Gesner’s First Book
Historia Plantarum et Vires, ex Dioscoride, Paulo Aegineta, Theophrasto, Plinio et recentioribus Graecis, juxta elementorum ordinem…
4 p.l., 281,  pp. 8vo, cont. vellum over boards (spine attractively rebacked with leather), trace of ties, spine gilt. Basel: R. Wynter, 1541.
First edition of Gesner’s very rare first book (he had two earlier appearances in books, one as editor and the other as contributor). Gesner published this work at the age of 25, and it reflects his lifelong interest in botany and classification.
This is an alphabetical list of plants’ names compiled from the works of authors on medical topics in antiquity and in the early Middle Ages. The alphabetical arrangement of plants both by their tradition Latin names and the trade names used by pharmacists, as well as the handy format of the book, made it popular amongst physicians and apothecaries. Before this book was published, there was often no apparent connection between the names of plants from Greece and southern Italy, described by the ancient writers on botany, and the trees, shrubs, and herbs that Gesner and his friends could find in Switzerland, Germany, or France, and which were known by various vernacular names. To make matters worse, the apothecaries had their own fancy Latin names for the herbs and minerals from which they prepared drugs. It was Gesner’s avowed intention in the present work to bring order into this taxonomic chaos and to provide multilingual indexes to plant names.
“Fascinated by botany as a youth, Gesner continued his studies in that field at Lausanne and Montpellier…Gesner was virtually the only botanist of his time to grasp the importance of floral structures as a means of establishing a systematic key to the classification of vegetable life. He was also the first to stress the nature of seeds, which enabled him to establish the kinship of plants that seemed extremely dissimilar. Later, Linnaeus would frequently acknowledge his own debt to Gesner.”–D.S.B., V, p. 379.
A very good copy of a rare and important book. There were several immediate reprints in the same year in Venice and Paris. Signature of “Hyeronimi Bethuni” dated 1595 on title. Old private library stamp on title.
❧ Garrison-Morton 1807–(listing a reprint of the same year only). Pritzel 3297. Wellisch A 3.1.
Item ID: 6456