At that time the world was beginning to emerge from the darkness of the middle ages. Printing had been invented one hundred years before. The American continent was newly discovered and not yet colonised. The art of Medicine had been unchanged for centuries. Books written by Avicenna (A.D. 979-1037) and Galen (c. A.D. 130-200) were still in everyday use.
In medical literature plagiarism was extant. The habit still remains, and it is most respectable for authors of scientific papers to quote previous writers and to give examples of their work and conclusions. Phaire was perhaps more honest than most of his contemporaries in giving credit to his predecessors.
For a full account of the life of Thomas Phaire The History of Pædiatrics by Sir Frederic Still and Pediatrics of the Past by John Ruhräh should be consulted. The following is a brief summary, derived from those two sources and from The Dictionary of National Biography.
Phaire was born about the year 1510, probably in Norwich, Norfolk. His father, also named Thomas, was of Flemish stock. Phaire went to Oxford (college unknown) and later to Lincoln's Inn to study law. It is not known at what date he began to practise medicine, but when he applied for the degree of Bachelor of Medicine at Oxford in 1558-59 he stated that he had been practising for twenty years. He was successful in this application, and went on to take the degree of Doctor of Medicine in the same year. (The reason for the double date is that at that time the New Year began on 25th March, and Phaire's supplicat was dated 6th February.)
Little is known of his legal career, but he was appointed Solicitor in the Court of the Welsh Marches, and was Member of Parliament at Cardigan for several years.
He lived at Kilgerran in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and died there on 12th August 1560. He was buried in the parish church, but no memorial of him remains there. His wife was called Ann, and he left three daughters, Eleanor (who married Gruffyth ap Eynon), Mary, and Elizabeth.
Phaire's published works are: A Boke of Presidentes (a legal work published in 1543), The Regiment of Life (1544), and a translation into English of Vergil's Æneid (1555). He may also have translated De Natura Brevium, another legal work; but Sir Frederic Still considered this unlikely. The translation of The Æneid brought Phaire considerable fame, until this was eclipsed by Dryden's version in 1697. The Boke of Chyldren, along with The Regiment of Life, went through several editions (1553, 1560, 1567, 1570, and 1596).
This publication is an exact copy of a specimen of the 1553 edition which is in the Medical Library of the University of Bristol, England. It is a small book 3 7/8 by 2 5/8 inches. The Boke of Chyldren itself has 56 pages (including 4 for the preface). The book has a bookplate showing that at one time it belonged to H. A. Brennan. Another inscription notes that it was presented to the Medical Library of University College, Bristol, by R. Shingleton Smith, M.D., on 9th November 1895. Two pages are missing. The missing part has been filled in from a later edition which is not dated, also in the Bristol University Medical Library, presented by the Royal United Hospital, Bath. There appears to be very little difference in the style, except that Arabic numerals are used instead of Roman ones. The illustrations are taken from this later edition.
Throughout the book the printer has used the symbol "v" for "u" or "v" at the start of a word, and the symbol "u" in the middle. We have retained these. Likewise the symbol "i" is used for "i" or "j" in all cases. The superscriptions used are a dash to replace an "n" or an "m" following the letter over which it is printed... and a small "e", "r", or "t" in certain abbreviated words, e.g., "wt" for "with," "ye" for "ye," "yr" for "their", and "yt" for "it" or "that."
In those early days of printing spelling was very variable. Like Shakespeare, Phaire spelt his own name in several ways (Phaer, Faer, Phayre, Phayer, etc.). In the text the same word may be spelt in two differing ways on the same page. We have left the spelling unchanged.
The charm of Phaire is in his own words. Let each reader find his own favorite passage. It may be the quaintness and neatness of his expression: "The gut called of the latines rectum intestinum, falleth out at the foundament, and can not be gotten in agayne without peine and labour."
Or the keenness of his observation: "The long and brode wormes are knowen by the signs that is to say yellownesse or whittishnesse of the eyes, intollerable hunger, great gnawynge and gryppyng in the belly, specially afore meate, water comming out at the mouth, or at the fundament, continuall ytche and rubbyng of the nosethrilles, sonken eies and a stinkyng breath, also when the person doth his easement there appeareth in the donge litle flat substaunces, much like the seedes of cucumers or gourdes."
Some will appreciate the light he throws on the social problems of his day: "Stifnes of limmes ... which thyng procedeth many tymes of cold, as when a chylde is found in the frost, or in the strete, cast away by a wycked mother."
Or again, where he says that the cause of ulceration of the head is from sides of bacon or salt beef falling from the hooks in the ceiling. (Then, as now, accidents in the home were important.)
Some may rejoice at his therapeutic nihilism in an age of mumbo-jumbo: "Of smal pockes & measilles ... The best and most sure helpe in this case is not to meddle with anye kynde of medicines, but to let nature work her operacion."
Others will see an early use of postural drainage: "Of the cough ... it is good ... nowe and than to presse his tong with your fynger, holdyng downe hys head that the reumes may issue, for by that meanes the cause of the cough shall runne out of his mouthe, and auoyde the childe of many noughty and slimy humours: whiche done, many times the paciente amendeth without any further helpe of medicine."
And the use of mould-made antibiotics may be foreshadowed in this description of the treatment and prophylaxis of quinsy: "Take the musherom that groweth vpon an elder tree, called in englysh, Iewes eares (for it is in dede croncled and flat, muche lyke an eare), heat it against the fyer, and put it hote in any drynke, the same drinke is good & holsome for the quinsye. Some hold opinion, that whoso vseth to drinke with it, shall neuer be troubled with this disease, and therefore cary it about with them in iourneis."
Lastly, all will applaud his purpose, which is, he says, "Here to doo them good that haue most nede, that is to saye children."