne quotes little; and his surgical precepts are evidently mainly based on his own experience.

In the entire absence of any parade of second-hand knowledge, Arderne's works were singular in an age when most medical writers were nothing more than copyists. He was probably a better surgeon for not being a learned man; though sufficiently a scholar to write tolerable Latin, and quote Boetius and Cato. His descriptions are clear and concise; his remarks practical and full of common sense; in short, he anticipates in a startling manner those qualities which have been known in later times as characteristic of the English school of surgery. The prologue to the treatise on surgery contains directions 'for the behaviour of a leech,' which curiously illustrate the professional life of the time. They exhibit Arderne as a shrewd and worldly-wise man, not at all indifferent to the pursuit of wealth. Arderne's reputation must have been great in his own day, and for two centuries afterwards. Even in the seventeenth century the celebrated Sir Theodore de Mayerne took the trouble to copy out for his own use a great portion of Arderne's works. But the fact that only a small portion of these has been printed is probably the reason why the first English surgeon has not occupied a more prominent place in the history of medicine.

[Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, p. 506; Freind's History of Physick, ii. 325 (Engl. Transl. 1726). It is much to be regretted that Arderne's own works are not more accessible. The printed portion is contained in Franciscus Areeus, on Wounds, translated by John Read, London, 1588. The British Museum contains eighteen or more manuscripts, of which may be mentioned Sloane, 6 (English) 56, 335, 341, 2002, 3844, 1991 (the last copied by Mayerne).]

J. F. P.