The optick glasse of humors or The touchstone of a golden temperature, or the Philosophers stone to make a golden temper

Oxford, W[illiam] T[urner] to be sold by M[ichael] S[parke, London], 1631.


8vo. pp. (xxvi), 168, (ii). -2 (par.)⁸ A-K⁸ L⁸. last blank. Roman letter with some Greek and Italic. Engraved frontispiece of astrological chart, views of Oxford and Cambridge above, engraved title with figures of two graduates in cap and gown, representing respectively the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, holding between them an optic class or touchstone, small woodcut initials, typographical headpieces, Selbourne library stamp on blank margin of page 51. Age yellowing, a little dust soiling to first and last few leaves, the odd marginal mark or spot. A very good copy in slightly later calf, raised bands, head a little chipped.

Rare second edition of this important and most influential work on the ‘Humours’, a precursor to Burton’s Anatomie of Melancholy. “Walkington was a native of Lincoln. He was educated at Cambridge. He was elected to a fellowship at St. John’s College, 1603. He was incorporated B.D. of Oxford on 1611, and D.D. of Cambridge in 1613. Walkington was author of a book that anticipated Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. It was entitled ‘The Optick Glasse of Humors.’ An undated edition, which cannot be dated earlier than 1631, was printed by W[illiam] T[urner] at Oxford. This issue, which has the same dedication as its predecessor, has an elaborately engraved title-page on steel, in which two graduates in cap and gown, representing respectively the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, hold between them an optic glass or touchstone (Madan, Early Oxford Press, pp. 160–161). Richard Farmer, in his Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare, credited ‘T. Wombwell’ with the authorship of Walkington’s treatise on the ‘Optick Glasse,’ and referred to a passage by way of illustrating Shylock’s remarks on irrational antipathies (Merchant of Venice, iv.i.49).” DNB.

During Shakespeare’s time, people believed that the “Four Humors” affected not only our physical health, but also our personalities and mental well-being; the theory was developed in ancient Greece and Rome and influenced European medicine until at least the 18th century. The four humours were blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. These were in balance in a healthy person. Slight imbalances, favouring a specific humour, were thought to result in specific personality types. Greater imbalances were thought to lead to illness. Each humour was associated with specific a element, season, age, quality, personality type, and Zodiac symbols.

The “glasse” in the title is a mirror. The reader is promised greater self-knowledge through understanding the role of the four bodily humours in determining individual human behaviours and overall disposition. For readers of Walkington’s text, “temperament” (what we would call personality) was literally a matter of temperature—the result of the action of cold, hot, wet, and dry in governing behaviour. “Walkington distilled (…) where Burton gathered. From him we get essentials. Through his Optic glass he saw the whole man, a composite of those he knew at Cambridge and at Lincoln, in life and books. Through that same glass we may not see all but certainly many quintessential aspects of his age” Charles Mullet. ‘Thomas Walkington and his ‘Optick Glasse’”.There are very interesting sections on tobacco and its effects on the humours and on health generally. A god copy of this rare and most interesting work.

“Dr. Farmer in his work on the learning of Shakespeare observes ‘In the Merchant of Venice, the Jew, as an apology for his cruelty, rehearses many sympathies and antipathies for which no reason can be rendered. The incident is to be met with in the Optick Glasse 0f Humours” Lowndes.

STC 24968. ESTC S119410. Madan, I, p. 160-1. Lowndes 2814.


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