Praxis medicinae universalis; or A Generall Practice of Physicke..London, Impensis Georg. Bishop, 1598
FIRST EDITION thus. Folio pp. [xx], 790, [cxxii]. A¹⁰, A-3D⁸, 3E-3S⁴. Black letter with some Roman and Italic. Woodcut printer’s device on title, woodcut floriated, historiated, and white on black initials in various sizes, grotesque woodcut tail-pieces, typographical headpieces, contemporary ownership inscription on title, “Mary Cornwallis, hir book”, “Frances Edgar” in slightly later hand below, engraved armorial bookplate of John Woodroffe, (bookplate by Skinner of Bath dated 1747). Title page and first two leaves dusty at outer margin with some creasing, very light minor water-stain stains to a few leaves mostly marginal, the odd ink splash and marginal thumb mark, short tear in blank margin of H8, tiny worm hole, becoming a small trail in upper blank margin of a few quires, just touching a few letters. A very good copy, crisp and very clean in contemporary English calf, over thick boards, covers bordered with a triple blind rule, large strap-work arabesque blind stamped at centres, rebacked to match with red morocco label gilt, a little rubbed and scratched, lower corners worn.
A handsome copy of the first edition of the English translation by Jacob Mosan of this monumental medical treatise, from the German text, ‘Ein new Artzney Buch’, by Christoph Wirsung, first published in Heidelberg in 1568. Wirsung divided his work in the classic order of “a capite ad calcem”, from head to foot, in four parts, in which the head, chest, stomach, organs, limbs and their diseases are treated. This is followed by four further parts, where skin diseases and fevers are described, followed by chapters on the plague and poisoning. The eighth part is very much a cookery book and describes the uses of wines, beers, oils, food, gold waters, spicebreads, marzipans and spices with detailed instructions on their preparation. This work gives numerous botanical remedies in the form of pills, powders, and syrups. Ailments are divided up in chapters, like “Of the fainting of the hart in generall” “When any are infected with the Plague,” with more specific and related symptoms following. The treatments recommended are exhaustive and are mostly botanical, although non botanical remedies such as enemas, baths, bloodletting, and plasters are included as are dietary and lifestyle advice. His treatment for infertility was interesting. “Wirsung is inclined to a mode of thought which separated barrenness differently with regard to the sexes. To augment seed (not explicitly male), among the usual plant remedies he recommends the stones of ‘Buls, Cocks, Bucks, Rams, Bores, and all their pissels’; for women, since the causes are more complex and largely humoural, the remedies vary greatly, though still relying on vegetative matter. In a short chapter at he end, spices and vegetables are supplemented by the ‘stone of a bore hog being two years old, and the pissel of a stag shaven smal halfe an ounce, fower paire of Foxe stones, and fiftie or threescore Sparrowes braines’ added to many other ingredients to make a confection for both sexes” Alasdair A. MacDonald. ‘Scholarly Environments’.
The provenance provides much insight into the contemporary use of the work: Mary Cornwallis, the first owner, was part of the Cornwallis family of Cretingham, Suffolk. The work then passed to Frances Edgar of the same family (born 1659, married a John Cornwallis). It would seem to suggest that the work was used practically by the women of the household, probably for both culinary and medical purposes. There are two issues of this work, one by Bishop and one by Bollifant. Estc gives no precedence but states that the Bishop edition was registered with the Stationer’s Register in 1597. A handsome and fresh copy of this most interesting work with interesting provenance.