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German Herbarius And Related Works

( Originally Published 1912 )

Of even greater importance than the Latin Herbarius is the German Herbarius or `Herbarius zu Teutsch,' some-times also called the German Ortus Sanitatis, or the Smaller Ortus. This folio, which was the foundation of the later works called Hortus (or Ortus) Sanitatis, appeared at Mainz, also from the printing press of Peter Schoffer in 1485, the year following the publication of the Latin Herbarius. It has been mistakenly regarded by some authors as a mere translation of the latter. However, the two books are neither the same in the text nor in the illustrations. The German Herbarius appears to be an independent work except as regards the third part of the book—the index of drugs according to their uses—which may owe something to the Latin Herbarius.

It seems from the preface that the originator of the book was a rich man, who had travelled in the east, and that the medical portion was compiled under his direction by a physician. The latter was probably Dr Johann von Cube, who was town physician of Frankfort at the end of the fifteenth century.

The preface to the Herbarius zu Teutsch begins with the words, "Offt und vil habe ich by mir selbst betracht die wundersam werck des schepfers der natuer." Similar words are found in all the different German editions, and in the later Hortus Sanitatis they are translated into Latin. The preface reveals so clearly and so delightfully the spirit in which the work was undertaken that it seems worth while to translate it almost in extenso.

It is impossible, however, to grasp the medical ideas characteristic of the earlier herbals, such as those presented in the preface which follows, unless one understands the special terminology, in which the "four elements" and the "four principles" or "natures" play a great part. The ideas expressed by these terms had begun to dominate medical and physiological notions five or six hundred years before the birth of Christ, and they held their own for a period of more than two thousand years. As an instance of their constant occurrence in literature we may recall Sir Toby's remark in ` Twelfth Night,' "Do not our lives consist of the four elements ?" In Aristotle's time these conceptions must have been already quite familiar to his pupils. Like his predecessors he distinguished four elements, Fire, Water, Earth and Air, and to these he added a fifth—the Ether. In the four elements, the four principles are combined in pairs—fire being characterised by heat and dryness, air by heat and moisture, water by cold and moisture, and earth by cold and dryness. According to Aristotle, heat and cold are active, while dryness and moisture are passive in their nature. By the "temperament" of a man is understood the balance or proportion maintained between these conflicting tendencies. The particular "virtues" of each plant, in other words the power of restoring lost health or "temperament," are determined by the "principles" which it contains, and the proportions in which these occur. With this introduction we may pass on to the preface of the Herbarius zu Teutsch' :

" Many a time and oft have I contemplated inwardly the wondrous works of the Creator of the universe : how in the beginning He formed the heavens and adorned them with goodly, shining stars, to which He gave power and might to influence everything under heaven. Also how He afterwards formed the four elements : fire, hot and dry—air, hot and moist—water, cold and moist—earth, dry and cold—and gave to each a nature of its own ; and how after this the same Great Master of Nature made and formed herbs of many sorts and animals of all kinds, and last of all Man, the noblest of all created things. Thereupon I thought on the wondrous order which the Creator gave these same creatures of His, so that everything which has its being under heaven receives it from the stars, and keeps it by their help. I considered further how that in everything which arises, grows, lives or soars in the four elements named, be it metal, stone, herb or animal, the four natures of the elements, heat, cold, moistness and dryness are mingled. It is also to be noted that the four natures in question are also mixed and blended in the human body in a measure and temperament suitable to the life and nature of man. While man keeps within this measure, proportion or temperament, he is strong and healthy, but as soon as he steps or falls beyond the temperament or measure of the four natures, which happens when heat takes the upper hand and strives to stifle cold, or, on the contrary, when cold begins to suppress heat, or man becomes full of cold moisture, or again is deprived of the due measure of moisture, he falls of necessity into sickness, and draws nigh unto death. There are many causes of disturbances, such as I have mentioned, in the measure of the four elements which is essential to man's health and life. In some cases it is the poisonous and hidden influence of the heavens acting against man's nature, for from this arise impurity and poisoning of the air ; in other cases the food and drink are unsuitable, or suitable but not taken in the right quantities, or at the right time. Of a truth I would as soon count thee the leaves on the trees, or the grains of sand in the sea, as the things which are the causes of a relapse from the temperament of the four natures, and a beginning of man's sickness. It is for this reason that so many thousands and thousands of perils and dangers beset man. He is not fully sure of his health or his life for one moment. While considering these matters, I also remembered how the Creator of Nature, Who has placed us amid such dangers, has mercifully provided us with a remedy, that is with all kinds of herbs, animals and other created things to which He has given power and might to restore, produce, give and temper the four natures mentioned above. One herb is heating, another is cooling, each after the degree of its nature and complexion. In the same manner many other created things on the earth and in the water preserve man's life, through the Creator of Nature. By virtue of these herbs and created things the sick man may recover the temperament of the four elements and the health of his body. Since, then, man can have no greater nor nobler treasure on earth than bodily health, I came to the conclusion that I could not perform any more honour-able, useful or holy work or labour than to compile a book in which should be contained the virtue and nature of many herbs and other created things, together with their true colours and form, for the help of all the world and the common good. Thereupon I caused this praiseworthy work to be begun by a Master learned in physic, who, at my request, gathered into a book the virtue and nature of many herbs out of the acknowledged masters of physic, Galen, Avicenna, Serapio, Dioscorides, Pandectarius, Platearius and others. But when, in the process of the work, I turned to the drawing and depicting of the herbs, I marked that there are many precious herbs which do not grow here in these German lands, so that I could not draw them with their true colours and form, except from hearsay. Therefore I left unfinished the work which I had begun, and laid aside my pen, until such time as I had received grace and dispensation to visit the Holy Sepulchre, and also Mount Sinai, where the body of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Catherine, rests in peace. Then, in order that the noble work I had begun and left incomplete should not come to nought, and also that my journey should benefit not my soul alone, but the whole world, I took with me a painter ready of wit, and cunning and subtle of hand. And so we journeyed from Germany through Italy, Istria, and then by way of Slavonia or the Windisch land, Croatia, Albania, Dalmatia, Greece, Corfu, Morea, Candia, Rhodes and Cyprus to the Promised Land and the Holy City, Jerusalem, and thence through Arabia Minor to Mount Sinai, from Mount Sinai towards the Red Sea in the direction of Cairo, Babylonia, and also Alexandria in Egypt, whence I returned to Candia. In wandering through these kingdoms and lands, I diligently sought after the herbs there, and had them depicted and drawn, with their true colour and form. And after I had, by God's grace, returned to Germany and home, the great love which I bore this work impelled me to finish it, and now, with the help of God, it is accomplished. And this book is called in Latin, Ortus Sanitatis, and in German, gart d'gesuntheyt. In this garden are to be found the power and virtues of 435 plants and other created things, which serve for the health of man, and are commonly used in apothecaries' shops for medicine. Of these, about 350 appear here as they are, with their true colours and form. And, so that it might be useful to all the world, learned and .unlearned, I had it compiled in the German tongue. *

" Now fare forth into all lands, thou noble and beautiful Garden, thou delight of the healthy, thou comfort and life of the sick. There is no man living who can fully declare thy use and thy fruit. I thank Thee, O Creator of heaven and earth, Who hast given power to the plants, and other created things contained in this book, that Thou hast granted me the grace to reveal this treasure, which until now has lain buried and hid from the sight of common men. To Thee be glory and honour, now and for ever. Amen."

Passing from the preface to the botanical part of the German Herbarius, we find that it is divided into chapters, each of which deals with 'a herb, except in a comparatively small number of cases in which an animal, or a substance useful to man such as butter or lime, forms the subject. The chapters are arranged in alphabetical order.

The Herbarius zu Teutsch represents a notable advance upon the Latin Herbarius in the matter of the figures. Its publication, according to Dr Payne, forms an important land-mark in the history of botanical illustration, and marks perhaps the greatest single step ever made in that art." This estimate seems to the present writer to be somewhat exaggerated, but it must at least be conceded that the figures in question are, on the whole, drawn with greater freedom and realism than those of the Latin Herbarius, and are often remarkably beautiful (Text-figs. 7, 77, 78). The most attractive is perhaps that of the Dodder climbing on a plant with flowers and pods (Text-fig. 77), which is drawn in a masterly fashion. These wood-cuts form the basis of nearly all botanical illustrations for the next half-century, being copied and recopied from book to book. No work which excelled, or even equalled them was produced until a new period of botanical illustration began with the Herbal of Brunfels, published in 1530.

The German Herbarius was much copied and translated into other languages, the original set of figures being, as a rule, reproduced on a smaller scale. According to Dr Payne, the earliest French edition called `Arbolayre' (derived from the Latin, herbolarium) is now an exceedingly rare book. It is said to differ little from the original except in the fact that the French translator declined to believe the myth that the Mandrake root has human form.

Another early French herbal, very similar to the Arbolayre, was published under the name of ` Le Grant Herbier.' The origin of the text of this book has been the subject of some discussion. Choulant regarded it as derived from the Ortus Sanitatis, but an Italian authority, Signor Giulio Camus, has discovered two fifteenth-century manuscripts in the Biblioteca Estense at Modena, which have thrown a different light on the subject. One of these is the work commonly called `Circa instans,' while the other is a version of the Grant Herbier ; on comparing the two, Signor Camus concluded that the French manuscript was obviously derived from Circa instans. A version of the latter, differing somewhat from the Modena manuscript, was printed at Ferrara in 1488, and other editions appeared later.

The figures which illustrate the Grant Herbier seem to have been derived from those of the Ortus Sanitatis rather than those of the Herbarius. The work is of special interest to British botanists, since it was translated into English and published, in 1526, as the ` Grete Herball,' a book which will be discussed at length in the following chapter.

Another work, which appeared with reduced copies of the familiar illustrations from the German Herbarius, was the 'Liber de arte distillandi de Simplicibus' of Hieronymus Braunschweig (1500). In this book, the method of distilling herbs, in order to make use of their virtues, was described in considerable detail, with drawings of the apparatus employed.

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