NANCEL, Nicolas de.
Discours tresample de la peste en trois livres adressant a messieurs de ToursParis, chez Denis Duval, 1581.
FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. 367 [ix]: A-Z8, Aa4. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek. Small typographical ornament on title, woodcut initials and head pieces, lengthy quote concerning the work on fly in C19th hand, (La Croix du Maine p. 351) occasional marginal note and underling in early hand, bookplate of Dr. Maurice-Villaret on pastedown. Age yellowing, some light browning, the odd marginal spot or thumb mark, small piece of blank upper margin of title cut away. A good, crisp copy in slightly later calf, spine with gilt ruled raised bands, gilt in compartments, upper joint split at head slightly worn at extremities, all edges sprinkled red.
First edition of this important and complete work on the Plague which contains much of medical and social interest as it was written from the authors first hand experience of the Plague that was still taking place in the city of Tours. Nicholas de Nancel (1539-1610), while still very young, studied under Petrus Ramus, the celebrated mathematician in Paris in 1548, and is perhaps best know today for his ‘Life of Ramus’ (Paris 1599). He occupied a chair at the college des Presles from around 1554 when Ramus was principal. The civil wars caused him to leave Paris and he accepted the chair of Greek at the University of Douai in 1562, but returned two years later. He practised medicine briefly in Soissons, before moving to Tours in 1569 where he married a wealthy widow. At Tours he observed first hand the effects of the plague from which he wrote this most interesting treatise. The work is divided into three parts; the first defines what the plague is, its various forms, origins and causes (including theological and astrological), and the various signs of the plague. The second work concerns all the various precautions one can take to prevent from catching the plague, medical, food and diet (natural wines were considered acceptable but fortified wines too ‘chauds’), sleep, mental health (passions de l’esprit), exercise, various cordials, topical medicines and finally amulets and precious stones. The third books concerns cures for the Plague, including specific cures for various symptoms such as high fevers, and again diet during the illness, remedies, with a discussion of the cures recommended by Galen and Avicenna. He ends with a most interesting ‘Avertissment .. touchant laPolice & reglement qu’on doit garder & tenir en temps de peste’, which is effectively a treatise of public health and guide to collective behaviour in order to prevent the spread of contagion.
The work is most interesting for its social context as during the bloody wars of religion in France; the cause of plague was often considered a moral one: “This type of accusation, suggesting that impiety, atheism, and the dissolution of morals were both causes and signs of the plague, was recurrent. In his ‘discourse tresample de la peste’ (Very ample discourse on the plague), Nicholas de Nancel, the physician from the city of Tours in France, described for his readers the signs of imminent epidemics as follows. “[It looms] whenever you see that all divine and human justice is despised or abolished, service to gods neglected, charity diminished, men swamped with all kinds of vices, fallen in atheism, impiety; blaspheming, swearing.” Furthermore, libertinism and atheism constituted in themselves contagion with a diabolic origin and thus it was the will of God to punish them: ‘the later plague and poison poured by him [the devil] upon human species can never seize the heart of man unless there is God’s supreme and just rage and judgement’. In a more reasoned manner, atheism was perceived as a contagious malady whose diffusion would inevitably provoke the dissolution of society” Beatrice Delaurenti,, Cultures of Contagion.USTC 30805. Brunet, VII. 3. Durling, 3322. Cioranescu, 16471. Taschereau, 1196. Pettegree, French Vernacular Books, 39022.