CULPEPER, Nicholas

CULPEPER, Nicholas The English Physician Enlarged…

London, Peter Cole, 1656.


A work of ‘enormous scale’ on herbal medicine by physician and astrologer Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654, thought to be his ‘magnum opus’. Born in London, he went to Cambridge to learn Latin and Greek, enabling his study of the ancient medical writers, which Cupleper refers to throughout the work. He was later apprenticed to an apothecary at St Helen’s in Bishopsgate, continuing his medical practices even while fighting in the civil war, which helped him to develop a good reputation amongst patients in East London.

The text lists 396 English Herbs and informs the reader of the various benefits of each plant. He suggests using garlic to treat rabid dog bites, treating worms, plague sores and ulcers. Culpeper goes beyond his medical predecessors by also cautioning the potential dangers of these plants. Continuing with the example of garlic, he warns of its ability to aggravate ‘Chollerick men’ and ‘oppressed by Melancholly’. The compendium aimed to detail locally available herbal remedies which were accessible to the reader instead of the exotic and inaccessible plants often found in previous medical literature. Physical descriptions of certain plants, location and sprouting season are also included, making the text far more practical to its users. It was extremely successful due to Culpeper’s astrological approach, which flourished over the Galenic approach at the time, as well as his straightforward and honest style, bearing 15 editions by 1700.

Following the extensive horticultural survey, Culpeper provides directions for gathering different types of plant and making the necessary compounds, from the more usual distilled waters, syrups, juleps, oils, and ointments to the more exotic electuaries, lohochs, and troches. A guide to mixing medicines follows, dependent on the type of disease and area of the body afflicted. The reader is directed to the table of diseases, which lists the various remedies available in the text. The book concludes with a record of correspondence between a woman from Bedfordshire and Culpeper, whereby she seeks help for her neighbour’s wife and presents a diagnosis based upon astrology, enclosing a scheme to support her medical conclusion. It is a fascinating testament to the symbiotic treatment of magic and medicine.

8vo. pp. [24] 173, 284-398 [16]. Roman and Italic letter. T-p slightly stained, within floral typographical double border, printed vertical title to C8, astrological diagram to Aa8, ornaments throughout. List of works by Culpeper, Mrs. Culpeper’s testimony and reader’s note, alphabetical table of plants, list of methods and authors used. Table of diseases at end of work. Light age browning, edges trimmed, C17th autograph of ‘Katherine Ward’ to ffep. A good copy in modern speckled calf over marbled boards.

ESTC: R236837; Lowndes: Vol II 576 Henrey: 61; Pritzel: 2079; Heirs of Hippocrates: 322.
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