Johnson’s Celebrated Edition of Gerard’s Herbal Describing Numerous American Plants

Gerard, John (1545-1612)

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes. Gathered by John Gerarde of London Master in Chirvrgerie. Very much Enlarged and Amended by Thomas Johnson Citizen and Apothecarye of London.

London: A. Islip, Joice Norton, and R. Whitaker, 1633


Folio: 34.5 x 22.5 cm. ¶8, ¶¶-¶¶¶6, A-B8, C-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Zzz6, Aaaa-Zzzz6, Aaaaa-Zzzzz6, Aaaaaa-Vvvvvv6, Xxxxxx4, Yyyyyy-Zzzzzz6, Aaaaaaa-Bbbbbbb6. (lacking the first and final blank leaves.)

SECOND EDITION (The first Johnson edition, often referred to as “Gerard emaculatus” or “Johnson’s Gerard”).

With an engraved title by John Payne and over 2,000 woodcuts of plants throughout the text.  This is a fine copy, very clean, with the engraved title page in very good condition (only a little marginal soiling.) Bound in 17th c. English mottled calfskin with discreet repairs. With the original, ornate, gold-tooled spine. A few minor blemishes, one clean tear to gutter of leaf Dd3 (no loss). A few dried plants inserted in the text. Excellent.

"This is the first edition enlarged and edited by Thomas Johnson (1595-1644) who corrected many of Gerard’s more gullible errors, and improved the accuracy of the illustrations by using Plantin’s woodcuts." (Hunt)

John Gerard is to this day one of the best known of English herbalists. In 1586 the Royal College of Physicians established a garden of physic and appointed Gerard its curator. Gerard also supervised the gardens of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and mentions Burghley’s garden frequently in his herbal, first published in 1597. “The Herball contains many of Gerard's own remarks, such as localities in various parts of England for scarce plants, and many allusions to persons and places now of high antiquarian interest. Many friends, among them Jean Robin, director of the Jardin Royal at the Louvre, sent him specimens and information. In his own garden Gerard raised many exotic plants such as the potato. His illustration of that plant is the first to appear in any herbal, although his naming of the plant as the ‘Virginian potato’ caused some confusion. Jean l'Ecluse (Clusius) had correctly identified the origin as Peru. Despite the many errors [many of which were corrected by Johnson in this new edition] and repetition of folklore, such as the story of the barnacle tree from which geese were supposed to be hatched, Gerard's Herball, being in the English vernacular, is still one of the best-known English herbals.”(Smolenaars, ODNB)

In 1633, Thomas Johnson edited and greatly enlarged Gerard’s herbal. “So great had been the progress of botany in the thirty-six years since Gerard’s original publication, that Johnson added over eight hundred new species to the list, and seven hundred figures, besides numerous corrections. The work, which contains about 2,850 descriptions, is commonly known by the name ‘Gerarde emaculatus,’ given to it by Ray. Johnson seems, however, to have completed it in a year." (DNB)

"‘Maize’ or ‘Turkie wheate’ is but one example of the numerous American plants described in the herbal. What Gerard calls ‘Corne of Asia’ has grain, when mature ‘of sundrie colors, sometimes red, and sometimes white, and yellow, as my selfe have seene in mine owne garden, where it hath come to ripenes.’ His ‘Turkie wheate,’ on the other hand, are ‘sometimes white, now, and then yellow, purple or red, of taste sweete and pleasant.’ He goes on to state that these were brought to Europe from Asia (Turkey) and America, without being aware that Turkey was merely a way station for the American grain. Gerard noted that Americans make bread of it, but he described it as unappealing and claimed it was ‘of hard digestion, and yieldeth to the body little or no nourishment.’ It ‘bindeth the belly,’ he said. He discounted Indian fondness for it as a ‘vertue of necessitie’ and concluded that it was ‘a more convenient food for swine than for men’." (Landis, The Literature of the Encounter)

STC 11751; Hunt 223; Nissen 698; Graesse Vol. III, p. 56; Henrey 155.