DU CHESNE, Joseph.


DU CHESNE, Joseph. Diaeteticon polyhistoricon.

Paris, C. Morel, 1606.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. ff. [4], 463, [3]. Roman letter, Italic sidenotes. Woodcut printer’s device to title, author’s engraved portrait to *4, decorated initials and ornaments. Light narrow water stain to outer margin in places, handful of gatherings very lightly browned, a few margins slightly foxed, foot of T3 ink marked. A very good copy, on good quality paper, in contemporary limp vellum, 3 of 4 ties, early ms title to spine, crossed-out early ms ownership inscription at foot of title, the odd early ms annotation.

A very good copy of the first edition of this most interesting compendium of medical ‘secrets’. The title calls it a work ‘of great usefulness and delight, which includes necessary historical, philosophical and medical information to preserve health and treat sundry illnesses’. Joseph Du Chesne (or Quercetanus, 1544-1609) trained at Montpellier and Basle, and was a keen follower of Paracelsus. In 1598, he was personal physician to Henri IV. ‘Diaeteticon’ – i.e., ‘on the good health regime’ – provides, in the first two parts, general advice on how to keep healthy and live long, by eschewing excess related to food, drink, intercourse, passions, exercise, etc. Each chapter is devoted to a specific cause of illness, providing a social context, historical anecdotes, symptoms, effects and suggestions for treatments and diet. Part I discusses the illnesses caused by the ‘perturbations of the soul’, e.g., ambition, avarice (‘the root of all evil’), wrath, envy, lust and fear. Part II discusses the effects of the weather, diet and sleep on the human body. The chapter on air includes references to the epidemic of ‘sudor anglicus’ (‘sweating sickness’, a hitherto unseen illness which spread to the continent from Britain c.1500, scurvy, colic (especially frequent in Alsatia), ‘Hungarian fever’ (which turns one’s tongue black) and scrofula (worst in Spain). The chapter on wine includes indications for a taxonomy of wines by colour, smell, etc. Part III provides dozens of simple rules for everyday life, as well as remedies made from herbs or minerals. Most interesting is the section on tooth brushing, with powder extracted from red coral or from roses; ‘if they are deformed and black, or have been removed, a solution with salt, alum and a little honey should be used’. Uncommon is the section on food dressings, with important observation on salt and sugar, ‘both of great cost and use’. The latter is said to ‘hide, behind its whiteness, a great blackness’: it causes thirst and turns one’s teeth black (‘in those who are gluttons and eat it too often’), and for this reason ‘it is not advised to anyone, especially to young people’. The early annotator of this copy was interested in ‘paliurus’ for the treatment of scrofula, which he glossed as ‘a thorny and wild herb’, and in a treatment, first suggested by Llull, with Lunaria.

Harvard, SHI, NLM, Michigan, UTMB, Illinois, Chicago, Brown and UCSD copies recorded in the US. USTC 6016197; Krivatsy 3461 (imp.); Vicaire 168. Not in Ferguson, Wellcome, Oberlé, Simon, Bitting or Caillet.
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