De secretis libri XVII.

Basel, [n.p.], 1582.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. (xlvi) 962. Roman letter, with Italic. Woodcut printer’s device, over 30 ¼-page woodcuts of geographical schema and machines, decorated initials. T-p a bit dusty, some light browning, minor repair to margin of couple of ll., slight mostly marginal foxing, small ink burn with loss to blank margin of one fol. A good copy in contemporary Italian limp vellum, yapp edges, ties and outer margins restored. Early autograph ‘Jo. Baptista [illegible] Physimedicus’ to ep, early casemark to blank lower margin of t-p.

Good copy of the FIRST EDITION of this successful ‘book of secrets’. Johann Jacob Wecker (1528-86) was a Swiss physician interested in philosophy, logic and alchemy in relation to medicine, on which he wrote extensively in French and Latin whilst teaching at Basel and Paris. ‘De secretis’ is a most important work within the genre of ‘books of secrets’, which developed in the medieval period in the form of recipe books in Latin—‘secret’ to the illiterate—containing instructions, devised by wise men and physicians, for the preparation of medicines, concoctions useful in domestic management (e.g., ink stain removal) and alchemical recipes to alter chemical substances. In the C16, they became best-selling works purchased not only by the middle classes, particularly those in the vernacular, but also by practising physicians like the Italian ‘physiomedicus’ who owned this copy. Wecker structured this matter according to the Ramist logic of hierarchical dichotomies, into ‘arts’ related to material or immaterial bodies (from God to the four elements and their animate and inanimate compounds) or categorised as ‘organicae’, ‘philosophicae’ and ‘mechanicae’ following the trivium and quadrivium. Despite this unusual and complex framework, ‘De secretis’ discussed, with the help of ancient authorities, the wide array of material for which ‘books of secrets’ were renowned and liked, including horticulture (e.g., growing fruit trees), farming (e.g., what to do if a horse is blinded), cookery (e.g., how to make liqueur), medicine (e.g., remedies for leprosy), fixes to practical daily life issues (e.g., how to make a candle burn underwater) and even types of sorcery and the prediction of death.

Caillet III, 1912; Durling 4710; Graesse VII, 427; NLM cat. 4707; Ferguson I, 33. Not in Wellcome.


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