11: A Guyde to The Humours of the Physicale Bodye


Image: Karen Watson

The pictures were so fascinating that he started over, reading carefully from the beginning so he could understand what the pictures were. It was hard at first, but Edmund persevered as he had with the other books, reading words, phrases, and sometimes whole chapters again and again until he thought he understood what Sir Prickleston was trying to say.

It was a book about the body. It fascinated Edmund to learn that these strange pictures were things that existed underneath his skin. Apparently his body was not just a simple bag of slightly squishy flesh, but an intricate network of tiny bits and pieces that all had their own color, shape, texture, and purpose. Bones to keep everything ordered and in its place, muscles to move everything about, blood to keep everything running properly, livers, stomachs, kidneys, humours, rheums, and vitaes, all working together so Edmund could breathe, chew his stale food, or turn the page in fascination.

He read through the book again and again every day until he had the whole thing memorized, word for word. A great deal of it still made no sense to him — there were a great many complicated words and phrases he didn’t understand — but he remembered them just the same, confident he would work them out someday.

Every chance he had after that, he would look for new books with tiny words next to the fireplace to take and to hide. During the Summer, he would help Mrs. Mapleberry sort any donations that came through the doors, and steal any books that looked interesting. He would study them, memorizing diagrams and formulas, learning new words and strange phrases that sounded like ancient magics or heathen curses, and then get rid of the book before Mrs. Mapleberry caught him.

Some of the books were about the whole human body. Others about the hand, or the foot. Some dealt with blood, or bile, or some obscure organ. Some compared the bone structures of the inhabitants of faraway continents, while others discussed recipes for cures and elixirs. Some of them even mentioned other books Edmund had read, and a few somehow managed to argue with each other.

Some of the books he stole weren’t about the body but about animals, metals, strange powders, or mechanical devices. He was astounded by the fact that rocks were not just rocks, but igneous, volcanic, or sedimentary. He marveled at the diagrams that defined the articulation of tree branches, or the proper ebb and flow of beach sand depending on the wind. The properties of steam, springs, levers, and pulleys had so many uses he despaired of ever finding them all.

Edmund tried to read and understand every book he could find, devouring their contents like a starving dog. Before, the world had been a strange and confusing place, but now he could see how very much like a machine it all was. Everything had a purpose and a proper place. Everything did Something, and that was it’s job.

It felt right to Edmund.


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