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February 1989

The First Neurology Book Written in English (1650) by Robert Pemell: De Morbis Capitis

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Neurology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.

Arch Neurol. 1989;46(2):215-220. doi:10.1001/archneur.1989.00520380121025

• In 1650 Robert Pemell, an English country physician, published De Morbis Capitis; or, Of the Chief Internal Diseases of the Head, the first neurology book written in English. Two factors are probably responsible for the appearance of this book. It was written during the 17th century, a period when the number of medical books published in English increased sixfold. In addition, there was a need for texts in English. Most poor people could not afford a physician's care and were ministered to by laymen who could not read Latin. The text of De Morbis Capitis was based on the works of contemporary and ancient authors. It contains chapters on modern syndromes, eg, headache, paralysis, epilepsy, and vertigo, as well as disorders of the time, eg, incubus and phrenitide. Each chapter first describes the disease and its differential diagnosis and then provides remedies, including herbals and bleeding. Overall, the treatment of brain diseases, as outlined in De Morbis Capitis, is probably a description of a high standard of neurologic practice in the 17th century English countryside.