De Natura Stirpium Libri Tres
Basle, in officina Frobeniana, 1537
Folio. pp. [xcii] 666 [ii]. Roman letter, index in Italic, occasional Greek. Printer’s woodcut device on t-p and last, woodcut initials throughout. Age-yellowing, intermittent light foxing (esp. t-p), occasional contemp. marginalia. A very good, well margined copy in contemp. vellum over bds., later black and gold morocco label on spine.
Second edition of this rare and important botanical work – the first general botanical text since the time of Theophrastus – in which Jean Ruel, physician to Francis I, described in detail some 600 plants, as well as a number of species not occurring in the classical texts he drew upon (Theophrastus and Pliny). Ruel also added French names obtained by questioning the peasants and mountaineers during his plant-hunting trips. Divided into three books, the work opens with a dedication to Francis I, followed by a four-page table of contents, and by a very useful eighty-page ‘elenchus copiosissimus’ an alphabetical index of all the species mentioned. The first twenty chapters of the first book contain a general introduction in which elements of botany such as roots, branches, barks, leaves, flowers, germination, grafting, fruits, and seeds, together with their medicinal properties, the variety of colours, and even the smells and flavours of flowers and fruits, are dealt with individually. Next comes a long chapter on nomenclature, followed by numerous chapters of varying length, each devoted to a particular plant. According to the ‘Dictionary of Scientific Biography’, De Natura Stirpium ‘is elegantly written’ and the fact that, instead of a botanical classification, Ruel used alphabetical order, ‘rendered the book of great practical value’. Francis I, the dedicatee of the work and Ruel’s patron, paid the cost of printing. ‘Only a few copies […] can still be found; the rarity of the book is attested by its absence from the libraries of Jussieu and Joseph Decaisne […], both of whom were informed bibliophiles.’
BM STC Ger. C16th p. 760. Adams R 873. Brunet IV p. 1452. Graesse VI p. 188. Pritzel 8850. Dictionary of Scientific Biography 11 p. 594.