The HerballGERARDE, John
London: Edm. Bollifant for Bonham and John Norton. 1597.
First edition. Folio. 316x206mm. pp. , 1392, . Illustrated throughout with woodcuts. Engraved title page somewhat faded but still clear. Between X2 and X3 a further leaf with two engravings pasted on has been inserted. Leaf 3N4 appears twice. 3X5 and 6 have been supplied from another copy. From 4O3 onward there is a worm track in the top right corner, not affecting any illustrations or text, becoming more pronounced from 4Q to 4S and then diminishing. Some slight staining to the last four leaves and a repair to the last leaf has caused the loss of some of the text of the end of the index but the colophon is present. Bound in twentieth century sprinkled calf, rebacked. A very good copy in excellent condition throughout and particularly fresh and clean internally.
Gerard’s Herball is not the first English book on botany, nor is the most accurate but it is the most famous and the most charming. As is well known, it is essentially a translation of Rembert Dodoens’ Latin Herbal. The work was begun by a London physician named Robert Priest. When he died, his draft was passed to John Gerard who, in addition to his own herb garden, also created and oversaw other gardens in London. Gerard expanded Priest work and added hundreds of woodcuts many of which were borrowed from earlier botanical works. Gerard has been described as a plantsman, not a scholar and, as a result, his Herball lacks technical and scientific precision but it does provide a vast amount of practical and historical detail about the types of plants commonly found in Elizabethan England. The Herball is an important book in the history of English botany and Gerard’s pithy and readable style makes it highly entertaining.