William Cowper


1666 – 1709

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Who was William Cowper?

William Cowper FRS was an English surgeon and anatomist, famous for his early description of what is now known as the Cowper's gland.

Cowper was born in Petersfield, Hampshire, and he was apprenticed to a London surgeon, William Bignall, in March 1682. He was admitted to the Company of Barber-Surgeons in 1691 and began practising in London the same year. In 1694, he published his noted work, Myotomia Reformata, or a New Administration of the Muscles, and he was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1696. In 1698, he published The Anatomy of the Humane Bodies, which gained him great fame and notoriety, and over the next eleven years he published a number of tracts on topics ranging from surgery and pathology to physiology and anatomy. He died on 8 March 1709.

Some have called Cowper's Anatomy of the Humane Bodies one of the greatest acts of plagiarism in all of medical publishing, though others have not been as harsh. In 1685, Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia Humani Corporis in Amsterdam using 105 beautiful plates drawn by Gérard de Lairesse and engraved by Abraham Blooteling. A Dutch version was later printed in 1690, entitled Ontleding des Menschelyken Lichaams, but when sales went poorly, Bidloo's publishers sold 300 copies of the unbound plates to William Cowper.

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Mar 8, 1709

on July 23, 2013


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