Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians

As mentioned, a revised second edition of this work is due out this November. The 2015 version includes a new Introduction, and Routledge has kindly agreed to let me offer a preview of the opening page prior to publication. If this would encourage you to read on, do let me know.


A Midwinter Nightmare

It is January 1684, and it is very, very cold. You are an apothecary’s apprentice, aged sixteen. You have red hair and blue eyes, and your name is Jack. A few moments ago you crossed the frozen Thames carrying a human skull in a leather bag. Here, where the Frost Fair was already several days old, all was brisk business and sparkling carnival. The Thames has become a new London district in its own right. A central alley of booths, sheltered under blankets, sells ale and brandy, hot pies and chestnuts. One particularly brilliant entrepreneur has set up a press, having rightly guessed that the rich will pay handsomely to have their own name printed on the Thames. People are bowling, skating, and riding over the ice. Your own progress is far less leisured or graceful.

Skidding and stumbling frantically, just barely anchored by the new nails in your boots, you notice a ring of men and women up ahead. From their midst a low furious bellow, offset by the frightened yapping of dogs. Bull-baiting: you do not have the time to give it a very wide detour, conscious as you are of the fragile burden which bumps against your hip. There is no time, because the King does not like to be kept waiting. And there is no time, because your whole body is already one long blue puckered shiver, and you are still several minutes away from the paradisal hearthside of Apothecaries’ Hall. Crunching and scraping, you twist left around the yelling circle of spectators. Already you are tilting your weight back to the right: just ahead a carriage clatters and creaks towards you, the coachman’s whip flicking briskly in all directions. Almost there now… Don’t fall (and if you do, fall right not left – save the skull at all costs.) Suddenly a particularly violent yelp; the crowd shifts, and something flies over your head. More by luck than skill you avoid the gored and panting body of the dog as it slaps, whimpering, onto the ice in front of you.