Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes


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GERARDE, John. The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes Gathered by John Gerarde of London, Master in Chirurgerie. Very much Enlarged and Amended by Thomas Johnson, Citizen and Apothecarye of London… London: Adam Islip, et al., 1633. Thick folio (measures 9-1/2 by 14 by 4-1/2 inches), contemporary dark brown calf rebacked, raised bands, gilt centerpieces; pp. [38], 1630 (i.e. 1634), [2], [45].

Important second edition—“in every respect immeasurably superior” to the first—of Gerarde’s esteemed Herball, skillfully edited by Thomas Johnson, boasting more than 2700 delicate in-text botanical woodcuts and elaborate engraved title page. This second edition includes the first illustration of bananas to be published in England.

First published in 1597, "Gerard's Herball, if not one of the monuments of the English language, is certainly one of its great delights" (Anderson, 218). "The Bible of English herbalists… [Gerard] wrote with the golden pen of the Elizabethan age" (Blunt & Raphael, 164), bestowing on the plants depicted in his work's pages such evocative names as "Clown's Woundwort" and "Traveler's Joy." In 1629, John Parkinson, apothecary to the king, announced his intention to produce a herbal that would supersede Gerard's—"a work by then more than 30 years old, whose imperfections were each year becoming more apparent… [Consequently,] Islip, Norton and Whitakers decided to beat Parkinson to the post by swiftly producing an enlarged and emended edition of the original work which Thomas Johnson, a London apothecary, agreed to undertake. What is usually known as 'Johnson's Gerard' appeared in 1633… Johnson's Gerard… is half as long again as Gerard, contains 2765 woodcuts… and is in every respect immeasurably superior to its predecessor" (Blunt & Raphael, 166-67). With 800 more species and 700 more woodcuts than the original, Johnson's Gerard remains to this day a desirable and often-consulted treasury of botanical knowledge and lore.

Almost all of the woodcuts were from a different source than Gerarde's—mostly from Plantin's stock—but some of the figures Johnson drew himself, notably the famous bunch of bananas on page 1516. This had been given him on April 10, 1633 by Dr. Argent, President of the College of Physicians of London, who had received it from Bermuda. Johnson's drawing is the first illustration of bananas to be published in England. Having drawn and described them, he says, "the stalke with the fruit thereon I hanged up in my shop, where it became ripe about the beginning of May, and lasted until June." The shop was in Snow Hill, in the city, and it must have been there also that John Payne studied this heretofore unknown fruit before incorporating it into his engraved title page. STC 11751. Hunt 230. Nissen 698. Early owner inscriptions: on *3 by Thomas Crayling, Sheldwich, Kent, and on *5 by C.B. Radway, Ampney Crusis (a village in Gloucestershire). Penciled collation note on front pastedown in the hand of Thomas Thorp.

Interior generally clean and fine, engraved title page neatly rehinged, with only minor edge-wear hardly affecting image. Light wear to corners. A very good copy of this desirable edition in contemporary calf-gilt covers.

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