RENOWNED ‘BOOK OF SECRETS’
De secretis libri XVIIBasle, ex Officina Pernea, 1587
8vo. pp. (viii) 902 (xxxiii). Roman letter, little Italic. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, 68 small woodcut diagrams, amulets, astrological signs and instruments, decorated initials and ornaments. A little marginal finger-soiling to t-p, slight yellowing, intermittent light water stain from outer margin, lower edge of last few ll. a bit softened, frayed and lightly waterstained. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, slightly warped, lacking ties, yapp edges, printer’s waste showing in boards (uncut sheets from contemporary almanac in German), double blind ruled, scattered old stains, small vellum loss at foot of lower joint, C19 label to spine. Bookplates of Götha Prov. Logens Bibliothek to front pastedown and fly, extensive contemporary Latin annotation to endpapers and t-p.
Good copy of the second edition in Latin of this successful ‘book of secrets’. Johann Jacob Wecker (1528-86) was a Swiss physician interested in philosophy, logic and alchemy in relation to medicine, on which he wrote extensively in French and Latin whilst teaching at Basel and Paris.‘De secretis’ is a most important work within the genre of ‘books of secrets’, which developed in the medieval period in the form of recipe books in Latin—‘secret’ to the illiterate—containing instructions, devised by wise men and physicians, for the preparation of medicines, concoctions useful in domestic management (e.g., ink stain removal) and alchemical recipes to alter chemical substances. In the C16, they became best-selling works purchased not only by the middle classes, particularly those in the vernacular, but also by practising physicians.Wecker structured this matter according to the Ramist logic of hierarchical dichotomies, into ‘arts’ related to material or immaterial bodies (from God to the four elements and their animate and inanimate compounds) or categorised as ‘organicae’, ‘philosophicae’ and ‘mechanicae’ following the trivium and quadrivium. Despite this unusual and complex framework, ‘De secretis’ discussed, with the help of ancient authorities, the wide array of material for which ‘books of secrets’ were renowned and liked, including horticulture (e.g., growing fruit trees), farming (e.g., what to do if a horse is blinded), cookery (e.g., how to make liqueur), medicine (e.g., remedies for leprosy), fixes to practical daily life issues (e.g., how to make a candle burn underwater) and even types of sorcery and the prediction of death.The early annotator of this copy noted the page numbers of the section on learning the art of magic, and numerous Latin moral ‘sententiae’ on virtue, honesty and truth.Caillet III, 11368 (mentioned); Durling 4708; Graesse VII, 427 (1582 ed.); Wellcome I, 6710. Not in Ferguson.