Gerard, John


The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes.

Gathered by John Gerarde. London: Imprinted at London by Iohn Norton, 1597. Based in part on a translation by Robert Priest of Dodoens' Stirpium historiae pemptades sex, rearranged and expanded by Gerard. First edition--Cf. Hunt 175. Colophon: Imprinted at London by Edm. Bollifant, for Bonham and Iohn Norton, M.D.XCVII. Full page portrait of author facing p. 1, dated 1598. Numerous errors in pagination and signing. References: Hunt 175; Johnston, S. H. Cleveland coll. 143. First edition.

This work is considered one of the monuments of the English language. Even though its medical recommendations have long been superseded by modern medicine, it is still a book of interest. Reprints continued into the 20th century, and probably more copies of modern editions have been sold than were ever printed of earlier ones. Gerard was appointed superintendent of the gardens of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was one of the most influential people in the court of Elizabeth I. Gerard also had gardens of his own where he raised many exotic plants from foreign lands. His illustration of the potato was probably the first to appear in any herbal; he learned of it from Raleigh and Drake, who had been to the New World. He was raising potatoes in his own garden before they became commonly known. Gerard's Herball has been described by some as Dodoens' Herball fashioned to appeal to the English. He used charming turns of phrase, as in his description of the dandelion as "a floure. . .thick set together, of colour yellow, which is turned into a round downy blowbal that is carried away with the wind." His description of Eye-bright states that it "taketh away all hurts from the eyes, comforteth the memorie, and cleareth the sight." Even though there are many errors in identification of specimens, Gerard's Herball dominated its time, and remains one of the best known and most frequently quoted of English herbals. The woodblocks, which were collected by Tabernaemontanus and used in his Eicones in 1590, were acquired by the printer, John Norton, who used them to illustrate this first edition of Gerard's Herball. This book was printed in a clear Roman type which made it much easier to read than many earlier works printed in black-letter type.

Subjects: Botany; Medicine; Medicinal plants.


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