Book History

Author: John Gerard
John Gerard was born in 1545 and originally trained as surgeon, but his interest in plants led him to become a botanist instead. He worked as superintendent of the gardens of Sir William Cecil and wrote a complete catalogue of the plants in those gardens. This provided him with the experience needed to work on the publication of "The Herball". Adam Islip, Joice Norton, and Richard Whitaker hired Gerard to complete a translation of Dodoens' herbal, which became his greatest legacy. He was also known for going on excursions across England to collect samples of plants to add to his collections and catalogues.
Bibliographic Information
"The Herball" is an English translation of a Belgian botanical text by Rembert Dodoens, originally titled "Stirpium historiae pemtades sex". The English book was begun by a man named Dr. Priest, but he died before he finished the work and John Gerard was hired by the printers to complete the task. The book was first printed in 1597, but Simpson Library, at the University of Mary Washington, owns a copy of the second edition, which was published in 1633 after it had undergone revisions by Thomas Johnson. "The Herball" was created as reference for botanists and apothecaries and is filled with information on plants' names, physical descriptions, and uses. There are over 2,000 woodcut illustrations.
Physical Description
The book's dimensions are 14” x 9 ½” x 5”. The paper is of good quality linen with very little tearing or staining on the faces of the pages. The binding is of calf skin and the spine includes the original label with the book's title. The book has been professionally rebound, but is otherwise unaltered and in excellent condition.
Illustrator: Tabernaemontanus
Tabernaemontanus, also known as Jakob Theodor, was a German botanist known for his book "Eicones plantarum seu stirpium". The woodcut illustrations from this book were recycled and used in other botanical texts of the period, such as Gerard's "Herball". It should be noted, however, that no such credit is given in "The Herball".
Publisher: Adam Islip, Joice Norton, and Richard Whitaker
There is not a great amount of information about the printers beyond their names. Adam Islip was a member of the Stationers’ Company in London and was identified as “chief law printer”. Some research of his business has shown he played a role in printing translated works from the European Continent for English readers. Very little is known at all about Joice Norton and Richard Whitaker, except that they worked together on other books, besides "The Herball". Joice Norton's husband was known for printing Shakespeare and Richard Whitaker was a bookseller.
There are at least 80 copies worldwide of the second edition of "The Herball", as listed by the British Library. That catalogue does not include Simpson Library's copy of the text, so the exact number of books is unknown.
Arber, Agnes. Herbals: Their Origin and Evolution: A Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670. 3d ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

British Library. “English Short Title Catalogue.” British Library, (accessed February 26, 2013). Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press: 1972).

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press: 1972).

Gerard, John. The Herball: Or Generall Historie of Plantes. 2d rev. ed. London: Adam Islip, Joice Norton, and Richard Whitaker, 1633.

Jeffers, Robert H. The Friend of John Gerard, 1545- 1612, Surgeon and Botanist. Falls Village: Herb Grower Press, 1967.

Pavord, Anna. Searching for Order: The History of the Alchemists, Herbalists and Philosophers Who Unlocked the Secrets of the Plant World. (London: Bloomsbury, 2009).

Straznicky, Marta ed. Shakespeare’s Stationers: Studies in Cultural Bibliography. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). University of Illinois Library. “Religion and Moral Instruction.” University of Illinois Library. (accessed March 17, 2013).

Ziegler, Georgiana. “Parents, Daughters, and ‘That Rare Italian Master’: A New Source For The Winter’s Tale.” Shakespeare Quarterly 36, no. 2 (Summer 1985): 204-212. (accessed March 17, 2013).

One of the most interesting texts of the seventeenth century is John Gerard’s Herball, or Gererall Historie of Plantes, a fairly well known botanical text. The University of Mary Washington is lucky to own a second edition copy of this massive text, which is in excellent condition and provides an example of printing in the seventeenth century.

The second edition of "The Herball" was published in London in 1633, after the original printers hired botanist Thomas Johnson to edit and add to the first edition, which had been printed in 1597. The original edition was filled with errors: wrong information was given about certain plants and many of the plants listed did not match the example illustrations of them. The root of this issues lies with the author, John Gerard. Although "The Herball" was published with his name as the author, he in fact took the text from a Belgian botanist, Rembert Dodoens. The printers had originally hired another man to write the translation, but he died before he could finish the work and Gerard was brought on instead. Gerard, however, refused to give credit to either Dodoens or the man who had actually done most of the translating. When the publishers decided to print a second edition, they asked Thomas Johnson to fix the mistakes that Gerard had made, and thus the second edition is a more reliable botanical text. "The Herball" could be described as a recycled work, passed from one person to another with each claiming it as their own, although one probably wouldn’t know it unless one researched the history of the text and the people who contributed to it. What makes "The Herball" unique from other books of the period is that is it quite large and has over two thousand woodcut illustrations. It also provides the reader with examples of various types, or what are commonly referred to by most people now as “fonts”. The reader can also clearly see the manners in which the printers placed queues for themselves to aid in the preparation of the pages by the use of “catchwords”, a word placed at the end of a page that corresponded with the first word on the next page. The copy that the University of Mary Washington’s Simpson Library owns is also valuable because it is in very good condition. Although it has had to receive some small repairs over the years, this copy of "The Herball" still has almost all of its pages intact and undamaged. The spine has been professionally repaired, but the original spine label was saved and allows the reader to see the original binding. The benefit of having a book in such good condition is that it can be both used and studied without great of fear of harming the book in any significant way. It is not likely to simple fall apart in the reader’s hands. Luckily, there are almost one hundred copies of the second edition of "The Herball" in library collections worldwide.
John Gerard's "Herball"
Submitted by Laura Spain
Published: 1633
Call Number: OVER QK 41 .G35 1633