The Herball or Generall historie of plantes. Gathered by John Gerarde … very much enlarged and amended by Thomas Johnson…

London, Adam Islip, Joice Norton, and Richard Whitakers, 1636.


Folio pp (xl) 1630 [xlviii]. [par.]⁸, 2[par.]-3[par.]⁶, A-B⁸, C-6V⁶, 6X⁴, 6Y-7B⁶. [without first and last blanks]. Roman letter, some Italic, and Black. Historiated woodcut floriated initials, large grotesque head and tail-pieces throughout, typographical ornaments, t.p. beautifully engraved by Io. Payne, with of vases of flowers (including bananas) below, Ceres, Pomona, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and the author at sides, above and below, in contemporary hand colouring, large woodcut illustrations of plants, herbs, shrubs and trees on almost every page, almost all in good clear impression, about half in attractive contemporary hand colouring, contemporary ms ex libris on verso of last leaf of text of “William Bystrom” with his purchase note smudged, very occasional marginal annotation. Title a little soiled at edges, backed at an early date, very light age yellowing, the occasional marginal spot or thumb mark, rare minor marginal stains, cut a little close but away from text. A very good, clean copy in handsome C18th tree calf, spine with raised bands, gilt ruled in compartments, large ‘spider web’ fleuron gilt at centres, black morocco label gilt, joints a little rubbed. 

A handsome copy of the best edition of Gerard’s seminal herbal with many of the woodcuts in contemporary hand colouring. “The importance of Gerard’s ‘Herball’ in the history of botany is chiefly due to an improved edition, brought out by Thomas Johnson in 1633, thirty-six years after the work was originally published. Johnson was an apothecary in London and cultivated a physic garden on Snow Hill. His first botanical work was a short account of the plants collected by members of the Apothecaries’ Company on an excursion in Kent. This is of interest as being the earliest memoir of that kind published in England…. But it is as the editor of Gerard that he is chiefly remembered. He greatly enlarged the ‘Herball’ and illustrated it with Plantin’s woodcuts. His edition contained an account of no less than 2850 plants. Johnson also corrected numerous errors, and the whole work, transformed by him, rose to a much higher grade of value. It was reprinted, without alteration, in 1636.” Arber, Herbals p.113. “The first edition of Gerard s herbal [1597] held the field without a competitor for more than a generation. It was not until it began to noised abroad that a certain John Parkinson would soon produce a new herbal to take its place, that the successors of Gerard s original publisher were brought to the point of undertaking a second edition. In 1632 they commissioned Thomas Johnson, a well-known London apothecary and botanist to carry out the work, with the proviso that it must be completed within the year. This heavy task Johnson accomplished with marked success, even adding a balanced and comprehensive historical introduction.Johnson s new version was illustrated with a set of 2766 blocks, previously used in the botanical books published by Plantin. The Herball, thus transformed, reached a far higher level than Gerard s own edition” (Arber, Herbals, p. 134).

The success of Gerard’s monumental work was doubtless its appeal to so many different interests. The mère de famille, pharmacist or physician could use it as a pharmacopeia to seek the right palliative or cure; the housewife or cook for its vast knowledge of herbs, plants and vegetables (it contains the first illustration of the Virginian potato), the gardener as his encyclopaedia. Gerard was not a scientist, but he was scholarly, thorough, absorbed in his subject, had correspondents on a national and international scale and a long lifetime’s practical experience; that he was not above including hefty slabs of contemporary folk lore does not detract from the volume’s interest. “When reading Gerard we are wandering in the peace of an Elizabethan garden, with a companion who has a story for every flower and is full of wise philosophies. .. (written in) glorious Elizabethan prose, the folk-lore steeping its pages” Woodward. His combination of learning lightly worn, love of plants and flowers and matchless Elizabethan English has now appealed to four centuries of common, and not so common reader – Shakespeare drew from him his herb lore and William Morris the inspiration for his designs. 

“One of the most significant additions made by Johnson was his chapter on the ‘Maracot’ or ‘Grandilla’ as it was called at the time (actually the passion-flower). He includes a full page illustration (p. 1592) and refers the reader to Monardes for more information on this exotic species. In the long preface Johnson traces the history of the botanical sciences, analysing the contributions of celebrated figures from the mythical King Solomon to William Turner. He closes with some critical remarks on John Gerard and the origins of his herbal.” Tomasi & Willis. ‘An Oak Spring Herbaria.’

ESTC S122175. STC 11752. Wellcome 2754. Lowndes 879. Alden 633/39. “Included are numerous descriptions & illus. of American plants”. Nissen 3580. Henry I 47-54. Rohde pp. 98-119. Bitting 181 “the greatest botanical work of the 16th. century”. Arents 184.


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