FIRST MODERN BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bibliotheca Instituta et Collecta.Zurich, Christoph Froschauer, 1583
Folio. Pp. [liv] 835 [iii]. Italic letter, some Roman. Mostly double column. Printer’s woodcut device on title page. Floriated initials within text. Title page dusty, repaired on fore edge, bit finger marked. Tp and occasional others slightly foxed, few letters obscured by inkspot pp. 468-470. Very slight water stain to lower margin pp. 481-497 and intermittently to upper, small ink smudges to one page. Faint water stain to final couple of gatherings. General light age yellowing. Faded Law Society blind stamp to margin of tp and two others. C17 price and autograph of Roger Walker, C16 English autographs to outer margin of Nicholas Topham and another, early marginalia to last, listing books and authors, that fore edge a bit cropped. Early C19 calf over boards, rebacked.
This revolutionary bibliography advertises itself as ‘a most substantial catalogue of nearly everything written from the beginning of the world until this day, of that which is in existence or not, of those made public and those lying hidden here and there in libraries’. Gesner’s ambitious and meticulous compilation of authors and their books earned him the title ‘the father of bibliography’ (Bay, 1916, 54). Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) was a Swiss physician, naturalist, bibliographer and philologist whose exceptionally rigorous approach to scholarship is ever apparent in this remarkable work.
The ‘Bibliotheca Instituta et Collecta’ is the fourth edition of the ‘Bibliotheca Universalis’ (1545), which Gesner began aged 25. After the much abridged third edition, titled ‘Epitome bibliothecae Conradi Gesneri’ (1555), the present work was released, enlarged again; published after Gesner’s death, it included works by new authors and amendments by Josias Simler and Johannes Fries. This is the second issue of the fourth edition, originally published in 1574. It includes two Epistola Nuncupatoria (Dedicatory Letters) by Josias Simler and Johannes Fries, and a preface by both Simler and Fries detailing the contents of the bibliography and the authors complied, as well as the methods used by Gesner.
The work is an international bibliography, compiling authors who wrote in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The bibliographical entries provide the author, title of the text, date and place of publication, and size. He aimed to rescue these rare early works from oblivion. Gesner’s Bibliotheca was compiled when books proliferated and cataloguing them became a larger undertaking. Undaunted, Gesner compiled a universal bibliography that included all past and present writers. He addresses the magnitude of his undertaking and compares finishing the work to returning to land after a shipwreck, or after climbing a mountain (Blair, 2010, 206). The work lists the names of the authors, arranged alphabetically by first name in accordance with Medieval cataloguing, the titles of their works, the subjects they deal with and the judgements they have made. In many cases the place and date of publication is also given and sometimes the printer or publisher as well. Gesner intended to include all non-vernacular works regardless of style or merit, and to leave selection and judgement to the reader, though he sometimes made more considered comments on their comparative worth.
The Bibliotheca, among Gesner’s other works, has been credited as a forerunner to Francis Bacon and to later encyclopaedia due in part to his system of cataloguing, inspired in turn by Johannes Trithemius. In particular, Gesner is cited as a specific influence for de La Croix du Maine, who compiled a bibliography of works in French.
“Gessner’s Bibliotheca universalis is not only a bibliography in the true sense of the term, nor is it merely a more or less comprehensive description of books, listing title, place and date of publication, and publisher. What distinguishes this work over and against the later extracts (Epitomes) and makes it a unique document of the Renaissance resides in the indications relating to the work, life, and significance of the individual authors. The Bibliotheca is, e.g. in the case of Zwingli, Calvin, and Gessner himself, even today a biographical source of considerable value. Thus the Bibliotheca may be seen also as a work of universal biography, a lexicon of writers, such as had never previously existed…”– Hans Fischer, “Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) as Bibliographer and Encyclopaedist” in The Library, 5th Series, Vol. XXI (1966), pp. 269-81.
“These are the earliest systematic ‘books about books’ to be published and they mark the beginning of modern critical bibliography. For Gesner was no mere enumerator of titles; he gave also his considered estimate of their comparative worth.” (See Printing and the Mind of Man 73).
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