PARKINSON, John Theatrum Botanicum or the Theater of plantes.

London, printed by Tho. Cotes, 1640


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. [xx] 1652, 1663-1755, [iii]. [[A] , (a) , B-4L , 4M , 4N-7I .] Roman letter, some Italic. Magnificent full page eng. title by Marshall (Johnson 77), (here placed as frontispiece) upper compartment comprising two landscape scenes with allegorical female figures representing Asia and Europe (mounted on a rhinoceros and drawn in a chariot respectively) surrounded by their local fruits and flora, full length portraits of Adam (with spade) and Solomon, lower compartment with medallion portrait of the author flanked by allegorical figures of Africa and the Americas (mounted on a zebra and lama respectively) surrounded by cactii, palms etc, printed title within box rule, more than 2700 woodcuts of plants, floriated woodcut initials, grotesque woodcut head and tail-pieces, typographical ornaments. Autograph of Jo. Hyphantes (John Weaver?) in a near contemporary hand on printed t-p., early autograph at head of engraved t-p of Robert Parker, just trimmed, Samuel Hadfield dated 1812 on fly, Sotherans’ label on pastedown, engraved label ‘Old Hall’ below (probably Mottram Old Hall in Longdendale). Light age yellowing, eng. and printed titles fractionally dusty, blank outer edge of eng. t-p slightly frayed, very light minor waterstaining to a few leaves, B1 slightly soiled in upper margins, the occasional ink splash and marginal mark. A good copy, crisp and clean, in dark red morocco over thick boards c.1800, covers bordered with a double blind rule with dentelle roll, spine gilt ruled in compartments, large stag gilt in lower compartment, edges gilt ruled, spine a little cracked, a little rubbed at extremities.

First edition of the most comprehensive of the early English herbals comprising nearly 4000 plant descriptions, almost 1000 more than were in Johnson’s edition of Gerard, its nearest rival. It remained the most complete English herbal until the time of Ray (who constantly refers to it). Herbalist to King Charles I, John Parkinson (1567–1650) was a master apothecary, herbalist, and gardener. Already celebrated in his lifetime for his publication of the beautiful ‘Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris’, 1629, this, his magnum opus, the Theatrum Botanicum, was published in 1640 and ran to 1,766 folio pages. The sheer scope and size was perhaps to prove the book’s downfall, because, while it was much revered, and plagiarised, it was never reprinted, and has become a rare and much sought after work. Parkinson was writing at a time when Western herbalism was at its zenith, and his skills as a gardener (from his grounds in Covent Garden) combined perfectly with his passion for science, observation, and historical scholarship. He divides his work into 17 parts each dealing with a specific variety of plants usually classified according to their properties, sweet smelling, purging, but sometimes more generally e.g. marsh water and sea, thistles and thorny, and the splendid ‘strange and outlandish’ and ‘venomous, sleepy and hurtful plants’; this together with both English and Latin indexes and a ‘Table of Vertues’ make this monumental volume surprisingly user friendly.

Parkinson (1567-1650) was an accomplished practical gardener and apothecary, amongst others to James I, and appointed by Charles I “Botanicus Primarius” of the Kingdom. Although he incorporated almost the whole of Bauhin’s Pinax and the unpublished material left by L’Obel at his death, many of the descriptions are new – indeed the work is much more original than than Gerard’s and Johnson’s. It contains the names of 28 species not previously recorded, in Britain alone, and even of well known plants many of Parkinson’s descriptions are his own. He added a fund of curious and out of the way information which is one of the great sources of interest, sometimes credulous but often inspired. “In (the Theatrum) Parkinson borrowed from the whole range of writings on materia medica, adding his own considerable knowledge as horticulturist and apothecary, to produce one of the great repositories of herbal literature. His references to older authors and his quotations from them make the Theatrum a virtual one-volume herbal library. Should all the other herbals be lost, future generations could still sample most of their lore and language through Parkinson.” Frank J. Anderson ‘An Illustrated History of the Herbals’. Parkinson was also punctiliously accurate as to localities and is invaluable as to beauty and cosmetic recipes, of which he includes far more than any other herbalist.

ESTC S121875. STC 19302. Lowndes V 1780 “A work of merit. It contains a great variety of articles not to be found in any of the botanical writers who went before him – Granger”. Henrey pp79-82. Rhode pp151-162. Arber pp115-6. Hunt 235. Pritzel 7749. Nissen 1490. Arents 212. Alden 640/143. Bitting p356 “The herbal also brought together what was known about food producing plants”.

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