NIEREMBERG, John Eusebius


Historia Naturae Maxime Peregrinae.

Antwerp, Plantin, Balthasar Moretus, 1635.


FIRST EDITION. Folio pp. (viii) 502 (cvi), last blank, text in double column. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek. Title in red and black with Plantin’s finely engraved device, woodcut compass device on verso of last, woodcut initials and tail pieces. Text illustrated by 69 beautiful woodcuts, 54 of animals and 15 of plants, often signed C.I., autograph “Labouritte 1778” on pastedown, the initials ‘M M’ with shelfmark beneath, early C18th library stamp “Ex Musaeo J. P Borin” beneath that, contemporary manuscript ex libris “R. L. M. Colleg soc.tis Jesu Mons” at head of title page. General even browning (as usual), some light mostly marginal water staining in places, the odd spot or mark. A good copy, in contemporary vellum over boards, stubbs from an early antiphonal leaf, corners and extremities a little worn.

First and only edition of Niermberg’s important and encyclopaedic natural history, devoted for the most part to the flora and fauna of the New World, and particularly Mexico. There had been earlier accounts of the natural history of the New World, mostly in passages of travel books, but this was the first attempt to order them, and can properly be described as the first American Natural History. Many species are described or illustrated here for the first time, and in supplying the indigenous names for the plants and animals described, the work is an important linguistic source for the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. There is also much information on the culture and rites of the Aztecs and Incas, and of Mexico before the conquest.

Nieremberg’s sources are various but it seems certain that much of this work is derived from manuscripts brought back by Francisco Hernandez, who had made a large compendium of Aztec flora and fauna, using a group of Aztec artists and draughtsmen. This work is all the more important in that the original drawings were destroyed along with a large part of the famous library at the Escorial, and perhaps the charm of the boldly stylised illustrations reflect their manuscript origin. The woodcuts were made by the Flemish artist Christoffel Jegher who worked as Ruben’s engraver and extensively for the Plantin-Moretus publishing house. They include the raccoon, rattlesnake, dodo, toucan, birds of paradise, water lily, coconut tree, cactus, iguana, amongst others, a great deal of them in their first representation in a printed work.

The text is scientifically organised by genus: plants, fish, birds, minerals etc. with much technical observation of animals, minerals, and plants and their properties. There is also a chapter on tobacco and its therapeutic use. The book ends with two fascinating chapters on Nieremberg’s observations on miraculous events in Europe and the Holy Land, followed by an extensive and very useful index. Nieremberg was a noted theologian and prolific writer, born of German parents in Madrid in 1595, who taught humanities and natural history for sixteen years at the Imperial College, having joined the Society of Jesus in 1614. His writings on occult philosophy and natural magic were influential. The book is dedicated to Gaspar de Gusman, Count of Olivares, Grand Chancellor to the Indies.

Palau 190738. Brunet IV pp. 76 “on y trouve des particularités importantes qui n’étaient pas encores connues alors.” Sabin 55268 “the greater part of this work relates to the natural history of Mexico, or New Spain, it also contains some particulars relative to Mexico before the conquest”. Wellcome 4546. Nissen (2 vol.) 2974. Arents 3278. Pritzel 6701. Alden 635/94. Not in JFB.


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The Herbal or General Historie of Plantes. 

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


Folio pp. (xl) 1630 (xlviii). Italic, Roman, and black letter. Historiated woodcut initials, head- and tailpieces throughout, title page beautifully engraved by Io. Payne, featuring illustrations of flowers, Ceres, Pomona, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and the author, surrounding a central lozenge with title. Hundreds of botanical illustrations throughout, in strong impression. Light age yellowing, occasional oil splashes to margins of a few leaves, 1711 autograph of Edward Watts, John Young, and 1831 autograph of Joseph Frowd Spencer to free endpapers. A very good, clean copy in contemporary calf, handsomely rebacked in modern morocco, gilt fleurons, ruled in five compartments with raised bands, marbled endpapers, all edges red.

“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 2,850 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 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 pharmacopoeia 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 the volume included hefty slabs of contemporary folk lore does not detract from its interest. His combination of learning, love of plants and flowers, and matchless Elizabethan English has now appealed to four centuries of common, and not so common readers. Shakespeare drew from him his herb lore, and William Morris sought inspiration for his designs.

Joseph Frowd Spencer was a surgeon from Wiltshire who owned and operated a Lunatic Asylum in Fonthill Gifford between 1790-1844, one of the oldest in England and one which did not offer religious service, but provided Bibles and prayer books for its inmates and allowed card-playing and singing-birds as pets.

STC 11752. Wellcome 2754. Lowndes 1633 ed. III 879. Alden 633/39. Nissen 3580. Henry I 47-54.


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Le Grand Herbier, contenantes les qualitez vertus et proprietez des herbes, arbres, gommes, semences, huyles et pierres precieuses.

Paris, Alain Lotrian, c. 1530.


4to. ff (xxii) 176. Double column, small lettre bâtarde, white on black initials. Title in red and black within typographical border with two woodcuts of plants and large decorative initial, printer’s large device (faded) on verso of last, more than 300 woodcut illustrations, almost all of plants. Title page a little browned with slight marginal fraying, light oil stain in final gathering, two holes on last leaf affecting a few letters and printer’s device on verso, general age yellowing. A not unused but still good copy of a famously rare work in c. 1900 vellum over boards, attractive bookplate 1934 on pastedown. Quaritch pencil collation at end, all edges red in slipcase.

Rare and early edition of an anonymous French herbal based on the Antidotarium of Matthaeus Platearius, and likely a shared printing by Lotrian, Janot, Petit and Le Noir. There are probably three earlier editions: two towards the end of the incunable period and another by Nyverd c. 1520. There is some variation in the illustrations but the texts are substantially the same and none is readily obtainable. The twenty-two preliminary leaves comprise a very detailed table of contents, an explanation of obscure terms, and a page index. The text, following a short prologue, is arranged in alphabetical order of plants (usually illustrated) followed by their description and an account of their medical uses.

The work is essentially a pharmacopoeia, inspired by Avicenna, Rhazes, Constantine, and Hippocrates. It is designed for remedial purposes by country doctors, practical apothecaries and laymen. It also draws on the writings of Jewish and Arab physicians and scholars of the Middle Ages. The cuts, accurate and attractive, are for the most part reduced versions of those appearing in the first edition. Here they are printed in good, clear impression throughout, in a hand similar to Gart of Grunninger. They were clearly addressed to a popular readership.

Although similar in scope to the better known German herbals, the Grand Herbier or Arbolayre is textually different, in essence a French imitation of the ‘Secrets of Salerno’. It is the only herbal to have originated in France and unsurprisingly almost all early editions are now known in only a handful of copies. Very few scientific ‘Gothiques’ are obtainable.

BM STC Fr. C16 has later edition only. Brunet I 378, see Fairfax Murray I 226. Not in Mortimer, Harvard or Durling. Becher p.41 et seq., Wellcome I other edns. Hunt p.47. “The work is of special interest to British botanists since it was translated into English and published in 1526, as the ‘Grete Herbal.’ Arber p.24.


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