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A 1940 Review of Theodore Kerckring’s “Spicilegium Anatomicum”

Spinoza’s Microscopist

I post here a link to a 1940 Canadian Medical Association Journal review of Theodore Kerckring’s “Spicilegium Anatomicum”, a work which contains specific reference to observations made with a Spinoza made microscope. Kerckring was a fellow student of Spinoza’s at van den Enden’s Latin school, and then studied anatomy at the University of Leiden when Spinoza was nearby at Rijnsburg, and was likely part of a Cartesian circle which both J. Hudde and Spinoza held some influence over. Wim Klever argues that he was a loyal follower of van den Enden, who he takes also to be Spinoza’s major philosophical influence. Kercking would marry van den Enden’s daughter.


by Albert G. Nicholls
To give context, here is an annotated, modern translation of Marcello Malpighi’s De Polypo Cordis, to which Kerckring is likely responding in his counter to the assertion that “polyps of the heart” develop in life. Kerckring corrects that what has been observed are post-mortum coagulations of blood. Aside from the issue of heart polyps, it was Malpighi’s microscope-aided, revolutionary observations of the fine organization of organ tissue in terms of “cells” which overturned the long-held view that organs such as the spleen, lungs or liver were simply colagulations (parenchyma) or a “confused lumps”, and Malpighi had responded directly to criticism : “De Polypo Cordis” (1666)

Line of Argument

The line of reasoning I will be following in this evidence might be called questions about the philsophy of seeing, as the dificulties of applying the microscope to anatomy attest, “seeing” is not a simple matter of “looking”. In order to assess how Spinoza concieved of the powers of the microscopes he built, one must take into view what micro-vision meant for those attempting it, in particular for those of a Cartesian conception of the world. Kerckring’s text gives a portal into the ambiguities of lensed vision, and the trust of observation.

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