Thaumatographia Naturalis Amsterdam

Joannem Janssonium 1633


2mo, pp. [vi] 578 (i.e. 576) [ii]. Roman, italic and Greek letter, ornamental tail pieces, ms. press mark on pastedown “yy-16”, unreadable early autograph on t-p, age yellowing, slight waterstain to some outer margins. Clean and good copy in contemp calf, floral gilt ornament between raised bands on spine, slightly defective at head, double gilt rule to boards, upper joint slightly cracked, corners worn.

Significantly enlarged second edition of Jonston’s popular scientific work on ‘admiranda’ or wonders of nature organized into ten categories (heaven, earth, meteors, ‘fossils’ (for the most part precious stones) or minerals, plants, birds, quadrupeds, insects and ‘bloodless’ animals, fish, and humans) heavily referencing classical sources such as Aristotle, Pliny, and Seneca.  Imitating the style of earlier scientific compendia, the Thaumatographia keeps up with the times; including the more recent work of Aldrovandi, discussing the flora and fauna (and tobacco) found in the New World, a section on the activity of the heart and its role in the cardiovascular system, and is up to date with meteor sightings to 1629. Finally, by pairing these more exciting discoveries concerning the body and the heavens with discussion of topics in natural history, Jonston helped breathe new life into that branch of learning. Each section is headed by a useful index of its contents, and the work concludes with a poem in praise of Jonston by the Bohemian poet Vencleslaus Clemens.

John Jonston (1603-1675), from an old Scottish family living in Poland, returned to Scotland in 1622 and studied natural history at St. Andrews for four years. He also received the degree of Doctor of Physic from both Leyden and Cambridge. Despite the compact size of Thaumaturgia, his earliest work, its wide range of material prefigures his later, large-scale works on Fish, Insects, Birds, and Trees, made possible by his extensive travel through Europe and access to its libraries, as well as firsthand observation.

Garrison-Morton 287 “A compilation of all the contemporary zoological knowledge”; Wellcome I 3478; Pritzel 4940. Alden 633/64, cf. Arents (Add) 261. Not in Shaaber or Sabin.


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