Posted by: Footler PJ16 SEP 2010
Thomas Phaer (c1510–1560) was a lawyer, physician, author, poet and member of Parliament who also found time to write the Tudor equivalent of Benjamin Spock’s indispensable guide to parenthood.
Spock’s book, ‘Baby and child care’, was published in 1946. He encouraged parents to be more flexible and understanding of their children. He said: “The more people have studied different methods of bringing up children the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all.”
He reassured worried parents with: “Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do.” He also offered my own favourite observation: “In automobile terms, the child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.”
In 1544 Phaer published ‘Regiment of life’, an English translation of Jehan Goeurot’s then popular book on general health. However, Phaer thought it lacked sufficient information on children and so, in 1545, almost exactly 400 years before Spock’s theories were published, he wrote ‘The Boke of Chyldren’ which is now acknowledged as the first paediatric text written in English.
Phaer recognised children as a separate class of patient. While noting various diseases to which they are susceptible, he made clear the distinction between childhood and adulthood.
He dismissed physicians who used Latin to obscure meaning with the comment: “Woulde they haue no man to know but onely they?” He also suggested that sometimes: “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.”
Phaer was also a social activist. In the social and legal turmoil of the 1500s he believed that ordinary people had every right to understand new laws. He wrote ‘Natura Brevium’, a legal text in simple English and then, in 1543, a popular do-it-yourself law book, ‘A New Boke of Presidentes’ which might be ‘“easelyer taken & perceyved of them that are but meanly learned”.